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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Scavenging in Antarctica

Recycling and scavenging are part of the culture in Antarctica. Everything that is brought to McMurdo must eventually be shipped back to the US. This includes all of the trash and waste. There is even a department called Waste, and the people who work there proudly call themselves "wasties." This is the view of the mountains over the frozen ocean from the Waste Dept. There they go through every candy wrapper and soda can.

At the same time, scavenging is a very respectable part of the culture here. This is the skua bird.
This skua bird hangs around the door from the dining room, waiting for folks to come out with a plate of food or a sandwich. It's like a good-sized duck. I met my first skua as it was flying toward my face. It was interested in what might be in my hands. Since the skua is a scavenger, scavenging here is called "Skua."

Notice that the skua is about the same color as the background. The ground here is volcanic soil. Most of the ice "in town" here has melted, and this dark gravel is what's left. Not pretty like the ice and snow of a month ago. Temperatures now range from a high of about 25F down to about 10F. Even though the sun is up all the time, the "night" hours cool off. Often there's water trickling along the ground during the day, and it freezes into ice patches overnight.

Every building has a wall of recycling bins. Anything useable such as clothing goes into the Skua bin. It's quite acceptable to go through the skua bin to see if there's anything you like and take it with you.

The skua bins are combined at a building called Skua Central. It's like a free Goodwill store. Go in anytime, take what you like, tidy the place up a bit (there's no attendant), and give it back if and when you're done with it.

Finding parts here is also a scavenging adventure. Even though there are a number of pretty well organized warehouses, there many drawers of odds and ends. Want a nut and bolt? Start digging. This makes me appreciate the local hardware store at home, where I can just walk in for what I want.
This picture is the shop that I work out of. This is where I start looking. I've found that things rather magically appear if I give them time. I had a particular kind of fastener in mind and couldn't find it. A couple days later I ran across a small length of chain, like would be on a backyard swing set. A piece of one of those links worked perfectly. This week we needed a set screw for a piece of commercial cooking equipment. The heavy equipment shop (buldozers and cranes) had what I needed. (They also have an excellent popcorn machine and are willing to share, though I hear the one in the carpenter's shop is even better!)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Artarctica Inside

One of my friends said, "National Geographic has shown us what Antarctica looks like outside. Show us what it looks like inside!" This is Pat's and my tiny 8 x 13' dorm room. To get some space, we took the doors off the wardrobes, laid them on their sides, put the doors over them to make a platform, and put the mattresses over that. Storage underneath.
Over 1000 people eat in the dining room each meal. The food is great, always available, and it's free, of course. This picture happens to show all men, but about 1/3 of the population is women.

There are three bars, in three small separate buildings. This one is known as the coffee house. It serves espresso, wine, and liquors. It's my favorite of the 3 because it's quietish. But Sat night is lively.

The central computer room is always busy. We have great email and internet connections. Phone is a local call to Denver, and all other LD calls are billed as if they originate in Denver.

This is the lecture hall in the Crary Science Center. This is where all the research is headquartered. Every Sunday and Wed eves there is a presentation by one of the scientists--ranging from what penguins do to what's happening to the garbage that in past years was deposited in the ocean here. I saw slides of the creatures that live under 20 feet of ice--surprisingly beautiful and colorful a lot like the tropics.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ice Caves & Boots

Partner Pat and I had an opportunity this week to go inside an ice cave inside a glacer. Wow, was it ever beautiful. Instead of the usual gray limestone of caves I'm used to, this one is all sparkly white. We slid inside on our butts, and then could stand. Perfectly quiet in there except for some crackles of the ice.

It had a cathedral-like feeling.

Some of the formations were swirls.

The ice cave was about a 45-minute slow drive in a special vehicle made to take 18 people over the sea ice. The tires are huge and the ride is bouncy. Hard to see out because the windows get all frosted over.

Whever we leave "town" on an excursion like the ice caves or camping, we wear the boots extreme cold weather gear we were issued. Huge white "bunny boots" are part of that. They're even bigger than my steel toed super insulated work boots, which weigh 5 pounds as a pair, but not as heavy. I used to think that my Colorado hiking boots (far right) were heavy. But when I wear them on Sunday now, they feel like feathers. I can do my aerobic step workout (100 steps up and down) on each leg now wearing the work boots!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Camper (or not)

I just got back from a camping trip in Antarctica. That's right--20 of us were "out there" for 24 hours, including overnight, in just tents and snow shelters that we built. You bet it was cold--somewhere below zero.

This isn't something I would ever choose to do. It was a job requirement for anyone whose job might take them "out of town." Yikes. Fortunately, I had only 24 hours notice that I was going, so there wasn't much time to get (ahem) cold feet. Actually, my feet did get quite cold eventually.

We had to pitch tents in the wind (not easy), dig up blocks of snow to build a wind wall, and melt snow into drinking water.
Some guys dug snow caves to sleep in. There were 18 men and 2 women. I slept in a little nylon tent just like we use for summer camping at home, a couple of foam pads, and a very good sleeping bag. It was very strange to have the sun fully up in the sky at 3 a.m. Having to "get up in the night" as a colosal pain, especially for us women.

Here is what the view was like all around the campsite. Wide open distant spaces! No civilization anywhere. The black flags mean danger--a cravass or something. Yikes again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Here are Pat and me at McMurdo. Everyone here wears these red parkas. They make this weather (from +10 degrees F to -10F) seem quite ordinary. And after all, it is summer here.
Notice the building in the background on the left. All of the buildings here are elevated so that the snow can blow under rather than drifting. Not much snow falls here. In fact, it's one of the driest places on the planet. But the small amount of snow blows around a lot, and the wind can be (but isn't always) ferocious. Starting this week, the sun will be up around the clock until February.

We came to Antarctica from New Zealand on an Air Force C17 cargo jet. In many ways it was more comfortable than a commercial airline--more room. Did need to wear earplugs, though.

The flight was 5 hours, and I got to do it three times just to get here. There's a term called "boomerang." That means you get in the plane, fly for several hours, and then turn around and go back to new Zealand because the weather was too bad to land in Antarctica. I had a 5 hour boomerang, and a few days later a 10 hour one. On that one, we got all the way here and had to turn back. All together I spent 11 days on paid vacation in Christchurch, NZ between these trips. It was a very nice all expenses paid vacation, and I got a paycheck too. Life's surprises!

This is one of "my" furnaces. We do preventive maintenance on each of these monthly, quarterly, and an annual teardown. No wonder they run so well.