Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

View From Under the Ice

The sea ice in front of McMurdo is full of activity.  There is a road, a runway and a hiking trail.  It is where I went skiing for the first time yesterday.  With all that activity above the ice, I never thought I would have the opportunity to see what it looks like below the ice.  I am not a scuba diver and would never snorkel in sub freezing waters.  I saw under the ice!!  An observation tube has been set up at the end of hut point to allow us to climb down and see the sights from underwater.  Taking photos through a window, underwater, does not work too well, but you can get the idea of how cool it is.

The climb down into the tube was longer than I expected. I did get a bit claustrophobic halfway down, but was convinced to keep going. It was well worth it. The bottom left picture shows a hole in the ice near the ob tube. We measured the ice thickness to be at least 6 feet, although it looked closer to 2 feet.

The longer I was in the observation section, the more I could see. There were hundreds of tiny animals dancing around the cage. They have been identified by a friend who is studying fish in Antarctica as Clione Antarcticum. He describes them as pteropods that half swim half fly through the water. In google searching this species, they are described as “the sea butterfly.” I completely agree with this description. I could also see sponges on the bottom of the sea floor and ice crystal above on the sea ice.

The small dots in the first two underwater photos are the guys below at a distance.  They moved so gracefully underwater and appeared as if they were dancing.  They were transparent and organs were visible.  There were hundreds of them.  The water is below freezing temps, and yet they looked happy!

The next one is blurry because they were moving to quickly for my camera to capture (I could not use a flash).

The next is an attempt to take a flash photo of the little creatures.

I cannot wait to go back!!  Hopefully the ice will stay frozen enough for T.J. to experience this in a couple of weeks.

10 responses

  1. Kelly

    this is absolutely crazy! Wow! I would have never guessed this was possible!

    November 5, 2010 at 9:58 AM

  2. Krista

    Great pics!

    November 5, 2010 at 10:10 AM

  3. dana

    I agree with Kelly. That is too crazy!! How neat. I didn’t know there were so many fun things to do in Antarctica

    November 5, 2010 at 11:09 AM

  4. Everett

    Going into that tube does not look like very much fun. I’m glad there was a reward at the end. Only one more hill.

    November 5, 2010 at 11:42 AM

  5. mom

    unbelievable….I wonder if I could have done it, but I love snorkeling to see the creatures so much….maybe!! with a lot of deep breathing! Are they squid??

    November 5, 2010 at 12:34 PM

  6. Kristin

    No worries, if the ice and viewing area are gone, T.J. will just put on his wetsuit and hop in!

    November 5, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    • I actually would not be surprised 🙂 Brrrrrrr!!

      November 6, 2010 at 5:13 PM

  7. mom

    Jess – when the ice melts, how close will McMurdo be to the water?

    November 6, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    • It depends on how much melts. The icebreaker comes in right next to town so that boats can anchor at the ice pier. We should be able to see whales at Scott base. And there will be open water next to Hut Point. That is where the penguins will be 🙂

      November 6, 2010 at 5:12 PM

  8. mom

    wow – that will all be something!

    November 8, 2010 at 5:20 AM

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