Antarctic wildlife

I’ve been fortunate lately in terms of wildlife…  I’ve seen some seals and penguins recently and happened to have my nice camera and telephoto lens at the time.  The seals and penguins don’t have any land predators here in Antarctica, so they don’t usually run away when you happen along.  In fact they pretty much just sit there and let you take photos as long as you want.  The National Science Foundation has guidelines that we must follow in terms of our interaction with wildlife.  Basically you can’t get too close, and if the animal reacts to you, you are too close and need to back away.  That’s when having a 250mm zoom lens and 18 megapixel camera really help.  The pictures can be enlarged and cropped to show amazing detail.

I went back to the pressure ridges near Scott Base and got some great seal shots.  They are really coming out in masses now.  The males sometimes have wounds from battling with other each other.  The pressure ridges are very beautiful on their own, but they are also a great place to see a lot of seals.  The seals congregate at the cracks in the ice because they don’t have to use their teeth to keep the ice open.  They love to just bask in the sun all day.

A male Weddell Seal with some recent battle wounds.

A male Weddell Seal with some recent battle wounds.

A Weddell Seal lazily basking in the Antarctic sun.  They remind me of sleeping dogs and almost look cute and cuddly... but probably stink of fish.

A Weddell Seal lazily basking in the Antarctic sun. They remind me of sleeping dogs and almost look cute and cuddly… but probably stink of fish.

A cute Weddell Seal at the pressure ridges near Scott Base Antarctica.

A cute Weddell Seal at the pressure ridges near Scott Base Antarctica.

 

I also saw an Emperor Penguin along the Ice Shelf road to Pegasus airfield recently.  I was out moving snowmobiles because they were going to blast a nearby cornice that was unsafe to work under.  While moving them I thought I saw a fake cutout of a penguin along the ice road.  As I continued down the road I realized it was a real penguin that was sitting motionless as it molts it’s feathers.  I had my nice camera and big lens so that I could capture the explosions, and happened to get some bonus shots of this beautiful Emperor.

An Emperor Penguin that is molting.  The photo was taken along the ice shelf road to Pegasus airfield in Antarctica.

An Emperor Penguin that is molting. The photo was taken along the ice shelf road to Pegasus airfield in Antarctica.

An Emperor Penguin near Scott Base Antarctica.  This image was taken with a big zoom lens to get more detail.  These penguins are quite large and I actually thought it was fake as it was right along the ice shelf road to Pegasus airfield.  It is molting (losing it's feathers) so they just sit motionless as they lose their feathers and grow new ones.  This process can take weeks and they just sit there because they aren't waterproof until their new coat is in.

An Emperor Penguin near Scott Base Antarctica. This image was taken with a big zoom lens to get more detail. These penguins are quite large and I actually thought it was fake as it was right along the ice shelf road to Pegasus airfield. It is molting (losing it’s feathers) so they just sit motionless as they lose their feathers and grow new ones. This process can take weeks and they just sit there because they aren’t waterproof until their new coat is in.

 

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New photos found in Scott’s Hut!!

Here is some info on the new photos found in Scott’s Hut. It’s amazing to look at as I have seen and been to these places!

The article is published by the Antarctic Heritage Trust who are performing some restoration on the hut.   There are some other great pictures of the historic huts also.  Please check it out.

http://www.nzaht.org/AHT/antarctic-photos/

Antarctica Search and Rescue

I’m beginning to think that there is some sort of weird time warp down here in Antarctica.  Time really seems to get away from you.  Originally I thought I’d have all this free time to do stuff, but it’s definitely not the case.  With only one day off a week, time blasts by.  In addition to my full time job as a snowmobile instructor and mechanic, I am also on the Joint Antarctic Search & Rescue Team.  (JASART)  It’s called a joint team because the team is made up of personnel from the US Antarctic Program, and the New Zealand Antarctic Program.

Our team can be deployed to any situation on the continent, from plane and helicopter crashes to missing persons or vehicles.   There have been two helicopter crashes recently (one Australian, and one Korean) but our team leader only got involved in one of them because the victims were flown out through our station.

We practice a lot of different scenarios because we never what situations we might be involved in.  Our training started with knot craft and then moved into rigging rope systems for raises and lowers.  We also covered pulley systems with different mechanical advantages such as 3:1, 5:1, 9:1, etc.  I’m grossly understating how much info this really means, as we have to go into such depth as to understand how much load is put on every piece of equipment used in a rescue system as slopes and angles change.  We need to ensure that our systems have a 10 to 1 safety factor.  Meaning that it can support ten times the load in every component.

On one of our recent training days we went out to Castle Rock, which is a rock formation on the peninsula.  It has some steep snow faces on this side and it was a great place to get familiar with putting our training to the test.  We practiced safe techniques of using our crampons and ice axes, and then progressed to self arresting in the event of a slip or fall.  This was particularly important as the slope we were on had a snow field at the bottom with crevasses!  Following this, we moved up the slope and setup a multi pitch lower.  This means we had two rope systems setup to lower a litter (place to put a victim) down to safety.  The litter had to transfer systems so that it was able to continue it’s path down the slope.  Each system had to be anchored securely in the ice and snow using pickets, dead men, and ice screws to support at least 10 times the anticipated load.  Each system also had a main line and belay line to ensure there were always two ropes in play to minimize falling risk to the team members and the victim.  I hope you enjoy some of the pictures.  I have a lot more SAR info and pics to follow.

Practicing a self arrest with an ice axe while sliding down a slope.  There was a crevasse at the bottom of the slope, so it was important to know how to stop a slide before going to the steeper terrain.

Practicing a self arrest with an ice axe while sliding down a slope. There was a crevasse at the bottom of the slope, so it was important to know how to stop a slide before going to the steeper terrain.

A sundog in the sky above Castle Rock, Antarctica.

A sundog in the sky above Castle Rock, Antarctica.

Calculating the load and safety factors of every component in a pulley system.  The loads change drastically as the angles of our anchors, directionals, and slopes change.

Calculating the load and safety factors of every component in a pulley system. The loads change drastically as the angles of our anchors, directionals, and slopes change.

Traversing a slope on the back side of Castle Rock  with crampons and ice axes.

Traversing a slope on the back side of Castle Rock with crampons and ice axes.

Practice with our crampons and ice axes.  The active volcano Mt. Erebus can be seen in the background.

Practice with our crampons and ice axes. The active volcano Mt. Erebus can be seen in the background.

Me in front of the cute little Hagglund.

Me in front of the cute little Hagglund.

Air transportation in Antarctica

Transportation in and around Antarctica can be challenging and very dangerous.  Ice covers nearly all of the continent and it’s average depth is over 7000 feet thick with some areas up to 15,000 feet thick!!  There are both alpine and continental glaciers with massive crevasses scattered though out Antarctica.  Many of the crevasses have snow bridges covering them so they appear to be solid snow, but in reality they are like giant traps that you can very easily fall into.  As a member of the Joint Antarctic Search and Rescue team we are doing crevasse training to learn how to self rescue ourselves, and also others who might fall into crevasses.  I will have more on that topic later.  In addition to the crevasses, there is bitter cold, very high winds, vast terrain, no infrastructure or roads, impassible mountains, etc. Because of the challenges, air transportation is often the easiest method to get people and cargo into the field.  (I hate to say easy as there have been many accidents involving planes and helicopters too.)

Flight operations in Antarctica are going on nonstop in the austral summer.  We have airfields on the ice shelf, annual sea ice, and a heliport right next to the building I work in.  A lot of the ATVs and snowmobiles I maintain get flown throughout the continent.  There are helicopters going everywhere, even to the top of the active volcano Mt. Erebus.  LC-130 Hercules planes take off from the sea ice runway and bring people, cargo, and fuel to the deep field camps and South Pole.  There are also smaller planes such as the Twin Otter, and Basler (DC3) which can land on really small snowfields.  I am hoping to fly in some of these aircraft soon as more and more field projects get underway.

A National Science Foundation Bell 212 Helicopter in Antarctica.

A National Science Foundation Bell 212 Helicopter in Antarctica.

An "A Star" helicopter flying one of my ATVs out to the Dry Valleys in Antarctica.

An “A Star” helicopter flying one of my ATVs out to the Dry Valleys in Antarctica.

Some of the LC-130 Hercules planes that are used to get larger cargo into the deep field camps and the South Pole.  They are equipped with skis so they can land on snow.

Some of the LC-130 Hercules planes that are used to get larger cargo into the deep field camps and the South Pole. They are equipped with skis so they can land on snow.

A bulldozer that fell into a crevasse in Antarctica.  Luckily it wasn't a really deep one!

A bulldozer that fell into a crevasse in Antarctica. Luckily it wasn’t a really deep one!

The annual sea ice runway at McMurdo Station Antarctica as seen from the Arrival Heights ridge.  In the foreground is the ice road to the runway.

The annual sea ice runway at McMurdo Station Antarctica as seen from the Arrival Heights ridge. In the foreground is the ice road to the runway.

 

The taste of victory!

Howdy everyone! I’m sorry I haven’t posted recently. It’s been really busy here as the scientists (beekers) are now rolling in and the station population is up to about 800 people. A lot of projects are moving forward so I have had a lot of equipment to roll out and training classes on snowmobiling. More on that later!

The standard work week down here in Antarctica is 54 hours per week, so we work hard. Plus there is a lot of time that you donate towards other things to make the community and life down here better. For example, I volunteer time in the craft room, and doing tours of the historic Huts of Robert Falcon Scott, and Earnest Shackleton. Nice, Huh? : ) But what I was trying to communicate was that because we work hard and have to support and rely upon each other, we also have a lot of fun community activities.

Earlier this season I went to Scott Base, which is the New Zealand Antarctic station just a short distance away. My friends Dave, Tyler, Rich, Cary, and myself entered the Antarctic Flip Cup competition. Needless to say, I had never played Flip Cup before, so I was a bit nervous. In the game you have 3 cups of varying size filled with an alcoholic beverage. In this case it was Hard Cider that the Kiwi’s wanted to get rid of. You start by drinking the first cup and then standing it on the edge of the table. You flip it upside down and then move on to your second cup, then the third. When you are done, your teammate then goes until your team is complete. We ended up being quite good at this game as we smashed the competition in the team games and set the speed record as well! We then competed individually and a fuelie named Jamie won.

Playing flip cup at Scott Base, Antarctica.  The players from left to right are: Cary, Rich, Me, Tyler.

Playing flip cup at Scott Base, Antarctica. The players from left to right are: Cary, Rich, Me, Tyler.

Me holding the trophy and Tyler making funny faces.

Me holding the trophy and Tyler making funny faces.

Tyler, Cary, Me, Rich, and Dave... The team champions of Antarctic Flip Cup!

Tyler, Cary, Me, Rich, and Dave… The team champions of Antarctic Flip Cup!

We also recently celebrated Halloween… which is quite the fun event down here. A lot of people participate and have some absolutely amazing costumes! During the Halloween party there was a “Group Competition”. Some friends and I went as professional wrestlers. Our friend Tad was Hulk Hogan and had been prepping for this day for quite some time. His costume was awesome!  We actually staged a “WrestleMania” on stage and I got put in the Camel Clutch by the Iron Sheik.  Hulk came to rescue me and smashed a chair over the Sheik!  The winner was decided by the crowd and you guessed it.. We Won the overall!

The wrestling crew: Nacho Libre (me), The Iron Sheik, The Manager, Hulk Hogan, Brooke Hogan, Randy Macho Man Savage, and Jimmy Superfly Snuka.

The wrestling crew: Nacho Libre (me), The Iron Sheik, The Manager, Hulk Hogan, Brooke Hogan, Randy Macho Man Savage, and Jimmy Superfly Snuka.

Me as Nacho Libre.  Too bad you can't see my cool pants and knee pads!

Me as Nacho Libre. Too bad you can’t see my cool pants and knee pads!

Tad as Hulk Hogan standing on the top of Observation Hill in Antarctica.

Tad as Hulk Hogan standing on the top of Observation Hill in Antarctica.

In addition to all this excitement, I was a member of the champion Dodgeball team… I just don’t have any pics of that yet.  I really feel fortunate to be here and be a part of this fun community.  I am also thankful for the friends that I have met down here.  They are great people!

More Antarctic vehicles and a few of my watercolor paintings.

Howdy everyone. It’s been busy down here in Antarctica. Now that we have funding to continue the science projects the scientists are ready to get into the field for their research. Below are a few more of the vehicles that are used down here. I have also attached a few paintings that I did for the McMurdo Craft Show.

A Pisten Bully that has a ground penetrating radar attached to the front.  This is used for traverses to the South Pole and other deep field camps.  The radar is used to detect crevasses.  Believe it or not, people and tractors have fallen into very deep crevasses.

A Pisten Bully that has a ground penetrating radar attached to the front. This is used for traverses to the South Pole and other deep field camps. The radar is used to detect crevasses. Believe it or not, people and tractors have fallen into very deep crevasses.

Me in front of a Challenger.  This vehicle is used for the South Pole Traverse.  Fuel bladders, supplies, and living modules are towed behind these to get fuel, and supplies to the South Pole.

Me in front of a Challenger. This vehicle is used for the South Pole Traverse. Fuel bladders, supplies, and living modules are towed behind these to get fuel, and supplies to the South Pole.

A Kress vehicle.  The National Science Foundation uses these to transport people and cargo from arriving flights on the Sea Ice Runway.

A Kress vehicle. The National Science Foundation uses these to transport people and cargo from arriving flights on the Sea Ice Runway.

A side view of the Kress vehicle.  It's HUGE!!!

A side view of the Kress vehicle. It’s HUGE!!!

This is a Twin Otter plane.  It's used to fly to remote field camps.  You can actually fit a few snowmobiles in the back too.

This is a Twin Otter plane. It’s used to fly to remote field camps. You can actually fit a few snowmobiles in the back too.

Ski Doo snowmobiles out on the Ross Sea Ice.  I maintain these snowmobiles and train users how to ride them.

Ski Doo snowmobiles out on the Ross Sea Ice. I maintain these snowmobiles and train users how to ride them.

This is my beginner snowmobile training course.  It's on the Ross Sea Ice in front of McMurdo Station.  New riders learn the basics of snowmobiling under my watchful eye.

This is my beginner snowmobile training course. It’s on the Ross Sea Ice in front of McMurdo Station. New riders learn the basics of snowmobiling under my watchful eye.

A watercolor painting of Hut Point and the Royal Society mountain range of Antarctica.  The hut is Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Hut.  I am a Hut guide and give guided tours of the historic huts in Antarctica.  I totally love it!  : )

A watercolor painting of Hut Point and the Royal Society mountain range of Antarctica. The hut is Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut. I am a Hut guide and give guided tours of the historic huts in Antarctica. I totally love it! : )

Small postcard sized watercolor painting of an Emperor Penguin that I painted for the McMurdo Station craft show.

Small postcard sized watercolor painting of an Emperor Penguin that I painted for the McMurdo Station craft show.

Icebergs in the Ross Sea Ice and Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans

Here are some pictures of icebergs stuck in Ross Sea ice. They were truly amazing to see and much more impressive than the pictures show. Only about 10% of the iceberg is visible so the other 90% is underwater. These icebergs were likely grounded deep underwater and then frozen in the annual Ross Sea Ice.

The last picture is of R. F. Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica. This was built as his home base during his South Pole Expedition over 100 years ago. He and his men died on their return from the pole. They nearly made it to a food depot stashed in the ice.

A large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.

A large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.

A very large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.  A Hagglund is in the distance.

A very large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice. A Hagglund is in the distance.

I love icebergs!!

I love icebergs!!

Me in front of the iceberg.

Me in front of the iceberg.

This massive iceberg is stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.  It is sticking out of the ice about 50 feet and the other 90% of it is under the sea ice!!  That is an ice cave about half way up the face of it.

This massive iceberg is stuck in the Ross Sea Ice. It is sticking out of the ice about 50 feet and the other 90% of it is under the sea ice!! That is an ice cave about half way up the face of it.

Another shot of the large iceberg.

Another shot of the large iceberg.

Iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.  A pressure ridge crack around the whole thing makes the perimeter very dangerous.

Iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice. A pressure ridge crack around the whole thing makes the perimeter very dangerous.

Beautiful iceberg in the Ross Sea Ice.  The part showing above the surface is only about 10% of it's actual size.   That would mean that the part we can't see is over 500 feet down under the ice!

Beautiful iceberg in the Ross Sea Ice. The part showing above the surface is only about 10% of it’s actual size. That would mean that the part we can’t see is over 500 feet down under the ice!

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains behind a giant iceberg.  The mountains are also known as the Royal Society range.

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains behind a giant iceberg. The mountains are also known as the Royal Society range.

Looking down a sea ice crack

Looking down a sea ice crack

Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica.  This was R.F. Scott's base during his South Pole expedition over 100 years ago.  It's amazing to think that it exists exactly as they left it.

Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica. This was R.F. Scott’s base during his South Pole expedition over 100 years ago. It’s amazing to think that it exists exactly as they left it.