Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ms. Theilen - First Grade, Talahi

These are answers to questions asked by students in Ms. Theilen's class at Talahi Community School in St. Cloud, Minnesota

Where do you sleep at night?

We sleep in dorms. They are large 2-storey buildings. We are lucky because we are in 2-person rooms (some people have 4 or 5 to a room I gather). There is a bathroom (toilets and showers are down the hallway), and a laundry room with washers and dryers down the hall. These pictures show the outside of the dorm and the inside of my dorm room, which I share with Louise Huffman. When we did ‘Happy Camper’ School I slept (not much!) in a Scott Tent (see my Happy Camper blog). The people that are working at the drillsite sleep at the drill camp, which is just next to the drillsite. They have ‘rooms’ built into containers, they have little ‘portholes’ for windows – take a very close look at the picture.

Why is Antarctica a desert?
See the blog I posted yesterday – and email me more questions if you have any; also check out this web page on Antarctic Desert and Tundra.

Is all of Antarctica a desert?
There are a few places on the Antarctic Peninsula that get more rain than places at the center of the continent (go to and check out average rainfall and temperature for the coastal locations, especially Palmer Station); they are a bit warmer, and are closer to the ocean, and is impacted by storms that carry more moisture. There are a variety of research projects that examine the ecology of specific areas. There is some really exciting current research on algae and other microscopic life forms that are living in the extreme environments in Antarctica; researchers have recognized areas they have termed the Marielandia Antarctic Desert and Maudlandia Antarctic Desert; thses areas are identified as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas, because of their unique fauna.

Is there more snow or ice (in Antarctica)?
This is an interesting question. What happens is that the snow at the surface gradually turns to ice, so that there is often a thin veneer of snow at the surface (unless it has been blown away by wind which is quite common), that covers the ice below.

How do you decide where to drill?
This is a complicated question to answer. Basically we use information we have from two areas. First we use information from the few other places in the Ross sea area that have been drilled – these tell us what sediment layers there are there. We also use information from what we call seismic surveys. These surveys send out waves of energy, the energy waves bounce off some of the sediment layers beneath McMurdo Sound, and help us know how thick the layers are, and where they get thicker of thinner. Because we want to drill through a particular set of layers, we use both of these pieces of information to select the drill site. Two of our ARISE team are out on a seismic survey at the moment. Check out Julia’s blogs - she just got back from the seismic survey.

Does it snow a lot?
No it does not snow much. As you have learned, the definition of a desert is that it receives ~250 mm (about 10 inches) of rain (or rain equivalent) a year. We get closer to a maximum of 125 mm (5 inches) a year here at McMurdo. The tricky thing is that the winds (which can be REALLY strong) usually blow snow around, so even if it isn’t actually snowing, it feels as though it is, and it becomes ‘white-out’ conditions because of the blowing snow. The snow rarely melts – although I did notice a few patches of melting snow around the dark volcanic rocks as I went on a walk today. We can see storms arriving when we see clouds of blowing snow moving towards us from the southwest.

What kind of food do you eat?
We eat in a large central building called “The Galley” or “Building 155”. It is just like a school cafeteria (except the food is much better – the baker here is awesome). Everyone just puts their coats in the ‘coat bays’, and goes in to the cafeteria (washing their hands on the way - see Joanna’s blog).

We collect trays, plates and glasses, just like in any cafeteria, then we sit down at a table to eat. Here you see me sitting down to eat with Phill and Bob. Robin took these pictures. At breakfast there is cereal, some cooked breakfast, and an option of having an omlette of some kind. There is also canned fruit, yogurt, juices, and hot drinks.

At lunch there is a variety of hot meal options, plus bread and soup, and there is a sandwich bar. There are also yummy desserts (not to be confused with deserts). Dinner is the same.

There is also a meal called ‘Mid-Rats’ - it is a ‘lunch’ for nightshift people. On Sundays we have a brunch – it is my favorite meal, because they usually (as long as a plane has come in) have fresh fruit and cheese, with foccacia. They also have other hot items, and waffles at brunch.

What kinds of things have you found in the drilling?
We have found all sorts of sedimentary rocks. Some of them are sediments called diamictites – these were deposited by glaciers. Other sediments we have found are just like beach sands. We have also found fine sediments that have diatoms (microfossils) in them – these are called Diatomites.

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