Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's frisbee at the Lake Hoare beach

Shoes off--frisbees out--the year turned to 2010 at the Lake Hoare beach.

You can see the celebration at.....

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

painting in the Dry Valleys

You can watch me painting in the posted video as scientists Alex Michaud and Luigi Michaud (no relation!) chip for water below the ice at Marr Ponds in the, Taylor Valley, Dry Valleys, Antarctica.

last day of the year--from Lake Hoare

Flying into the Taylor Valley.

Lake Hoare (77°38′S 162°51′E / 77.633°S 162.85°E / -77.633; 162.85) is a lake about 4.2 km (2.6 miles) long between Lake Chad and Canada Glacier in Taylor Valley, Victoria Land.

Yesterday soon after arriving here geologist Joe Levy and I went out on Lake Hoare, circling the periphery on an ATV, so Joe could get to the other side to collect a water sample from the permafrost layer below the dry dirt in a non-visible lake.

Day Trip to Marr Ponds  (short helo trip) today with 2 scientists collecting water samples. More on that later.

Monday, December 28, 2009

how to get around in Antarctica.....

 Photo by Stanley Greenberg ©

My usual form of transportation..meanwhile waiting for the snow to stop so I can helicopter out to Lake Hoare, Dry Valleys. It has been unusually cold and snowy according to the long-timers.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Back at McMurdo

 Field camp at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica, Mount Erebus (active volcano in background.)

I flew back from Cape Royds to McMurdo Station with a detour of flying out over the ice/ open water edge looking for whales. We saw a couple but just flying out over that expanse was thrilling.

It has been snowing here at McMurdo all day. Tomorrow I am supposed to fly to the Dry Valleys- specifially the Lake Hoare Field Camp--if weather permits. I might be out there for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Penguins and
Posted is a link to  a video of Adelie Penguins about to dive into the Ross Sea. They await a message from a swimming penguin that the sea is clear of predators and that it safe to go in. This video has an unexpected moment for viewers and penguins alike--so stick it out to the bitter end. I was at the edge of the ice sheet where the sea opens up. The penguins come here for food for their newly hatched chicks as seen in the pictures above.

On a more serious note--I spent the last few days with marine ecologist and penguin expert Dr. David Ainley. He and colleagues are spearheading a campaign regarding the Chilean Sea Bass. This fish, is,  for the most part now, the Antarctic Toothfish--renamed for the American palette. It is an essential part of the Ross Sea ecosystem. If commercial fishing continues to be allowed this fish is in danger of being extinct in less than ten years--and thus will put the Ross Sea and much of the Antarctic ecosystem in danger. Don't eat this fish and don't patronize restaurants that serve this fish.  Check out this site

Friday, December 25, 2009

A preview of Shackleton's Nimrod Hut, Cape Royds

I spent a long time in the hut yesterday, (with scientist David Ainley accompanying me as per site rules) photographing everything!! And videoing it too. They had so many kinds of canned meats--from tripe and onions to Irish Stew, something called calavances,  jars and jars of salt, biscuits, and much more to be described later.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cape Royds--open water...

Santa arrived at Cape Royds on a helicopter.

But yesterday was truly amazing--I was close to open water for the first time and able to see the movement of the sea and the chunks of sea ice carrying penguins like ferry boats and barges.

More later.....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

at Cape Royds

I landed at Cape Royds yesterday morning after a brief (but exciting! helicopter ride north along the coast of Ross Island and McMurdo Bay. I met penguin research scientist David Ainley, who "lives" here and  (he is a actually a marine ecologist)he gave me a tour of the Cape, from the penguin colonies to the point above Black Beach. The land is covered with back volcanic rock in different formations, some are obviously tunnel-like from the running of the lava, other in pillow like hexagonal shapes.penguin scale

The penguins really do live in colonies, where they return year after year. This was a much larger colony and was growing but when the very large iceberg B15 broke off it changed things here- including causing the Cape Royds penguins route and nesting place to be altered. ("This colony’s population has been declining over the past six years because the fast ice has failed to beak out owing to a recently grounded iceberg and a lessening of winds." from the website )With the iceberg gone their route to open water (where they get their food) became longer. Now there are 1700 nests with eggs here all hatching right about NOW!!! I can see little fuzzy gray penguin chicks under penguin adults and others sitting on their rock nests. Other penguins are scurrying around collecting rocks in their beaks and others head down to the ice and then to the open sea to get food. They really do seem to head down to the open water in single file,  their wing/ flippers outstretched to balance.

I sat and drew them yesterday and they came almost right up to me looking very curious. I also watched the skuas waiting for an opportunity to grab a penguin chick.

David Ainley and I also walked a bit further north to an incline above Black Beach and watched for whales. I did catch the spray  of 2 Minke Whales and David saw a Snowy Petrel.

More later.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tomorrow --Cape Royds!!!!

Tomorrow I catch an 8:15 helicopter for Cape Royds--weather permitting. There has been low cloud cover and snow here for a couple of days but today I did see helicopters heading out.

I'll see Shackleton's Hut and a penguin rookery!! I should be there until the 27th.

First helicopter trip for me.

 Xmas with the penguins!!!!!

Merry and Happy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Three Penguins Sighted at McMurdo Station

Three penguins wandered into the Crary lab today at McMurdo Station.
It looks like Wednesday I will be heading out to Cape Royds to see many more.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

2 very amateur videos--From Hut Point and Inside the Discovery Hut

Please pardon the quality--I am learning!!!

Scott's Discovery Hut

I am trying to download my amateur (very!) of the hut interior.

But it won't do it so here are a few pictures......

I survived Happy Camper or survival school

On Friday morning we set out for survival school, or Snowcraft  or Happy Happy Camper. After training at the stations we loaded our gear into the Haugland and we got onto some other kind of shuttle and headed into the field. This is a required course for anyone leaving McMurdo and going to another part of Antarctica (unless you are jut flying to the Pole.

Forty (?) minutes later we were out on the ice shelf in the I hut getting our introduction to survival camp with Paul and Gregg--mountaineers from the west coast and Alaska.

Over the next 2 days we learned how to operate stoves, make snow brick, use different forms of radio communication, survive an accident, prevent or treat frostbite and hypothermia and other useful Antarctic skills.

We  (the 18 Happy Campers)set up camp--6 2-person mountaineer tents, 2 big "Scott tents", and eventually those of us who wanted to dug survival trenches.

We also built a kitchen of snow bricks and built snow walls around the tents.

Our instructors left us to fend for ourselves. By then it was very windy and gray, but I worked up a sweat digging my trench-- I knew I could sleep in a tent any time but when would I ever sleep in my own snow trench? So did I did...... very carefully thinking about my back! But I did it --dug the whole trench myself and then with the help of Jean Pierre--a scientist from Grenoble, I finished the roof with a sled and large snow bricks to fill in the gaps on my roof.

After a freeze dried dinner it was time to go to bed--(9:30). Bed here is strange --it is really never dark at all!!! It just gets colder at night.

So I climbed into my trench with my sleep kit---down sleeping bag, 2 kinds of pads, for beneath, a fleece internal sack, a pillow, thermal bottle of hot water and pee bottle. Once in my sack I was warm and cozy and so I read for a few minutes and then fell asleep.

I woke up quite frequently but most memorably when a strong beam of light came through my snow roof at 2:30 AM--the clouds had left, the wind had died down and it was a beautiful blue skied sunny night. I took a stroll to the outhouse (yes, we have that luxury at Happy Camp) and went back to sleep, waking frequently but ultimately sleeping more than I had in months!!

Finally arising at 7:30 it was time to quickly pack up, have a bit of coffee and cereal and be ready with everything down (all tents, etc.) for our 9AM pick-up and return to the I Hut (still on the ice.) This was part of the test--we had to leave everything as we found it for the next group--all packed away in the structures that held the tents, shovels, flags, and other camp building materials. This was to prepare us to be ready for helicopter pick-ups etc.

We did it--returned to the hut for more breakfast and more training--how to survive an accident and a white-out. We had a 20 minute exercise in dealing with a broken leg and what to do---how to organize a group, etc. and then we had the bucket experience made famous by Werner Herzog in his movie. And we,  too, failed--we just put those buckets on our head to simulate a white out and then thinking we were going straight ahead we doubled back on ourselves. The simple rule is don't go out in a white out!!!

We came back to McMurdo and saw a film about helicopter safety and then we graduated!! I am ready.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

off to Happy Camper School

Today I go off to the field to build my own igloo and sleep in when I get back.

Officially field training or Snowcraft I--or everyone says here ...Happy Camper

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Getting to Antarctica

on the C17

        above--from the window -landing soon and.......                          I am in Antarctica!!!!!!!

I wrote this on the C17 transport a 5-hour flight-noisy but otherwise not bad. Everyone wears earplugs and the experienced types have headphones. We sit with our backs to the wall. This is the preferred plane—otherwise it is the C130-less comfortable, more crammed and it takes 2 to 3 hours longer. I am sitting next to Becky Ball- the scientist who wrote me the extremely welcoming email. She is as gracious and welcoming in person.

So far all systems go. Weather looks good for landing but that can change at a moment’s notice.
This morning I got up at 4:00 AM, did the final bag sorting—although I really did that last night. There were 4 categories-----carry-on, check in, boomerang and leave behind in NZ for the return. The actual final sort took place before boarding this morning.

The carry-on—camera, computer passport, etc. the usual except that it had to fit in one of their orange duffel bags and it would also include a bottle of hooch, and my shoes. I had packed it yesterday at the CDC with “big red”, the enormous standard-issue red parka) and the giant blue bunny boots. Those came out however, and I put them on this morning –those items had to be worn on the plane.
Check in—everything else except for ……..
The dreaded ------boomerang---this contains the things I would want to have accessible in the event that we are forced to turn around and go back to Christchurch due to weather conditions on the ice. So in there are normal clothes for a few days, toilet articles, a little sketch pad and my watercolors. I really hope we don’t need that bag today!!!
And I did leave behind the rest of what I don’t need for Antarctica but might need for when I come off the ice.
The plane is packed with palettes full of who know what and every seat is taken. There are some mysterious VIP’s aboard, in full Antarctic gear, and they are sitting in the reserved seats up front.
Yesterday I was issued: the brand-spanking new “big red”, a lighter version of big red (little red?), new wind pants,brand-new blue bunny boots, 4 new pairs of gray wool socks, black fleece pants, a black fleece jacket, a new, in the wrapper, set of lightweight black long johns and a new set of heavy weight long johns, 2 pairs of new lined leather gloves, a pair of rag wool mitten liners and leather mittens, a pair of goggles, a fleece neck gaiter, a baklava, and a fleece hat. Everything fit perfectly except I did exchange the white blow-up bunny boots for the blue ones on Andrea Polli’s recommendation-she thought they were more comfortable for walking and chances are, I won’t be in the water.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm off.........

I have to report to the terminal in 9 minutes--my bags are checked in I am wearing some gear, The coasts boots long johnsetc.were assembled and tried on yesterday. Everything fit!!

Go to go......

Monday, December 14, 2009

Luggage located

Unusually cold and rainy here in Christchurch for a summer day. Found an okay dinner and a lovely little pub with a pretty good one-man-band last night--had a beer to help me get on NZ time-not bad-- slept from 11 till 6AM--hoping to wake up to my luggage waiting downstairs. But no. Anxiety. And no word.

Well it seems as though I crossed paths with my luggage this morning. It was delivered to my Y while I am here at the Antarctica Polar Services offices right across from the airport.

I am not supposed to be here till 1PM so back I go to town relieved at least that all that special long underwear I assembled is going with me tomorrow and I won't have to be like the polar explorers of the last century who didn't change their clothes for years at a time.

I come back here this afternoon to get my gear, get oriented, watch videos and then have to be back tomorrow at.......6AM.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Greetings from Christchurch, New Zealand

Leaving NYC photo by Jim Whitaker

Arrived this afternoon, from the 7-hour flight from NY to LA, the 15-hour flight from LA to Sydney and finally just made the 3-hour flight from Sydney to Christchurch. My luggage however seems to be in Sydney still. They say it will arrive tonight. I HOPE!
The scenery flying over New Zealand was spectacular—Alp-like snow covered mountains. I think they are close to 18,000 feet.
I am pretty disoriented—slept five hours or so on the plane. I keep thinking I am on a ship—the ground is rocking below me—I think that is just the effect of crossing so many time zones—it is Monday 6:20 PM here now----12:20 AM east coast time. My goal is to stay up till 10PM.
It is POURING with rain—I am sitting in the local public library taking advantage of the WIFI—a block or so from my very nice room at the Y (complete with a little balcony too wet to sit on.)
Tomorrow I go get my ECW (Extreme Cold Wear) at the US Antarctic Services and Wednesday is the planned day to fly out.
More soon.