Monday, January 31, 2011

Vacation in Christchurch

After a week of vacation in Christchurch, New Zealand, I feel more rested than I've felt in a long time. All contractors who have worked for a (southern) summer and who have a contract for the following (southern) winter can take up to one week R&R off the Ice. Larry and I decided to just spend some lazy time in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Our departure flight left Antarctica at 4:20am on Saturday, January 22. Way too early, but at least the flight didn't have any trouble landing on the ice runway.

Waiting for the plane to unload

Everyone was more than ready to leave. Most of the passnegers were scientists who had finished their research but there were also several leaving for some R&R.

The first half of the week, Larry and I spent in Sumner, a beach suburb east of Christchurch. We stayed in a hostel a couple of blocks from the beach and didn't do much other than eat, sleep, walk on the beach, and shop.

Here I am cleaning the room at the hostel. It was a good sized room for a great price.

The beach in Sumner.

The lighthouse on the beach in Sumner.

Larry found a small cave under the lighthouse so that he could avoid direct sunlight. After five months in Antarctica, both of us had pale skin and had to be careful of getting sunburned.

Larry stands next to the lighthouse.

It felt so good to stand in warm sunlight and hear roaring water and cawing seagulls.

The second half of the week, we stayed in Christchurch with a Kiwi couple named Ogi and Helen. Ogi originally comes from Serbia but has lived in New Zealand for the last fifteen years or so. We met them through a website called Couch Surfing which allows travelers to find free places to stay on their journeys.

Even though I neglected to get a photo of Ogi and Helen, I did take one of their cat Bilbo as he was resting under the bushes in front of the house.

On Thursday, we took the city bus to New Brighton, another suburb east of Christchurch, to take a walk on the beach. It was sunny when we got there, but clouds rolled in as the afternoon progressed. There was a sand-sculpture competition earlier that day, so we were able to see several interesting and fun creations.

The New Brighton beach and pier

A view of the ocean with the coastline in the distance

TV and lounge chair sculpture.

A volcano sculpture.

A sleeping man that looks like an Easter Island statue.

Is this what Medusa would have looked like if she had been an underwater goddess??
On Friday, Larry and I went to a mall to see a movie and have coffee with real milk instead of powdered milk. On the way, we also found a cupcake shop. Mmmmmm...  :-)

On our last day in Christchurch, we took a walk through the Botanical Gardens to see the flowers in bloom. They were beautiful and so colorful!

On our last night, we had dinner with Sarah Carlin, who worked with us in Antarctica. Sarah had finished her contract that week and was passing through Christchurch on her way to Australia where she would be spending a few days.

From the cockpit of the C-17, a view of the Transantarctic Mountains. Almost home...

Arriving back at McMurdo felt very much like coming home. I guess five months at a place (with another eight to go) makes it feel like home. It's strange how this frozen, barren, inhospitable continent can become so familiar and comforting.

Here are two links, one video and one audio, that explain some of the science that takes place on the continent. The video link was sent to me by my friend Alan and the audio link is from NPR's Science Friday program at the end of 2010.

Some of you have asked me how trucks, vans, and other vehicles can operate in such a cold climate. Every vehicle has been equipped with an electric heater that keeps the engine from freezing, and every parking spot has an live electrical outlet next to it. When a vehicle is parked, the engine heater is plugged in and this allows the engine to start the next time it is needed. When a vehicle is started, it is supposed to warm up for at least five minutes (sometimes fifteen, depending on the vehicle) before it's driven. When a vehicle is parked temporarily in an area not near an outlet, it is left idling so that it doesn't freeze. Even with these precautions, these cars still take a beating in this climate.

More adventures to come soon! There is a flock of Emperor penguins that has gathered near the road between McMurdo and the runway. Tomorrow night, I'll be able to visit these penguins and take photos!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hut Point Ridge Trail

Great news!! I got a winter job!! Staring in February, I'll be working in the Supply Department, managing the food warehouses. As far as I know at this point, I'll be in charge of keeping track of the inventory in the warehouses (one frozen and one not) and of delivering food from the warehouses to the kitchen. More details will follow soon. A side note: apparently the frozen warehouse is haunted (or so some say). Back in 1979, New Zealand Air Flight 901 crashed into the side of Mt. Erebus, killing everyone on board. Workers at McMurdo were called in to help with the recovery effort. The bodies that were found were kept in the frozen food warehouse (which didn't have food at the time) until they could be shipped off continent. According to some, the spirits of those people still haunt that warehouse. I'll let you know if anything spooky or suspicious occurs. ;)

A quick note for anyone sending mail down here. The last mail will be delivered in mid-February. If you plan to send a card or package, please do so as soon as possible. Once the summer research season ends on February 25, no more flights will come down here until mid-August. I don't know if mail will be stored in Christchurch until then or returned to sender.

Yesterday, the sun finally came out again after about 2 and 1/2 weeks of clouds and snow, so I took advantage of the chance to go on another hike. This time, I walked the Hut Point Ridge with my friend Chris. This trail starts at the Discovery Hut and winds its way up the nearby hills and around the station. It climbs pretty high, so I got great views of McMurdo and the surrounding area. Also yesterday, the icebreaker ship, the Oden, arrived and docked in station. Right behind it was the research vessel, the Palmer, which spent the night on the sea and docked this afternoon when the Oden left.

The official McMurdo sign in front of the ice pier.

A group of seals lying out on the melting sea ice.

A single penguin wanders around aimlessly.

Now he's sliding around on his belly.

The sea ice is breaking up quite a bit.

Sunlight reflected in the water.

Beautiful ice crystals.
A view of the melting shoreline near Hut Point.

In the distance, the icebreaker Oden makes its way through the sea ice.

A close-up of the icebreaker Oden.
A memorial to navy seamen Richard Williams who died in 1956 while helping to establish McMurdo Station. His tractor broke through the ice and sank to the bottom of the sea; his body was never recovered.

A plaque dedicated to seamen Williams.

A view of McMurdo Station from the north with Ob Hill in the background.

Hut Point from up high. On the left is the old, defunct ice pier and Discovery Hut.

A melt pool between the hills on Ross Island. I saw several of these during the hike, and the water was green, purple, and brown. Apparently algae or something of the sort lives in these pools during the summer months.

My friend Chris, leading the way.

A view of the melting sea ice from up high. On the left is the Oden and the speck in the distance is the Palmer.

Looking to the north, the sunlight reflects off the ocean water in the distance.

Behind me lie Mt. Erebus and Castle Rock (the small brown formation on the right). It was very windy, as the flags indicate.

Another view of Mt. Erebus and Castle Rock as well as the melting snow nearby.

A view of Ob Hill.

As we finished the hike, the Oden had gotten considerably closer to the ice pier.
Since Larry and I have now signed our winter contracts and completed the physical qualification process (which included passing a grueling 700-question psychological exam), we are now eligible for a week of rest and relaxation in Christchurch, New Zealand before the winter season officially begins on February 25. We leave on Saturday and return the following Saturday. Because I'll be on vacation, there will be no blog post next week, but I'll be back the following week with more photos and adventures. :)