Friday, December 21, 2018

Antarctic adventures

I’ve been fortunate to take part in a number of outdoor adventures since I’ve been here.  A few weeks ago I got to tour the pressure ridges near Scott Base.  Pressure ridges are created when the fast or sea ice, which is thinner, meet a thicker ice sheet or land.  Some look like unbroken waves but others actually create ridges of ice.  This results is some amazing ice sculptures.

Pressure ridges near Scott Base with Mt. Erebus
in the background.
Walking through one of the cracks in the "ice sails".

The breaks in the ice are important for Weddell seals as they provide places for them to get in and out of the water.  These are important, particularly this is the time of year when they give birth to their pups.

A Weddell seal laying in among the pressure ridges.
One of the melts ponds.

The route we took weaved us in and out of the pressure ridges and close to melt pools.  We were near seals but never closer than 40 feet so as to not disturb them.  The route was well marked and we were accompanied by two guides.  We spent almost 90 minutes out among the pressure ridges.  It was cold (in the teens) and windy so my “big red” (down parka) and mittens felt good.  The seals must have darn good insulation in order to lay on the ice in the elements for what seems like days at time.  They almost look like they’re out there sunning themselves.   But sun or not, it’s cold! 

Beautiful natural ice sculptures.
Bundled up in my "big red" parka on the tour.
Not sure what was in my hand to create the glow.

Another cool thing I got to do was to go under the ice and not even get wet, thank goodness.  Out on the ice a short walk from McMurdo an observation tube, or "ob tube", was installed.  We visited the ob tube on Thanksgiving morning.

Standing around waiting our turn to go into the tube.
Windy and cold  but sunny on Thanksgiving Day.

It’s about 2 and a half feet in diameter and 15-20 feet long.  They drill a hole through the ice and install the tube.  Inside the tube there are metal (rebar) foot and hand steps to climb down.  The last 3-4 feet of the tube is glass which allow you to see out into the water.  Once at the bottom there is a stool to sit on and look out.  And so as to get the full affect, they close the wood hatch at the top.

I was really excited about going into the tube until I started thinking about it a bit more.  Being a bit claustrophobic I began to have second thoughts.  But I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so decided to take the plunge, so to speak.

Looking up from the bottom of the tube.

It was a bit eerie going down but once at the bottom and sitting on the stool I was fascinated in seeing the underside of the ice.  I didn’t see any seals but did see some very small fish.  Closing the lid enhanced the experience because the only light was coming through the ice.  There were beautiful shades of green and blue.  There are star fish, anemones, jelly fish, and other marine life in these waters.  Although I didn’t get to see them while in the tube, I did get to observe them in the “petting”aquarium at the science lab.    For some reason I thought the water would be devoid of marine life but obviously that’s not the case.

Small fish near the tube.
Beautiful colors below the ice.  The ice was
about 3-6 feet deep.

I spent about 10 minutes in the tube before making my way to the surface.  Glad I decided to push my comfort zone a bit.

Exiting the ob tube.
  • The population at the station is now a little under 800 people.  It's been as high as 905 since I've been here.
  • McMurdo Station is on Ross Island which is about 1000 square miles.  It's about twice the size of Lani, my favorite Hawaiian Island.  It is home to four volcanos, but Mt. Erebus is the only one that is active.
  • The closest point from Ross Island to the Antarctic continent is 40 miles.  

Lenticular clouds over Mt. Erebus, the tallest
volcano on Ross Island.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Never a lack of something to do

People have asked, “what is there to do at McMurdo?”  The short answer is, a lot!  As one of my fellow Shuttle drivers put it, there is just about any activity here you can think of.  

Aerobic equipment in the "Gerbil Gym".

There are four gyms; one has weight equipment, another has aerobic machines and light weights, a third is for yoga and other classes and the last one has a full sized gymnasium that can be used for basketball, tennis, pickle ball, volleyball, soccer, and other court sports.  It also has a climbing wall. The gymnasium was used for the Halloween Party, which was truly a sight to behold.

The climbing wall in the gymnasium.

There are three bars; two with beer, wine, and hard liquor (Gallagher’s and Southern Exposure Pubs) and one with coffee, wine, and hard cider (The Coffee House).  The bars are staffed by local residents during their off hours.  The Coffee House had water damage over and the winter and the electrical panel caught on fire but it finally opened the first week of December.  I’ve had a couple of cappuccinos, which are real treats.

There is a craft room.  It has a number of sewing machines and other equipment and supplies to make just about any craft item you can think of.  Some industrious folks make crafts and sell at local craft fairs.  

A craft fair in the dinning hall.

Volunteers run a local radio station and the programming varies quite a bit.  Besides the libraries in each dorm with books, videos, and games, there is larger library with a wider selection of materials and a check out system.  Board and card games are popular.  A cribbage and pinochle tournament are in full swing.  Throw in a ping pong tournament for good measure.  There are a variety of groups and organizations which you can join.  I’ve met with other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers where we shared our experiences with each other.

Bikes with fat tires outside the Coffee House.

For outdoor enthusiasts there is equipment for cross country skiing, skating, biking, hiking, climbing  and other activities.  I see outdoor runners almost everyday, sometimes even along the snow road on the ice shelf.  Hardy souls for sure.  The Kiwis have a rope tow and ski hill near Scott Base and if you’re lucky enough you might be invited to go snow boarding or downhill skiing.

There are a number of running events each season.  So far there have been 5K and 10K runs, and a marathon is planned in January.  Costumes are always encouraged.  A recent Wall Street Journal article had a picture of one of our Shuttle drivers (runner 1770) in a Rocky costume.  

One of the race officials at the annual 5K Turkey Trot run.

Each week scientists give presentations on research they are doing and some of their findings.  Some are more technical than others but even those I am able to walk away with a few nuggets of information.

Needless to say, if you're bored it’s your own fault.

One last Antarctic Adventure

I promise this will the be the last post.  But I wanted to share with you one of the most powerful experiences I had while on the Ice. ...