Yesterday I did Sea Ice Training. The purpose of this class is to learn how to profile cracks in the sea ice to determine if it’s safe to cross with the vehicle you are in. We went out to the Mt. Erebus glacier tongue. This is where the glacier pushes out into the Ross Sea ice several miles. It’s a very active crack area because the glacier is constantly pushing against the sea ice. One of the cracks we profiled was about 10 feet wide and had cracked and froze multiple times.
To profile a crack we carefully approach and examine the crack and shovel off snow to find the overall width of the crack. You can clearly see the different layers that form each time it breaks and the incoming water freezes. We then drill holes all the way across to determine how thick each layer is. The profile is used to determine whether it’s safe to cross. The thickness of the ice inside the crack and overall width are important factors to know whether you can cross it with a certain type of vehicle. Each vehicle has a different limit on thickness and crack width. It was actually really fun!
Me with Gretel, our trusty Hagglund.
The ice drill we use to profile cracks in the sea ice.
An active crack in the Ross Sea Ice that we profiled. Mt. Erebus is in the background and you can see some faint steam venting at the top.
Looking down the length of the crack in the Ross Sea Ice. The crack was about 10ft wide.
The crack profile and thickness of each layer across the crack. This crack had broken about 5 times. The most recent formed a pressure ridge at the center.
Weddell seals basking in the sun on the Ross Sea Ice.
Weddell seal basking in front of Mt. Erebus. Erebus is an active volcano with a lava lake in it’s crater.
The other night I hiked up Observation Hill (Ob Hill) during sunset. I went with my friend Dave Weimer, and Tyler Gilbertson. The sunsets at this time of year last for several hours and are amazing to see! Pretty soon the sun won’t be setting at all, and it will be daylight 24 hours a day. We are gaining about 15 minutes of daylight each day. The view down at McMurdo Station and the Trans Antarctic mountains across the Ross Sea Ice were very beautiful. It was a calm night which made the hike really nice.
Cross for RF Scott on top of Observation Hill at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Looking down at McMurdo Station at dusk.
Cross for R. F. Scott and the men that died on their attempt to be the first to get to the South Pole.
Me on top of Ob Hill. Mt Erebus is in the background.
My friend Tyler on top of Ob Hill at McMurdo Station Antarctica
Last night I had the opportunity to go inside Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut which was built during his 1902 Discovery Expedition to Antarctica. The interior has many supplies including seal blubber that his men cut up to eat, and burn for fuel to generate heat. You could still smell it in the air and see the piles of blubber oozing on the ground. The men who were stranded here over an Antarctic winter had to cut up the sails of the ship to make clothing, and also a tent like structure inside the hut to keep heat around the fire where they burned the blubber! The men departed quickly and basically left the hut as you see it.
Supplies in Scott’s Discovery Hut
Supplies and cut up sails in Scott’s Discovery Hut
Today I went to the Pressure Ridges near Scott Base, Antarctica. These are created by the pressure of the Ross Ice Shelf pressing against the annual sea ice of the Ross Sea. The ice shelf is 400+ feet thick, while the annual sea ice is around 9+ feet thick currently. Where they meet, the pressure pushes the sea ice into beautiful ice formations. Because these are cracks in the ice, you have to be very careful as you can definitely fall into an ice crack and that could be very, very bad. The Weddell seals sometimes come up through the cracks to lounge on the ice.
My flight to Antarctica was probably the most incredible experience I will ever have in a plane! I had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit for about half an hour as we first flew over the continent of Antarctica! This time of year the sun is positioned so that it creates very dramatic and beautiful shadows of the mountains. As we approach Antarctica’s summer months the sun is always straight up which makes no long shadows. All you could see were mountains, glaciers flowing into one another, and giant crevasses. Upon landing in McMurdo Station on the Pegasus Ice Runway, we soon experienced “Condition 2” weather. The temp was around -50 degrees with high winds, making the windchill well below -100F. In these temps your eyelids almost freeze shut when you blink and frostbite can occur in just a couple minutes!
On our last day in New Zealand before departing to Antarctica we decided to go to Arthur’s Pass. The terrain in NZ changes so dramatically from region to region. We went from a dry and rocky treeless mountain terrain, to lush and wet alpine that was almost like a rainforest! Along the way we stopped at Castle Hills area where some of the “Lord of the Rings” scenes were filmed. Another awesome day. Now it’s time for the bitter cold of Antarctica!
Well, I am delayed here another day. We can’t fly down to Antarctica due to the weather conditions on the ice. Since I have more time here I will post a few pics of Christchurch, New Zealand that I took yesterday. These are of the city center, which was severely damaged from the earthquake. Since many buildings are unsafe, they have relocated businesses into some creatively constructed metal shipping containers.
Today I went to the Banks Peninsula with Rich, Tyler, and Dave, who are also in the Antarctic Program. It was truly amazing! We saw fjords, a black sand volcanic beach with beautiful Paua shells, and went to Akaroa. Totally incredible day! We fly to the ice early tomorrow morning.
I had some vegemite on my toast this morning! I never knew exactly what it was since it’s not very common in the US. It’s actually a yeast extract. It has a burnt yeast taste to it, and the secret is to use it very sparingly! It smells nasty, but it turns out I ate the whole piece of toast… and will likely eat it again. The kitchen staff at the hotel were giggling while I was trying it. LOL