Snot and cookie dough

image3Almost two weeks into our field season and things are in full swing. We’ve moved camp once, collected 300+ rock samples, and almost eaten all our chocolate bar rations. Our first camp in the Wright Valley was nestled next to a frozen Lake Vanda that we slowly chipped away for drinking water. We’ve had mostly good weather other than nearly 50 knot winds one day that ripped Rob’s tent off its tie downs. Although, what’s considered good weather here is still capable of freezing your urine container in your tent overnight. Living in a tent with 24 hour sunlight in freezing and windy conditions seems inhospitable but we’ve quickly made our Trango 2 tents home; it’s impressive what a massive sleeping bag and a water bottle full of hot water can do. Our eating habits have also changed significantly to include: powdered and condensed milk, 4+ cups of Earl Grey tea per day, candy bar lunches, and food well past its “best by” date. FYI: pudding mix over a decade past due tastes exactly like it sounds. Our dinners have been great despite our assortment of aged food. We’ve had all sorts of meals from Thai curry to burritos and we even have dessert. We made a batch of cookie dough and only made one cookie, apparently we all prefer the dough. Ultimately, living conditions aren’t bad and I’d like to assure my mom that I’m eating my vegetables and brushing my teeth twice a day!
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Working conditions are slightly worse as you battle to take copious notes in the frigid cold with clumsy gloves on and snot constantly leaking from your nose. We’ve hiked up hundreds of meters of steep scree and across miles of rolling landscape with packs full of rocks every day. The only deviation from that daily schedule was a couple of days with helicopter support. image2Essentially, a helicopter picks you up and drops you off at the foot of the outcrop of your choosing and later returns for you and your hundreds of pounds of samples to whisk you off across glaciers and valleys right back to camp. If a helicopter ride in Antarctica doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will. Now we’re camped in the Taylor Valley at a place called Nussbaum Riegel but the scenery hasn’t changed much – dozens of glaciers, jagged peaks, frozen lakes, and a view of the East Antarctic ice sheet. I don’t think that will change much regardless of our camp location. In summary: life in Antarctica is good as long as your hand warmers are still working, you’ve wiped the snot from your nose, the geology is good (and close), and you’ve got a hot dinner to look forward to… t hrow in a helicopter ride and some cookie dough and life is great.

~Demian for the Antarctica360 team

 

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Antarctica360 in the news!

The team from Antarctica360 have been featured in our local news twice in the last few days – it’s great to see the word is getting out about what they are doing.

The UCSB Current has a feature article about their trip – you can see it by clicking here.

Then the Santa Barbara Independent picked up the story – that’s here.

Maybe the New York Times will be calling next?!

–The Antarctica360 “Ground Team” (aka Anna, John’s wife).

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Geology by Helicopter

image3 (1)Our field area is huge and it is impossible for us to cover all the ground we need to on foot, so occasionally we receive some friendly assistance in the form of a helicopter.  At about 9am yesterday morning, we heard the distinctive dull thudding of Bell 212 helicopter approaching our camp. When it is calm here sound travels very far, so it took several more minutes before we spotted a tiny red and blue speck flying up the valley. After a few minutes, the helicopter was directly over our camp, and with a blast of sand and ice it was on the ground and ready to pick us up.

We piled in and headed down valley from our camp. In about 5 minutes we covered more distance than we could ever hope to by foot in one day – and no rocks to carry either!

Demian and Nick were the first to be dropped off at the mouth of the Wright Valley, where they spent the day ascending Mt. Loke and collecting lots of samples. It’s always an apprehensive feeling being left in the middle of nowhere, watching the helicopter fly off into the distance, but we are all well equipped with lots of clothes, food and a red “survival bag” that contains everything we need to stay safe if the helicopter is delayed or the weather turns nasty. We also each have a satellite phone and VHF radios to communicate if needed.

image1 (1)After dropping Demian and Nick off, the helicopter turned north and took Rob and John a further 15 miles to a spectacular area called Killer Ridge. Despite its name (after the whale, rather than its reputation) this area has beautifully steep, 600 – 900m tall valley walls with excellent exposures of the rock we are interested in sampling. It was a rare ‘perfect’ day in Antarctica with no wind and lots of sun. John and Rob were joined by Paul Koubrek, a guide based at McMurdo, who made sure it was safe enough to sample. He also helpfully carried some rocks – thanks Paul!

Just before 5pm, we heard the familiar noise of the helicopter, and within a few minutes we were flying back to collect Demian and Nick, then onto our camp. A few more minutes and we were standing outside our tents watching the helicopter disappear into the distance, reflecting on possibly one of the best experiences to be had in Antarctica – Geology by helicopter!

A huge thanks to Paul and the crew of Helicopter 36J for all their efforts!

Off to bed now, but more to come soon….

~the Antarctica 360 team

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A Quick Update From The Field

After more than a week preparing all of our gear and food in McMurdo, we finally made it into the field on Tuesday. The four of us flew in a New Zealand A-star heliimage3copter from McMurdo over (the frozen) Ross Sea past huge icebergs stuck in the sea ice, and onto Lake Vanda (also frozen) in the Wright Valley within the central Dry Valleys region. The trip was only 40 minutes, but it is always spectacular flying in Antarctica – the views are phenomenal and photos don’t really do the scenery justice.

After setting up our camimage1p, we’ve spent the past three days exploring the area, mapping and collecting lots of samples. The weather has been mostly fine, although yesterday afternoon to this afternoon, it has been extremely windy – with winds up to 50 knots. Thankfully it has calmed down and I’m sitting here writing this in the afternoon sun with no wind at all, and a temperate -8C. Everybody is doing well, and enjoying being out in the field, although the its taking the team a little time to adjust to everything that is left outside (e.g. water bottles) freezing.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to travel by h  elicopter to the other end of Wright Valley and a location to the north of us called Killer Ridge. The trip should be a lot of fun with some new geology and scenery. Some photos to follow!

It’s almost dinner time here, which is a serious event, so I’d better go. We’ll be in touch with more news and photos soon.

John – for the Antarctica360 teamimage2

Editor’s note: apologies the photos are small, satellite phone data transmission has its downsides! I’ll see if the team can send slight bigger files next time though.

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Communicating From the Field – Antarctica Style

We’ve had quite a few people ask us how we’re going to communicate from the field.We keep in touch with McMurdo Base every 24 hours via Iridium Satellite phone, VHF, HF radios. Unfortunately, we don’t have any access to a cell phone network, or an easy internet connection to update this website. The image below is our solution. We use an Iridium Satellite Phone as a modem (think very, very slow dialup) to create a battery-powered (small black box)  wireless network (using the white ‘optimizer‘ in the image) that we can then connect a laptop or ipad to send small emails. We use specialized software from Global Marine Networks that compresses the data and allows us to send small pictures as well. Each email costs ~$3 to send, but hopefully it allows us to keep everyone informed of our progress.

 

 

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Rob’s Guide to Antarctic Cuisine

We have now been at McMurdo Station for over a week, completed our trainings, got all our gear squared away, and scheduled our first helicopter (“helo,” pronounced heelo) drop off in the Wright Valley for this Tuesday, November 3.

Living at McMurdo station has been a little bit surreal. Each summer, around 2000 people pass through. Although the purpose of the base is to facilitate science in Antarctica, maintaining it requires a whole spectrum of people: janitors, mechanics, cooks, mountaineers, IT, admin, electricians, pilots, shuttle drivers, Air Force, cargo crews, etc. Because of all this, the number of staff at the base is much greater than the number of scientists, making the station feel a bit like a cross between a college campus and a small town. There are over 85 buildings, but the most important is perhaps the cafeteria, aka the Galley.

The food has been shockingly good. For breakfast there are eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, an assortment of cereals, breakfast burritos, and juice. For lunch and dinner there have been burgers, salads, Chipotle-style burritos, steak, stir-fry, deli sandwiches, chicken wings, sausage, roasts, pastas, fresh-baked bread, all kinds of sides… the list goes on and on. It’s all free and as much as you can eat. Our first meal (and several others since then) resulted in us eating until we were literally in pain, because we wanted to try everything. Following dinner, there is desert: cookies, soft-serve, and usually at least one other baked desert like pie, tart, bars, or cake.

There are 4 designated meal times per day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midrats(midnight rations for people who work the “night” shift). However, there is 24/7 pizza, cookies, soft-serve, coffee, tea, waffles, cereal, and sandwiches if you can’t make one of the designated meals or, in our case, if you just get hungry again.

Unfortunately our field food will be simpler: cereal/oatmeal, bars, sandwiches, pasta… things that we can cook on an MSR WhisperLite or Coleman stove: standard camping fare.

— Rob

Sunday Menu at McMurdothe menu of the day

24/7 Cookies!they ran out of peanut- butter cookies

View of the galleyThe galley

Demian mastering the art of the soft serveDemian loves soft-serve

Sunday Brunchbrunch

They even have good coffeeAntarctica blend

24/7 Pizza24-7 pizza

View of the McMurdo Field Supermarket – supplies specifically for groups heading into the fieldThe field-food store room

Nick sorting and packing food for the fieldNick getting our field food ready

A selection of Tasty field foodfield food isn't as exciting as the galley

 

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Flying South for the Summer

John made it to McMurdo Station yesterday and met up with the rest of the team. Here are a few photos from his journey starting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and, 5 hours later, ending at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

 

The day started with a 5am check in at the International Antarctic Center Passenger Terminal in Christchurch

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Check-in queue at the Antarctic Passenger Terminal. There were passengers from the US program

(red jacket with silver patch), New Zealand (orange jackets) and Italy (red and black jacket) on the flight

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Ready for the flight. Boarding pass and ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) jacket.IMG_1973

Passenger Bus from the Terminal to the PlaneIMG_1975

Our ride south – A C-17 “McChord” from Seattle at Christchurch AirportIMG_1978

View inside the flight deck of the C-17IMG_1985

View of the interior of the C-17. Passengers share the plane with a lot of cargo.IMG_1982

5hrs later we landed at Pegasus Airfield on the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo StationIMG_1995

Cargo being unloaded from the C-17.IMG_1996

 

 

 

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(Functionally) Everlasting Light

IMG_0160I was lucky enough to visit Denali National Park in Alaska, just once, staying at a set of cabins in the deep interior, not far from Denali (thankfully now officially known as such) itself. The trip into the park takes about four hours by bus from Healey, on the park’s boundary, but given the amount of time we spent taking time aside for meals and stopping to look at bears, caribou, and the like, and also given our late-morning departure, we didn’t actually get on-site until 10 o’clock at night. But at that time of year you simply don’t see darkness that far north, none at all, and the late-night daylight had a way of making me forget whatever tiredness I might’ve felt: my brother and I went on a short walk around the premises simply because we were so excited to be out there in the wilderness. It simply did not feel as if we were two hours short of midnight.

Antarctica is far colder and far more strikingly devoid of life than Alaska, but there is a similar effect: having developed a bit of an obsession with the game Settlers of Catan, we’ve gone on for round after round of post-dinnertime strategizing, unaware of the passing time, only to realize suddenly that it’s already nearly midnight. When I stop to think about it, I do notice fatigue, and as I ought to know that’s something worth keeping an eye on, while I’m here, but it’s quite easy to just snap into the rhythm of what one is doing and simply tune it out because the light is so different in that it, essentially, never does change at all.

But other things have changed: I commented, while looking out of the window of our hotel in Christchurch (where we had some of the best lamb I’ve had in my life out of what was basically a roadside stand, I’ll note), that the trees and grass I saw in somebody’s yard, across the street, were essentially the last living greenery we’d see for months. About a week into our stay in the Austral Regions, I have yet to see a single living thing besides other people, which is a first for me, and somehow both fascinating and terrifying all at once. The wind is something else, too; a few days ago, I walked out to Hut Point Peninsula, where Robert Falcon Scott’s final shelter sits (alongside several seal mummies), in order to get some panoramas. Panoramas I did indeed get, but only just in time; my iPhone, which I was using at the time, in tandem with a stylus that stopped me from having to take my gloves off, actually ceased to work at one point because it was so damned cold from the wind chill. I took that as a sign that it might be time to return to base.

All of us have kept reasonably warm, however, and having spent much of the last week running around and getting our trip to the Dry Valleys in order, I have a great deal of confidence in the McMurdo support staff, and, perhaps most importantly, in ourselves, to stay safe, keep reasonably warm, and get some good geology done in the process. I hope to have at least one more post done before I go cold turkey on my internet addiction, but for now, this is my greeting from McMurdo Base, Southern Victoria Land, Antarctica. As we’ll soon be saying over our VHF radios, over and clear. — Nick

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The Eagle Has Landed…

IMG_1564After a five hour flight in a C-17, or “the big bird” (pronounced with strong kiwi accent), we touched down in Antarctica. We donned our big reds and bunny boots and waddled our way to the exit. We were met by a barren ice field, -20F weather, and a group of McMurdo Station staff that corralled us into the kind of bus you would only expect to find in Antarctica. I was cold.

Now we’re settled into McMurdo Station, the United States research center in Antarctica. Getting settle required quite a bit of training: NSF inbriefing, Antarctic Field Safety, Dry Valleys ASMA, Crary Lab tour, Helo training, Environmental Field Briefing, Outdoor safety lecture, etc etc. We still have to do Dry Valley Shakedown, Light vehicle training, and more helo training. Most of that doesn’t mean much to you but to us it’s the last hurdle before letting go the bowline and being set adrift in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Luckily all the gear we need is mostly squared away. Things like: 6 massive sledge hammers, 4 smaller sledge hammers, 800 rock sample bags, 15 five gallon urine containers, etc etc… the essentials, of course.

IMG_1757As we await our November 3rd flight date we are free to explore the accommodations provided by McMurdo Station. The “resort” includes an all-you-can-eat cafeteria, two bars and a liquor store, multiple saunas, a gym, TV in your room, lounges with Ping-Pong/pool/foosball, comfortable beds, a climbing wall, well-marked hiking and cross-country skiing trails, and 24-hour sunlight. Considering we’ll be sitting on Crazy Creeks, boiling ice for water, and peeing into canteens in below freezing conditions for the next 5-6 weeks, I think I’ll enjoy the luxuries of McMurdo while I can.

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Ready to roll…

Demian, Nick and Robert have just arrived at McMurdo Station. They’ll update us soon on their travels. I leave tomorrow for Christchurch, so it is finally time to pack and organize all my gear. Here’s a photo of all the stuff I’m taking. The Antarctic program provides most of the clothing we need, especially the extreme cold weather gear, but it’s always nice to have your own boots that are worn in and thermal underwear that belongs just to you! — John

Here it is all laid out (click the picture for a larger version):

gear

and… with some assistance I’m ready to go!IMG_1921

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