Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

Archive for October, 2010

Ross Sea Pressure Ridges

The pressure ridges formed in front of Scott base are generally off limit to the McMurdo residents unless on a guided tour.  I was lucky enough to be invited, along with others from the medical clinic, for a tour of the pressure ridges by the New Zealand medic.  She is the equivalent of an EMT in the states.  After a delicious dinner at Scott Base, we put on our warm clothes and hiked out to the ridges.  The group brought two long wooden poles on the hike to assist in locating dangerous cracks in the ice.  The poles can also be used to assist in a rescue if someone were to fall in a crack or seal hole.  The Kiwis do an excellent job flagging the pressure ridges to make it a safe experience.

The pressure ridges are surreal.  The brilliant blue and flowing shapes cannot be captured on film.  We had a slightly overcast day, which did not help the photography.  The pressure ridges are formed when the Ross Sea Ice is pushed up against the thicker Ross Ice Shelf by tides and wind.  The pressure ridges also form a great environment for the seals, and we were lucky enough to see a newborn seal pup.


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Concordiasi Balloon Launch

The Concordiasi research group has launched their final balloon for their 2010 project.  I watched a balloon launch a couple of weeks ago, and finally have the photos ready to share.  The large balloons carry experimental instruments to measure ozone and other particles in the atmosphere.  Balloons can also transmit meteorological data back to the researchers and carry GPS instruments to track where the different measurements are taken.  The goal of the project is to validate data to improve the use of polar orbiting satellite data over Antarctica.  19 balloons were launched this season.

Data and further information can be found at the Concordiasi website:

Fun in the Snow!

Late last week we had three days of falling snow!  While I know I am in Antarctica, snow is actually very rare here.  We are living in a desert.  So the snow was a welcome treat.  Friends and I decided to enjoy the 3 or so inches of new snow with a hike and glasading.  The views from the top of ob hill were gorgeous.  The way down was fun!

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Last McMurdo sunset of the season (10/24/10 1253)

One of the interesting thing about living in Antarctica is the long hours of light over the summer.  Last night we had our last sunset until February at 1253 AM.  Sunrise was at 0221 AM.  We have entered the season of 24 hours of sunlight.  It is weird to leave a building late at night and walk across base in bright sunlight to go to bed.  My dorm room has only one small window, which is covered with cloth to make the room dark at night.  It works pretty well.  In honor of the last sunset, I decided to share some sunset photos that I have taken over the past couple of weeks.

I may catch one last Antarctica sunset if I remain on the continent until February 20, 2011.  Until then, I will miss the gorgeous pinks, oranges and reds that painted the skies nightly.

What Lives Beneath. . .

I was recently asked by one of the MN students that is following my journey if there are ANY animals around base currently.  I responded that seals, penguins and skua birds will arrive  as the temperature warms up.  I have now spotted my first seal.  I think.  It was a black blob in the distance.  I hope that means the arrival of more animals soon.   What I forgot about when I answered the question is what lives below the ice shelf that I camped on recently.

The crary lab is located near the medical clinic and is home base for the scientists conducting research in the area.  The scientists are great at keeping the community involved in cutting edge research through twice weekly science lectures and weekly crary lab tours.  I was able to tour crary lab on Sunday.  It was fun to see images of Mt. Erebus eruptions, and posters of WAIS divide, but my favorite part was the animals!  One science group is researching temperature effects on fish physiology and had two types of fish in their tank.  The fish have an anti-freeze like protein that allows them to live their life in sub-freezing temperatures.  The divers also put together a touch tank featuring some of the cool antarctic sea critters.


Discovery Hut

I had the opportunity to explore Discovery Hut, which is located near McMurdo base on Hut Point.  The Discovery Hut was built in 1902 by members of The Discovery expedition on Ross Island.   It was prefabricated by James Moore in Sydney Australia and was intended to house small landing parties.  It was built of Australian materials according to a design used to keep cool in the Australian Outback.  Needless to say, the hut turned out to be too cold to live in.   As a result, the hut was used for storage, emergency shelter and a theater to keep the crew’s morale up. The crew actually lived aboard the Discovery, in Winter Quarters Bay where the current ice pier is located.

The artifacts inside the hut remain in good condition. The cold, dry air prevents decay and there are no pests to destroy the building or its contents.   During the Discovery Expedition, Scott and Dr. Wilson brought Shackleton back to Hut Point after being stricken with scurvy. Shackleton was then sent home as an invalid, creating his rivalry with Scott.  Scott and his men failed to reach the South Pole on the Discovery Expedition.

The Discovery Hut proved useful as an emergency shelter and storage space for later expeditions, including Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-1913. This expedition was based at Cape Evans, about 14 miles north of Hut Point. Discovery Hut was used as an advance camp for the southern journeys.   This time, Scott’s expedition did reach the Pole, but it was a month after Amundsen’s team.   Scott and his men died on the way back. Discovery Hut was used as a base for the search party that located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers.

In addition to the search parties for those who didn’t return from the Pole, eight men occupied the hut while they built the Memorial Cross atop Observation Hill, from January 20-21, 1913.

Shackleton organized his own expedition to the South Pole. Shackleton’s Expedition of 1907-1909 was based at Cape Royds, about 20 miles to the north of Hut Point, but used Discovery Hut for storage and as an advance camp. Shackleton again used the hut during his and Mackintosh’s Aurora Expedition from 1915-1917.

Several men spent five months recovering from scurvy at Discovery Hut. Two of them, Mackintosh and Hayward, attempted to reach Cape Evans, 14 miles to the north, over thin sea ice. A storm blew the ice out to sea and the two were never seen again.

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Sleeping in a Snow Trench (is not for me)

After sharing my happy camper photos with family, there were a lot of questions about the Trenches that people slept in on the ice shelf.  We were taught how to dig trenches in case of an emergency on the ice, and three brave women dug their own and slept (or tried to sleep) in them.  I was not interested in sleeping in a snow tomb.   But I would use the skills if I was trapped in the future. 

They dug a hole long enough for their body and slightly wider.  The opening at the top is narrower than the bottom.  They then covered the trench with a long banana sled.  The area they entered through was covered by gear.

 This is Amy before she covered the trench with gear.  I am very impressed that Amy, Katherine and Lisa weathered the storm in their little snow shelters.  They say that it is quiet and relatively warm.  I know I would have been claustrophobic.

This is Katherine in her sleeping bag and warm layers before calling it a night.  The snow drifted in over the bag that is covering her trench, making it a little difficult to break free in the morning.

This is what the inside of Amy’s trench looked like during the night.  There is more space than it looks like from the surface. 

 This is another inside view!

As you all know from a previous post, we woke up to condition 1 blizzard conditions.  When I got out of my nice roomy, Scott tent, there was no one around.  I walked around camp and found the flag that identified the site of the trenches.  This is what I found:

All three women were safe and able to dig themselves out of their trench.  I am happy to have the survival skills, but hope to never have to sleep in a snow trench.  

I hope that provides a better understanding of the snow trenches.