28 October 2004

Stacy's turn to write

Got up to a foggy, foggy morning, the first one we've seen like this. It was odd to crawl out of the sunshine yellow tent interior into the white on white of fog on ice. Bob had cleverly remembered to put a radio in the tent the night before so I did not have to get up to do the morning check in with MacOps. While we are in the field, we have to check in every day at the same time to let the Station know we are all okay and that things are going smoothly. Today, we also had to check what time the helicopter was going to pick up Elizabeth, as our teacher is leaving us. We will miss her! But we have most of the day to go.

Elizabeth enjoying the Antarctic sun and deciding if "frosting" her hair is a good idea.

It was snowing inside the tent, frost crystals from the accumulation of a night of breathing falling with every clumsy movement as we fought our way out of the sleeping bag and into our many layers of clothes. Finally I was able to extract myself from the nest of huge down bags, fleece liners, super-thick thermarests and ensolite pads. My knees are bruised sore from working on the hard ice yesterday, but other than that I feel pretty good, except hungry (again). I was eager to see if the hotsy had melted through the ice in the safety hole, so I grabbed a couple handfuls of gorp and the chipper bar and net and hacked away at the ice. The surface ice was only about an inch thick, but the hole underneath only felt about a foot wide to the end of a bamboo pole - too small for a diver. We'll have to see with the divers eyes, and then decide whether to send for more diesel to fuel the hotsy. Fortunately, the main hole is quite big and stable, and is being assisted by periodic visits from a large Weddell seal. Since we are a long ways from any open water, we wonder where this seal came from.

Our sleeping tents, just beyond the pressure ridges on the seaice. Mt.Discovery hovers in the background.

Six packets of oatmeal (each) later, we get Kathy and Mike suited up to dive. Kathy is going to take more infaunal cores in some of the areas of lighter sediment. As we walked on the moraine island yesterday, I looked closely at the lighter patches of sediment that I had also seen below water. They are much finer grained, almost muddy, and I think will have a very different infaunal community, though I could not see a difference with my unassisted eyes while diving. Mike is taking the Nikonos camera in to take still pictures, to quantify the larger organisms that are very different here from the other places we have been diving. The most notable difference is the complete lack of sponges, possibly due to anchor ice forming even at 60 feet. Anchor ice is ice that forms on the bottom, where the rough surface nucleates crystal formation and big platelets start to form. When the crystals grow large enough, their buoyancy lifts off the bottom, creating a small disturbance. Long-lived animals, like sponges, cannot develop in a regularly disturbed area like this, and perhaps that is why there are none here. The water is supercooled, coming from under the permanent Ross Ice Shelf, so anchor ice forms to deeper depths than it does on Ross Island. The other most obvious difference here is the high abundance of pycnogonids, or sea spiders. These grow very large in the Antarctic, often bigger than my hand, and here the largest host gooseneck barnacles. When I get really close I can see the barnacles feeding, kicking their legs out into the water column to filter food particles. There is also a high diversity of many different kinds of seastars, as well as several mollusk species.

Kathy looking stylish in her big red Viking drysuit.

Kathy getting a little help with her mask.

After Mike and Kathy return we try to hurry to get Bob and me in the water. The weather is not consistent here and we have had such excellent luck so far I want to finish up before a wind starts blowing. So we hastily eat a bit of lunch on the run while I struggle into my drysuit, which has frozen into a contorted position. We try to warm the latex seal with our hands so that it will stretch enough to go over my head, but it is still an uncomfortable experience! In the water I counted the more cryptic large species, Laternula clams that are difficult to distinguish on video, while Bob took more video. I also collected a few example animals for Elizabeth to take back to her class in Rhode Island. The last thing was to look at the safety hole. Huge blocks of ice that were blown up by the dynamite but floated back up still occlude it, but the main hole still looks really stable.

Bob and Stacy in team mode.

When we get back we barely have enough time to say goodbye to Elizabeth before the helicopter comes to take her back to "town." She has "bag drag" tonight, where she has to take her luggage to be loaded on the plane, and a Live Audio broadcast to her class in the morning (at 3 am!) where she will be joined by Dave Bresnahan, the NSF Representative. Her plane is scheduled to fly out sometime tomorrow. We are very sorry to see her go - she is a fantastic person, adding great energy to the team, helping out with any task, and introducing her own special perspective to everything we do. I am so glad that she was able to join us and hope that we can work together again sometime!

Elizabeth in her flight helmet.

The Ice Runway, with several C130s parked.

For an evening activity we walked to Cape Chocolate, half a mile across old seaice that was hummocked with ice heaves and pitted with old melt ponds. The unusually high humidity this morning (remember the fog?) has left its mark in feather crystals coating all the protected surfaces. The crystals glint in the sunlight, looking exactly like feathers with their branching pattern and are so delicate that they even move like feathers, shifting in the slightest breeze. 6 seasons down here and I have never seen this before. Perhaps that is one of the things that is so special about this place - there is always something breathtakingly beautiful to watch and learn from. The seaice we walk across is so clear in places that you feel like you might sink into it. There are old areas of melt where the liquid water has drained or evaporated away, leaving a delicate filigree crust of ice. There are places where the crystal blue ice has somehow entrapped bubbles of white snow, and lacy patterns appear though we cannot figure out how they were formed. As we near shore we see a mound of sediment that has been pushed up by the tidal and wave motion of the ice. The hills behind are random peaks of the glaciers advance and retreat, a moraine of jumbled sediments. Dessicated algal mats are visible on some of the slopes, and one sharp cliff sports a waterfall of icicles that must be left from late last summer, ten or eleven months ago. The ice is so old and rough, we wonder how long it has been since this ice has gone out and there has been open water here. I would guess at least 10 years.

Feathery crystals of ice that formed from the morning fog.

Snow crystals entrapped in seaice.

The moraine of Cape Chocolate itself.

Icicles are reminders of "warm" summer temperatures.

Back to our camp where our last activity is heating up water to fill our water bottles. This gives us something warm to sleep with, quenches our thirst in the middle of the night (as long as we don't get them mixed up with the pee bottles), and assures that we have liquid water to make breakfast with in the morning. All of our 5 gallon water jugs froze solid last night and it was Jennifer's brilliant thought that allowed us to melt them in the exhaust of the generator. With a little forethought we won't have that problem tomorrow morning.

Last evening task - making hot water bottles!

I am very happy with all that we have accomplished here. This site has not been visited for over 10 years and the data we have collected will make an interesting comparison, especially in contrast to the areas closer to the station and less influenced by the permanent Ross Ice Shelf. I was worried about trying to dive from such a small field camp (small being a relative term - we total over 3000 lbs of gear and people) but thanks to the great attitudes of the team and the help of all the support staff, this has been straightforward.

Creative field sieving; note ergonomically correct position.

Some of our ton and a half of gear.

Quote for the day

"I'll just put the provolone in my pants."

Andrew Thurber, discussing lunch preparations (the cheese was frozen rock hard).

Andrew toys with the "frosted eyelash" look.

Next week we will be back in "MacTown" - until then, happy camping wherever you are!


Lets see the next day!