22 November, 1998

Sunday November 22, 1998

Good Morning from Antarctica on this beautiful snowy morning! Quite a change from last night's crystal clear, blue-sky, wind-whipped evening.


Several students have asked me about my clothes. So I thought I'd copy one of my responses here for everyone: Normally around town I wear the same clothes that I wear at school except I don't wear a tie and I wear sneakers instead of shoes. When we go out fishing or hiking we wear many layers of clothing so if we get hot we can peel the layers off. This is called our ECW gear. None of this clothing is cotton since cotton loses all its insulaing ability when it is wet. The layers from the skin out include: expedition-weight thermal underwear, fleece bibbed overalls, windbreaker bibbed overalls with nice big pockets, a fleece zipper jacket, and a huge down coat with an excellent hood and lots of pockets. Also I wear polypropylene liner gloves inside suede, lined mittens. If I am taking a photo or doing something else that requires fingers, I remove the mittens but my fingers are still protected from the cold camera and air by the liner gloves. When I am snow-mobiling, my hands are kept warm inside my mittens by the hot-grips--the electrically-heated handlebars. On my head/neck I wear a fleece neck warmer, a fleece hat, and sometimes a polypropylene balaclava face-mask and lined, windbreaker-hat. My face is protected by the balaclava, the neck-gaiter, and my beard, as well as by the ski-goggles which I wear for sun protection. While snowmobiling or in the strong wind any exposed skin can become frost-bitten quickly so even the nose must be covered then. On my feet I wear one pair of soft, cozy, woolen socks inside roomy, rubber, insulated, army-issue "bunny-boots". My feet in the past have always been difficult to keep warm, but they have never been cold here inside these bunny boots. Whenever we go out we also bring an extra set of mittens, liners, socks, and thermal underwear to change into if the others get wet from perspiration.


Another student (Gabrielle Miller) asked me about the calving of icebergs from the ice shelves. In parcticular she mentioned the one that recently broke off the Ronne Ice Shelf on the other side of Antarctica. This iceberg is about the size of Delaware, and a German research station which was on the ice shelf is now adrift in the Weddell Sea on this ice. You can see a satellite picture of this iceberg and others at http://uwamrc.ssec.wisc.edu/amrc/amrcgallery.html Gabrielle was wondering if this is a sign of global warming. My roomate, Dr Barclay Kamb, is a geophysicist who studies glaciers so I asked him Gabrielle's question, My summary of his answer is as follows: Dear Gabrielle,

I asked my roommate about the huge iceberg that calved off the Ronne Ice Shelf. He said this kind of occurence happens so rarely that we can't be sure that it is happening any faster now than before, so we don't know if it is caused by global warming. However he also said that one small ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula near S. America has totally melted, and another one on the Peninsula (Larsen Ice Shelf) is melting much faster than normal. People there have recently measured a local increase in temperature of about 3-5 degrees. Notice I said "local". It is not all over Antarctica, just in the Antarctic Peninsula. (They have also seen changes in the plant life in that region WHY?) The local increase in temperature is much greater than the global increase. No one knows why it is such a local phenomenon. Possibly it has to do with global warming's effects on the flow of ocean currents and air streams in that part of the world. There seems to be no significant evidence to prove that more iceberg calving or ice-sheet melting is happening in other parts of Antarctica at this time.

Good Question!


Students and faculty at Flint Hill School did experiments with bubbles this past week. They asked me what it was like to blow bubbles here in Antarctica so I tried it. Unfortunately the weather here was not very cold; about 8 degrees Fahrenheit was the coldest I could get. The bubbles did not freeze. Most of the bubbles were ping-pong ball sized, but a few were the size of tennis balls. There were several double-bubbles and a few triple-bubbles. The bubbles blew around in the wind for several seconds (up to about 10 seconds) and popped when they landed on the ground. Each time I blew bubbles I was able to produce between 0 and 6 bubbles, producing bubbles about 80% of the time. I tried blowing bubbles until my hands got too cold in the freezing cold wind (about 5 minutes).

However, Dave Stillie, the pastor of the Chapel of the Snows, is going to the South Pole for Thanksgiving. I am going to send the bubble solution and wand with him and he will try it there. The temperatures there are sure to be below -30 degrees F. We hope to find out if the bubbles freeze. He will try to use his digital video camera to take photos of the process.


Yesterday I was pleased to find an e-mailed invitation to a party where Dissostichus mawsoni, the Antarctic Cod, was going to be served. This is the huge fish that I told you about in an earlier journal.

The other fish group (led by Antarctic fish research guru, Dr Art DeVries) is studying mawsoni to learn about their antifreeze and their ability to remove ice crystals that start to form in their blood (probably by endocytosis in their spleen). They are huge fish, sometimes over a meter long and weighing over 200 pounds (I think the record was 240 pounds). I will attach photos to this journal so you can see what they look like. These fish have 8 kinds of glycoprotein antifreezes. When many people hear this they ask me if these fish are poisonous to eat because, as we all know, car antifreeze is poisonous. A reasonable question. But this kind of antifeeeze is quite edible--it is just a protein with a sugar attached to it--and it did not give the fish any bad flavor. In fact, even though I typically do not like to eat fish, this light, moist, white meat was delectable. It had a light greasy texture and a pleasant taste. It didn't taste at all "fishy". Some people don't like the oiliness. Perhaps I wouldn't have liked a whole meal of it either. When I got to it there were just a few morsels left so I literally got just a taste of it. A couple days ago I mentioned this fish and the concern about the fact that commercial fishing boats are starting to encroach on Antarctic waters to fish for these very long-lived and docile fish. I think the fish we ate was what was left-over after the fish researchers removed the internal organs from one of them for their research. They don't use the muscle (the meat) in their research so maybe this is where it went. (I kind of didn't want to ask becasue I have gotten kind of attached to the huge docile mawsoni milling about in the big tanks down in the old aquarium.)

I mentioned the greasiness of this fish. Why are they so greasy? Remember a few days ago when I asked you about how the fish can be neutrally buoyant without an air sac? This is part of the reason why. Oil is not as dense as water so it floats. You have seen this in oil-and-vinegar salad dressing. (Let the bottle sit after you shake it and you will see the oil separate out and float above the watery vinegar.) Antarctic fish have a lot of lipid (oil,fat,grease)deposits thoughout their body to make them less dense so they float easily. Ellen Turner, a 10th grader at Flint Hill, figured this out. She also guessed correctly that instead of bones they have cartilage. Also most Antarctic fish have reduced the number and weight of the scales in their skin.

Eating mawsoni was the hghlight of the day yesterday. It is a new critter to add to my list of bizarre things eaten (This list includes beetle grubs and boiled fern fronds in New Guinea, fried grasshoppers and crickets in Virginia, raw lemon ants in the Amazon Basin, and broiled ostrich, gazelle, and zebra in Kenya.)

On that note I'd better say:

"Have a good day and do something good for someone"

I'll try to show some more photos of other fish and talk about the research that the rest of the people in my group are doing tomorrow.

PS. Correction: Mt Discovery is only 8795 feet tall not 12,000. Sorry 'bout that.

Fred Atwood



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Dissostichus mawsoni, the huge Antarctic Cod that lives in the deep cold waters of Antarctica. Research by a team led by Dr. Art DeVries has found 8 kinds of glycoprotein antifreezes that help to keep the mawsoni from freezing. They are also studying how the fish removes ice crystals that start to form despite the antifreeze.

A closer view of the cute face of Dissostichus mawsoni. Don't you just want to hug-and-kiss it?

Odontaster validus is the abundant, colorful, predaceous starfish that lives on the bottom of the ocean here. We often pull them up in our fish traps. Research here at Crary lab has shown that sea sponges, which of course canno t run away from starfish, produce a toxin that keeps the starfish from eating them!

Sea Urchins, like their relatives the starfish, belong to the phylum Echinodermata--the spiny-skinned critters with radial symmetry. These ones have very spiny skin. I guess the fish I am studying, Trematomus bernacchii, would have a hard time trying to eat one of these!

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