14 March, 1999
March 14, 1999
Greetings from the Nathaniel B. Palmer! We have spent all of today in transit across the Bellingshausen Sea. By morning, we should arrive at Eltanin Bay. Eltanin Bay is rarely ice-free, but this year is an exception. As result, we have modified our plans to spend a day or two conducting a multibeam survey of the area and collecting a few piston cores. This area is a major drainage outlet for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and we are hoping to learn more about the local glacial retreat history through our study.
In the daily journals, I've spent quite a bit of time telling you about the different people aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer. So far, we've discussed most of the scientists and all of the Edison Chouest Offshore employees who make up the crew of the ship. There is still another set of employees . . . those people employed by Antarctic Support Associates (ASA). ASA is an organization contracted by the National Science Foundation to help support the scientific operations in Antarctica. They are in charge of medical clearances, transportation, electricity, water, housing, facilities, and equipment (to name only a very few things). Scientists can't come and work in Antarctica without lots of help. ASA is in charge of all that help! On the Nathaniel B. Palmer, there are ten ASA employees. Which employees come to Antarctica depends on what science is being conducted with that parcticular project. They all have different responsibilities, but they are all under the direction of the Marine Projects Coordinator.
The Marine Projects Coordinator (MPC) on our cruise is Don Michaelson. Don and his wife live in Denver, Colorado. Actually, Don is the Marine Superintendent at Antarctic Support Associates. He's working as the MPC on this cruise, but this is not his normal job. As the Marine Superintendent, Don is in charge of all the MPCs. He also discusses job responsibilities with Edison Chouest Offshore, the company that owns the ship. Don helps to figure out which company is responsible for which pieces of equipment on the ship.
Don graduated with a degree in electronics at Southern Illinois University. He has held a variety of jobs since his college graduation. He has been a radio disc jockey, a bomb shelter inspector, an electrician for the Air Force, the owner of a blueberry farm, a truck driver who delivered candy across the United States, and a person who fights forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. For the last eight years, he has worked on or around ships as a Marine Technician or an MPC. He's been with Antarctic Support Associates for three years, and loves the opportunities for travel that come with his position. He also really likes the other people that he gets to work with.
As the MPC on this cruise, Don coordinates the science project. MPCs make sure that the right cargo, equipment and staff are ready for the science project (or projects) of each parcticular cruise. They also organize all of the required forms, acquire the necessary permits, and make arrangements for the airline tickets. In addition, the MPC is the supervisor for the other Antarctic Support Associates employees on board the ship, and they are the liason between the scientists and the ECO crew.
Now let's spend some time looking at the answer to yesterday's question. It was, "What are the Dry Valleys?" They are some of the most unusual places on Earth! It is believed that they are the nearest equivalent on Earth to the terrain of Mars. In fact, NASA conducted extensive research in the Dry Valleys before launching the Viking probe to Mars. No rain has fallen in the dry valleys for at least two million years. They are the driest place on our planet.
There are actually three main Dry Valleys, which are named Victoria, Wright, and Taylor from the north to the south. They cover 1,160 square miles of Antarctica, and are found on the eastern side of McMurdo Sound. There are other, smaller, dry valleys on the eastern side of the continent. The Dry Valleys have no snow or ice, which is the reason for their name. The Transantarctic Mountains have continued uplifting since they were first formed. In some areas, the land has uplifted over the past 30 million years at a faster rate than the glaciers could cut their way down. The result is an area where the glaciers are unable to flow into the valleys.
Another factor adding to the dryness of the Dry Valleys is the extremely dry winds that move through the valley floors. The winds often exceed 62 miles per hour and have a relative humidity of less than ten percent. This would cause the sublimation (going from a solid to a gas) of any snow that might be brought into the valleys. There are a few meltwater streams and lakes that can be found in parts of the Dry Valleys during the summer. These lakes and streams, however, are only flowing for a few short weeks each year. As the winds blow and the temperatures drop, the water evaporates . . . leaving the valleys totally dry once again. These high winds are so strong that they erode and sculpt the rocks into very bizarre shapes that are called ventifacts. Mummified seals can also be found in the Dry Valleys. They are effectively freeze-dried after the seals apparently got lost and couldn't find their way back to the ocean.
Well, that's about all we have time for today. I've had lots of people send email questions asking about the aurora australis. What is the aurora australis? We'll look at that in tomorrow's journal. By the way, we moved our clocks forward another hour today, so now we are on the same time as the eastern coast of the United States (and Indiana). I hope you're enjoying the great iceberg pictures I'm sending home . . . they sure are neat to see out the portholes!
Latitude: 71 degrees 27 minutes South
Longitude: 89 degrees 29 minutes West
Temperature: -3 degrees C
Barometer: 968.1 mb
Wind Speed: 25.1 knots
Wind Direction: 135 degrees (from the Southeast)
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