The Antarctic Summer

A wire-frame art ode to the killer whale, the namesake for Killer Ridge (which John and Demian visited) and probably what the seals in the last picture were hiding from. We saw no live ones, sadly.
A wire-frame art ode to the killer whale, the namesake for Killer Ridge (which John and Demian visited) and probably what the seals in the last picture were hiding from. We saw no live ones, sadly.

buy prednisone online McMurdo Base is a very different place from when we left for the field, the most noticeable thing being that it’s about as dry as the Dry Valleys now: the snow is all gone. Two different trips to Hut Point Peninsula, one taken before and one after our time in the Dry Valleys, did a nice job of demonstrating the difference. The first time, I was bundled up in a wool hat and my ECW-issue parka, there was no sign of life, and it was so windy up near Vince’s Cross that my phone froze within seconds. This time, there was hardly any wind, I was able to pull out my phone (as a camera) with no trouble and had to shed down to a t-shirt at one point, and a large population of Weddell Seals had made it their new hang-out, giving me my first look at live members of the species whose mummified corpses had been an eerie fixture of our field season, as one of Rob’s posts will tell you.

It’s likely that I’ll leave Antarctica without ever seeing any penguins, though; the Emperor Penguin rookery filmed in March of the Penguins is in fact on the other side of Ross Island, not on the continent itself (as some people think), and there are a decent number of Adélie penguins on the island, too, but given the amount of ship traffic and the number of seals taking advantage of the pressure ridges and weakened sea ice around McMurdo, I’d imagine that they don’t especially like hanging around here. On the other hand, I’ve seen skuas aplenty; I came across one sitting in the trail as I was walking up it, completely unfazed and completely unafraid of my presence. There’s a reason that the disposal site for good but unwanted items at McMurdo (a handy system that gained me a new pair of pants once one of mine ripped) is called the “Skua Bin:” they steal from people largely because they have no fear of them, at this point. As I walked from Hut Point up towards the hills behind the base and eventually back down to it, I saw several more of them bathing themselves in the newly-melted ponds dotting the landscape.

 

 

 

Some of the Weddell seals enjoying a laze-about near Hut Point.
Some of the Weddell seals enjoying a laze-about near Hut Point.

The Dry Valleys themselves didn’t seem to change much over the course of the field season, feeling even more like a time capsule than I suggested in one of my earlier posts, although it did become noticeably balmier as time went along. The ice at the shore of Lake Buddha retreated from our camp along the shore, and Rob spotted several colonies of black, scraggly moss struggling to survive in semi-sheltered spots, the only plant or fungi besides the occasional crusty black lichen we ever saw. On our second-to-last day, I was hiking behind Rob on our return from the Altiplano, an elevated flatland similar to the South American region of the same name and laden with dikes, and passing a small lake located at a small mountain pass named “The Keyhole” for its shape and for the difficulty seeing it, except at a few angles , when I thought I saw him throwing his hat in the air. It turned out that there was a bird flying over his head, and that I was so used to the lack of animal life that I hadn’t immediately guessed what it was. It turned out to be a skua, wandering far afield, and when I later logged this into eBird (with my friend Carlos’ help) I learned that no skua had ever been logged this far south, some anecdotal accounts of their being seen at South Pole Station aside.

 

This wasn’t really an ornithology expedition, of course, and that was just a rather nice side product of a trip that’s otherwise had a pretty good yield, geology wise. Even as it got warmer, we had a streak of especially windy days during our last week, testing our resilience somewhat, yet for every bad, windy day, such as a trip to Renegar Glacier that yielded no samples whatsoever, we had days where the abundance of lamprophyres, the most we’d ever seen in one area, made up for what appeared to be the god Aeolus (of Odyssey fame) throwing a temper tantrum. Even as we approach the summer solstice, Antarctica is still Antarctica, and bad weather days will be ugly, but the scientific rewards make up for that.

~Nick for the Antarctica360 team

A very different and ice-free McMurdo base, taken from the Hut Point Trail.
A very different and ice-free McMurdo base, taken from the Hut Point Trail.
From Rucker Ridge, with Mt. Discovery visible in the background.
From Rucker Ridge, with Mt. Discovery visible in the background.

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Dr. Suess and Mummified Seals

In the last few days we have worked across the Walcott Glacier and the Roaring valley – long days with a lot of hiking. We have had 1–2 hour commutes by foot each way, so we try to make the most of our time when we get out there. The work has been good, and we have seen a lot of interesting things. Uphill return hikes are always gruelling, especially with 15 kg of rocks in our packs (excluding John’s).

The trek across the Walcott glacier was like entering a Dr. Suess book. The ice formations were spectacular (see below)! The day before, we came across a mummified seal approximately 20 km inland and at 1300 m elevation! Guess it became lost. It was entirely desiccated and mummified– there aren’t many microbes around to promote decomposition. Who knows how long it has been there?!

Dr.Suess Ice Formations

Mummified Seal

The weather over the past few days has been unsettled with multiple snow flurries and some wind. Currently the weather is a little cold (-5C) and the cloud layer is only a few hundred meters above our camp.

For entertainment during the day we have races to ridge-tops and other awesome features. At lunch time we have been having trivia quizzes, with most of the questions referring to animals. During the evenings, Graham and Bryan continue to work (unsuccessfully) on their kiwi accents.

We’re making the most of John’s company – he is leaving us in a few days to head back to the states.

We’re about to eat a huge meal of nachos, so until next time, keep your teeth clean!

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