Oh, boy. It’s been two weeks since my last blog-fession. It’s been getting busier at work and in the evenings. I won’t bore you with a list of my social activities but will hit some highlights. There was a Women’s Soiree….basically a women’s talent show. I helped out a bit with decorations and set up. After some moderate drama, it went off without a hitch and it was a fun evening. The event was for the community’s entertainment but also to raise money for this year’s charity in ChristChurch, NZ called SuperGrans. This group sends women in to homes to teach people homemaking skills and budgeting so families can better utilize the resources they have. Sounds like a cool idea, especially in light of the earthquakes there recently. The event was a success and some decent money was raised.
I was able to sign up for one of the few pressure ridge tours. Let me tell you how signing up for these things work….a signup sheet will suddenly appear outside the Recreation Office….an innocent passerby notices that it is for a coveted activity. Without much noise or fast movements he signs himself and one other friend only as permitted (which means he is really signing up 5). Then quickly slips out of sight to call a few other friends so they can sign up. Then begins the relay of hushed voices and scampering to the door of the Rec. office. This happened another time when 2 of us saw the sign for the tour of the Pegasus plane crash site. We signed a few people up from work, then when back to the clinic to tell them. They were still– even though we signed them up– out the door in a puff of smoke, dragging others with them to the Rec. door. I didn’t understand it the first time. Now I do. There’s not enough to go around, so get it when you can.
What are pressure ridges anyway and why would one want to tour them? Pressure ridges occur where the sea ice cracks. There is a small window of time when this occurs and we can visit safely (hence the need to sign up for a tour when you can). When the temperatures rise, the sea ice cracks, shifts and collides, pressing the ice upward into interesting formations. It’s pretty. I didn’t know what to really expect, but people seemed to get really excited about it. I mean, I have to consider that people I know also get excited about touring the Hazardous Waste facility. But seeing a bunch of cracks in the ice has got to be better at least, right? Maybe I’ve been looking at this brown little town surrounded by ice for too long, but it was actually quite pretty. We had a guide who was essentially a person with a radio and the keen knowledge of how to stay on a trail. Anywhere around here there are places we can walk and places we can’t for fear of falling in a crevasse. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it is a real possibility if you are not on a designated trail and you don’t know what you’re doing. This is not an issue in town, of course, but more for transport or recreation outside of town. The Ross Sea is completely frozen over most of the year and is used for transportation. The airfield until a few weeks ago was on the sea ice. There are flags marking the safe area for road traffic. Green and red flags are safe areas. Don’t go near black flags or any flags that are crossed. The same is true for ice over land masses. Safe trails are marked. So on this pressure ridge tour, we walked out on to the ice but it was melting in places pretty heavily. Some of the flags were underwater. I know, not comforting. But we all returned safe and sound. I was disappointed that the seals we saw were not close to the trail. The seals, Weddell seals to be more specific, will pop up this time of year through the cracks and hang out on the ice. I will warn you now that they all look dead in the pictures. I assure you, they are not. Not very lively, those Weddell seals.
I also visited Crary Lab. This is where all the scientists (aka “beakers”) work unless they are out in a field camp. The lab holds a tour every Sunday so I joined one recently (no sign up sheet required). It’s crazy the amount of research going on there. I guess there should be since this is the reason we are all here at McMurdo. Just like the kid that I am, I enjoyed the touch tank the most. There are sea creatures that grow to gigantic sizes in the very cold waters. Check out the pictures of me holding the sea lice. I was told some of these sea creatures are used for ideas for movie creatures. Yes, the sea lice does look a little like Predator.
More on Christmas in Antarctica next time.