Tuesday, December 11, 2007




December 12, 2007
McMurdo Antarctica

Time: 8 pm
Latitude: 77° 49.98’ S
Longitude: 166° 49.10’ E
Temperature: -1°C (30°F)
Wind speed: 11km/h (7mp/h)
Wind Chill: -6 km/h (21°F)
Clouds: clear
Wind direction: NW
Relative Humidity: 33%
Barometric Pressure: falling
Precipitation: 0

Happy camper school was a blast. Always cold and a little windy but it was quiet and clear and very white. Happy camper school is a required class that you must take on your first trip to Antarctica (or if you have not been here or over 5 years like me) takes place on the ice shelf only about 3 miles from McMurdo but it could easily feel like a world away. Only half of that distance from McMurdo to happy camper school is on the land and the rest on ice shelf. The ice shelf is comprised of ice that comes from the glaciers flowing off the land on to the sea. The ice shelf is over a 100 feet deep in the location we were camping and moves about a 1 meter a day, not fast enough to really notice. In front of McMurdo and the Kiwi (Scott) Base on Ross Island there is sea ice. Sea ice is only ~5 meters think and slowly melts away during the summer. Within a mile of where we camped was the junction of the ice shelf and the sea ice. You can just barely see this junction from the top of Ob Hill but might not notice it form the ground level. By the time we come back form the deep field WAIS camp the sea ice here will have melted away and there will be open water in front of McMurdo and the Kiwi Base (called Scott Base). The open ocean allows the ship the “Greenwave” to dock here and deliver “freshies”. Freshies are fresh foods, machinery, and all sorts of supplies. The open water also attracts penguins and more seals to McMurdo. Currently there are about a dozen seals nearby that can surface through the openings in the sea ice near pressure ridges. The pressure ridges are caused by sea ice pushing against the land. These seals are all Weddel seals averaging about 500 pounds. So they are not the cute little fuzzy fur seals that may come to mind when you think of seals. From the land they just look like big brown blobs on the ice and the folks here call them sea slugs.

It was a beautiful night at happy camper school and nice to “play” out in the snow with friends. We built snow angels, ice walls, snow caves, and learned lots of terrific information about surviving in extreme cold conditions. Other than the six core handlers we had folks form other projects with us. Even though it is Antarctica we had relatively easy conditions and we actually had a pretty easy time of it. As a team we did a fantastic job cooking, setting up tents, building snow walls, and being out in Antarctica. We also made a quincy which is a kind of snow cave that is built by piling snow on top of all your gear and then digging out the gear. What it leaves is a hollowed out snow cave which is a perfect place to sleep a cold night in Antarctica. There were other quincys left by past happy campers at our camp location and I had one to myself for the night. Nothing is “warmer” and more comfortable than a quincy. During the 30 hours of Happy Camper school we had a couple classes and a final exam on setting tents, building ice walls, using a UHF radio and working stoves in Antarctica– and we arrived back at McMurdo Station by 4pm and I am now recovering.

This place – Antarctica – has many moods. Some of these moods are sutle and some very severe. The way to witness them is to watch and observe over time. The same way we need to watch and observe the changes in our own areas. One way to record these changes is in time-lapse photography. For a terrific time-lapse film on Antarctica go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TemK6CF6lF0 on U-Tube and see the work of Anthony (Antz)who has been working in Antarctica since 1998 as a Satellite Communications Tech. .

The latest word here is that we are in McMurdo until Monday when we fly to the WAIS Divide camp. McMurdo is a nice place, great to visit, and the people are very friendly but we came here to collect ice at WAIS Divide and I am looking forward to getting to the real work.

The images are of our Happy Camper school setting up camp and of the Kiwi (Scott) Base with Mt Discovery in the background.

3 comments:

megan said...

Zach

Sounds like Happy Camper School couldn't have been easier. Is the sun up 24 hours like the north pole?
How will you be able to communicate during your time on the ice shelf? Won't your computer get too cold, or do you have a method of keeping important gear warm? What about emergencies? Do you use a satellite phone? Can't wait to hear from you!
Peace
megan

zach said...

Hi Megan,

Yes, 24hrs of light. A little hard to get used to but very nice when you have to get up at 3 am to search for another candy bar to keep warm. My computer and camera equipment are warmed under my jacket before I go to use them. Back here at McMurdo station I have any number of warm (often too warm ) buildings in which to sit and type. We do have a satellite phone for emergencies and lots of other things in place to help in case of trouble. As you can imagine everyone here is pretty careful about where they go, what they wear, and what they are doing that might get them into trouble with the weather conditons - which again at the moment are warmer than at my home in Maine. That is why they call it summer in the southern hemipshere.Thanks

Peace

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