27 November 2004

Thanksgiving, McMurdo Style
Stacy writing

Today had a distinctly celebratory feel from the moment we got up. For one thing, it is one of the two 2 day weekends of the entire 5 month summer season, so the support staff were not bustling (or dragging) themselves to work, instead having a day for recuperation, and you could feel the relaxation in the halls of the dorms and see it in the smiles on the faces. For another thing, this is the day that Thanksgiving is celebrated down here, and we were all looking forward to an even larger than usual feast in the evening. With that as motivation, we were moving like a sudden advance in a glacial front, and had the Pisten Bully loaded quickly and were on our way to Cape Evans.

We pack everything we might need for each trip, including a Canadian.

Jennifer grabs a few minute cat nap in the sun during a lull in the morning frenzy.

I am sure the drive out was beautiful, as it was a lovely day, but I am afraid that all of us in the back were napping. Except when we hit large sastrugi, and sometimes even then. It's amazing what you can sleep through if you are tired enough. The Cape Evans site is an unusual one, in that there is a very high diversity of animals there, including specimens of the larger rossellid sponges that are usually found deeper, the huge soft corals (Gersemia) that are common on the other side of the sound, the unusual bright yellow octocorals that we saw at Cape Chocolate, and all the different seastars that we see around McMurdo. There is also an ice wall that extends much further than the one at New Harbor, and often many brine tubes hanging from the ice ceiling, so it is an incredibly beautiful place to dive. Our goals were to capture images of the variety of animals here, collect a few teaching specimens for Elizabeth Gibb's class back in Rhode Island, and do a series of plankton tows to see what larval forms are in the water column.

You can make out the dive ladder below the brash ice in the hole, showing how crystal clear the water is, and see some of the green layers of algae living in the ice.

Bob takes a moment to relax on the surface - after all, it is a day for relaxing, even if it is in very cold water.

The topography underwater mimics that on shore, with a steep rocky wall meeting a cliff of ice.

The ice takes on beautiful forms, waves and folds of frozen liquid.

Each of the huts contains details that personify it - this one has hand painted fish behind the Preway heater, and a passive solar heater that works like a mini-greenhouse, with cool air flowing in at the bottom and warm air flowing out at the top. It's a lovely day for snacking in the window box, as well!

On our way home we took half an hour to visit the historic hut at Cape Evans. This hut was built by Robert Scott in 1909, and it still contains many relics of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. The three huts near McMurdo are all conserved by the Historic Society, and we are allowed to visit them with care. They give you a wonderful sense of adventure, dedication, and persistence to meet goals - and since many of those goals were scientific then as they are now, they refresh our sense of purpose and encourage us.

The outline of Tent Island is mirrored in a Weddell seal silhouette.

The view from the hut at Cape Evans; the Barne Glacier beyond sledge runners leaning against the hut.

Relics in the hut give us eerie feelings - things have changed, gotten easier by far, but many of our goals and the tasks that occupy our time are similar. Though down and wool are still mainstays in staying warm, sennegrass shoe insulation, used because it could be removed and the ice shaken out easily, has been replaced by high tech materials.

We remain very interested in food, perhaps because of the hard work in the cold. Though we have no shortage of food supplies today, we still wield shovels and ice chisels!

The plankton net we use today is not very different from the one hanging on the wall of the hut, but our bottles of chemicals are stored in fume hoods and fire-proof lockers, not nearly as visually appealing.

Once back, we rushed to clean our gear and our selves in preparation for dinner. Our friends Rob and Jack met us and we paraded off in our best finery for a most luscious meal prepared by the incredibly hard working kitchen staff. Though we miss our friends and families back home, we feel grateful for being safe and warm and well-fed and surrounded by more friends.

Mt. Erebus overlooking McMurdo Station, one of the beautiful scenes that must have awed the original explorers here as much as it awes us.

A grateful (and hungry) group around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving Dinner in McMurdo.

Warm wishes to you all for many things to be thankful for.

Lets see the next day!