20 January 2014

The Lacuna

It has been almost exactly 4 years since I last posted from 77.8500° S, 166.6667° E (Antarctica!). I am now writing from 44.5708° N, 123.2760° W (Corvallis!), and to write that many things have transpired since my last posting would really not do the happenings of the last 4 years much justice.

1. an unfilled space or interval; a gap.

Well, it is a lacuna in some ways in terms of my presence on this blog, but the space left in my absence was not entirely unfilled. I wrote in some other, private, forums, and published a few scientific papers, but have not been very active in communicating science in this setting ... and I miss writing in this way a lot. It is (obviously) very different from writing for a scientific journal, and feels great to my brain to practice writing and communicating science in this way. I also think it is really important to connect and communicate with a broader audience than just my peer group that conducts experiments on related topics.

A quick list of the biggest personal and professional events in the last 4 years:
- birth of my son
- completion of my Ph.D.
- a move from CA to OR for my current postdoc position (which was no small task with a 4.5 month old babe)
- a move from the OR coast (Newport) to the Willamette valley (Corvallis) so my husband could start graduate school in Water Resource Engineering (hydrology) at OSU [look out for a future post from him about rocks and streams]

I am preparing for a seminar I am giving at the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography on Wednesday (1/22) , so I cannot write more now [must finish my talk], but stay tuned. There is more to come.

I am (re)designing this blog to serve a slightly different function than just my ramblings and experiences in the lab and field. I hope to have folks in my labgroup contribute guests posts about their projects and experiences as scientists. I have met so many wonderful people over the last 15 years of research and teaching, and I hope to reach out to my community and get some perspectives other than my own on what it means to "do Science" in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes.

Hasta pronto.

23 January 2010

diatoms rule!

Thurs 14 Jan 2010
This morning our regularly scheduled lecture was postponed and the Sat evening participant talks took the place of the lecture. Saturday evening needed to be freed up because we are going to have a Station-wide lecture by the famous geologist/glaciologist, Dr. Charlie Bentley. This is his 7th decade on the Antarctic continent, and his ice core drilling project has uncovered some pretty big science. More on him after his lecture on Saturday. Just one quick anecdote though, Josh Osterberg’s, a participant in the course (he is just about finished with his PhD at Duke University), great grandfather was Bud Waite. Bud Waite was a radio operator at Byrd Station (this is a U.S. Station that was built during the International Geophysical Year in 1956, 1400 km from McMurdo Station) in the early 1930’s. He developed the technology of using radio waves to determine the depth of the ice, and this advancement is what Dr. Charlie Bentley built his long life of work on. Kind of a cool course connection to the past.

I spent the rest of the day on anchor ice research. We are trying to build on the work of Dr. Paul Dayton and others to try to better understand how this ice interacts with different biological structures: sponges, sea anemones, sea urchins, algae…  One of our 4 experiments is done in a small tank (the earlier pictures of anchor ice on the urchin spine and just alone were taken in this set up) and we are trying to get a lot of replication of each type of tissue so we can know for sure that what we think we are discovering is real. For these experiments (in a general, one sentence explanation) we quantify the behavior of the growing/nucleating ice crystal (does it nucleate on the tissue, pass through the tissue, freeze onto the tissue and not nucleate, etc.) on each type of tissue.

My student talk was tonight in our evening course meeting, and the 5 of us presenting in this “mini-symposium” came from 4 countries: France, Italy, China, and the U.S. Pretty cool stuff! I think there are actually only 8 U.S. citizens of the 25 of us (but 12 are from U.S. institutions).  It is super interesting to learn about the research that everyone else is involved with back at their home institutions. Dr. Mario De Stefano is research faculty at The 2nd University of Naples and he studies diatoms and such. What is cool is that for 2 years in a row, images he took of diatoms won first place in the photography category of the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. This is the only time the same person has won twice (MArio is AMAZING!). Awards are given annually by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science for images that employ modern technology to visualize complex scientific topics. This is the website where you can read about the image (and his 2nd win has not yet been officially announced so shhhhh).


Here is the picture Mario took for the 2008 contest. It is titled "The Glass Forest."

And the rest of the night, what was left of it, was spent relaxing with several of these incredible people that continue to inspire me with their knowledge, perspective, humor, and love of life and discovery.

20 January 2010

Dive tending

Wed 13 Jan 2010
This morning we had a great lecture on Geology and Oceanography from Dr. George Somero. Some details I have been wondering about were clarified...here are some dates that helped with that: 41 ma the Drake Passage opens up and Antarctica and South America separate; 33.5 ma Antarctica and Australia separate; 22 ma the Drake Passage deepens and the Antarctic Polar front develops (a current around Antarctic), acting as a barrier to colonization (by organisms); 14-12 ma sea ice forms. The ice shelves can be 400-500 m thick, cover 44% of the coastline, and are 80% below the water line. These defining features of the ice shelf shape the habitats here.

In the afternoon I had the opportunity to "tend a dive" for Dr. Jim Leichter (professor at the UC San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography). He is the "professorial TA" for our Biomechanics module in the course (remember that for the course we are split into 5 modules). Diving under the ice, as you might imagine, is quite technical and intense (even though Jim swears to me that diving in Bodega Bay, CA in a wetsuit is more hardcore than the diving he is doing here…). It is really important, maybe mandatory (?) to tend dives here before you can get cleared to dive yourself. For this program, the participants are not permitted to dive because there is really not time with everything we are doing to get cleared and dive, but hopefully I will be back here, and I will dive then. It would be so amazing. It is hard to be here and only get to help with dives, but it does make sense given the nature of our program.

Here is a pic of drysuits hanging in the dive locker. Drysuits do just what they sound like they do...keep you dry. A wetsuit traps a layer of body-warmed water between your skin and the neoprene wetsuit, and the warm water keeps you warmer than the water and the neoprene wetsuit insulates your body. A drysuit itself does not provide much in the way of insulation, but underneath the drysuit you wear fleece and/or down clothing (in Antarctica), and this is what keeps you warm. The <20m water temperature here right now is approx. -1.8 degrees Celsius.....cccccooooollllddd.

The dive tenders job is to help schlep gear (here we are dragging gear out to the ice hole on sleds),

 Help the divers get their gear on (especially the gloves),

Keep an eye out on gear as the divers enter the water (the second picture is of Dr. Jim Leichter),

And put the ladder down once the last diver is down. The ladder and buckets are attached to the ice with ice screws before the divers descend.

Then you wait….and it's cold so of course you have to keep active...

Once you see bubbles you get prepared to help the divers get their gear, any organisms they collected, and themselves safely out of the water and warmed up.

Usually you have a hut that sits over the ice hole to dive from, but this time of year the huts have all pretty much been brought back to the station.

Here is a picture of a hut.

After dive tending I went back to the lab for a bit of work, then we had dinner and an evening lecture by Paul Morin from the U of Minnesota. His crew is mapping Antarctica...seriously. It is way cool. Check out this site for more information: http://www.agic.umn.edu/. I actually met Paul in LA when we were about to board the plane for Sydney and a woman on his crew sat across the aisle from me on that flight, so I got a lot of the scoop on the origins and status of the project. Then Paul and I ended up sitting beside one another on the Sydney/Christchurch flight so I got to find out even more. Paul and his crew have mapped 40-60% of the continent at 50 cm resolution (to give you an idea of this resolution...you can see individual penguins in the images). They use images from cameras that are mounted on satellites orbiting the earth. These satellites are not used specifically for this method (they are often used by the military), but because of the orbiting paths, the satellite-mounted cameras pass over the poles 4 times per day. Paul and his crew go out and ground truth the images during their field season and take additional pictures in the Dry Valleys. Pretty neat stuff.

I got to move into my permanent room today too, and my roommate is out in the field, so I get a solo room for now....which is pretty rare. My new dorm is 2 person occupancy rooms (I was in a 5 person occupancy room) and 2 rooms share a shower/washroom, but each room has it's own sink. I apparently moved into the nice dorms which are typically reserved for those with more than 1 year on the ice (209 for those Antarctic buffs out there), so I am feeling lucky. Honestly though, I would be happy to sleep in just about any room or tent if it meant I got to be here. I am having one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life in so many ways.

Still grinning ear-to-ear.

16 January 2010

Anchor Ice

Tues 12 Jan 2010
Today was all about research. We had a lecture in the morning about Antarctic Meteorology and Climatology from Dr. Mark Denny, and had the rest of the day, until 8:00 pm, when we had our evening lecture/talks session, to make progress on our research. The work the Biomechanics module is doing is basically trying to figure out how anchor ice (as the name suggests, this is ice that forms on the bottom of rivers, the ocean down here, etc.) interacts with different biological structures (urchin spines, sea anemone tentacles, sponges, algae. etc.). It was super fun to have a day to play in the lab and built neat contraptions to try to invent a way to study this stuff. Here is a recent picture Idan and I took of anchor ice around a sea urchin spine in the contraption we built,

and here is just a picture of some anchor ice forming in our system.

We had our LAST training talk tonight, but it was not so bad because it was what we had to do to get cleared for the outdoor recreation opportunities here...like climbing Castle Rock (pictured in one of the previous posts). Then we heard from three TAs about their research, went for a beverage at the Coffee House to remind ourselves that it actually was night time (and bed time), then once again, walked out into the shining sunlight and headed off to dreamland.

How to Survive in Antarctica

Mon 11 Jan 2010
We started the morning with more training lectures: lab safety (we heard some info for the second time, which was a bit much, but there are just so many new groups coming in and so many scientists trying to get training done so they can get down to the business of science, that things just get a bit hectic), Dry Valley videos (we had to watch 3 videos on the sensitivity of the Dry Valleys and the proper behavior to have while there. We are not even sure we will be able to go to the Dry Valleys, but we are cleared to go now just in case. A note on the Dry Valleys of Antarctica: this region is a desert, like most of Antarctica, with the exception of the Peninsula, and thus there is very little snow or ice cover here. Part of this is caused by the Katabatic winds (that can blow up to 320 km/hr) that flow down over the continent off of the polar plateau. The Dry Valley region spans approx. 4800 km2 and the floors of the Valleys are covered in gravel that forms at the ends of the glaciers that descend into the Valleys. That gravel is technically from something called terminal moraines that are the accumulated soil and rock that is the debris from material not consolidated into the glacier-? I’m sure the geologists I have met here would cringe at that explanation. I think I will be able to give a better description in a week or so… This region is really unique and sensitive so there are specific protocols for any activity you might do there….I have never been so specifically instructed on how to deal with human waste.

After this training we had a lecture from Donal on the history of Antarctic exploration, and it was fascinating. Apparently he is a real Antarctic exploration history buff and enjoys learning about this subject, so he has tons of cool stories and anecdotes to share about the various expeditions because he has read so many of the diaries of the men who first set foot on this icy continent. I have written in previous posts about some of this history, but one thing I learned that was cool to me was that in 1908, Shackleton came back to McMurdo Sound after having been sent home from Robert Falcon Scott’s 1901-1904 expedition on the Discovery. Apparently on that trip, Scott and Shackleton had some trouble, and after a grueling trek to the furthest point South up to that point in time (it was Scott, Edward Wilson, and Shackleton who accomplished this feat), Shackleton’s scurvy left him weak, and while he was pushing onward, he was physically incapable of keeping up with the slightly less scurvy-laden men, Wilson and Scott. This created a giant rift between Scott and Shackleton that lasted for the rest of their lives, but did not hold Shackleton back. So, back to the story, in 1908, Shackleton returned to McMurdo Sound and reached the newest furthest South point on the brutal Beardmore glacier at 88o23’ S in Jan 1909.  He turned around when only 97 miles from the South Pole (this was 3 years before the Pole would be reached by Amundsen), and wrote in his journal that it was “better to be a live donkey than a dead lion.” The truth is that Shackleton was far from being a donkey.

After lecture we had what I like to call snow/ice survival school (but it is officially called “Happy Camper School” here) over with the Search and Rescue folks at “FSTOP” (Fun Stop). Our instructors were Greg and Paul, both hardcore, full on mountaineers that, among other things, guide trips on the top of Denali, and Billy, an incredibly tough and graceful Kiwi mountain woman. She is a climber and it was fun to talk to her about her many trips around the globe….and one of her favorite spots…Tuolumne (yeah California). We had a few lectures that covered cold weather injuries that can be common here (frostbite, trench foot, hypothermia, etc.), how to prevent them, and how to treat them. We also learned about sea ice, how to travel on it, what the different types are, and how to determine the thickness of the ice as you move across. We learned about features to look for on the ice (cracks, different types of drifts, etc.). Then we learned about helo safety (there have been a few crashes here so this part, well all of it really, was pretty serious and full on). After lectures we went out on the ice and practiced the ice travel procedures: walk across the ice with a shovel or breaker bar, prodding the ice, watching out for features. Then we practiced what to do it you have to move across some area where you believe there is a crack: shovel off the snow so you can see the ice, drill into the ice using the Kovacs drill to determine and measure the crack features (and steps… basically from a “crack forming-water rising-refreezing cycle” you get cracks that form like stair steps, and the details of the steps are important to figure out). From there we learned about the stoves that are kept in the survival bags. SIDENOTE: Each time we go out into the field we have to carry 1 survival bag/2 people. What is in these bags is enough to keep 2 people alive for 3 days (emphasis on “SURVIVing, not THRIVing”). These survival bags contain 1 tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 bivy sacks (for over the sleeping bags), dehydrated food (just enough for 2 people for 3 days), a MSR Whisperlite stove, a shovel …you get the picture. So, it was sweet to have the stove course because that is actually the stove I have, and I found out all the tricks to using it, and how to repair it in the field (super easy, I probably should have read and figured out how to do that when I got the stove….it would have made some frustrating times in the past not so bad).  We found out the best/most efficient way to melt snow to make water, etc. Then we learned all about putting up tents on the snow and ice, and the proper way to stake out the tents – tents should look like grapes and not raisins when they are properly erected. If in snow, you dig a “dean man” or a “T-slot” as the Kiwis call it to bury the stake with nylon cord wrapped around it. If on the ice you use an ice screw to drill two ~10 cm deep holes opposing one another into the ice, which makes a notch/tunnel in the ice that you can feed the nylon cord through. Pretty sweet.

Here is a picture of me on an "Antarctic motorcycle" outside of FSTOP. The picture was taken after snow survival school, and I was feeling particularly tough. It is cool to know that this version of a motorcycle works in Antarctica.

After training we had some free time and Idan, Damien and I walked up Observation Hill again (once per day),  and got a really good view of the icebreaker that has been carving a path in the sea ice for the container ship and fuel tanker to come in for the one time this year (so these boats always come in at the end of the summer).

After the hike we had dinner, and headed back to our space in Crary for 3 talks from 3 of the “TAs” of the course. One of the TAs is Dr. Wes Dowd, who earned his PhD in the UC Davis Ecology Graduate Group, and we overlapped a bit while he was still there. Now he is a post doc with Dr. George Somero.

Another amazing day in icy paradise.

10 January 2010

3 out-of-body experiences

Sun 10 Jan 2010
WOW. Today was another glorious day that made my heart and mind nearly explode. It is SUNNY and we have clear, piercing blue skies. It felt colder today compared to the past 2 days… (-0.7°C  or 31°F), but it is WAY SUNNIER, and it has been really clear for the most part. It has snowed some, but not for too long.

We started the day with a lecture from Dr. Donal Manahan. SIDENOTE: Donal is from the University of Southern California (well, he is actually from Ireland) and he is the director of the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center, where I spent 3 years doing my Master’s work in the kelp forest ecosystems…. Anyhow, he gave a lecture on “Why Polar Research Matters” that was fascinating, and lead to a somewhat heated discussion about climate change policy….quite interesting when there are scientists from at least 12 countries in the room. Donal discussed how the awareness of the poles began at least in part due to the 1983 February issue of National Geographic, which illustrated a map of Antarctica and “revolutionized our conception of Antarctic geography.”  We learned really generally about Antarctic geology (there is an enormous magma chamber under us which fuels the VERY ACTIVE Mt. Erebus volcano located just down the road (practically) here on Ross Island).

Following the lecture, our research modules met to make more progress on our research, then we geared up and headed to the field to learn to drill holes in the ice, catch fish, and to do some CTD (salinity, temperature, pressure, depth, density) casts into the icy waters of the Ross Sea. It was so cool. You walk out on the ice pulling sleds filled with drills and other equipment.

We had 2 holes that one of our professors, Dr. Deneb Karentz from the University of San Francisco, had already drilled with her 2 post docs (they were the advance team who came down on 16 Dec to get things set up for our course). We had to net out all the ice slush from those holes, and shovel off the terrace around the hole. Pictured here with the net is Dr. Dave Ginsburg, who is one of the course TAs. I met him when I first moved to Catalina Island in Spring 2002. He was working on his PhD in Donal Manahan's lab at the time.

Dr. George Somero, professor at the Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station, set up a fishing expedition around one of those holes (notice the Sponge Bob Square Pants fishing pole), 

and a few of us started catching pteropods out of the other hole. The pteropods we got this time were the pelagic opisthobranch gastropod molluscs from the family Clionidae, the sea angels. They are sort of like floating sea slugs. This is NOT my picture, but I wanted you to see how exquisitely beautiful they are. I am slightly obsessed with pteropods and am looking forward to getting some of the shelled variety (the Thecosomata).

Then we went a bit further out on the ice to drill a new hole. We had several types of drills or augers: a Kovacs ice drill that you use your muscles only on…you put on 1-2, 1 m long flank, drill down, then keep adding flanks to the top by removing the handle, adding a flank, and putting the handle back on (Here is Damien working hard with the Kovacs), 

and a Jiffy and a Badger Auger.

Here are Drs. Mark Denny and Jim Leichter with a Jiffy Auger.


These last 2 work similarly and use a motorized handle, they just drill in opposing directions (the Jiffy drills counterclockwise and the Badger drills clockwise…I think).

Notice Sam (from Bristol but schooled in Wales) holding the Kovacs in this picture.

When 2 of the participants were getting pretty far down into the ice (3 flanks deep), the drill got stuck. We spent 2 hours trying every idea under the sun to the get drill out, but we ended up having to flag and leave 2 stuck flanks….figuring out the methods of polar science is a steep learning curve! I will hope to get a handle on these techniques before my next deployment (positive thinking that I will one day get to come back here for more research).

Here is a South Polar Skua (think an Antarctic seagull) that stopped in on us for a visit.

After out field operations concluded a group of us decided to climb up Observation Hill out of McMurdo station to get an amazing view of the frozen Ross Sea, the Ross Ice Shelf, the Transantarctic Mountain Range, and the famous Mt. Erebus.

If you stand on Observation Hill and spin 360 degrees, these are the things you would see (listed above). It was breathtaking….seriously. How can I put the feeling into words? Looking out at the vastness, feeling so small and vulnerable. Feeling your spirit awaken and come alive inside of you, and feeling love and positive energy rush out of every pore. Looking out at the wide open and wishing and hoping that the happiness pouring out of you will somehow add some peace to the world. This is how big and fantastic what I see before me does to my mind.

Consider this....there is a cross on the top of Observation Hill that Robert Falcon Scott's remaining party erected in 1913 in memory and in "observation" of the 5 men (Scott, Wilson, Oats, Bowers, and Evans) who perished on their return trip from the South Pole in 1912.

This history of the "Heroic Age" of exploration is mind boggling and inspirational. To be here and to learn about the men that came before: Ross, Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, and what they accomplished with so very little, is amazing. After 1913, after the South Pole had been reached, and the cross erected, the men wrote that no one would probably see the cross...and no one did, for 43 years. In October of 1956, the U.S. Navy arrived under Operation "Deep Freeze," and scientists have been coming ever since.

Mt. Erebus with smoke billowing out of her crater.

Following the hike, we had a super awesome dinner, and then had our 3rd out-of-body experience of the day. I will have to just let the pictures tell the story. These are Adélie Penguins off of Discovery Point at McMurdo.

The experiences of today soothed my soul. I am thankful beyond words and thoughts for being here.

snow -mobiles, -angels and -WO/men

Sat 9 Jan 2010
David Attenborough eats cornflakes for breakfast. Sorry, I realize this is probably getting old, but I am Obsessed! He’ll be gone soon and I will quiet down about it, but for now I am relishing the experience. This is my first morning in Antarctica, which looks no different from when I went to bad at 11:00 pm last night, but feels like a whole new world/planet/life.  The flight yesterday was great and went by so so quickly. Before I knew it we were being told to don all of our extreme cold weather gear, that they were going to further drop the temperature in the plane, and that we would soon be landing on Pegasus runway on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica!

This morning I had a fantastic breakfast, and then headed over to the Crary Lab (the National Science Foundation (NSF) McMurdo Station science center that was built in 1988-89 at McMurdo) for briefings on science operations at McMurdo and for an extensive lab tour. This NSF Antarctic Biology Course was conceptualized in 1988, when polar regions started to receive more attention following the 1985 publication in Nature that discussed the significant decrease in ozone over Antarctica. This realization, that humans had the power to change the GEOSPHERE, was a big shock to most. At that point the NSF decided they wanted to find a way to have a “university on the ice.” The goals of the course were/are to introduce “students” to Antarctic science and the logistical issues of how to work in polar regions (most Antarctic science is logistically limited), provide training in INTEGRATIVE biology and adaptation, and to provide a venue for teamwork in research science. This program has trained approx. 230 scientists from approx. 30 nations in the 16 years (9 courses total) it has been in existence. In our introduction to the course we were also told about the several really dumb things past participants have done (midnight polar plunge in -2oC water – thankfully they did not get swept under the ice; a “fun run” alone across unknown ice – thankfully he/she did not step into one of the many crevasses/cracks that are often covered/hidden by snow, getting intoxicated and passing out in the snow – um, the potential consequences of this are probably obvious). Safety here is a bigger issue than any place else on earth, probably. It is a totally unknown and harsh environment, and the potential for getting really messed up is huge. The program has had no major injuries (so far we can only list one accident and it resulted in a broken knee cap…ouch!) in it’s 16 years and Dr. Donal Manahan, the director and apparently my “boss” for now, wants to keep it that way.

The Crary lab is pretty phenomenal. The labs are all really nice and the aquarium room is immaculate, 


the stockroom is full of fun things to get creative with. I will not bore you with the details, but it is sweet and pretty much anything you could imagine doing, you can do! Just walking around in the hallways and reading the titles of the scientific posters lining the walls, and paying attention to the institutions the scientists are affiliated with, allows you to get a feel for the diversity of work done out of this facility.

All 38 of us (25 participants and 13 instructors (profs/TAs)) then went through introductions when we had to stand up and say our name, what institution we come from, what level we are at (PhD student, post doc, or professor), what our research interests are, and why we wanted to participate in the course. Even though we have been together 24-7 since Jan 2, this was a really cool activity because I had not gotten to talk with everyone yet about what type of science they “do.” I found out that there is a PhD student, Rob Ellis, here from Steve Widdicombe’s lab at Plymouth in the UK (a lab that does a lot of really cool ocean acidification work). A post doc, Dr. Tatiana Ilina, from Russia, but now at the University of Hawaii, who is a carbon cycle modeler and who does a lot of work on acidification and climate models….the list goes on and on….so so many talented and brilliant scientists. I am terrified and overwhelmed by the intelligence and creativity surrounding me. Oh, one crazy thing. One of the participants, Caroline Chenard, overlapped with me at Dalhousie University during our undergrad years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was even in my same program!!! I do not know why/how we never met, she was in the co-op program and was off working and was a couple years behind me, so maybe that is why, but we certainly had fun reminiscing about life at Dal and in Halifax.

Following these introductory lectures, tours, and introductions, we had lunch, and then got geared up for snowmobile training. We get to our field sites on either snowmobiles pulling sleds or in helicopters. Snowmobile training was SO MUCH FUN!!!

Our instructor owns a motorcycle shop in Wyoming in his other/off the ice life, and he was a real trip. We each got on our own ski-doo (I was 2nd in the line after the instructor, behind Damien) and practiced figure 8s and turns, then we just flew down straightaways. 

Our instructor, while turning around to head back to the shed, tipped his ski-doo over. It was hilarious, because no one was hurt, and Damien had to help him upright his machine. 

There was so much snow on the ice that it was like falling into a mattress. We fell backwards off of our machine into the snow and made snow angels. I never imagined snowmobiles and snow angels would fit so perfectly together. Oh, and I made a snowWO/man and my fingers nearly froze off. Good times!

After training we had a bit of free time and we just hung out and talked, then went for dinner. Alcoholic beverages are typically prohibited from the Galley, except on Sat nights, so a large table of us got a bottle of wine from the shop….this was Mario from Italy’s idea. Following dinner we went to the Coffee House for a bit (David Attenborough was there again in his regular seat), and then came back to our lecture space for an evening lecture. Each of the professors gave a spiel about their backgrounds and portions of the course. It was way cool and exciting to hear about the things we will be learning….Phytoplankton ecology, Marine invertebrate development and metabolism, Effects of temperature on organisms (fish), Microbial ecology/biological oceanography, Ecomechanics…..

Following lecture, even though it was 10:00 pm and had been a 14 hour day, we went over to Gallagher’s, one of the pubs (apparently the “beaker” bar – where the scientists hang out) for some mellow-out time. It is hard to wind down here because it is always so very bright. When we stepped out of the lab into the night, it required sunglasses….still so foreign to me. Anyhow, at the pub I learned something else about Rob (the Plymouth PhD student). For a brief moment he held a record in the Guinness Book, for hours/miles run on a treadmill with a team….468 miles in 48 hours. Maybe the ice really does attract the most bizarre and odd…

08 January 2010

Day 1: Antarctica

Fri 8 Jan 2010
This post chronicles the rest of yesterday...
Here are a couple pictures I took out of the plane...


Landing was pretty intense because there are no windows to look out of so you have no idea when you will make contact with the ground, and remember this is a HUGE and heavy C-17 plane, so there is a fair amount of turbulence and you can really feel the plane going down, quickly.

When we got out of the plane and walked down the stairs I saw white, a sea of red, blue-ish sky, vehicles that looked like they belonged on the moon... I guess we are kind of on the moon in a metaphorical sense. I cannot put into words how I felt inside when I stepped out of the plane. I thought my heart might beat out of my chest. I was breathing really hard and feeling like jumping, dancing, swirling, spinning, singing, and hugging everyone around me....I did a lot of hugging and high-fiving and have had a giant smile plastered to my face since.

There are a lot of different types of vehicles here, and they attempted to quickly load us up to drive us to the station.

I say they were “attempting” to herd us into the vehicles because we were all in such shock and awe at what was before us that we were nearly floating above the ground. Somehow Idan and I got asked to ride in the frond of one of the Deltas, and so avoided being jam packed into ‘Ivan the Terra Bus’ (1st picture below) or the back of a Delta (2nd picture below, That's the one Idan and I rode in the front of with Joe).


“Shuttle” Joe was our driver, and he is the oldest person at the station, 81 years old. Last year, for his 80th birthday, the station basically declared a day-of-Joe and celebrated his birthday all day and night. He is from Illinois and has been here for 3 seasons. He once slept in a snow trench.

He told us stories and pointed out landmarks during the entire 45 min drive to the station. We saw Emperor penguins, 


the tail of the Boeing Constellation airplane that crashed in the 60's (no fatalities), Mt. Erebus, the active volcano on Ross Island that is 12,448’ tall, the mountains on Black and White Islands, Scott’s Base (the Kiwi base)…..

It was so cool to cross from the Ross Ice Shelf onto the Ross Island, onto land.

We got to McMurdo (I put this pic so you can see the lat/long)

and were immediately congregated in the Galley and were briefed on Station operations, housing, health, and recreational opportunities. We dealt with our travel plans for when we leave: Do you want to stay over in New Zealand? Do you want a stopover in Sydney? Do you want a stopover in Honolulu? By the way, these options are all free of charge and part of our return ticket. WOW! We received our temporary room assignments (McMurdo is so full right now that we are in the housing shuffle….no biggie), threw our luggage into our rooms, and set off to explore! Oh wait, we had dinner first. How could I have almost skipped that? Dinner, my loved ones, was AMAZING! Seriously. These were some of the options: Cinnamon bulgar, feta beets, Pesto broccoli pasta, Cashew quinoa, and Pumpkin! Walnut! Raisin! Oat! Chocolate Chip! COOKIES (OMG, the BEST part….I have been stowing them away in every pocket to enjoy at times between meals…..YUM!

We first went to the recreation center to find out about yoga classes and the climbing wall, and Idan and Damien rented shoes….brand new Sportivas, no less. The climbing gym turned out to be a little less than we had hoped for, but we were still pretty happy to have anything at all. Then we cruised up to Discovery Point to the site of Robert Falcon Scott’s hut from 1910. This picture, to me, represents the past (Scott’s hut from 100 years ago) and the present and future, McMurdo Station seen in the background of the picture. McMurdo Station was constructed in 1955-56 as part of the United State’s “Deep Freeze Operation” series of Antarctic expeditions. 

Antarctica is the only continent where we can say for certain “people first stood HERE.” Pretty wild to stand in that spot and consider the significance. McMurdo Station is the closest a ship can get to the South Pole, which is still 800 miles away, so it has been and is an important portal to the middle of this 13 million km2 continent.

This is the view out towards the edge of the Ross Sea from Discovery Point.

This is the opposite view back towards the Ross Ice Shelf and the glacier (the helo just took off from McMurdo heading towards the Dry Valleys.


We then decided to check out one of the 4 “bars” at McMurdo so headed to the Coffee House. The building is shaped like ½ of a cylinder.

We played Rummikub and this silly French game that Damien taught us where a person thinks of someone (that everyone in the group will know), and the other players have to ask questions (“If this person were a country, which country? If this person were a song, which song? If this person were a capital city, which city? Etc.) until you can guess the identity of the mystery person. Beside us was a table of the BBC film crew and, you guessed it, David Attenborough. I tried hard all evening not to gawk.

At about 11:00 pm we were exhausted so stepped outside, wearing sunglasses, into the bright and sunny night, and headed to our dorms for bed.