Cool Antarctic kaleidoscope

Akademik Sergey Vavilov.
Picture: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian
Photo of Stephen Scourfield

Far from plain and white, Antarctica seems to have an infinite variety of colours and moods often dictated by the weather.

Up in the Arctic, Inuit people, with their language’s complex system of suffixes, have not even the rumoured 100 words for snow but almost endless options.

I wish for that when I look at the blue of Antarctica — the frozen bowl surrounded by ocean at the other end of the planet.

I wish for that among the growlers and little bergs.

Ice blue, royal blue, China blue and cobalt.

Electric blue, reminiscent of a spark.

I wish for that when I look at the Antarctic Ocean.

In the straits and channels — steel blue, slate blue, sky blue.

In the shallower edges — the palest green hues of peacock blue in the water, even azure. Water like one, big, shining piece of lapis lazuli.

Out deeper, away from the ice it is midnight blue and Prussian blue and the brilliant deep blue of ultramarine.

And even the whiteness of Antarctica varies — from blinding white to featureless white, to reflective white, to pure white.

White as washing. White as a geisha’s face.

And then, cream white, yellow white, honey white, grey white, blue white, and white-white. (Yes...really...white-white.)

I like being pushed around by the weather, put in my place, told I’m small.

And now the weather has closed in around the ship so that we are just the steely centre of a silken cocoon. Snow. All around, snow.

Not quite a white-out but near enough.

It starts to lay on the ship, a soft coat over a hard body, until, in less than an hour, I can put my hand in up to the wrist.

And it starts to lay on the salty ocean water, making it milky forming a crust.

I stand alone in the snow, at the bow, watching this delicate patchwork of snow on the water come at me and come at me.

I hear the soft scrunch of it as it is parted by the hull, compressed and swept past. 

Weather changes quickly in Antarctica, and the next day we are in a Beaufort 9 — a strong gale warning on the scale first used on the ship Beagle when Charles Darwin sailed these waters.

The Akademik Sergey Vavlilov cants, a consistent list to starboard and when I step outside the invisible force tries to rip me off the ship.

The next day there’s hurricane-force wind and big corrugations of swell. Now, that’s being pushed around by the weather...that puts you in your place...tells you you're small.

After the wind has gone, out in the open water, there is just long, grey swell. The ship climbs the faces, rolls over the tops, plunges into the valleys and pushes white water out either side of its bow. Spume flies in the air. 

Ice, snow, water.

More than 60 per cent of the world’s fresh water is held in the ice of Antarctica. 

This seventh continent produces about 5000 icebergs a year.

Antarctica is one element in many forms.

Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica. Picture: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian Duration: 6m 26s Seven West Media


Stephen Scourfield was a guest of RAC Travel.


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