Friday, November 20, 2009

This video was taken last Saturday night when the storm was still passing through town. It doesn't do the experience justice, but it might do a better job that words and pictures.

footage by Deke

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Whimsical Weather

The weather has been all over the place this past week. Last Thursday, it was between 14-20F with an average wind of 18mph. The high wind was 38mph. It isn't cold until you add in the wind chill. It changes everything. I have had a number of Polies (people who work at the South Pole) say that they prefer the temperatures at Pole being 40-60 degrees colder than the warmer, but windier days at McMurdo because you just can't win with the wind. While I'm skeptical about that claim, I also know I am not a huge fan of fighting the wind.

Friday afternoon around town (photo by Holly Troy).

Friday and Saturday, the weather got warmer. We even cleared freezing and made it to 35F. Unfortunately, the wind also jumped to an average of 33mph and a high of 79mph. Walking around town was not a pleasant experience. I think travel was restricted to around town only. You couldn't always see the next building. You needed goggles to block dust particles to protect your eyes. You REALLY needed to want to go somewhere to deal with the weather instead of just staying put in your work center.

Snowdrifts on Sunday (photo by Matt Davidson?).

The best part of the storm was that it snowed, which almost never happens here. When we get snow, it usually just blows in from somewhere else. Such a treat. It was a winter wonderland and this place definitely looks its best coated in snow and ice. In case you are wondering how this place doesn't get much snow, but is covered in ice, I'll try to explain. Antarctica is the driest place on Earth. We get an average of 50" of precipitation a year. South Pole only gets 3". The trick is that what we get, we keep, especially inland.

A Keen trap or a small river.

At the beginning of the week, the weather finally started to clear. The temperature dropped, the wind mellowed to a mere 9-28mph, and the sun came out. The sun coming out was a blessing and a curse. I love my sunshine, but all that sunshine on all that new snow created a giant wetland. You never knew when the ice or snow might give way to a puddle for you to fall into. They would plow the snow drifts that would turn a small pond into a small river racing downhill, usually towards your favorite shortcut. It was so bad, I had to ditch my Keens for three days in exchange for my Keen boots. Today, enough of the snow has finally melted or been moved elsewhere that my Keens are a pretty safe bet again.

Clearing weather over the chalet and Ob Hill

Today is a nice day. It is 15F ambient and 3F with the windchill. Town is pretty much cleaned up. They are moving the last of the major snow off the ice roads and runway which is great for vehicles, but kind of a bummer for skiing. It is great for them because the snow forms an insulating layer which warms the sea ice. Our 625,000lb fully loaded C-17 can only land on a certain quality of ice. Apparently, the first plane in this week had to fly around an extra hour to use up fuel and lighten its load so that it could land safely on the sea ice. As the sea ice continues to weaken, they'll monitor the 'give' of the ice when a plane lands. When it gets to a certain point, they'll move the runway 13 miles out of town to the ice shelf which has less problems, but adds to vehicle costs. Okay, that is the week in weather. Time to get back to my sunshine.

The biggest snow blower EVER clears the ice runway road.

Anecdote of the day: One of the grantees was out in the field yesterday and it was a pretty trying day. Today, he went home in the afternoon to take a nap. He snuck into this room so that he wouldn't wake his night shift working roommate. The roommate wasn't used to him sleeping at the same time as him and had to ask if it was 4am or 4pm because it is always light out now.

Edit: I have a wet sock. It isn't safe yet for the Keens in areas that get a ton of sun.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Leopard Seal Whiskey Boat

Lots of Antarctic stuff in the news this week:

I've never seen a leopard seal here. I don't know anyone except grantees who have seen them. We usually just get Weddell seals closer to town. Anyway, this video is incredible.

Earlier this year, they found crates below Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds. Apparently, they contain 100 year old whiskey that more than a few people would love to get their hands on whether they are history buffs, whiskey connoisseurs, or just someone from McMurdo who can't buy hard liquor by the bottle on base and can't wait until the bar opens. All I really know is that they plan on digging (possibly drilling) to get to them.

Shackelton's Hut at Cape Royds.

Apparently, another tourist ship is stuck in the ice flow near the peninsula on the other side of the continent. They aren't in any danger and are apparently enjoying themselves. They just need to wait for the wind to unblock the back or possibly for a larger ice breaker to come charging to the rescue.

The Captain Khlebnikov

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ice Caves and Cape Evans trip

Michael and Meg are auditioning for Easy Rider or . . . . letting the wind hold them up.

Two weekends ago, I went on a recreational trip to Cape Evans. Cape Evans is located fifteen miles north of McMurdo Station, but still on Ross Island. On the way there, we also stopped at an ice cave.

Our sled full of survival gear and the ice cave in the distance.

Our ride to Cape Evans, a delta. I love the nothingness beyond the delta.

During my first year on the ice, I visited Cape Evans four times: twice on recreational trips, once to take out the flagged route, and once to put the flagged route back in after winter. At this point, I'm not as excited to see that piece of history. I was really excited for the chance to see emperor penguins and the ice cave. After being closed a few years, the cave reopened just after I left the ice my first time. Emperor penguins have eluded me every time I've been out, however, I had heard of sightings on the road out so I was hopeful.

The ice cave.

In the back of the cave, the light comes through the ice in the ceiling.


The ice caves are a great addition to the Cape Evans trip. I was told the the caves reopened because the sea ice levels have finally dropped back down. They were high for years because the giant iceberg, B-15, blocked the bay up almost a decade(?) ago and didn't let the ice out each year. The build up is finally clearing out.

Scott's Hut at Cape Evans and Barne Glacier.

Cape Evans is home to Scott's Hut where Scott launched his fatal expedition to the South Pole. Scott was beaten to the pole by Amundsen, but didn't know it until he reached the pole. They didn't make it back.

Scott's sleeping quarters.

My first penguin this time is the same as my first penguin last time.

A little Pittsburgh love . . .

Shackelton's Endurance expedition also used the hut. Shackelton intended to complete a transcontinental crossing via the Pole in 1914. He never made it. He was trapped in the sea ice before he ever touched land and his journey home has been well captured in Shackelton's iMax or The Endurance. The part of that story that isn't well known is that the men waiting for Shackelton on the other side of the continent were left waiting three years because their own ship had blown away in a storm. The anchor is still there today.

An iceberg on the way out to Cape Evans.