The Photographs of Norbert Wu, with text by Jim Mastro
From the book jacket:
Antarctica is the last terrestrial wilderness, a place still mysterious, untamed, and unspoiled. The allure of the continent at the bottom of the Earth has beckoned explorers, scientists, and, more recently, tourists who journey south for a glimpse of its terrible beauty and stunning vistas. But there is one aspect of Antarctica that tourists, and indeed most researchers, never see: the world of the ice-covered sea. This book, a collection of the finest photographs ever taken in underwater Antarctica, illuminates a little-known world abounding in strange and beautiful life forms.
Jim Mastro’s introductory text elegantly condenses forty years of scientific research into a clear and concise natural history of underwater Antarctica. Under Antarctic Ice brings together for the first time the stories, the science, and the natural beauty of one of Earth’s most vibrant and enchanting realms.
Discover Magazine named Under Antarctic Ice one of the 20 best science books of 2004. It is available from major booksellers and from the publisher, UC Press. Signed copies are available from the author.
A NATURAL HISTORY OF MCMURDO SOUND
Standing at the edge of the annual sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica is like standing on a precipice. The transition from hard, milky-white ice to pellucid blue water is abrupt and final, like a knife cut across the world. When not a single breath of wind, not a single ruffle nor a single wave mars the flat, glassy surface of the sea, it is possible to dangle one’s boot tips over the edge and peer nervously into the depths. The ice appears as a thin shelf underwater—frighteningly thin in the midst of all that oceanic space. Below it, beams of light slice downward into the water. Blue turns to black in the bottomless depths.
This seems at first glance to be a largely empty universe, a great desert of frozen and liquid sea. The annual ice is a glaring, barren plain stretching to the south, the sea an equally barren three-dimensional expanse. In the dancing sunbeams, though, colorful jellies and a few other scattered bits of plankton drift slowly southward, leaving the brightness of the open ocean to disappear forever into the darkness under the ice. In the movement of this plankton is a clue that things are not as they seem.
More obvious clues arrive with the flutter of flipper-like wings and explosive exhalations from giant lungs.
Like most physical boundaries, the ice edge is a magnet for life. Adélie penguins appear out of nowhere, rocketing out of the water to land improbably on their webbed feet. Emperor penguins poke their heads out of the smooth sea, glance around, and dive again. Their sleek forms slice through the water, pirouetting around sunbeams and leaving shimmering trails of bubbles in their wake. Minke whales, the smallest of the rorquals but still impressive beasts, roll up to the surface, blow, and plunge into the depths. They are tied to the open water, but push as far as they can under the ice, seeking to fill their gaping, baleen-lined mouths with some of the vast clouds of crustaceans and silverfish that hide under the frozen sea. Orca whales behave in the same way, angling down under the ice to hunt for the giant Antarctic toothfish. Untold miles of open water available to them all, but the whales purposefully cruise the edge, looking for a way to get further south, deeper into McMurdo Sound.
Later in the summer, when the sea ice breaks up and autumn winds blow it away, the whales move in to repeat this foraging behavior under the permanent and much thicker McMurdo Ice Shelf. Further south, they go, always further south, until they can go no more.