25 October, 1999
I saw my first seal! Ok, it wasn't much as the picture below will attest. However, it is the first large animal I have seen since I left Wisconsin. I was thinking, I came to Antarctica anticipating seeing seals, penguins, and even whales. Why? Because these animals are in Antarctica and that's where I am. But there are grizzly bears in North America and the chance of me seeing one of those, especially in Wisconsin, is pretty remote. I have to keep reminding myself how big this place is and I am only seeing a small part of it. Anyway, I did see a seal. It was lying on the ice just out from McMurdo. John Simes, my partner in the lab, pointed it out to me. I was told it was a Weddell seal, probably having just eaten and lumbered onto the ice. It sunned itself for quite some time, barely moving. I am told that these creatures are seen often around McMurdo. The locals call them "slugs", because of the way they just lie motionless on the ice. I could not get a better picture because you are prohibited from disturbing the seals, or other animals, by the Antarctic Conservation Act. The purpose of the rule is to prevent people from interfering with the natural habits of the animals. I have been told that I should be able to get some better pictures of seals on some of the trips I may take. Maybe even peguins. I hope so.
The big news in Mactown lately has been the arrival of the LC-130 Hercules aircraft. As I look out on the sea ice runway, I can see three of these ski-equipped aircraft. The aircraft are part of Operation Deep Freeze and are operated by the New York Air National Guard 109th Air Mobility Wing stationed in Scotia, New York. They operate the only ski equipped Hercules aircraft in the world. With the arrival of the "Hercs", regular flights to the South Pole will begin. In fact, a flight to Pole went out today. The Hercs will bring supplies and personnel into Pole and bring back the people who have "wintered over" at Scott-Amundsen Station at South Pole. These regular flights begin when the weather conditions at Pole are good enough for the Hercs to land and take off safely. The minimum temperature they need to do this is -50C. According to MacWeather, the temperature at Pole got up to a balmy -46C, so it was safe to fly.
You may recall that earlier this month, there was a special medivac flight into Pole to get a doctor out of there who had cancer. This was the earliest Herc flight to Pole ever according to Al Sutherland, NSF Representative at McMurdo. Sutherland gave the McMurdo community an update on the flight operations for the season at a recent lecture. He told us that this year there are 271 flights scheduled into Pole with six million pounds of equipment and supplies and 674 passengers. I'd like to make that 675, but I don't think my chances are very good. A main reason for all of this equipment is the building of a new South Pole Station. This is an on-going project that requires everything that is needed to build the station to be flown in during a short flying season. They are also transporting a 50,000 pound telescope to the pole for astronomical observations. The scale of the operations here is really impressive.
We got caught up a bit today in the lab. I spent most of the day processing samples with John but I did get a chance for a work out at the gym, a bit of seal watching, and a visit to MacWeather, the main forecasting office for Antarctica. I will tell you more about that in a later journal. The weather is Mactown was sunny with a high temperature of 14F. There was an east wind at 15-20 knots and a wind chill down to -27F. The forecast for tomorrow is continued warm. Might have to break out the shorts soon.
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