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Antarctica 2010/2011


Erebus

Hello from Antarctica AGAIN!

October 17 I left Indy on Sept. 28 traveling to Denver for a day and a half of orientation. Left Denver and flew to LA to board a Qantas Airlines air bus for the long flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

Wonderful NZ

Arriving in Auckland, New Zealand at 9 am and waited for our flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. I was a little concerned about the earthquakes Christchurch had experienced and the damage was everywhere. The day after we arrived we were issued our ECW gear (extreme cold weather) and had to rest of the day off to wonder Christchurch. We were to leave our hotel at 5:30 for the airport to board the Air Force C-17 for our flight to Antarctica but as I went to the front desk to check-out they said our flight had been delayed 2 hours due to bad weather in McMurdo and within an hour they had totally canceled our flight for the day. I was thinking I was going to escape Christchurch without any sizable quakes or tremors but oh no that was not to be.  Luckily for all of us headed to the ice one more night in Christchurch would mean we would experience a good size tremor. At 10:30pm I woke to my bed shaking, the hotel swaying, things rattling and my curtains looked like I had the windows open and a strong wind was coming through and then a couple of minutes later a smaller tremor shock us again. Now the Kiwi's said it was a small 5.4 tremor but where I come from a 5.4 is a full blown earthquake and not a tremor. O K not much sleeping that night either. The next morning we had perfect weather for flying! We loaded into the C-17 and headed for the "ice"!!! Five hours later stepping off the plane it was breathtakingly cold -37 with 30-40 mph winds, reality set in quick and it was like I had never left!!!! I seems like I hit the ground running and haven't had a lot of time for communication home. I'm working 10 hours a day 6 days a week so on the 7th day all I want to do is rest! I have already had the "McMurdo Crud/flu" but it wasn't nearly as bad as last year and I'm hoping that is it for the year!


I have had lots of refresher training the last week but I had a great experience last week when I took Sea Ice Training. This year I will be driving to historic sites like Cape Evans and I will be traveling on ice roads that could have several cracks of different sizes in them. This training will help me calculate if the vehicle I will be traveling in would be safe to continue over the cracks. We traveled a good distance out on the ice and found several cracks. It was a really interesting class and I feel fortunate to have had to opportunity. The picture above is the Sea Ice Training class and the vehicle is a Haglan...it's NOT a comfy ride, very cold and noisy but will go through the snow with no problem.


Finally the weather has cleared here in McMurdo. From the time I arrived until 3 days ago we had hardly seen the sun and had lots of ground fog so the planes were having a lot of trouble getting here and the ones that needed to leave were having trouble getting out. We are way behind getting people to the South Pole, the remote field camps and all the science equipment needed has been stacking up in Christchurch, New Zealand along with all our mail. I sent myself 3 boxes before I left home and they still have not arrived. Hopefully the weather will hold and they can get more flights in to us.

I had a really awesome experience last week, since I'm a driver here I am going to have the opportunity in taking people from McMurdo out on the sea ice to Cape Evans. The trip out is on sea ice and we usually have a Challenger making a road for us as we go they are also there to pull us out if we get stuck. Cape Evans is where Robert Falcon Scott built his Cape Evans hut for his expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1912. The hut is just as his crew left it after he died on his return trip from the pole.

The picture above shows our Deltas on the path to Cape Evans over the frozen sea ice of McMurdo Sound. What a cold and isolated place!!! 


On Scott's last attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole it was from this point at Cape Evans that he and 4 other men headed out. On January 17, 1912 the 5 men arrived at the South Pole only to find that the Norweigian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them there by 33 days. Sadden and beaten by their disappointment they tried to return to the hut at Cape Evans but sadly they never made it and died on the trip back.

I hope you can see from the pictures below what a cold and empty place they had to survive in. The hut was built right by the water and by the end of this season (summer) that will be open water. That makes the trips to the hut on the ice road short lived as the depth of the ice is measured regularly and the trips end when the ice becomes too thin for the weight of our vehicles.

 



It's amazing to think things have been left like they were when the last explorer closed the door behind him 100 years ago.



This is a new iceberg that broke off the Mt. Erebus glacier this year and is trapped in the sea ice. It was amazing to stand beside it and see the magnitude of it and to think that 90% of it is under the water. Really impressive!!!!!!!



I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. We celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday which gave us two days off. Everyone was pretty excited about that and it was much deserved!

The past couple of weeks have brought more and more scientist to McMurdo and the station is getting a little crowded. I have been driving the NASA employees up to one of the highest points around McMurdo where they are taking apart an antenna dome (looks like a golf ball on steriods) and replacing the antenna inside the dome. I was able to get some great pictures from up there that I hope will give you a better prespective of how McMurdo Station looks and how close is sits to the frozen sea ice. The other picture is of our Ice runway where all the planes are landing now. You can see 5, C-130's and a C-17. The patchy looking ground around the runway is blue ice it is usually covered over with snow but we have had very little snow and that has left the ice exposed. I can drive there in 8 minutes from town but starting next weekend they are moving the runway farther out on the ice to Pegasus runway which will be a 45 minute drive one way and not a fun ride for anyone!



I was at the runway last week taking the National Guard flight crews to their C-130's when we had our first black and white visitors of the season. The 4 Adelie's waddled in looked around then headed out on the sea ice. These little guys are the funniest penguins with so much personality! The van is what I drive onto the apron of the runway to the planes.



Dec 15 December has been an interesting month here in Antarctica. For the last 2 1/2 weeks we have been having temperatures during in the high 30's to low 40's. It is warmer here than it is at home (Indiana). It feels great but it is causing big problems on our ice roads and at the airfield. The airfield was moved from the rapidly melting sea ice to a site called Pegasus airfield on the permanent ice shelf about 12 miles from McMurdo. The move came none too soon as now Ice runway is covered with water. Taking passengers and crews out to the Ice runway only took 8 minutes now it is taking us at least an hour over deep snow and rough roads. The transition from gound to ice is also having problems. The ground heats up and melts the ice causing large cracks and holes to appear. As much as we all love the warm temperatures it is not always our friend.

A fleet of Case tractors and equipment left 3 weeks ago for the South Pole. They are pulling over 100,000 gallons of fuel that is needed to get the people at the pole through the upcoming winter. On their journey they encounter horrible conditions here are some pictures that were sent back to us by the traverse team of a storm they encountered that lasted several days.




Dec 27 I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and may your new year be full of happiness. Here in Antarctica Christmas comes and goes without much a do. I really miss being with my family and friends during this time and that's one of the big reasons I have decided not to come back to Antarctica next season. This is an awesome place ! What an experience ! I am grateful for this experience that few people will ever have.

While I was at the airfield last week a little Weddell seal came by. This little pup was working really hard getting where he was going. I'm not really sure where that was as there weren't any seal holes nearby and the open water is still a few miles out but he was determined to head in the direction of the C-130's ski-way. I can't begin to tell you how amazing it is to encounter these little guys in their natural environment. I am so fortunate!!!



This is a picture of where the ice road meets the land. Due to the warm weather this is what we're driving through. Each hole is a melt pool 2-3 feet deep. It's always an adventure getting through. If you choose the wrong path you may not come out the orther side or your vehicle may bottom out. This is the only road to the air field so it's not like we have any other options but to take the plunge!!! On every crossing I always have an escape route in mind.


Jan. 22

This will be the last full week of January and things are starting to ramp up with the end in sight. YIPPPPEEEEE

The Swedish icebreaker Oden arrived to open up a channel for the cargo ship and the fuel tanker. They will be here the first two weeks of February. In the picture below the Oden is docked at the ice pier with the Nathaniel B. Palmer research ship in the background. The Palmer is floating where 6 weeks ago I was driving to the ice runway.


The ships weren't the only thing that arrived this week. Several Emperor penguins have choosen their spot to molt and fortunatly for us they are near the ice road to the airfield. These guys are really plump which will help sustain them for their 4-6 weeks molting process. They will stand in one place and are unable to enter the water due to their feathers falling out. They have to have plenty of reserve fat to get them through the process.



McMurdo Station has been bustling with more activity than usual the last two weeks preparing to end the summer season and the start of the winter season. We have had 4 ships come into McMurdo the first being the Oden ,a Swedish ice breaker. It's always encouraging when the Oden arrives as you know the tanker and the cargo ship won't be far behind not to mention the season will be coming to a close soon after the ships leave. After the Oden worked 24 hours a day breaking a channel for the big ships the research ship Nathanial B Palmer docked. The Palmer was be only a few days and was followed close behind by a fuel tanker and a cargo ship.


The ship above is a U.S. tanker that brought us 8 million gallons of jet fuel, diesel and gasoline. That will last until it returns next year at this time.


This German cargo ship brought all the supplies for the winter season. Also much needed new vehicles for transporting passengers and cargo. I will post those pictures next week. You will be amazed!!! The cargo is stored in large steel mill vans while in transit. The New Zealand Army is brought in to help with the download. They drive some really old flatbed trucks that the mill vans are lowered onto by crane. These trucks have been here for eons and back home would be restored as antiques decorated and proudly driven in your hometown 4th of July parade.



Below I just want to share a few awesome wildlife pictures with you of Weddell Seals and Emperor Penguins . No words needed. The pictures speak for themselves!




As the sun sets over Antarctica and darkness covers the continent it's time for some final thoughts about my second season on the ice.

This season was even better than my first. It's always easier when you know what's expected of you and you feel very confident in what you're doing. Returning for the second season was like returning to a family you had said goodbye to 7 months earlier. When your back on the ice everyone greets everyone with hugs and a pat on the back. It's really comforting to know you have been accepted by your peers. The people I became friends with will remain lifetime friends. We had great weather this season and for 2 weeks our weather was warmer than it was in most of the United States. When it is 32-38 degrees in Antarctica it is shirt sleeve weather and feels quite tropical. At this point I don't plan on returning for a full season but there's a possibility I could return for a shorter 6 week season. There is a saying on the ice......."the first year you go to Antarctica for the experience........the second year you go for the money........and they third year you go because you don't fit in anywhere else." How true it is!!!

 


Leaving Antarctica for Christchurch, New Zealand no one had any idea the chaos that lay ahead of us. On Feb 22 Christchurch was hit by a deadly earthquake that virtualy destroyed the center of the city. I feel so fortunate to have been to Christchurch on previous visits before it was struck by this devasting earthquake. Christchurch was a gorgeous city with the most gracious people in the world. It will take them years to rebuild. I traveled on the south Island for a few days and then had to return to Christchurch for my flight home. I was in Christchurch for 3 days before getting a flight out and it was pretty nerve racking. About every hour there would be another after shock. Some larger than others. On the day of my departure I am standing at the check-in counter at the airport right next to huge plate glass windows. With no warning the plate glass windows started rattling and the whole building started popping and cracking. Luckily the windows didn't break and nothing fell. I had mixed feelings about leaving Christchurch. I felt bad leaving such a beautiful city in massive disarray but I know the Kiwi people will bind together and restore Christchurch back to it's original beauty. I can't wait to visit there again.