Sunday, March 21, 2010

a few more things about Antarctic life....McMurdo accordion book

Now that I am back I have become aware of what I haven't made clear about Antarctic travel and living. I also keep thinking about how one's expectations are erased by actual experience. These two thoughts come together when I describe aspects of daily life that surprise people when I am talking about my time on the ice.

I think I had no idea that I would be living in a mountaineering tent during the time I was out in the field. (A mountaineering tent is a dome-shaped nylon tent with a rain fly.) People are shocked---"Wasn't it cold?" everyone asks--"you actually slept in a!" In fact it wasn't that cold--a warm sleeping bag, 24 hours of sun (or just light on a cloudy day) and the fact that one does adjust makes tent sleeping very comfortable. I had a few chilly nights ---I used a hot water bottle once and the other times I did warm up nestled in my sleeping bag. As a matter of fact the dormitory room at McMurdo felt hot and stuffy after fresh air sleeping. I thoroughly enjoyed my tents at Lake Hoare, Cape Royds and the Scott tent at Cape Crozier. (Scott tents are larger and heavier--square bottomed and pyramid shaped--used by Scott 100 years ago when exploring Antarctica. They are less warm than the mountaineering tents--but you can stand up in them so they are better for clostrophic types.)

What was the temperature in Antarctica?--the question asked the most after,  "Did you see penguins?" Most of the time the temperature on Ross Island (Cape Royds, Crozier and McMurdo Station) and Lake Hoare in the Dry Valleys-across the frozen Ross Sea was hovering around freezing and dropping to the high teens. (I know--NY was colder.) The South Pole was minus 26--I was told I was there during a heat wave. Now it is minus 72.  It is 13 degrees F. today but dropping down to minus 7 later this week at McMurdo. The wind was brutal at times--my fingers froze one very windy day when I was walking from one side of McMurdo Station (which is really like a small town) to the other.

The images in this blog are part of a 29 panel accordion book, each panel being 4.5" x 6.5"--all done with gouache and then color pencils. The drawings are views out of windows from many buildings at McMurdo. I drew from Fleet Operations, the Carpenter Shop, the Berg Field Center (where one borrowed gear such as tents, crampons, etc.) , the Chalet--National Science Foundation headquarters, the Science Support Center, the church-Chapel of the Snows, the Crary Science Lab Building, and the Galley (aka cafeteria). I also did  a smaller accordion book of the view out of every window at Lake Hoare field camp--these can be seen on an earlier blog. I couldn't do every window at McMurdo--too many--McMurdo can house as many as 1200 people.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

South Pole con't

little gouache  painting of the South Pole TelescopeSouth Pole Telescope and BICEP 

Inside the base of SPT
cables for ICE CUBE

I was given a full tour of the three telescopes at the South Pole by their respective scientists. The South Pole telescope was immediately noticeable by its extraordinary form. You can find out more about this telescope at I found all telescopes at the South Pole so sophisticated that I know if I begin to describe their function I will get it wrong--they all sound like science fiction to me--for that reason I will refer to websites.

Housed in the same building is BICEP. This is the acronym for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization, and again I will refer to a link because I can't begin to explain this telescope although it was graciously and generously explained to me.

I did not see much of the neutrino telescope Ice Cube as much of their visible work was finished for the season. They have a very extensive website with detailed explanations at

out the window --South Pole gouache painting

and another......
in the tunnel
I also visited the clean air facility (AR0) and the underground tunnels that carry water and fuel and are about minus 60 degrees at all times.

one last painting--the celebratory marker of the South Pole

And speaking of minus 60 --that seems to be the temperature there right now!

And the magnetic Pole--with Gumby in his Big Red....