Blue Sky, Blue Ice

Today-  was a fabulous day. It started off very rocky though.   Word to the wise-  if you have to jump start your helicopter,  it is best not to play the music and run the blower  on the same trip.  Yeah, little red “low battery”  warning lights mid-flight are no fun.

Anywho,  we made it to the top of the Taylor Glacier to visit a team of scientists  who are analyzing methane trapped in ice that is 30,000-60,000 years old to learn  about  climate change.

Did I mention that this is a field camp atop a glacier  where truly ancient ice comes to the surface?  So that means it is freaking cold and very, very windy!

The drillers on this project are no joke.   Studying methane requires massive amounts of ice.  To get 20 is milligrams of methane, they must melt 800 kilograms of ice!  They have drilled 60 or so holes up to 70 meters deep- 1 meter at a time.  The camp manager says they were out drilling in 40 knot winds.

While still inside the glacier, the ice is under a lot of pressure and is very compressed.   Because the scientists are interested in the gasses trapped in the ice,  cracked cores are no good. When the ice cracks, it becomes contaminated with modern air.  They must  let the fragile ice relax and expand for about an hour before they prep it for analysis.  As the ice melts in the boiler, it releases trapped gasses  which are sucked up through the black hose.  The gasses are recompressed and packaged into something like a propane cylinder so that the scientists can take them back to their home lab for further analyses.  Some of the gas is siphoned off  to determine the age of the ice that was melted while still in the field.

For the flight back to McMurdo I got to sit in the front seat of the helicopter.  I had some amazing views as we flew over the Taylor glacier and out over the sea ice.  Of course,  the polarized and dusty helo windows did not make it easy to take photos.

It was a freaking fantastic day-  even better because the helicopter took off and landed safely (and only where we had planned to land)

Under pressure

Today is Sunday.   We have a six day work week down here  so  Sundays are much needed breaks.   Some very kind souls volunteer to lead tours on their day off  and one of those nice folks took a group of us out to the Scott Base Pressure Ridges.  What are the Pressure Ridges you may ask… Well,  we have several different flavors of ice down here.  We have glacier ice-  which is mostly on land  but could flow into the sea.  Sea ice comes is several flavors  Annual sea ice  blows out every year at the end of summer.   Fast ice  forms from the shore and is  secured to land.   Sea ice shelf, is permanent  layer of  ice over sea water.  It is much thicker than annual (or even multi year) ice.

When two or more different types of ice meet,  there is friction and dramatic things happen.   The different types of ice move at different rates.  The crack,  bump up against each other and then buckle, hence the pressure ridges

The the area closest to shore tends to be the most dramatic.  Not only is there other ice to push up against,  but there is also the land itself.   The net result is huge cracks and towering peaks.

Yeah yeah yeah,  the ice was gorgeous  (I really need to work on white balance!)  but the absolute best part about the pressure ridges,  the reason I went for a 2 hour hike in the fog on the sea ice, were…

The photos really do not do the pressure ridges justice.  It is just amazing to be walking around on the sea ice and find  gorgeous  sleepy fat Weddell seals.  All the seals were so very very very fat  indicating that there is plenty of food around for them.    They are just the sweetest most docile lovable seals ever!

Antarctic Christmas Pageant

Sorry I haven’t blogged in a couple of days.  I have been mad crazy busy with work,  meetings, telecons and all the other stuff that creeps up when you are supposed to be a grown up with a job.   I managed to sneak off last night for the town Christmas Pageant hosted by the waste department.   That’s right,  the garbage collectors put on a show in the garbage sorting facility and it was awesome.

For whatever reason the waste department is insanely  creative and talented.   They take great pride in decorating their  shabby waste  sorting facility.   They go all out for the annual Christmas pageant

The format of the evening was quite simple.  There would be a musical act,  sometimes Christmas inspired, sometimes not,  followed by the waste department’s interpretation of a scene from the Nutcracker.

Well that was the Christmas pageant.  As you can see,  there are a lot of very creative people here.   Insane creativity is something of a survival skill for working down here.  Nothing ever works as planned  and the isolation can get a bit full on.     McMurdo definitely has its own style.  It feels a bit like a boarding school for over achievers  plunked in the middle of a mining town.

With some luck I will get out of town tomorrow.  fingers crossed!  Then I might be able to show you guys some cool ice an animals.

A slightly cold journey

Well hello from McMurdo Station, Antarctica.   I have arrived safely  and was then promptly shuffled for one briefing to a training session,  to meetings ,  to   more meetings.  The first day is always the roughest-   tomorrow though-  I have huge plans to go forth and um explore town.

Anyhow my journey was epic-  or at least long,  loud, and stinky.

It all began at the CDC-  that is Clothing Distribution Center.   However, since they wash  and sanitize mountains of long under water,  face protection,  and fleece clothing that gets worked in,  played in and slept in,  they probably do have a role to play in disease control.   At the CDC  I was issued two enormous   orange bags filled with  ECW  (Extreme cold weather gear).

Getting on the flight is a bit humbling.   We are trying to transport as many people,  supplies,  and science equipment  as possible on each and every flight.   That means that all your checked bags are weighed (no biggie)  and then you  and all of your carry on gear is weighed- every time every flight

The 109th Air National Guard (from Schenectady, NY)   fly us to Antarctica,  and to South Pole Station,  and   to some of the deep field camps.  No joke  their motto is  “You buy’em,  we fly’em”.    Last time I flew down on a C17, I did not realize how spoiled I was.

This year I flew down in an LC-130.   The “L”  means that it has skis.  Right now the weather is so warm, that the runway is mushy.  We can’t safely land the larger wheeled aircraft  (like that now luxurious  C17).   So, we are all piling into the smaller slower ski-equipped  Hercs  (aka LC-130).

I am told that the plane wasn’t that crowded.  But, I can tell you that it was really warm,  very loud,  stinky  (petro products)  and   awkwardly cuddly ride for me.  Also unlike the C-17,  there was no easy access to a window   We had a number of guardsmen   who were old pros at this sort of travel.  They knew how to make themselves comfortable.

After  8 and a half hours in flight flight we finally arrived.    Being in the dark plane  for so long meant that the sunlight was practically blinding.  Also it was so stinking hot!

So we landed at the Pegasus blue Ice runway  which was an 90 minute to two hour ride  from McMurdo.   Why so far away?  Well the compacted blue ice of the permanent ice shelf  is a much more stable and reliable runway than the sea ice- which  can break up and blow out annually.   Even though it has been warm,  the  snow/ice road to Pegasus was still in good enough condition  for wheeled vehicles  (yay!).  We were lucky enough to get a lift from  Ivan- the-Terra- Bus.

I am just so happy to be here.  Actually most people are.  The air is clean-  our hair doesn’t  frizz  and things that look like slugs from a distance are actually Weddell seals.  What more could you possibly need?

Righty-o off we go!


Hello from Christchurch!  I have just spent the last week at the Society for Marine Mammalogy  biennial meeting.  The week was amazing but I took no photos- I did hear some really amazing talks  on marine mammal science  so you will just have to take my word for it that it was awesome

Then I spent a day in Kaikoura and tried to work the kinks out of my memory of the camera.  As it turns out-  my memory was very kinky  but here is a lovely photo from the lavender farm in Kaikoura.    My former labmates and I took time to smell the lavender,  pet the sheep,  and have a nice cuppa tea .

Now It is time to get down to some icy business.    Tomorrow morning I will put on Big Red  and make an much better effort at photography and blogging!

Ok McMurdo, ready or not, here I come!