Journal Entries

2005-06

 

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January 30, 2006 — Palmer Station, Antarctica


I was awakened by the warming rays of the sun as it peeked in between the open door flaps of my tent. At that moment I was unusually snug, as I remained nestled under the many layers of thick, warm, down-filled blankets. I heard the waves gently roll across the rocks below my tent, lulling me back to sleep, cozy and warm. Then, like the familiar scent of coffee permeating my dreams when I awaken back home in Ohio, another aroma filled my tent; only this one was not so pleasant. I sniffed again. What could that odor be? Another whiff. It was horrific! Then I heard that familiar burp of the elephant seals! They came up on the beach just below my tent. Just another of the many unforgettable moments that will make me smile when I remember it later.



Later, the bright sun warmed my face as I sat out on the deck, high above the rocks and water. Another lazy Sunday morning and I felt as if the world was mine. It's great to be alive, as there is always so much to discover and explore.

I spent most of my afternoon writing. I love to write outside in the sun. The problem is that I don't really accomplish much writing, but it gives me a chance to think without disruption. I thought about how spending time "on the ice" has impacted me. This experience has changed my perspective in many ways. Now, more than ever, I feel compelled to learn more about how nature works and how things came to be as they are. I want to read the story of science, for there is much written. Even more waits to be written — maybe you will be one of the writers. The more I learn about the magnificent world we live in, the more I appreciate it.

Did I mention that the sun makes me sleepy? Imagine being nestled between the rocks, the sun on your face, mmmmm...I was awakened by a friend passing by. Thank goodness because I neglected to put sunscreen on my arms and got the funniest looking suntan that looks as if I'm wearing pink gloves!



Later in the afternoon, I took time out to enjoy a nice long soak in the hot tub and then dried off in the sauna. Did I say how much I love this place? Really roughing it, eh? Back to work.

Sunday is leftover day when the cooks take the day off and we are left to fend for ourselves. We really are spoiled having all our meals prepared for us. Did I mention the cookies? They have spectacular cookies here that are baked fresh daily, so the smell permeates the building, seeking out the weak-willed and stalking the strong. Sue, one of our creative and talented chefs, estimated that about 4 dozen cookies are eaten every day. Here comes the math teacher in me. If there are 45 people, how many cookies is that per person per day? That would be how many cookies in a week? The month of January? A year (not a leap year)? My favorite is the oatmeal raisin pecan. I think they are a health food. Sue said they're not.



I went out for a walk to a place I had never explored before in our backyard with two friends, Don and Heidi. They both work for Raytheon, the company that is hired by NSF to make Palmer Station an efficient, comfortable, and safe place to study science. They both know a lot about this area and many other parts of the world, as they have traveled to a lot of interesting places. Plus, they are a lot of fun! Don worked at McMurdo and Heidi worked at the South Pole; both places are other U.S. Antarctic research stations. As you can imagine, life is much different there than it is at Palmer. First, you need to understand where it is: on the VERY bottom of the Earth. Use this information to find distances: Palmer Station is at 64.7° S and 64.0° W, McMurdo is 77.88° S and 166.73° E, and the South Pole is 90° S. Go to this website and you will be able to calculate the distance between each of these locations. You can even calculate the distances from these locations to where you live.

Tracey (another friend who spent time at McMurdo) said that McMurdo is an experience you don't forget either. To get there you depart from Christchurch, New Zealand. The only way to get there is by plane. You take an LC-130, C-141, or C-17 plane (listed from smallest to largest). The LC-130 is the slowest, taking around 8 hours to get you to McMurdo; the other planes take 4 hours. This is important because the weather changes very quickly in Antarctica, so there is a time when the pilot has to make a call to the weather station at McMurdo and decide if the conditions are okay to land. This is called the PSR (Point of Safe Return). When a flight leaves Christchurch, the PSR means there’s enough fuel in the plane to return to Christchurch. If you are in the C-17, you are lucky because it’s the only plane that has enough fuel to do a round trip and circle McMurdo two times. If you are in the LC-130, the PSR is 4 hours into the flight. Remember that the weather changes quickly and the call is made 4 hours away. Scary thought.

None of these planes are like any commercial airline you have ever flown. First, there's no seats in the LC-130 or C-141 — just slings. There are two rows of sling seats facing each other and they are so close that your legs are staggered with the person sitting opposite you.



Second, there are no windows, so when you arrive in McMurdo you get your first look at the ice when you disembark the plane.



Temperatures in McMurdo are much colder than Palmer Station. Typical winter temperatures are -40 and below. It can get below -80. And we’re talking Celsius! Want to convert that into Fahrenheit? It’s easy! Use this formula Tf = [(9/5)*Tc]+32. If the temperature is -80, just replace Tc with -80. Tf = [(9/5)*-80º C]+32 =-112° F . Try to convert another temperature. Here's a good one: what's the temperature in Celsius if it's -40° F? Cool, eh? Got to love those numbers!

I can’t even imagine what that kind of cold would feel like. Tracey said that when you first get off the plane and take the first breath, you get this turbo blast of crisp and clear air. Then you realize it’s not crisp and clear, just really, really cold. No skin exposed at all — anytime! I asked her what that cold feels like and she just replied, "It's all the same after you hit -40° C. -70° C feels just like -40° C." Hmmm...too cold for me!

McMurdo is not small like Palmer Station (which only has the capacity to hold 45 people), but is a small city of 1,000. Everything you need is there — even a coffee shop. No Starbucks, but it's called the Sawbucks.

While Don, Heidi, and I were on our walk, we saw so many cool things. First, we came upon a bathing spot for the neighborhood skuas. We sat and watched them meticulously and methodically bathe in the still runoff water. Notice the birds in flight in the photo of my friend Heidi and me in our rocky backyard. Each bird's wings are in a different stage of flight. The first one's wings are in the upward position as in the first stage of flight, one is soaring or maintaining flight, and the last one's wings are in a downward position or the last stage of flight. It seems as if the birds represent different stages in a journey — the beginning, middle and end. It made us think about what stage of our life's journey we were in.



Later that evening, a group of us took a Zodiac out for the evening and went exploring. Cool stuff, eh?



I just talked to Sue, the chef, and she just told me that this week they have had increased cookie consumption. Instead of 4 ½ dozen cookies each day, it’s up to 6 dozen! Whoa! Time to recalculate.

 

- Kaput-on-Ice

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