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29 November, 2004

A-Star and Sir Edmond Hillary

Temperature: 18* F

Location: Lake Hoare and McMurdo Station

Today I said goodbye to all my friends at Lake Hoare. I was able to fly back to McMurdo in the “MG” of helicopters; we flew in an “A-Star.” The A-Star is smaller than the B-212 and there is more sitting room inside. I was able to sit in the front seat, so my view was absolutely fabulous! We glided over the glaciers and the valley below. Our pilot skillfully maneuvered the helo around icebergs in McMurdo Sound so we could view the “bergs” from all sides.

From the front seat, I could clearly see how “plugged” with ice McMurdo Sound has become. The large B12 iceberg that broke off the ice shelf a few years ago has started to break up into smaller bits. The largest of those bits, however, is grounded just at the mouth of the sound. It is blocking water currents, and thus the ability for the sea ice in the sound to break up and flow into the ocean. Because it is stuck in the sound, the sea ice is getting thicker and thicker. This is having detrimental effects on the Weddell Seal population, as well as the penguin population. The iceberg is blocking the normal travel route for penguins to reach their feeding grounds. The penguins are having to walk farther, thus require more nutrients, to reach their feeding grounds from their nest sites. The young are not receiving enough nutrients from their parents and are thus perishing.

Although the conditions are harsh for the local wildlife, the scenery is incredible. Huge icebergs, which are actually small in comparison to the “big one” that’s blocking the sound entrance, are trapped within the sea ice. They look like giant ocean liners frozen in their path. Melt water around their edges shimmers a faint outline of aquamarine in the sunshine. The vertical cliff edges of the bergs jut out of the sound forming flat topped pinnacles in the sea ice.

When we arrived in town, I was fortunate to see Sir Edmond Hillary! “Sir Ed”, as he is affectionately known was the first person to summit Mt. Everest and the first person to reach the South Pole using tracked vehicles. He also ran Scott Base, the New Zealand base, for a year. He is in Antarctica with a film crew making a documentary about his life. It was exciting to see him. As I watched the now elderly man walk gingerly from one building to the next, I paused to consider the amazing life stories he must be able to share. What a treat!

1) The A-Star!

2) The display panel inside the A-Star.

3) Ice bergs trapped in the sea ice.

4) Coming into McMurdo Station.

5) A survival cache box; this will be placed in the field for emergency use.

6) Check out the size of this sea spider; I hope to be diving with these in a couple days!

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