2 January, 2000
When people first think about Antarctica they usually think cold. This is not totally a misconception, but its not exactly accurate either. Antarctica is a big continent that varies greatly in latitude, elevation, proximity to glaciers or open ocean as well as exposure to prevailing winds. Any combination of these factors results in highly variable weather. The one common denominator is that it never actually gets hot (except in the volcano).
Here in Mac Town (McMurdo) it has been quite nice. The sun is out 24 hours a day, there are unfrozen puddles of water on the ground, and it is very dry. Ross Island, where McMurdo sits is all volcanic. The black volcanic ash and scoria (volcanic rock filled with air bubbles) make up the ground surface. Apparently, all snow melts off of this black surface. Once the snow is gone, a very dry dusty surface is left.
The puddles and meltwater ponds in the area indicate that the temperature has not been below freezing since I have been here, as I have not yet seen any new ice on them. Of course the ocean out front is still frozen. The temperature of the water in McMurdo sound is -1.8 deg. Celsius or just below freezing. It stays at this temperature year round. The solar radiation from all the sunlight melts some of this ice covering. At present I can see no open water, but people are no longer allowed to go out on the sea ice as there are numerous fractures, and openings into the sea. This has allowed seals and penguins to come in close to town. Also, the coast guard icebreaker is clearing a channel for ships to come into Mac Town for the annual resupply of food, fuel, etc. I hear that in a few weeks most of the bay will be open water. So, now that I've said that it is not all that cold here (i'm sure
its colder at home in Basalt), let me tell you how cold it is. You see, its not the temperature that is the big deal here, it is the wind. If there is any sort of breeze outside, it creates a wind chill that is surprising. A short hike to the top of Observation hill the other evening confirmed this wind chill effect. While my face was exposed to the wind, I could quickly feel a little frost nip. Time to zip up inside my huge parka !
As soon as one leaves McMurdo, the weather gets a little more severe. I received a report that the station I may be working at , Cape Crozier, was experiencing very high winds and the people in the station were hold up inside for the day as it was too gnarly to walk the 20 minutes to the penguin colony. Very interesting. I think I will be in for a taste of some true Antarctic conditions. Bring it on... We will be taking the helicopter flight out there in a few days. First we must go through a winter survival training and overnight snow cave get away. Sounds like fun stuff.
Adios, amigos !
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