National Geographic : 1999 Feb
"Itwas like being suspended in space, here's something special about peering beneath the bottom of the world. When Antarctica's summer diving season begins in September, the sun has been largely absent for six months, and the water, virtually free of phytoplankton, has become as clear as any in the world. Visibility is measured not in feet but in football fields. "There was no visual awareness of there being water," says my diving colleague Peter Brueggeman. "It was like being suspended in space, as if we were birds fly ing around in a big room." It felt as cold as outer space too. With its freez ing point lowered by salt, the seawater is as cold as it can get-28.8 degrees F an equipment-breaking, head-numbing reminder that this is a merciless realm. Yet even an en counter with Antarctica's treachery-when my leg cramped on a dive and the current almost swept me away-couldn't keep me from falling in love with the place. Of the hundreds of spots I've dived, this one, with its invisible water and crystalline ceiling, stands apart. Only here can you orbit an electric-blue iceberg (right) while being serenaded by the eerie trills of Weddell seals. Only here will you see huge inverte brates-sponges the size of bears or jellyfish with 30-foot tentacles (above). Indeed, these seas are full of surprises. Until recently scientists thought that Antarctica's waters, like the Arctic's, had a relatively low diversity of life; it now appears that Antarctic biodiversity is richer than they had imagined. But you'd never guess it from the surface, and it's this contrast that marine ecologist M. Dale Stokes says struck him most about our dives: "There's this large, active, colorful community under the ice, and then you come up through a hole into a raging blizzard." Photographer and filmmaker NORBERT Wu specializes in ocean exploration.