Dec 2005-Feb 2006
Landscape: Dry, no vegetation, cold
Lifestyle: Yellow tents, lots of chocolate, vivid dreams (I thick it’s because of the 24 hour sunlight)
Purpose: Find Southern Elephant Seal remains to infer past sea ice extent
Questions from fourth graders (aged 10-12) about Antarctica for their school projects:
Q. Can or did you see anything about Shakleton?
A. I did not have a chance to visit the old huts, but since then I have read parts of the book South and I went to a photograph exhibition (“The Heart of The Great Alone”) in Christchurch New Zealand a week before the fatal earthquake in February 2011.
Q. What are boats made of now?
A. I never went on a boat, we flew to Antarctica from New Zealand. But the boats they use today (icebreakers) are made of steel instead of wood, so they won’t be crushed by the moving sea ice.
Q. Why did you want to go to Antarctica?
A. I was invited to go to Antarctica to do field work by my supervisor and I was thrilled to have such an amazing opportunity! We went to find samples of skin and hair left by Southern Elephant Seals in beaches along the Victoria Land Coast. These samples contain information about the size and diversity of the seal population, when the seals were molting on these beaches, from which we infer past sea ice extents in this area.
Q. What did you do with the animal skins you found?
A. Rather than full skins, these were small samples of skin and hair that had molted off of the elephant seal. They were sent to laboratories for DNA, isotope, and 14C dating analysis.
Q. Is life hard in Antarctica?
A. In my experience, it was wonderful! The temperature stayed right around freezing (+/- 5 deg C), the sun never set, we were on beaches where the rocks warm up in the sun, and all of our clothes, food, transportation, and other needs were well prepared. The down sleeping bag was so warm, especially with the fleece liner. I ate up to four chocolate bars a day (I burned a lot of energy keeping warm) and I also applied sun lotion up to four times a day (and I still got burnt). We ate very well, and had some free time after dinner to write, walk, or pick through samples. The dunny (toilet) was a wooden box with a styrofoam seat with a trash bag in a bucket underneath (for solids only, liquids went into a separate barrel). The most relaxing part of the day was taking off my work socks, powdering my feet, and putting on my bedtime socks!
Q. What are the buildings like?
A. Prefabricated buildings usually, McMurdo Station was set up like a town with dormitories, cafeteria, laboratories, equipment sheds, and much more. We spent about 3 days total in MacTown, and the rest of the six weeks we were out in the field. Our party of four slept in Scott tents for the six weeks we were exploring the various beaches. The yellow canvas tent walls allows light to pass through, so I had to sleep with my hat over my eyes. I still had the most vivid dreams of my life in Antarctica.
Q. What was the weather like?
A. Warm (for Antarctica), very little wind where we were, and sunny 24 hours a day. I never had to wear my extreme cold weather (ECW) jacket, except for a photo.
Q. What was the coldest and the hottest temperature while you were there?
A. I do not remember, but one day we were digging in the sand and I got too warm for a jacket, so I was down to my long-johns. On a different day, the wind was blowing, only about 5 km/hr or so, and the sun went behind a nearby hill, I ate 5 chocolate bars that day and wore more layers because I felt so cold. The cold temperatures I experienced were nothing compared to those experienced by people who winter over (spend the entire dark winter in Antarctica taking measurements and notes).
For more information on life in Antarctica, go to: The Antarctic Sun: News about the USAP, the ice, and the people