Friday, April 16, 2010

Antarctica in the News: Shrimp and a new base

Shrimp found under Ross Ice Shelf

Just over a month ago, NASA found something in Antarctica that no one ever expected to find, two three inch shrimp under 600 feet of ice, 12.5 miles from open water. Scientists have always assumed that only microbial life could live under such harsh conditions. This calls that assumption into question and forces us to ask about what other complex life could exist in similar conditions throughout our solar system. One of the cooler parts about the discovery and article for me is that they feature quotes from a scientist that I've worked with in Antarctica. " Stacy Kim—one of the biologists in NASA's ice science team—says that they don't really have a clue about what is happening down there, but that it is highly improbable that these animals swam all the way from open water."

Terra Nova Bay (photo by C. Poirot)

A few weeks ago, South Korea announced that it will be building their second Antarctica research station at Terra Nova Bay. Their first, King Sejong Base, holds 17 researchers. The new station will hold 60 researchers and their support staff. Terra Nova Bay is located a few hundred miles from McMurdo and the existing Italian base there, Zucchelli Station, has sometimes served as a back up air field for the United States Antarctic Program. The new base will take a year to build, cost $88.4 million, and should be completed by 2014. Once complete, Korea will be only the ninth country to operate more than one base in Antarctica. Currently, they are twenty countries with stations on the continent.

Finally, a friend showed me this clip of Antarctica research to be . . .

Chinstrap penguin ping pong

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

TranzAlpine Train from Westport to Christchurch

The first of many river crossings on the TranzAlpine.

After leaving our hostel, Celeen and I were headed for Greymouth. We dropped our rental car in Westport and then were able to hitch all the way down to Greymouth with one ride. A Dutch couple picked us up in the sunshine, took a rainy rest stop at the Pancake Rocks, and then dropped us off right at the train station. They were doing a whirlwind tour of New Zealand. Despite the photo above, Greymouth was named for a politician, not for the states of the sky.

Farmland and beech forests.

From Greymouth, we were hoping to catch the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch. The 223.8km journey takes just a little over four hours and would get me home just in time for ultimate practice. The journey starts on the west coasts, crosses the Southern Alps, and then descends to the east coast. It is supposed to be pretty spectacular and we thought it would be a fun way to travel instead of the bus that whips around every corner.

The Southern Alps.

A mostly empty river valley in the Southern Alps.

We started out our journey by taking advantage of traveling by train instead of bus. We used our table to comfortably make a lunch of mozzarella tomato basil baguette sandwiches at our seats. We were so hungry. They were so good. After we got moving, we found a set of seats that were empty so we spread out. The start of the journey was rainy so we didn't go out to the open air car. I might have even napped.

Fun cloud formations.

Whipping by the scenery.

As the journey progressed, the scenery and weather improved. Typically, the west coast is rainy and the Southern Alps create a rain shadow for the drier east coast. On our journey, the sun came out and was shining. When it did, Celeen and I moved to the tiny open air car for the rest of the journey. On the TranzCoastal trip, they had a full sized open air car. For this one, they had three times as many people but only two small open air cars. It was great to be out smelling everything whip past and not looking through a window.

Arthur's Pass looking west.

Celeen at Arthur's Pass looking southeast.

We took a quick stop at Arthur's Pass to let more people on the train. It was beautiful. The sun was blazing and it might have even been hot. Celeen and I had both hiked up there before, but it was neat to travel through by train instead of car. It took us into new areas. On the way out of Arthur's Pass, we saw all these trees with bright white blossoms and a new river gorge.


Our ride.

After the gorge, we slowly descended out of the mountains to the farms on the Canterbury plains. They are so green and remind me a lot of Pennsylvania. The train was great. I guess you could see a lot of the same scenery by car, but then the driver doesn't get to enjoy it as much. After bicycle, I think the train is my favorite way to travel. Ride the rails to trails!

The Canterbury plains.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Seal Colony and Pancake Rocks

For Viv

After a wonderful rainy night at the Old Slaughterhouse, we caught a ride to Westport. Our intent was to hitch down to Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks. However, it was raining and we lost motivation for that in a hurry. We rented a car instead and took off for the Cape Foulwind seal colony. It is the best seal colony I've ever been too because there were so many pups and they were active. I have never seen seals move so much. Absolutely amazing!

First, let's play count the seals again.

Seal colony video

Photos would not do the seals justice so I was trying to get a couple videos of them moving around. After my first couple, I remembered that my video camera had a bunch of extra features that might make for better footage. There was a video stabilizer, filming in HD, and digital zoom. The digital zoom made things a little grainy, but it was great to be able to zoom in so much. The best version of the footage is below.

Seal Colony video zoom

Penguin crossing sign.

After being entertained by the seals, we headed off for the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. It was a long, wet drive. When we stopped to eat, our server didn't think we could finish two grilled cheeses and two baskets of fries. He was very wrong. We housed. I think we were still super hungry from walking the Heaphy. Anyway, after refueling our bellies, we got super lucky and the sun came out.

Pancake Rocks


The pancake rocks were neat. They are layer after layer of rock. When you zoom in close enough, you can easily imagine Vermont's finest being poured over them before you throw them in your belly. The problem with that is that you pretty much can't buy maple syrup in New Zealand. Also, most Kiwis don't know what pancakes are!!! I'm kind of confused how one of their tourist attractions is called Pancake Rocks then, but it is. Maybe an American was involved.


More Pancake Rocks.

Use your imagination, what do you see (hint, nose on the left)?

Other than just being neatly layered, the pancake rocks have eroded to create a spectacular coast line. There are huge arches, blowholes that shoot a ton of water up into the air at high tide, gnarly rock formations, and formations that your imagination might find animals or faces in. I'm not sure I'd recommend that someone make a special trip to see the rocks, but they are definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

Beautiful coastline.