Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back to Antarctica--with animals

I came back to McMurdo Station, Antarctica in October, 2009 for a second 4-month season. I finally got what everyone comes here for--to see animals out on the sea ice.
To go out on the sea ice, a person has to go on a special excursion outside the station. About 20 of us piled into the back of an old Navy vehicle called a Delta. It has hard bench seats, the windows get completely steamed over, and it's a very bumpy and bouncy 2-hour ride. It got stuck in the snow a lot, but one time it really paid off.
While we were digging out, at the horizon there appeared 4 black dots moving toward us. Could it be penguins? Yes it was! The rule is that we are not allowed to approach the animals. But we can let them come to us. So we got down on our knees and waited.
Unlike in the cartoons, emperor penguins don't waddle. With their feet, they push themselves on their bellies along on the ice. They move across the ice like the water birds that they are!

When they got to us, they stood up and looked around, probably wondering where we keep our fish to eat. Then they flopped back onto their bellies and pushed off.
Everything in this picture except for the penguins is ice--probably more than 20 ft thick.

We also saw seals. Seals come up through holes in the ice. Then they just lie on the ice, looking like garden slugs. The adults barely move, and the babies move just a bit more than that.

Isn't this baby just the cutest!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


They say that the penguins arrive in McMurdo after the icebreaker comes. The icebreaker arrived Sunday. The penguin was here Monday. It's a little adelie penguin. I (Carol) watched it for about an hour and a half. First it was asleep in a ball like a little black cat. Then it stood up, and stretched one wing. Later it raised both wings. Later yet it crowed like a crow. Still later it took a few steps, got into the water for a short swim, got out, and stood some more.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How Cold Is It?

How cold is it in Antarctica? Right now--January--it's summer. The temps get up to the high 30s F just about every day. And with the sun up all the time, it's usually quite nice. Here's Pat fixing some field camp gear. Almost looks like a palm tree, doesn't it?
Below is Matt, my dorm's janitory, standing outside the dorm. You can see the dusty soil that we have at McMurdo station, with the sea ice and mountains in the background. Notice Matt's combination of shorts and parka. Somehow, the combination is perfect here, though I'll admit that Matt's legs are tougher than mine and I haven't gotten my shorts out yet. The fellow below got out his Hawaiian shirt for a New Year's music festival.

These, too, are music festival folks. Notice the shorts and flip-flops.

These are guys I work with--Tom, the plumbing foreman and Don, a boiler mechanic. Notice the hill in the background--no snow--and the glorious blue sky.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Antarctica

In Antarctica Christmas comes a day earlier than in the US. Here is a group of carolers in the lower left corner. In the background is the frozen sea ice.

Penguins are the favorite animal here, of course, and these are in the dining room.

Like at home, eating was a major theme of the day. Here we are at Christmas brunch. Stockings in the background. There is a tree, but it didn't make it into the picture.

This is a display of gingerbread houses. Below is a spread of exotic cheese and other delicacies.

Here is our "family group" for the Christmas feast. These are all new and wonderful friends. We had prime rib, roast duck, crab legs, shrimp, all the usual trimmings, and too many kinds of dessert to count.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ice Dive

We have become acquainted with an under-ice dive team. The hut on the left contains the hole where the divers descend. The hut on the right is where the self-propelled camera goes down. It's steered by a person inside the hut.

This is the hole that the divers use. Looks chilly, doesn't it. The ice here is 20 feet thick. The water below is 28 degrees F.

These divers are Stacy, who heads the team, and Francois.

Stacy puts on her flippers. Her suit is a "dry suit." Under it are two layers of long underwear.

They get ready to descend.

Stacy jumps in.

This is the picture the camera gives us of what the divers see. The square is the wire frame in front of the camera that protects it when it bumps the bottom of the ocean. The divers like this water because it is very clear--no algae.
The camera is steered by a person above the ice. I got to drive it! What the camera sees is projected onto a screen in the hut.

The camera is looking up the dive hole.

The dive tenders were very surprised to see something--the camera--come UP the hole!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Stunning Ice Formations

This week I got to take a special trip to the New Zealand base not far from here to see the ice formations made of ocean ice, called Pressure Ridge. They are caused by sheets of ice pushing against each other, and the ice getting pushed up as a result.
The formations are quite big as you can see with people beside them.

Everyone's favorite was this one, which looks like frog smiling.

Some of the formations were blocks.

Some of the more recently-formed ones are a gorgeous color of blue.

This is the sun shining through ice.

And more sun shining through.

This is a row of small pointed formations.

A split.

The whole thing reminded me of a white, sparkly, shiny version of the rock formations in Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Life Under Ice

There is a scientific diving team here that has developed a special camera for exploring under the ice where no one has been able to look before. My significant other Patrick has been working with them.
This is permanent ice about 300' thick. The team located a fissure, or crack, so that they had to drill through only 6' of ice to get to water.

They drilled a 10" diameter hole, and lowered this camera, called SCINI (skinny) because it's long and thin to fit through an ice hole. SCINI also stands for Submersible Capable of Imaging and Navigating Under Ice. They can guide SCINI from above the ice and see what it is seeing. It also takes photos.

They found a remarkable abundance of life: anemones, sea sponges, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and luminescent jelly fish. They were surprised to find fresh water immediately under the ice--caused by glacial melt. Glaciers are frozen fresh water, and these are on top of sea water.
Patrick designed and made a cradle that holds SCINI when it's on the ice.

This is some of delicate ice they found.
Hopefully we'll get pictures of the under-ice life they found.