Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Great Questions from Students! (And Attempted Answers)

From Mrs. Molly Crankshaw's Third Grade Class at Burns Park Elementary School, Ann Arbor, Michigan

> Dear Mrs. Gleason,
> We have had fun reading about your journey and are happy to hear that
> you made it safely there! We have some questions for you!
> 1. If your 5 gallon jug of water froze, how did you drink it?

GREAT question! We all had 1 quart Nalgene (a type of plastic) bottles
that we filled with hot water before we went outside. We kept those
bottles in a pocket on the inside of our parkas, close to our bodies,
so they wouldn't freeze. Having a little water allowed us to dig some
snow and put it in a pot, and add water to it, and melt it. Once we
had a big pot of boiling water, we drank some, refilled our nalgene
bottles, and poured boiling water into the big 5 gallon jugs to start
to melt them. For those jugs that were totally filled with solid ice,
there was nothing we could do except take them inside the hut to thaw.
But for the jugs that were only partially full, we were able to melt
some of the ice and turn back into water.

Did you know that water expands when it freezes? It does! If you stuck
a water bottle, completely full, in the freezer, the bottle would
stretch or crack when it froze - because the frozen water is bigger (or has MORE VOLUME)
than the liquid water. So - when we fill the 5 gallon jugs, or any
other container, with liquid that is likely to freeze, we must be very
careful NOT TO fill it completely. We don't want to crack our

> 2. Have you sen any penguins yet?

No - not yet. McMurdo station is not near any of their rookeries, or
breeding grounds. So we won't expect to see a lot of them here.
However, once I head out into the field I expect that we will see an
occasional penguin, as we will be closer to their breediing grounds.
This is springtime in Antarctica, and this is when the penguins pair
up and mate.

Also, for the Emperor Penguins, who lay their eggs before winter, they
stay further out near open water, and near their food supply. (Can you guess what they eat?) When the
ice starts to break up, we may see them coming through cracks in the
ice. But right now they are still quite a distance away. I will certainly
share news of penguin sightings when we have them!

> 3. Do you get your zipper fixed on your sleeping bag?
Sleeping bags for survival school are given out on the first day, and
collected on the second day. So it wasn't "my" sleeping bag. But - you
bet - I did set that sleeping bag aside so that nobody else in future Happy Camper School classes would be
stuck with a broken zipper!

> 4. Do you know any of the other people there?

Yes! You may recall that I did field work here 22 years ago. I am
re-connecting with some of the people I did work with awhile back.
Also, since I worked as a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, I
worked in a pretty large community of geologists. Remarkably, one of
the other ARISE team members, Kate Pound, was a geologist I worked
with at the U.S.G.S. 25 years ago, when we were both students! It's a
small world, isn't it? (You should check out the wonderful blogs she is

> 5. How big is your tent?

The tent I slept in in Survival School was about 10 feet by 10 feet.
(Challenge: what is the area of that tent???) That is the same size
tent I will be sleeping in in the field.

> 6. Is there any sun?

Yes - there is lots and lots and lots of sun! The sun is shining
almost all day long, though it does set lower in the sky for a few
hours each day. I watch the sun make a circle in the sky each day. On
cloudless days the sun is very intense. The ozone, a protective
layer of the atmosphere, is very very thin here because there is a hole in it - so we have to be
very careful here not to get sunburned. I put sunscreen on every day.

Also, since the ice and show surface is white, the sun is reflected
and then shines back up at us, sometimes burning the underside of my
chin, or my ears or my nose. I will be sure to post some pictures
showing you how sunny it is here!

> 7. What's the name of the cook?

Joan Hamre is the name of the cook. She is great!

> 8. Have you done any snow boarding?

No, I am not a snowboarder. But also, there is very little snow here!
Remember, this is a desert. McMurdo is on volcanic rock, and whatever
show is around is very compacted. Sea ice surrounds us, and that's no
good for snowboarding. There is some snow out on the ice shelf - and
on the sides of some of the neighboring mountains. In fact, at the New
Zealand base near here, called Scott Base, there is a natural half
pipe. But there are a lot of dangers associated with skiing or
snowboarding, such as cracks. So one has to be very careful before
setting out to do any recreational skiing or snowboarding.

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