November 28, 2007
56° 42' S, 63° 3' W
I started this post earlier this afternoon, writing "yesterday evening was the most beautiful evening we've had so far..." But I just came back from standing on the bow of the ship (that's the very front, for you land-lubbers), watching what was perhaps the most spectacular sunset I've ever seen.
Yesterday, the waves were quite large - we probably were seeing swells of close to 20 feet at times. But the sun was shining brightly, providing brilliant lighting to the ever-changing topography of the water. As the wind was blowing strongly, the tops of the waves were often blowing off, creating a display of whitecaps along with the blue hues of the waves themselves. Of course there was the ever-present assembly of birds following us.
At one point a beautiful rainbow appeared. As there was not much work to do (CTD casts had been suspended because of the rough seas), we ran out to photograph the rainbow and to try to capture the beauty of the water on camera. It's impossible to realize the scale of the swells from a photograph. It is truly spectacular to witness the power and beauty of the ocean from the middle of it.
Last night and tonight we witnessed beautiful sunsets. As it was mostly clear both evenings, we were hoping for a glimpse of the famous "green flash." I was hoping to see, for the first time, an optical phenomenon few get to see unless you see a clear sunset at sea. Due to the way different colors of light pass through the Earth's atmosphere, just as the sun dips below the horizon it is possible to see a flash of green. Alas, we did not see the hoped-for green either night. It was just too cloudy, but the consolation was two unbelievable sunsets in a row. What struck me most was the variety of colors in the many cloud formations. At one point I even saw two ends of a rainbow faintly showing under the clouds!
With fair weather and some unusually clear weather, I'll be on the lookout for more opportunities to see the elusive green flash in coming days.
I'm also hoping for a clear night so I can do some Southern Hemisphere stargazing. (I did see the Southern Cross once in Punta Arenas, but I'd love to get a chance to study the southern constellations.)
One of the very cool things about watching a sunset from such a high latitude, at this time of year, is that the angle the sun makes with respect to the horizon is so shallow that the sunset lasts for a really long time. I think tonight's sunset lasted a good half hour, with the sun finally popping below the horizon at around 9:45 p.m.
There was a marked contrast in the sea-state between yesterday and today. Yesterday's 15-20 foot swells and 30-40 knot winds have given way to a sea so placid that some call it the "Drake Lake". Today I was working in just a t-shirt. When I went outside to take pictures of the sunset I had on my fleece and a hat; no parka! With the bright sunshine yesterday and today, it feels like Spring. (Just in time for me to go home to winter next week!)
I found the difference in colors to be quite striking. Yesterday's water seemed a much brighter shade of blue, mixed with whites and turquoise; today was a darker blue, mixed with blacks and greys. I imagine the sea has been "tamed" (only temporarily, of course!) and in its tame state its colors dull... as it's energy and anger build, the colors build with it. (OK, I'm not a poet, but thanks for indulging me for a brief moment.)
With a little over a week to go, we are beginning the packing-up process. It'll be another enormous logistical process to pack up and ship all the equipment back. Of course there'll be 36 or so fewer CPIES along with all the current mooring paraphernalia that won't have to be shipped back.
In the meantime with so many CTD casts to do we are all entertaining ourselves during the downtime decorating more Styrofoam cups. Apparently they make great Christmas presents; could be used as tree ornaments, for example. I am working on a Styrofoam cup Menorah which we can use on the last few nights of Hannukah when I return.