Thursday, April 8, 2010
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Friday, December 14, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Most of the day on Monday was spent collecting all of our belongings, doing the last loads of laundry and packing all but the clothes on our backs and ECW gear into suitcases and orange duffel bags. The process for leaving Antarctica is the reverse of arrival. Everyone has to wear ECW gear on the plane and are only allowed one small bag to carry on, everything else has to be checked in ahead of time and loaded on as cargo. The day before scheduled flights back to McMurdo everyone has to bring checked luggage to the transport office during "Bag Drag". All checked items must weigh less than 75 pounds and be left there overnight. Robin, Joanna, Bob, Ken, Graziano and I had to report for Bag Drag at 8pm that Monday evening. Fortunately I had mailed home four boxes of books and gift items I bought for family members so all of my remaining gear weighed in at 68 pounds. Everyone in ECW gear and carry-on items also had to be weighed. I had my big red pockets stuffed with fruit for the flight back, along with a couple of books. My carryon bag contained my laptop, two cameras, a dozen rolls of film, my jeans, a couple pairs of shoes, sunglasses and a bottle of water. I stepped on the scale with all of that and laughed to see I weighed 205 lbs! But it felt great to leave most of the luggage behind knowing that someone else would have to drag it around and all I needed to worry about was getting to the ANDRILL End of Season party.
It was a very good party.
By now, through all sorts of bonding experiences, we had formed so many friendships and everyone was together enjoying each others' company. Many of us danced the evening away. Robin and Joanna took a breather in the cooler air outside.
I finally had to stop dancing at midnight! As I left to go back to my dorm room, I tried not to think about saying goodbye, it was easier to say "see you later" in hopes that I would see everyone later.
Fortunately, our flight was scheduled for early afternoon and we could have one last trip to the cafeteria and a real lunch instead of a snack box on the plane.
We then loaded ourselves onto Ivan the Terrabus- or the MART (McMurdo Area Rapid Transit) and bounced along the sea ice "highway" out to the "airport".
There actually is a very small passenger terminal at McMurdo International Airport, but it was such a beautiful spring day we all enjoyed our last hour out on the sea ice with a clear view of Mt. Erebus (too bad I couldn't zap myself to the top of Ob Hill for a photo of the view!). Once all the cargo was loaded onto the C-17 we clamored aboard and found seats along the sides of the plane.
This flight was much more spacious than the C-130 and we could get up and walk around. We even went up in the cockpit for a good view of the mountains and ice slipping away beneath us.
I have to say, it was a very emotional trip back to "civilization". Antarctica has changed me. It's made me stronger, weaker, older, and younger. It has also made me wiser and claimed me as a permanent resident in my heart.
After a very short five hour flight we landed in Christ Church and changed out of our ECW gear, no longer needed in the New Zealand summer evening. We took all of our borrowed gear back to the clothing distribution center and looked more like tourists as we checked back into the Windsor B&B. Once again the friendly voice on the PA system called us to breakfast at 7:30 in the morning with the distinctive "wakey, wakey". I had just enough time to skip around the corner to the art museum before Robin and I had to catch our flight. We were happily surprised that we could spend some of our wait time at the airport outside on the rooftop observation deck.
After three plane flights and two December the 5ths I woke from a nap on the flight coming into Dallas to see the most spectacular sunset I can ever remember. Of course not seeing a sunset in two months might have made this one all the more spectacular.
I'm back home now trying to figure out what day it is, and why it seems so dark at night. It still seems like it should be time to get ready for Thanksgiving. Even though I'm a little disoriented, I do know I'm really glad to be back together with my family and am looking forward to sharing my amazing adventure with the kids at school.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
The finished product!
So imagine my excitement when Jean Pennycook, a TEA friend of mine and the education outreach director for David Ainley’s www.penguinscience.com, invited me to come out to visit the rookery at Cape Royds! It would give us a chance to talk about how we are each approaching education outreach for our science teams. I brought Steve Petrushak, an ANDRILL scientist, and Rainer Lehmann, the German ARISE teacher. We packed up our sleep kits and “P” bottles (and yes, that’s what they are for!) for camping overnight, and headed out in a pisten bully with Rob Robbins and his dive team. (see the last few pictures.) It was a two-hour drive across the sea ice. The divers dropped us at the Cape Royds camp and then set up their camp on the sea ice where they melted a hole and did three dives to retrieve a current meter. It took them 12 hours to melt the hole, and then several hours to do the dives, so we had from 6 pm until about noon to explore with Jean.
Jean and me--a very cold day!
Jean welcoming us to the Ainley camp. You can see the Jamesway and one of the Scott tents.
Jean and David welcomed us with a wonderful spaghetti dinner—we had brought a fresh loaf of bread from the galley—and then we walked to the penguin rookery. Their camp is over several large hills and quite a distance from the penguins. I asked why so far, but when we got there I understood the reason! The birds are raucous as they call to their mates, and the young males without mates are constantly making displays and loudly shouting their virility to the world hoping a female will notice them. And the smell is reminiscent of a barnyard!
The penguin rookery is an “ASMA” area—Antarctic Specially Managed Area”- so we were not allowed to walk through it, but we were able to stand on a hill overlooking the area and take lots of pictures. I was amazed that as we stood with the 2000 mating pairs of penguins to our left, and the sea ice to our right, that it was only about 200 meters to OPEN ocean! I asked about that, because when we flew in, there were hundreds of miles of frozen ocean before we reached the continent. How could this water be open? David explained that it is a polyna. “Polyna” is a Russian word meaning unfrozen water surrounded by ice. There is some mystery to how these form in the Southern Ocean, but this one was probably blown free of ice by the strong winds experienced here recently, and as a result of the huge iceberg finally breaking up and moving north. At any rate, the penguins are enjoying a much shorter walk to their dinner “tables” and "showers"!
After several years of a declining population at this Adelie penguin rookery, it has shown an increase this year, and we were thrilled to hear that. Many of the birds are wing-tagged or have microchips for tracking. There are four penguin colonies being studied by Ainley’s group. They are from Cape Royds, the smallest with about 4000 birds, to Cape Bird, Beaufort Island and Cape Crozier, the largest with 130,000 birds. The success of the birds may have something to do with the nearness of the open water, so foraging is much easier. I asked about leopard seals and whether they were a problem predator for this colony. Since this is a small colony, it would not support a leopard seal’s need for massive quantities of penguin meat. I was told it would be like a marathon runner trying to eat enough calories by picking strawberries along the way.
From our vantage point on the hill, we were able to watch the penguins in constant motion marching out to the sea and then marching back again. The males and females take turns sitting on the egg while the other goes to eat and groom. They can’t leave the egg alone for a minute because it will freeze, or worse, the skuas will dive in and grab it. Skuas are large, brown sea gull-like scavengers. They will grab an egg from a penguin, or steal a baby if a parent isn’t diligently watching. I saw a little adult penguin run after a large skua when it landed in the rookery. He won, too. I think the skua decided that it wasn’t worth the aggravation. The skua flew off to a different spot where I’m sure he hoped the penguins weren’t keeping such close watch.
We weren’t allowed in the ASMA area, but we were able to walk to the sea ice edge, and if a penguin decided to come up to us…well, it was okay. And they did! It was just amazing. They are so curious when they see the big red people that they come running over to check you out. If we were very quiet, or sat on the ice, they would come within just a few feet and let us take lots of pictures. A whale swam by, and unfortunately our quick glimpse didn’t allow us to identify the species for sure, but we think it was a minke. Minkes are the least threatened of the whale species in the Southern Ocean. We also had quite a show with a momma seal and her pup. The pup was insisting that she play with him, and like a good mom, she did!
A storm blew up quickly, and we decided we had better hike back to the hut before it got much worse. We weren’t ready to go in, but it would not be fun to be caught on the sea ice or in the high hills between the ocean and camp in whiteout conditions. I slept in Jean’s tent, and the guys bunked in a small shed. But, the next morning dawned with a brilliant blue sky and bright, beautiful light, and we knew we were in store for some better pictures than even the night before.
Again we hiked down to the sea ice and gingerly picked our way through the cracks. It is very slick and is beginning to change, so lots of caution was required. But the effort was well worth it. We saw emperors as well as adelies! And the adelies were very active swimming and jumping through the water and leaping up onto the ice and sliding like a fumbled football before stopping.
So I hope you enjoy these pictures. I will let them tell part of the story. It was an experience I will never forget, and I wish I could find the words to adequately describe the pictures I carry in my head!
Rainer. Louise, and Steve on the way back, stopped at Barn Glacier.
Pisten Bully pulling the divers' "tomato" hut. Thanks Amy, Rob and Addy for the ride! Thanks Steve and Rainer for sharing photos!
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Of the many things you might notice, look at the two grains that are brownish tan in the plain polar light on the left. These demonstrate why mineral identification of grains needs both plain polar and cross polar examination. When you look at the same two grains under cross polar, one is still brown and transparent, the other has turned black! That one is glass, the other pyroxene (also a volcanic mineral). Like the pyroxene in this slide, some minerals look the same under either light, others change a lot. Either way, it tells us about what type of mineral it is.
Friday, December 7, 2007
of Terra NovaBay - the site of Mario Zucchelli Station
The Twin Otter being loaded on the ice at Mario Zucchelli Station
The flight was a microcosm of the International flavor of Antarctica: passengers on the flight included a French Geophysicist/Station Manager (his name was Jean-Francois) en route to the joint Italian/French Station (Concordia Station) at Dome C, and three members of the Italian Station, as well as the Pilot and co-pilot, and another Polish-Canadian pilot that was getting a ride back to Mario Zucchelli, plus myself, Joanna, and Graziano (the teacher from Italy). After the initial rush we waited for an hour while some bags were transferred from the C-17 that had just arrived from Christchurch.
Mario Zuchelli Station (formerly called Terra Nova Station) is the Italian station at the southern extent of Northern Victoria Land. We flew over the Ross Sea with views of the Transantarctic Mountains to the west (left) in the distance. But the view that captivated or mesmerized me was the view straight down. I had not realized both how complex and how distinctive the different types of sea ice are, and what a complex pattern they make - it was like looking at pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. At first much of the sea-ice was covered by relatively recent snow that was draped over the ice – one could make out subtle patterns in the ice below, such as the pattern left by the channel that was broken by the icebreaker when the ship came in last February/March. As we flow north we started to get a sense of the area representing a jigsaw of ice plates that been broken up, refrozen, then broken up again.
The Incredible World of Sea Ice
Here are some of the distinctive forms and features that I could see (go to the NSIDC or World Meteorological Organization or NOAA for descriptions and definitions of the different types of sea ice).
Ceramic Tile (my 'Trivet #1') showing winter and summer extent of sea ice around Antarctica - based on data and maps from NOAA)
We flew over the Drygalski Ice Tongue – which was the centre of an iceberg-related drama in 2005. The Drygalski Ice Tongue is the floating portion of the Davis Glacier. It is 20 km wide, 50-200 m thick, and at least 4000 years old (based on radiocarbon dates from penguin guano). The area of open water (polynya) on its northern margin provides access to good fishing for the penguin colonies in the vicinity.
View of edge of Drygalski Ice Tongue and adjacent sea ice (mostly Nilas Ice)
The Drygalski Ice Tongue is moving at a rate of between 50 and 900 meters per year. The iceberg-related drama that I mentioned is the collision of portions of the large iceberg (B-15) that broke off from the front of the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 with the Drygalski Ice Tongue in April 2005. The chunk of Ice broken off the Ice Tongue measured about 7.5 miles across.
There are several areas of open water in the Ross Sea; these are called polynyas. The map below shows the approximate location of two of the larger polynyas we flew over.
The polynya near the Drygalski Ice Tongue is the result of strong catabatic winds that produce waves and prevent sea ice from forming. Within some of the polynyas that we flew over I could see incredible diatom blooms that look brownish grey in color; the distribution of the diatoms is a consequence in part of wind and wave action; diatoms are algae that make their microscopic shells out of silica - we have a team of diatomists working with Andrill that are using ancient diatoms to help us determine the age of the sediments in the core.
Aerial view of the Terra Nova Polynya with diatom blooms (brownish areas in the water). This picture is taken looking westward towards the Transantarctic Mountains.
Diatom Bloom at the edge of the Ice. Sometimes the thinner and younger Dark Nilas seems to incorporate diatoms from these blooms - it takes on a murky brownish color. There must be enough sunlight here to allow the diatoms to photosynthesize.
At Mario Zuchelli they had been very concerned as to whether the fragments of B-15 would collide with the Campbell Glacier Tongue, which is just north of the station, and essentially protects the water in Gerlache Inlet (the northern part of Terra Nova Bay) from early melt out.
This is important because at Mario Zucchelli they depend in part on a sea-ice runway as long as possible. It turned out that the Campbell Ice Tongue was unaffected by B-15, but Giuseppe and Roberto did describe the calving of a large portion of the Campbell Ice Tongue “we looked out the window at breakfast one morning and suddenly realized that the front of the ice stream had broken off and a large iceberg was floating away.” They are still waiting to see exactly how this will affect development and melting of the sea ice in Gerlache Inlet.
What amused me about my arrival at Mario Zuchelli was that even here in Antarctica, there was something about the color and light that made it seem Mediterranean (the wonderful pasta and good coffee also helped). It is situated on honey-colored granitic rocks in a small cove.
Mario Zucchelli Station with Mt. Browning & the Deep Freeze Range in the Background. You can see the sea ice runway (...on the sea ice ...)
The sun was low on the horizon, and the rocks had a warm glow to them, emphasizing their beautiful weathered shapes, illuminating the mostly blue and red station. It seemed like a picturesque fishing village in comparison to the enormous station at McMurdo.