In the meantime, the week has gone by pretty fast.
This morning was a blast. The guys from S-328 - "Live from Antarctica" - wanted the kids at home to see how computers support science, and asked me to show them a few of the things I've done down here. I talked about the digitized map of Ross Island I scanned for Jocelyn Turnbull of S-005, (Art DeVries' group that studies antarctic fish), penguin rookery sunrise/sunset charts I made for Anika Dayton of S-026 (Gerry Kooyman's group that studies penguin behavior), and my home page with all the cool pictures. LFA airs next January, live from Palmer Station.
Once I was actually awake and moving, it was gorgeous outside, like when you're a kid, and it's the morning after a big snowstorm, and school is cancelled, and it's all white and sunny with blue skies, and it's a perfect day to play in the snow, except we didn't get to, because it was a work day like any other, and our pre-planned trip to Cape Evans was postponed because the wind kicked up and cut visibility on the flagged route down to three flags. It was all the more frustrating that by 23:00, the winds died down and the sun was out and it was as nice as it's been all season.
Despite the afternoon winds driving two days of snow onto the sea ice, we got our first '141 in almost a week. Vis was so bad that departure was delayed to give the ground blizzard time to clear. I think this plane was almost all beakers. Now that Pole is open, scientists are flooding in for that; plus, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is pulling up to the ice edge on Saturday and switching crew and science events; and, we got seven new McMurdo science groups, just on this one flight. I wonder if there was room for any mail.
After a pretty lame and forgettable dinner, I went to the coffee house to play darts. I won at 501 and lost at cricket, then threw practice throws 'til closing time. It wasn't ever very crowded, probably due to the bingo game over at the Southern Exposure. I had a much more relaxing evening where I was.
On my way back to my room from dinner, Jocelyn (S-005) mentioned to me that her group's annual sushi dinner was going on right at that moment. I dropped by the dorm 208 lounge, but most of the food was already gone. There was only a little grilled antarctic cod (Dissostichus Mawsoni) and just a taste of sashimi left. It wasn't the first time I've had the local cod (which is a byproduct of the search for answers in the fish's blood), but it was the first time I've managed to catch the sushi party and taste it raw. It was incredible. The meat was absolutely white, firm and had no fishy taste. It was like a firmer, paler version of maguro tuna. I haven't had Japanese food since I left the States; it's one of the things that's lacking down here.
I wouldn't have missed the science lecture tonight for anything. Dr. Zaire (S-058?) gave his take on the search for life in martian metorites. He doesn't seem to be as enthusiastic that the data support the claims made in the media of proof of primitive extra-terrestrial life, but does believe that we need to gather more rocks and establish that what was found is not an isolated occurrence.
Rather than go back to the coffee house, I stayed in, watching tapes in my room of The Simpsons and Dr. Who.
Today brought us the first mail flight in many days; we even got package mail. At half-past nine, I spotted the mail flag (up at MCC) from my room. My roommate, Chris, and I, wandered up the hill and both struck paydirt! He got a videotape from home, and I got the latest Babylon 5 from my friend, George. I stayed up 'til 02:00 to watch it.
Power outage at lunch. Down to two engines. Brownouts in some buildings, blackouts in others.
Stopped by Greenhouse and B-133 at lunch. Just a shell with some studs.
Just for kicks, once we'd mostly finished the food, I brought out a bottle of the hottest hot sauce I've ever had - "Endorphine Rush". To demonstrate it's potency for my guests, I teased a bit of sauce on a tine of my fork, no larger than a grain of rice. I ate it with a bite of chicken and waited for the kick; I was not disappointed. Thai dinner. Really, really hot. Hung out in Hut 10 'til midnight. The curried chicken at lunch today was dismal by comparison. We just couldn't bring ourselves to eat.
11" of snow! Snowed all night and all morning. No flights in or out. 56 folks on next flight north, including several for NBP port call.
At quarter past nine, eight of us plus Brooks piled into the Hägglund, bound for the VXE-6 transition where the skidoos are parked. Unlike the Nansen sleds we use on the ice shelf, on the sea ice, we have box trailers on skis, large enough for a person and a couple of survival bags. Brooks gave us a quick lesson in skidoo operation (prime before a cold start, lean in on slow turns, don't ram the skidoo in front of you), and we were on our way. I drove on the first leg.
On the way out to Cape Royds, I wished for better weather. I got my wish. For the first half-hour, it didn't look good. There was a stiff offshore crosswind blowing snowsnakes across our path and the sun was hiding behind patchy clouds. At one point, Brooks stopped to take a GPS waypoint and to ask us if we wanted to keep going and see how far we could go. We all wanted to press on. The weather got worse before it got better, but it did finally get better, about the time we passed Little Razorback island. The clouds broke up, the sun peeked out and the wind shifted to our backs.
When we got to the Barne glacier, we turned left off the flagged route to locate a crossing point over a two foot crack in the sea ice that appears every year at just about the same point. Because it is caused, in part, by the sea ice trying to flow around the point of the Barne Glacier, it has been dubbed the Barne Crack, and is what stopped yesterday's trip from proceeding. One extra day of sun and wind was enough, however, to cause the snow to sag a sufficient amount to reveal the crack. Brooks drilled two holes, one on each side, to verify that the ice was at least 30" thick, proving that it was safe to cross. Our next stop was Cape Royds.
By the time we got there, it was lunchtime. We parked the skidoos just off shore and walked to the rocks overlooking the penguin rookery to eat our sandwiches. The last time I was here, there wasn't a single penguin to be found. This time, there were thousands, covering the rocks like fleas on a mangy dog. I'd been warned about the stench, which was objectionable, but not as bad as some of the stories I'd heard. I think perhaps the 20 knot offshore breeze drove most of the smell out to sea. There we sat, having our PB&J, watching penguins fight over rocks and check their eggs while we were just a few dozen yards away. It is strictly forbidden to enter the rookery; there are yellow signs delimiting the "SSSI", Site of Special Scientific Interest. I spent the trip home as ballast in the trailer; the only excitement was when our empty fuel cans flew out of the skidoo while we were vaulting sastrugi.
On the "Antarctica in the popular media" front, while watching _Alien_ tonight, I caught a detail I hadn't noticed before: at the beginning of the movie, when the crew is trying to figure out where they are, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) tries to establish contact with "Antarctica Traffic Control". I guess the idea is that it's better to monitor space traffic from a place that always has the same arc of the sky in view than from someplace on Earth that can sweep the sky like a beacon.
With all the preparations for our Thanksgiving meal, lunch was a little sparse. I arrived as the galley staff was cleaning up and was only able to put together a tuna sandwich before they kicked us all out. On the way in, I did see some of the preparations out in the foyer: table after table of fruit, breads and other appetizers, just like last year.
Previous month's journal Following month's journal
To Ethan's Home Page