Sunday, January 23, 2005

You're GROUNDED!!!!!!

Well, it appears that there is something big enough to stop iceberg B15A. The bottom of the Ross Sea. According to this report the iceberg has grounded itself a mere 5 miles from the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Thereby canceling the much-hyped clash of the titans. Worse still, if true, this would keep the current sea ice conditions around for many many more years.

Both of the ice breakers are here now (the United States Polar Star the Russian ice breaker). Apparently the Russian media has been drumming up their involvement in breaking ice for us as a 'rescue mission'. Their ice breaking efforts are 'saving' the McMurdo community by allowing 'vital fuel, food, and medications' to be delivered. You gotta love the politics in all of this. Too bad it's not true, cause the sad reality is we've got enough hot dogs and baked beans to make 'beany weenies' until B15A melts down to the size of an ice cube.

Team Larvae: Livin’ the dream

As I alluded to in my previous post, the members of the lab got to go on a very sweet “field trip” last week. Firstly we flew out to Granite Harbor. We have gone out there several times before and it’s always fun. We go there to collect the animals we use for our research. Graduate student Dave Ginsburg and DSO Rob Robbins do the diving and the rest of us do the dive tending. We help them get their gear on and get in and out of the water. Antarctic diving requires a hell of a lot of equipment and it’s a much easier time if you’ve got some people helping you out, especially putting on the water-tight “lobster gloves” and hauling your butt out of the dive hole. Granite Harbor is about 100 miles north of McMurdo Station on the continental side of McMurdo Sound. It’s a fun helo trip by itself, flying over icebergs and seals and the Coast Guard icebreaker (which is here breaking ice as we speak). We like to dive at Granite Harbor because there is a very active crack system in the sea ice. This allows us access to the water without the trouble of having to drill a hole through the ice.

On this particular trip we brought along the NSF Science Rep who is from the Geology program at NSF. He was interested in showing us the freshwater inputs from the continent into Granite Harbor specifically and McMurdo Sound in general. During the summer when it warms up, Granite Harbor comes alive with the sound of little streams of water (from the thawing glaciers) falling down the granite cliffs (hence, Granite Harbor) and into the harbor. The freshwater input is so much that it creates a freshwater lens that’s 10 to 15 feet thick and floats above the heavier seawater under the ice. Freshwater lenses like this can create very interesting distributions of marine animals that would not normally be seen (e.g. deep water species tend to come up to much shallower depths and thereby can be observed and collected by scuba diving).

After diving at Granite Harbor we flew back in a more long-winded fashion that allowed us to explore a bunch of the nearby glaciers. One of the glaciers (the Miller Glacier) had a cool structure on it called a ‘ring moraine’. A smaller glacier was feeding into the Miller from a cliff and all of the debris picked up by the glacier had been deposited in an arc forming a ring (bad description, but see picture) Best of all, we then got an incredible helicopter tour of the McMurdo Dry Valleys! The dry valleys are an amazing landscape which at times defy the imagination. It’s basically a valley system that receives no precipitation. This creates a stark landscape that appears completely devoid of life. Of course it only appears that way because life does exist there, albeit in a much less ambitious form than we are used to. To put the biology of the dry valleys in perspective, the apex predator of the dry valleys is a tiny nematode worm!

Although very little precipitation falls in the valleys, they are not completely dry. There are numerous glacier systems that come into the valleys from the polar plateau. These glaciers will melt during the warmer summer months and create streams. Over the course of centuries (if not longer) lakes have also formed in the lowest portions of the dry valleys. These lakes are frozen on the surface year-round. But under the ice life abounds! In fact in one of the lakes, Lake Vanda, the temperature of the bottom of the lake is quite warm, something around 25C! This is due to the ice trapping entering heat just like a green house. At the bottom of the lake are huge microbial mats. In the soils of the valleys life is a lot tougher, but still hanging on (as life is known to do). There are nematodes (called the Lions of the Dry Valleys), rotifers, tardigrades and the omnipresent bacteria. The ‘simple’ ecology of the dry valleys has made it an important model for understanding how environmental changes can influence ecosystems. The dry valleys have also been used as an analog for life on the early Earth as well as an analog to Mars and Europa (moon of Jupiter that has an ice surface, it is thought that under this ice there may be an ocean, where just maybe there could be life). The other thing about the dry valleys is that it’s a geologist’s heaven. Because life has so little influence on the area, the geological history of the valleys is laid bare for all to see. There are no plants to cover it, no animals to manipulate it and almost no water erosion to alter it. So written all over the vast openness of the dry valleys is its own geological history. I’m no geologist, but from what I hear it tells quite a story.

As a biologist, it has always been a dream of mine to get to see the dry valleys. Since we are typically only flying helicopters so we can go to our dive locations we usually aren’t in need of going through the valleys. But with this tour of the freshwater inputs it became entirely reasonable to get a tour and stop and look around, which is what we did. It really was an amazing, dream-come-true trip. We flew through the major valleys (Victoria, through Bull Pass and into Wright Valley and then into Taylor Valley). We stopped at Lake Hoare camp (in Taylor Valley) to check out the science facilities (I need to find a way to do science in the dry valleys). Then we stopped at the foot of the Taylor Glacier at a place called….Blood Falls! Damn that sounds like something out of a horror movie, Blood Falls, oh yeah. (Blood Falls is a rust colored part of the glacier where there is an inexplicably high concentration of iron seeping out due to some kind of subglacial artesian well). Then we flew over the Kukri Hills (much bigger than hills if you ask me) and onto the Farrar Glacier. Then it was back to McMurdo, which after spending so much of the day at Granite Harbor and the valleys really felt like the big city.

All in all, an amazing day. So here are a few pictures of the big day and a link to many more pictures of the big day. The weather wasn’t great (in fact it was pretty bad, we almost didn’t go at all due to clouds, snow, and lots of ground fog), so the pictures aren’t great, but they’ll hopefully get the idea across that the dry valleys are one of the strangest and most beautiful places on earth, to me at least. It represents the gray area between the abiotic, physically driven world of geology (where things are there because they’re there) and the intricate and adaptive realm of biology (where things are there because they’ve figured out how to survive). A world of vast scale, time, and process. To me, a religious experience.

Team Larvae (Dave Ginsburg, me, Allison Green, and Michael Moore) living the dream at Blood Falls at the foot of the Taylor Glacier. Robert Falcon Scott first discovered the McMurdo Dry Valleys in the early 1900s. He actually explored Taylor Valley and called it the Valley of the Dead. So you could say we were at Blood Falls in the Valley of the Dead. Very scary stuff!  Posted by Hello

Coular Cliffs at Granite Harbor. The system of cracks in the sea ice make it an excellent place for diving operations. The cliffs are great for climbing. Running water coming from the melting glaciers could be heard everywhere. Posted by Hello

The ring moraine at Miller Glacier. Posted by Hello

The Onyx River in Wright Valley. Smaller, alpine glaciers can be seen in the distance rolling into the valley. Posted by Hello

Lake Vida in the Victoria Valley. With no precipitation the only moisture is derived from melting glaciers that create the stream/lake system of the dry valleys. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A website for all you iceberg fans.

Here's a great website with some cool satellite images of the ice demolition derby going on in the Ross Sea north of McMurdo Station. Thanks to Jason Coleman for providing the URL to his site in one of the comment sections. It provides the latest info on how the Drygalksi Ice Tongue and the sea ice are faring throughout this slow-motion feast of destruction. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Waiting on an iceberg...

The collision between iceberg B15A and the Drygalski Ice Tongue still has yet to occur. Icebergs have never been known for their punctuality. And who's going to tell a Long Island-sized iceberg that it's late? The best estimate of when it should happen is... soon. Meanwhile here's a CNN link to the latest B15A story.

Oh yeah, and here's a link to a story about little ole me in Antarctica from the Rutland Herald. Thanks to Carolyn Handy for writing it.

In other news, myself and teammate (and mid-rats chef), Mark Babas, have advanced to the championship game in our dart league. Unfortunately it's a double elimination tournament and we already lost to our opponents once. So we need to beat them twice and they need to beat us only once. Oh yeah, and our opponents are really really good.

Team Larvae took a trip out to Granite Harbor the other day (it's about 100 miles away on the continent) to try to get some late season sea urchins. On the way back we got to experience an amazing trip through the McMurdo Dry Valleys. We even landed the helicopter in a couple of places and walked around. If time permits, I'll put together a little post regarding the trip. Simply put, it was dreamy.....

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Iceberg update

I've gotten some comments regarding what is going on with the iceberg (okay, I got one comment wondering about the iceberg). Well, I'm rather busy right now, so I won't go on and on about it, but here's a link to a cool story on the iceberg.

Apparently iceberg B-15 is trying to play chicken with another large piece of ice. Too bad this piece of ice is actually a glacier (albeit a floating glacier)! The collision of B-15 with the Drygalski Ice Tongue should be fairly spectatular, in that big-picture/slow-motion sort of way. The coolest thing about the article is they compare the size of B-15 to none other than Long Island! How's that for props! I guess anything that looks even remotely like Long Island should be expected to create trouble for everyone.

Okay, gotta go, and you should go too, go to the above nasa link and try to be smarter than who you are.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The ONE and ONLY!

Firstly, congratulations to the USC TROJANS for winning their second national championship in football in two years. Last year we shared it with LSU (and rightfully so), this year we share it only with Trojan fans, period. I've been attending Trojan games for the last 8 or 9 years and it's been a tough ride. The downward days of Robinson's second tenure to the enormous failure of the Paul Hackett experiment. But once Pete Carroll got here everything changed. What he has done for this program is unbelievable. There really aren't a lot of things I like about USC as an instution, but it's football program, along with the history and tradition surrounding it, is simply amazing. And it has been especially great to see Coach Carroll be responsible for it. He was completely mistreated by the NFL and wasn't even USC's first choice. If you can believe this, Dennis Ericson was first on the list to replace Paul Hackett. The guy who just got his ass fired from the once proud flagship of the NFL, the San Fransisco 49ers. Of course the 49ers are hoping to hire Pete Carroll, along with offensive guru Norm Chow, and while they're at it take Matt Leinart with their first round pick (which they undoubtedly earned all by themselves). Don't know anything for sure, but I doubt Carroll is ready to leave USC (and I think USC would gladly sweeten his deal to help him make up his mind).

Secondly, sorry for taking an extra day to post this. It took a little while to recover from the necessary celebrations of the utterly dominating performance of the USC Trojans over the Oklahomoa Sooners. It really was something to behold.

I want to thank lots of other people including Sooner lineman Birdine, Sooner coach Stoops, and all the experts out there in sportsland who suffer from eastcoastbiasitis. It was their "expert analysis" that really made this victory so much sweeter. Although Vegas had us favored by something around 3 points, everyone else and their grandmothers pretty much figured that the Pac-10 only plays 2-hand touch and couldn't match up with the big burly men of the Big-12 conference. And I've heard it all before. In fact it was one year ago that lots of people said the same thing about the Trojans when they played Michigan in the Rose Bowl (a game I had the pleasure of watching in person). Coach Stoops even said something like "our team is far and away better at running the ball". Hmmmm. Sounds like a complete lack of respect for how the west coast plays football. Don't get me wrong, I love the east coast, but not at the expense of appreciating reality. Football is football, blocking is blocking. A good running team on the west coast is probably gonna be a good running team on the east coast. I especially appreciated Birdine's comments on how Matt Leinart was an overrated quarterback playing for an average team. After whupping the Sooners' butts I wonder what he thinks of his own QB's and team's talent. Anyway, as usual, I digress.

We had a party to watch and celebrate the game on Wednesday (the game was on Wednesday, Antarctic time). We even had a couple of Oklahoma fans show up. As most of you know, the first 5 minutes or so was exciting, but the game that was supposed to be a classic matchup quickly turned into a classic blowout. Some of the biggest excitement came late in the 4th quarter when Dave Ginsburg and myself almost won a Harley Davidson motorcycle. We had entered a pool (one of those 10 x 10 grids) to win the motorcycle, it was a lot of money to enter, so Dave and I split the costs. Our numbers were OK=2 and USC=5. Once we found out our numbers we felt pretty sure we had no chance in hell to win anything. But lo and behold, 4th quarter, 7 minutes to go, USC has the ball on their 1 yard line. Dave was very excited about the chances of OK getting a safety, I said something to the effect of "there is no way in hell the Trojans give up a safety". Then, as if on cue, Heisman winner Matt Leinart fumbles the snap, recovers the ball and is sacked in the end zone, safety. The score is now 55 to 12. Those are our numbers!!!! But as you all know, that wasn't the final score, so although it was close we did not win the fully restored, beautiful Harley Davidson. Ah, but it was exciting.

So after the impressive USC victory, we all decided that we needed to let everyone on base share the joy. So we took the USC flag (it sure has been to a lot of cool places lately) and took the McMurdo galley by storm. Yup, it must've been something to see. We barged in running around with the flag yelling and screaming. Some people got it, some people were rooting us on and happy for the victory. Of course many people had no idea what in the hell we were doing. And I think it was those people that made the experience so much better for me.

After that, we went back to Hut 10 (where we watched the game) and continued to party until 3 in the morning (the game started at 2pm, so it really was a lot of work, and hence the recovery period was absolutely necessary).

So what follows are a few shots of us being drunk, happy, and National Champions.

Oh yeah, I've read lots of articles about the game (the experts sure have changed their opinions), but here's a kind of a funny one regarding the Auburn situation. I honestly feel bad for Auburn, but not that bad. They should've kept us on their out of conference schedule. But then again, we've got all the answers when it comes to Auburn, that's why we've beat them easily the last 2 years. Cadillac appears to be a great running back when he's playing SEC games, but man oh man, do we sure have a way of making him look old and busted when he tries to carry the rock through our defense. Anyway, here's the URL on the article (it's from the Cincinnati enquirer of all places):

Here's a little taster:
"The Trojans are loaded like Fort Knox. Matt Leinart threw four touchdown passes in the first half. He looked as if he were knocking over milk bottles at the state fair.

Throw the beanbag through the clown's mouth, Matt.

Meanwhile, Auburn made its case for No. 1 on its knees. The mighty Tigers burned the last two minutes of a three-point win over ninth-ranked Virginia Tech by lying down as the clock dripped off. Auburn would have had no chance against the Trojans.

Here's the math: No. 1 beats No. 2 by 36 points. No. 3 beats No. 9 by three points. It's a big mystery how No. 3 would do against No. 1. There ought to be an investigation. Or at least another championship game."


Cardinal and Gold forever.  Posted by Hello

Entering the galley. We were not about to be taken lightly. Posted by Hello

Even members of the New York National Guard could get behind the dominating victory of the USC Trojans over the Oklahoma Sooners. Posted by Hello

Spreading the word..... Posted by Hello

It was a snowy day in McMurdo (it's been snowing here the last 3 days. Huge, wet snowflakes. Very fun). But nothing could stop us from letting the world know that the USC Trojans were National Champions. Posted by Hello

So very close. The unlikely 5 and 2 score that almost won me and Dave a Harley Davidson. It's like the Trojans wanted us to have our cake and eat it too. But then evil Oklahoma had to score and ruin it for us. Ah, but I was still too happy to really care.  Posted by Hello

Cuppy and Kitty. A father and daughter working in McMurdo together. They are die-hard Oklahoma fans and great people. And look, they're making the Trojan victory sign with their hands. Seriously, they were great sports and watched the entire game with us. Posted by Hello