January 31, 2004
One of Those Days
It hit me today, about ten minutes ago. I'm excited to go north. I'm really frickin' excited to go north.
It might come and go in waves, and I might change my attitude shortly, but right now I'm ready for a vacation. I'm ready for a vacation, and warm sunshine, and trees. I'm ready for the distant sounds of children and insects and birds in a park. Ready to do my own gig. To have a backpack on my back, and to travel. To eat fresh, raw carrots. (I realized that two days ago.) I'm reaching the point in the season that I'm supposed to reach; the point at which I'm about to go north, and the point at which I therefore want to go north. The season's winding down. I'm tired. I still love this place, but I'm tired, and I want to go north. And I want to be on vacation. This is a good thing. I usually have just enough field work to keep me engaged, to keep me interested and focused, to keep me feeling as if I've been on a trip, taken a break, been on an adventure which is almost the same thing as vacation anyway, if the adventure is fun. But I haven't been out in the field lately, and things here are starting to wear on me a bit, and all this is good because I want to want to go north. Unfortunately, I have two days of field work left, just before I leave, which may just make my last days feel hectic and may make me want to stay on. But I don't want to want to stay on. I want to want to leave.
The wallpaper on my computer screen is no longer of an Antarctic theme. Today, it is Mayon Volcano, a volcano I had the good fortune of working on in the Philippines. It's beautiful, it's hot, it's sunny. It looks like this:
January 19, 2004
Another day, another adventure. Today, I went with a science group to Franklin Island.
Going to Franklin Island is partly cool because we have to fly over open water. The usual helicopter folks, PHI (Petrolium Helicopters Incorporated) can't fly over open water down here, so we flew with the Coast Guard. Several Coast Guard helicopters with crew arrive around early January every year with the icebreaker, which is another story. In brief, the story goes: two Coast Guard icebreakers (big ships designed to break through sea ice by riding slightly up over it and crushing it under the weight of the boat, repeatedly, again and again, and back up and do it again, which makes for slow but often effective progress) come down every year in early January to break a channel through the sea ice to McMurdo so that other ships--most importantly, the vessels which come in to resupply and fuel McMurdo for the following year and to take out the past year's waste and other goods such as our GPS instruments--can make it in to the ice pier built next to town.
How did I get on this tangent?
Coast Guard. Helicopters. Us.
We left around 9:30 for Franklin Island. We arrived there about an hour later.
Franklin Island is baren, rugged, and volcanic. Obviously volcanic. Screaming volcanic. Except that it's no longer active.
The project is a collaboration between Ohio State University, USGS, and LINS (Land Information Systems of New Zealand). They are using GPS to monitor crustal motions related to glacial loading and tectonics. The tectonic story to me is the interesting one; they are trying to understand rifting, or crustal thinning/spreading in this area. The rifting is probably responsible for volcanism at Erebus and the other active volcanoes on this side of Antarctica.
A close-up of the layers. Note the green rocks in the mixture. These layers represent rubble blown violently from the volcano during eruptions past. Included in this rubble are these green rocks which stand out like sore thumbs--only prettier.
The light green is a mineral called olivine, and forms in rocks high in iron and magnesium. Olivine is common in rocks derived directly from melted mantle, the layer beneath the Earth's crust (= deep within the Earth), but can also form in a shallow magma chamber and settle out of the melt. These rocks on Franklin Island may represent pieces ripped up from the bottom of the magma chamber.
January 16, 2004
F6 Day 3: The Final Chapter
None of us expected, coming home late at night from our adventure at the neighbors' place, that the weather would be good today. But it was. It was just good enough to do the experiment the Stream Team has been planning for some time, and seven of us converged at F6 to help out with collecting water samples from various localities along the stream as Karen injected a traceable chemical into the flow. I agreed to leave GPS for a day to help out with the experiment, and spent most the afternoon pumping water from wells and filling small sample bottles. Not so bad when the weather's nice.
Still, the day was long, and it was nice to get back to town. I have some friends who have been part of an improv comedy group, and tonight was their big night to perform. We came back to McMurdo on a night flight, not arriving until about 9:30 PM, so I tore off my extra clothing and headed straight over to the bar in my fleece pants, unfed and with hair appropriately greasy. One gentleman asked if I had been working out and I said why, do I smell bad? and actually subjected the poor guy to the odor of my pits. I thought it would be mostly an odor of deodorant, but a later self-test proved me wrong. Yikes.
Now, it's late, and I'm off to bed. There are more things to do tomorrow, more exciting tasks and a bunch of painful ones I've been putting off. I keep noting to myself that I need to be more organized, but I can't find anything to write it down on....
January 14, 2004
F6 Day 2
It's amazing how exhausting it is just to walk around out in the cold air all day. I've gotten too used to nice weather, and now that the weather has taken a bit of a turn and the air has cooled down, I feel resentful. But it's no fun to do work when it's cold. From 10 AM to 5 PM, Karen and Justin (of the Stream Team) and I have been walking around surveying a stream to map it's thalwag and the location of various sample sites.
I was going to start off this entry with an energetic "What the heck is a THALWAG? Is it a monster? Some growth in one's throat that must be removed? The name of a superstar's kitty cat? No. The thalwag is the deepest part of a stream channel." That's how it was going to start--educational, fun--but hearing Justin snoring lightly on the bench behind me just minutes after he lied down focused me on our exhaustion instead. I would I were that man lying on that bench, then I too would be snoring lightly in gentle indulgence.
[Mummified seal. More than just asleep, and from the looks of it it's been that way for a while. How do they get all the way up the valleys? Cruise on up, realize too late there are no sources of food.]
There is still at least one hour's worth of work to do today, and then we will go over to the neighbors' for dinner. The Yeastie Boys, a group (consisting of both men and women) studying yeast in the Valleys, are working out of the camp across the lake. One of their team members, Regina, is supposedly a wonderful cook, and they have converted one of the camp's labs into a sauna besides. Should make for a nice end to a long day.
January 13, 2004
Well, no time to catch up, but a little bit of time to talk about the present.
Presently, I am at a camp called F6, which is a small camp on the south side of Lake Fryxell in Taylor Valley. I'm here to work with the Stream Team, a group of researchers from University of Colorado who are studying stream dynamics here in Taylor Valley. Because the weather is too cold to do the experiment they were hoping to do, it has been a down day, which has been nice. I've spent most of the day on my computer, online, working to get processing of the new data from Mt. Erebus up and running. After hours of trial and error, I've only begun to work through the computer quirks. It will be nice to be able to actually process the data, and see whether the positions of our sites have changed since last season.
If all goes well here, I will be helping the Stream Team with an experiment tomorrow (hope for sunny weather) and then mapping out a stream channel for them with GPS on Thursday, to return to McMurdo Thursday night.
My afternoon activities, when I wasn't working on the computer, included a long, hard nap. I went out to my tent, flopped on top of the sleeping bag with my big red parka on, and slept. For several hours. Why so tired? I worked until 11 last night (yes, I do work sometimes), but slept at least 7 hours. Hmmm.
The Valleys (short for the Dry Valleys) are just about the coolest place on Earth. Okay, I haven't come even close to being everywhere on Earth, but they're one of the very cool ones. Imagine a place where natural processes consist of interaction of wind, rock, fluid water, ice, and little else. Some biological matter, but nothing with legs. Algae and such. Mostly, just the elements. These processes, uninterupted, for days and seasons and years and millenia.
Right now, I'm going to explore the processes of sleep.
January 1, 2004
Happy New Year!
I don't know about the rest of 2004, but what a night. Oh, my.
It started with a few drinks in my friends Kelly and Liz's room, and moved on to a party at the BFC, where mustache painting was running rampant.
New Years was celebrated with a ball drop an hour early, for those who wanted to get to bed. New Years is a school night in McMurdo.
The early ball drop was also convenient for those of us who wanted to catch New Years at Scott Base, the Kiwi base over the hill. Kelly, Liz, and I left the BFC to catch a shuttle over.
At Scott Base, there were more friends to be nutty with and lots of people to smooch at midnight.
The night just kept going from there, probably longer than it should have, but (for better or for worse) there are pictures to remind us of moments otherwise forgotten.
New Years in Antarctica: A party, like everywhere else in the world. In fact, this was probably my biggest New Years ever. Here's to 2004: More adventure, more friendship, more sharing, more learning, more teaching, and, of course, more fun. Why the hell not.