Monday, October 25, 2010

Tour of Crary Science Lab

Hello again! Saturday night was the last sunset until late February. It's very weird to step outside late at night and walk into the fully blazing sunlight. I've also noticed how much brighter it is here, even when it's cloudy, because the light gets reflected by the white snow and ice everywhere. Apparently, the UV exposure down here is almost double that of the United States. I've never been one to wear sunglasses much until now. I'm glad I have them. :)

This past week, I took a tour with some friends of the Crary Science Lab, the headquarters on station for scientific research. Science is the primary reason that McMurdo Station exists and all of the scientists on station have labs in this building. There are many scientists who work out in field camps around the continent as well.

At the entrance to the lab are a number of items on display. The first picture shows the skull of a seal. The second one shows stuffed adult and baby penguins. (Note: these penguins were found dead in good condition, not killed for display.) ;) The third photo is two more stuffed penguins. Larry apparently found some ghosts in the lab as well, and seems a bit startled. :)

One of the major scientific attractions in Antarctica is Mt. Erebus, the world's southernmost active volcano and one of only a handful of volcanos in the world with a lava lake at the bottom. Because Mt. Erebus opens directly to the lava, it never builds pressure and explodes. Instead, it regularly "hiccups", sending chunks of lava into the air on a nearly daily basis. During the tour, I got to handle a few lava rocks spewed from Mt. Erebus. The rocks are full of holes and very light. Mt. Erebus produces a special kind of crystal, known as Erebus crystals, which are often trapped in the lava rocks. The smooth-edged trapezoidal portion sticking out of the top of the second rock is one of these crystals.

Sea creatures are another popular topic of study, and the lab contains its own aquarium. Below are photos of the research tanks with sea urchins growing in them. The tanks are filled with sea water that is pumped in and then pumped back out to keep them from getting stagnant. The temperature of the sea water, both in the ocean and in the aquarium, is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. (Sea water doesn't freeze until 28 degrees Fahrenheit.)

In addition to the research tanks is a touch tank, full of sea creatures that can be handled by people who are visiting the lab. Under each photo is a description of what you see.

This is an underwater cockroach creature that lives in the Antarctic waters.
I'm holding an orange underwater spider, which doesn't look like any spider I've seen before.
A group of creatures including a scallop (bottom right), a starfish (left), and some others I can't identify.
Another photo of the orange sea spider
The orange sea-spider and friends, again, many of which I can't identify.
This scientist is explaining to us how they do underwater photography in the Antarctic seas. The second photo shows the camera that does the photographing and behind it is the white tube encasing that protects it from the water. In the first photo, Larry is holding a piece of foam which is used to prevent the water pressure from crushing the camera. That foam will withstand water pressure down to one thousand feet deep.

On the way out of the lab, I saw this piece of petrified tree stump that was found near the southern end of the Queen Alexandria Mountains, not too far from the South Pole. There was a time when Antarctica was very near the Equator and harbored tropical plant life. As a result, there are a wide range of fossils preserved under the ice, but because the ice sheet covering the continent is so thick, most of them are inaccessible. I have so much fun sometimes imagining what might have lived on this land at one time in the distant past! :-D

Monday, October 18, 2010

Robert Scott's "Discovery Hut"

Greetings! Life in Antarctica continues to warm up, if ever so slowly. McMurdo Station is getting crowded. We now have nearly 900 people here and there are still another 350 yet to arrive. Last week, I went on a short hike to the Discovery Hut, which Robert Scott built during his "Discovery" expedition to Antarctica in 1902 ( Ten years later as part of his "Terra Nova" expedition, Scott died on his return journey from the South Pole and, once found, the bodies of him and his companions were kept at the hut until they could be shipped back to England. The cross on top of Obeservation Hill is dedicated to Scott and his men.

Discovery Hut with a partial view of McMurdo Station in the background
Plaque outside Discovery Hut

Historical marker inside the entryway of Discovery Hut
The photos below show that most of the goods in the hut have been preserved by the extreme cold, including oatmeal, dog biscuits, cocoa, and some other food and fuel stuff.

There was even a frozen bowl of cooked seal meat that had not been eaten yet. Mmm... (Have you ever eaten seal meat, Dad?)

Here's the room in the back where Scott and his men lit their fires to keep warm. You can see the ice crystals that have formed on the wooden walls and ceilings (bottom picture and upper right corner of top picture).

Discovery Hut is located on the tip of a peninsula northwest of station, providing a fantastic view of the sea ice and the hills of Ross Island.

Discovery Hut with McMurdo Station in the background center and Observation Hill in the background right

The hills of Ross Island

The frozen beaches of Ross Island; it even looks a bit like frozen waves are hitting the frozen sand.

A view of the sea ice to the north; come January, this will all be water.

This cross is dedicated to George Vince, one of Scott's men that died during the Discovery Expedition.

Close-up of the Vince cross

Behind me is Mt. Discovery and the expanse of sea ice between Ross Island and the Antarctic mainland.

The sun sets slowly over the sea ice with the Transantarctic Mountains in the background.
 A couple of other exciting things that happened last week include my seeing the first non-human living creature since I arrived here. The seal in the first photo was spotted laying in the sun beside a diving hole (surrounded by black flags) in the sea ice. The second photo shows one of the many weather balloons sent up into the atmostphere by the meteorological scientists here.

Only seven more days of sunsets! See you next week! :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Views from the Ice


So, after eight weeks here, I've finally found a routine for getting things done. Working a 54-hour work week has left me much less time and energy than I anticipated to do other stuff, so I've decided the best way to be consistent with the blog is to post once a week on Sunday (or Monday if I have a big event on Sunday), so keep an eye out each week for a new post! Even though my posts have been sparse of late, I've continued to take photos and I've got some to put online tonight. :)

During the month of September, we had several evenings with beautiful nacreous clouds scattered across the sky. One evening in particular was spectacular!

We've also had deeply colorful sunsets for the last few weeks. These will be disappearing soon. In two weeks, the sun will be above the horizon 24-7. I did see the sunset last night at 12:30am and it was yellow and orange behind the mountains. Here are a couple of sunset photos. The "smoke" is actually steam from the exhaust vents of the buildings.

We had a snowfall recently which doesn't happen very often. Since Antarctica is a desert, there's very little precipitation, and from what I understand, it's often too cold to snow. I've been told it has to be as warm as minus 20 for snow to form, but if anyone can correct me on that, I'd love to know. This particular snowy day was also not windy at all, which is unusual. It reminded me of Christmas. :)

Here are some pictures of the area during a sunny day. Observation Hill is right behind my dorm, and when it warms up, I'll hike to the top of it and get some photos from high up, including of Mt. Erebus! The mountains in the lower two pictures are part of the Transantarctic Range across the sea ice. The buildings you see on the sea ice are part of the ice runway and the road to it. That runway is built in September of each year and taken down in December. There's another runway several miles away on the permanent ice shelf south of the island, but it's far enough away that it's cheaper for the US Antarctic Program to build the ice runway for the spring and early summer months than to use the permanent runway year-round.

Have a great week and I'll see you next Sunday! :)