Thank you to the Students at Wines Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan for these great questions.
Is the weather hard to get used to?
The cold weather is a bit of a shock to the system, but you get used to it very fast. By that, I mean you get used to wearing the parka, wind pants, hat, gloves and neck and face protection. But it all becomes habit after awhile. It doesn't feel that cold to me anymore. It has warmed up some, and that is part of it. But I am also more accustomed to the cold. However, when the wind blows, it ALWAYS feels cold!
What is the coldest temperature since you have gotten there?
The coldest straight tempterature was around -25. The coldest windchill was about -40.
Has anyone had frost bite?
I don't know anyone who has gotten frostbite. We have a lot of excellent training to protect ourselves very well.
Why do you have different shifts to drill?
We have a very limited time on the sea ice before it starts to break up. So we need to work all day long and all night long to make the best use of our time here. There are two 12 hour shifts, both on the drill site and here in the laboratory.
Have you found any gems?
No, the rocks here do not have many gems. There are some very interesting minerals though!
Are there volcanic rocks?
Yes - in fact, that is practically the ONLY rock type you can find in McMurdo. McMurdo station is built on a volcanic island, called Ross Island. I am even helping make a geologic map of McMurdo Station. Most of the rocks are volcanic - but there is great variety even in the volcanic rocks.
How big are the sediments that you find?
The sediments in the core range from the size of mud, to big rocks two or more feet across. So far we have drilled down to approximately 350 m. below sea level.
Is there a certain spot where you need to dig? That is, why was the drill put in a certain place?
Two years ago, geologists did a seismic survey of this area to look at what the rocks looked like below the ice. This uses sound waves, created by a big "BOOM" of compressed air, travel down through the layers of rock, and get reflected back up to the surface where special microphones pick up and record their sound. These seismic reflections show the different rock layers, and how thick they are, and where there are basins beneath the seafloor. By looking at the results of the seismic survey, the ANDRILL team chose the site that would give them the sediments of the age they were most interested in learning about.
How big is the drill? Can someone fall down the hole the drill makes?
The drill rig is 20 meters high (more than 60 feet!), and weighs about 90 tons. The drillers are extremely safe on the drill site. The drill is built in such a way that there is not a danger of falling in. The thickest core is only about 4 inches in diameter, so there is no risk of falling down the hole. There is more great information about the drill rig at: http://www.andrill.org/technology/rig
Has anyone gotten hurt drilling?
No. And If they did get hurt, there is a medical officer out on the drill site. If someone needed medical attention, a helicopter would fly out and get them and take them to the hospital in McMurdo.
What kinds of animals have you seen?
So far I have seen 1 Weddell Seal and 1 Adelie Penguin. That's it, so far! I hope to see more animals when I head out into the field.
Have the penguins mated yet?
Some have, and some haven't. The Emperor Penguin's reproductive cycle starts in March or April. The Adelie Penguin's cycle is going on right now. Those are the two types of penguins that are most commonly present in this part of Antarctica.
Have you seen any unknown animals?
I have seen small microfossils in the core that I do not recognize. But the micropaleontologists on the ice know exactly what they are, and they can identify the age of the core by looking at the microfossils. I have not seen any unknown animals on land, partly because I have not seen many animals!
If you had a choice, would you have named the drilling program ANDRILL?
Yes - I think that's a good name! I like that it is short and it clearly identifies the project. Do you have a different idea?
How many people are there?
In McMurdo, there are around 1,200 people here. For ANDRILL, there are around 80 people on ice.
Do you like it?
I LOVE my experience here! I am learning so very much about Antarctica, ANDRILL, and other projects. And I am also having a lot of fun!
Since global warming is going on, why are you using snowmobiles and not huskies?
That's a great question and I'm glad you are thinking about things like that. I would prefer if we used huskies, and it would certainly be better for the environment. The problem with huskies is that they require a lot of care, and also they can interfere with the natural animal population here. They could harm penguins or seals if they got loose, and we need to protect the native species of Antarctica, and not inroduce any diseases or threats to them. We are only visitors here on this continent.