Tuesday, October 9, 2007

In Antarctica - Finally!!

What an exciting day! We learned on Monday that most of our team would be flying on an F-17 that would be leaving Christchurch for McMurdo at 10 am on Tuesday 9th October. Two of our team (Robin and Julia) would be on an older Hercules, that would be leaving an hour or so earlier – but would actually get there later than us because it cannot fly as fast (see Joanna’s blog at http://arise-in-antarctica.blogspot.com/search/label/Joanna to learn more about the C-17 (Globemaster) - in fact, check out the blogs from all of the team at the Andrill Education & Outreach Page (http://www.andrill.org/iceberg/index.html.
After waking up at 5:15 am to see Robin and Julia off, we learned that their departure had been delayed, but ours would still be at 10 am. I tried to go back to sleep – which was hard. I ended up reading a book. After having breakfast and putting the few things I still had in my boomerang and carry-on bags, we waited around for the shuttles that would take us back out to the CDC and the Antarctic Passenger Terminal.

Once we got there, I located my long underwear and some of the other layers, and got dressed in my ECW gear, and then double-checked my bags to make sure they were labeled and did not weigh too much.

Here I am with ARISE Team member Joanna Hubbard, from Alaska.
Next we had to go to the check-in at the Antarctica Passenger Terminal – the place that all people working as scientists or support personnel in Antarctica go through – there are no sightseeing or tourist flights to Antarctica.
First the police used dogs to check (sniff) the bags for drugs and other illegal substances.

They checked our passports, weighed our bags, and weighed us (and our ECW gear and carry-on bags), and gave us an ‘ID card’ that was our ‘ticket,’ and told us to report back in 45 minutes.

Most of us wandered over to the cafeteria at the Antarctic Center, and got something to eat and drink, and just lounged around on the lawn. When we reported back we were shown a video on safety issues, and given some more instructions. We had to go through airport security here too – we had to put our bags through screening – and take laptops out, and separate any liquids and gels in our carry-on into ziploc bags just like on an ordinary commercial flight. Our gear set off the alarm as we walked through, but they had someone who wanded each of us. Next we picked up a box lunch and fruit and a bottle of water as we headed out to the bus. The bus took us to the waiting plane, an F-17 or Globemaster.

The load master was standing at the bottom of the steps and welcomed us aboard. The back half of the plane was full of pallets of cargo as well as our bags. Contrary to my expectations, this was the most comfortable plane flight I have ever been on. We sat on seats along the side of the plane – plenty of leg room. Even the pallets of seats have more legroom than a commercial flight. True, there were no windows, and it was noisy, but I had earplugs in and headphones on. The other really pleasant aspect was that everyone on board was friendly, respectful, courteous - they even invited us up to take a look out from the cockpit.

On the Plane

The most exciting part was when I walked back to one of the two windows that we could peek through – and I saw land covered by snow and ice down below. The shadows emphasized the ridges and valleys in an otherwise monochromatic landscape; one can identify ice-filled valleys based on the texture of the surface. It was a truly endless vista … until it became cloud-covered.

Landing in a plane without the visual cue provided by windows was a strange sensation – it was a very smooth landing. By this time we had all put our ECW gear on – it was a sea of red – our hats were for the most part the only distinguishing characteristic.

Stepping on to the Antarctic Continent

As I stepped off the plane, much to my surprise it wasn’t the cold that hit me, but the scale, magnitude, and beauty of the landscape. It was a clear sunny day, with blue skies and the Royal Society Range on one side, and Mount Erebus with a small plume on the other – here I am on the Anatarctic continent! Seeing a Landscape I have seen pictures of and read about - and here I am, finally - quite overwhelming. I wish I could have stood there for much, much longer to savor it, take it all in. We boarded the bus (Ivan the Terrabus) which took us to McMurdo Station for a briefing, dinner, collecting our room keys, and finally our luggage. I am here!

When you look at this map of Antarctica from http://www.musc.edu/cando/ice/aaamap.html (shown here) What direction is South America? South Africa? New Zealand? The Atlantic Ocean? The Pacific Ocean? India? Australia? Give the direction in degrees of longitude.
If I am standing at McMurdo Station (which is on the west side of the Ross Sea, where Ross Island is labeled on the map), and looking north, why is East Antarctica essentially to my west, and the West Antarctic Peninsula to my east? Email me your answer, with your school and teacher information. The first correct answer picked out of a hat will get an Andrill baseball cap as a Prize.
Next blog post I will try to tell you a bit about McMurdo Station. It is starting to get VERY busy, as we prepare for the arrival of the first core from the drill rig. I'll start looking at the science that we have traveled here to this amazing place to do. Email me questions about Andrill and doing research in Antarctica at kspound@andrill.org.

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