Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Teva-tan on my feet...

needs some work after having faded during a month at sea, so it's off to Utah for the remaining days of summer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's field work Friday...

once again as I resume my regular rounds measuring groundwater levels in monitoring wells in the Rathdrum Prairie, Idaho.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jetting from Sapporo to Seattle...

today, then a short hop over to Spokane. I'll actually arrive home before I've left as I'll be traveling east across the International Date Line, so time travel is indeed possible.

It will be good to be home after a month at sea, having traveled ~5,000 nautical miles across the northern Pacific Rim, and shooting 3,586 images. As for the highlights, we managed to view a dozen active volcanoes, a couple dozen clam-digging grizzly bears, hundreds of spawning salmon, fur seals by the tens of thousands and seabirds by the hundreds of thousands. It was an awesome trip. It was an amazing experience. It will be good to sleep.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Otaru, Japan...

is our final port of call, where both staff and passengers will disembark the Clipper Odyssey tomorrow. After clearance with Japanese customs officials, we spent the afternoon exploring this ancient port city.
This shiny place stands in stark contrast to rusty Russia. The old fishing port is known for its Canal District, where glass blowing shops now sell to tourists rather than make glass ball floats for fishing nets:
We visited a sake distillery, and afterward, had a tasting (of course):
These melons range from $80 to $92 apiece, and are commonly given as gifts:

They better be good. At least the seafood is inexpensive.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sakhalin Island...

is the focus of today's explorations as we arrive at sunrise, then board buses for the short drive to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital and southernmost major city on this large island:
The natural history museum was my favorite stop, and arguably the nicest structure in all of the Russian far east that we've seen during this voyage:
It's pretty clear what is prohibited on the museum grounds, even though one doesn't speak the language:
Here's smoked sturgeon (4oo rubles/kilo or $6/pound) at the local fish market:

It's back to the ship to clear out of Russia, then on to Japan tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fur seal pups...

are about as cute as can be, and here's a small crèche of them while their mothers go to sea to fish for a couple of days, then return to nurse their young:
A few of them cuddled up next to the blind, their flippers extending from under the wooden fence:
And a curious pup with the biggest eyes checks me out:

The five hours I spent on Tyuleniy Island this day will never be forgotten.

Tyuleniy means "seal" in Russian...

so it's highly appropriate that this island rookery share the same name. Tens of thousands of northern fur seals haul out here, and note all of the bobbing heads in the ocean too:
Here's a group of Steller's sea lions, much larger than a seal and with blond fur:
Here's a group of fur seals warming in the sun:
I felt like I had a real moment with this one:

In sum, Tyuleniy is an example of nature on steroids.

They're called common murres...

and it's not difficult to agree that they are indeed very common on Tyuleniy, a non-volcanic island that consists of folded sandstones rising from the sea:
I'll leave it to you to make a headcount, but the murre population is estimated to be approximately 200,000:
Here's an adult murre with a fish for its chick:
And here are a couple of squabbling gulls:

This is the welcoming committee...

that met the reconnaissance staff as we head ashore early at Tyuleniy Island, Russia:
You'll have to imagine the cacophony of screaming belches and roars from the dozens upon dozens of northern fur seals and Steller's sea lions surrounding the Zodiac:
And here's an image of where we made our landing, at several structures that are occasionally occupied by research biologists that study the ~85,000 pinnipeds and ~200,000 birds that inhabit this tiny island:

And one more thing: you can't begin to imagine the overwhelming stinking odor that permeates this place.

Sunrise on the Sea of Okhotsk...

as we make the run north to Sakhalin. This was the beginning to what turned out to be an absolutely fabulous day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Iturup is the largest...

of the southern Kuril Islands, and the location from which the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, however, the island is claimed by Russia, and we visited an old border patrol station and fishing village:
We found enormous bear tracks on tidally exposed beach sands, that is, just a few hours old:
This old fish processing plant is now defunct, but it contained wicker baskets and barrels of salt for preserving salmon:
The weather was sunny and warm, in stark contrast to the day before, and most passengers were happy to be on shore:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Natalia Bay on Urup Island...

was the site of our morning landing, still in pretty wretched weather, with large fragments of an old Russian tug rusting away on the sandy beach:
The bay seems to be eroded into an old cinder cone complex. This outcrop shows a stratified mix of blocks of basalt, pumice and finer tephra:
Perhaps this rainbow that appeared at the time of our departure is a harbinger of better weather ahead:

Williwaws are defined as...

"a sudden blast of wind descending from a mountainous coast to the sea," and we met them in full fury today as we skirted the lee side of an island near the middle of the Kuril archipelago named Chirpoy Brat:
The crosswind to the ship registered an average 35 meters/sec or about 68 knots (~80 miles per hour) for a period of time, and occasionally gusting to 45 m/s or 100 mph!
This resulted in about a 10 degree list of the ship to starboard for much of the morning. Here you can see the spray being whipped up by the fierce winds next to this basaltic sea stack:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

One of the geological high points...

of the month-long voyage was seen today at Yankicha Island, and all of a sudden I was the most popular naturalist on the expedition. The bubbling hot springs and stinking fumaroles overwhelmed the senses as passengers began exploring this fascinating area:
Sinter mounds contained basins filled with vigorously boiling water, and one needed to exercise some degree of caution when approaching these features:
And sulfur crystals are found lining dozens of actively venting fumaroles:
In addition, arctic foxes are common on the island, and are not the least bit shy. They have no predators and will approach within several feet, and they'll even "mark" your stuff if you leave it unattended on the ground and turn your back:

Yankicha Island appears in the mist...

with slaty-backed gulls flying out to greet our arrival this mid-afternoon:
I managed this shot of a gull in flight as it paced the ship just a few feet off the deck:
Yanchika, like Shimushir, contains a collapsed volcanic caldera at sea level as this marine chart shows, though it's not possible to enter with the ship:
We anchored offshore and had timed our arrival to coincide with high tide in order to enable the Zodiacs to pass over the gravel bar at the entrance to the caldera. Inside are several andesitic lava domes erupted since 1769, and an active geothermal area (note the solitary person for scale):

Brouton Bay on Shimushir Island...

contains a once secretive James Bond-like submarine base used during the Cold War. The Soviets artificially expanded the natural opening of the caldera to the sea (seen in the distance behind the ship) in order to enable nuclear missile submarines to pass into the protected and hidden harbor:
We explored the long abandoned site - since ~ 1994 - and entered some of the decaying buildings filled with, you guessed it, more relics from the past:
Before we left I couldn't resist having my picture taken with Lenin:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sarychev volcano on Matua Island...

is seen here capped by clouds as we approached this afternoon to make a landing there:
But it had exploded just a year before in a violent eruption on 12 June 2009, and the eruption was serendipitously captured by an astronaut on the ISS:
This island was also struck by a large tsunami in November 2006 that was generated by a local earthquake in the Kuril trench, and the 20 meter run-up reconfigured the shore where we landed, exposing this old pillbox and metal drums:

Elsewhere on the island there were more rusting relics of yet another abandoned Soviet airfield:

Several tiny rocks comprise...

the diminutive island group of Skaly Lovushky, and are home to hundreds of northern fur seals and sea lions:
Rough seas prohibited close approach in Zodiacs, but you could clearly hear the belches of countless seals over the breaking waves:
By the end of the short visit the skies were beginning to clear and very active Ekarma volcano could be seen chugging away in the distance: