Friday, January 22, 2010

Antarctica in the news: The Dome, Penguin Awareness, Auto-appendectomy, and Airplanes

The Dome.

No dome.

This week, I received two photos of the South Pole dome. One was the start of the deconstruction and one was what it is left today, nothing. It is amazing to see how empty the site looks. Next week, they are starting Sleigh Rides to the South Pole where some of us get to go to South Pole for an hour. It is just a chance to get a hero shot and say you've been there, but I'm not above it. Sign me up because I'd love a chance to go. I've had an amazing season already and don't expect to go, but feel free to throw some good luck my way, just in case.

Also in the news these past couple weeks was Penguin Awareness Day. Penguin Awareness is January 20th. I hope you were wearing black and white, penguin colors, that day. You will be awarded extra points if you wore a tuxedo in their honor.


This week, Lisa K. shared a crazy Antarctic tidbit with me. In 1961, surgeon Leonid Rogozov was the only physician stationed on an isolated 12-man Soviet base in Antarctica when he developed appendicitis. He had to remove his appendix himself.
"I didn't permit myself to think about anything other than the task at hand. It was necessary to steel myself, steel myself firmly and grit my teeth. In the event that I lost consciousness, I'd given Sasha Artemev a syringe and shown him how to give me an injection. I chose a position half sitting. I explained to Zinovy Teplinsky how to hold the mirror. My poor assistants! At the last minute I looked over at them: they stood there in their surgical whites, whiter than white themselves. I was scared too. But when I picked up the needle with the novocaine and gave myself the first injection, somehow I automatically switched into operating mode, and from that point on I didn't notice anything else."
I've always been amazed at the stories of Russian toughness and resourcefulness. The Russians might have lost the Cold War because they weren't able to keep up economically, but they did amazing things with what little money they did have. Does anyone know if the anecdote about NASA spending millions of dollars to get an anti-gravity pen to work while the Russians just used a pencil is true?

Finally, they may have found the first airplane to be brought to Antarctica. I'm not sure of the historical importance of this because I don't think the plane was used. They left the wings at home, but mention using it as an air tractor. Whether it ever left the ground or not, it is a great look at past exploration.

I'm leaving the Ice in 12 days. It has been an amazing season.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Open Water!

The ice edge as of November 4, 2009.

The ice edge as of my birthday, November 26, 2009.
Click either picture for a better view. McMurdo is the red dot. The Dry Valleys are the brown areas to the left of the red dots.

I wanted to post a final picture of the ice edge. In this last one (pictured below), you can see a dramatic difference from the past two that I have posted (pictured above). If you click on the one below to enlarge it, you can even see a light outline of the channel that the ice breaker has made to town. Unless we have a major storm blowing out of the south to send the ice away to the north, I don't think the ice edge will make it to town this year. However, enough water has opened up around Hut Point to allow ample Adelie penguin and minke whale viewing. I haven't seen any minkes there yet, but I still hope to. The BBC has seen orcas in the channel.

The ice edge as of January 21, 2010.

Tent Island and an area that I drove past just three months ago.

The ice edge has moved close enough to town that areas where I was driving and skiing just three months ago are now open water. In my Cape Evans post from a few months ago, I included a picture of this same iceberg (pictured above). I believe it has run aground. Otherwise, it probably would have moved out to sea by now. To see such dramatic changes take place after so many months of looking at the same landscape is jarring. It shakes the senses again and reminds us just how amazing this place is at a time when we often need reminding because we are fatigued from a long season.

The ice edge as of January 21, 2010.

With open water, we also get the vessels. The Oden, icebreaker, arrived a couple weeks ago. The fuel vessel showed up yesterday. The cargo vessel should probably reach town in about a week, after a short stop in Lyttelton, NZ. This is the busiest part of the year for many departments as they unload all of our major supplies for next year. Those departments assisting in vessel offload have moved to 24 hour operations and shortened breaks. It also looks like, the South Pole Traverse should be rolling into town just as we get busy.

The South Pole Traverse is almost back to town.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Emperor Penguins!

These emperors might be wondering if the plane forgot them . . .

or they might just be molting (the green snow is guano. The grey/black bits are feathers).

I always have trouble finding the words to describe Antarctic moments, so I am going to start out today by borrowing some raw words from someone else, "Holy s**t, i am in Antarctica. it is f'g beautiful here-- the clouds framing the mountains over a sea of ice... God, am i lucky." These words are so true and say more about some of my experiences that my words ever could. They aren't the most refined or descriptive, but they capture the emotion of the experience. Loren scores lots of points for summing it up simply, knocking down walls, arriving on time three times in one day, and being brilliant even if she hasn't been to Chedd's. (Does anyone know if Chedd's reopened in Denver?)

This one is a little shy about having his picture taken and I'm loving my zoom lens.

After a week of hearing about four emperor penguins on the Pegasus road, I finally made it out to see them. These were my first emperors and I was barely able to sit in my seat. I had heard they were lost and waiting for directions. I had heard that they were wandering off to die, but they usually do that by themselves. However, these penguins were there to molt. They spend three to four weeks standing there and waiting for their adolescent feathers to fall off. I'm not sure why they can't go about their normal lives while they molt.

This is my favorite because of the last few adolescent feathers on the left fin.

I'm stuck again. I can't find the words. Antarctic moments make all the mundane times worth it. They are what we sign on to experience. They are what we tell people about when they want to hear about the program. However, they also don't define the program. Our social relationships are what keep us coming back. On the other hand, I don't think I'd be coming back if I never got out.

After hopping out of our vehicle, we were alone with the penguins. They didn't make a noise. They didn't even acknowledge that we had showed up. These were not the curious penguins that everyone talked about from earlier in the season. They were just there to molt and go on about their way. Yet, it was still magical. All they had to do was stand there in a sea of ice and let the wind pull out their adolescent feathers one by one to be amazing. Penguins, especially emperor penguins, are one of the defining features of Antarctica. They are what everyone asks about when you say you have been to Antarctica. As uninteresting as a stationary animal should be, they were great. They were inspiring. They've opened up my imagination again. They've reminded me, "it is [so] beautiful here . . . God, am i lucky."

Emperor penguins and White Island.

New at McMurdo: Helicopter and Wind Turbines

The new Kiwi helicopter, a Eurocopter EC-130.

We've had a couple new sights around base this year. The Robs (mechanic and pilot) at Scott Base are now flying a new helicopter, the Eurocopter EC-130. I don't know much about it, but it sure looks pretty. It has an enclosed tail rotor which is supposed to reduce its outside noise level substantially. I'm sure the penguins appreciate it because they get scared when a helicopter flies overhead. I like to think that they bought it based on the similarity of the name to the LC-130 Hercules planes that we use. I suspect that I am wrong, especially since the Kiwis bought it and the Herc is an American plane.

Erecting the wind turbines.

The McMurdo skyline is not memorable. While we do have a lot of antennas, we don't have the tall buildings underneath them. Instead, we have fantastic views in all directions, which is alright with me. Though, this year we have something else to look at, three wind turbines (that may multiply to twelve). They were installed by Scott Base and can supply all of their power and 50% of our power when they are running at maximum capacity. This is a huge boon for the Antarctic program. We have talked for so long about keeping this place clean, but we run everything on fuel. It seems like a move to renewable resources is long overdue.

A wind turbine overlooking Observation Hill.