Category Archives: Season 1: Life on an Antarctic Icebreaker

Season 1- My First Summer on Ice

How to read this blog- this story is written for a wide audience. I didn’t want to clog the content with definitions, so I’ve added a glossary that explains Antarctic details along the way. Hover over any vocabulary links in my posts to read the definition without having to actually look through the Glossary page.

Oct. 15, 2008 (*There’s a timestamp bug in this blog. Ignore the dates in the top corner of each entry; I’ll type them correctly here.)

I never imagined I would end up in Antarctica. It seems so out of reach; what sort of people actually get to go there? What do you DO there, how do you live? To me, Antarctica was never really a consideration in my life until it landed on my doorstop, and then I had to decide whether to jump at the opportunity. And I did.

I was 22 years old and working on my master’s degree when I applied for a grant to do fieldwork off the coast of Florida. I love working outside and I wanted to measure the distribution and degradation of a certain class of chemicals called halocarbons in the ocean near the Florida coast. I wrote a large proposal and explained why I wanted to do this research, and listed all of my outdoor skills (former backpacking guide, current Emergency Medical Technician/EMT, etc.) to this paper, explaining why I could handle the work. My proposal was denied, and I thought that was the end of it. A few weeks later I was contacted by the funding committee, who told me they liked my proposal, were very happy with my outdoor experience, and were looking for someone like me to join a research group that would be working on a ship, traveling across the Southern Ocean, and taking samples of sea ice off the coast of Antarctica. They asked me if I would be willing to re-word my proposal to apply to study halocarbons in Antarctica instead of Florida. I said sure, I changed my proposal, and they called me shortly after and told me I’d gotten the job and would be heading to Antarctica in a few months.

That was three months ago, and now I have just a week left before I leave. What have I been doing in the mean time? Planning, packing and cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. My research will involve taking over 800 samples of ice and seawater, and the bottles need to be *extremely* clean, so I’ve been hanging out in my lab and cleaning bottles in a multi-hour process that involves cleaning them, rinsing them, cleaning them with acid, rinsing them, and then cleaning them again. It takes 36 hours to clean a bottle (each one has to sit in a rinse tank for 6-12 hours per step) but luckily I can do them in batches of up to 48 bottles at a time, depending on their size, so I’ve been playing loud music in my lab and having a private dance party as I clean hundreds and hundreds of collection bottles.

This is the strange life of a grad student.

One of the main issues with planning a research cruise (a scientific boat trip) is anticipating every problem, every possibility, and, well, anything, in advance. There’s no way to get any extra supplies once we leave, and I don’t even know what it is that I’m going to find when I get there, so I’ve been trying to predict different types of experiments, and any range of supplies needed for them, to have on hand. I can’t exactly hop off the ship and go to the Antarctic Wal-Mart if there’s anything I forgot to pack, so I have to pack extras of anything important that I possibly can. This mainly involves bringing lots of duct tape in case anything breaks, in the hopes that I can fix it with simple supplies. We’ll see how that works, shall we?

The other problem with working in Antarctica is that I haven’t met anyone else who’s been there before, so I have no idea what to pack for myself. There’s not exactly a pamphlet they hand out on ‘So You’re Going to Antarctica…’ and so a lot of my clothing packing has been a bit of guesswork. We are limited to 50lbs of gear per person, so all of my clothes, supplies (shampoo, towel, heavy-duty boots, etc.) and personal lab gear (my laptop) has to fit within that limit. (Our instruments and my 400 bottles don’t count; ‘research gear’ is counted separately.) This really limits the number of personal items you’re able to bring with you, but I have managed to fit my camera, the ‘Planet Earth’ box dvd set, a few books, and a jar of peanut butter in as my few extra items. This was recommended to me by things I’ve read online; past people have said that eating peanut butter helps you feel full when you’re working in extreme cold conditions, and DVD sets help pass the time when you’re not working, since we have no internet, TV, radio, or other forms of entertainment. Oh, and I’ve also packed 100 packets of iced tea powder. I love iced tea.

So what’s going to happen next? In a week I’ll fly to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay in South America. Then I’ll board the icebreaker Oden, where I’ll spend the next two months traveling around the coast of Antarctica and collecting sea ice samples before we land at McMurdo base on the continent to fly home at the end of the summer season. I have no idea what to expect, but I guess I’ll find out very soon…

 

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Embarkment

Nov 30, 2008

I flew to Miami and on to Montevideo before boarding a small boat that took us on a 2-hr ride to the Oden, an icebreaker docked offshore which will be my home for the next several weeks. The ship is run by the Swedish Polar Research group, and aside from the Swedish crew, the scientists onboard are a mix of Scandinavian and American teams. There are a few language barriers between different groups, but everyone has been extremely friendly so far. My cabin is much nicer than I ever would have imagined; I’d pictured living in accommodations similar to a military barracks but I share a room with just one other person, another grad student, and we have a small shower and bathroom we share. There are 53 people on board the ship.

oden-8700876View of the Oden, courtesy of Whales.org.au

We spent the first two days tying equipment down to secure it for our trip through the Drake Passage, and according to local weather forecasts we’re going to wait around near the start of the Drake for a storm to pass through before heading down to the Antarctic peninsula. A few people saw dolphins and sunfish today, but I was asleep at the time. This is the route we’re going to take– we’ll cross the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica (the top left corner of this map) before heading down the Antarctic Peninsula and stopping at floating expanses of sea ice in the Amundsen and Ross Seas to do experiments and take samples of sea ice. At the end of this trip in a few months, we’ll reach McMurdo Station in Antarctica; a permanent base on Ross Island, and fly home (via New Zealand) from there.

cleanedmapwithodenOur route to Antarctica

I haven’t taken too many pictures yet, and the sea spray from every wave is so strong that when you get caught in it walking outside on the deck you look like you’ve just left the log ride at Disney World, so I want to be a bit careful with my camera and keeping it dry. When the water is calmer (below) it’s quite beautiful, but the majority of the time the waves have been crashing high onto the ship and we’ve been warned to stay inside until after we get to calmer seas.

dsc_3461View from the stern (back) of the Oden in the Southern Atlantic before we reached the Drake Passage.

Welcome to the Drake

Dec 2, 2008

Shrink yourself down to about 2 inches tall. Now imagine being tied to the swinging hand of a metronome being carried by a drunk person on a pogo stick- that’s kind of what it feels like to go through the Drake passage in a round-hulled boat. The thing is, the Oden needs a curved bottom in order to break, and not get stuck in, the ice, but that means that in open ocean it gets tossed around a bit more than other ships, (imagine putting a goldfish bowl in a jet-tub) and in the infamous Drake let’s just say it makes things a little bit interesting.

Drake_Passage_-_Lambert_Azimuthal_projectionMap of the Drake Passage, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Drake Passage is the area between Cape Horn at the Southern tip of South America, and the Antarctic Peninsula, which I describe as the tail of a “Q” in the shape of the Antarctic continent. Since both continents reach towards each other like this, the ocean currents get squeezed quite tightly in this narrow passage (that also happens to trap a lot of storms), and so the Drake has some of the most dangerous waves on Earth.

I shot some video with my little Olympus camera of the waves crashing down on the deck, and another one of me sitting in my cabin in a wooden chair sliding from side to side with the metronome-like movements of the ship. (Stupid things like being able to slide around in my own cabin amuse me.) The size and power of these waves is just amazing to watch.

 I tethered myself to the deck to film this before the waves got too big…

View of the Drake Passage once the waves were too dangerous to go outside

Fun sitting in my chair in my cabin

dsc_0452Less and less nighttime darkness as we travel towards Antarctica

Tonight is the first night that darkness never showed up. Antarctica has 24-hrs of daylight in the austral summer season, and as we travel farther and farther South the days have had less and less night-time darkness, but now as I type this at 12:30pm it’s as bright as it would be at 8am. It’s weird because you know to expect it but it still serves as a little shock when you pass by windows and you can see light breaking through the clouds when everyone is retiring to their cabins for the night. I’ve been sleeping pretty well when the waves don’t crash down too hard, but when the waves ARE rough I have to brace myself in my top bunk to make sure I don’t get thrown out of bed by the tumultuous force of the sea. On the other hand, I feel so spoiled by the food here- it’s weird that the cafeteria going to Antarctica is better than the normal food I’m used to at home (and the water pressure of the showers is better than at home, too).

We won’t reach the ice for another few days, so I haven’t really been able to start on any of my research yet, and in fact while crossing the Drake we can’t even go to our labs because the ship’s swaying movement through the rough seas makes the lab environments unsafe, so this time is spent pretty much waiting. I’d say maybe a third of people on board have felt pretty sea sick (maybe more, if they hide it well, but many other people onboard have worked on this ship before) and I haven’t had any problems at all. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’ve never been on research cruise before (I’m one of only two that haven’t traveled long distances by boat) but other than occasionally having to grab handrails during one of the more temperamental waves, I’ve been fine. Watching the waves undulate from the deck is a pretty crazy sight, simply because they’re so much broader than beach waves that crash in one direction. A lot of sea birds fly along in the direction of the ship, so even though I sometimes have no idea what specific birds I’m looking at (the one below is a black and white snow petrel), I think it’s cool to see the temporary visitors on our route.

blackandwhitepetrel4-m

You know you’re traveling when you’re excited to do laundry (or at least excited at the prospect of clean clothes).  With nothing else to do but wait for the waves to calm down when we reach the Antarctic coast, I finally have time tonight to do laundry, which is a bit of a blessing for the five shirts I packed for this trip.

It’s estimated that we’ll reach our stop for sea ice collection on Dec 12th, and I’m so excited to be able to climb onto the ice and take ice cores. There’s a little tradition on board that anyone who hasn’t crossed the Antarctic Circle before is referred to as a ‘blue nose’ and thus has their nose painted blue by more experienced crewmen for the three days before we cross the circle, which basically lets everyone on board know who’s new when all of the newbies have blue noses, so I’ve been walking around looking like I fell nose-first into a paint can for the past three days. (We’re supposed to cross the circle tomorrow, during which there’s a bizarre induction ceremony for newbies such as myself who have never been to Antarctica before.) It’s a harmless little ritual to welcome inexperienced crew members to the life of working on an Antarctic ship, so I play along with the strangeness. This is Antarctica, and let’s face it, there isn’t much else to do for entertainment, so we have a few strange hobbies to pass the time.

The Ice

Dec 5, 2008

We’re here! We survived the Drake Passage, which was a pretty rocky experience (no seasickness but it’s a bit hard to try to sleep when you’re being violently thrown from side to side to such an extent that part of the ceiling in our cabin fell in… and I was on the top bunk) and we reached the ice floes on Monday. It was a pretty dramatic shift because one minute we were just passing through open water and then BAM! ICEICEICEICEICE everywhere. The first day had blue skies, which is rare for Antarctica, so I took the opportunity to snap a lot of pictures while I still had the ability to see sky. Now we’re at the point where the sky is white all the time so it’s tough to tell where the horizon is, because the ‘ground’ is ice and the sky is white and it all seems to lead on into an infinite stretch of brightness. It’s not necessarily because the sun is so powerful that you need sunglasses, but because everything is so overpoweringly white and the sun’s rays reflect off the sea ice back into the sky that you need them to get a better sense of contrast in your vision. When you walk back inside the ship your vision is blurred for a while in the darker atmosphere of your cabin until your eyes readjust to what normal contrast should be. It’s like having a flashlight shone in your face and then needing a few seconds to readjust after seeing everything so much brighter than usual.

View of the sea ice (Bear with the video, it gets clearer!)

A closer look at the ice and currents

I had my Antarctic initiation on Wednesday, a little while after we crossed the Antarctic circle, which was a lot of fun. We can’t pack a lot of extra stuff on board but the people involved put on some pretty creative costumes made out of materials we already had on board. They held all the ‘blue noses’ (new people) in a room to await their turn and then took us one by one for our ceremony, which consisted of having to go through a bit of an obstacle course and ending with a ‘baptism’ into icewater, dunking us into a freezing bucket to welcome us to the culture of Antarctic seafaring. Everyone who has been through the ceremony before in previous years is allowed to participate in initiating the new people, so since I was the only new person in my particular lab group, it was definitely interesting to see my PhD advisor and lab partner dressed up as sea creatures, excited to throw me into a vat of ice.

Ice Stations

Dec 6, 2008

Today was our first ‘ice station’ when the ship moors next to floating sea ice, we set a plank down onto the ice, and then walk onto the frozen ocean to start collecting samples. The sea ice floats in large chunks in the ocean, so the ship is able to pass through the little ice islands and stop to float next to larger ones. Since the Oden is an icebreaker, it is able to break through ice a few meters thick by sliding on top of the ice and rocking back and forth by shifting ballast (weight stored in the ship to keep it steady in the ocean) from one side to another and back again until the rocking motion causes the ice to break apart.

Heeling (mechanical rocking of the ship) to break the ice

There are three main ways that crewmembers reach the ice; either by mooring next to it and using a plank, deploying 6-person boats across the water, or by using a crane basket and climbing onto it, but the plank is the easiest method because you don’t have to pack everything with you at once (so there’s less pressure worrying about forgetting something).

At this first ice station I helped another crew member with his underwater camera to take video of what it looks like under the ice through an auger (ice drilled) hole. The images are pretty cool because light penetrates well through the ice and you can see good images of the different ice colors and algae, and while we were setting up the equipment a really large (~6.5ft?) crab eater seal wandered over towards us and barked a bit, which was awesome. (Close encounters of the seal kind!) The resulting video filmed by Jeff Peneston (with ice holes drilled by yours truly and a few others) shows what it looks like to use the ice augers (drills) and the view from underneath the ice.

Views above and under the sea ice

After being out on the ice, I have to say the Swedish polar survival suits we were issued for the field are really amazing- they keep you so warm and dry inside that the only part of your body that could possibly get cold is your face or hands. For a lot of the sampling you have to wear lab / surgical gloves only, (the kind doctors wear) which aren’t insulating at all, but it’s because normal ski gloves get too contaminated and the surgical gloves can be thrown out after each ice core we touch. This means that I have to hold onto large ice cores while only wearing surgical gloves though, so my hands get VERY cold very fast. In other cold news I’ve become a big fan of sock liners, which keep my feet extra warm, and although I’m usually not a cocoa fan it’s become a bit of a necessity after I get back from the ice simply to thaw my hands out after touching so many cores without warm gloves.

DSC_0039My labmate Kevin measuring the ice cores in medical gloves 

walkerwiththecoreMeasuring the ice cores

IMG_6782alex2In my snowsuit on the sea ice sheet of station 2

The unusual thing about having our first ice station today is that the boat stopped for the first time in two weeks. It’s a really weird feeling because I’ve gotten used to the sensation of movement and momentum all the time, and now that it has stopped it feels like someone lessened the gravity on the ship or something- you end up putting more power behind each step than is necessary when the boat is stopped, because you’re used to the ‘pushing’ sensation of the boat and it’s weird to walk around without that feeling, similar jumping off of a treadmill and walking strangely for a while.

odenOden image courtesy of Rutgers U.

We have another station tomorrow, which frankly is a bit soon because we still have to process all the samples from today and clean / sterilize all the equipment again, but we’ll see how it goes…

Finding the Brine

Dec 9, 2008

At this point I’ve adjusted to life going from one ice station to the next- it’s pretty hectic getting all our equipment out onto the next station of floating sea ice at around 9am every morning, drilling ice cores in 2 shifts led by my lab mate until around 4pm, then trying to store and process samples for the rest of the night, but at least now I know what to expect and what to do. We’re on our sixth station so far and I’m about halfway through my first set of bottle experiments, which will take about 3 days each to process. The latest word onboard is that we’ll have our last station on Dec 28th and then it’ll take about 13 days to cross the Amundsen sea to McMurdo base, so I’m trying to get as much done before then as possible.

What do I do on the ice? I am trying to collect samples of ice core from the floating sea ice, brine within the sea ice, and seawater under the ice to measure the concentration of halocarbons (chemicals with carbon and at least one halogen atom), which can be destructive to the ozone layer and are produced both biogenically (by organisms) and anthropogenically (by people and machines). As you saw in the last post, we use ice augers (drills) to take cores of sea ice, and once we’re done we can also collect seawater from underneath the ice, but brine is the tricky part. Brine are the pockets of super-salty seawater that get trapped within the sea ice, because as liquid water freezes and becomes ice, it pushes all of the impurities, including salt, away and freezes as ‘pure’ water. This happens because pure water has a higher freezing temperature (0C) than salt water. This creates a series of extra-salty ‘pockets’ of salt water within the sea ice that stay in liquid form because of all of the impurities and compounds in them. Extracting brine can be tough because we never know where the ‘pockets’ will be, and if the ice is mushy there often aren’t well-defined pockets because the brine gets pushed out of the ice altogether, so we have to hope for fairly solid layers of ice that have frozen quickly to trap the brine. These conditions don’t exist at every ‘station’ of sea ice our ship stops near, however, so I just have to hope that we are able to find it often enough that I can collect enough brine to analyze the halogens (that make up salts) inside.

Here is a very simple video I created to explain the process-

Attack of the Adelies

Dec 10, 2008

A few days ago at around 7:30pm when I didn’t have any samples to run I went out on a hike across the ice with one of the ship personnel, Magnus, who wanted to check out a mini-iceberg that got lodged into the sea ice about 2 miles away. We went out to the mini-iceberg, I climbed around a bit, and then noticed two Adelie penguins in the distance who were run/waddling towards us. I got out my camera, sat down, and was completely distracted when Magnus whispered for me to turn around, and there were SEVEN more Adelies standing directly behind me about three feet away. It was like penguin ambush- they surrounded me from both sides in ‘penguin-attack formation’ before I even noticed they were there. Adelies are about 1.5ft tall and extremely curious, so the nine of them circled us and I probably took 50 or so photos; it was great. We hung out with them for about 20 min or so before it was time to start heading back to the ship (‘time’ is relative because it’s sunny out all the time, but still) and as we walked back to the ship they followed behind us in a single line for about ten minutes before stopping in a group and watching us leave. Hiking across sea ice AND a penguin safari both in the same day? SO COOL!

penguinposeHangin’ with the Adelies

adeliepair3-mCute, right?

Yesterday was the first station where we were lifted onto the ice in a basket by a wench on the ship, which I thought was really cool because when it lifted me up in the basket I could see really far across the ice and the view was phenomenal. I think I was the only one that thought of the wench like a Disney ride, but still, I’m not ashamed to get amused by the little things. Very few people on the ship actually get to go out on the ice; only the ‘ice team’ of people that research the ice as opposed to the physical chemists and nutrient chemists studying sea water from a large device called a CTD that is dropped into the water at different depths, so I’m happy to be on the ice team where I can actually go out into the field instead of being stuck on the ship. (There are six Americans and maybe seven Swedes that go out on the ice, and then the seal team of 4 that leave the ship in a small Zodiac boat or on skis to go chase seals for their DNA).

breakingthroughtheice2-mView of the frozen sea ice at our second station (station = whenever we dock to the ice)

snowfield2-mStation #3

For the culinary connoisseurs of this blog, you may have heard of Surstromming, which is apparently famous / infamous in Sweden… also known as rotten / fermented raw whole herring in a can, which has an extremely foul smell. It’s a famous gross food in Sweden where a raw herring is buried under ground for two years, then after it has rotted and fermented, it’s unearthed and eaten in a strange raw-onion and old-cheese burrito. Yesterday some of the crew decided it would be funny to see if any of the Americans would try it with them, so I went down to the Boson’s locker room with the few other brave souls where they had set up a mock dining table environment with all the fixings you’re supposed to use for a proper Surstromming experience. I just thought it was hilarious how the Swedes all stared at my face when I ate it to see my reaction, and everyone was taking pictures of each other’s expressions. Anyway, it was worth trying just to see how excited everyone was about it, and now I can cross fermented fish off of my foods-to-try list.

1217033_redigerad-1Fermented raw herring!

The Rad Van

Dec. 11, 2008

I measure halocarbon chemicals that exist in very, very small concentrations in nature. Because they can be so hard to measure, I use a special technique involving radiolabeled carbon (14-C) to track their movement over time, because at low concentrations when we can’t measure the chemical itself, we can still track the radioactivity of 14-C. The type of radioactive carbon I use isn’t dangerous, and it isn’t very harmful to the environment, but it still has to be contained in an isolated area to guarantee that we don’t spill anything or contaminated any other areas of the ship (or of Antarctica!). For this reason, all of my experiments take place in the ‘rad van’, a giant metal storage container like a freight car on the ship. A few of the ship’s other labs are located in freight cars, but the rad van is separate from the others and is the only place where we can use radioactive chemicals. The rad van is treated like a clean room- the general idea is that, other than you and your inner layers of clothes, nothing that goes into the rad van is allowed to go back out because it is assumed to be ‘contaminated’. (It isn’t contaminated, but this is a precaution we take.) Because I can’t bring my shoes into the rad van, I have to wear special booties in there, but there isn’t any heat in the van yet so it’s FREEZING in there all the time and apparently stays at around -3 Celsius to +3 Celsius. The main problem is that since I have to wear socks and little white paper booties but am not allowed to wear shoes, my feet get extremely cold in little ‘rad socks’ (rad is our nickname for radioactive) on the metal floor. It’s also a little difficult logistically because I can’t bring in my notebook and take notes about my experiments, transferring chemicals is difficult because we can’t bring the containers in. There are only four of us on the ship that are even allowed in the rad van, but it’s such a small working space that more than one person in there at a time can get extremely difficult. I prefer the fieldwork on the ice to working inside my lab because at least out on the sea ice I’m allowed to wear shoes.

DSC_0005See me in the back? This photo was taken outside of the rad van because you can’t bring cameras (or non-essential equipment) inside.

DSC_0011Our entry protocol. Click for a clearer view.

dsc_3126One of the nice, heated labs inside the ship. Looks comfy.

Grease Ice and Purple Sunrises

Dec 20, 2008

Of all the different ice types in Antarctica (yes, there are different types, including brash, nilas, fast, frazzle, grey-white, 1st year, and multi-year ice), grease ice is my favorite. You can’t tell that it’s ice, and you can’t see any crystals or whiteness to it at all, but grease ice is an extremely thin layer of ice crystals on the surface of the ocean so thin that in still water you can’t see it or tell that it exists. If you were to throw a penny off the ship, though, the ripple that formed would move outward much more slowly than water because of how the crystal sheet bends outwards, and it’s a really cool sight. (Hence the name ‘grease’ ice because it moves like oil and when it’s a bit thicker has a sheen to it like oil does.) When the ship moves through grease ice you can’t see it being cut but it looks like sailing through smooth ripples in jello. I’ve taken some pictures that show the sheen and slow-motion rippling effect of grease ice but I don’t think that images will do it any justice out of context back home. It’s a surreal sight, particularly in the calmer 2/3am light I’ve seen it in a few times as I wake up for my late-night experiments.

greaseiceripples-mClick for a much better view of the thin, clear ice layer on the water

One of the difficulties with my research on this ship is that the ‘timer’ on my equipment was broken during the transit through the Drake Passage, so instead of having chemicals measured every four hours automatically, I have to be awake every 4 hours of every day in order to process my samples. This means that I’ve been working daily from 8:30am-1:30am, and also waking up to work 3:30am-5:30am. It’s not ideal and means that sleep is a very elusive concept at the moment. Granted, quite a lot of people on this ship are sleep-deprived so I don’t mean to complain too much, but I feel like every once in a while I should remind myself that I’m in gorgeous and amazing  ANTARCTICA and I should take a few minutes to look around when I can escape from the other work I have to do.

Because of this problem though, it means I’m awake at all sorts of odd hours, and the lower-set sun is stunning. The sun never sets in austral summer in Antarctica (I’ll explain that concept in season 2 or 3!) but it does get low in the sky, dipping down near the horizon before jumping back up again in a mix of simultaneous sunrise/sunset. The lower sun casts long shadows and a purple hue in the sky at around 2am “ship time” (there are no time zones at the Pole since all of the time zones intersect there, so with 24hr daylight we just pick an arbitrary time and stick with it so we know when meals are), and the night crew and I seem to be the only ones awake to see this amazing glow.

2amsunriseice2-mSimultaneous sunrise/sunset in the land without a setting sun

sailingovergreaseice2-mMore grease ice. See the sheen it creates?

Christmas Alarms

Dec 27, 2008

dsc_3388

So apparently the ‘big day’ of Christmas for Swedes is the 24th of December, so we celebrated by not having an ice station that day and relaxing instead. Christmas eve for them consists of glog (hot spiced wine), a traditional white fish, and watching a compilation Disney Christmas movie in Swedish. (Yes, I have to say it’s pretty interesting to watch cartoons in another language with a bunch of excited Swedes when half of them are buzzed on spiced wine… at times they started singing along with the songs, which was pretty entertaining.) Then we had a ‘fancier’ dinner (and by fancier I mean I wore my cleaner pair of jeans, although some people really did get dressed up), had some really good food, played music and had a bit of a party. It was fun, and good to relax for a while instead of stressing about ice stations. The Swedes don’t really do anything for Christmas day, but we don’t have an ice station on the 25th either so people stayed up until ~4am. I went to bed at 2:30am and was up at 7:45am, but a lot of other people slept in pretty late on Christmas day.

So for Christmas morning, I got exactly what I wanted from Santa… an 8am fire alarm when I was in the shower! (Because it wouldn’t have happened any other way!) Now for most people, the 8am fire alarm caused them to awake from their late-celebrating slumber, get their snow survival suit, and go to their respective muster stations; the place where we gather in a fire drill, but I stood there in the shower thinking ‘you gotta be kidding me!’ and tried to rinse the shampoo out of my hair, shove some clothes on and RUN to my outside station, holding my towel and trying to quickly dry my hair during roll-call before it froze in the Antarctic cold, although it froze anyway. It turned out there was some kind of steam leak in the engine room so while it ended up ok after a while, it wasn’t a drill so we stood around for a while waiting for orders (and shivering with frozen hair). At a time like that the only thing you can do is just be entertained by the strangeness of your own life- it’s Christmas day and I’m standing outside in my pajamas, quite literally freezing cold, on the deck of an Antarctic icebreaker with shampoo frozen onto my head. Yup.

Since then we’ve started back up with ice stations, (we’ve left the Amundsen sea area and are heading towards the Ross sea) and we’re waiting to moor at one while I type. I need to do two more big experiments before this trip is over, both of which take a considerable amount of time, so I’m just hoping we find some good sea ice spots for that. Part of the problem is we never know what we’re going to find at any given place we decide to set up an ice station, so some of the stations we pick end up not having very strong ice (which we don’t know until we start drilling) and I have to wait for the next one. Past the half-way point of our trip, though, I start to wonder how picky I can afford to be because I never know if the next station will be more or less ideal than wherever we currently are. (Mainly the issue is that I need brine for my experiments and not all sea ice stations have retrievable brine, particularly if there is too much snow weighing the ice down and pushing it below sea level.)

2_survivalsuitFor the record, this is what our actual submersion emergency suits look like. We did drills in them once before this alarm.

DSC_0118All the rage in Antarctic high fashion