It seems like just yesterday that I left Seattle for the adventure of a lifetime. The plane returns tomorrow (hopefully) to bring me back to the land of color, smells, good food and family! I had an amazing experience, learned a lot and met great friends. It will be hard to leave, but I am ready for the next adventure!
The first sunset early this morning was a good way to wrap up the incredible season. It was awesome to experience the final sunset earlier in the season and the first sunset at the end. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate to make the sunset this morning epic, but a hike after dinner proved beautiful.
Tomorrow, I say goodbye to great friends, incredible views and penguins. Antarctica and the people of antarctica will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so lucky to be able to share this incredible experience with T.J — it is one we will never forget.
There is a lot of different types of ice in Antarctica. When the seasonal ice in front of the station started melting, I saw a new type of ice — Pancake Ice. Until recently, I thought the ice took on the rounded shape because of the icebreaker, which was breaking up the channel. Pancake ice occurs naturally in cold waters!
I love the colors in the following photo, which was taken by Jordan Watson.
Pancake ice is formed from frazil ice and grease ice. Sea ice starts to form as frazil ice in cold moving water. Frazil ice is composed of fine ice crystals floating at the surface. The frazil ice then thickens and sticks together to form grease ice ,which can be seen at the left and top of the next image.
With time, the grease ice separates into ice discs from winds and tidal currents. Pancake ice has raised edges from slush (frazil ice) freezing around the edge of the ice disc or from collisions between ice pieces.
The next two photos were also taken by Jordan. A weddell seal checking us out through the broken ice:
And finally, an awesome photo of a piece of sheet ice floating away from station. This is a large piece of ice that broke off from an ice shelf. It is different from pancake ice. I had to include it anyway, because it is such a neat photo!
There has been a dramatic change in the view from the station over the past several weeks. There is water in front of the station for the first time in the past decade. The road that we used to drive on and the ice runway broke apart and floated out to sea yesterday afternoon.
Here is a collection of photos taken over the past several months.
Hut Point Ridge
My Favorite Beach
What a difference a day makes!
“We did not come here to study the climate of Antarctica — we are here because this is where the information is stored,” said Kendrick Taylor , chief scientist of the WAIS Divide program from the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, shortly before the last core came to the surface on Jan. 28, 2011 at 12:24 p.m. (local time).
The above link will connect you to a great article about the WAIS divide ice core. It describes the history of the WAIS divide core, information about the drilling season and plans for next year. The article also provides great information on what the scientists are hoping to learn from this large ice core.
As the summer winds to an end, the station must prepare for the long dark winter. The large amount of supplies needed this winter and next summer cannot be brought in by plane. Once per year, the station is re-supplied by the fuel vessel and the cargo vessel.
All employees involved in ship offload are switched to twelve hour shifts. And, extra workers are flown in to assist with the cargo off load and load of the boat. It is an impressive process. All non-essential station activities are shut down to encourage everyone to focus on the dangerous task.
The successful off load is complete and the final cargo boxes leaving the ice will be loaded tonight. All extra station personnel will fly out tomorrow, and the station will be mostly back to normal. The large boxes you see being offloaded will mostly be unloaded by the winter crew. Below are awesome timelapse videos, put together by Mike, that shows the ship arrival and offload. It is a choreographed dance! You can see Mike’s other videos here.
After cargo offload, the vessel removes all of our solid waste from the island and returns it to LA. The last of the mail and science cargo also leaves on the vessel. T.J.’s ice cores from WAIS divide will be sent to the United States in a freezer on the boat. To prevent the ice from melting, there are multiple backups in place, including a spare generator. He will see the ice again at the National Ice Core Lab in Denver CO this summer.
Regina and Ruschle, friends from Washington, spent their Antarctic field season in the gorgeous Allen Hills studying blue ice. They were looking at Albedo (reflective property) of the ice. To help determine the influence of cracks and bubbles on Albedo measurements, they mapped the cracks in the ice and photographed bubble concentrations. Ruschle loves ice bubbles! So, I spent some time in their lab (ie. cold, windy freezer) viewing samples and watching the ice cutting process. Then I moved to a warm window with Regina to photograph the ice bubbles. I have to admit that the shapes and crystals within a cross-section if ice are pretty cool! You can read more about their adventure in the field at Regina’s Blog.
What shapes do you see?
T.J. is back in Christchurch. He will be attending a conference in New Zealand before returning to the states to visit family. I will be leaving here to join him in Seattle on February 21st. We are looking forward to a warm weather vacation in March!
I have now seen Emperor penguins on three different occasions. And, they have not lost their appeal. But they are losing their feathers!! I could sit and watch them for hours.
The Emperors have moved away from the ice edge to moult. This year, approximately 14 penguins chose Pegasus road as their moulting site. The Emperor’s coat fades from dark black to brown starting in November before the yearly moult in Jan/Feb. New feathers emerge before the old feathers are lost to help preserve heat. The new feathers then push out the old ones. It takes approximately 34 days for the entire process. Then they emerge with the pristine tuxedo’s that we are all familiar with.
The first penguins I saw were the first three emperors to arrive near McMurdo. A shuttle driver friend dropped me off and I spent 20 minutes alone, in complete silence, with these amazing animals!
They are just starting to lose their feathers.
The next time I had the opportunity to visit the penguins, I went with friends on a rec trip. It was cold! The number of penguins increased to 14 and they were all in different stages of moulting. My favorite penguin was this guy:
Even his penguin friend looked frightened. You can see the gorgeous black feathers emerging from under the old ones. But, it does not look like a comfortable process.
T.J. and I visited the penguins one last time before he returned to Christchurch. It was great to share the Antarctica penguin experience with him!
My favorite penguin from the prior visit was looking better, with only a few old feathers left to fall out. Others were starting to change, though and looked draped in fur.
There are now piles of feathers everywhere!