17 November, 1996

Nov. 17

Max. temp - 3.9 C Min temp - 9.5 C Prevailing wind 15 knots Today is a lot colder than yesterday. By late afternoon yesterday, some ice and snow had melted and water was coursing in rivulets down the steep slopes of McMurdo station. By early evening it was beginning to form ice crystals on the top surface and the ice is frozen solid today and has not melted. The wind has picked up and it has been overcast nearly all day. A real gray day. Now, at 7:30 PM I can see dense clouds forming from the south. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

We got up at 6AM again and have a leisurely breakfast. We meet Dr. Ray Dibble who is working on the Erebus project. He is a volcanologist/seismologist who is studying earthquake tremors in Mr. Erebus, the volcano nearby. Mt. Erebus is unique. It has an alkaline basalt core and is the volcano closest to the pole. It is the only volcano that has a permanent melted lava filled crater. The melted lava is about 450 meters from the top of the cone. Mt. Erebus spews streams of gases each day and it is fascinating to see the plumes as they condense against the cold atmosphere. Mt. Erebus is also unique because it is inside one of the major tectonic plates instead of being on the edges between two plates. Because of all these unusual characteristics, Dr. Dibble has been studying it since 1962. Scientists from New Zealand, Japan and the U. S. have been studying its tremors in the hope of predicting when it will erupt. It has erupted several times recently, but not violently.

It is so fascinating to meet a variety of scientists at meals. It is easy to be tempted to linger and learn as much as we can about such varied topics. We have just time to check out our digital camera before going to church at 11AM.

There are numerous church services at the "Chapel in the Snow", a beautiful, small wooden structure south of the Crary lab. They have Catholic, Protestant, Church of the Latter Day Saints and Ecumenical services there at various times during the day. The stained glass window over the alter is a design with Antarctica and a penguin on it. The songs we sang sounded so nice with all the deep timbre of the male voices. Females are a minority in Antarctica and the church congregation reflected that.

After church, we dallied and checked things in the lab so we got to lunch too late. You have to eat lunch when the galley is open and we hadn't paid attention to the time. The lunchroom is called a galley, an old Navy term. In fact, many things here have navy terms. The store is called the "Ships Store" although there is no ship there. If you are sick you go on "sick call" to the dispensary (hospital) for medical attention. All the dentists, doctors, nurses, are navel personnel.

Jennifer and I went back to our dorm room and took pictures as she put on the extreme cold weather gear, layer by layer. I hope they show up nice. If so we can use them on web pages. She was standing in a room which never goes below 80F in long underwear, fleece pants and jacket, wool socks, wind pants, rubber boots, wool hat, gloves and heavy red parka. I thought she would melt into a little puddle.

Next we visited the fire station as today is their Fire Exposition. They demonstrated use of fire extinguishers, how they are prepared to cut open a vehicle if need arises, and gave us the fire house tour. Even though the fire engines are the "Cadilacs" of fire engines, the manufacturer had not completely thought out some problems that might happen in intense cold. Now you might say, "Why do they need fire engines in McMurdo?" It is VERY dry here and things can quickly burn. If a structure burns there is no shelter for those people. Because of the high winds, fire could very easily spread to other buildings creating a huge problem.

The suits the firemen use are made of Kevlar and PBI fibers. Kevlar is the fiber used in bullet-proof vests. PBI is a fiber produced by Dow Chemical and is stronger. It is interwoven with the Kevlar because it has a higher "flash point" where the materials would break into flames. I tried on a jacket and was amazed at how heavy it was. We had gone through "Happy Camper School" with three of the crew so it was nice to see them in their own environment. The captain had prepared a huge pot of chile for all the guests so that was our lunch. A down side of the tour was that I fell on the ice outside the door and twisted my ankle. I hope it gets better soon, but now I toddle across the snow and ice rather like a penguin because I have a waddle. (I came to see some and now I walk like them.)

After the Fire Expo, Jennifer and I decided to try out our apparatus to gather data on snow ripples to be sure that we had thought of everything. We had to suit up in wind pants, warm clothing, etc. because it is very windy and cold. We will be out in the snow so we want to keep dry. We made ripples in the snow and tried to photograph them at the correct angle for our research, but this was difficult because the day was so cloudy. We used a mirror as planned to aim the sunshine on the ripples where we wanted, but later had a difficult time getting good images on the computer. Now we know that we will have limited times of the day to gather our data and that it really must be SUNNY.

After dinner we wrote e-mail messages for a while before going to the science lecture for the evening. Dr. Ralph Harvey presented a talk about "Mars, Meteorites and Is There Evidence of Life on Mars?" in the galley. Prior to the talk, a NSF representative indicated that at that moment the population of McMurdo was 991 and that there were 167 people at Scott-Amundsen Base at the South Pole. What amazed me was that there were more than 200 people in this room to hear a science talk. The audience had people of all walks of life in it. Yes, there were scientists, but there were also many GA's (general assistant) who work for ASA; carpenters, truck mechanics, vehicle drivers, widget counters, bakers, janitors, etc. Can you imagine 20% of any population showing up for a science lecture? You cannot even get 20% of a science department in a high school to go to an extra lecture on their own time on a Sunday evening. What an awesome group of people in this place! I have spoken to many people who are incredibly bright and talented and have given up their regular jobs to work here and be on this continent. They have a true pioneering spirit and I am awed to be included with them.

After the lecture, which was very good, by the way, Jennifer and Suruj, another research member, and I went to our room and worked until midnight planning the meals and food needs for our 7 days on the ice. You plan what you want to eat and can either have them pack it for you or you can pack it. We'll choose to pack it ourselves. You have to think, "What will be easy to prepare after a tiring day? How hungry will be be? What size jars do we need?" We don't want to take too much and waste things, but we want to have enough.

By midnight I was exhausted and ready to end another day in Antarctica.


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