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Day 72 – We Made It   Leave a comment

I apologize for not keeping up for the past few day. Good news; the helicopter was able to pick us up with our gear and get us back to McMurdo.

The last two days have been very busy packing up the lab and running errands. Since we were running so far behind, most of the departments were things needed to be inventoried were nice enough to do it for us. This break gave us enough extra time to finish processing samples and pack them up for shipping.

After everything was done, Hilary and I went outside to conduct an interview for the short movie that we are putting together about diving in Antarctica. The interview was fun and took about an hour. This night in particular, it was -10 out and there was a very strong breeze working. After an hour of answering questions and not moving, I was chilled to the bone. I decided to head to a small hang out place called the Coffee House. A bunch of our friends from different groups were all in town and it was great to see them and catch up on stories that happened throughout the season. Most of the groups were preparing for the flight back to New Zealand like we were.

Soon after we had our bag drag. This is when we take all our stuff to be weighed for the flight back. Our suit cases are palleted and we hang on to one small carry on. Then then stick us on the scale and weigh us in our Antarctic clothing. The good news is that I weigh the exact same now as I did when I first arrived in Antarctica. That night we stayed up and said good bye to the friends that we had met during the season. It was sad to say good bye to both them and Antarctica in general. I felt that I had really developed a bond with the continent while I was there and it has definitely left a mark. Just after midnight, we piled into Ivan, the transport bus, and started the hour and a half drive down to the ice runway.

Once we boarded the plane, I was utterly exhausted. Within 15 minutes, I was fast asleep in my big red. I slept for the entire 6 hour flight. Once we arrived in New Zealand, we collected our bags and made our way through customs. After we headed back to the Antarctic Clothing Distribution Center, from where we had taken off from 71 days before, and returned our Antarctic gear. It was sad to say good bye to Big Red. That jacket and I had been through a lot together.

After everything was returned, we jumped in a shuttle and headed to our hotel room. By this time, we were exhausted and starving. A small group of us headed to a little coffee house around the corner from the hotel. After a very satisfying burger, I went back to the hotel room and slept all afternoon. This trip, while very rewarding, was very physically and mentally exhausting.

Tomorrow I head back to Honolulu via Sydney. I am so excited to be heading home. I can’t wait to see palm trees and surf again. Mostly I’m excited to see Jamey. It has been just under four months since I saw him last. I cannot wait to be back home with him again. After a few days in the islands, I plan on heading to California for Christmas to see my friends and family there. Throughout this trip, everyone has been so supportive and excited for me. Thank you to everyone who got me here and has supported me while I was on the ice. This trip has really helped me grow and mature in a scientific way and has also helped me decide where I plan to take my life next. Where I’m going will be a whole new adventure.

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Posted December 14, 2011 by dwoodward707 in The Way Home

Day 66 – Weather Hold   1 comment

For the past two days, we have been packing and waiting for a helicopter to pick us up and fly us to McMurdo. However, yesterday visibility dropped and helicopters were canceled for the day. This morning we awoke to a fresh layer of snow, and helicopters postponed again.

Sam has instructed us to pack a tooth brush, our wallet, and our passport into our big red coats and be ready to hop on a helicopter without any other personal possessions. This “rescue” helicopter will hopefully come today and be able to retrieve our personal bags before we depart the ice for New Zealand on Tuesday. Unfortunately the weather looks like it is going to hold until Saturday and helicopters don’t fly on Sunday. Monday is all we have left to get our stuff.

I may end up coming home with a small backpack, a tooth brush, my passport, and the same cloths that I’ve been wearing for the past three months. Oh how Antarctica can still surprise me!

Posted December 8, 2011 by dwoodward707 in The Way Home

Day 63 – Packing Up Camp   4 comments

Well it is the end of the season. The ice is melting, the sun is always up, and Christmas is right around the corner. Time to head back home.

Yesterday was our final dive. We dove a recently opened hole called the Stockton hole. It was named for a researcher named Bill Stockton who did a lot of work down here in the 1970’s. He was one of the first people to document the scallops here and make note of their abundance. The reason for diving the Stockton hole was also to count scallops. This was a side project that Sam assigned me. Over the last few years, a colleague of Sam’s has been collecting live scallops for her research. As this is Sam’s last season, he wanted to see if there were any differences in the abundance of scallops here in explorers cove. Until the numbers are more directly analyzed, we are not completely sure.

After I collected scallop counts, Hilary and I headed up the fast ice. At this particular spot, there is a very shallow mound that is only about 15 feet deep. It was so beautiful because there was lots of fast ice under us and brine channels hanging down. It really felt like swimming through an ice cave. Once we got to the far edge, the bottom sloped away dramatically to greater than 100ft. This may be a place where water from the moat breaks through and rushes into the ocean. We got to see this out at Salmon Bay.

Our moat is filling up quickly. The Wales stream that pours off the Wales glacier has finally connected with the moat. This brings down warm (relatively), fresh water that fills up the moat. This is when we really start falling through the ice. In order to get our gear off the ice, Sam and I put on these old waders and walked out through the moat, and broke away parts of the ice and carried all our gear across. It was a lot of work, and pretty cold. The waders that I had were made for someone much bigger than me. The feet stuck out about 4 inches past my toes and I had to bunch up all the extra material on my thighs and rubber band it to stay. To lighten the mood, Sam decided that we need to talk like hill-billies and go “gater huntin’” out in the ice. It definitely lightened the mood. We have all been working so hard and everyone is really tired.

Over the past few days, we have been staging everything to be picked up by the helicopters. A lot of the stuff is put in nets and the slung under the helicopter. Today was pretty cool because I got to hook up a sling load that was a snowmobile. Not too many people can say they did that today. We have also been working hard at packing up the dive locker and trying to get everything ready to head back to McMurdo. Once we get there we get to unload and wash everything that we send back.

These next 10 days are going to be very physically demanding, but I’m really looking forward to closing out the season and heading back home. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed my time in Antarctica, it has been the trip of a life time, but 10 weeks is a long time, I have seen so much, and now it’s time to head home. I miss the warm ocean and slippers (sandals). Mostly I miss not having to take off 4 layers just to pee. I am looking forward to getting home, but there is still a lot to do between now and then.

Until next time…

 

Posted December 6, 2011 by dwoodward707 in New Harbor

Day 53-57 – Salmon Bay   5 comments

So far, Salmon Bay was one of the biggest highlights of this trip. It was such a spectacular and amazing place to see and explore.

Glacial lake formed from melt water

We landed there just afternoon. The polar haven had already been set up by Sam and Laura the day before and there were two tents for us to sleep in. The camp was minimal, which was good, cause it meant that we had less to bring back with us. Almost immediately after we landed, we had a seal in our hole. He stayed with us for the entire weekend. We arrived on Thursday and planned to stay until Saturday morning. We would do three dives and collect all our samples at that time.

That diving was absolutely opposite of anything that I have done in Antarctica yet. There were soft bodied animals everywhere and algae that covered the bottom. Small bryozoans have these structured colonies that rise up on the bottom, and I even saw a small octopus, smaller than the palm of my hand. The sediments here were also very different. So far we have been working in fine sands, but that was just straight muddy goo. Sam called it glacial flour which describes it pretty well. It was very hard to work in and very difficult to core. We did manage to get all our samples, just didn’t have too much time to look around. One other thing that was very particular was an alga that grew on the base of the sea ice. It looked like brown hair extending down almost 2 feet. When we tried to grab on to some to bring it to the surface, but it was so fine that it just dissolved on out gloves. It was really incredible.

Rock split from ice formation in cracks

Later that night, after we had finished collecting our samples, the winds picked up a bit and it was pretty cold in the morning. No problem. We were heading out on the helicopter that afternoon. So that morning we got up despite the cold, ate breakfast, and packed up everything for the helicopter ride back to New Harbor. I asked Sam if I could go back up the valley a bit for some pictures of this Koala bear that is traveling around the world for a 3rd grade geography project. I have him right now. There was this really cool mummy of a crab eater seal that I wanted to get a picture with the koala bear. Though it might be educational. Any was Sam told me to run really fast up there and be back in camp in an hour.

By the time I got back to camp, the weather had turned for the worst and it has started snowing. The helicopter was canceled for the day. Only problem was that we couldn’t get one out the next day cause it was a Sunday and the helicopters don’t fly on Sunday.

Might not sound like a big deal accept that we had only packed for only two and a half days of food and water. So that afternoon we took inventory. We also decided that because storms here can easily last a few days to a few weeks, we should be very cautious. That night for dinner we had one dehydrated meal and one packet of instant pasta split 4 ways. For dessert, we had one oreo cookie. Not too bad accept that we had spent the day working pretty hard and hiking and collecting sediments from shore for Sam’s colleagues research we were were pretty whipped.

Fortunately we had a generator so we were able to watch old monster movies until everyone fell asleep. The next morning we slept in late. The idea was that if we just slept most of the day away, we wouldn’t be that hungry. It kind of worked. Only one problem, we were running out of water too. So after we all got up and had our one hot drink and a chewy granola bar for “breakfast” there was a break in the storm and we decided to take this opportunity to hike back up to the glacier and collect ice we could melt for drinking. As we were on sea ice, we couldn’t really use that for drinking. That hike was one of the longest hikes ever. The way there wasn’t all that bad. It was really cool to walk through the narrow gorge up to the glacier. The winds had moved a lot of dirt and even uncovered several other bits of seal that were scattered everywhere. Really interesting. The way back though was hard. You want to aim straight for camp, but there is this huge moat in the way that you have to go around. The moat was liquid just a few days before so we didn’t think that ice would be hard enough for us to walk on. Plus on the way back we were each carrying a bag with about 30 pounds of ice. Add the empty stomach and you have a hard hike.

living in the polar haven

That night for dinner, we were scraping by. We had on can of chicken noodle soup watered down and split 4 ways. We also had a small bit of tuna. I added mine into my chicken noodle to warm it up. Everything was frozen. We were trying to not use the propane heater since we also used to propane to make our food and heat water. Last night I had the hardest time sleeping. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even really sleep at all, just dozed in and out.

We were hoping for our helicopter this morning first thing. Helo ops had told us the night before to be ready. When we woke up at 6:30 but the wind was still howling and we couldn’t see across the sound which was bad. We got a call from Helo Ops and they postponed us until 10:00. Since everything was already packed and ready, we just waited in our shelter and played cards. At 10:00 we were told that we were still on stand by and that we should be ready at a moments notice. At 12:00 we finally heard the beating sound of a helicopter. You will never believe it, it was for our sling load of stuff to go back to New Harbor, not us. So we belly hooked our stuff and then, just after we watched our stuff leave before us, another helicopter came and picked us up.

It was such a relief to be back at New Harbor. Just coming into a familiar place and having all you can eat and drink in front of you was awesome. I also took a sponge bath and changed my cloths. Something I hadn’t done in almost a week. Although this wasn’t a dire situation, it really gave me a different perspective on what could potentially happen to us and reminded me that I am in Antarctica, not just some vacation dive camp.

 

Posted November 21, 2011 by dwoodward707 in New Harbor

Day 42 – Melting Ice   2 comments

It’s finally becoming that time of year. The sun is up all the time and the winds are dying down. The temperature is starting to rise. Most days it’s 20-30 degrees. And our propane is no longer freezing so our heaters work all the time.

As the snow melts it flows down toward the ocean, but it doesn’t quite make it to the ocean as it is still covered in ice. So the water has been collecting between our camp and the sea ice in a place we call the moat. In the moat, the water is much fresher and melts more quickly than the sea ice does. By mid afternoon, everything is melted and crossing the moat takes thick boots, fast feet, and an eye for shallow spots. By midnight, the sun is lower on the horizon and everything freezes up. However it doesn’t freeze all the way. The dirt under the ice is very dark and hold heat. This causes the ice to freeze only on the top layers and in a slushy fashion. When you walk across this kind of ice, it gives and flexes under your feet. It feels like walking on a trampoline.

For our diving, the melt can start limiting the places that we can go. We are working quickly to collect all our data that we need before our dive spots become inaccessible. For the past week, Cecil and I have been diving Ice Wall every day. Ice Wall is named for the 30-40 foot underwater ice wall where land ice meets the sea ice. Everyday is different. New brine channels (the long ice tubes coming down from the ice) are forming and growing to enormous lengths. Yesterday there was one that was at least 20-30 feet long. There are also hundreds of scallops along the sea floor and the fast ice (ice forming on the bottom of the ocean floor). Sometimes these scallops become frozen in the ice and over several years, incorporated into the sea ice itself. The other day, we came across some multi year ice that was melting on the surface. There was a layer of dirty ice and incorporated into it were all these beautifully preserved scallop shells. It looked as though someone had cut a section of the sea floor and brought it to the surface.

As the snow and ice melt, other things on land are starting to be uncovered. Take, for example, this mummified seal pup. This pup died of natural causes, but was incorporated into the dirt and permafrost and preserved.

Posted November 16, 2011 by dwoodward707 in New Harbor

Day 31 – An unexpected visit   5 comments

So today we went out to Cape Bernacchii to try and finish off sampling out of that hole. Cecil and I dove and collected sediment scoops for Jan. Our dive was very successful. We obtained so much sediment for Jan’s DNA sampling that we only have coring left. And on a high note, I also found the largest Cornuspira antarcticus (which is a foraminiferan) that Jan had ever seen from Antarctica. It’s crazy because these are a single celled animal that grows usually to the size of a dime or quarter. This one was the size of a 50 cent piece.

After the dive, we went through the normal exit procedures: hand up the tank, hand up the weight, haul your self out of the hole on your stomach, and pull your fins off. Once I’m out, I’ll usually get back over to my tank and inflate my suit to warm up. Today I was being helped out of my gloves by Laura, when Jan, who was pulling up the down line, yells at the hole, ” no, don’t take my samples”. Laura and I turn to see this fat head popping out of the water.

We stayed and watched two seals take turns breathing. The seals were so fat that they had to go one at a time up the hole. Even with that, sometimes they didn’t look like they would fit. Eventually, after they had their breaths, they swam off. These seals were Weddell seal and are some of the best diving marine mammals for depth and time.

Right when it popped up the first time

Cecil and I went to change out of our suits before we froze into them. Just after we got out of the dry suit, still in our fleece layers, we heard Laura yelling. Cecil and I put on our boots and headed out side. We got there and one seal was back and starting to haul out of the hole. It hauled out and started galumping over to the ice, looking for a patch of snow to dry off. To prevent freezing their fur, seals will rub and roll around in the snow. This pulls the moisture from their fur.

Overall this was an amazing experience that will stay with me for a life time.

 

 

 

Posted November 4, 2011 by dwoodward707 in New Harbor

Belly Hooking   3 comments

I know what you might be thinking, belly hooking? That’s an interesting title. But let me explain. When we belly hook, it is literally hooking a cable to the belly of a helicopter so that a load can be slung to another place. Typically there is a Helicopter attendant that does this, but on this particular day, the helicopter didn’t land to drop supplies so it was faster to have someone from the camp hook the load. And guess who volunteered first: me. So, mom don’t freak out, but here is a video of me belly hooking to a helicopter.

Posted October 31, 2011 by dwoodward707 in New Harbor