Monday, December 10, 2007

The Last Photo of the Season

Here is the group after our trip to Cape Royds -- the last group photo.

Cheers to all!

Penguin Ranch 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Postcards From McMurdo

"Never for me the lowered banner, never the last endeavour." Sir Ernest Shackleton.

"Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has yet been devised." - Apsley Cherry-Garrard

"For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton." - Sir Raymond Priestley

"I have often had the impression that, to penguins, man is just another penguin - different, less predictable, occasionally violent, but tolerable company when he sits still and minds his own business." - Bernard Stonehouse

"Hurley is a warrior with his camera and would go anywhere or do anything to get a picture." - Lionel Greenstreet about Frank Hurley

"The continent has become a symbol of our time. The test of man's willingness to pull back from the destruction of the Antarctic wilderness is the test also of his willingness to avert destruction globally. If he cannot succeed in Antarctica he has little chance of success elsewhere." - Edwin Mickleburgh

Monday, December 3, 2007

Letters From The Ice

(from Jessica)

Things have been incredibly hectic out here at the Ranch with this extremely long stretch of great weather that we have had (after our equally long stretch of bad weather and delays at the beginning of the season!). Cass and I have been very busy with our recorder deployments and lab work analyses.

and have managed to accomplish loads of science.

We are both feeling incredibly fortunate to leave the ice with so much data under our belts.

The birds have been diving regularly through their 2 dive holes, and as the season progresses, many of them have put on several kilograms . . . apparently the eating around the Ranch must be good!

Here is a picture of 2 of our penguins exiting the holes , one mid-air, and Markus (on the right) just after exiting.

One morning we were fortunate enough to see one of the penguins emerge from the hole with a fish still wriggling in its beak (we are pretty certain it is a “borch”, the Antarctic ice-fish, Pagothenia borchgrevinki). The penguin dropped the fish and went back in the water, so we threw it back in the hole .

Between all the science, Matt has managed to find time to get his daily workout in, slightly modified of course to accommodate Ranch life. Here he is in action

The seals are also still regular visitors to our huts, often bringing up fresh Mawsoni (Antarctic cod) that they have caught beneath the ice.

Here are pictures of our buddy Wendell, one of Cory bonding with the seal ,

and one of Wendell with a freshly caught Mawsoni .

Paul and I have also done several dives out here at the Ranch. It is absolutely breathtaking to be diving underneath the ice with Weddell seals and emperor penguins swimming circles around you. Today we did our seventh (and final) dive. Paul has taken several underwater pictures during the dives, but they are all on film so we will have to wait until we return to San Diego to see how they come out. The water has become progressively murkier throughout the season with summer approaching and the amount of algae (and everything higher in the food chain) increasing. Today’s dive was quite cloudy (relatively speaking for the Antarctic of course!).

We have recently made several trips to the ice edge to release birds that have participated in our work at Penguin Ranch. We let 2 of the last 5 birds go in our most recent release and because of excellent weather and good ice conditions, we were able to bring them right up to the ice edge. Here are pictures from this release

Paul releasing our bird Clara,

and one of both Clara and Cody Maverick (among some Adelie penguins), with Cody on the move, about to enter the water.

The ice edge was incredibly beautiful, and it was a wonderful feeling to once again hear open ocean lapping up against the shore.

With that our season has pretty much come to a close. We will release the rest of our birds tomorrow, and then it is time to break down the Penguin Ranch. Despite our slow beginning, it has been an incredibly productive and wonderful season out here on McMurdo Sound.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Penguin Ranch Spotlight: Caleb

(from Cass)

Caleb is pictured here in a blue wingband. We use a little bit of colored Koban tape to distinguish our birds while they are with us. All penguins tend to look alike! It is completely removed when they are set free.

He is very eager to dive all the time. He is almost always the first one in the hole. As we are cleaning the holes of slush and ice (so they can dive), Caleb tries to get around us to dive into the hole before we are done. None of the other birds get so close, they just wait till we move away before they dive.

One time Caleb succeeded in getting around us before we were completely done so we just stopped so they all could dive. It was pretty funny. Paul said, “Well, I guess we are done.” We don’t scoop out the holes when the birds are diving because one of them could hit are nets when they come flying out of the hole.

Here’s one of Caleb coming out of the hole after a dive.

That’s it for now. Time to go to sleep – it almost 10pm!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Photos From The Ranch

(from Cass)

Our huts have been completely covered in snow during these storms. [These are the same storms that trapped me in McMurdo for almost a week - Kathi] This photo is of the huts after someone came out to plow the ranch. The snow was so heavy it began to deflect, causing the water in our dive holes (and holes under the huts) to rise a bit.

Our penguins are doing very well. They are diving quite a bit and appear to be eating well (from the amount of guano we have to clean up every day!). I have included some pictures of penguins starting a dive and exiting the hole,

as well as a photo of two buddy penguins!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cleaning The Windows

( from Cass)

The windows in our observation tube were almost completely covered, so Jessica and Paul had to dive into one of our the penguin holes and clean the windows off. The first picture shows paul and Jessica getting ready to dive. Matt is dive tending.

The second is of Jessica cleaning the window where we keep our video camera. The video camera allows us to simultaneously watch the birds dive both above the water and below the water.

The last one is of Jessica and Paul at the end of the dive. They are about to go up the penguin hole. Right after Jessica got out the penguins decided to dive. She was sorry to not get to dive with them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

AAA Service - Antarctic Style

(from Cass)

This evening Jessica, Cory and Matt were going in town to pick up equipment and also, while in town, going to a party, hosted by Markus Horning. They had gotten about 2 miles from camp when the piston bully stopped suddenly and turned off. They looked around the vehicle and found some oil had leaked out. They decided to start up the piston bully again to move it so they could clean up the oil. Cory watched the oil leak area while Matt started the piston bully. Almost immediately Cory is waving his arms for them to turn it off – oil had started to gush out. They had to call MacOps (McMurdo Communications center) who called Penguin Ranch to notify us.

As it was Saturday night, MacOps was having trouble finding anyone who could respond to their predicament. So Paul and I launched our own rescue effort, digging out a snowmobile that had been buried in the past week of storms. Paul went off in the snowmobile to bring our crew back, while I stayed at the ranch to watch over our penguins.

The first picture shows Paul leaving to rescue our forlorn group members.

The next one shows him returning with all three team members. While we were digging out the snowmobile, Jessica, Cory and Matt were cleaning up the oil leak. Each piston bully (and each snowmobile) has a spill kit for just this kind of situation.

Since we had such nice weather, we did experiments on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. They were long days, but it was fun to observe the penguins diving.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Stuck in Lodi Again....

I’ve been waiting to leave McMurdo for five days. Each day, I get my hopes up, only to have them dashed with a “24 hour delay” notice for my flight. The weather has had other plans for us, buffeting our area with one storm after another. (Or, maybe it is one giant storm filled with a bunch of “sucker holes”)

It’s funny having one’s fate dependent upon something so out of one’s control as the weather. I alternate between extreme frustration/rage and bemusement. The longer the delay goes on, the funnier it gets, and also, the more annoying. I think I understand why desert people have developed that in s'Allah (as God wills it) attitude towards events. When the weather dictates your life, you either learn to bend or you break.

Two nights ago, McMurdo was under a Condition 1 lockdown, which is a fairly rare event at this time of the year. In Condition 1, visibility drops to almost nothing and it is a real hazard to venture outside. Cass was stuck in Gallagher’s with The Today Show crew for about an hour until the conditions lifted enough for her to run to the dorm.

The people out at Penguin Ranch are bearing the brunt of these storms, being awash with snow drifts, wind, and the very real possibility of running out of propane to heat the huts. Fortunately, one of the huts still uses a Preway stove, which is fueled by an abundant supply of diesel. If push comes to shove, they can all move into that hut to stay warm.

So, here I sit, waiting for clear skies. After all, storms must end sometime….

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Letter Home

Well, another frustrating day.

I can’t believe it is November 8 already. This season is completely unlike my others here . . . sure, I had exceptionally good weather and few storms for those 2 seasons, but this is getting ridiculous. It is just storm after storm.

Last night we had sustained winds of 45 mph, with gusts to 60. There is so much snow everywhere it is ridiculous, when you enter a hut and close the door, it only takes a few minutes to have several inches (often much more) of snow outside.

This morning our lab hut door was completely invisible, there was snow up to the roof, and the other huts about 2/3 of the way up, so we spent the morning shoveling (yes Jonny, even more than when we used to shovel off the camp roof and jump down into the piles). Our windmill blew over and we found the propeller in pieces scattered all around.

When I left the outhouse last night to go to the sleeping hut, I seriously couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. It was a bit tough actually, tripping all over the different snow drifts and I couldn’t see anything at all, just went by memory back to the sleep hut. It is actually quite cool to experience it and really interesting to see how bad it can get here, but I’m ready for good weather now so we can get something done.

Here are a few pics, one of the guys trying to secure the wind power yesterday (Iwo Jima anyone?),

....and some from today. Here's Matt in the storm.

And the snow at our door,

Also included is a photo of our emperors mistaking a snowball for an egg . . . I’d never seen that before, but apparently Paul has seen it several times at some of the colonies.

Kathi and the Today Show crew are all trapped in town trying to leave (Kathi’s flight was supposed to leave on Monday, but of course all the flights have been cancelled), and Cass has been stuck in town for days as well while we are out here.

I hope conditions improve soon!


Friday, November 2, 2007

The Today Show With Ann Curry Comes To Penguin Ranch -- Really!

The Today Show has sent down a camera crew with Ann Curry to film in Antarctica. I think that their ultimate goal is to reach the South Pole Station, but while they were in McMurdo, they have visited a couple of research projects and Penguin Ranch was one of them.

Below is a photo of Matt and Ann Curry in our kitchen hut. She is a very smart and very nice person. I would say that she wears her celebrity well.

Ann Curry is a woman of many talents. Below is a photo of her taking shots of our birds. She showed us some of her shots. It is apparent that she has a very good eye; they were excellent shots.

Although the bulk of the interview was done in our lab hut, they decided to do some of the footage outside in the wind and cold -- all for atmosphere, I guess, but with the winds blowing, the wind chill was below -40 C. Here's Ann Curry and Paul standing by the corral. I felt sorry for the cameraman and soundman having to hold those heavy, cold devices in that wind.

Here's our group with Ann Curry. Left to right, starting at the back is Paul, me, and Cory. In the front is Matt, Jessica, Ann Curry, and Cass.

Okay, I had to add this one. This is a shot with Paul, me, and Ann Curry.

The two-hour live broadcasts are scheduled on Monday Nov. 5 and Tuesday Nov. 6, beginning at 7 a.m. Eastern, which means they would begin broadcasting at 11 p.m., McMurdo time.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Penguin Colonies - Part 2

Today, Paul, Matt, Cass and Jessica took a flight to survey the remaining two colonies on our list -- Coulman Island and Cape Roget. Cape Roget is approximately 500 miles north of McMurdo and out of the reach of the small Twin Otter, so they flew on a DC3 (the Basler). See below:

Photo of Jessica and Cass in the Basler is below.

And here's one of Matt and Cass.

When the plane reached Coulman Island, which is the colony with most emperor penguins in the Ross Sea, they flew by that well-known (ahem....) landmark, Ponganis Icefalls (below). I have often thought that if we want world leaders to take global warming seriously, we should name icefalls after them.

It also begs the question of what happens to the Ponganis Icefall if it melts. Does it become Ponganis Pond at the foot of the slope or Ponganis Rock Pile? One of life's little imponderables....

Here is the Coulman Island colony from the distance with the penguin "smudges". Just like Cape Washington, this colony is so large (~20, 000+ chicks) that it splits into numerous smaller sub-colonies.

And here is Cape Roget with more emperor "smudges". This is a much smaller colony of ~5,000 chicks. It was very exciting to reach Roget. Its distance from McMurdo and its often bad weather have made it impossible to census this colony since 1993!

Here's Paul photographing the colonies for the census count. He is taking the photos through an open window. Brrrr....!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Penguin Colonies - Part 1

Two factors that can affect the stability of the emperor penguin population include stable sea ice and food availability. Both of these factors are subject to environmental changes and to human perturbations. Jerry Kooyman and Paul have monitored the populations at six of the seven colonies in the Ross Sea since the mid-1980s.

Cape Colbeck, located far to the east of Ross Island along the Ross Ice Shelf, has rarely been visited for censusing. Ironically, I understand that at least one passenger expedition goes there.

As an aside, having boatloads of tourists in the Antarctic is a really bad idea. Antarctica is too fragile an ecosystem to have tens of thousands of tourists tramping around it. Unfortunately, this type of travel is increasing exponentially each year.

In 1990, the colonies had the following chick populations: Cape Roget – 6,921, Coulman Island – 27,930, Cape Washington – 23,379, Franklin Island - <2,000, Beaufort Island - <2,000, and Cape Crozier – 324. Recently, both Beaufort Island and Cape Crozier colonies were devastated by iceberg B15 and its fragments.

We want to monitor the recovery of the two colonies disturbed by B15 (Crozier and Beaufort). We also continue the census of the four other nearby colonies to determine the general trends in the emperor penguin population in the Ross Sea. Paul, Cass, Jessica, and Cory went by Twin Otter (see below) today to three colonies, while Matt and I and two volunteers from McMurdo held down the fort at Penguin Ranch.

Paul and Cass are in front of the Twin Otter. The Twin Otters are a Canadian company. Each year they fly down to McMurdo from Canada to the tip of South America, and then, cross the Antarctica by way of the South Pole.

Here is an aerial view of Cape Washington, which is one of the largest emperor colonies in the Antarctic. From the air, this vast colony looks like a series of smudges. There are numerous sub-colonies at Cape Washington, as you can see.

Here is an aerial view of Franklin Island, which is a much small emperor colony -- more "smudges".

And, finally, here is the Beaufort Island colony, which this year is again situated near a small iceberg on the sea ice close by, rather than by the island itself. As was previously mentioned, this colony was hit hard by the massive iceberg B15 a few years ago. Most of the chicks of the year died, probably because the adults had a rough time reaching the open water to go hunting for food. However, unlike the Crozier colony, the adults didn't die. Once the huge iceberg left the area, the colony came back to its pre-iceberg levels.

This an interior shot of the Twin Otter with Paul, Jessica, and Cass.

Cory in the back of the Twin Otter is below.