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December 31, 2003

Last Field Work of 2003

Hooray! Welcome to the last day of 2003! I don't know why hooray, except that I'm a bit loopy because I haven't eaten or drank nearly enough today because I always miss breakfast (it's just too damn early) and I ended up going into the field over lunchtime. It went something like this: Come in to work, see a note from Maria Uhle, who I've worked with a couple times in the Dry Valleys, which says: "Beth--Can you go to Hjorth Hill tomorrow? Maria." Can I go to Hjorth Hill tomorrow. I had forgotten that we needed to go back to Hjorth, but sure, I can go tomorrow. Nothing else going on.

Tomorrow. Wait. I didn't come in to the office yesterday evening, having been in the field all day. Does tomorrow mean tomorrow, or does tomorrow mean today? I called the helo hanger. Today at 14:30 (2:30 for those of you who, like me, don't like math), says Patrick. Today? Okay. Tomorrow means today. But, he says, we've had some earlier missions cancelled, so you guys might go a bit early.

I start cleaning up from the past few projects. Maria calls. They've moved us up, she says. 11:15. (It's 10:15.) So we'll need to be there in half an hour. Half an hour, I repeat. Okay. Sure.

The equipment's almost together already from this past weekend, so organizing isn't so much of a problem. I hadn't planned to fly, though, so I was lucky to have enough ECW (extreme cold weather gear) lying around my office to get me through. The clothes I had worn in the field yesterday are still in my room, so I had to resort to my second-favorites.

There's not a lot to report on the outing. Just that I didn't have much time to get my work done, and that I became much grumpier than usual when things started going a little bit haywire with my equipment. Then I remembered the part about being dehydrated from yesterday, and the part about missing lunch--hoo, if you know how much I like to eat, you'll know how big that one is--and realized why I was so grumpy. I just had to make it through.

But I couldn't make it all the way through without a photo. It struck me shortly before I was finished that I hadn't taken any photos, and how can I go into the field without taking any pictures? What then to post on the blog?

So I took one. This is the picture of the day:

Actually, I took about five pictures leading up to that one, because it took me a while to get used to the delay between telling the camera I wanted to take a picture and the camera actually taking the picture on the digital. I should have posted all the pictures, because the number of pictures represents the number of times this very same skua tried dive-bombing me before I actually got it in the frame. Which is to say that this very same skua dive-bombed me at least that number of times, because it started before I had my camera out, and that number doesn't reflect the number of times I was dive-bombed by other skuas or by the same skua earlier in the survey, before I decided to take a picture. Skua. Diving. Not diving, not bombing, so much as flying low and straight and fast directly towards one's face, veering upward to fly over one's head. A little intimidating, I admit. I would have rather just been able to tell the poor guy (gal?) that I really wasn't threatening after all, and that he--and all his friends--could just leave me alone. Although it was amusing. And, if not for the aggressive skuas, what would I have to talk about?

Note that skuas are very large seabirds, essentially monster seagulls. Big and fierce.

But that has nothing to do with New Years. It's New Years Eve! And no, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm pretty sure I'm going to eat dinner, though. I hope it's something good.

Posted by beth at 5:26 PM | Comments (9)

December 26, 2003


My goodness! What a crazy thing! Besides it being the day after Christmas, which by itself isn't so crazy, I've been greeted by about a thousand new messages on the weblog. Okay, a thousand is a gross overstatement, but there have been an awful lot over the past couple days--and they've been wonderful. Thanks everyone, both friends/family and those of you who have never met me, for checking this out and dropping a line. I can't NOT write an entry today, even if it's not much.

I'll start with a picture of life at present, and move on to catching up later.

I'm at work. I'm sitting in front of my (work's) computer, in the room strewn with GPS equipment and yellow boxes. Right now, it's in a state of minor chaos, as I'm getting ready to head out into the field tonight. Although UNAVCO has its own space, we share an office--a half-wall separates us--with the IT folks, Holly, Matt, and Craig. Craig has a Prince album on presently, and Holly and Matt are running errands. They are lovely neighbors. We hug.

Tonight, I'm off to Garwood Valley, one of the less-travelled Dry Valleys. I will be doing the same thing I did at the Hjorth camp, which won't tell you much since I don't think I've written about it yet. Expect pictures soon. It should be beautiful. I'm on a night flight to Garwood, leaving here at 10:30 PM, so before then I'll work to get ready, do yoga after work, eat dinner, and hopefully see a talk on travelling across Africa in a garbage truck. People down here have done all sorts of things.

I had a very, very nice Christmas, and hope that you, if you are celebrating, are doing the same.

Posted by beth at 1:45 PM | Comments (10)

December 16, 2003

Moody Nunatak

Have you guys got enough of the hottie pilots yet?

Of course not. Neither have I.

Come Sunday, I was a bit nervous about the coming week. I had a potential 3-day field job coming up at Moody glacier, and another job at Hjorth which had to be done before Friday. Nobody scheduling flights works on Sunday, so I wouldn’t know until Monday morning where I was headed when, and how everything would work out.

Eric, with whom I was to go to Moody glacier, called me at 5:50 AM on Monday to tell me he’d just talked with Joni, the fixed-wing (airplane) coordinator, and that there was no news. We were hoping to get dropped off at Moody glacier on a Hurc on its way back from the South Pole, which meant we would go with it to the Pole and get dropped on its way back. Sweet. Then, we’d camp for a couple nights at Moody glacier and do our work by helicopter, and catch a Hurc on its way back to McMurdo.

Erik called me again at 6-something, to again tell me we had nothing definitive but that it didn’t look good, and that Joni had asked him to call her back closer to 7:30. At 7:15, he called me to tell me Joni had gotten us on a Twin Otter for the day, and that we were to be down at the Twin Otter shack on the ice runway at 8:30.

I had prepared for options A and B, but not completely for either. Especially should either happen at 8:30 AM. Still, I was only a little behind when Eric showed up in my office at 8:20 to pick up equipment and myself to head on down. Every day is an adventure.

Eric Kendrick, presently of University of Hawaii but soon to be of The Ohio State University, and Jim Spencer, Kiwi mountaineer from Fox glacier in New Zealand, and I were to install two GPS instruments on a to-be-determined location on the Moody nunatak. A nunatak is a piece of land which is surrounded by but never covered by ice, an island in the flowing glaciers. We wanted to put these GPS instruments on the nunatak for several reasons: the nunatak lies between an area studied by Eric and companions to the south and an area studied by other Ohio State folks to the north, and ties the two study areas together; and the site could be used as a base station by another group which would be using GPS out on Moody glacier starting the end of December. The purposes of using GPS in the projects are different; the first two groups want to use GPS to see how the land in the area is moving in response to plate motions and to the effect of glacial loading, and the third group wants to use GPS to track their position during aerial aeromagnetic surveys. The aeromagnetic surveys help determine under-ice topography to better understand the ice-land interaction in the area. (I hope I have that right).

Enough science? We didn’t do any science while we were out there. We man-hauled.

First, though, we flew for a bit under three hours and circled the site in the plane to pick out a spot that looked good. Good meant a spot with solid-looking bed rock which was relatively easily accessible from the snow, since that’s where the Otter would have to land. After picking a spot, we landed. And unloaded gear. And looked up the hill at the rock, to me so far away.

We man-hauled in Antarctica! I was stoked. Just like the good old days. Except that we were hauling GPS equipment, and had lots of warm clothes including lots of extra ones and we had flown to our destination and had survival bags and were only going to be out for the day and knew we had showers (with hot water) and food and beds and warm buildings and even a sauna if we wanted it waiting for us when we got home. “Home.” Other than that, though, we were just like the early explorers. Hauling a sled loaded with equipment by cords caribinered into harnesses on our waists and tied with prussic knots to a main cord attached to the sled. And we (Erik, Jim, and I) looked like this:

[Me, Jim, Eric. Photo compliments of Trevor.]

Jim was our fearless leader. “Ready dogs?” he’d ask. “Mush!”

We made our way up the hill. About two thirds of the way up, something hilarious happened to the snow. Eric only thought it was hilarious for the first couple minutes. The snow turned to hoare; that is the soft but otherwise normal snow gave way to a thin, brittle crust underlain by unconsolidated, non-compacting, large, recrystalized ice crystals which could be scooped up by the handful and thrown gleefully into the air. This makes walking difficult. Talk about post-holing. Every step was up to the knees, and some deeper—some immediately to the thigh—and we’re still pulling this thing behind us, although by this time we’ve dumped one of the heavier items alongside our tracks to pick up later, and every time we go in very far we end up crawling, groveling along the snowy icy crystally slope until we can again stand, and I laugh and laugh at the ridiculous of it but we stop often because it is also exhausting and slow going. While Jim goes back to the sled to remove another heavy box, Eric plays penguin, lying on his belly and eating the snow before him without using his hands. He later tells me this is the only water he drank all day. I play dumbfounded until I realize that I didn’t have any water, either. I didn’t have much, either, says Jim, just a liter or so. Eric and I roll our eyes. Silly mountaineer. A liter is a lot more than nothing.

[Eric playing penguin. "I can't believe I actually smiled," he said the next day, as we looked through the pictures together.]

We had to leave the sled where the snow gives way to rock. While Eric explored, Jim and I went back for the abandoned boxes.

[Jim tries to sled down to the upper box. If you squint, you can see two white boxes along the tracks. You can also see the two Otter pilots on their way up the hill, and the plane down at the bottom.]

The two Otter pilots, Scott and Trevor, must have felt sorry for us. Or, they might have realized that if they didn’t help out a bit we would take forever.

[Scott and Trevor.]

By the time Jim and I had made it to our first box, the pilots had reached the second and were bringing it up. We put both on the sled and hauled it up to the rocks. Eric reported that the rock was beautiful, solid and abundant, and we began to ferry the gear over the rocks to his preferred spot. “Where would I be most useful?” I asked. “Here, helping you guys put this in, or going back to the plane to help the pilots with another load?” It sounds like I was being nice, but really I had motives. And no, they didn’t have to do with spending time with the pilots. Well, maybe a little to do with that, but it had more to do with the sled.

I left Eric and Jim to work on the installation and went down to join the pilots at the rock-snow transition. There was no question in Trevor and my minds of how we wanted to get down to the plane. Scott, for some reason, was hesitant. You guys go ahead and see if you can get it going, he said, and if it works I’ll hop on. Are you sure, Scott? we asked. Come on, Scott. We badgered him into it.

Now, I think Scott loves us.

Trevor in the back, Scott in the middle, me in the front (how’d I score that?). Ready? Go!

We made it all the way down. We made it all the way down through the soft snow, all three of us, a comfortable pace—doesn’t sound very exciting, but it made for a nice, long, joyous ride—, ending within 10 or so feet of the equipment by the plane. We tried leaning to steer, which didn’t work very well, but I used my hand as a rudder to keep us angling left and I think that’s what did it, and there we were at the bottom with one glorious smooth sled track behind us. That was the best sled ride ever.

[Our sled-riding hill. Also our man-hauling hill.]

I wish I could bask in it, but we couldn’t really then, either. Time to load up the sled again, with the rest of the goods, luckily lighter than the last load, and we stuck Trevor in the middle (where he’d end up pulling most of the weight) and started up the hill. It was easier than the first time, having a slightly packed track to follow. Plus, we had just gotten to sled down. Life was good.

There was still a bit of work to do. After a bit of basking,

[Trevor hero shot.]

[Scott keeping out of the wind. Check out the horizon. What's my deal?]

the pilots took off on a hike to the summit

while Eric and Jim and I worked on the GPS installations.


[Eric, Jim.]

Or, from the looks of it, Eric and Jim worked and I took pictures.

The final result was lovely.

If you’re into that sort of thing.

And we were off, only an hour or so late. 7 PM.

Ah, the work day is over. What, the pilots still have three hours of flying ahead? Bummer. It’s hard enough work for me just to keep my eyes open. They point out that they can sleep, too, since they have autopilot. But it’s too beautiful to sleep, really… Did I fail to mention that the day was absolutely gorgeous, with not a cloud in the sky? In fact, just how perfect the day was didn’t strike me until we were flying over Black Island, almost back to McMurdo, and I observed thin wisps of clouds far below. Clouds? What are those foreign objects? My goodness, we’ve seen nary a one yet today.

Before heading home, we stopped at the Beardmore camp to refuel. The Beardmore is a camp established this year to accommodate six or so science parties who wanted to do research in that area, about 3 hours south of McMurdo by Twin Otter. Just the day we were there, a group looking for fossils found a big ol’ dinosaur femur. Strange to think there was once abundant life in this place. What’s even stranger is that the land was supposedly not too much farther north than it is now—the world was just a warmer place.

[The land from above. Antarctica was once a continent much like any other, with plants and animals and rivers eroding valleys and depositing sediments. The rocks reveal this history in its sedimentary layers, indicating times of shallow sea formation and of mountain building, leaves and bones preserved in these layers as fossils.]

The stop at the Beardmore was short. Just long enough for me to get a hug and a short conversation out of my friend Andy, who’s out there for the season, and for our fuel tanks to get filled. Back on the plane, and back north to McMurdo.

[I call this Niagra Ice Falls. Ice falls, and ice falls, and ice falls.]

[I just like the way the ice curves around the island, joining in gentle lines stretching down-glacier.]

[Big glacier. Fat glacier.]

Luckily, the scenery eventually got a little less spectacular and I was able to catch a nap.

I woke up in time to see Mt. Discovery from a new angle.

We landed around 10:30 PM. On our ride back to town with the Otter folks (mechanic Kevin in command, claiming to be the short bus driver. But he's tall.), we stopped to say hello to the emperor penguin who's been hanging out by the ice runway and who was preening alongside the road.

By the time we were done transporting and dealing with gear, it was closer to 11:30. Only an hour until midrats, the midnight meal (lunch for night workers). But, I went straight to my room and went to bed. No, I went straight home and changed into clean clothes and then went to midrats to grab a quick bite. Or maybe, just maybe, I went straight to Jen and Melanie’s room where there was still a group of folks exchanging foot massages and painting each other’s toenails. Refuse a foot massage after a day in the field? No way. So I put on some of Jen’s pajama pants and one of her tee-shirts and cuddled on the couch and she rubbed my feet and life was good. Still good, I mean. Then, I went to midrats. I met up with Eric and Jim there, and would have met up with Scott as well who I guess was walking right behind us but he’s just too darn hard to recognize without his sunglasses and big Carharts jacket and hat and gloves. Sneaky chap, that Scott.

And then I went to bed. Really.

Posted by beth at 8:43 AM | Comments (21)

December 15, 2003

Commonwealth Glacier

Okay. Okay! Geez Lousie, I have a lot of catching up to do. Why do most of my entries start with that line?

What’s happened. The week of field work from hell. I mean, from heaven! Busy, but good.

Starting with Friday, November 28.

Bjorn and I were hoping to get out on two field projects together before he left. The first fell through, but the weather and helo schedule were in our favor for the second. We spent a lovely day with Thomas Nylen of Portland State University on the Commonwealth glacier which oozes out into Taylor valley, one of the infamous Dry Valleys.

The goal was to install one GPS receiver as a base station on a ridge alongside the glacier, and to install three more receivers on wood posts pounded into the glacier to measure the rate of glacier flow. Bjorn and Thomas had installed the equipment two weeks previous, but the batteries had died, so very little data was collected. It happens. Luckily, we had the opportunity to try again.

[On the glacier.]

[Thomas and Bjorn.]

The weather was warm, pleasant. I think we even worked with our gloves off. We got to hike around on cool rocks and on a glacier all day. I think the way I was planning on beginning this entry was as follows:

I saw a hollow granite boulder today! No, really! It was a granite boulder, and it was hollow! Hollowed out by the wind! That’s incredible! I’ve certainly never seen anything like that before.

The rocks in the Dry Valleys are crazy. Rocks crazy? There are all kinds of rocks, all shoved into piles together by glaciers past and present. Sedimentary rocks and igneous rocks and metamorphic rocks, all three, and not only are there of all three but there are strange types of all three. And then, the big boulders are in strange forms as well. Large curving sculptures crafted by the wind, elegant and unusual forms stretching upwards and outwards from the hillside.

In the ice, other gems. Holes which form in the ice surface which Thomas explained as patches where sediment has accelerated melting in all directions as the sun does its circles in the sky. The result is a perfect circle where water has melted and refrozen, trapping patterns which resemble an artists’ globes of glass. Or, considering which came before the other, an artist’s globes of glass resemble these holes melted and refrozen into the ice, which distort and move as you move your point of view around them.

[Scale = about 7-10 cm diameter.]

[Scale = same.]

Our work went well, and we had some time to relax before the helicopter picked us up. We dropped Thomas back at camp at Lake Hoare, just upvalley from where we were working, which was a treat in itself. The camp sits at the base of the Canada glacier, with a view up its steep wall. Scotty (helo pilot) flew us up past this wall of ice and over the heads of two researchers out on the ice of the lake, all ice and rock and us up and over exploring it. Scotty flew us along the ice edge on our way back, for my first view of emperor penguins. There were groups of them gathered along the ice edge, them big enough and us low enough that we could see the yellow patches on their chops. No whales, though. Not yet, not this time.

After we’d arrived back in McMurdo and had reorganized ourselves in the lab, Bjorn came in laughing. What’s funny? I asked. Nothing, he said. Oh, he continued, just that you had so much fun today.

Wouldn’t anyone?

Posted by beth at 7:41 AM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2003

Crazy Busy

Crasy busy! Crazy busy! Crazy busy!

Posted by beth at 1:10 AM | Comments (2)

December 6, 2003


I made it up to Erebus! And all I have time to show you is pictures.

Spectacular day. The ice edge (where sea ice gives way to open ocean) is much closer to McMurdo than it was at this time last year, which is great--more penguins, seals, and whales closer to town. Plus, the ice edge is just beautiful. Open water in Antarctica. It's cool.

The Erebus ice tongue (the funky scalloped feature), a glacier coming off the flank of Erebus.

Approaching the volcano.

Closer still.

Installing a site near the hut. I got dropped off by the helicopter, and got to skidoo to the site just like old times. It was great to be home! I did feel a bit dopey from the altitude, though. Completing coherent sentences was a bit of a challenge, but that's nothing all that unusual.

Work. Yes, I get paid for this.

Posted by beth at 10:06 PM | Comments (4)


Hello, Ms. Shipp's class! And everyone else!

It just so happens that I am going up on Erebus today, in the afternoon (it's 9:30 AM my time). I'll take some pictures for you!

Erebus is indeed still active, and can erupt. It is constantly degassing (releasing volcanic gases from within the Earth) through the summit crater and through fumaroles, or vents, on its flanks. It also has a lava lake which bubbles. Unfortunatly, I probably won't see the lava lake today, but I will get to see the volcano's plume (the gas coming out of its crater).

Hope you're all having a great day! Happy Friday!

Posted by beth at 8:49 AM

December 2, 2003

Antarctica: The Best Place in the World to Be Naked

Antarctica is a fun place to be naked, because it just seems so improbable that anyone would want to be naked in Antarctica.

There are saunas in at least three of the dorms. This is key. This is something that I much look forward to when I am outside and cold. When I was in the field in West Antarctica, at camp, I sometimes thought "sauna sauna sauna sauna" or just "sauna. aaaahhhhhhhh." I very much looked forward to sauna-ing when I got back to McMurdo. Warm. Hot. Relaxing. Aaahhhh. To sauna with my friend Jen. To sauna with my friend Jen, hot and relaxed, gabbing about all that had happened over the past week.

I did have a wonderful sauna when I got back from Siple Dome, but haven't been sauna-ing much since then. It occurred to me several days ago, though, that a sauna session would be nice--it's something to look forward to after work--and we somehow ended up with a 6-person sauna session and after getting good and hot discussed the possibility of going outside to take some pictures and roll in the snow.

Hey, we're in Antarctica. Why not?

Posted by beth at 1:12 PM | Comments (15)