The End of the Year at the End of the Earth

Jan 5, 2009

Happy New Year! On New Year’s Eve I was at the tail end of one of my experiments (I tried to time it strategically so I could celebrate with people), so luckily I was able to hang out with everyone when we ‘stopped science’ at 4pm. Similar to Christmas eve, we celebrated with another ‘fancy’ dinner, (which in my case meant wearing jeans and a cotton shirt) with awesome food. The fancier dinners are also a lot more social because everyone eats at the same time, as opposed to the show-up-eat-and-leave schedules we usually have. Afterwards people celebrated and we went up to the ship’s bridge near midnight for the countdown. I think having daylight at midnight seems particularly weird on New Years because it just doesn’t seem real when they do the countdown in bright sunlight and you can’t see fireworks or stars, but it was still really fun and everyone was in a happy mood. I stayed up until about 2am and there were a decent number of people still there when I left, but I had to get up at 5am for more experiments in the morning so I didn’t want to stay out too late. (At least this time there wasn’t a fire drill after a celebration!)

Tonight we’re going to switch to New Zealand / McMurdo time, which is 16 hours ahead of the time we’re on now (currently we’re EST + 2 hrs, which is the time zone of Uruguay, where we started this trip, and now we’re moving to EST + 18hrs, which is New Zealand and McMurdo Station Antarctica time) so at 4am Jan 2 we’re moving to 8pm Jan 2. The plan is to just stay awake for as long as possible so that you’ll just sleep through the next ‘night’ and then feel somewhat normal. For me, though, this means I have to figure out what the best times are to set up timepoints for my experiments, because as much as I love waking up at 3:30am to go to the Rad van I’d like to move to a somewhat more normal sleep schedule.

We’re still doing ice stations, and will continue through mid January, but today will probably start the last of my big experiments because they take up so much time. (And I’m running out of bottles… I’ve already used 784.) A few days ago at a particularly soggy station with 3-4ft of soft snow that makes walking on it extremely difficult, one of the scientists went out for a walk on the ice (~1 mile ice sheet) and found an emperor penguin out on the far opposite side of the ice, so as soon as I was done helping with the ice cores I went out with two others to see it. (They’re a lot more scarce on the ice than Adelies, which we’ve seen at almost every station.) Maybe 2/3 of the way to the penguin I was walking when I fell through the ice sheet in a place where there was snow but thin ice beneath it. I fell through the ice but my backpack got caught in the ice hole and prevented me from going all the way under, but I still got dunked into sub-zero degree water up to my neck. I threw my arms out to the sides as soon as I fell and my backpack kept me from falling farther so I managed to get back out quickly but water rushed up through the foot holes of my waterproof suit and I got completely soaked through my survival suit up to the legs. I still walked over to the penguin because I’m terrible at walking in 3ft snow and I’d already come too far to quit, but my feet started to get considerably numb so I didn’t stay long and I trudged back to the ship. The emperor was interesting to see but it I definitely like Adelies better because they’re extremely curious and social, while the emperor just stood around squawking hautily. When I got back to the ship I think I brought a few buckets of the Southern Ocean back with me via my suit, so I went back and cleaned the floor afterwards. It’s weird, too, because although it took 2 days for my hiking boots to dry, they’re still precipitating salt out of the fabric of the boots from the seawater.

Because of my falling-through-the-ice experience with an Emperor penguin, I have decided Adelies are still my favorite. Even though they chase us around and bite our equipment.

odenadelies2-mAdelies in front of the Oden

IMG_7434penguincongolineSee that line of dots? Those are adelies following me in a single file line, as they often do. They were bothering my team trying to drill the ice, so I walked off to distract them and they followed me. I’m beyond the left side of this photo, off-camera.

Penguin congo line!


dsc_2263Adelie, stop biting our equipment!

And now, a short rant about brine…

Retrievable brine doesn’t exist in all ice we sample, so at times I have to go test holes in different places to find it. Usually it’s not the biggest deal, but when two of my labmates and I are digging the 2ft deep snow all over an ice sheet with shovels for a few hours trying to find a place where the ice beneath the snow is dry and can be drilled, after the 20th or so test hole you start to get a little disheartened. We did end up finding some at this station but not at every station, so the order of my experiments is pretty much dependent on whenever we find some.

With only 12 days left (really 11, with the time shift), it feels like the ‘other side’ at this point because the trip is almost over. I really love it on the ship thusfar and it will probably be a bit of a culture shock to go back to the States. Other than the whole ‘ship to Antarctica’ theme to love, I just like the lifestyle of not having to answer my cell phone, not needing to check email every 5 minutes, not hearing a single word about celebrities, being able to wear sneakers / jeans and my snow survival suit as my primary outfits, and essentially being able to take a vacation from everything media-culture related. (No TV is nice as well.) It’s a strange community to live with the same 53 people all the time but everyone’s extremely friendly, and so many people are world travelers with fascinating stories. I feel like going back to the regularity of grad school after this will be a bit of a buzzkill. I’m completely spoiled here by not having to cook or really do any maintenance work (car repairs, vacuuming, etc.), my daily commute consists of walking downstairs or climbing onto ice sheets instead of waiting at traffic lights, and I don’t have to pay any bills. It’s fantastic.

In second grade my teacher asked us all what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I said I wanted a job where I could wear sneakers to work. I thought high heels and business suits looked horrible and boring, and I wanted to have a job that was less focused on office life. My teacher wasn’t too happy with that answer, but I think the result now is amusing. I get to wear hiking boots to work and take long treks across the frozen ocean around Antarctica. How cool is that?? It’s going to be so strange to go home.


Posted on 2008, in 2009 (01/05) The End of the Year at the End of the Earth, Season 1: Life on an Antarctic Icebreaker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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