Friday, December 12, 2008

Life at McMurdo

Hello everyone,

Thanks for reading my blog. Unfortunately this will be my last post as our project is dead for the season. We have been socked in by the weather, and are now out of time to get to our field camp. So I'll be coming home early. I should be back in St. Louis on the 15th or 16th. For my last post I have some pictures of what life is like at McMurdo research station. Enjoy.

This a shot of the loading dock in the Crary science building. This is where we do our equipment testing and field preparation.

Equipment testing.

When we get a little down time, I take the opportunity to play the Ross Island disc golf course. This is my friend Carl getting ready to tee off. Yes he is crazy and in fact wearing shorts.

Sometimes our discs go astray and we have to climb up on the roof to retrieve them.

The disc golf crew.

Here we are getting some survival training for preparation to head to the field.

Altitude training inside the Gamow bag. When someone gets altitude sickness we have to stick them in this small pressured chamber that simulates lower altitudes until they recover.

My bedroom in the dorms. My bed is on the right.

Here's a shot of our office in the Crary science building.

Dining Hall.

And finally a couple of shots from one of the parties at McMurdo this season. The event was called Freezing Man. It was like Burning Man, only in Antarctica. There were costumes, live music, and glow sticks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to let you all know about the website. Kelly has been posting videos, pictures, and stories live from the ice. There's even a podcast you can download featuring yours truly. The website also contains maps and more information about our project including a 'Cool for Schools' section. We also have a facebook group with pictures, discussion, and links to blogs. Feel free to post questions and comments there as well.

Check it out!

You can find my podcast and other videos here:

And for Miss Howell's class:

Q: Are the ice formations stalactites?

A: I believe the ice formations can be called stalactites (they hang tight from the ceiling). Some people may also call them icicles (like the ones on your gutter at home in the winter). However, the formations in the ice cave are protected from the elements allowing the ice crystal structure to grow to produce the magnificent shapes and textures you see in the pictures.

Q: Do people eat penguins?

A: People no longer eat penguins in the Antarctic (nor, I hear from diaries of the early explorers, would you want to!) Their eggs, however, are quite tasty...just kidding! Penguins and penguin eggs are protected by the Antarctic wildlife treaty which says all wildlife in the Antarctic should be left undisturbed such that the animals do not react to your presence.

Q: What do you do with your data?

A: The data we collect for this project will be used to study the rocks buried beneath the ice sheets. Seismology allows us to study the properties of the rocks without actually possessing a sample we can examine or bring back to the lab. The data will also be used to monitor ice sheet movements to determine if the ice sheets are disappearing and how fast they are disappearing.

And yes, feel free to share this blog with everyone!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cape Surprise

Hello everyone,

After two weeks in McMurdo, I finally made it out to the field. The outing was a day trip to Cape Surprise to service one of the seismic stations we had installed last year. To get to the station, we took a four hour (one way) flight in a twin otter along the Transantarctic Mountains (TAM). The TAM extend from the Ross Sea to the Weddell Sea along the entire length of Antarctica, and separate the continent into two halves, East and West Antarctica (see map below). The highest peaks rise over 14,000 feet above sea level. They are one of the worlds longest continental rift flank uplifts. This means the mountains were formed during extension and stretching of the continental lithosphere. The exact mechanism for their uplift involves thickened crust (similar to an ice cube in water, the thicker the ice cube, the higher it sits), and warm temperatures in the upper mantle that provide thermal buoyancy forces beneath the crest of the mountains. Rifting began in the late Jurassic or early Cretaceous (roughly 150 million years ago) with most of the uplift occurring in the Cenozoic (the last 67 million years or so). As you can imagine, the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Here are some pictures.

Transantarctic Mountains.

One of the many massive outlet glaciers that flows down through the TAM and onto the Ross ice shelf, draining the East Antarctic ice sheet .

Twin otter on the ground at our field site.

Some of the scenery at our field site.

A shot of us working on the station with the twin otter in the background.

Crevasse field.

It was a pretty long flight so we had to stop and refuel along the way. There are fuel caches placed throughout the continent each year for just such purposes. The pilots carry a pump in the airframe to transfer the fuel from the drums to the plane. Not unlike a stop at your local gas station!

Here's a shot of me in front of our station. The solar panels provide power for the instrumentation which is located in the big orange box (except for the actual sensor itself which is buried beneath the snow and ice). Also note the two small antennas located at the top of the frame. The small dome on the left is a GPS receiver that is used for timing of the seismographs, not location (it records a location as well, but we are only interested in the time). This is necessary so we know exactly when an event occurs, and can correlate that time with other seismic stations around the world. The cylindrical antenna on the right is an iridium satellite modem. This allows us to transmit information from our station to a webpage that can be accessed anywhere in the world. While we do not yet have the bandwidth to transmit the data itself, we can obtain state of health information such as voltages on the power supply, temperature in the box, and small snapshots of the data.

Another massive outlet glacier.

More shots of the TAM.

A good shot of the twin otter.

When we got to the station, we found it had tilted to one side from where we left it a year ago because the snow had been blow out from underneath of the frame. So we had to empty the box and dig down to some hard ice to make a level surface to prevent the whole thing from falling over. We never know what we're going to find when we arrive at a station to service it, but a typical service run involves digging out the station from the snow, replacing any equipment that is broken or malfunctioning, and retrieving the data that was collected over the last year.

Check back in a day or two for a special feature on life at McMurdo research station!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Scott's hut

Hello Everyone,

Unfortunately, I am having a hard time uploading photos. I've been trying to upload these photos for two days now, and I still did not get to post all of the ones I wanted to. So these will have to do.

The second part of our delta trip was to Scott's hut at Cape Evans. The hut was built in 1910 as headquarters for Robert Falcon Scott's second Antarctic expedition, the Terra Nova expedition. Scott's mission was to be the first human to reach the South Pole. Scott reached the south pole, however, he was preceded by a Norweigan, Roald Amundsen, nearly a month earlier. Scott and his four companions died on their return journey to the hut, trapped in a blizzard, just 11 miles from their next supply depot.

The hut was later reoccupied by members of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party of the Imperial Transantarctic Expedition (ITAE) in 1915. Although subsequently abandoned when a rescue ship arrived, the hut and its contents are remarkably well preserved due to the consistently sub-freezing conditions. An inscription by Dick Richards on the wall near his bunk, lists the names of those who perished during the ITAE, and can still be read today.

Scott's hut

Seal blubber used for food and fuel.

Looks like they were getting ready to cut up a penguin when the rescue ship arrived. The members of the ITAE were stranded at the hut waiting to be rescued, and didn't bother to tidy up before they left.

Dining room table


Sleeping quarters

Penguin eggs.

A memorial cross for members of the ITAE who died in Antarctica.