3 December, 2002
3 December, 2002
Delayed in McMurdo, Day 2
We're delayed again today from our field deployment, but not so much by weather, but rather by an emergency med-evac. Apparently, someone here coming out of the Dry Valleys experienced an aneurysm and had to be evacuated to New Zealand. This tied up the C-130's and has delayed us until tomorrow.
There could be much worse places to be stranded than McMurdo. In fact, this has given each of us a chance to see other types of research taking place here and a chance to explore a little.
One of the things Nancy Chabot, the leader of our team, pointed out when we got to McMurdo was that we have a duty to act as ambassadors for the ANSMET program. We got the opportunity to do so last night at the McMurdo astronomy club meeting. Danny, Dante, Scott, Carl, Cady, and I attended their weekly meeting and got the chance to talk about what we do and answer questions from the club members. It was a real treat for me to brag about my students and the DCHS astronomy club. I brought flyers describing the All-Sky project and talked about how I have students involved with that (for information, go to the Denver Museum of Nature and web site, click on "Space Science," then click "All-Sky camera project"). The astronomy club members were very kind and made us feel quite welcome.
Shortly after the meeting, I had a fascinating conversation with Lynn Arnold, a teacher who is working for Raytheon here in McMurdo. Lynn is a TEA Associate and is a great point of contact for the TEA's passing through McMurdo. She has taught all over the world, but most recently in Ecuador and Micronesia. She is taking this year off from teaching for the opportunity to work in Antarctica. McMurdo is full of interesting people who travel and work hard just for the chance to go to Antarctica. Lynn cracked me up when she mentioned that she turned down a cruise to Antarctica years ago because she had no interest in freezing down here. Now, she's considering wintering over. This place has this effect on people and the people make this a vibrant community.
Some of the most interesting work being done here is the study of the marine biology, just below the sea ice. Divers actually go into this sub-freezing water to study the ecosystems that exist below. One might be inclined to think that little exists below the ice, but actually life is thriving. Some of the animals are represented in the McMurdo aquarium, a room full of holding tanks where these animals are being studied. I was most impressed by the Antarctic cod which were over 3 ft. long. However, I was also impressed by one of the largest sea stars I've ever seen. The tanks were also full of several other invertebrates including urchins, chitins, and other mollusks. After visiting the aquarium, Alan from the astronomy club offered to show us the desalination plant. This is an amazing marvel of chemistry and engineering. Prior to 1996, all of McMurdo's fresh water was produced by a distillation process whereby sea water was heated and the steam condensed and recaptured. This caused water rationing due to its inefficiency. In 1996, a reverse-osmosis filtration system was installed that pumps sea water through a series of filters until fresh water is produced. Alan actually opened a valve right on the filter to let us taste the water. It was delicious.
The water's acidity (pH) is adjusted and chlorine is added before the water is sent to the buildings. It is not an inexpensive solution. Each filter costs $250,000. Earlier this year, tetrapods, (small marine invertebrates similar to jellyfish), were getting caught in the filters. A screen had to be set up where the water is drawn from the sea to catch the tetrapods before they got into the filters. They seem to have the problem solved and there is plenty of fresh water at McMurdo.
Tonight, our plans are flexible. There is talk of volleyball, a trip to Willy Field (the landing strip on Ross Island), or watching football. We will try again tomorrow to get out to our field site.
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