Friday, March 21, 2008

The Pegasus crash site

Meg tries to not get bucked off by the Pegasus.

Pegasus Field is out on the Ross Ice Shelf, about 15 miles from McMurdo. It sits directly between Ross Island and Antarctica Proper, about 1/4 of the way to the continent. This is where we land wheeled aircraft after the Sea Ice Runway gets closed down in mid-summer.

Years of neglect have watched the Pegasus slowly get buried.

Pegasus Field is named after a Navy super constellation aircraft that crashed at Williams Field on October 8, 1970. The aircraft, with 80 on board, was flying from Christchurch, New Zealand, on its first flight of the 1970-71 season. They crossed the point of no return in acceptable weather conditions. However, thirty minutes before arriving at McMurdo the weather suddenly deteriorated to zero visibility, winds gusting to 40 mph in a snowstorm, and a 90-degree crosswind. With no alternative airfield, the pilot made six low passes over the airfield. On the final pass with almost no fuel left, the Pegasus attempted to land. The starboard wing was torn off completely and the tail unit broken. There were only slight injuries to five on board.

Lucas with the Pegasus in the background.

The Navy salvaged all they could, but they did not want to leave this wreck sitting near Williams Field where it crash-landed. It’s not good for morale to see a wrecked aircraft right near the airstrip as you're flying in so they dragged it out farther on the ice shelf and left it, as was the usual practice in those days. This site eventually became Pegasus Field and the crash site became a novelty for us to visit during our summer.

Patty posing atop of the Pegasus with me about to sneak attack!

Visiting the crash site is mostly an excuse for us to get off base and explore some new terrain. Most people only visit the Pegasus airfield once a year - to leave. They usually arrive at the sea ice runway. Only a small part of base visits the area regularly to work. I think the timing of this particular trip was angled for night workers because they often don't get the same chances at field trips as everyone else.

Dearest Annie.

Our tour guide, John, shows us how to leave our mark on the Pegasus. My old roommate's is on the right side.

Danny reminds us to "Watch out for the monkey fist!"

For me, this trip (and really this entire adventure I'm on) ended up mostly being about visiting with good people. Talie and Lucas were night workers so I didn't get to see them that much. I also go with Danny, Travis, Patty, Vince, Aaron, Luigi, Annie, Meg and a bunch of others. A great group all around. I can't remember a better public field trip and this wasn't the best location we went to. I wish more of them had stuck around for the winter. They were a blast. Only Talie is still here. The rest have scattered to the winds.

Me, as cargo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Solar Eclipse

Metal orca artwork at McMurdo below the eclipse.

The solar eclipse was February 6th, 2008. Unfortunately, the eclipse was a little bit of a let down for me. I was given the wrong time so I ended up cutting out of work for a little too long to see it. Of course, enjoying a day outside is almost always better than being at work. Also, if you didn't know there was an eclipse, you would have gone about your day and been none the wiser because the amount of sun light didn't seem to fade. A total eclipse that would have visually darkened the ambient light happened around eighty miles away on the mainland.

Unloading the American Tern.

There were a couple pretty cool things about the eclipse though too. It showed me just how much of an astronomer geek my friend William is. He explained that the total eclipse in 1991 above San Jose del Cabo, Baja California put it on the map because it was one of the 'Big Ones' that resulted in a maximum type corona (not really sure what that means). They built resorts and amenities based on the expectation that people would come for the eclipse. He was one of those original visitors who had planned their trip for years. Those visitors haven't stopped visiting.

The orca had a glint in its eye, I thought he was coming for me . . .

The other neat happening from the eclipse was that South Pole station recorded a record low temperature for that day of the year. The sun being partially obscured for under an hour caused temperatures to drop. I didn't feel a thing at McMurdo, but cold is cold to me. While trying to view the eclipse, we tried lots of tricks. We tried putting a pin hole in paper like they taught us in grade school. We tried the naked eye. We tried sunglasses. Our best solution seemd to be two to three pairs of sunglasses. Otherwise, the sun was too bright to make out anything. However, near the end someone showed up with a welding helmet. Way better than the sunglasses. Forget the grade school tricks, go make friends with a welder to watch your next eclipse.

The eclipse viewed through a welding helmet.

Baby Skua is Gone!

Where, oh where, did Baby Skua go? Sean doesn't see him . . . .

Baby skua has finally left the nest. I'm not sure exactly when or where, but I was down there earlier this week and Baby Skua was no more. I didn't see frozen skua feathers so I'm hoping Baby Skua is coming to a town near you - well, if you live near the sub-tropics. We had a short, but tumultuous relationship.

Baby Skua plays hard to get.

On our first visit, we barely spotted Baby Skua and when we did, we thought it was dead. Ever since then, Baby Skua has remained hard to spot. Skuas natural camouflage is amazing. Sometimes, Baby Skua would be hiding in the lee of some rocks. Other times, he’d be in the open, but he was always hard to spot. As Baby Skua got bigger, we also got better at finding it. Maybe, it got worse at hiding.

Visiting Baby Skua yielded some amazing pictures.

A young Baby Skua wonders about the world . . .

and then realizes that everything wants to eat him and he needs to practice running away.

In Baby Skua's adolescence, his parents made us miserable. Not only did they form up an attack squadron if we got too close. They also formed the squadron if we tried to walk around them because we didn't want to disturb them on the trail (see below). The alternate route put us closer to Baby Skua that the parents would have liked. Parental instincts aside, I’m curious when a skua’s behavior changes from shy to the attack bird that so many galley tray carriers know them as.

Momma skua watches over Baby Skua by a trail marker.

Just another pretty picture on a Baby Skua day.

After summer ended, the temperature started dropping in a hurry. I imagine that the water freezing over also took away some food sources which meant that the skuas would be heading North sooner than later. I went down a few more times and these were some of the last images taken of Baby Skua. If you have any information regarding his whereabouts, please contact the proper authorities.

Teenage skua has become self conscious about having his picture taken and hides.

Baby skua might be all grown up, but still has that awkward walk to make him easily identifiable.

Last night, I went to Scott Base for Trivia night. My team (Brian, Emily, Jill, Ellie, and Jackie) was misnamed 'Just Plain Last.' After the first round, we were 7th and struggling. After the second, we moved up to 5th. Finally after the third, we found our groove and moved up to 3rd. If we had one more round, we just might have made up ground on the first team and won the 5 half-gallons of ice cream that they ended up winning. I'm more than a little jealous. I'm going to have to start reading up on trivia to bring home the prize next time.

On the way home, Muppet gave us a ride which was fantastic. We had ten in a land rover that felt pretty crowded. He told us that they had eighteen on another night. Even more amazing that piling that many people into a clown car is that we used our headlights on the way back. It was night in town! I know this probably shouldn't amaze me so much, but it does. I haven't seen night over five months!

Baby Skua, fly well!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Return to Penguin City

Return to Penguin City
Premiers on Sunday, March 23 at 7pm (ET/PT) on Animal Planet

Dr. David Ainley has been coming to Antarctica for eight years, I believe. Even though he comes here so much, he is a rare sight on base because he is always out in the field studying penguins. This past summer, I was lucky enough to meet him when I sold him a door prize ticket. Lots of times, the results of science are buried in hard to read articles in hard to find journals. Animal Planet, however, is taking some of Dr. Ainley's research and airing it in a publicly digestible format. Take this opportunity to enjoy it.