20 November 2004

A Very Happy Day !!!

As we wait for the Hotsy to conjure us a diveable hole our "to do" list looks a bit slack this morning. After breakfast it's decided that we will trek the 2 miles to our closest glacier, the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Glacier has always been my favorite glacier. Viewed from the air it extrudes itself from between Mt. Falconer and Mt. Coleman in the process of forming the most perfect teardrop-shaped appendage. The other striking feature of this fine glacier is the contrast from soil to sheer 100ft. ice wall. There are but a few rubble piles of calved ice and no snow fields to confuse the eye. Its just one large Q-tip shaped arm of ice stark against the dark desert soil and boulder fields of the Taylor Valley. I believe it to be a truly perfect Antarctic glacier.

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A map of the area around New Harbor Camp

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Our hike began by crossing the the soft sand of the stream delta in front of the camp. We then ascended the endless hills of glacial moraine between us and the glacier that had in past times helped form them. Other then a few stops to examine the weird rocks and inexplicable large cracks in the ground we made good time. The sun was bright and we warmed up nicely as we walked. Arriving at the glacier we were surprised to find a moat of running water separating us from the sheer ice wall. It was soothing to sit and listen to the babbling of the streams and dripping of the melt water. These are foreign sounds to this continent. The icicles were a bonus as well, for as much ice as we have down here we don't often see it melt so actively.
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On the way home our attempts to remain hydrated caught up with us. We are required to carry with us a pee bottle as this environment is so pristine we don't want any form of contamination released here. There is very little melt water in the desert rejoins of the dry valleys and therefore no dilution of any contamination. We all happily comply with this requirement. Stacy was brave enough to snap this shot so I was brave enough to post it. And while we are on the subject, today was my day for one of the dreaded jobs around camp that we all take turns at doing. As soon as we returned from our trek I got right to it.  pee bottle.JPG (3452387 bytes)
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In my last Update Nov 14 I mentioned most of our waste categories. I did neglect to reference one, "Human Waste." As difficult as the subject is to handle politely it is an often-asked question. I will try to make this as clinical as possible. Our toilet room has a urinal on the wall that simply drains into a 55 gallon U Barrel. This we change about every 2 weeks and the helos. fly it back to McMurdo. At night in the tents we use our pee bottles and dump them in the urinal in the morning. The women generally use either a pee bottle regularly, or there is a bucket for squatters. This all my sound pretty unnatural but once you get use to it it's as normal as using any other toilet. We have lots of wet wipes and hand sanitizer to go around. As for solid human waste, in the toilet room we have a seat over a 5 gallon bucket. Two plastic bags line the bucket. When the bucket is full we simply twist the bags closed, hammer a plastic lid on, weigh it, label (sometimes humorously) the bucket, and put it in with our other waste. As for showers and other hygiene we have a hand wash station  and we all use it often. The hand washing and dish washing water is melted sea ice. It's still a little salty so we couldn't drink it or cook with it but it works for washing. Showers are not feasible here. Bathing with water would overload the gray water system. Each 500lb barrel of water needs to fly back to McMurdo strung beneath a helicopter. This is a slow expensive flight so we keep our water usage to the minimum. As I mentioned before we do have plenty of handy wipes and these gems are great for sponge bathing so we aren't completely without a method of cleansing.

With the day already so full of rich experiences I couldn't imagine it getting any more memorable. During lunch it was decided we would try to dive the Circus hole again and see if the Hotsy had enlarged it to permit passage. Donning our dive suites in the lab building, then riding out to the hole on the 6 wheeler was a bunch of giggles interspaced with the apprehension of falling off into the moat water. The big double 72 cubic foot air tanks give us a total of 144 cubic feet of air. This dive is a deep dive and we won't be limited by the amount of air in our tanks or not even by our tenacity towards the cold. Today's dive will be limited by our no-decompression limit at 100 feet. My dive computer is the most conservative so Stacy will surface when it tells me I have run out of bottom time. Or as it's planned, 3 minutes before I run out. My computer says we have 15 min at 100 feet. In this time Stacy will snap still photos and I will video as much as possible. This site is called Circus because it's littered with experiments placed there 30 years ago. All of the experiments are close to each other but we don't know how far they are from the hole. The is one time we hope the GPS was real accurate. 

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I relax as Stacy goes down and checks to see if the hole is big enough at the bottom to slide through.


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In the fresh water of the dive hole Stacy surfaces to inform me that the hole is passable

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The dual tank rig with two complete sets of regulators.

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Dual tanks, lots of air but not much fun to wear until you get in the water.

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Stacy hovers in the hole between the salty and fresh water layers

 Check back for more pictures from the video coming soon

The dive starts with a narrow hole. Not a tight squeeze but you simply must  turn yourself the right way to fit through the weird shaped hole. A careful examination from below reveals it won't be a problem to reverse the squeeze when the time comes. Both Stacy and I spend several minutes at 25 feet just breathing our regulators and making sure they are still ok. This dive hole was created by melting and therefore the upper layers contain mostly fresh water. If this fresh water gets into the wrong part of the regulator it will freeze when it hits the salty colder water and cause the regulator to free flow. This is something we don't want now or at 100ft. After our eyes adjust it's easy to make out the experiment, and to our delight it is almost directly below us. First we start by scanning the cameras down a 30 foot rope with a big float suspending it. There are huge sponges and racks of beautifully fragile feather stars. Pencil urchins are scattered by the dozens. The yellow spiky cactus sponges are my favorite and abundant. Big brittle stars are as profuse as the scallops. Rack after rack and cages full of colorful subjects. I swim around two beer keg size white sponges that emanate from the same spot. Twins I think as the video illuminates down into their hollow centers. As I pan the camera around to the front I see 2 eyes peering from the crotch between the sponges. The eyes belong to one of the largest and bluest Trematomus hansoni  fish I have ever seen. To me he looks very cold but very much at home. A short beep from my computer and a tug from Stacy at my fin alerts me that our time at this depth is nearly up. 

I continue to film Stacy, my favorite dive partner, as we slowly ascend near the down line. She has been a good partner not only on this dive but as my partner in life now for just over two years. We met here in Antarctica on Halloween night 2002 and have been working together for almost a year. Our safety stop at 20 feet starts with animated antics that keep us not only laughing but warm. I have brought a pencil and scribble "I love you" on the slate mounted to the back of my gauge console. She reads it and I can see the smile in her eyes and hear her coo through her regulator as she mimics a "me too". I then scribble with my big gloves an almost unintelligible "will U marry me?" She studies it for a long enough time that I am starting to fear the answer. This time when she looks at me I can see the smile on her mouth even though she has a regulator in it, besides the loud giggle from her. She nods her head yes and gives me the thumbs up. This dive was a damn good dive but this has made it the best dive I will ever do.

Will U.JPG (2283754 bytes)
Can you read this?

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Happy key lemon pie for dessert 

All smiles after the dive!

 I cant believe she said yes.JPG (2505704 bytes)

Congratulations to Stacy and Bob!

Lets see the next day!