Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Photos

Halloween is a big holiday in McMurdo. The group that was in town did us proud.

Night & Day and Bubba

Night (Cass) & Day (Jessica) and Bubba (Brendan)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catching Birds

Tonight is the first trip to the ice edge to search for penguins. Because the ice edge is so far away (about 60 miles from camp) we need to get the birds by helicopter.

Below are the penguin boxes  near the landing site.


We are waiting for the helo to arrive. Right to left: Brendan, Paul, Kozue, Cass, and Jessica.


Our penguin’s transportation arrives, a 212 helicopter.


Josh’s photo of our penguin herders.


Success! Birds are in the boxes! Jessica, Cass, Barry (the pilot), Steve (Mechanic) and Josh (Helo tech) with the birds.


So, they flew the penguins back to the Ranch. Here’s an aerial view of Penguin Ranch.


The penguins look at Kozue and Kozue looks at them. You can see the small snow wall that we built for them and in the foreground is one of the dive holes that we want them to use for their foraging trips.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Seal Wars

Today, we had a couple of Weddell seals visit the dive holes under our huts. Here’s seal taken from the underwater observation tube.


One of the seals fell asleep under our kitchen hut and we heard him (her?) snoring beneath the floor boards. Kozue is taking a photo of the seal.


When we lifted the floor to watch the seal, all we could see was the seal’s nose and a few whiskers.


These type of seals often hold their breath when they fall asleep. (This is formally known as sleep apnea, which is dangerous in newborns, but perfectly normal in seals.) Cass is timing the length of the breath hold – about 3 minutes between breaths.


The seals are very territorial about their breathing holes and there were a lot of calling, trilling, and loud thumps, which continued long into the night. (I think that I need to have a long talk with those seals. They are keeping me awake when they fight at night.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Famous Seal Biologists Come To The Ranch

We had a short visit from the seal biologists today. They admired our camp (and our penguins, of course, when we finally get them). Both Randy and Terrie have spent many seasons down in McMurdo studying the Weddell seals. Randy was part of a group that studied the Wedddell over winter at White Island many years ago. Both Randy and Terrie have landmarks in the Antarctic named after them for their contributions to science down here. Ian and Tray are their graduate students.


Right to left: Randy, Kozue (from our group), Ian, Terrie, and Tray


Right to left: Brendan (our group), Randy, Kozue (our group), Ian, Terrie, Tray, and Kathi (our group)

Picnic At The Ranch

The storm is over and it is such a nice day outside that we decided to have our hors d’oeuvres outside. I think that the photos are fairly self explanatory. Note our Penguin Ranch sign on the door.






Saturday, October 25, 2008

Our First Storm

We are now living at Penguin Ranch, but have no birds, yet. We want to go to the ice edge by helo to capture a few birds. Unfortunately, the weather had a change of plans for us. The flight was scrubbed and we were hit by a storm, instead.


Paul and Brendan checking the corral.

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There is something very comforting about having lots of food and fuel when the snow is swirling about the camp. Here’s a photo of the kitchen larder and we have several coolers outside filled with frozen food. Obviously, it is very easy to keep food cold in the Antarctic – no power generation needed.

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Paul cooked dinner.

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Cass and Jessica warmed their feet by the stove.


Kozue at her computer.


The storm wore out Brendan.


Kathi writing the blog.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Moving In

Today is our first night out at the Ranch. Cass and I drove out in the Pisten-Bully, while the rest of the group rode the four snowmobiles to our research site. A sudden flurry of snow overtook us on the way, which halted our progress briefly.


The sea ice road on a nice day.


The sea ice road today. This is a white-out. We have lost the horizon. The snow flurry only lasted a moment and we were able to continue a minute later.


Our new home. The buildings from right to left are the sleep hut, the kitchen hut, the lab hut, the OR hut, the power sled with the solar panels on top, the barn, and the little doghouse (with Snoopy on top) houses the snow blower. You can see the wind generator tower to the right of the last building and our snow fence beyond that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Setting up Penguin Ranch

Today we started the camp put-in. Fleet Ops pulled the huts out to our research site. The ground is frozen ocean with about 500 meters of water below it. Here is a Pisten-Bully (left), one of the huts, the large drill used to make our dive holes and the Challenger (i.e., a type of tractor) to pull the huts in place.


Drilling a dive hole.


Brendan and Kozue cutting channels in the snow to direct the seawater that will come out when the ice is pierced.


Brendan and Jessica bailing the last of the ice from a dive hole.


Jessica, Cass, Brendan and Kozue during construction. Mary Lynne (with her back to us) is a Podcaster documenting the role of women in Antarctica.


Installing the observation tube. The work stalled at this point. The drill used was about an inch too small for the ob tube! They had to pull it out and try again the next day.


Pulling one of the huts (the laboratory) over the dive hole.


The carpenters assembling the barn. Next door, the grey hut, is the power sled. Our camp’s power comes from solar panels and a wind generator. There is a backup gasoline generator just in case! DSC_6586

The almost finished camp. All that is missing is the sleep hut and the biffy (an important item!). The camp was finished the next day.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Haiku For Hut Point

Hut Point copy


A weathered skeleton

in windy fields of memory,

piercing like a knife.

Matsu Bashō, 1648

A Visit to Scott’s Hut

Today is our last chance to see Scott’s Discovery Hut, which is located next to McMurdo Station. We probably won’t all be in McMurdo at the same time once the camp is installed. So, we checked out the key and walked over to see this historic hut.

Scott’s first expedition used this hut, although they didn’t live in it. Apparently, this design made for a successful building in the Australian outback , but the design was for hot climates. The building was too drafty and constantly leaked snow. Scott’s party used it for storage and lived on their ship, The Discovery, instead.

Here’s a photo of the hut taken from Vince’s Cross. You can see McMurdo in the background.


Photo of Jessica, Brendan, Paul, Cass, and Kozue in front of the hut.


Those black objects are seals that were killed for food by Shackleton’s people when they were forced to overwinter in 1914.


Kozue is trying to determine what was left in the pot – maybe seal blubber?


Jessica, Cass, and Kozue


Kathi in front of the dirty laundry. It makes you mindful of how you leave your room. I’d hate for visitors in future years to look upon my messes.


Paul holding The Fram cup in Scott’s Hut! Fortunately, the roof did not collapse on us, shaken by the ghost of Scott. The Fram was Amundsen’s ship and, Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole, as you probably know.

Notice the ice crystals on the roof. I suspect that some of that is caused by all the people that visit the hut each year. The moisture is becoming a problem and to preserve these huts they are having to limit the number of visitors. As commercial tourism down in the Antarctic becomes more prevalent, this problem will increase.

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Practicing A Virtue

We are awaiting our camp put in. Some of our huts were dragged out last night and Fleet Ops has smoothed the road to our site, but the bulk of the work will be done tomorrow.

They say that Patience is a virtue. We are getting a lot of practice.

Today, the large drill that we need to create our dive holes is over at Razorback Island making dive holes for the BBC. There is a team filming for the Life series and their work will appear next year on television in England. They have a team of divers, a producer, and Norbert Wu (a famous nature cinematographer)  in town to make the film. I think that they want to film the Weddell seals under the ice.

In case you are not familiar with a Weddell seal, here is a shot of  one that I took last year. The seals like to come up in the holes under our huts. The shape of their mouths make them look as if they are perpetually smiling. Really, if they were humans, I suspect that they would be relatively good-natured and unflappable.


Last Sunday, the BBC presented clips of their footage of animals from all over the world. Their footage was truly spectacular and they had a particularly impressive clip of a snow leopard hunting a mountain goat on a steep hillside. They also showed a great white shark devouring a sea lion in one gulp. The shark must have been at 20' long. The sweetest clip was of a polar bear and her cubs. The cubs were beyond cute.

The talk was held in the Galley – see below. The place was packed. My shot was taken at 6 AM on a Monday morning, which explains why the dining room is so empty.


This is the coatroom outside of the Galley. Our big red coats are much too bulky to bring into the dining area, so they hang out here. Since there are three bays, you need to remember where you hung your coat. Almost all of them are red and they all look alike!


There’s a bit of a wind this morning. Sometimes, a hat just isn’t warm enough, so it is nice to use the hood, too. The ruff used to be made of wolf fur, I think. Now, it is some sort of artificial fiber, which isn’t as warm, but nicer for the wolf, of course.