Friday, December 10, 2010

Chin music, five years later ...

Flags tell us many things ...

Chin music, 2005

Chin Music, 2010

... such as the passage of time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Frances K. Bowser (March 6, 1912 - September 21, 2010)

Today I honored the memory of my dear grandmother, Frances K. Bowser, by installing InterfaCE VI on the seafloor at Explorers Cove.

Nana was a "pure" artist: she received no formal training, and painted from the heart. Landscapes and floral arrangements were her favorite subjects. She always offered encouragement when it came to creative projects. She didn't like me traveling to Antarctica and diving under the ice, but nevertheless sent cookies and a Halloween card as reminders of home each year.

On her death bed in September, I told her about the upcoming field season -- especially about our project's continued art/science collaborative work. Although blind, unable to speak, and in great pain, she held my hand firmly. Her labored breathing calmed, and I'm certain that a gentle smile swept across her face ...

I inherited a good chunk of her genome. In a sense, then, her appreciation of art lives on.

Planning installation in the Explorers Cove dive tent

Arranging the InterfaCE discs on the seafloor

Following installation: a cold ascent and safety stop below 3 meters of frozen ocean

The process photos shown above were taken by Cecelia Shin. Many thanks to the divers of project G-093 and B-043. More complete documentation of the installation will follow.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Perception and perspectives on sediment

I mentioned earlier that perception is difficult here. For example, icebergs and mountains can look like they are nearby, but are really many miles away. There just aren't enough visual cues to judge distance accurately (at least for this New Yorker's eye).

Mt. Coleman seems to be a stone's throw away when viewed through the kitchen window.

The mountain seems much farther away when camp is viewed from atop a nearby ridge.

The mind often encounters difficulties when dealing with unfamiliar spatial and temporal scales. With respect to our research, I simply can't imagine how many tons of sediment are deposited on the ice each year at Explorers Cove, and how much of it gets dumped onto the sea floor. Measuring this process and determining its impact on life in the Cove are major goals of the project.

Explorers Cove shoreline, seen from a helicopter. Sand from the Taylor Valley is blown by katabatic winds onto the sea ice, forming large sand dunes along tide cracks and other surface irregularities.

The tide crack behind me is layered with sediment from different storms over the past 10 years; a dune of coarse sand and pebbles rests against its (and my) base.

As Earth continues to warm during this interglacial period, more and more land will be exposed on the southernmost continent. In a real sense, what we see today at Explorers Cove is a peek into Antarctica's near future.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Roll ...

Following the magnitude 7.2 earthquake on September 3rd, Christchurch was plagued by a seemingly endless series of aftershocks. I experienced one of these tremors on the way to the Ice. In the middle of the night, the Devon Bed & Breakfast rocked back and forth for about 20 seconds. Just before it hit, I heard what sounded like a freight train thundering down the street. Several residents evacuated the building, but I was too tired and simply clung tight to the bedsheets.

Fast forward six weeks, and once again the sound of a freight train was barreling down at me. This time, though, there was no Bed & Breakfast. There was no bed, for that matter. Instead, I was jolted from a sleeping bag by the roar of flags fiercely flapping over the roof of our Jamesway tent. We all ran outside and secured camp, covered the snowmobiles, and plugged our ears. The katabatic winds -- some of the strongest we've ever experienced -- roared all night.

Flapping flags viewed thru the ceiling window of our Jamesway tent

The flags did their job alerting us to the threat. With everything quickly tied down, the only thing lost was eight hours of sleep (and breakfast).

The following day, I noticed that all the snow was blown away from camp. It was replaced by mounds of sand blown from the Taylor Valley. Only our footprints remained. Which is as it should be here ...

Again, our thanks to the schools that donated their flags!

Seeing things (?)

The Ice Labyrinth forces us to look down a lot, especially at this time of year when its surface is melting. Each step can result in a fracture -- first of ice, then of shin.

Sometimes it doesn't matter how wide open your eyes are: The ice will set you down beside her. I recently came across this beautiful maiden when looking up from such a crackup.

It is a beautiful maiden, yes? Maybe skull hit harder than shin...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Still dribbling ...

The drip coffee maker continues to make drips on the kitchen counter at Camp New Harbor. To be accurate, I make the drips. (This one qualifies as a spill.)

Life seems to slow down here. Data dribbles in from experiments, and daily chores turn to drudgery. Maybe it's because the sun slowly circles just above the horizon, day in but no day out. Maybe it's because science is a slow process, punctuated only occasionally by the thrill of insight.

One thing is certain: the heat of summer approaches, and Antarctica will wake us from this slumber.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flags are Flying

My team has flown flags at Explorers Cove since 1990. Besides their symbolic significance, helicopter pilots use these flags to judge wind direction and make safe landings.

In addition to the U.S. flag (gratefully representing the citizenry that pays for our research program), each year a handful of schools donates flags for us to fly. Their fluttering helps alert us to strong winds that sometimes whip up while we sleep. These "katabatic" winds will blow away unsecured camp equipment and sand blast exposed surfaces.

I'll say more about flags and wind later. For now, I'll simply say "thank you" to the students, teachers, and parents for helping us think of home while we inhabit this remote place.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Labyrinth

One of the reasons it has been difficult for me to keep in touch this season is the miserable state of the ice in Explorers Cove. Once again, we face a labyrinth. Perspective is difficult here. The ice pillars seen in this picture rise above my head!

Besides rough terrain, which makes navigating to dive holes difficult, the old (>10 yrs) ice is laden with sediment blown down from the Taylor Valley. These sandy dunes absorb the 24/7 sunlight, forming pools of meltwater. I do not look forward to navigating the melting ice surface over the next weeks.

Nor do I look forward to dealing with the miserable cold that is taking root in my throat. We call this illness "The McMurdo Crud." Despite strict sanitary habits, healthy diet, vitamins, and flu shots, there seems to be no stopping it. Half of our crew now has The Crud.

Unfortunately, this is no time to be sick ...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Apologies for Silence

All is well in Antarctica, although the work load has been overwhelming at times. It seems there's just too much to do at every level ...

So for now, I'll just post a picture of Mt. Erebus as seen at midnight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beginning a New Journey

This season I am traveling to Antarctica on two projects funded by the National Science Foundation. The first is a follow-up to our 2008 season; the second a continuation of our biological studies of Foraminifera. I'll be reporting on our experiences in the field for the next 10 weeks.

For now, a tiny slice of what I'm leaving behind:

Compost for the lawn ...

Next spring's grass

Do trees know yellow?