Most of Antarctica is comprised of a thick, continental ice sheet, with barren rock covering a small percentage of the continent. Our itineraries visit the Antarctic Peninsula, the region with the most moderate climate. The highest temperatures, slightly above freezing, occur throughout the peak of the austral summer (December to February). The rest of the year is marked by extreme low temperatures, which vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from the ocean. East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because of its higher elevation.
Larger icebergs and pristine snow conditions are a favorite of photographers, many of which choose this time of year to travel before the ice pack is marred with nests and droppings. Crabeater seal pups are born and male Southern Elephant seals can be seen guarding their harems and offspring. Humpback, Minke and Southern Right whales arrive to feed on the abundance of zooplankton and penguins can. The many species of penguins are engaged in courtship rituals in November with eggs being laid later in the month, hatching by the end of December.
Peak season, with daytime temperatures on the Peninsula reaching upwards of 50°F while the continent receives nearly 24 hours of daylight. The receding ice gives way to further passage south and many ships offer an ‘Antarctic Circle Crossing’ expedition during these months. Penguin chicks hatch and seal pups born earlier in the season are visible as they begin to take to the water. February is the best month for whale watching, with a high diversity of species seen in large numbers.
The sun begins to set again n the evening and temperatures drop, though remain above 0. Travelers are often treated to thin layers of uniquely patterned sea ice from night frosts and snow algae blooms turn ice cliffs green and pink. Adult penguins molt and chicks leave the nest to begin their life at sea. Whale species are still observed in large number but the best spectacle is the chance to view the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights that occurs in the skies above Antarctica from March-September.