Monday, June 27, 2005

Breaking the silence

Well, I'm back. In fact I've been back from Antarctica for a ridiculously long time (as most of you reading this already know). Sorry for the super-long lapse in correspondence. I've been busy. Sure, not so busy that I couldn't make a quick entry, but busy enough so that I just never felt like doing it. Now that I'm back from Antarctica I'm not really sure what to do with the blog. I guess I could just write about my time in LA. Afterall, the Neil Young song that this blog is named after was originally written about Los Angeles (or so is my belief). Time will tell, I'm sure. I would like to say right off the bat though that this new entry in no way symbolizes any commitment on my part to keep blogging on any regular, semi-regular, or even wildly sporadic frequency.

I got back from Antarctica in Feb. I spent a few days traveling around New Zealand (what people on the ice like to call "decompression time"). I wish I had a longer stay there, but I had things in the real world to take care, so it was a quick trip. What I now provide for you is a link to the Shutterfly photos of my time in New Zealand. Beautiful place New Zealand is. It's my humble belief that everyone needs to go there once in their life. But I'm sure there's lots of places we all should go once in our life, and it's hopeless to get to all of them. So enjoy the pictures.

Here's a few to whet your appetite.

My travel map. Like I said, it was a quick trip, too quick for sure. But it was at least a little bit of good life.  Posted by Hello

Panoramic shot of Wharariki Beach located near Cape Farewell. Typical gorgeous coastline of New Zealand. Posted by Hello

Sea lions at Kiakoura.  Posted by Hello

Kiakoura, New Zealand.  Posted by Hello

A closer picture of the arches of Wharariki Beach. Posted by Hello

Trees bending to the relentless wind of Cape Farewell, located on the northern tip of the south island of New Zealand. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Last post from nowhere.

This should be the last post from the Great White South. Of course with the Superbowl tomorrow it wouldn't be surprising if the Air Force cancelled the flight due to some mysterious mechanical malfunction that came out of the blue.

It's funny listening to the Neil Young song from which this blog site derived its name. It was good name for the site back then, but now it's more appropriate than ever. It's simply time to go. All of us will miss people we've met down here. But it's strange to see everyone get into town and then go to all of their going away parties. We were the first to get here, and now it looks like we are the last to leave.

So here's a few pix from one of the more recent going away parties. It had the advantage of also being an engagement party. So with more to celebrate, the drinking activities needed to be stepped up a notch. A few of us ended up going old school on the function and started shot-gunning beers. It really had been a long time for me, but I'm happy to say I still have what it takes to hang with the youngsters. My years of 'training' with the likes of Wheaton, Williams, Santagata, Burns, and Gunderson (to name only a few) seemingly payed off.

I'm in a huge hurry right now, so I gotta go. In closing, Antarctica was great. But in the words of Jets coach, Herm Edwards, "We gots to go!".

I'll post back in when I get back from New Zealand, mid-Feb or something like that. Or tomorrow when I find out the plane doesn't fly.

Midnight in McMurdo. Drinking just doesn't feel the same when the night doesn't come around.  Posted by Hello

The engagement/going away party. The couple (Rebecca and Justin) are cutting a cake that came from the South Pole land traverse. It was several months old (it never got eaten on the traverse). Remarkably, it still tasted okay.  Posted by Hello

Dave and Dug Coons, just getting along famously. It was funny then, but with these pix, it's funnier now. Posted by Hello

Antarctic beer shot-gunning. It's a harsh continent indeed when your drinking stale, 2 year-old Speight's. But we made sure to maintain our professionalism throughout the entire operation. Left to right: me, Margie (an undergrad from Dartmouth working with the Dry Valley scientists), and Dug Coons (New Harbor diver).Posted by Hello

What a feeling of accomplishment. Posted by Hello

An introspective moment after the mayhem.  Posted by Hello

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Closin' up shop

Time to go. Just finished my last experiment of the season. Perhaps the last experiment I'll ever conduct in Antarctica. I made sure it was a big ole, over-the-top who's your daddy type experiment. Of course I had to carefully chose the soundtrack to this glorious (but yet bittersweet) moment (and by moment I mean 10 plus hours). I won't go into all the music that filled this 'moment', but it ended strong with JJ Cale, Littlest Man Band (a great band from Long Beach that apparently is the repressed artistic side of Reel Big Fish), and Wilco.

Now there is only the clean-up. We are scheduled to leave on the 7th of Feb. I say scheduled because it is rare to actually leave Antarctica when you are supposed to. Mechanical difficulties and weather conspire to make your stay anywhere from 1 to 20 days longer than was ever your intention.

Leaving entails the 'bag-drag'. You haul all of your possessions to the MCC (Movement Control Center, Antarctica is not just a harsh continent, it's an acronym) the night before your 'scheduled' flight. You check everything in (for our science group that results in about 60 lbs personal and 210 lbs science gear) at that time, except for your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and a few personal effects (toothbrush, underwear, etc). So no matter if your plane is the next day or delayed the next 10 days, all you have is your ECW gear and your personal stuff cause everything else is checked in and loaded on cargo pallets. The next time you see it will be in Christchurch, New Zealand. More horrible than the flight being delayed is the dreaded 'boomerang'. This occurs when the plane is heading to its destination and before it reaches its PSR (Point of Safe Return) the weather becomes too bad for landing. The plane then turns around and you go back to where you started and try it again the next day. Luckily, the boomerang usually occurs when you're going to Antarctica, not leaving. McMurdo is full of some great boomerang stories. Some people have boomeranged 4 flights in a row. Or the best, the guy who fill asleep on the plane and didn't know it boomeranged. He woke up happy and had on his mind ripe fruit and fresh beer. When he found out the plane boomeranged he was completely crushed (in this case the plane was trying to leave Antarctica, but because they couldn't get the landing gear back up into the plane they had to turn around).

So from here on out, it's just cleaning. It's amazing how entrenched in a place you can become in just 5 months. I gotta say, this place is a mess! We have been working in 2 labs (both are in terrible shape) and the aquarium. Today, Allison and I cleaned up the large tanks we have been using to grow our larvae in. Tomorrow we will start cleaning up the lab spaces. We also need to get our larger science gear up to the cargo department so it can be put on a ship and taken back to Pt. Hueneme, CA.

There has been a lot of ship activity just outside of town. Our lab has a great view of McMurdo Sound and the Transantarctic Mountains across the water, so we get to see the icebreakers come and go. Both have been working full time (the US and Russian breakers). We have also been visited by a tourist ship. It's an old, decomissioned Russian icebreaker, the Klebnikov (although Russian in origin, the ship seems full of Americans). We also just had our yearly visit from the fuel resupply vessel (the Paul Buck). The next vessel to come into port will be the cargo resupply vessel (the American Tern). The resupply operation will take several days of first unloading the supplies the town needs and then loading the vessel with all the junk and garbage the town has produced over the last year, which needs to be removed from the continent. It's a hectic several days with work going on non-stop. It's not a lot of fun for most of the contract workers because lots of people switch over to 12 hours shifts and much to everyone's chagrin all alcohol sales are stopped and the bars are shut down (as a safety precaution so no one gets themselves killed during the busy work week).

We took our last trip to the continent the other day. We went back to New Harbor. There's a really good field camp setup there with a couple of Jamesways and some huts. Right now Samuel Bowser is out there doing research on Formaniferans (one-celled organisms that are very complex and relatively large). Dave and Rob did one last dive to scout out the area for different kinds of seastars that aren't normally found on the Ross Island side of the McMurdo Sound.

The ice out at New Harbor was in terrible condition. Large areas had thawed and created a moat that seperated the land from the thick ice farther offshore where we dive. But when it gets cold the moat freezes over so that it's too thick to take a zodiac through and too thin to walk on. So the divers have to get in their dry suits and break the ice by walking and swimming through it, all the while pulling the zodiac (with all the dive gear) with them. Once on the thick ice, the dive gear is put on sleds and pulled to the dive hole. Even this ice is extremely uneven and makes for a tough walk. The reason why the ice is so uneven is due to dirt being blown onto the ice during storms. Ice covered by dirt warms up much quicker than the uncoverered ice due to solar heating. This creates localized areas of ice melt and therefore a very uneven ice surface.

It was a good trip and a good way to say goodbye to continent. We even broke out some cigars.

Well that's the story so far. Only a few more days to go. After this I'll spend a few days in New Zealand, to decompress a little bit. I'll be heading up to Golden Bay. Going to keep it simple and put up my tent and chill out on the beach and enjoy a land of fresh food and beverage. I also heard a crazy rumor that the sun really sets in New Zealand. It'll be good to get my night on, it's been a while.

I'll try to keep some posts going during the final stretch. Meanwhile, here's more pictures of stuff...

Allison taking a break from the hard work. Posted by Hello

Me, working hard, as always. Trying the scrub away the remains of all those filthy sea urchins. Filthy, I tell you, filthy! Posted by Hello

Research vessel, Nathaniel B Palmer, off-loading pasengers on the sea ice. In the background is the Russian icebreaker. Posted by Hello

The Russian icebreaker making its way through the channel in the sea ice. In the background are the Transantarctic Mountains. Posted by Hello

The 2 ice breakers (Russian in front, USGC Polar Star in the middle) escorting the fuel resupply vessel through the channel in the sea ice and into McMurdo. Posted by Hello

New Harbor Camp from the air. In the background is the Commonwealth Glacier and further back is Taylor Valley. Posted by Hello

New Harbor camp from a distance. Posted by Hello

New Harbor is the entrance to Taylor Valley (one of the dry valleys). There are many mummified seals. This one is a relative new-comer to the area. It's very spooky how it seems to be caught in motion as if it was frozen on the spot. Posted by Hello

Dave and Karen hanging on the back of the zodiac. Posted by Hello

Smashing the frozen ice on the moat to get to the red hut in the distance (where the dive hole is). Posted by Hello

Navigating the canals of New Harbor. Posted by Hello

See ya, Sucker!

On the way back, the zodiac can handle the trip on it's own (while Rob leaves Doug and Karen to fend for themselves). Posted by Hello

Sam Bowser and Rob Robbins inside the Jamesway at New Harbor. Posted by Hello