Notes on daily life:
Today we woke up to a beautiful day. The temperature is warm and the sun is shining. The latest report is that the weather is just as clear over most of Antarctica which means that planes will be flying and delivering cargo today. Our Caterpillar challenger 55 will be delivered today to Byrd camp and we hope to be there tomorrow. Once we get to Byrd there will be lots of digging to find the equipment we stored there last year. We may be at Byrd for as long as a week as we prepare our vehicles to begin the traverse.
In a previous report we mentioned that nearby McMurdo base is Mount Erebus. Mount Erebus is 3794 meters (12,500 feet) tall and is the world's southernmost active volcano. It is located 40 kilometers (24 miles) north of McMurdo base. The first day we were here we climbed Observation Peak and noticed Mount Erebus in the distance. Many people have climbed the mountain from its first accent around 1912 to the present. There is a steam plume that is visible during clear weather rising from the top of the mountain. In April of this year there was a ten minute episode of harmonic tremor that was rather unusual. Mount Erebus is continually monitored here in McMurdo by the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory (MEVO). MEVO maintains a permanent network of nine seismometers that monitor the seismic activity of the mountain. Inside the mountain is a lava lake that has been active for at least several decades and showers the rim of the crater with volcanic bombs and glass. Thanks to MEVO for this information. You can find more information about Mount Erebus and MEVO at http://www.ees.nmt.edu/Geop/erebus.html
We have packed all our bags in preparation for leaving here for Byrd camp tomorrow. Cross your fingers, weather changes quickly here.
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Notes on daily life:
We are still in McMurdo waiting for reports on whether the C-130 cargo plane, which will carry our Caterpillar challenger 55 tractor to Byrd camp, will take- off today as scheduled or not. One of the reasons that the cargo has not already been taken to Byrd camp is that we are experiencing a very severe geomagnetic storm which has knocked-out communication with the field camps. The term that the radio communication folks here are using for this event is a "polar cap absorption". Without the radio communications the pilots of the C-130s will not be able to communicate with the folks at Byrd camp to get a weather report. The result is that there can be no flights to Byrd during the storm.
This particular storm is the strongest since 1976 here in Antarctica and has lasted for about 5 days. For almost 48 hours McMurdo and the field stations were without communications. These storms occur on average a few times each year and they vary in intensity and duration. The storms correspond to the 11 year solar sunspot cycle. Every 11 years the number of sunspots on the Sun reaches it maximum. These sunspots expel energetic particles from the Sun out into space which flow with the solar wind around the Earth's magnetopause, a layer in the outer atmosphere that separates the Earth's and the Sun's magnetic fields. Some of the particles leak through and are trapped inside or enter through openings or "cusps" at the North and South Poles and release tremendous energy when they hit the upper atmosphere.
The result is that some radio communications are affected as the ionized particles interact in the atmosphere. The Aurora Borealis is also the result of solar ionized particles entering the Earth's atmosphere from sunspots. The news down here is that this has also been one of the best displays of the Aurora Borealis in North America that has been seen in many years. The solar storm is predicted to end sometime today or tomorrow and hopefully radio communications will resume.
back to topDate: 11/12/00
Notes on daily life:
Today was a catch-up day for sleep and work. From yesterday's trip to the huts and penguins we took almost 500 photographs. So for some of us today is filled with labeling and organizing photographs.
Yesterdays trip part 2: After we left the Adelie penguin rookery and Shackleton's hut, we traveled back towards McMurdo on snowmobiles over the sea ice and we stopped at Evan's Point. On the way to and from Cape Royds we passed the terminus of the Barne Glacier. This glacier flows down from the slopes of Mount Erebus onto the Ross ice shelf. The ice cliff at the terminus, or end of the glacier, stands about 62 meters (200 feet) above the sea ice and probably extends over 650 meters (2000 feet) below the sea ice. From the flat sea ice surface the ice cliff is very spectacular. When we got to Cape Evans we found a Weddell seal sun bathing on the sea ice. This seal was almost 3 meters (9 feet) long and did not pay us any attention as we watched and photographed. At Evans Point stands the hut of the Captain R. F. Scott from his Terra Nova' expedition, 1910-1913. This hut is the largest historic building on Antarctica. It is the point from which Captain Scott launched his expedition and was also very important to Shacklelton and his men when their boat the Aurora' was blown to sea and they were marooned in 1915. The hut still contains provisions and is very well preserved by the dry cold of Antarctica. Thanks again to the Antarctic Heritage Trust for this historical background information.
After visiting Scott's hut we continued on our snowmobiles towards McMurdo and made our last stop at the "Penguin Ranch". At this camp on the sea ice, scientists are studying the diving ability of Emperor penguins. The penguins are kept at this location because though they can dive up to 500 meters (1500 feet) deep they can only hold their breath and stay under water for about 5 minutes. This is not long enough to swim under the sea ice all the way back to the open ocean. These penguins are much larger than the Adelies. Adult Emperor penguins can be about 1.1 meter (4 feet) tall and weigh 30 kilograms (65 pounds). At the "ranch", scientists have a 1 meter (3 feet) wide metal tube inserted down through the 2.5 meter (8 foot) thick sea ice with glass windows at the bottom. The scientists climb down into the tube to view the penguins as they swim under the sea ice. The penguins eat small fish which live on the underwater surface of the sea ice. It was spectacular to see penguins dive into the water and then shoot back up to the surface.
back to topDate: 11/11/00
Notes on daily life:
As if being in Antarctica could get any better today was awesome! Other than the sky being blue and the temperature being warm, we had a fantastic excursion today. Nine of us, Paul, Zach, Cobi, Benjamin, Marcus, Brian, Gordon, Mark, and Chris took a 100 kilometer (60 mile) snowmobile trip to Cape Royds to see Shakelton's Hut and the Adelie penguin rookery, Cape Evans to see Scott's Hut, and the penguin ranch where scientists work with emperor penguins. We left McMurdo at around 9 am and returned back to McMurdo at 7 pm. This trip was so fantastic that it will take two daily updates to report on it. The Adele penguin rookery was filled with penguins, a few thousand in all. Adele are the most common of Antarctic penguins with a population estimated at about 2 million. Adelies are typically 75 centimeters tall (30 inches) and weight about 3.9 kilograms (8.5 pounds). November is egg-laying season and we saw lots of nest building by the Adelies. Their nests are built of small stones, some of which come from the ground surrounding the rookery but many come from the nest of other adelies, they are constantly stealing stones from the nests of their neighbors. The eggs, which we could not see, will hatch in December. The Adelies eat almost exclusively krill, which is a small shrimp like creature abundant in the ocean. The rookery is protected by law so we were only able to get close enough to see the penguins but not close enough to disturb them. At Cape Royds we also saw Antarctic explorer Ernest Shakelton's hut from his 1907-1990 "Nimrod" expedition. During that time in Antarctica, Shakelton and his men pioneered a route across the Ross ice Shelf and up the Beardmore Glacier to within 97 miles of the South Pole. Among their many scientific achievements, these parties were first to reach the South Magnetic Pole and to climb Mount Erebus. Shakelton's hut at Cape Royds is locked to protect theft and destruction of the property. Because of the extreme dryness and cold the hut and the items left by Shakelton and his men in the hut are almost perfectly preserved. We saw reindeer sleeping bags, cans of food, oil and gas lamps, and many items that were used on the Nimrod expedition still intact inside the hut. It was an incredible feeling to know that less than 100 years ago men lived in this hut and explored Antarctica as we are doing now. The equipment that Shakelton and his men used then is so technologically simple compared to what we are carrying on ITASE that is boggles the mind as to how technology has changed. We want to thank the Antarctic Heritage Trust for maintaining the hut and this background information on the Nimrod expedition. I will explain more about the huts and the penguins tomorrow. Today here is Sunday and we are all taking a much-needed rest. There is a rather intense solar storm taking place in the atmosphere over Antarctica and it is affecting communications with Byrd camp and the other "deep field" camps. Any planes that take off from McMurdo need a weather conditions report to land at a deep field camp and as a result much of our equipment is still here in McMurdo waiting to be sent. The weather here continues to be beautiful but without radio communications we have no idea of knowing what the weather is at Byrd. We will continue to take care of last minute details here at McMurdo.
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