Archive for November, 2008

Storm

November 28, 2008

The wind has not dropped below 50mph at Cape Crozier today, and gusts are exceeding hurricane force. When I awoke, my Scott tent walls were snapping and snow had drifted through gaps around the door. The sound of wind approached a roar outside. After pouring snow out of my boots, I climbed out and crawled to our hut.

Before breakfast, we spent an hour tightening ropes holding down our tents, a task that would usually take 10 minutes. While we were outside, our weather station recorded a 91mph gust, and average wind speeds were around 70mph [a hurricane is defined as 72mph and above]. Imagine sitting on the roof of a car speeding on the freeway and you get an idea of the forces involved. It was impossible to walk or stand, and, to reach our tents, we crawled over the rocks and ice.

Needless to say, we can’t observe the penguins today. While we are huddled next to the heater in our hut, they are sitting on their nests in the snow, comfortably streamlining themselves to the wind. Oh, to be a penguin…

Happy Thanksgiving to all in the U.S.

My Tent In The Storm

My Tent In The Storm

Posted: November 28th, 2008
at 3:31pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 3 comments


Thanksgiving In Antarctica

November 27, 2008

I spent this holiday counting penguins. Aerial photos taken of the colony two days ago will be used to make an exact census (someone has to count 300,000 dots on a photograph), but, today, our task was to ground-truth the imaging technique. We took four hours to quantify about 7,000 individual penguins in several subcolonies, ticking along with handheld tallywhackers. The totals will be compared to numbers from the same areas on aerial photos.

The real highlight of this Thanksgiving, though, was our first Orca (Killer Whale) sighting of the season. Fifty mile-per-hour winds yesterday broke up ice on the Ross Sea and blew much of it away, leaving ragged patches of open water, and we spotted more than 18 different whale spouts and dorsal fins along the new ice edge.

The three techs stranded here last night by bad weather (Cape Crozier storm video) were lifted away by helicopter after breakfast, still cheerful after their unplanned stay. One of the guys had called a favor over the radio, after listening to our food fantasies, and, unexpectedly, we received a small brown paper bag on the flight this morning, containing one fresh onion, which went straight into Thanksgiving stuffing.

I found a fresh dead penguin in the colony today, in excellent shape (somewhat unusual, not sure why it died), and collected it for a museum study specimen; this involved cradling the 10-pound body against my chest, like an infant, during the mile-long wind-blasted trek up-glacier back to our hut. Of course, it was Thanksgiving… We didn’t eat the bird, but our palates appreciated its irony.

Cape Crozier is on New Zealand time (a day ahead of the New World), so, although it’s not Thanksgiving yet in the U.S., we are already digesting dinner. Kirsten served Cornish game hens, stuffing, green beans, and mashed potatoes, and Michelle added a raspberry chocolate crisp dessert. All is well on a happy stomach.

A Group of Adelie Penguins On The Ice

A Group of Adelie Penguins On The Ice

Penguins And The Ross Ice Shelf

Penguins And The Ross Ice Shelf

Posted: November 28th, 2008
at 1:07am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 1 comment


Unexpected Guests

November 26, 2008

A helicopter arrived this morning and dropped three guys from McMurdo Station. They fixed our internet and wind generator, which had both been working intermittently. Luckily, some wind started blowing to test the windmill.

Unfortunately, the wind kept getting stronger, and, by the time the helo returned a few hours later to take the guys back to McMurdo, it was 40mph and gusty, too risky to land. In an anxious moment, we watched the helicopter hover outside our kitchen window, visibly buffeted sideways by gusts, while its pilot apologized over the radio: “Sorry guys, I can’t shoot the approach. I’m heading back to station.”

So, we are battened down with six people in our tiny hut, including three unexpected guests. They’re stuck here until weather improves, probably at least overnight. It’s my turn to cook dinner today, and I’m suddenly feeding a lot of people! We can’t hike down to the penguin colony in this weather, so we’re sipping hot chocolate, entering data, dreaming of fresh onions, and catching up on email, waiting for the storm to pass. According to our anemometer (wind gauge), the highest gust so far was 54mph – enough to pin us inside, but not really ripping yet.

Michelle and Brian Battle The Weather

Michelle and Brian Battle the Weather

A Helo Hovers Outside Our Kitchen Window, But Can't Land

A Helo Hovers Outside Our Kitchen Window, But Can't Land

Inside The Hut

Inside The Hut

Posted: November 26th, 2008
at 9:54pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 1 comment


The Emperors Visit

November 24, 2008

I was high in penguin valley this morning, searching for banded birds on nests, when Michelle called tantalizingly on the radio: “There are four Emperor Penguins close to the beach!” The Emperors nest way out on sea ice, but occasionally wander close to Cape Crozier. I scrambled down rocky slopes and around an ice bluff to get closer to the visitors.

Sure enough, four Emperor Penguins plodded methodically next to our “beach” (a jumble of broken ice where ocean meets land). If Adelies are wind-up toys, then Emperors are tortoises of the penguin world. They shuffle slowly, hunch morosely, and just seem tired, like old men without their canes. Emperors starred in the movie, “March of the Penguins”, which was filmed not far from here. They have evolved to endure.

I am enduring just fine after a week at Cape Crozier, with just a few aches and pains. My lips are chapped to the point of bleeding. My thumb has a hangnail that is also bleeding. My heels have blisters (from walking with crampons), and Michelle and Kirsten were a bit concerned when they found two bloody socks warming above the heater. At least I’m not getting bloody noses (as others here do). Dry Antarctic air chaps and dehydrates quickly, and sun reflecting off snow burns twice as fast. I will soon have a balaclava tan! I scorched my finger on our oven yesterday, resulting in a large blister. I’m glad to be healthy. Help could be delayed for days should a serious injury occur.

Four Emperor Penguins

Four Emperor Penguins

Adelies Charge Toward The Camera

Adelies Charge Toward The Camera

Adelie Penguins Walk Out To Sea

Adelie Penguins Walk Out To Sea

Penguins At The "Beach"

Penguins At The "Beach"

Posted: November 25th, 2008
at 12:55am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 3 comments


Skua Eggs

November 23, 2008

Our internet has been down for the last three days (something to do with a broken charge controller at the repeater). Michelle spent the day on the radio with the comms guys at McMurdo Station, and finally got a shaky interim connection going.

Meanwhile, life is never dull at Cape Crozier! Penguins are engaged in an endless battle with South Polar Skuas, a predatory gull-like bird. Yesterday, I watched one swoop down on a nest while the penguin was distracted by a pesky neighbor. In mid-flight, the skua snapped up the penguin’s egg and flapped away with it. The penguin, in late realization, could only stand and stare, then it wandered from its nest, suddenly purposeless. Yesterday, we discovered the first skua egg of the season in a depression among the rocks, a dozen yards from the penguins. One egg is taken, and another is laid.

I am still waiting for a real storm to arrive. The weather has been uneventful, with temperatures between 10 and 20 degrees F and some light snow showers. The open water that appeared on the 21st has already refrozen solid enough for penguins to walk on it.

South Polar Skuas Eat An Adelie Penguin Egg

South Polar Skuas Eat An Adelie Penguin Egg

Posted: November 25th, 2008
at 12:23am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


Open Water

November 21, 2008

I awoke this morning to an unfamiliar sound, and it took a minute to realize the walls of my tent were flapping. Wind! It was wind! After a calm week, the breeze kicked up today.

Michelle, Kirsten and I sat around our digital weather station display by the breakfast table and watched the wind speed number rise and fall. Do we go out today or not? Usually, if the wind is less than 20mph, it’s no problem. If it’s more than 20mph, you stay inside… a storm could be coming. Around 60mph you might have to crawl to make progress into the wind, and at 80mph you can’t really stand up. Much more than 100mph, and the air can actually pick you up and blow you away. A couple seasons ago, this hut withstood an average windspeed of more than 100mph for an entire day, and took one reading of 147mph. Rocks embedded in the south wall of the hut prove it.

This morning, though, the wind sustained right around 20mph, and we hemmed and hawed, and stayed inside. I read a book about penguins, and kept eyeing the weather station display – that thing is addicting, like watching TV. But, if I wanted a storm to materialize, I was disappointed; the gusts died out mid-afternoon, and our highest reading was 43mph: no more than a breath of fresh air. At 6:30pm, Michelle and I finally layered up and hiked down to do a couple hours of work in the penguin colony, while Kirsten cooked dinner to be ready when we got back in.

I was a bit surprised at the view from our kitchen window this afternoon. The frozen Ross Sea is no longer frozen! A couple miles out, the ice ends, and dark blue open water extends to the horizon. This morning, our little south breeze blew the pack ice out to sea. It is summer in Antarctica.

Open Water On The Horizon

Open Water On The Horizon

Cape Crozier Camp

Cape Crozier Camp

Noah's Tent

Noah's Tent

Inside Tent

Inside Tent

Lifeline From Tent To Hut

Lifeline From Tent To Hut

Outhouse And Hut

Outhouse And Hut

Posted: November 21st, 2008
at 11:42pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 3 comments


A Rare Sighting

November 19, 2008

I don’t know where all the storms are. Despite its gnarly reputation, Antarctica delivered another clear, sunny, calm day (current temperature eight degrees F), perfect for recording penguin bands. After yesterday’s exhausting and freezing project, Kirsten, Michelle and I spent this afternoon wandering in the colony, dividing areas and searching for banded birds. Each nest with a tagged penguin is marked so we can keep track of their reproductive success this season.

Around five in the afternoon, Kirsten, who was out of earshot down the frozen beach, suddenly burst on the radio. “Noah! Look over your left shoulder! What’s that bird?” A streamlined gray and white seabird was gliding up and down the coastline. As it made two passes then landed on a rocky cliff, Michelle, Kirsten, and I (spread out over a quarter mile but in sight of each other) discussed it over the radio, directing each other on its movements. Eventually, we all had decent views, and the bird did a fly-by about eight feet in front of Michelle.

It was a Southern Fulmar (also called Antarctic Fulmar), the first one to be recorded at Cape Crozier in 13 years of field seasons, and the 10th bird species to be seen here in that time. They can be abundant in oceans surrounding Antarctica, but are apparently quite rare in the Ross Sea. Unfortunately, the bird headed out to sea before posing for any photos, but its identification was unquestionable. You never know what might show up here!

Noah In Penguin Valley

Noah In Penguin Valley

Curious Adelie Penguin

Curious Adelie Penguin

Penguins At Their Nests

Penguins At Their Nests

Adelie Penguin Portrait

Adelie Penguin Portrait

Posted: November 20th, 2008
at 12:56am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 2 comments


Sledding And Fencing

November 18, 2008

Today I helped build a fence around a bunch of penguins. We encircled a small colony of a couple dozen nests with plastic fencing, leaving only one entrance for the birds. As they pass through, a chip implanted in their wing is detected by sensors which record the event, and a scale weighs the birds.

It’s all very high-tech, and lets us see how long the penguins leave their nests to find food, how much food they bring back to their chicks, and which birds are around this year.

Setting up the fence and “weighbridge”, however, was epic. To get the gear down there, it was all strapped onto a sled, and we put on crampons, took up harnesses, and man-hauled it almost a mile down the face of a glacier from our hut to the penguin colony. Once there, it took us six hours of labor to dig out snowdrifts, plug in solar panels, move a penguin nest that was in the way of the fence, and hook up the weighbridge apparatus.

Meanwhile, my toes were slowly freezing in my boots (the temperature today with wind chill was -39 degrees C), and they were painful to the point of nausea by the time we hiked back up the hill. I was glad for the pain, since it meant I wasn’t getting frostbite yet. Working in the antarctic chill is a singularly cold experience, but I need to figure out the best combination of socks and boots. In any case, a hot and spicy pasta dinner at the end of the day was well-deserved by all.

Pulling The Sled

Pulling The Sled

Our Commute To The Penguin Colony

Our Commute To The Penguin Colony

Fenced-In Penguins

Fenced-In Penguins

Noah On The Glacier

Noah On The Glacier

Resting With Crampons

Resting With Crampons

This Is The Tent Where I Sleep

This Is The Tent Where I Sleep

The Hut We Call Home

The Hut We Call Home

Posted: November 18th, 2008
at 11:43pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


A Quarter Million Penguins

November 17, 2008

A group of five communications guys helicoptered out to Cape Crozier this morning, while sun poked through freezing fog, and set up satellite wireless internet at our hut on the ice. At the end of the earth, we have high-speed internet access. Technology, these days – face it and embrace it!

Meanwhile, I got my first real taste of the Crozier Adelie Penguin colony. To reach the colony, it’s a 45-minute march down the sloping face of a glacier from our hut. This requires crampons (pointed metal spikes on the bottom of your boot) to grip the sheet of solid ice underfoot.

At the lower end of the austere glacier, over a ridge crest, as suddenly as unexpectedly, more than three hundred thousand Adelie Penguins are spread in a broad valley by the ocean’s edge. They flap their flippers, croak, stare, squirt green projectiles of defecation, sleep, nip each other, mate, and defend their nests in a broad conglomerate of life. Mats, lines, and piles of penguins extend to the horizon. In one of the harshest environments imaginable, this must be one of the great bird spectacles on earth.

I was glad for the hike, since it got the blood flowing. Temperatures today were around 13 degrees F (-11C), actually relatively warm. Add some sunshine and quiet winds, and it was a nice afternoon. I spent the time learning my assigned study area and reading numbers of tagged birds (metal bands on the left flipper help track individual birds).

After training me on resighting bands, Michelle hiked out to work on another project, while Kirsten helped the comms guys back at the hut, leaving me essentially alone in the valley of penguins. If far removed from human civilization, I was in a metropolis, but a giant among its 3-foot-tall inhabitants. The penguins have no fear of humans, just curiosity. One deliberately waddled up and tugged on my pant leg, as if to ask a question. I can only wonder what it was wondering.

Penguins Cover All Dark Areas in This Photo

The Valley Of Penguins

Penguins On Their Nests

Penguins On Their Nests

Penguin Carefully Incubating An Egg

Adelie Penguin Carefully Incubating An Egg

Posted: November 18th, 2008
at 1:01am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 5 comments


Home On The Ice

November 15, 2008

This morning, I stripped the linens off my bed, stuffed all my belongings in two orange canvas bags, and headed to the helicopter pad at McMurdo Station with Michelle and Kirsten: the penguin crew. The flight to Cape Crozier, our summer field camp, was scheduled for 3:25pm.

We were lucky – good weather! Boxes of food and bags of gear went into the aircraft, leaving just room enough for the three of us to squeeze in past thick cargo nets in the back. It was my first trip in a helicopter, and lived up to expectations. Actually, the flight was smoother than I thought it might be. Maybe that was because the infamous Antarctic winds were calm today.

On arrival at Cape Crozier, we jumped out onto frozen lava rocks, and, with rotors spinning, briskly unloaded the helicopter with a human chain. A quick radio call back to McMurdo Station confirmed that Crozier had established ground communication, and, as the pilot revved for liftoff, we lay flat, face down across our pile of unloaded gear to make sure none of it blew away across the snow.

Three of us will live here, at Cape Crozier, until the end of January. We have a small, heated, wooden hut, with a makeshift kitchen but no shower. It took us an hour and a half to dig platforms in the snow and set up three Scott tents within a hundred yards of the hut, which will serve as sleeping quarters. More on living arrangements later – it’s time for a good night’s sleep!

Noah At McMurdo Station

Noah At McMurdo Station

Noah, Michelle, and Kirsten at McMurdo Station

Noah, Michelle, and Kirsten at McMurdo Station

Loading Helicopter

Loading Helicopter

Noah, Michelle, and Kirsten in the Air

Noah, Michelle, and Kirsten in the Air

Helicopter Shadow On Antarctica

Helicopter Shadow On Antarctica

Looking Down On Glacier Crevasses

Looking Down On Glacier Crevasses

Arrival At Cape Crozier

Arrival At Cape Crozier

Small People on a Vast Landscape

Small People on a Vast Landscape

Posted: November 18th, 2008
at 12:22am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


Scott Base

November 13, 2008

For the next couple days, I will be helping our team pack and sort out gear in McMurdo Station, ready to load on helicopters for the trip to our penguin camp at Cape Crozier. If all goes well, and the weather is good, we should fly on Saturday.

McMurdo Station, a “city” of 1,200 people during the summer months, is the main American base of operations in Antarctica. Though no nation owns any part of this continent, a handful of countries maintain significant stations here. The Italian base, for instance, is about 100 miles down the coast. The Russian station is up in the mountains. And the New Zealand version, called Scott Base, is less than a mile from McMurdo.

Since we have a Kiwi (New Zealander) working at one of our field sites this season, I got the chance to visit Scott Base this afternoon to help move some of his equipment over to the helo pad at McMurdo. Katie and I drove over the ridge and down to the cluster of identically-painted green buildings that the Kiwis call home. Their station is an order of magnitude smaller than McMurdo; it holds fewer than 100 people. However, Scott Base is self-sustaining, and Americans aren’t allowed to visit except by invitation or during “American Night” at the bar on Thursday evenings.

I was there just briefly, to pick up a truckload of food and supplies, but the place seemed nice. I hear the Kiwis have civilized, sit-down dinners (far from the clamorous cafeteria of McMurdo Station), use enclosed hallways to move between buildings, and have full-time personal toe-clipping assistants. But that may just be the infamous McMurdo rumor mill. Who knows? No grass grows on the other side of the ridge, but the buildings are greener, anyway.

On the way back from Scott Base, a helicopter zipped overhead dangling a sling loaded with tents and waste buckets. Later, over dinner, a helicopter tech confirmed that those were our tents and buckets headed for Cape Crozier, but that the helicopter had turned around because winds were too strong. It usually takes 50mph winds to dissuade a flight. Four helicopters are used at McMurdo Station, but one is in the shop right now with a broken O-ring, bringing the fleet down to three, and our Saturday departure might get pushed back. It pays to be flexible in Antarctica!

Helicopter In The Shop

Helicopter In The Shop

Posted: November 13th, 2008
at 9:00pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


Snow Survival School

November 12, 2008

I survived!

I spent the last two days in an outdoor Snowcraft I class (also called Snow School or, around here, Happy Camper), which is a rite of passage for all US Antarctic Program participants en route to field camps. 20 of us learned essential survival skills, including how to set up a camp stove, use HF and VHF radios to communicate, put on a helicopter seat belt, put up Scott and Mountain tents, make a dead man’s anchor to secure a tent, and – most important – how to make a shelter in the snow with just a shovel and saw.

The class was structured as if our helicopter had crashed into the Ross Ice Shelf and we had to set up an emergency overnight camp. Thus, we were turned loose in a barren snow plain (with nowhere to warm up) with a few tents, freeze-dried food and camp stoves, shovels, snow saws, and extreme cold weather clothing. Once the instructors had showed us a few things, they left us alone and went to sleep in a warm hut about a quarter mile away. Meanwhile, we put up the tents, made snow bricks to construct wind barrier walls, cooked the food, and tried to stay warm. Since the temperature was about 3 degrees F (-15C), the last part was a constant battle. A few students have gone home with frostbite this season.

I kept a water bottle inside my jacket, and it still froze solid within a couple hours. My camera batteries, fully charged, were dead in the morning. Condensation from my breath fogged my sunglasses then froze, forming a layer of ice. You have to be extra careful of stove fuel, since if it spills on exposed skin, the quick evaporation will freeze fingers instantly (known as “contact frostbite”).

When the instructor demonstrated an optional technique for digging your own snow shelter, I was hooked. Who ever gets the chance to spend the night in a trench in an Antarctic glacier, with just your sleeping bag to protect you?

Only four of us (out of 20) made the attempt. It took me about three hours with a saw and a shovel to excavate a coffin-shaped hole down into the compacted snow surface, about four feet deep (enough to sit straight up inside), three feet wide, and 10 feet long. Then, I widened the bottom of the trench so I could lay flat and roll side to side a bit. Finally, I carved large bricks of snow from a designated quarry and laid them flat across the top, turning my “grave” into more of an egyptian tomb. I could barely crawl down the entrance at one end to arrange my pad, sleeping bag, and extra clothing down inside. With temperatures almost 30 degrees below freezing, I wormed into my snow cave, wriggled and contorted into my sleeping bag, ate a chocolate bar, and got an excellent night’s sleep.

Snow Camp

Snow Camp

Cutting Blocks of Packed Snow

Cutting Blocks of Packed Snow

Snowmobiles To Drop Us Off

Snowmobiles To Drop Us Off

Nick Explaining a Whisperlite Camp Stove

Nick Explaining a Whisperlite Camp Stove

Happy Campers

Happy Campers

Mount Erebus View From Camp

Mount Erebus View From Camp

Instructor Demonstrating A Trench Shelter

Instructor Demonstrating A Trench Shelter

I Dug And Slept In This Snow Shelter In -15C

I Dug And Slept In This Snow Shelter In -15 Degrees C!

Noah In Camp

Noah In Camp

Posted: November 12th, 2008
at 1:52am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 2 comments


Gearing Up

November 10, 2008

I spent the day boxing penguin bands and procuring and sorting gear in the lab at McMurdo. We will put a couple thousand little numbered metal tags on penguins this season, and just keeping track of which band numbers go where can hurt your brain!

Our crew took a helicopter from McMurdo Station to the penguin colony at Cape Royds today to search for banded birds and write down which ones have returned this year to nest. I couldn’t go on the heli trip because I haven’t completed the “Snow Craft I” two-day outdoor survival training yet. Ah, well, next time…

This morning, I soaked in an 8am environmental training, 9am waste management training, and 10am light vehicle training walkthrough. Antarctica has a very particular way of life, and small things like where to put your garbage get magnified. For instance, the contents of our outhouse (basically a bucket sitting on the snow) will get shipped all the way back to Washington state for disposal after the season is over.

Tomorrow morning, I start the two-day snow craft class, also called Snow School or, with a smile, Happy Campers. I’ll learn how to survive an overnight stay on the ice without a tent. From the rumors I’ve heard, you either build an igloo, dig a cave, or bury yourself in a snow coffin. And it’s really, really cold to sleep like that (like, students have woken up with frostbite). Better than freezing to death, though.

I’ll be out in the elements for the next two days. Hope the sunny weather holds!

USAP Logo On The Side Of A Truck

USAP Logo On The Side Of A Truck

Posted: November 10th, 2008
at 2:32am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


McMurdo Station

November 9, 2008

I spent today at McMurdo Station, getting gear ready for departure to Cape Crozier in a few days.

In the morning, Katie, Michelle, Kirsten and I hiked up Obs Hill, overlooking “town”. A wooden cross on top of the hill was erected in 1913 in memory of Captain Scott’s failed South Pole expedition the previous year; it marks the spot where his men looked and hoped for his return. The cross is a little weathered but still stands strong, almost 100 years later.

The hilltop also affords an excellent view of McMurdo Station, Mount Erebus, and the frozen-over Ross Sea backed by white mountain peaks of mainland Antarctica.

From a distance, McMurdo looks like a western mining town, with heavy equipment and utilitarian buildings strewn between frozen, muddy streets. Walk inside any building, though, hang your big red jacket in the coat room, and the station morphs into a campus-like, cozy place. Carpeted floors, cushiony chairs, and art hung on the walls make you forget the bleak outdoors.

I spent the afternoon completing a light vehicle training course, organizing and weighing field gear to be packed for the helicopter, sitting in on a project meeting to confirm our field season objectives, checking off food on a 15-page grocery list to supply us for three months, and moving to a new dorm room.

McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station

Cross In Memory Of Captain Scott

Cross In Memory Of Captain Scott

Posted: November 9th, 2008
at 1:19am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


Sea Ice Safety

November 8, 2008

For my first full day in Antarctica, I was enrolled in a “Sea Ice Safety” training. Nine of us took a Hagglund (tracked vehicle) about 20 miles out on the frozen surface on McMurdo Sound and drilled holes in the ice to measure depth, looked at cracks in the ice, and evaluated the safety of ice travel. Along the way, we did some sightseeing.

The sea ice was about six feet thick, more than enough to land a jet (much less walk around). It tasted salty. A couple of old icebergs, broken off nearby glaciers, were frozen in place on the ocean’s surface, looming above the flat icy plain. Cracks form around obstructions like icebergs and islands, so it’s best to be careful poking around them. A few years ago, some Australians sunk their vehicle when it broke through. The water beneath is a chilly 28 degrees F.

Some seals basked by openwater cracks, and a couple South Polar Skuas flew by. Then, I spotted a speck in the distance, which grew closer and closer as we drilled a hole. Soon, it was identifiable as an Adelie Penguin – my first one! The penguin, miles from any open water, came toward us at a waddling run, evidently curious. As it approached, we stopped work. The penguin stopped about 10 feet away, stared at us for a while, then lay on its belly and took a short snooze. Soon, though, it was moving on, wandering away and lost among a field of pressure ridges.

Nearby, a crew from the BBC were busy diving underneath the sea ice to film for the TV show, Planet Earth. Their little dive huts looked uncomfortable.

In the evening, a showing of movies from the Banff Film Festival commenced after dinner at McMurdo Station. The short adventure films showcasing mountaineering, biking, skiing, speedflying, and rock climbing were popular among this crowd. Afterward, at 11pm, the sun shone outside as bright as ever.

A front is predicted to come in later this week. Our helicopter flight to Cape Crozier is scheduled for Saturday (a week from now), but weather might keep us in McMurdo a little longer than that.

Noah Next To An Icebound Iceberg

Noah Next To An Icebound Iceberg

Gretel The Hagglund Vehicle

Gretel The Hagglund Vehicle

Hagglund Tracks and Mount Erebus

Hagglund Tracks and Mount Erebus

Sea Ice Safety Class

Sea Ice Safety Class

Pressure Ridges and Mount Erebus

Pressure Ridges and Mount Erebus

Ice Drill And A Curious Adelie Penguin

Ice Drill And A Curious Adelie Penguin

Entrance To A Glacial Ice Cave

Entrance To A Glacial Ice Cave

Inside An Ice Cave

Inside An Ice Cave

Noah In An Ice Cave

Noah In An Ice Cave

Posted: November 8th, 2008
at 3:58am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 1 comment


Antarctica Arrival

November 7, 2008

I am now writing from the frozen continent…

This morning, we got up at 4am, were shuttled to the airport in Christchurch, New Zealand, and loaded onto a military cargo jet. The flight was about 5 hours long. The plane landed directly on the frozen sea ice of McMurdo Sound, and we disembarked to a beautiful, sunny day, with little wind, and temperatures around negative five degrees F. A tracked vehicle took us a couple miles across the ice to McMurdo Station, and, after a debriefing lecture, I checked into my dorm room here.

An active, smoking volcano named Mount Erebus stands next to the station. No matter what the time is, it feels like noon (the sun won’t set for three months). I haven’t seen a penguin yet, but I’m getting closer. Tomorrow, I will have a “sea ice safety” training class all day.

Noah's First Steps In Antarctica

Noah's First Steps In Antarctica

Cargo Plane On The Sea Ice Runway

Cargo Plane On The Sea Ice Runway

Noah In The Airport, New Zealand

Noah In The Airport, New Zealand

Inside The Cargo Plane

Inside The Cargo Plane

Noah In The Cargo Plane

Noah In The Cargo Plane

Kirsten And Katie On The Plane

Kirsten And Katie On The Plane

US Reserve Pilot

US Reserve Pilot

Flying Over Antarctica

Flying Over Antarctica

Posted: November 7th, 2008
at 2:16am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 2 comments


Extreme Cold Weather Gear Issue

November 6, 2008

I leave for Antarctica early tomorrow morning!

Full day in Christchurch, New Zealand. A shuttle picked us up this afternoon from the Windsor B&B and delivered us to a warehouse full of Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing. I now possess 22 pounds of new (used) US Antarctic Program clothing, including long underwear, shirts, pants, boots, socks, gloves, mittens, liners, goggles, hats, a windbreaker, and an enormous red down jacket that would keep Will Smith warm in Siberia.

After trying on clothes to get the right fit, we sorted luggage. I have five separate bags: two checked suitcases (under the 75lb total weight limit), one carry-on bag, one to leave in New Zealand, and a “boomerang bag” with a change of clothes in case the airplane turns around mid-flight due to inclement weather. Our laptops were screened (Skype is not allowed and anti-virus software must be installed) and everyone got flu shots. I have a particular phobia of needles and must lie down flat to avoid fainting, so was glad when that part was over.

So, tomorrow morning I will see the frozen continent for the first time. If the weather doesn’t turn us back en route. Can’t wait!

Extreme Cold Weather Gear Warehouse

Extreme Cold Weather Gear Warehouse

Michelle, David, Katie, Me, and Kirsten in Christchurch, NZ

Michelle, David, Katie, Me, and Kirsten in Christchurch, NZ

Posted: November 6th, 2008
at 2:16am by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


New Zealand

November 5, 2008

I’m in New Zealand, one stop away from Antarctica! My flight from Oregon to San Francisco was delayed, my flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles was delayed, the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was 12 hours long, and the flight from Auckland to Christchurch went smoothly. After 24 hours en route, I’m settled in my hotel in New Zealand.

I met Katie Dugger and Kirsten Lindquist in LA, just in time to catch our trans-Pacific flight. I will be working with Kirsten at the Cape Crozier antarctic camp for the next three months, while Katie will be stationed at a different penguin colony and will only stay six weeks.

Raytheon Polar Services set me up with my own room at the Windsor B&B in Christchurch (NZ) for the next two days. My next-door room neighbors, Leath and Gus, are headed to the South Pole Station (both general laborers), and we’re on the same flight to McMurdo Station on November 7.

A guy came up to me at the Christchurch airport, and, reading my Oregon State Tennis T-shirt, asked if I played there, then explained that he played for the University of Washington team a few years ago. Small world, I guess.

While others crashed at the hotel, I headed out to wander around Christchurch. It’s the height of spring here, flowers blooming everywhere, birds singing, trees full of green leaves, mostly sunny, not too hot. Very much like spring in Oregon, except six months different.

The Windsor B&B

The Windsor B&B

Downtown Christchurch, NZ

Downtown Christchurch, NZ

Trolley Car

Trolley Car

Church in Christchurch

Cathedral in Cathedral Square

Center of Cathedral Square

Center of Cathedral Square

Christchurch Art Gallery

Christchurch Art Gallery

New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis, talk like Australians, drive on the wrong side of the road, walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk, and are unbelievably friendly. There are a lot of blonde people here. What else can I say?

Of course, never having visited New Zealand, I set out to find some local birds. Christchurch has a large park only a couple blocks from the Windsor B&B that offers excellent birding. In about an hour there, I saw more kinds of birds than I will see in three months in Antarctica. A pair of Paradise Shelducks marked the 1,600th bird species I have seen in my life.

Paradise Shelduck (Male)

Paradise Shelduck (Male)

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

Silvereye

Silvereye

New Zealand Pigeon

New Zealand Pigeon

Blackbird

Blackbird

Posted: November 4th, 2008
at 9:33pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 2 comments


Packed And Ready To Fly!

November 2, 2008

After sitting on the suitcase, zipping it, weighing it, reopening it, taking out ten more pounds, deciding to check two bags instead of one, shifting the ziploc of chocolate to carry-on, and discarding all but one pair of jeans (with no laundry for three months), I’m about ready to fly to New Zealand tomorrow, and on to Antarctica on Thursday!

I’m traveling light. Key items include travel scrabble and cribbage sets, two packs of cards, an assortment of DVDs, literature on real estate investment and french verb conjugation, a mysterious box from my girlfriend, and something from my parents labeled “do not open until Christmas”. Right, and three pairs of long underwear, four pairs of sunglasses and goggles, layers of synthetic/wool/cotton/down innerwear/outerwear, and my trusty iPod. And a pack of biofriendly baby wipes. What else could a man need?

This Has Gotta Fit In My Suitcase

This Has Gotta Fit In My Suitcase

Posted: November 2nd, 2008
at 10:01pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: No comments


2 Days Until Departure

November 1, 2008

I haven’t packed anything yet. I’m actually un-packing from a 5-day dash to visit my girlfriend in Chicago this week (143 babe!). I flew from Hawaii to Oregon on Friday, Oregon to Chicago on Saturday, and Chicago back to Oregon on Thursday; I leave for New Zealand on Monday, then to McMurdo Station on Nov 7. By the time I reach the field camp at Cape Crozier, I will have taken 15 separate flights in less than 2 weeks. A three-month isolation from all forms of transportation will be nice!

All my antarctic gear is in boxes and heaps around my parent’s house here in Oregon, ready to be tucked, crammed, and shoved into suitcases for the trip. Tomorrow is packing time!

Adelie Penguin Print by Noah Strycker

Adelie Penguin Print by Noah Strycker

Posted: November 1st, 2008
at 9:03pm by birdboy


Categories: Antarctic Life

Comments: 2 comments


    


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