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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

July 10, 2003

Grenfell professors take to the sea

Expedition staff and crew  from the Clipper Adventure.
Grenfell professor Dr. Bill Iams, seen here at centre, poses with expedition staff and crew from the Clipper Adventurer. Dr. Iams explains that this shot was taken to capture the whole group of Zodiac drivers along with five of the Zodiacs that are used to ferry from ship to shore. “We are pulled up at the landing at Battle Harbour after just having crossed the Davis Strait from Greenland,” he explains. “All appreciated the calm weather.”

The expertise of two Grenfell professors has brought them to the ends of the earth.

Dr. Bill Iams and Keith Nicol have had the extraordinary experience of lecturing on a world-class cruise line. The two professors have been invited as expedition experts aboard cruise ships that bring curious passengers to areas most of us will never see. One such ship, the Clipper Adventurer, is an oceangoing vessel equipped with an ice-strengthened hull – ideally suited for cruising in remote environments such as the Arctic and Antarctica.

Dr. Iams, a professor of earth science and oceanography, will be lecturing in August aboard the Clipper Adventurer; this will be his third such excursion. The cruise ship will depart from Reykjavik, traveling to the Westmann Islands, where passengers will see excellent examples of volcanism. Then it’s on to Flatey Island, across the Denmark Strait to fjords off the east coast of Greenland, and through Prince Christian Sound to Nanortalik, an old Inuit settlement and now a modern Greenland metropolis. Hvalsey, the last known Viking settlement on Greenland, is also on the ship’s route, as are Battle Harbour in Labrador, St. Anthony and St. John’s.

“It’s a big ship, a 300 plus footer, so it can’t go in and dock,” he explained, adding that a fleet of Zodiac landing craft provides access to areas where no infrastructure exists. “In addition to lecturing and accompanying the passengers on shore excursions, part of the job is to ferry passengers to shore and back and, when the weather and wildlife cooperate, to cruise the zodiac along the shore for nature watching and photography opportunities.”

Back on board, passengers can view seascapes and wildlife from the deck or the observation platform located below the bridge when the weather’s good. When it’s not so nice, the passengers tend to stick to their cabins.

“We had really nasty weather in the Davis Strait – we had hurricane force just off Battle Harbour,” he said. “When it’s really bad, most people just stay in their cabins. It’s really spectacular to look out at the sea, but it’s really intimidating too.”

Dr. Iams, who earned his BA in geology from Johns Hopkins University, his M.Sc. at the Institute of Oceanography of Dalhousie University and his PhD (biology/geology) at Memorial University, teaches courses in oceanography, comparative marine environments, global environmental change, earth systems, and earth history at Grenfell. On the Clipper Adventurer, he’ll lecture on geology, environmental issues and oceanography.

Keith Nicol
Keith Nicol

Keith Nicol received his BA and M.Sc. (geography) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. At Grenfell he teaches courses in winter outdoor pursuits, physical geography, resource management and quantitative methods.

Having lectured on several cruises in the waters of the North Atlantic, in February and March of this year Mr. Nicol took on a new adventure in the southern hemisphere – two back-to-back cruises to Antarctica. The trips were replete with penguins, seals and humpback and killer whales.

If you turn a globe upside down, you’ll find a peninsula of ice that reaches out toward Cape Horn at the base of South America. The tip of that peninsula was the southernmost point of the cruise. Mr. Nicol flew to Beunos Aires, then to Ushuaia, touted as the southern-most city in the world, where he boarded the ship. The ship crossed the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic Circle and back again via the Faulkland Islands.

“The water there is the roughest in the world because there is no land mass,” he said, adding that cool temperatures meant wearing parkas most of the time. Mr. Nicols’ lectures actually focused on the geography of the area, uncovering the mysteries of the driest, coldest, windiest place on the earth’s surface. “At one point we had 160-mile winds – the captain said they were the highest winds he’d ever seen in his career. Luckily we were headed for shelter when the wind came up.”

They were able to put ashore at the South Shetland Islands, and were delighted to meet penguins face to face. “You have penguins meeting you at every point,” said Mr. Nicol. “They greet you as you come ashore.”

This type of scholarly activity is an excellent opportunity for academics, added Dr. Iams.

“I’m basically on contract on an expedition cruise line lecturing to adults,” he said. “But I get to see places I would ordinarily never see on my own.”

Mr. Nicol agreed.

“These are opportunities that enable you to share your expertise, but also to gain something from the experience,” he said.




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Next issue: July 24, 2003

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