Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 23, 2006
Below: is an icy male, the snow's been blowing today
A protective mom and her pup
A pup without a care in the world
A male peering up at us from the water below, these seals keep holes in the ice open with their teeth, allowing them to access the fast ice, far from the open water
at the bottom of the world, everything is upside down
Erebus at midnight, the sun is no longer setting here, so this is as dark as it gets
another sunset with a beautiful sky
Monday, October 16, 2006
We worked out a handy system, where one person would drive the ski-doo (snow-mobile) while another person would sit on the back trailer with all the flags. A 150 foot rope was tied to the back of the trailer, and dragged behind us. Each time the end of the rope, which is green and red for visual contrast, reached the last flag; another one was thrown to the snow.
Drilling holes was a bit more interesting. We have several holes in various places, for various reasons. The first and most important is our "toilet." A bit hole in the ice which goes down some ten feet, kind of a frozen porta-potty. Not the nicest facilities on earth, but they will do, I hope! We then have another hole for waste water, dish water and such. These holes freeze up and are then dug out with heavy equipment at the end of the season and disposed of in the appropriate way.
the drilling machine
more drilling machines, these things are huge, you can see the slushy water coming up in this one, the ice was 6.5 meters thick
The more interesting holes are the fishing holes. We have two, one some 100 meters from camp, and one approximately 7 miles from camp. These holes are to be kept open, manually, in hopes of catching fish. The oceans below us are very rich in fish life, and we hope to catch much of the fish the seals are eating to aide our study. Unfortunately even sea water readily freezes at these temperatures, and we are forced to chip out the holes on a daily basis. To do this we use a huge ice chipper (sharp, heavy pole), shovel and strainer on a stick. When we have thoroughly cleaned out the hole we cover it with a Styrofoam/wood "man-hole cover" and bury it with snow, all for insulation. These fishing holes have a secondary purpose, seal pull out holes. As these open, we hope the seals will begin to use them as a means of getting to the surface, giving us readily accessible specimens. The downside of this is our fish supplies will dwindle as the seals will be preying upon them, but for seals I think we can sacrifice some fish. As we are moving out to the ice these questions will become clearer, or so I hope!
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I got my first look at our colony of Weddells seals today, and they are something! Big, fat, lazy and quite cute. We've been spending the last few days doing all number of tasks, setting up camp, flagging safe routes through the snow and finding seals.
Below: Angry Mother
Below: Regina walking up to a male Weddell
Below: New born pup and mother, with blood and placenta behind
Below: Bloody MaleOur camp is in a stunning location, as I'm sure I've mentioned, andonce we are out there for good, hopefully tomorrow, it will be quite a relief, though the easy food will disappear, as will the showers. Our camp consists of several trailers, 4 Scott tents for sleeping/storage and one Scott tent for a toilet. We will have electricity and heat in the trailers, quite nice and all the snow and ice you could ask for. The camp is approximately 15 miles by snowmobile route from McMurdo, 30 minutes if you drive quickly. I'm starting to get used to snowmobiles, and it is something to zip along the ice at 100 km/hr. A bit unnerving at first, but I'm becoming more and more comfortable on them, and except for the occasional bump which sends you flying through the air, the ride is quite smooth. You feel unbelievably free here, zipping along without a care in the world, except for the bitter winds, but the gear is doing a nice job keeping that away. The last few days have been superb weather, very little wind, and temperatures hovering around 0, perfect for October in Antarctica. The team has had some tensions, but hopefully when we get out on the ice and really start to do some work that will all slip away.
Today the wind picked back up. We did some work, finishing up the camp setup, storing some sledges and equipment, and opening up fishing holes. Luckily there wasn't a whole lot to do as the wind was blowing and it was cold. As best we could estimate, winds were blowing in the vicinity of 40 miles per hour in gusts, and 20 mph sustained, on top of -15 t0 -20 degree temperatures, and snowmobiles going along at 50 mph equals a very cold time. My balaclava actually froze solid from my breath adding moisture. That is one of the most bizarre things here, your breath freezes to your facial hair and equipment in a matter of seconds, something I'd never really experienced before. It is also amazing how quickly you adapt to the cold temperatures. Two months ago, the thought of walking outside in just a t-shirt and jeans when the temps hovered around zero would seem ludicrous, but now it feels downright tropical. When we are out working at camp you get so sweaty you need to remove layers, which can be tricky because as soon as the windproof layers are removed you are open to serious cold. We spend so much time removing layers, and digging through pockets, but these things come with the territory. Well I apologize for the rambling blog entry. I am delirious from snowmobile fumes, and tired from a long cold day. Tomorrow we are off to the ice camp, and with that, I hope, will come some very interesting entries.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Getting out of the piston bully the landscape was stunning, and the clear sky allowed us to see all the mountains in the distance, as well as Mt. Erebus, which will dominate my landscape for the next several months. The second thing I noticed was the cold. It was approximately -50 with wind chill, and even with all the gear we wear you could feel it in your bones. Several people got very minor frostbite, and all of us had frozen eye lashes and facial hair. Within seconds of removing my mittens to take pictures I lost all sensation in my fingers, just a normal day here.
The sea ice can be treacherous, and to the untrained eye, quite dangerous. As the ice cracks, water can come to the surface, but due to the extreme temperatures it quickly freezes over, though often only a very thin layer. The gusts of wind caused the snow to drift into the cracks, filling these crevasses to the eye, but if you step into them, or drive over them, you risk a fall. We learned how to identify these hidden dangers, and how to detect just how dangerous they are. We did quite a bit of shoveling and drilling to determine the thickness, and also marked those areas we found which were quite dangerous.
The great excitement of the day came when we heard our seals below the ice. Weddell's are very vocal, and we heard one, a male presumably, calling from the icy waters below. The call is quite an eerie noise, but it proved we were in face in seal country. We presume the seal was excited by the light coming through the newly excavated hole, and may have been calling to others. We now know our camp is in the right place, and hopefully seals will begin to pull out in short order and give birth to their pups.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Saturday, October 07, 2006
After some rather long briefings, we were loaded into big Antarctic movers, essentially tanks with bench seating and driven out onto the Ross Ice Shelf. This is the ice just off the "actual continent" but for all intensive purposes it is solid. I believe they said it was some 700 feet thick, I guess we won't fall through that! We were driven for about twenty minutes or so to the site, which is probably about 2 miles from McMurdo as the skua, the native seagull steroids, flies. As there are no crows, skuas seem to be the default, though they have not arrived for the summer yet. Apparently the birds are smart enough to stay out of here until it warms a bit, only we are dumb enough to show up in early October! Enough with the tangent, back to happy camper. So armed with only our sleeping bags, two thin sleeping mats and our extreme weather gear we were dropped in the shadow of Mt. Erebus, the most active volcano of the region, and also the most common point of reference on the skyline.
We then had our tents, ice axes, saws and shovels given to us and we were told to build camp. The tents unfortunately are not what you want in these conditions. They are essentially the kind of tent I would use to camp in the north-east US during late fall/early winter! Not warm, not big, and not particularly good, but they are what are placed in survival bags, so they were what we used! After setting up the tents, we began to build our ice wall, in hopes of shielding our tents from the cold winds. This as it turned out was quite fun, though a lot of work. While we were quarrying the snow blocks the wind picked up quite a bit. While the temperature was around -20 Celsius, the wind is what really gets you. The clothing keeps you quite warm, even to the point of sweating, but the second the wind hits you all your heat is stolen! This is why layers are so important, you are constantly dressing and undressing to keep the proper temperature, quite a feat in these conditions! To build the ice wall, we quarried large blocks of snow from the ground. The snow here is permanently packed, and though very dry, it holds together if taken out properly. To get it out you cut a rectangle in the snow about 2.5 feet long and 1.5 feet wide, and then with a shovel pried it out of the ground. The first few blocks were a bit hard, but after that they came up quite easily. After several hours of cutting, digging and placing we had a very substantial ice wall built and we took a break.
You are working so hard to keep your body warm in these temperatures that food is a constant concern. We had plenty of chocolate, nuts and slim jims, calories are important down here! Water is also vital, you must drink approximately 1 gallon water each day to keep properly hydrated, and I am finding this a bit tough as the water tends to freeze in the water bottle before you can drink a liter! But these are all minor problems and the longer we're here, the easier it will become. So with camp built we ate our dinner, dehydrated food which you pour two cups of boiling water into, not 5 star, but good enough. In fact I was so hungry I quite enjoyed it!
After dinner we went for a walk, more of a run and then retired into our tents for the evening. I am still having some trouble acclimating to the permanent light, sleeping during the day has never been my cup of tea, but again, here it is a way of life! Just before getting into bed and ran a few sprints to get my blood pumping and create some heat. I then popped into my tent, stripped off all my clothes, quite cold, and changed into dry layers before slipping into my bag. I unfortunately shared a tent with a smoker, and the smell inside then tent took some getting used to, a mixture of body odor, old smoke and cold! None the less, it was quite exhilarating so spend our first night in the elements. Sleep came quickly and I actually slept through the "night" I think. When I awoke I was in for a surprise! I was just tall enough that my feet and head touched the walls of the tent. Under normal circumstances this is no problem, but here it created some issues. It was so cold in the night that our breathing had created a layer of snow on the inside of the tent! This snow had in turn melted due to our body heat and soaked the two end of my bag which had been touching the walls. To make matters worse I had not properly stored my clothing inside my bag to keep in warm, and my layers, which were wet with sweat the night before, were now frozen stiff! To remedy this I slid into the stiff, cold clothing and ran in circles to thaw them! With my newly thawed clothes, and still somewhat frozen boots, I began to break down camp with the rest of the team. Although the night was not exactly the Ritz Carlton, the views from the tent made it all worth while, and proved that we would in fact be able to survive in this amazing, yet harsh environment!
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
So, the thumb must now be discussed. Essentially, this stupid little infection almost prevented me from havign the experience of a lifetime! Katie, I think I owe you a special thanks for keeping me calm, and getting me to call doctors in the morning so I could get a specialists opinion! So, back to the thumb! Essentially what happened is I cut my thumb at work approximately a week before I was to leave and thought nothing of it. It began to swell and develop small white pustules about two days before I was to leave! After visiting Smithsonian doctors, I was informed my departure was in doubt, as they were unsure what exactly was happening. Needless to say I spent a sleepless night on the 27th worrying about my dilemma. When I awoke on the morning of the 28th, I called some thirty infectious disease specialists in the DC-metro area, and after several hours of begging was able to convince one to see me on exceptionally short notice. He and his colleague looked over my thumb and prescribed a second antibiotic, but were kind enough to clear me for departure, and Raytheon, the organization who has final say in our medical fitness agreed, so we were off.
Upon my arrival in New Zealand, I was informed I was to see yet another doctor, an infectious disease specialist in Christ Church. On Monday October 2nd I headed out to meet with the Raytheon scheduled doctor. After a pleasant 1.5 hour walk I arrived at the clinic, and was quickly taken to the doctor. After explaining my dilemma he inspected my finger, and sent me off to a hospital where a lab tech would further investigate the cause of the infection. The nurse looked at the thumb, and within seconds asked me if I’d been handling goannas, an Australian lizard, notorious for the problems they cause people who handle them, or so I’m told. She then told me; from the looks of it the infection was fungal, and not bacterial, meaning I was treating the wrong problem! She scraped a bit of skin from the thumb, and drew some puss from the pustules, and sent me on my way, telling me to finish off the antibiotics and apply some anti-fungal cream to the thumb, along with tea tree oil! The bottom line, she didn’t think the problem should prevent me from heading to Antarctica! So finally, with a clean bill of health, some 8918 miles from where my dilemma began, I was finally received a clean bill of health to travel to Antarctica!
And now the thumb