8 November, 1998
November 8, 1998
TODAY IT IS SNOWING!!! My first snow in Antarctica. Beautiful light fluffy flakes! Looking out the Crary lab window all I see is gray: no sky, no ice, no Mt.Discovery, just dancing snowflakes. I can't even see the sea ice runway on which I saw the huge C-5 plane land just a few minutes ago. It is amazing to me that this huge plane carrying 120 thousand pounds of cargo can land on the ice. I am told that one person's job at the runway is to continuously measure the amount of sag under the plane as it sits on the runway and to direct the pilot to move it when the ice sags too much. In a few weeks the ice will start to break up and they will have to move the airport to the permanent ice of the Ross Ice Shelf a little bit further away.
Today I was looking at the journals of some of the other teachers here. They are really doing some pretty neat things. Check out their journals at ../tea_elliottfrontpage.html and ../tea_trummelfrontpage.html or just some of their excellent pictures of Happy Camper School and the interesting views of the army plane we flew on to get here. The web address of these photos are ../.elliott/10.29.1998.html (also check out the 30th) and ../.trummel/11.3.1998.html
YESTERDAY was a great day. We went on a fishing trip to Cape Evans. The wind was whipping across the ice and the hole inside the hut wasn't producing many fish so we used the Jiffy-drill to drill a couple new fish holes. We parked the snowmobiles just upwind of the holes to block the wind. Then we fished using them as a shield to protect the fish from the freezing wind. The air itself wasn't really very cold (about 20 to 25 F) and the fish were also warmed a bit by our hands as we unhooked them, so as long as they were not exposed to the cold wind they didn't freeze. I don't think any of the 25 fish we caught were killed by the cold. It was our last day with our chief researcher, Dr. David Petzel, who is leaving today on the C-5. That will leave just me, Dr. David Smith, and the 2 graduate students Sierra Guynn and Ed Wren.
On the way back I got to drive the spryte. This was a really neat experience. This is the kind of vehicle that Fox Mulder drove in the X-files movie. It is really easy to drive but it is quite different from a normal vehicle. Instead of having tires it has tank treads to give it a better grip on the snow and ice. Instead of having a steering wheel it has two levers. If you pull the left lever it slows down (brakes) the left track and you turn left. If you pull the right lever it slows down the right tread and it turns left. if you pull back on both levers, it acts as a brake, and stops the vehicle. It was kind of fun. The problem with sprytes is that even with the "pedal to the metal" they can only go about 10 or 15 mph. That was ok with me, it gave me more time to appreciate the spectacular beauty of the scenery around me. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky so the textures in the wind-blown snow-formations were accentuated by the shadows. Looking out towards the continent across the miles of blue ice and snow I could see the stark shining peaks of the Royal Society Range and was reminded of the extreme and wonderful isolation of the wilderness of Antarctica. Thousands and thousands of miles of beautiful scenery with no people in it. WOW!! I wanted to stop and take pictures many times but we had to rush back (at our snail's pace) to deliver the fish to the aquarium before they warmed up too much in their coolers in the back of the spryte.
After supper I worked on my journal and counted a few cells in the photos and then went for a walk to the top of Observation Hill just outside of town. This gave me a great view of Mt. Erebus. All day long Erebus had been in the clouds but the clouds cleared away just as I reached the summit of Observation Hill. NICE! It was also a great view of the town of McMurdo.
A lot of people have been asking me about what it is like to live here. I took a picture from Observation Hill to show you what McMurdo looks like. It has the feel of a college or university around here. We sleep in dorms with a roommate. We share a bathroom with the neighboring room. In the dorm there is a laundry room, a relaxation lounge with a TV and pool table, and a sauna. But the only time I spend in the dorm is to sleep and wash my clothes. We eat at a cafeteria. The food is good but is fattening. We have lots of scrumptious desserts and breakfast pastries, lots of meat and pasta dishes, and not enough vegetables and fruit--but what can you expect in Antarctica where everything has to be flown in. There is a greenhouse in McMurdo so I was excited the other day when there was salad with fresh lettuce in it. There is even a self-serve soft ice-cream machine in the cafeteria! I will probably return to school a few pounds heavier. (My pants waist line is already feeling a bit tight!)
We do our research in a lab with academic people like grad students and professors. The lab facilities are great, especially considering that we are probably in the most remote part of the world. The microscopes, camera, and vibration-free tables I am using to photograph cells probably cost about $20,000. There are a dozens of huge tanks down in the aquarium to house the fishes we are using in our experiments, and we have all the chemicals, glassware, and other supplies we need to do our work. All this had to be organized ahead of time by head researchers (PIs, principal investigators) to make sure that everything was shipped over here ahead of time. All the other research groups from geologists to marine biologists to atmospheric physicists also have all the equipment they need too. The whole place is funded by your parents tax dollars via the NSF, the National Science Foundation.
About a thousand people live here in McMurdo at this time of year. The community is made up of scientists (which some people call "beakers") and all the support people it takes to run the base: mechanics, construction workers, cargo handlers, a doctor, nurses, a chaplain, communications experts, kitchen workers, helicopter pilots, computer specialists, janitors, etc, etc.
SO, you can see that I am in no way roughing it. It is nothing like the conditions endured by Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen in the early 1900's who ate seals and penguins and burned their blubber for heat in order to make it through the severe conditions.
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