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14 October, 2004

Everything you always wanted to know about Antarctica and werenít afraid to ask!

Here are some questions from my students at Thompson Middle School, and my responses:

1. What does it look like?

It is very very beautiful. When we landed in McMurdo (the runway is on sea ice over McMurdo Sound), it was all bright and white Ė and that was at 7 p.m. There are tall mountains, including Mount Erebus, that you saw in the video. Across McMurdo Sound (the frozen bay in front of McMurdo Station), there is a whole range of snow-covered mountains called the Victoria Range. We can see them out the window of the lab. Antarctica is also very different from anywhere I have ever been. I am dying to share my pictures with everyone, and will have them on-line soon.

2. How do people celebrate Halloween in Antarctica?

Halloween is a BIG deal here. People are very creative and make all kinds of imaginative costumes Ė sometimes even using the sewage theme (ugh! Ė thatís one that has not been forgotten for a while). Tonight before dinner, I went to the Gear Issue room to rent a pair of cross-country skis and discovered they rent all kinds of masks and funny dress-up clothes. Iím sorry I wonít be here for Halloween!

3. What is the temperature out there?

Right now, it is -18 C, and the wind has dies down a little. Earlier today, the wind chill was Ė47 F! It didnít feel too bad, but I was not out for all that long, and I had on lots of clothes.

4. Have you ever got to pet one of the penguins or will you get to? (Chuck)

Do penguins really look like what the books illustrated them as? (also Chuck)

I hope that I will see penguins. I have not really seen any animals yet, except the sea stars and fish in the aquarium tanks outside the lab.

5. How fast does the plane you went on go?

I just looked this up for you. The cruising speed of the plane, which was a US Air Force C-17, is 450 knots (between 450 and 500 miles per hour). Some more facts and pictures of the plane can be found at: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/c-17.htm You can also figure out about how fast we went on this trip Ė Christchurch to McMurdo is about 2,400 miles and it took us 5 hours to get there.

6. What is the UACP and what is their purpose? (Becky)

It sounds like you are referring to the U.S. Antarctic Program? (USAP) This is the U.S. government program that runs all U.S. work in Antarctica, manages McMurdo station, and coordinates all the flights from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo.

7. Are you going to sleep while you are there at all? (Will)

I hope so, or I will be very grouchy when I get home! Iím planning to try to go to bed early tonight!

8. How cold does it get there in the winter time?

The AVERAGE (not the coldest!) temperature in the winter is Ė50 C.

9. Have you seen any leopard seals? (Elizabeth D)

Not yet Ė with luck I will.

10. Were you nervous about going to Antarctica?

Not really. I was mostly excited, although I was worried that I might forget something important, or that I wouldnít pack properly. And I guess most of us are a little nervous when we know weíll be meeting a whole new group of people for the first time; in may case living with new people for three weeks. But they are all awesome and very nice and welcoming Ė as I knew deep down they would be.

11. How long do you sleep for in Antarctica?

Last night it was about 4 hours. My alarm clock died, so I donít sleep very well in the morning because Iím afraid Iíll oversleep. I need to be at the lab at 7:30 each morning.

12. What is it like to stay overnight in Antarctica?

There are many different ways to stay overnight. Last night and tonight, Iím sleeping in the dorm. I have a small but comfortable double room, but I donít have a roommate yet. The dorm is heated, and has hot showers and laundry machines. We eat in a cafeteria. But tomorrow night, Mike and I (we are the new people) will be sleeping out on the ice in a tent at Snow School, also known as Happy Camper School. Weíll learn a lot of valuable outdoor skills there.

13. If the winter is so cold, why do you need a bathing suit? (also asked many times)

Well, it really was suggested in the parcticipant guide, but what I didnít tell you that it was because they have a sauna here (although I donít know where it is). I wanted to see what kind of inferences you would make when you saw that bathing suit picture! Even the divers do not wear bathing suits here!

14. How is the weather? Have you had a storm yet?

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous, although it was a little windier today than yesterday. Clear blue sky!

15. Do you like it there better than here? (Stasia)

I am very excited to be here, thatís for sure, and very grateful to have this amazing opportunity. However, if I had to pick a place to live year-round for the rest of my life, I think I would miss Rhode Island summers a little too much to choose Antarctica as a permanent residence.

16. Do you think those boots will keep you warm?

Iíll tell you, my feet are sweating right now! They are very warm. Tomorrow when I go out overnight, my feet will probably get cold.

17. Have you seen any seals?

No seals yet!

18. Are you cold?

Not right now Ė you need some warm clothes to go between buildings, and then when you go inside itís pretty hot!

19. What is your favorite thing about Antarctica so far?

Good question, and difficult! There are so many things here that are cool. I think so far itís all the nice people in the research group, and also the sunlight! And the beauty too. Oh yeah Ė and all the cool science thatís going on. AndÖ

20. What have you done so far? Do you like it? Can you get sunburned when it is snowing? (Marlee)

In my journal entries Iíll say more about what Iíve done so far, but I have hiked, gone to the coffeehouse for hot chocolate, seen the dive operation getting set up, taken lots of pictures, driven three different types of Antarctic vehicles, and learned a lot. Iíve loved it all. And I donít think you can get sunburned when itís snowing, unless itís a very light snow and the sun is still visible.

21. Are you going to go diving?

I would love to, but I do not have the proper kind of certification and experience.

22. Have you made any friends in Antarctica yet?

I am living and working with a wonderful group of people and have met lots of other nice folks, too. People here are very friendly and interesting.

23. How is the habitat different than in Rhode Island? (Jessica Fernandez)

Wow! Great question! There are many differences, but some similarities as well. Of course, it is much colder here, and that affects all life. There are animals that are in the same families, classes, and even genuses, as our animals at home, meaning that they may be fairly closely related. There are amphipods, sea stars, various types of fish, and sponges, worms, and anemones just to name a few. As I learn more about the habitat, Iíll be able to give you better information on this subject.

24. How was your trip? How was your flight? Did you feel sad when you started to leave?

Iíll tell more about the trip in my journal, but overall, it went really well. I was very lucky, especially the flight to McMurdo, which can take several days of trying to go, but not having any flights leaving due to the weather. I was very excited when I left, but I did feel a little sad. I knew I was going to miss you guys, for one thing, as well as my husband and my mom and the rest of our family. But it will not be for too long, and I love being able to e-mail with everyone!

25. How long did it take to get there?

Hard to tell, since I went through so many time zone changes, but I think it was about 33 hours of total travel time, not counting staying overnight in Christchurch.

26. How many other people are with you? (Kevin)

There are five scientists here now, and one more who has not yet arrived. There are about 1000 people at the station right now.

27. Were you scared when you got there?

Not at all! The hard part was over and it was completely exciting and wonderful to be there.

28. Why do penguin chicks have gray fur and when does it change to its normal color? (Stephanie T)

Well, many young birds have mottled feathers to help camouflage them. It depends on the species of penguin, but I believe for most itís within a year or less that they get their adult plumage. BUT I would highly recommend the books we have in the classroom to get authoritative answers on this subject.

29. How much clothing do you have to wear?

Here is what we were issued (ECW, or extreme weather clothing). I donít wear it all at once, but I have been told to bring it ALL to Snow School tomorrow:

Thin long underwear Ė tops and bottoms

Thick long underwear Ė tops and bottoms

Fleece overalls

Bib windpants

Cargo pants

Fleece jacket

Wind jacket

Red down parka with hood.

Two pairs of thin glove liners

Fleece gloves

Mitten shells

Soft leather gloves

Soft leather mittens

Insulated glothes

Windproof mitten shells

Fur-backed gauntlet style overmitts

Balaclava (face-mask hat)

Fleece hat

Insulated hat

6 pairs of thick wool socks

Big white thermal boots (bunny boots)

I have probably forgotten something, but that is all I can remember right now.

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