Thursday, November 22, 2007

Educator Night at Mario Zucchelli!

American Night at Scott Base is a Thursday night tradition where shuttles run from McMurdo to Scott and back for most of the evening and Americans are welcome to visit the Kiwi station. Kate, Graziano and I did the Italian & American version when we had the good fortune to be invited to visit the Italian station up the coast - Mario Zucchelli (formerly Terra Nova). We grabbed our ECW and overnight things in about 20 minutes and hightailed it to the airfield. We rode north in a 14 seater souped-up Twin Otter run by Ken Borek Air Ltd, a Canadian company under contract for smaller scale Antarctic air transport between many nations' stations in this area (2-8 hour flight radius). Also on the flight with us were a few Italian base staffers, the new French station manager for Concordia (a year-round joint French and Italian base at Dome C on the polar plateau) and a Polish-Canadian pilot catching a ride. Antarctica is a wonderful model for international cooperation, everyone is working towards similar scientific or logistical goals under extreme conditions.

The hour and a half flight was a fabulous flightseeing opportunity as we hugged the coast of Ross Island, then crossed sea ice in many forms, a glacial ice tounge and two polynyas (large ice-free areas). The patterns created by the fracturing and crushing, melting and refreezing of the ice were ever changing and gorgeous. I was especially fascinated by the new ice where fractures had split apart and then pushed over and under each other, creating a zipper effect.

Mario Zucchelli station is situated on a granite peninsula with wonderful views in every direction. We were warmly welcomed, fed an amazing dinner of clam pasta, breaded sole and soup, and then given a tour of the station. Much of the main station building is made from connected container vans and is a cheerful blue and red. Kate and I found our names on the door of our dorm room, and very cozy bunk beds inside with fluffy feather comforters. We didn't spend much time in our room, as we had such a short time at the base, we got out and did as much walking as we could. The weathered granite with exceptionally large crystals around the station was very different from what we see on our volcanic island home, or in our visit to the Dry Valleys. After a great breakfast we took off for McMurdo, far too soon. A HUGE THANK YOU to Roberto, Jean, Lucia, Guissepe, and all the other folks at MZ who made our quick visit so special!

How many countries have Antarctic or Sub-Antarctic Stations? How many are seasonal vs year-round? How many people work there? Can you find pictures of what some look like?

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