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.


Gianni alsoknownas John said...

You are a much braver soul than I am, Rex! Good Lord, I never could have made it down that tube!! The photos you added were awesome. My favorites are the one of you ascending that narrow hole and the one of the beautiful ice sculpture. Enjoy the summer sunshine and warmer temps!

Unknown said...

Hi Rex:. Merry Christmas from Frazer Lane!! It is snowing here on Christmas Eve and all is white. Enjoying your posts and pictures. What an adventure you are having. Barb Foster

One last Antarctic Adventure

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