5 March, 1999
March 5, 1999
Hello from the Walgreen Coast! We have had a great day today. When I first woke up, I looked outside to see some awesome pancake ice. There were pancakes for as far as you could see in any direction. Later, the seas were totally ice-free . . . except for an occassional iceberg that we drove past. At about noon, I saw the neatest sea ice out the porthole. It's called nilas. Nilas is a type of ice that's in-between grease ice and pancake ice. Nilas is a thin (up to 10 cm) elastic crust of floating ice that bends with the waves. It was really fun to watch. I tried to take a picture, but it just looks like gray water in the photograph. I've never seen anything like it in my life!
The night shift collected a very nice seismic profile while they were on watch, and we've been doing multibeam surveys and coring all day today. The night shift will continue taking multibeam surveys and cores for most of tonight, and then we plan to move east toward Pine Island Bay by early morning. Dr. Anderson says that we are learning a lot from our latest studies in the Walgreen Coast and Wrigley Gulf. Our surveys are the first geological studies in this area. We have learned that these areas were major drainage outlets for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the last ice age. By looking at the deepest parts of the continental shelf, we have learned that the ice sheet was grounded on rock that is now 1000 meters below sea level. Because we know this, we can determine the minimum thickness of the ice sheet at that time in history. As we continue looking at the sea floor, we hope to determine exactly how far away from the land that the ice sheet extended. If we can figure that out, we can put all our information together to estimate what the ice sheet looked like about 20,000 years ago. Hopefully, the cores we are collecting will help us to determine when and how fast the ice sheet retreated from the continental shelf.
Well, let's take a look at yesterday's question: "What other types of animals exist in Antarctica?" There are no land vertebrates in Antarctica. Even the penguins, seals, and birds that are found around the coast are technically considered marine animals because they depend on the sea for their food. There are, however, a few living organisms that can be found on the continent itself. The largest native land invertebrate on the Antarctic continent is a tiny, wingless midge that is about 1/4 of an inch long. There are also several other types of insects that can be found, which include springtails and tiny mites. Most Antarctic insects live under rocks and stones in the soil and among lichens. Springtails are especially common around penguin colonies. They are black and shiny, and they jump around. No insects in Antarctica have wings, but they all do have a special "anti-freeze" in their cells that is a lot like the liquid that we put in our car radiators for the winter. In Antarctica, there are very few different species of insect. However, in some areas there may be millions of insects per square yard!
Of course, there are lots of birds around the coast of Antarctica and over the Southern Ocean. Many varieties of albatross and petrel can be found; along with shearwaters, gulls, terns, and skuas (to name a few). We have seen a lot of Antarctic petrels and Snow petrels while on the ship. At McMurdo Station, we saw lots of South Polar skuas. The South Polar skua is one of the few species of birds that actually breeds on the Antarctic continent. It also has the distinction of being the world's most southerly bird -- at least two have turned up at the South Pole! These birds are known to fly very far from home. Some South Polar skuas have flown all the way into the Northern Hemisphere. South Polar skuas are predatory birds that often feed upon penguins (especially chicks) and other colonial seabirds. They also feed at sea on Antarctic krill. What other types of critters, besides krill, can be found in the waters surrounding Antarctica? We'll look at that in our next journal.
Antarctica also has at least 200 species of lichens, over 100 species of mosses and liverworts, more than 30 species of macrofungi, 2 species of flowering plants, and many species of algae. The largest of these plants are found around the Antarctic Peninsula, where some banks of moss are over a meter deep. Both types of flowering plants are very small, and they are restricted to the islands to the west and north of the Antarctic Peninsula. One of the most unusual plant habitats can be found in Victoria Land. There, some plants live within large-grained sandstone rocks . . . actually growing between the sand grains!
Tonight we will be celebrating Hannah's birthday. Everyone has signed a poster for her, and we also have a card. They will be having birthday cake at mid-rats (lunch that's served from 11:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.). I think I'll enjoy my piece sometime tomorrow instead of getting up at midnight. I'm hoping that my journals are not too delayed in getting posted. We have not been able to receive the satellite signal to upload/download email for the last 18 hours. I will continue writing journals each day, but there is no guarantee that they will be sent out each day. We'll do the best we can. We have also had some problems with email being lost in the black hole of cyberspace. If you have sent email to me and haven't heard a response within 48 hours, please resend your email. If we aren't getting the satellite, the worst that can happen is that I have two copies waiting for me when we finally do get mail. Probably, however, I never received your message in the first place. At least we have email communications that work most of the time. After all, we are in a pretty remote location.
Latitude: 73 degrees 40 minutes South
Longitude: 116 degrees 51 minutes West
Temperature: -6.9 degrees C
Barometer: 977.2 mb
Wind Speed: 34.1 knots
Wind Direction: 100 degrees (from the Southeast)
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