Fossil Island


19 January 2011

Marambio lies at latitude 64º06’South and longitude 56º41’West. We’ll have spent 20 hours anchored here. Yesterday evening, after we arrived, the surrounding mountains were dusted white with snow.

The trip on land today kept all its promises: the ground of Marambio is scattered with fossils and nesting arctic terns.

At the northern point of the island, a camp with some red and yellow tents. Four Argentinean and Spanish geologists are on mission for a month. Their camp is installed on a small plateau facing the sea. When we arrived yesterday evening, it was the surprise of the day for them. They have been here since December 22nd and will stay until January 25th. Their camp consists of several tents, one of which serves as a living base. It’s heated and there’s a table, chairs, a camp-stove and refrigerator – a place where they eat and work.

They are working for the Argentinean Antarctic Institute and the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute, mapping the island and doing a soil study. This island is very ancient: its formation dates back to the creation of the Antarctic Peninsula, when South America separated from the White Continent resulting in the creation of Drake Passage. Studying this island is thus of utmost importance to better understand this epoque dating back millions of years.

Sergio, Elisabet, Manuel and Francisco (aka “Paco”) served us tea and we talked for several minutes. They complained about the lack of sunshine since their arrival. Except for one or two days, they’ve had overcast and cold weather. It’s their 4th mission on Marambio. And like the times before, they arrived here by plane. On the plateau above their campground, there’s a runway which can accommodate big military transporters. Once they land and arrive at their chosen site, they have to set up camp composed of a dozen or so tents. They were glad about our visit – a real change from their routine.

Sergio is Argentinean from Buenos Aires, and remembers Tara’s former visit in 2005 when there were mountaineers aboard.

After this pleasurable meeting, it was time to get back on board. We left our anchorage in the mid-afternoon to return to the Antarctic Sound, where a new station, the fifth since we departed from Ushuaia, will take place in the coming hours. Most likely we’ll be at a new anchorage this evening, in front of the Argentinean base “Esperança”.

At the moment, the breakdown of the generator which runs the immersion winch has not been solved. Numerous telephone calls and emails to land-based specialists are being made in order to find the cause.

Vincent Hilaire