Thursday, June 5, 2014

Slideshow on Youtube

I put together a little slideshow forever ago and just barely got around to putting it up on Youtube. This is pretty much the 5 week long trip in 11 mins so it goes fast!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Off the Ice!

Well we made it to New Zealand finally! I was getting worried last night because the flight down here was given a two-hour weather delay, but everything proceeded normally after that. We never did figure out where the supposed weather problems were at, since it was blue skies in McMurdo and the online weather report for Christchurch was the same.

This morning, we had to be at the post office building in McMurdo at 2:30 AM for transport. After an hour-long ride in the back of a large vehicle called a Delta, we made it out to the Pegasus Ice Runway. For some reason, they like to get you out to the runway super early so the plane wasn't even there yet. We got to the runway at about 3:45 AM and the plane finally got there at 4:15. It was fun to watch a huge plane like the C-17 land on an ice runway though.
C-17 touching down at Pegasus
Finishing up the loading of the plane with cargo while the crowd waits to board
They proceeded to unload all of the passengers, unload all of the cargo that is staying in Antarctica, and load up cargo headed north with us, all while we were standing around waiting.
Waiting for 2 hours to board
Finally, they let us board at about 5:30 AM. There were 120 passengers on our flight, which is very full when you consider all of the pallets of cargo that were loaded on as well. I was in one of the normal airline seats in the center of the plane for this trip instead of sitting along the wall like last time. We lucked out because the only empty seat on the whole plane was in our row so we were able to pile our bags onto that seat, giving us more leg room.
Looking forward from my seat
It's interesting flying on a military jet. We didn't have any sort of security screening this time around (when we left Christchurch to go down to the ice, we went through a metal detector and they x-rayed our carry-on). They tell you to put on your seat belt and they go over the safety procedures, but no one comes around to check that you are properly belted or that you have your tray table upright or anything like that. They don't care when you use your electronic devices, so you can rock out on your iPod from take-off to landing. There's only one bathroom for everyone to share, no one delivers a soda to your seat, and you can essentially see the innards of the plane from your seat. The normal airline style seat that I was in is loaded onto the plane just like the rest of the cargo, mounted on some type of rolling platform that shifts around when the plane moves. It is pretty minor, but occasionally it can give you a little jolt when the sliding platform suddenly runs out of room to move. It is also fun to see who else is on your flight. The majority of the passengers were with the U.S. Antarctic Program, but there were also people with New Zealand, France, and Australia's programs. I was particularly interested by some of the emergency exits, as you can see in the picture.
A blurry picture of one of the emergency exits. Apparently, all you need is an axe and a blank spot in the wall! I don't think you could get away with that on a civilian jet... They do have more traditional emergency exits in the front and rear of the plane
We finally took off at about 6 AM. I slept for most of the flight. We landed at about 11 AM in Christchurch.

Even though we were technically considered to have been in New Zealand the whole time as far as our visa status goes (you don't need a passport to go to the continent of Antarctica), we still had to go through customs and New Zealand's biosecurity when we got back. Another flight arrived from Singapore at about the same time so the lines for both of them were long.

After we finished up, we headed over to the Clothing Distribution Center to change out of the Extreme Cold Weather gear we were required to wear for the flight and to return all of the gear that we had borrowed before we left. I feel like I'm traveling light now that I got rid of all of that stuff!

Since then, we've checked in to our hotel (I'm staying within walking distance of the airport), had lunch at the International Antarctic Centre (I guess we can't get enough of Antarctica!), and now I think we're going to go for a swim! It's nice to have plants outside and birds chirping! It looks like Byron is going to take off tonight to head up to Auckland. He's staying in New Zealand for a sabbatical so this will probably be the last time I see him.

While we were on the flight up here, one of the travel agents booked me for my flights. I leave tomorrow for home but won't get there until Tuesday evening.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flight Problems

Well I'm not leaving Mactown tonight either.

Last night, our flight was delayed due to weather and to wait for the injured fishermen to arrive at McMurdo. The flight was rescheduled for tonight, but we got the news this evening that we aren't leaving until Sunday night because of mechanical problems. Not sure how a plane breaks down while it's sitting on a tarmac but apparently it happened!

It looks like I've got time to kill in Antarctica. Maybe I should check out the movie schedule!

As for the fishermen, they were finally able to pick them up via helicopter this morning (the helicopters couldn't pick them up last night because of the weather) and take them up to Christchurch on a LC-130. I think that they might have been dropped off by the helicopter right at the runway. I didn't see them arrive or anything. Here's a news story about it

I went on a walk today down the Scott Base and then on the Observation Hill loop. It took about 3 hours. Saw a bunch of seals and some skuas.


After we finished cleaning up the lab, I decided to take the 10-minute walk down to Hut Point to see if there were any penguins hanging out. As I looked over the ridge down to the sea ice, there was a group of three of them!

These penguins are called Adélie Penguins, which are pretty small penguins only about 2 feet tall.

Soon after I got there, they started moving. They do waddle some but they love to slide along on their belly! They ended up coming closer to me and hanging out on a little peninsula of sea ice right next to the cliff I was standing on. They didn't seem to notice me at all and were quite content lying there.
Three Adélies out sunbathing at 11:30 at night!
A wider view of where they were at
As I was watching, one of them got up, jumped into the water and disappeared. The other two just lay there, sunbathing. A minute later, the missing penguin returned! He shot straight out of the water and landed on the ice! I snapped a picture right as he was landing.
Landing on the sea ice
After watching them for a while longer, I decided to head back to the lab to get the other guys. Plus, it was very cold and windy out there on the exposed rocky peninsula of Hut Point (the current wind chill makes the temperature around 8 degrees Fahrenheit right now).

I was worried that they would disappear before we got back. However, as we were walking out to the point, one of the guys (an avid birder) looks through his binoculars out in a different direction and says that there is another one! Apparently, the penguin saw us too because he started sliding on his belly as fast as he could toward us. These penguins are extremely curious! He was probably also wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to be outside under the conditions....
A curious penguin approaches his human onlookers
Anyway, the four of us just stood there and watched him approach. He stopped for a minute once he reached the edge of the sea ice. There was a small ridge there where the sea ice transitions to snow pack.
Searching for a path to visit the humans
Then, he found a smooth hill to climb over the snow drift and he kept coming toward us! He stopped when he was probably 10 feet away!

An amazing, close-up view of the penguin. Photo courtesy of our resident photographer and birder Martijn Vandegehuchte
Soon enough, he was bored with us so he turned around and took off!

After that, we headed to the other side of Hut Point and the other three penguins were still in the same exact spot I last saw them in. They seemed to be slightly more boring after our experience with the curious one!
The 'curious' penguin ended up coming down near the crack in the sea ice once we were up on the cliff

Anyway, I am excited that I finally got to see penguins. I was hoping that I would be able to so I kept going out to Hut Point to see if any showed up. I saw their tracks on multiple visits but this was the first time I saw anything!

Since I'm sure this post has already made Uncle Neil really jealous, I'll add another bird picture. This is a skua (I believe it is a South Polar Skua). Around Mactown, they can be very clever scavengers, foraging for food in the various waste bins around town.
A skua next to the same crack I eventually saw penguins at
Anyway, excuse any spelling or grammar mistakes as it is after 2 AM now! Unfortunately, I also just found out from the flight information page on our local McMurdo Intranet that my flight was cancelled. I don't know when I'll be able to leave but it looks like I can sleep in tomorrow.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Flight Update

There was a South Korean fishing boat that caught fire less than 400 miles north of here. Three of the crew members are dead. Seven of the injured fishermen are on board a U.S. Antarctic Program research vessel heading toward McMurdo right now. They are supposed to be medevaced to Christchurch on my flight.

Here are some news articles about it:

They moved the flight back by 6 hours to make sure that they have enough time to get the injured fishermen here. They also told us that some of us might be bumped to the next flight scheduled for early Monday morning. Hopefully I find out more information soon about what's going on.

Last Day on the Ice

Well, barring any weather delays, I should be leaving McMurdo tonight sometime between 2 and 4 AM (McMurdo Time aka New Zealand time)! If everything goes according to plan, I will get back to the U.S. on January 14th local time. I will spend tomorrow night in Christchurch then leave the next morning for the States.

It has certainly been a fun, challenging, tiring, and incredible experience to be here in Antarctica for the past month (it will be 32 days total by the time I leave. I'm excited to have my first shower in a month!). I never could have predicted that my undergraduate research would result in a trip to the bottom of the world. However, I am excited to get back to the U.S. to see my wife, her family, and my family again. I feel like we accomplished a lot but that there are still quite a few mysteries that the soil ecology team and the LTER site can discover in future Antarctic field seasons.

There's still a post or two that I want to do, so hopefully I will have time to do that soon.

Oh, and just kidding about the shower thing!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Counting 'todes

Today is our last day of counting nematodes! We are finishing up the last samples now.

I previously talked about how we sample and how we extract the nematodes, rotifers, tardigrades, and other small animals from a soil sample.

The next step is to examine the sample under a microscope. I explained the physical process of counting in my post about the lab, especially in the long caption under the picture of our microscopes. We scroll through the sample in a special sample counting dish and use a counting machine to keep track of things. We identify all of the nematodes by species, sex or stage in life cycle (male, female, or juvenile. Juvenile nematodes from the species we see don't have visible sex organs so we count all of them as juvenile), and living or dead. For tardigrades, rotifers, and everything else, we just identify them generally (tardigrade, rotifer, or "other" which usually means protozoan) and we only count the living specimens.

A female Scottnema lindsayae. You can see the indentation of the vulva pretty clearly

A juvenile Scottnema lindsayae. No reproductive structures are seen.
Main body of a Plectus murrayi juvenile. No reproductive structures are seen.

Same Plectus as above except you can clearly see the distinctive tail characteristic of a Plectus
Five nematodes, all Scottnema lindsayae. The one on the top and the second on from the left are male. The one on the bottom right is a female, and the other two (the one in the middle on the right and the one farthest left) are juveniles. For the males, you can see the spicules as an angled structure in the tip of their tail.
A male (you can't tell that it's a male from this picture) Eudorylaimus antarcticus. Adults like this guy are so huge! It is impossible to fit the whole thing in one picture and have it be in focus!
 My video of an Antarctic tardigrade
My video of a collection of Scottnema lindsayae

So that's the stuff that we normally see! We see tons of Scottnema in the dry soils. When we sample closer to the streams or lakes, the diversity increases and we start to see a variety of these other animals too (and the numbers of Scottnema either drop low or disappear). In a plentiful sample, we can see 1000 nematodes. In a normal sample, we'll see a couple hundred. A few samples have absolutely nothing! It is still amazing to me that we find so many microscopic animals in such a desolate location. When we're sampling, it looks so dry and inhospitable that I can't imagine life to exist there.