Category Archives: -Season 2: Life on the High Plateau

Season 2: Back to the 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.

Nov. 23, 2012 (*I can’t always post on the correct date for an entry, so I’ll list the correct date for each article here, rather than the timestamp of the blog.)

After three days of travel and 27 hours in planes (from Denver to San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand to Christchurch New Zealand to McMurdo, Antarctica) I climb down the stairs of the US Air Force C-17 plane and step onto the McMurdo Ice Runway. It’s nice to stretch and walk around after so many flights in the past few days. The sky is incredibly bright, made much stronger in its reflection off the ice, so I grab for my sunglasses, which I will remain on my head semi-permanently for the next three months. I look back towards the others getting off the plane and some of them are scrunching their noses in awkward surprise, because the extremely low temperatures cause the wet insides of your nose to freeze in the cold. In fact, people who have never been to Antarctica before are sometimes called ‘Bunnies’ because of the way they scrunch their noses for the first few days after they arrive, trying to adjust to this new sensation. I’m not a Bunny since I’ve been to Antarctica before and am used to the ‘frozen nose’ sensation, and the only feeling I really notice when I walk across the frozen ocean surface where the planes land in McMurdo Sound is a rushing wave of excitement to be back on the frozen continent once again.

It’s November 2012, and I will be spending three months living in Antarctica, working on the High Plateau on top of the Antarctic ice sheet, and doing research for my PhD. The vast majority of people who live and work in Antarctica are only here during the austral summer season (summer in the Southern Hemisphere, which is November- February each year), so working during this timeframe is called working “a season” in Antarctica. This will be my second season on the Ice, our common nickname for Antarctica. I spent my first season working on an icebreaker that traveled from South America around part of Antarctica through the frozen sea ice, and this season I’ll spend most of my time at the French/Italian Concordia base on the High Plateau, far inland from most stations. This year I’ll be studying the fluctuation of gases between the snowpack and the atmosphere, and looking at how sunlight affects how snow ‘breathes’ as it exchanges different gases with the air above it. It’ll take me a while to get to Concordia (I need to hop between a few other stations first, and here at McMurdo I’ll complete ‘snow survival school’ to prepare me for life in the field). In the meantime I zip my jacket tightly, take a picture to show my friends I’ve made it here safely, pick up my duffel bags and climb onto the Terrabus, a special bus with large wheels able to drive out onto the ice sheet and frozen ocean. The Terrabus drives to McMurdo Station, the main American base, where I can finally get some sleep.

DCIM100GOPROInside the C-17 that flew from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica

DCIM100GOPRO Back in my big red parka in Antarctica

DCIM100GOPROUnpacking the C-17 on the Ice Runway, where planes land on top of the frozen ocean near McMurdo Sound

DCIM100GOPROGetting on to the Terrabus, which will take us from the ice runway to McMurdo Station

DCIM100GOPROWarm inside the Terrabus

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Snow Survival School: Part 1

Nov. 24, 2012

McMurdo Station is the largest base in Antarctica, with over 900 people living and working there during the peak of the summer season in January. Since it is a coastal station at sea level, it stays much warmer year-round and generally ranges from 31 to -10°F (0 to -10°C) during the year. I will be living and working at Concordia Station on the High Antarctic Plateau, which is much colder (-13 to -112F) and higher up on the continent (comp. elevation of 12,460ft). I’ll fly to Concordia station later this week, but in the meantime I’m at McMurdo to complete the ‘Field School Training Program’ that teaches Antarctic researchers how to survive in the weather conditions and colder temperatures I may encounter in the field. Since I’ll be working farther away from McMurdo/ the coast, I’ll also be farther away from help in case something goes wrong, and it’s important to be prepared.

The first day of Field School is spent in a classroom at McMurdo, teaching us how to use our emergency equipment (how to light a fire on a fuel burner, how to set up a Scott tent in case the weather turns dangerous when we are working outside and we need to camp overnight, etc.) and learning how to recognize the signs of frostbite. The next day we pack up, drive out on the Terrabus to a beautiful location somewhere near McMurdo Sound, and are dropped off to spend the next two days living outside and surviving in the cold with our gear. A few people in my field school class get to work setting up the tents while I start on the snow wall, a series of snow bricks that will act as a wind break and help prevent the tents from blowing away/ keep us all warmer by blocking out the wind at our campsite.

IMG_5960We start building the snow wall by digging a step down into the snow, then cutting blocks out of the snow surface, loading them onto a sled, and taking them to the site of our wall.

IMG_5976Meanwhile, the others get started on our tents.

IMG_5967Our snow wall in progress. Eventually it will help protect the tents from the wind.

The snow wall takes a while to build and eventually the others have finished with the tents and chip in to dig out snow blocks and pile them onto the wall. Our wall only needs to be about 3ft/1meter tall in order to block out most of the wind, so finally when we’ve completed the wall we can start our secondary tasks, like building a secondary snow wall around the area where we will cook our food (so that the fire we’ll build with the fuel burners is able to stay lit in the wind). Once we’ve built the snow wall, set up our tents, and started melting snow over the fire to make drinking water, our instructor tells us the fun part- we’re spending the night here out on the ice shelf, and if we want to stay in the tents, that’s ok. However, if we want to ‘really’ experience Antarctica, he’ll teach us how to dig snow pits so we can sleep in the snow and be prepared for conditions where we may not have tents with us at all. I opt for the snowpit. It’ll be an experience.

 IMG_5302Our finished snow wall

IMG_5973Snow bricks

IMG_5964The inside of our camp

IMG_5235Melting snow for drinking water in our snow-kitchen

The basic concept of a snowpit is to dig a narrow hole in the snow, just long enough to lie down in and just deep enough to sit up without having your head above the surface. The smaller your snow pit, the warmer you’ll be because the snow itself is actually insulating against the cold air temperatures above your pit. It takes me about two hours to dig my pit (while occasionally wandering around to check on the progress of my snowpit neighbors and see what ‘styles’ they used), and I’m slightly out of breath during the digging, but it’s fun and I’m excited to sleep overnight in an ice sheet in Antarctica. A few people make intricate designs for their pits, but I choose to make a simple pit with a staircase leading down to my sleeping den. (In the video I describe making my staircase for ‘aesthetic purposes’ because I wanted it to look more like a ‘house’ and less like a gravesite.) This design was then covered by long snow blocks across the top as a roof. That’s another reason to keep your snowpit narrow; the wider it is, the harder it will be to build a ceiling out of snow bricks, because the bricks can only be so wide before they’ll collapse in the middle.

DSCN0527 My snowpit, with a very simple design, but big enough to fit a 6ft tall person comfortably inside, and deep enough to sit up in without hitting the ceiling

IMG_5260 Fellow field-school scientist Cedric made a fancier design for his snowpit

IMG_5298…while on person in the group made an enormous snow shelter, because he didn’t want to sleep underground. This one is impressive, but we wouldn’t actually build shelters like this if we really needed to stay warm.

Eventually my pit is finished, I eat a dinner of instant soup made from the snow we melted in our kitchen, and I run a few laps before jumping into my sleeping bag so that I’m as warm as possible before spending the night in the snow. Since there’s 24hrs of sunlight in Antarctic summer it’s still as bright as day when I go to sleep, but I’m tired from building two windbreak walls, helping to bury the sides of the tents so they don’t blow away, and digging my snowpit, so I fall asleep pretty quickly. Hopefully I’ll stay warm through the night.

As soon as I can get the bandwith access, I’ll upload a few videos I took of building the snowpits!

update: Here they are! Keep in mind I was jetlagged from crossing 17 timezones, I hadn’t showered in 3 days, and I’d just spent two hours digging a ditch when I made these videos, so I’m a little out of breath, but definitely happy I’d finished my snowpit so I could go to sleep.

Snow Survival School: Part 2

Nov. 25, 2012

I slept really well in my snowpit. It was extremely cold, but I bundled myself up as much as possible, with only my nose sticking out of my sleeping bag so that I could breath. I woke up halfway through the night because my nose was so cold so I piled some of my clothes together like a pillow and slept face-down in my sleeping bag so that I could still breath (although a little harder) through my clothes pile, keeping my nose warm and preventing me from feeling suffocated by having my face too close to a sealed-up sleeping bag. I’m really glad I used the bathroom (a collapsible shack-like portapotty with a foam seat so your butt doesn’t freeze to a plastic toilet) before I went to sleep because there’s no way I’d want to leave the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag and climb out of my snowpit in the middle of the night. There were only two minor problems with sleeping in an Antarctic snowpit:

1) I took all of my batteries (my camera’s main battery and spare battery, as well as my iphone, which I really only use as an alarm clock since we definitely won’t get reception in Antarctica) and put them inside my sleeping bag during the night. Camera batteries don’t work very well when they’re cold, and sometimes they get permanently damaged by being frozen too long, so I stored them in my bag near my body heat to keep them warm. This, of course, led to a bit of a ‘Princess and the Pea’ situation, where I kept feeling the bag of batteries whenever I turned over in my sleep. It wasn’t a big deal, but I actually really loved snowpit-life so this is really one of the only things I can complain about. The other,

2) was that I realized in the morning that I probably should have put my snow boots inside my sleeping bag, but I didn’t think about that when I fell asleep. Since I’d taken them off and left them next to me in the snowpit the night before, the moisture inside the rubber boots froze during the night and the boots themselves got extremely cold, and now putting them back on to climb out of my pit in the morning sent a jarring pain of cold through my feet as I stepped in the ice of my own frozen boots. I tried to pack up my gear as quickly as possible, then climbed out of the pit and ran two laps before breakfast in order to warm up my feet.

The rest of the day today was spent practicing skills for Antarctic emergencies. We learned how to use the emergency radios, how to set up a little shelter in case someone is injured, and practiced setting up ropelines for search and rescue operations in case someone gets lost in a snowstorm and we can’t see where we are walking to find them in a blizzard. Since the weather was nice, sunny and cold out, we recreated ‘blizzard conditions’ in a very sophisticated way– by putting buckets over people’s heads so we couldn’t see or hear each other, and then trying to have us find a team member who was pretending to be lost in a storm. We walked out in the snow holding each other with a ropeline and zigged back and forth until we found our friend and practiced carrying him back inside. While I don’t have a video of our own search and rescue practice (because I had a bucket on my head!), here’s a photo of the buckethead explorers courtesy of ‘polarscienceiscool’–

fstpbucketsBuckethead Explorers

IMG_5102Practicing rescue situations

DSCN0537Setting up the emergency radios

When our field training was complete, we radio’d back to McMurdo Station that we were ready to come back, and the Terrabus picked us up and took us back to the base.

DCIM100GOPROHeading back towards the Terrabus

IMG_5095Inside the Terrabus

McMurdo Station

Nov. 26, 2012

After returning from snow school, I have a few days in McMurdo to wait for my inland flight to Concordia station. McMurdo is the largest Antarctic base, has more than 900 people during the summer season (although only about 200 in the winter), and is the most Southern harbor in the world. To me, McMurdo, or Mac-Town as the locals call it, is like a really strange airport, or a small but busy college campus. Even though the station is run by the United States, a lot of other countries’ researchers that work in Antarctica still fly into Mac’s ice runway (the planes land on the thick sea ice) and then fly inland to their own bases or fieldcamps from there, so there are a lot of people in-transit between one place and another at McMurdo at any given time. Still, a large population of folks live at Mac to operate the base; everyone from cooks to computer techs to NASA astrophysicists, so there are always plenty of people to talk to, and there are more resources here than a lot of other places on the continent.

DCIM100GOPROThe view of McMurdo Station from Hut’s Point on a dreary day

IMG_5955McMurdo’s helicopter bay

IMG_0752McMurdo’s residence office keeps tab of how many people are on-base every week

People live in one of the many dorms that can house up to 1,125 people (you usually share rooms just like on a college campus). There are shower blocks in the dorms, although you’re asked not to shower more than 3 times a week since Antarctica is very dry and liquid water is a valued resource. For meals we eat in a large cafeteria. McMurdo has a computer bay with internet, which will be much less accessible at my station, as well as a coffee shop, a gym, and even a church. Since working at a base in Antarctica means there isn’t really anywhere else to wander off to, Mac hosts events like movie nights and talent shows, and people have clubs to practice everything from yoga to ultimate Frisbee. I’m staying in the ‘in-transit’ dorms which are meant for people who aren’t staying at this station for more than a few days before they move on to their home base. I like going to the cafeteria for meals because I sit with different people every time and listen to their stories; who they are, where they’re from, and why they’re in Antarctica. Most people that work on the Ice are fairly well-traveled, and they spend their time varying between talking about their work and wondering where they will go on vacation after they complete their season on the Ice. (Most people spend a week or two on a warm island on their way home after working here for a few months. We work 6-7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day through Christmas, New Year’s, and all other holidays, so it’s nice to finally take a break when you go home and warm up a bit!)

IMG_5061The view across the bay to Scott Base, New Zealand’s famously all-painted-green station. Both McMurdo and Scott base are on McMurdo Sound, very close to each other. It’s nice to have neighbors in Antarctica.

During my time at Mac I met a few firemen who work at Mac’s firestation, a few Air Force guys that fly the planes, some people that handle all of the cargo and food shipments that fly into McMurdo from New Zealand, as well as two penguin biologists. A French PhD student who will be drilling ice cores on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet joined me for a hike around the station, and we explored the helicopter zone, the coast (no penguins today, unfortunately), and Discovery Hut. Robert Scott was a British explorer who built Discovery Hut in the McMurdo area in 1901-1904. He later tried to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1912, but reached it second after a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen (who was also the first explorer to reach the North Pole) beat Scott there by only five weeks. The history of the early polar explorers is really interesting and extremely dramatic, but I could fill an entire blog with those stories so to keep things short I’ll just say that it’s fascinating to see Discovery Hut now, with seal skins and old food tins scattered around just like they were left in 1904, which has now become a protected historical landmark in Antarctica. I’ll probably fly to my station soon so it’s nice to be a tourist in Mactown for a day or two before I leave for the High Plateau.

DCIM100GOPROSeals napping on the frozen ocean in front of Hut’s Point on McMurdo Sound

DCIM100GOPROStanding in front of Discovery Hut, built by explorer Richard Scott 1901-1904

 –

McMurdo Station Part 2: Videos

Nov. 28, 2012

Speaking of McMurdo base, I came across a video that I think shows the conditions of the American coastal station pretty well. This was taken by a different team that lives on the base for the full summer season, so they had more time to explore around and capture great footage. I’m only ever in MacTown as a sort of transitory state on my way to other bases, so while I’ve been there for about 3 weeks, it’s different for the folks who work here full time. (I didn’t know they had a bowling alley!)

However, that video shows McMurdo when it’s ‘pretty’ (most of the base is on frozen mud, so the pretty views are generally when you look out across McMurdo Sound towards Mt. Erebus or inland towards the snow-covered areas) so I also wanted to show you  a different perspective, of what it’s like to walk around and try to work at MacTown during a ‘condition 1’ windstorm. I’ll explain the weather conditions more fully later, but I just wanted to add video #2 to get another perspective of what life on the Ice is like when the sun isn’t quite shining in the summer.

Next post: more on the weather conditions, and my trip to the High Plateau.

Getting to Concordia

Nov. 30, 2012

After a few days at McMurdo to go through snow survival school and wait for favorable weather conditions, on Nov 29th we were finally told we could fly to our final destination; Concordia Station at ‘Dome C’ on the Antarctic plateau. Dome C is the name of an area of the Antarctic continent, where the term ‘dome’ refers to a very high elevation, but relatively flat to the human eye, area of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. It is far inland on the Antarctic continent, roughly 700 miles (~1,100km) inland from the French coastal station Durmont D’Urille to the East (near longitude 140E), and the Australian coastal station Casey to the East (near longitude 110E), and 750 miles (~1200 km) from the Italian coastal Station Mario Zuchelli at Terra Nova Bay and McMurdo Station at McMurdo Sound, both near longitude 165E. Sound complicated? That’s because it is! When you look at a map of Antarctica, you have to remember that the South Pole is in the middle of the map, which means that every direction away from that centerpoint is North. Unlike any other map, you can’t say ‘North is up, South is down’ on the map, because really South means everything inland, and it becomes difficult to describe things such as East and West. That’s why describing lines of longitude gives you a sense of orientation to where you are on the ‘clock’ of Antarctica, while South is simply a measure of how close you are to the center point.

cleanedmapwithoden

Even though the South Pole looks farther away from the Coast, it’s actually much more difficult to get to Concordia Station, and much colder at Concordia. Dome C has the coldest temperatures in Antarctica, ranging from -80C (-112F) in the winter up to as warm as -25C (-13F) at the warmest point in the summer. The other station in this area, the Russian station Vostok, has measured the coldest recorded temperature on Earth; -89C (-129F) in 1983. ‘Close’ by Antarctic standards is also a relative thing– even though Vostok station is the closest ‘neighbor’ to Concordia, it is still 350 miles (~560km) away, which leads me to my favorite fact about Concordia-

Living at Concordia, our closest neighbors in any direction are not North, South, East OR West– they’re UP. Because we’re in such a remote area of the planet that the closest living people to us are astronauts at the International Space Station, 240 miles (~380km) ABOVE us (when overhead, of course). No human beings on Earth are closer.

In some ways, it seems appropriate that being so far out in the middle of nowhere (the South Pole has more stations as neighbors than we do!), Concordia station is a joint French-Italian base run by the European Space Agency. A lot of the science at Concordia deals with looking far out into the stars, because the Antarctic plateau is the world’s largest desert (a desert is defined by the amount of percipitation (rain/snow), and there’s very little precipitation on the plateau; the snow we live on is very old) so since the sky has so little moisture in it, it’s much easier for telescopes to look farther out into the sky than anywhere else on Earth. The astrophysicists at our station call this a measure of ‘seeing’. Having such clear skies means the telescopes have greater ‘seeing’ at Concordia than many other places; the sky is very dry and there is very little anthropogenic pollution/haze since we’re so far away from cities and civilization. I’m not here to study the sky; I’ll be studying the exchange of gases (ozone, nitrogen oxides, methyl mercury, and others) between the snowpack and the atmosphere, because the Antarctic ice sheet and other snowpacks actually ‘breath’ a gas exchange when sunlight penetrates through the snow.

Concordia is a smaller research base, with 50-60 people living there during the austral summer season. Compared to McMurdo Base, which can have over 900 people living there, and South Pole, which can have over 200 people there, it’s a small but close-knit community out here in the remote wild. In order to fly here, first I left McMurdo in a Twin Otter plane to Mario Zuchelli, the Italian station at Terra Nova Bay. We flew along the coast and landed on Terra Nova’s ice runway (we landed on the frozen ocean!) to switch to a larger plane that took us inland towards Concordia. Fuel burns up quite fast in cold conditions, so we had to refuel at a very empty halfway point called Midpoint Charlie (referring to ‘halfway to Dome C) before finally arriving at Concordia. Because the planes are small and it can be difficult to navigate over an expanse of white, nondescript landscape, the pilots are always cautious of flying in ‘flat’ conditions (when the sky is white rather than blue) and it’s lucky we had favorable weather to leave when we did.

baseAn example of good conditions for flying; the sky is nice and blue at Concordia Station.

IMG_6100Examples of ‘flat’ conditions, where the sky is white and it makes it difficult to differentiate the white landscape below. These two photos below were taken on the coast, where at least the water creates a sense of contrast, but you can imagine how blurry it gets when you look inland and only see a ‘fishbowl’ of white ahead of you in a plane.

IMG_6107

Because it got so cold on the plane my camera started having problems, but I’ve included a video of some of the journey towards Concordia below.

Snow Drifts and Lab Burials

Dec. 6, 2012

Snow drifts are a significant concern on the Antarctic plateau because it is a very large area of the continent without any trees, mountains, or other windbreaks. What this means is that because the wind can travel such long distances without stopping, any obstruction in its path would quickly accumulate very deep snow drifts and completely bury anything not ‘flat’ on the plateau. This problem actually completely covered the original South Pole station by burying it 1.2 meters each year until it was covered by drifts. Concordia, which is at a colder and windier location than the South Pole, has been designed on ‘stilts’ that allow wind to pass under the station, thereby preventing snow drifts from building up on its sides.

concordiaConcordia station’s two elevated circular towers

DSC_0070The stilts that raise the station, allowing wind to pass underneath

Similar to my first season in Antarctica, where my lab was ‘built’ within a shipping container and placed on the icebreaker, this year again I’ll be working out of a shipping container that we design to contain our lab, but this time it’ll be buried within the East Antarctic Ice Sheet of the Antarctic high plateau, about 20 minutes’ walk from the main base at Concordia. Our station  rigged a series of electrical outlets waay out to our fieldsite, then we dig a hole, put our ‘container lab’ in it, connected the wiring, and reburied it beneath the snow. It was much better to bury our lab than to ‘raise’ it to protect it from snow drifts, because burying the lab helps to preserve the natural environment that our lab itself is studying– we didn’t want any shadows, drifts, or disturbances that might interfere with the gas exchange measurements we are collecting at various depths beneath the flat plains surrounding our field lab. Here’s a video I took of our lab being reburied by machines.

DSCN0556Starting the lab burial…

DSCN0564…almost done…

DSCN0573The ‘hatch’ for climbing down to the lab will stay slightly above the surface so we can still climb down

DSCF0581View down the hatch to our lab

DSCN0571Our fieldsite on the Antarctic Plateau. The pegs in the snow represent locations where we are measuring gases at different depths beneath the snow surface.

Deep Breaths in the Snow

Dec 8, 2012

This year, my research project will be to analyze the gas exchange between the snowpack and the atmosphere. Gaseous chemicals such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, methyl mercury, and others are all related in a photochemical cycle that change their speciation (molecular form) in the presence of light. Even though there are 24hrs of sunlight in Antarctica during the austral summer, the sun is stronger at noon than it is at midnight, and these chemicals can either travel down into the interstitial air of the snowpack (the space between snow flakes) or rise up into the air above, depending on the sunlight and the chemicals’ reactivity and concentration gradient. This creates a diurnal cycle where certain chemicals rise into the air above during the day, while others bury themselves below, and they each reverse this process at ‘night’, even when the sun is still out (because the sun is very slightly ‘weaker’ at night).

In order to measure the concentration of these gases at various depths, my lab team built two instruments we called ‘snow towers’, shaped sort of like small ladders, that we buried within the snow. Each rung of the buried ladder very slowly and gently measures gases over time so that a depth profile can tell us how the gases move into and out of the snowpack. A nearby met (meteorological) tower measures the same gases at increasing heights in the air above, along with wind turbulence and air flow, and together all of this data is compared to solar radiation levels in order to identify this cycling activity.

DSCN0601Close-up view of one of the ‘snow towers’, which is small but has five more levels buried beneath the snow surface.

DSCN0590One of the snow towers and a view of the Antarctic Plateau behind it. The grey tubes slowly capture gases and funnel them through buried tubing into our underground lab, where they are all measured and analyzed.

DSCN0603One of my teammates climbing up the met tower, where gases are measured up to 10 meters high. I quickly learned that climbing the narrow met tower in large Antarctic boots is much more difficult than it seems.

After climbing the tower one day, I made a short video showing these instruments. I’m a little winded in the video because we’ve only been at Concordia for a few days so far and it takes a while to acclimate to the very high altitude here (the ice sheet at Dome C is at a physioaltitude of 12,460ft, which means there is less oxygen and it takes a few days to adjust) but the video offers a simple view of our lab. Now, one last thing- in the video, why do I keep repeating the phrase ‘snow surface’ instead of saying ‘underground’? Because since the continent is covered by the very large Antarctic Ice Sheet, we’re actually standing on roughly 10,500ft of ICE, not ground/earth. (Even though I do still slip and say ‘underground’ often, but not in a literal way.) This means that depths of snow are relative; we base everything off of what the surface is when we start measuring, and if things get slightly buried by new snow on top (not much, since there is actually very little snow accumulation here), we can simply say the instruments sunk a few centimeters below what the ‘new’ surface levels are.

Quick Tour of Concordia

Dec. 12, 2012

Here’s a quick tour of Concordia station to give you an idea of our living arrangement on the High Plateau. While I eat, sleep, and shower at the station, my fieldsite is about a twenty minute walk away out on the icefields. I’ll make a different video later showing you what that looks like, but in the mean time here’s Home Sweet Ice Station!

Christmas Bounty

Jan 5, 2013

Christmas and New Year’s at Concordia were both really great experiences. We decorated the station in little things just to make it appear more festive, but the main thing everyone reveled in was the FOOD. Oh, man, the food. Our station’s chef went to amazing lengths to make everybody feel like they might feel at home, and for me as an American at a foreign base, I got a little glimpse into what the traditions are like for French and Italian families. (Although every tradition is taken with a grain of salt, because sometimes I don’t know if something is done ‘because it is French’ or because we’re in Antarctica and everything is a little bit different here.) Christmas and New Year’s were both celebrated with the entire station of 50 people eating together at long tables (we usually just rush in and rush out at some point during meal times) and I tried all sorts of traditional spiced wines, liquors, and other things that each person brought as the famous drink from their hometown.

A few days after New Year’s, the station manager noticed that some of the ‘non-perishable’ food waaay in the back of our cabinets was a bit old (nothing to be concerned about; mostly expired Corn Flakes, etc.) and decreed that all food found that had expired before 2003 had to be thrown out. While this mostly meant sorting through cereal, coffee, and other dried goods, a friend and I at the station decided to sort through the massive pile of expired food that was piled in a large bin in front of the station and see if any particular gems could be found.

…now keep in mind that even though I have no complaints about the food at Concordia, it isn’t the same as being back home, and you do come to miss things that aren’t available at an Antarctic base…

Climbing into the bin of cereal boxes and sugar packets, I found a CASE of Bounty Bars. Oh yesssss! Sweet love of chocolate and coconut!! Someone must have brought the box years ago (it expired in 2001) and the coconut filling of these candy bars was very dried out, but this is ANTARCTICA and I haven’t seen anything like this in such a long time. I was so excited. This was my Christmas present.

So now I sit in my bunk with a bit of a stomach ache because I ate chocolate for the first time in months, and probably wayy too much of it. I still have most of the box left. So thank you, French/Italian scientist from more than a decade ago, who brought this with you and left it here for me to uncover 12 years later. This gift of expired chocolatey-goodness was amazing.

DSC_0943_NEF_shotwellThe women of Concordia (7 of us out of 55) posing with the station chef for his Christmas card.
I’m last on the right.

DSCN0725Merry Christmas!

DSCN0654French and Italian flags scattered around for some holiday patriotism

christmasHappy New Year from the bottom of the world!