3 November 2004

Stacy's day

It's election day in the states and we are all biting our nails. But in the meantime we have science to do.

Today we are heading to Turtle Rock, another site where we have an experimental setup. We have pretty much completed our work at Cinder Cones, though we would like to do a couple more plankton tows there (of course, one can always use one more sample). It is exciting to be getting in after a year absence! The drive is pretty long but Andrew and I succeed at napping in the back seat until we get to the sastrugi off the main road. These windblown drifts of snow, though packed down by the drill rig passing over them, are still pretty bumpy for our smaller vehicle. So we are wide awake when we arrive at our hut #9.

Looking past our hut at the Royal Society Range.

One of our dive tenders today is John, a teacher who is utilizing an alternative method of getting to the Antarctic from the formal route Elizabeth Gibbs, our TEA, took, though he kindly helped her with her LiveAudio broadcast at 3:30 am. He is here driving shuttles, and also providing a web page for students back home. The other is Benjamin, who "normally" is a cook for a 5 star restaurant but down here is opening plastic containers of foodstuffs well past their expiration dates. He seems slightly puzzled that we all enjoy the food so much. Out here also for a few minutes are a couple folk from the carpentry group, here to install some eyebolts in the floor and ceiling beams so that we have stable anchors for our dive lines.

The pressure ridges near Turtle Rock are beautiful, tall and jagged with Mt. Terror in the background. There are several large cracks though, and a couple of seals to show that there are some holes, so we profile the cracks them to be sure they are safe for us. One of the seals has a pup, too young to swim, and she periodically leaves it alone on the ice while she forages underwater.

Some of the pressure ridges near Turtle Rock.

It is perfectly windless and a rare opportunity to have a pleasant dive outdoors, so we take advantage. One of the holes here is unprotected, with no hut over it, so Andrew and Bob quickly suit up and we pop them in the water with the video camera and still camera. They have no problem locating the experiments though they are a short swim away, and all the gear works flawlessly. The wind stays calm while they are in the water, so even getting out is not so bad (I can say that, not being the one in the water).

A rainbow around the sun, over Mt. Erebus.

The next item is for Kathy, Mike and I to go in (inside the hut). We look at the map we have drawn from last year and then I drop in and look for the large enclosure that surrounds our experiment. It is black plastic mesh, 4 feet high, 30 feet on a side…not a small item. I don't see it anywhere! All kinds of thoughts flash through my head – I read the GPS wrong when we were drilling the hole yesterday, I wrote down the wrong coordinates last year, WHERE can it be? Calming down a bit, I look closely at the landscape below me. I recognize the knoll in the distance, and the chute of shell debris off deep. We are in the right place, I think. I swim closer to the bottom and can see the small clear tubes of our experiment on the seafloor. WHEW! But what has happened to the fence?

No time to ponder, I start to collect the tubes while Mike and Kathy take video and stills, core and count. All too soon our air is low and our bottom time is running out. I have had a small glimpse of the colorful sponges that cover the rocky knoll nearby but mostly I have been focusing on the precious plastic tubes that contain 2 years worth of data. I could hear seals singing vaguely in the distance and think that the mama-seal must be foraging somewhere nearby. At our safety stop beneath the ice I relax and enjoy the view of the folded pressure ridges from underneath, and a couple small brine tubes like ice stalagtites, and some newly forming ice crystals…which brings me back to the missing fence. My best guess is that anchor ice formed on it, and instead of just shifting it the way it did the fence at Cinder Cones, lifted it all the way out of the bottom. I don't see it anywhere on the bottom-side of the ice, so it must be gone. This is evidence of the interannual variability in this system, since the first year the fences were not disturbed at all, and the second year both were moved. Was winter 2004 colder than winter 2003? I'll try to find out.

Back on the surface, we feast on actual real sandwiches that Jennifer made for us yesterday (much better than our normal crackers and gorp lunch) and look out the window to see Tom approaching with the grader – he has made us a real road so that we will not have to endure such a slow, bumpy ride. Hurry for Fleet Operations, or as they are more commonly known, Flops. Andrew, Bob and I flag the route back on our way home.

The flagging team.

We have time for a hot dinner and then back to the lab to sieve and preserve the samples we have collected today. Andrew and Bob to draw a map of their dive and archive the imagery. We finish in the lab in time to go to the science lecture by Adam Marsh. Adam studies larval development, and his research here is determining whether embryonic development is more complex in extreme environments like the Antarctic. Under the stressfully cold conditions, do larval (or young) stages need more genes or fewer to complete development than their temperate counterparts?

Andrew, joyously sieving in the lab.

Jenn and Andrew have an evening drive out to fuel the Hotsy and chip out the existing holes before they freeze too far over. Yes, we are using the Hotsy again, because the ice is too rough for the drill rig to get to one of our sites. There is gorgeous light from the sun low over the Royal Society Range, that seems to melt the glaciers into rivers of gold. But all are clamoring to get to Gallagers before they close at 11, to practice our shuffleboard skills, so off they go.

Another full Antarctic day –
Sweet dreams!

Turtle Rock, a beautiful dive site.

Lets see the next day!