Tuesday, October 30, 2007
There is great excitement around here, as the crew of the Today Show are arriving in McMurdo for a week long stay. They are here to report on many different aspects of Antarctica, including the science research. I understand that Ann Curry is coming here (and I just saw the C-17 aircraft arrive - as I have a view of the ice runway from my office window), Matt Lauer is going to the Arctic, and Al Roker, the weather man is going to the Equator in Equador, all for simlutaneous reporting. I also heard that the primary focus of this series is global climate change, of which ANDRILL is a key player. I find it very exciting that awareness about climate change has now reached a critical enough level that mainstream media are flying to the ends of the earth for a week to cover it and popularize the scientific research. I applaud them for their efforts to bring the science and global systems awareness alive to viewers and to make it relavent to their lives.
The Today Show team will be spending time with and interviewing members of the ANDRILL Team, as well as other science teams here on ice. I understand that they will have several taped segments, and two live, simultaneous broadcasts from around the world, scheduled for the mornings of November 5 and 6 (in the U.S., which would be the wee hours of the mornings here on November 6 and 7.) I will look forward to hearing your responses to what you see in their broadcasts!
The chief scientist eagerly accepted his limited availability, and said he would patch coverage for the field team with different mountaineers after Tim left.
I was puzzled why they would go to the expense of flying someone out for such a short time, when they would still have to involve other mountaineers soon after the project started.
Then I met Tim.
From the very first meeting, Tim took leadership. He introduced himself to the team in a manner which seemed to say, "We are a team here and I value your ideas as well as your safety." It was the first time I had confronted my fears about traveling over sea ice, which has many potential dangers. Cracks. Thinning ice. Heavy vehicles passing over potentially invisible cracks.
Immediately our first meeting focused on the task ahead: to plan our 24 hour traverse, without stopping for the night, since it would be a huge task to set up camp in the middle of the ice, rather than to press on and set up a permanent camp. Was I scared? Heck yes! But somehow Tim laid it out and dealt with the dangers in a very calculated way, and presented to the team what his plans were to minimize the dangers and keep the journey safe. After giving us the facts and sharing his thoughts, TIm said something I never thought I would hear. He said, "Is everyone comfortable with this plan? We won't move ahead unless everybody feels okay with it."
Wow. So the 47 year old teacher from Michigan, who wasn't feeling as young as she once was, could still say, "Hang on, guys. I'm scared!"
Well, I didn't say it out loud. But I was relieved to have a team leader who was sensitive to the fact that I had two children at home to whom I wanted to return safely. It was clear that Tim wasn't the type to gamble with our safety. He also left nothing to chance. From double checking every tent, to triple checking fuel supplies, to securing three different radio types to take to the field, Tim took no shortcuts at ensuring our safe field season. He maintains the priority of getting the scientists out into the field, collecting data, but he does so in a way that does not jeopardize safety or challenge common sense.
In the end, the traverse ended up involving only half the group, and the rest of the team flew (minus me, who will fly out in a week or so) by helicopter. The traverse ended up stranded for 2 days due to equipment difficulties and poor weather which prohibited mechanics from flying out. But I know that the traverse party was warm, comfortable, and safe, even in their "stranded" state.
I saw Tim today when he helicoptered out of the field to prepare for his re-deployment to Christchurch tomorrow. He assured me that all was well with the team, that camp was established, and that they were well engaged with the seismic survey. I can only hope the other mountaineers inspire as much trust as Tim, since we will have a month in the field, followed by the long journey home to McMurdo.
Thanks, Tim, for making me feel safe!
Journal from October 24, 2007:
Mackay Sea Valley Camp on the sea ice.
We finally made it out to our camp on Wednesday, October 24, 2007. The helicopter ride was amazing. Guys from the carpenter shop came out to our site ahead of us and set up one tent for a kitchen and one for a science tent--both with heat! We set up pyramid-shaped Scott tents for sleeping. My job was to organize the science tent and arrange work areas for computer work, storage and a clothes dryer section.
We finally started the seismic survey yesterday and completed twenty-five holes--only 375 to go! Weather has been beautiful and we've had a couple of excursions to see the seals--even some seal pups! See the cute baby in the picture below.But life can be harsh in Antarctica. One sorrowful mother seal was mourning her dead pup--so sad to see that.
Have to run--off for another day in the field.
Julia's bunny boots on sea ice.
It is a sobering reminder that we are existing here on the very edge of possibility - this is not a place kind to unprotected humans. I'm also reminded of this truth when I leave my glove off for a few moments to take a picture and the wind hits it full on, making my skin prickle painfully. Only with the extensive planning and support of thousands of people, buildings, power plants, vehicles of all sorts, giant amounts of fuel and cargo, and a great focus on making conservative safety decisions every hour of every day, can we exist here at all. Sitting in my heated office, tapping away on my computer keys, it is very easy to forget what an accomplishment it is for people to be investigating our questions here in Antarctica.
An historic quote shared by the meteorologists the other night suddenly seems very appropriate: Below the 40th ltitude south, there is no law. Below the 50th, no God. And below the 60th, no common sense. And below the 70th, no intelligence whatsoever. - Kim Stanley Robinson
Monday, October 29, 2007
The long hours of fieldwork are certainly the foundation of the United States Antarctic Program! Scientists work day and night to make the most of the short Antarctic season.
Well, there's a bit more to McMurdo. That is the part I would like to share with you. For every one scientist in McMurdo, there are 8 Support Staff. These include electricians, cooks, dish washers, recreation directors, store managers, mountaineers, carpenters, equipment operators, solid waste engineers, and so forth. These people need a liveable place to spend 5 months (since most of them make a commitment to spend that long, arriving in early October and leaving in early March.) So - here is what the non-science life in McMurdo looks like.
When people are walking down the road, everyone looks alike! And when people go to meals to a group gathering, there is a mass of red parkas! Our parkas (known as "Big Reds") are so bulky, that we always hang them outside the dining room or offices. Imagine trying to find your own parka!! Thankfully, we all have our names written prominently on the fronts.This photos shows one of the four Big Red bays outside the dining hall.
In McMurdo, we stay in dormitories. Most of them are 2 or 3 floors tall, two per room, coed dorms, and each dorm has a lounge and a laundry room. This is what some of the dorms look like. They are quite comfortable, and well heated.
Besides dormitories, there are many different kinds of buildings. There is one main science laboratory, called the Crary Lab, built on a hillside in three levels. ANDRILL is one of 12 science projects currently on ice, and all of them have offices in the Crary Lab. Everywhere you go, people are busy planning for the field, or processing samples or data collected in the field. It is a very exciting place, filled with scientists from all around the world!
Besides the dormitories and the science lab, there are many other buildings around. Many departments in McMurdo are there to support the science efforts. Berg Field Center is where all of the field gear is kept and repaired. It's amazing to walk through and see their stash of tents and sleepingbags and ice axes and all of the other stuff you need for doing fieldwork!
The Science Support Center also supports the science efforts by holding mandatory classes to train scientists in a number of areas. My first week here, I went to "school" a lot! I went to: Sea Ice School, Survival School, and Snowmobile School - each lasting 1 - 2 days. People at the SSC are specially trained to teach the scientific teams, and the teachers who accompany them, these important skills.
This is the coffee house, which is a big gathering spot in the evenings. I love to come here with my friends at night! The coffee house is the venue for movies on Sundays and Tuesday evenings, though I have yet to find time to take in a movie!
The chapel is beautifully situated on a hillside overlooking the sea ice and the ice runway. It is a non-denominational chapel, with many different types of services occurring throughout the week. As with every other space in McMurdo, the building has a multitude of other uses including yoga classes and self-help groups.
Believe it or not, there is a greenhouse in McMurdo! It is a wonderful place to go for a dose of greenery and humidity. Lettuce, cucumbers, flowers and herbs are grown in the 700 sq. ft. greenhouse. There are even two small hammocks to recline in to promote peaceful relaxation.
Finally, you cannot miss the Chalet, which houses the National Science Foundation Headquarters for the U.S. Antarctic Program and the Admiral Byrd Memorial. Out front of the chalet are all the flags of the 12 Original Signatory Nations of the Antarctic Treaty - quite an impressive sign of international cooperation!
Look in the picture to the right for the edge where a series of fine lines is cut off at an angle by a lighter layer of rock. The change of angle of the rock with one set of layers ending abruptly in a different type of rock is a big signal that something is missing between those two pieces of rock. Where the two types of rock meet is called a contact. There are several unconformities in this record, the others are harder to see - they are much more subtle!
The gap may represent a single event or a series of events. It might represent a loss of 100 years of information or it might represent a loss of millions of years of recorded time in that location. There is no way to tell what happened in the rock that is no longer present. This is one reason that ANDRILL and other drilling programs drill multiple cores, a section that might be missing in one core may not be missing in another core. If layers that are the same in both can be identified and matched up, then the missing pieces of time may be filled in between the two (or more) cores. See the diagram on the left for a simple illustration of this concept.
What might cause unconformities? Think about the types of things that might break down, move, or destroy rock.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The second scenario was that we were in a vehicle that had burned, and we had managed to all escape with one survival bag, and there was 'Condition 1' weather approaching: we had to pictch a tent, build a snow wall, radio McMurdo, and boil a quart of water in 10 minutes. We radioed McMurdo, and boiled the water, and we almost got the tent pitched - we did not build the snoww wall - the snow was really difficult to quarry out, and the tools not nearly as nice to work with as the ones we had used the day before. I certainly feel much better prepared in case I should face a survival situation here - or anywhere.
Did you get cold when you slept?
Not much. It was horribly claustrophic in the sleeping bag, and very hard to move around. I must have dozed off at some point, because when I woke up I was horribly panicked about being 'locked' in my sleeping bag - I managed to undo the zip and all the drawstrings and calm myself down, and organize things so I could stay warm around my face and upper body without pulling all the drawstrings tight, after that I felt much better
Look closely at the rock section on the left and see how many layers you can identify. What characteristics of the rock change between the different layers? Which characteristics or features remain the same?
Of course, it isn't always this simple. Look closely at the rock section on the right and see how many layers you can locate. Many things may happen to the rock during or after deposition that may change the appearance and orientation of those original layers. Environmental conditions or physical events in earth's crust over time may even destroy some of the layers in some areas. The job of the sedimentologist is to interpret the tiny clues left behind in rock to understand both the environment in which the rock was formed as well as what has happened to the rock since. Learning to "see" what has happened to the sequence of rocks over time takes up a large portion of any geologist's training.
What can you think of that would make a good model for layers of rock deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest on the top?
One example that I thought of is a lasagna with alternating layers of noodles, sauce and cheese.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
We all survived Happy Camper school, and more, we had a wonderful time! The shelf ice south of Ross Island can be anything from a breathtaking vista to a subtly beautiful environment depending on the lighting - we were lucky to see both while missing out on wind and low visibility conditions.
Everyone slept fairly warmly, those that had cold patches found ways to get warm and get back to sleep. We had folks in quinzees, Scott tents, mountain tents, and survival trenches. Outdoor temps were around -28C at night and inside various structres warmed to -10C (quinzee), -20C (trench), and -22C (Scott tent). I especially enjoyed the gentle pitter patter of tiny frost crystals formed from our moist breath breaking off the tent walls and falling back down on my face and bag --- over time I suspect it would become irritating.
Our group of 20 campers were a cheerful and able group with quite a bit of outdoor experience and enough good will to fill in the gaps. Definitely the group to be stranded in the "deep field" with! Our communal kitchen area kept 5 water pots boiling and melting most of the evening for insta-foods and filling the all-important hot water bottles to take into your sleeping bag for the night.
How do you keep warm in cold or windy temperatures? What things would you do to be as warm as possible?
Friday, October 26, 2007
Is being in Antarctica harder then when you went before?
So far, it is not harder than when I came to the ice 22 years ago, to do my Master’s Thesis field work. But I have not been through the real test yet. I am still in McMurdo, not in the field! And perhaps the fact that I hurt my back is telling me that my back is a little weaker than it was last time I was here…
What is your favorite part about being in Antarctica so far?
There are so very many favorite parts, it is really hard to decide. The part that comes to mind first is the airplane flight into Antarctica on the LC-130. As you watch the ice-covered continent come into view below you, and realize that you are flying over that distant, remote, ice-covered continent of Antarctica, you are awed by the beauty and variety of this planet we live on. That awe makes my insides do somersaults! It’s a feeling that changes your view on the world and your place in it. It is just an amazing feeling!
Did you go to any other headquarters?
I went last week to the New Zealand base, just a couple of miles from here. It is called Scott Base and it is very small, only around 50 people there (compared with more than 1,000 people here!) There is a lot of cooperation between our two bases, and they invite Americans to visit their base on Thursdays. Here is the view out over the ice from Scott Base.
Have you seen any weird fish?
Yes, I saw some Antarctic Cod, which have been collected to study a natural chemical in their body called antifreeze. This is something that protects them from freezing – and is a chemical that people who live in cold climates need to use to put in their cars to prevent them from freezing! Well, the Antarctic Cod produce it naturally! Since the sea around here is all frozen, I did not see them in the ocean. I saw them in somebody’s laboratory (Dr. Arthur DeVries) who has been studying these fish for many years. They catch the fish by going ice fishing.
Have you dug for rocks yet, and if you have how many cool ones did you find?
On Ross Island, where McMurdo Station is located, there are volcanic rocks all around me because the island was formed by a volcano. In fact, there is still an active volcano on this island: Mount Erebus! The volcanic rocks are very interesting, and have lots of holes in them where gases were trapped at the time when they were blown out of the volcano.
Other than that, the only rocks I am seeing are those that come up in the ANDRILL core. There are all different rocks in the core, all representing different environments. Many rocks were deposited by glaciers – and they have chunks of many different rock types in them, and are quite beautiful. When you go on the gravel pit field trip this year in fourth grade, you will see glacial deposits in Michigan. Those are piles of rock that were picked up by glaciers and they moved down from Canada. When the glaciers melted away, they left these rocks behind. They are all shapes and sizes, with many different types of pebbles inside. That is exactly what we are seeing in the ANDRILL core! We are seeing other types of rock in the core as well, representing different environments as well – such as warmer times when the glaciers had retreated and there were rivers or oceans covering this area, or times when volcanoes were present. So I have seen MANY cool rocks!
If you were to stay in Antarctica for the rest of your life, would you prefer living in Antarctica or Ann Arbor?
Wow… As much as I love Antarctica, I could not live the rest of my life here. The main reason for that is that my family and my work are in Ann Arbor. If I could take my family and Ann Arbor Public Schools with me, I could happily live in Antarctica! But without them, I must return to Ann Arbor.
What type of food do you receive at McMurdo Station and in your survival pack?
You wouldn’t believe how well we eat in McMurdo! We eat everything imagineable! Steak, fish, chicken, pork, food from all different cultures, lots of vegetarian food, amazing breads and desserts… The “freshies” (that is, fresh fruits and vegetables) depends on a flight coming in. We haven’t had a flight in from New Zealand for awhile, due to the weather, so we are all hungry for “freshies.”
At Survival School we had freeze dried food, dried soup, dried everything. It was really yucky! But it is still important to eat, because your body needs the calories to stay warm. We also ate a lot of chocolate, for quick energy.
How quickly will the ice sheets surrounding the main ice form and melt?
This is precisely what we are studying here in the rock core! The “main ice” is called the “ice cap” or the ”ice sheet.” The ice on edges of the continent, that respond relatively quickly to changes in climate, are called the “ice shelves.” Ice shelves can melt and disappear much faster than the ice caps. Sometimes huge pieces even break off, or “calve” in a matter of weeks, such as the Larson B Ice Shelf. The ice caps take longer to form and to melt.
The answer to your question depends a lot on whether you are talking about the Arctic or the Antarctic. I have given your question to one of the scientists here to try to get the most accurate answer I can find. It is still something that many scientists are working on. I promise to get back to you when I get a good answer! Perhaps you will be in the next generation of scientists to help answer that question!
What are the differences between now and before?
Last time I was here, many of the people were from the military (Army and Navy). They provided a lot of the support for the science research. Today, the Air National Guard flies the American aircraft, and maintain the aircraft and work in the Meteorological Center (weather) – but other than that, there are few military people here. Today, most of the jobs in McMurdo are filled through a company called Raytheon Polar Services. Believe it or not, there are 8 “support” people for every 1 scientist! That is a HUGE amount of support!
Have you found any fossils?
Yes, there have been some fossils found in the core. But not as many as people would like to see. We have found both microfossils, that you can only see with a microscope, and macrofossils, those that you can see with your bare eye. We also have a whole team of paleontologists ready to work on the fossils as soon as they appear in the core. The fossils tell us a great deal of information about the age of the rocks, as well as the environments represented by the rocks.
Have you seen any avalanches?
No, I haven’t. I hope I don’t – because they can be very scary and dangerous! Fortunately, there are not too many of them around here.
What has the coldest temperature during the time you've been there so far?
The coldest temperature has been around minus 33. The coldest windchill, which includes how cold it “feels” after taking into account the wind, is around minus 50. But this is nothing compared to the south pole, where it has been so cold, that people have not been able to travel in our out!
Are you having a great time at Antarctica?
YES, YES, YES! And I am learning so very much too – and I can’t wait to share it all with you!
Why did you have to ride on a slower plane?
The bigger, faster, more modern plane, the C-17, was broken down for a couple of days. By the time they got it working again, there were lots of people waiting to go down to the ice. So the pilots used 2 aircraft on the same day to fly people to the ice. I just happened to be on the slower plane – but that was fine with me!
Have you ever slipped on the ice?
Yes, I have slipped a little bit. It is very slippery!! It will be especially slippery out in the field area, when I finally get there. But I will be extra careful. And I will have something on the bottom of my boots called stable-icers – to help me get a better footing on the ice.
What is the funnest part about Antarctica?
Truly and honestly, I am having fun all the time! Perhaps the “funnest” part is getting to know all the different members of the ANDRILL team, from all over the world, and to learn about their backgrounds and how they came to be involved in ANDRILL.
What is the most interesting thing you have seen in Antarctica?
The core is the most interesting thing I have seen. It amazes me to bring up rocks from the deep, and to hear people discuss and interpret ancient worlds based on the rocks in the core.
Have you ever been on a big mountain of snow or ice?
I have not had the chance to do too much exploring on this trip. But I certainly did last time I was here, in 1985/86, when I worked in the Central Transantarctic Mountains. They are magnificent mountain peaks made of flat-lying sedimentary rocks.
Is it hard setting up the tent?
No, it is pretty easy to set up a Scott Tent – as long as it is not too windy.
When it gets windy, it’s a whole different story. Scott tents are great – they are just very heavy, so you need lots of people helping out.
What is your favorite food there?
Chocolate. ANY kind of chocolate. (I’ll be my students could have answered that for me!)
What has been your favorite sight so far?
My favorite sight so far has been late at night when the sun gets to its lowest point, and the shadows are long and beautiful. Sometimes you can see the layers of ice reflecting the sun, as in this picture. It is quite a special sight!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Patrician Ballou shows us parts of the Radiosonde
Here is the view out my office window at 9:30 pm this evening. You might note that there are two planes on the ground on the Ice Runway - we don't often see two at one time, and they often seem to head straight back to Christchurch - maybe they are just loading them and they are about to head off. I'll have to wait until morning and see, I'm heading off now!
This is a Delta. Deltas are used to travel over ice an snow. The trailer on the back is used to carry people or cargo. This is the vehicle I traveled in to go out to Happy Camper School. Notice the big treads on the bottom to help the Delta grip the ice and snow!
This is a bulldozer. They are driving around the streets of McMurdo Station ALL the time! They carry materials from one place to another, and often transport different kinds of waste materials to their proper location. All waste is transported off the continent, and it all needs to be sorted.
This machine is called a Caterpillar. It has many different uses depending on what attachments are put on the front. This one looks like it was just plowing snow.
A haglund is a really cool vehicle. It is actually amphibious - meaning that it can float on water! This is a great vehicle to take out on the sea ice, in case the ice breaks through into the sea water below. The front haglund holds up to 6 people. The trailer on the back can carry people or cargo. This is the vehicle I took out to Sea Ice School.
In and around McMurdo Station, you can often see helicopters (helos) flying around transporting people or equipment. There are different sizes of helicopters, each of which has a different carrying capacity. The ANDRILL cores are carried from the drill site to the Crary Lab by helicopter. They are also used to carry people and supplies out into the field, for Search and Rescue missions, to do reconaissance flights trips prior to departure of a field party, and many other missions. I will be flying in a helicopter tomorrow to get out to my field area, around 100 miles away.
Pisten Bullys are very important vehicles in Antarctica. They are very stable on the sea ice, and many field parties use them for travel. The only problem is, they are extremely bumpy and noisy, and they go very slowly. It takes a long time to get anywhere in a pisten bully, and when you get there, your body is all shaken up!
Here is a cool picture of the gears in a pisten bully.
Many vehicles in Antarctica get plugged in to keep them warm while they are not being used. That sure makes it easier to step inside and start them!!
This is an enormous forklift - the biggest on in McMurdo.This is the forklift that picked up our Thunder Sled which weighed at least 2,500 pouds, and carried it down to the sea ice for the aover-ice travers to our field area,. It's a huge, strong vehicle.Check out how big these wheels are!
Imagine riding in this vehicle. It is called a terrabus and it holds a lot of people and transports them over the land, or over the ice.
Finally, here is a snowmobile. I can't wait to get out onto the open ice and drive a snowmobile. It is the only vehicle I am trained to drive here - I actually had to go to Snowmobile School for a day! I haven't driven one yet this trip, but I expect to as soon as I get out into the field.
Which is YOUR favorite vehicle?