Glaciologists climb the Bellingshausen Dome to measure the depth and consistency of this 500-foot-deep cap of ancient ice in Antarctica. (James Whitlow Delano)

David Domenech of Escudero Base moves away from a barge on King George Island in Antarctica. (James Whitlow Delano)

More and more, it seems like you can’t escape news of the novel coronavirus. Not even in Antarctica, as photographer James Whitlow Delano found out in March. He was scheduled to accompany an Antarctic science expedition. But things didn’t go quite as planned.

Delano, along with scientists, doctoral students and others, was taking part in the Chilean Antarctic Institute’s 56th Chilean Antarctic Expedition just a couple of months ago. According to Delano, the plan for the expedition was to “take advantage of the warm season’s final three-week resupply journey … to island hop, base to base, gathering data … to better understand the Antarctic environment.”

Delano had already spent time documenting the work of several teams of scientists at Escudero, a Chilean research base in Antarctica. Next he would travel farther south aboard a Chilean navy cargo ship called the AP Aquiles. He and everyone else were scheduled to return April 13. Then came the coronavirus.

On March 12, the station chief for Escudero, Elias Barticevic, announced that the base would self-quarantine for safety reasons because of the virus. As scientists started transiting through Escudero hopeful they could make it back to their home countries before borders were closed due to the spread of covid-19, Delano still believed that travel on the AP Aquiles would happen.

At first, it looked like the journey would continue as planned. But Delano also had a sense of foreboding about the trip stronger than any he had had during his many years of reporting. “With the pandemic closing in, and the prospect of no further communications with the outside world for weeks, I felt for the first time in almost three decades of reporting that I’d made the wrong decision continuing with the journey south,” he said.

With those thoughts running through his head, Delano climbed aboard the ship. He and others were given brief physical examinations by the ship’s doctor. Delano was still unnerved, saying, “My blood pressure had spiked higher than it ever had in my life and, judging from the doctor’s reaction, I was not sure if I would be allowed to continue with the ship, if it did not come down,” he said. “My head space was clearly affecting my body.” It wouldn’t matter in the end, though, because the next morning the trip was canceled.

Delano returned home to Japan, where he has been based for many years, and he was greeted by the new reality created by the spread of the virus. After being questioned about his health and travel history and having his body temperature checked with an infrared temperature gun, he finally made it onto an express train heading to his home in Tokyo. He was the only person on the train that let him off at Shinjuku station, one of the busiest in the world. But everything was empty, leading Delano to observe that, “Tokyo felt like Fukushima in the spring of 2011 … except that this invisible menace was a global one and more deadly. I never imagined I would ever have to say such a thing. … The world I’d returned to had changed profoundly.”


Looking out over high seas from the AP Aquiles, a Chilean navy cargo ship. The Chilean government ordered all civilians to leave the ship the next day because of coronavirus worries. (James Whitlow Delano)

Lisette Zenteno, a marine biologist at Austral University of Chile, works on King George Island in Antarctica, where researchers were seeking to understand the effect of pollution on coastal fish. (James Whitlow Delano)

Chilean navy personnel do doughnuts in a Zodiac in Fildes Bay at dawn beside the AP Aquiles in Antarctica. (James Whitlow Delano)

Gino Casassa Rogazinski of the Ministry of Public Works in Santiago, Chile, stands atop Bellingshausen Dome, where he was conducting glacial ice testing. (James Whitlow Delano)

A Uruguayan air force C-130 Hercules transport plane that had just landed at Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva Base, the main transit point for research stations scattered on Antarctica's King George Island and surrounding islands just off the Antarctic Peninsula. (James Whitlow Delano)

Hurricane-force southerly winds lash Chilean scientific research base Escudero with snow. (James Whitlow Delano)

Dayana “Dana” Solange Canon Ulloa, part of Chile's Escudero base logistics team, navigates Fildes Bay while studying the marine environment on King George Island. (James Whitlow Delano)

Looking down on Collins Glacier and Collins Bay from a Russian helicopter in Antarctica. (James Whitlow Delano)

Elias Barticevic, station chief for Escudero base (second from left), announced that the facility would self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (James Whitlow Delano)

Cliffs crowd King George Island's Drake Passage coast in Antarctica, renowned for its horrific weather. (James Whitlow Delano)

International doctoral candidates Sahar Dehnavi, left rear, and Maaike Weerdesteijn watch logistics experts Ivan and “Pelo” preparing lamb over a fire at Escudero base in Antarctica. (James Whitlow Delano)

A Chilean Antarctic Institute logistics member wears a mask to protect against the coronavirus two days after the Chilean government declared a state of emergency as he helps load cargo bound for the AP Aquiles. (James Whitlow Delano)

The Bellingshausen Dome meets the Collins Dome under a darkening sky on King George Island, Antarctica. (James Whitlow Delano)

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