Thursday, 29 December 2011

January in Antarctica

Spending three weeks 'down south' this January, I'll be experiencing Antarctica in the height of summer, but it'll be a far cry from sunbeds and sandcastles...

Summer evenings in Antarctica, by Liam Quinn
January's Climate
Antarctica’s short summer is an important period of birth, growth and feeding in Antarctica, where long days and bright sunshine characterise the continent. December and January are the warmest months but climatic conditions and daylight will vary hugely, across this immense landmass, which can be divided into three distinct zones:

The Interior
The coldest area of the continent is characterised by extreme cold, blizzards, high winds, temperature inversions and light snowfall. The interior receives the least direct sunshine, has a high altitude, is plunged into darkness during the winter months and will be witness to the midnight sun in January. Its distance from the sea means that it received no warming effect from the water and January temperatures often peak at around -30°C.

Coastal Areas
With the tempering influence of the ocean, the coastal areas experience milder temperatures and more snow. January temperatures can reach 9°C. In January, northern coastal areas will experience bright sunshine, with stunning sunrises and sunsets.

Adele Penguin Creche, by Liam Quinn

The Peninsula
This is as far south as my trip will take me and, reaching much further north than the rest of the continent, the climate here will be warmer and wetter, with January temperatures above freezing. At times, fierce westerly winds and wild storms can also characterise the Antarctic Peninsula, which can bring icy winds and immense waves. Despite the bright sunshine, wind chill is a major factor throughout the year on the Peninsula, so I’ll be taking lots of layers and a windproof parka, as well as shades and sunscreen!

January’s wildlife
Following a month of warm weather in December, receding sea-ice in January will make navigation and shore landings easier, maximising our chances of getting up-close and personal with the Antarctic species.

Penguin Chicks, by Liam Quinn
With the sun remaining above the horizon for 24 hours a day at the south-pole, and the rest of the continent experiencing extended daylight hours, the continent will be making the most of the long, bright days, when phytoplankton grows rapidly to produce a vital food source for krill – the basis of the Antarctic food chain.

January is an exciting time for witnessing animal behaviour, when penguin chicks hatch; fur, crabeater and leopard seal pups can be seen feeding on squid and finfish; and whale sightings become increasingly prolific - summer is a core feeding time for humpbacks, and many other species.

Seal Pup, by Liam Quinn

To see the Antarctic summer in action, watch the third episode in the Attenborough's BBC polar series: Frozen Planet - Summer.

Photographer Liam Quinn joined the Spirit of Shackleton expedition in January 2011 - see more of his photos on his Flickr photostream

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