Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Trip of a Lifetime

When I took this job as a computer tech for the scientists, I didn't think I'd get to travel outside of a single boondoggle (navy term for morale trips during your work day) and the same recreation trips I had done in past seasons. I figured that, just like the computer shop for town, the communications guys would take care of any field work and the grantees would come in from the field to have us service their equipment. So I was very surprised to learn on my second day back, that I was being sent to snow survival school two days later so that I fly out for a field camp put in eight days after being back on the ice!!!!

For the put in, I would be installing the computers at Lake Hoare in the Dry Valleys (77.6233S, 162.905E). All of my trips have been around Ross Island or the sea ice, so I was really excited to finally cross the 60 miles over the sound to the mainland. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are the largest expanse of ice-free ground in Antarctica. The area receives an average precipitation of less than 100mm and it is extremely windy which keeps the area from collecting snow and ice. So few visitors get to the Dry Valleys that they have have remained a mostly pristine environment and have retained their wilderness quality. To quote my friend Betty and make her day, the Dry Valleys are "the closest place on earth to the conditions we imagine might exist on Mars . . . the photos never really do the region justice . . . What's so special about brown rocky mountain peaks and barren valleys? Nothing, except when they're in Antarctica (98% covered by ice) and full of microscopic living organisms (the only ones on the continent!)."

Maps of Ross Island, McMurdo Sound, and the Dry Valleys. The one on the left highlights the Taylor Valley where I went.

The original plan was that I would fly out on Friday, install two computers, test them overnight, and fly out on Saturday. It was a short trip, but I was more than happy to do it for a chance to see the Dry Valleys. Due to some weather delays, my helicopter ride out was pushed to Saturday and since we don't fly on Sunday, I'd be staying until Monday!!!

Here is a time lapse of my flight out:

Narrative of flight:
0:00 Taking off from the helipad at McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica
0:25 Looking west while flying north over McMurdo Sound
1:10 The Royal Society mountain range
2:15 Ferrar Glacier
2:55 Crossing the Kukri Hills
3:48 Passing over the start of Andrew's Ridge (reference for future blog)
4:00 Lake Hoare with the Seuss Glacier at the far end sliding in from the right
4:10 Lake Hoare Camp with the calved-end of the Canada Glacier in the background

After I arrived at the field camp, I got to work installing the computers and then settled in. I just had to give the computers a solid run through before I left on Monday to ensure they were good to go for the season. When I finished up and was tucking into for the evening, I caught this bit of color over Lake Hoare as the sun was getting ready to set somewhere behind those mountains.

Lake Hoare.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I first learned the word arcology as the end goal of the video game SimCity 2000. Who knew that years later, I'd be living in one of the closest approximations of one . . .

"Arcology . . . is a set of architectural design principles aimed toward the design of enormous habitats (hyperstructures) of extremely high human population density. These largely hypothetical structures would contain a variety of residential and commercial facilities and minimize individual human environmental impact. They are often portrayed as self-contained or economically self-sufficient.

The McMurdo Station of the United States Antarctic Program and other scientific research stations on the continent of Antarctica may most closely approximate the popular conception of an arcology as a technologically-advanced, self-sufficient human community. Although by no means entirely self-sufficient (the U.S. Military "Operation Deep Freeze" resupply effort delivers 8 million gallons of fuel and 11 million pounds of supplies and equipment yearly) the base has a very insular character as a necessary shelter and protection from an extremely harsh environment, is geographically isolated from conventional support networks, and must avoid damage to the surrounding Antarctic ecosystem due to an international treaty. The base generates electricity with its own power plant, and grows fruits and vegetables in a hydroponic green house mainly for limited winter use when resupply is nonexistent. The base also provides a full range of living and entertainment amenities for the 3,000 or so science and support staff that visit each year." -from Wikipedia's entry on Arcology.

Thanks to Evan Jenkins for bringing this to my attention.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The sun isn't going down anymore!

McMurdo Sound under the first night of the not-so-setting sun

On October 23rd, the sun rose and it won't be going back down again until late February. To be fair, the sun hasn't been going down for me since I got here because I go to sleep early. When I was waking up in the middle of the night, I'd see crazy sunset colors, but the sun was always up.

On the first night the sun didn't officially set, my roommate, Meg, and I went out to ski at 11:15pm to celebrate her beau's teaser clip for his first(?) major ski movie, Signatures. She was bonkers excited and unable to sleep so we went out to play.

Skiing out to the runway away from town is such a treat. I've only skied out a few times, but each time I've been rewarded with the sounds of silence and huge beautiful reminders of why I'm here. It puts me at ease in ways I can't describe. I don't know how anyone could come down here and just stay in town.

Challenge: Who is singing the song in the teaser linked to above? The person who figures that out will get a souvenir from the store here. All we can figure out so far is that it is a cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End."

Under the Sea!!

The red striped area on the left is where this clip was filmed.

Yesterday, a grantee diver uploaded some of his video footage to YouTube and I wanted to share it. It is just amazing that he is diving down there at all in the cold, let alone, the diversity of life. The footage was shot about three-quarter miles from McMurdo Station. On the map above the right orange circle is the station, just north of the left orange circle is where it was filmed.

The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else’s lake
You dream about going up there
But that is a big mistake
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you lookin’ for?
Under the sea