19 October, 1998

October 20, 1998


It is spring here in New Zealand, cool and sunny with a brisk wind. Soon I will journey to winter so I am savoring the abundance of life around me before I go. Birds are singing, building nests, and bringing beakfuls of food back to their younguns'. Surprisingly, none of the birds I have seen are New Zealand natives; they are all introduced from England--English Sparrows and European Starlings are just as common here as they are at home in the US; the Blackbird, a type of thrush which looks like a black robin, roams the lawns in search of worms with the same run-stop-and-look technique that our Robin does at home. The noisiest birds are the European Goldfinches that sing outside my hotel window from dawn to dusk. These birds are neat but I wonder if they have displaced any of the New Zealand natives. The flowers are in beautiful bloom all around the Antarctica

Center next to my hotel next to the Christchurch airport. The hotel's location is extremely convenient for doing all the things I need to do before going to "The Ice". The Clothing Distribution Center which issued me all my cold-weather gear today is here; so is the NSF headquarters from which I am e-mailing this message. If all goes as planned, I will leave from here for McMurdo Base in Antarctica tomorrow.Considering the 35 pounds of warm cozy gear I was issued today I think it is unlikely that I'll get very cold during my time there.

The Antarctica Center, right next door, is a fantastic museum with wonderful exhibits about all aspects of Antarctica--geography, history, adaptations of animals for surviving the cold, geology, climate, etc etc. It is a great place to spend my time learning more about what I will soon be experiencing. The movies they have of penguins are comical and informative. A huge-screen slide show similar to an IMAX moved me to tears with its spectacular photography. It was so excellent that I sat through it twice. I spent about 1/2 hour watching the critters in the small coldwater aquarium which is maintained at the natural temperature of Ross Sea marine life, near 0 degrees Celsius--the freezing point of freshwater. Some of the fishes I will be studying were there. It was great to see them in a habitat similar to their natural one. They barely moved, conserving energy by just sitting in one place the whole time. Even the movements of their gill covers and mouth were slow. How their enzymes and chemical reactions can work at such low temperatures is a mystery to me, but if their temperature is raised even ten degrees, they die. Red Sea Spiders, gangly-looking crustacea (not spiders) with a 6" leg-span, slowly crawled around on the bottom. In the half hour that I watched, one of them moved about 10 cm. It gingerly touched one of the fish with its "Daddy-longlegs-type" legs and stepped around it. All the fish did was open its mouth and sit still. Huge white sea anemones and red starfishes adhered to the glass and rocks, motionless. Everything was so motionless that when I first looked into the tank I thought it was just a model.

I don't know if I'll be going to Antarctica tomorrow. The group that was supposed to go today couldn't take off because it was too windy in Antarctica. That probably means that our group will be delayed by at least one day. If so, I'll make the best of it and try to get out to see some of the New Zealand countryside and wildlife. How was the flight here? Long and tedious, but considering what

it could've been like, it wasn't bad. There were no screaming babies near me. I had an aisle seat part of the way and a window seat part of the way so I didn't feel claustrophobic and I managed to get a bit of sleep. I left Dulles Airport in DC at about 5:30 PM on Saturday and arrived in Christchruch New Zealand around 10:00 AM on Monday the 19th. Since I flew over the International Date Line I skipped right over October 18th so the whole trip, including lay-overs, only took about 24 hours. the longest leg being the 12 hour flight from LA to Auckland New Zealand. Right now as I write this it is 11:39 AM Tuesday here, and 6:39 PM Monday back at home in northern Virginia. I haven't noticed any jet lag except for the fact that I went to bed last night at 7:30 and got up this morning at 3:30.

This afternoon I will be visiting a Maouri school to talk with their science class about what I will be doing. I'll tell you more about this later.

The panicky feeling I had before I left wondering if I would get everything done that I needed to is gone. That feels good. So does the excitement I feel about the upcoming 6 weeks. I hope all goes well with you.

If any of you have e-mailed me yet, I haven't received it yet. It may take a few days to get everything set-up right and for me to figure out how to access my new e-mail site. I will give you the e-mail address in a future journal entry after I arrive in Antarctica just in case you can't access it by clicking on the website page.

Noho ora mai

(Maouri for "Remain in good health")

Fred Atwood



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