7 November, 2004
Ghosts from the past!
Location: McMurdo Station
We have been working hard to gather all the supplies needed for our trip to the field camp. We are at a “stand still” at the moment because the things we need to gather at this point are located in buildings that are closed on Sunday’s. We took advantage of the delay by getting caught up on email and journal writing. I must say it was quite nice to have a slower paced day to “catch our breaths”!
We also took a quick tour of McMurdo station. It’s quite windy here today which is bringing the temperature, with the wind chill, to below zero. Although we didn’t want to spend too much time outside, we did want to go for a walk, so we went through the “check out” procedure. Anytime anyone leaves town, each person must sign out at the fire station so they can keep track of where everyone is located. If there were ever an emergency, the rescue teams would then know where to concentrate their search. We checked out at the fire house and obtained the key to the Discovery Hut that was built here in McMurdo by Robert Scott in 1902.
Scott built the hut for his “National Antarctic Expedition”, but since the hut was difficult to heat, he did not use if for much more than storage. The hut did, however, get used by several subsequent expeditions. The most use it received was from the depot laying crew of Shackleton’s famous excursion. While Shackelton and his ship mates attempted to land on the Weddell Sea in order to trek cross the continent, his second ship, the Aurora was stationed in the Ross Sea area. They were laying depots to be used by Shackelton as he came across the mountains. They used the Discovery hut quite extensively.
Many of the relics from those early days are still in the hut. There are old biscuits on the shelves, old fuel lamps, and even some old clothes. The remains of some seals they killed for food and fuel are still heaped on the floor. It is quite humbling to imagine the hardships the early explorers must have faced. Being in the hut made me feel as if their ghosts were desperately trying to convey the struggles they endured.
The hut left us all feeling a bit spoiled by our current conditions! We returned to the comforts of the modern day McMurdo station. We were able to get warm, have a cup of hot chocolate, and even take a shower if we wanted. We got ready to enjoy one of McMurdo’s featured events.
Each Sunday night in McMurdo, a scientist will give a presentation on their research. This evenings talk was on the Mt. Erebus Bay Weddell Seal Population Studies. Dr. Robert Garrott explained their most recent findings from their research. He reviewed the newest techniques and tools they use to determine the population dynnamics of the seal colonies in the Erebus Bay region. This seasons seal population is showing a 30 % decrease from previous years. Dr. Garrott believes this is because there are several huge icebergs just outside of McMurdo Sound that are blocking the normal exit route for the McMurdo Sound sea ice. Since the ice can not get out of the sound, it is getting thicker and more tightly packed. The holes and cracks that weddell seals depend on to access the surface to rear their pups are not present to the same extent this year. As a result, there are fewer seals seen. The icebergs are having a significant impact on the water currents through the sound, thus on nutrient availability, on all organisms that depend on those nutrients and on the more typical ice conditions. Ecosystems are dynamic, and this one is fluctuating.
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