On March 17, 2017, a team of young explorers boarded the Skorpios III cruise, embarking from Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia. Their goal? Navigate the southwestern area of the Southern Patagonia Icefield — the largest ice mass in South America.
Eñaut Izagirre [geography expert, glaciology expert, and National Geographic Young Explorer] and team member Coté Marchant [logistics manager and field assistant] disembarked the next day near the Amalia calving glacier. This large glacier flows down from the icefield, surrounding the prominent Reclus volcano — one of the six volcanoes that have been active in southern Patagonia.
Though there have been no reports of eruptions or ash discovery, there have been enough observations of seismic events and gentle earthquakes that the team was intrigued.
"So we reached this area with the idea of taking samples around the volcano, planning later to check in the lab if any uncommon sediments were on these samples," says Izagirre. "We planned to conduct a longitudinal transect above the Amalia Chica glacier, which was feeding the main Amalia glacier years before but nowadays has retreated in-valley."
After finishing up in this area, they planned to traverse North-South to the Canal de las Montañas fjord to perform other glaciological tests on the Bernal glacier. But in Patagonia, plans have to be held loosely.
"The weather started pouring down and we had to adjust plans to avoid becoming trapped on this mysterious valley where river flow had suddenly increased. We finally decided to board Skorpios III again, where the whole crew and awesome Captain Luis Kochifas helped us so much.
A day later (March 23) we disembarked again in Canal de las Montañas, where we set up base camp near the Bernal glacier. We spent our last few days working above the glacier, measuring thinning rates (using a DGPS) and tracking and sampling the terminal moraine to know its relative age."
With their work complete, the team boarded Skorpios III for the last time on March 26th, arriving in Puerto Natales the next day.
Izagirre concludes, "As leader of the expedition, I am happy with the work that we have done in the field, and there is still a lot of work to be finished in the lab and with the laptop. It is true that we were forced to change our plans, but this is Patagonia, where weather is so challenging that is hard to predict. I think we took the best option, making it a real adventure where decision-making requires you to be ready to move your plans and have new alternatives, to keep going and to try to do all the scientific work."