Swimming With Icebergs : The Picture Show NPR's science producer Jason Orfanon sends another dispatch from Antarctica, with a story about his polar plunge!
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Swimming With Icebergs

Freeze Frame: Sights, Sounds And Science From The Bottom Of The World: NPR science producer Jason Orfanon guest blogs as he journeys to the Antarctic Peninsula. Keep up with him on Twitter at @jorfanon. And view the whole series page.

By Jason Orfanon

Clear skies. Temperatures hovering around freezing. We gather in a crowd on Palmer Station's small cloverleaf pier. Cameras are poised. And then, one by one, we plunge off the edge of the dock into icy Antarctic waters.

Let's back up. My family is from Alabama, and where we come from ice water is for drinking, not swimming. Invite me for a dip in the bathlike waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and I'll gladly take you up on it. Water colder than 70 degrees? No, thank you. I've never understood the appeal of a New Year's Day swim in a frozen ocean.

At least, not until now.

It's impossible not to marvel at Antarctica's water and its many incarnations. Luminous icebergs in shades of eggshell, aquamarine and turquoise carved into elegant patterns and shapes. Massive glaciers boom and crack as chunks calve off into the waters below. Snow paints an oily sheen on the ocean's surface when it falls, occasionally gathering into a blanket of frosty lily pads called "pancake ice." In winter, the sea turns to ice so thick you can drive a truck across it.

NPR's Jason Orfanon takes a flying leap — and joins a group of researchers and staff at Palmer Station for a dip in Antarctic waters. (George Ryan) hide caption

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Standing on the dock edge, with a giant iceberg floating off to my right, a glacier looming far to my left, and Antarctica all around me, I didn't have a second thought before leaping. I splashed into the water below, and it was cold — but that was dwarfed by invigoration. I felt like I had been shaken awake. Everything around me snapped into clear focus. A triple shot of Antarctic espresso to the brain, with a side of iceberg, please.

I'm still alive. My fingers and toes are all intact. I didn't get swallowed by a leopard seal. But something is different: I can now say I swam in the Southern Ocean, and survived.

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