Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back Home on a Mountain

It’s not that that Antarctica doesn’t have any mountains.  I get to look at amazing mountains every day.  That is just the problem though: I only get to look at them.  Working 6 days a week doesn’t leave any time to even consider climbing a mountain.  There is also no way to get to mountains for non-work related purposes. 

Erebus Glacier tongue from the air
A few days up on Mt. Erebus helped to remind me why I started working on mountains.  It made me think of everything that has happened during the past few years that has allowed me to work down here—to be sitting at 11,000ft on the side of an active volcano in Antarctica overlooking the ocean.   

Western slopes of Mt. Erebus
There were the all too familiar moments sitting on a high, cold mountain looking out across a vast (somewhat) blank landscape and wondering what the hell I’m doing sitting there and all the events that had to fall into place perfectly [or accidently or all together failed] for me to be there at that moment.  Some of the times I have felt most alive are the times when I am freezing on the side or top of a mountain a mountain—it could just be the lack of oxygen making me think that. 

Mt. Terror from the side of Mt. Erebus
Now that I’ve signed a contract here to be down in Antarctica for a full year, there will be months where I won’t even see a mountain.  They will only be images in my dreams and daydreams—even though my daydreams will still happen in the dark.

Those dots in the center are our tents.
Sometimes when I’m in the field for long periods of time I feel like I’m missing out on so many things.  But really I’m not missing out on anything.  There are few places I’d rather be.  Most of the time when I’m back in town I’m wishing I was in the mountains.  I’ll be missing out on the mountains for quite awhile by being down here. 

McMurdo Sound and the Royal Society Range
Sampling Gases in one of the ice caves on Mt Erebus
My few days on Erebus and those feelings and views will have to hold me over for many more months.  In the next few weeks I’ll be going much higher in altitude (up to 13,300ft) on the Antarctic Plateau, but it will just about the flattest and whitest place on earth.   

More gas sampling

As the sun gets lower in the sky each day; moving closer to our next sunset that is still almost two months away, I am appreciating every moment of sunshine that I can get my hands on.

Stormy day at the Erebus Hut

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Answer

These critters are Crabeater Seals.  No one knows exactly why some of them are 25 miles up this dry, rocky valley.  I'm not sure what the valley was like 5,000 years ago, maybe it had more lakes than there are now...lakes that weren't as frozen?  Why some of them are 1,000 feet up the side of the valley is another mystery.  Seeing them was one of the highlights of my trip in the Taylor Valley.  It is crazy how humanlike their skeletons are; the similarities in the hands and feet is amazing.  We all do come from the same life forms. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guess This Animal

Okay so here is a little challenge for folks:  What kind of animal is this?

 My group saw many of these during some fieldwork last week.  We were in the Taylor Valley in the Dry Valleys region of Antarctica.  These critters are 5,000 to 9,000 years old and some were found on the valley floor and others were found more than 1,000 feet up the sides of the valley.

Spinal Cord

Leave your guess in the comments section and I’ll post photos of the full creature in a few days.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

New Address

Slight change in my address down here:

Ben Adkison

McMurdo Station 
PSC 769 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Not So Frozen and Dead

Adelie Penguin at the ice edge
 So far Antarctica has seemed like very static place.  Everything is frozen and unmovable.  I know things change and move.  Every time I go out on the sea ice things are different.  New cracks appear or old cracks close back up.  But I don’t get to see these things.  For all I know they happen magically.  I know glaciers move and ice falls off cliffs, but again I don’t see it actually happening.  

Loon-like Emperor Penguins
When you don’t see things move and change before your eyes it is as if they never do.  The only things here that I have seen move are people, penguins and fuel-powered machines.  The wind is ever present and changes the landscape with sand or snow and seals will occasionally lift a flipper or roll over, but the landscape rarely changes before my eyes.  All seems frozen and dead.

Adelie Penguins
Adelie Penguins

Last week Antarctica became a dynamic and living thing [place] to me.  I got to go out to the edge of the sea ice for some more training.  Everything was moving and changing before my eyes.  Giant snow flakes fell, real snow flakes, not harsh, sand-like snow that the Antarctic wind violently drives into your skin, but the fluffy kind that float down with the promise of a coming powder day. 

Snow Petrel
The waves of the open ocean moved the ice flow up and down in front of us.  Small ice chunks that I had stood on moments before began to float further into the ocean with only our footprints remaining.  Life was everywhere.  Penguins ended their awkward waddling on land by carelessly throwing themselves into the water becoming agile creatures.  The Emperor Penguins reminded me of loons and the Adelie Penguins seemed more like ducks in the water.   The edge of the ice completely changed shape in the few hours we were there.  Watching the ice move with the ocean and seeing a whole other aspect of penguin life made for one of the best days in Antarctica so far.

Garwood Valley

Two days later I flew across McMurdo Sound to the Garwood Valley to help out with some Lidar scanning.  It felt like I was back in a high mountain valley back in the States.  The only thing missing were small alpine plants and krumholtz trees--there was nothing there that I could even pretend to be plant-like.  The lower glacier is covered in many feet of sand and rock and ice is exposed where the stream has carved a canyon through the glacier.  The exposed ice melts in the incessant solar radiation causing small rock falls that are the only sound in the valley.

Lower Garwood Glacier with layers of sediment in it
Our ride to the Garwood Valley

During our day in the valley the small frozen stream came alive.   A rush of water came down in the middle of the afternoon and would cover the ice and the weight was crush the ice and then the water would fill up the space underneath the ice further cracking it and pushing the ice up.  The flow of water lasted for hours.  This dead frozen valley was alive with rushing water and the silence was broken for a day.
The flow of water coming through the Garwood Valley

Looking west up the Garwood Valley

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That First Spring Day

McMurdo Station & Mt. Erebus

There is always that one day that marks THE change.  It may not be the last day of winter, but it certainly is the first day of spring.  After months of dreary streets and icy sidewalks it seems as though everything in town had decided to make the change.  New shoots of green grass push up through the trampled dead grass and mud.  Every branch in the city is strewn with tiny green buds with the same hope for spring.  The people are the biggest emergence.  Everyone comes alive.  Every open space is filled with frisbees and softballs.  Every dry space in the grass holds people lying on blankets soaking up the newfound sunshine.  Shorts are dawned for the first spring jog.   Everyone emerges from their winter gloom.

LC-130s on the ice runway
We had that day here in McMurdo last week.  Despite the temperature still being below freezing the streets turned into a slushy mess and streams of water flowed down the hills toward the sea ice.  Everyone walked around a little bit happier.  Some people went for runs in shorts while others did still walk around in their giant down jackets.  The biggest thing missing was green; anything living and green.

New Zealand's Scott Base
I figured it was a good time for me to climb up Observation Hill.  I’ve wanted to head up there since I got to town, but I wanted to save it for a nice day and until I was ready to get a new view around here.  It reminded me of walking up to the M in Missoula; about the same elevation gain and gave a spectacular view of town and in this case the Ross Ice Shelf and McMurdo Sound and Ross Island.

Looking out across the Ross Ice shelf
McMurdo Sound
It wasn’t spring on top of Ob Hill.  If the view didn’t remind me of where I was the colder bite of the wind certainly did.  The cold feeling justified the vast white landscape that I was looking at.  When I am in McMurdo the vehicles and buildings all seem so massive.  Looking down on station from the top of the hill it seems like such a tiny part of this world.  Everything about the landscape around me is so big, but the mountains and ice that I can actually see right now are hardly big enough to be mentioned on a map of the whole continent. 

McMurdo from Ob Hill

Monday, November 19, 2012

Penguin Video

Just a little something I put together the other day.  I hope everyone finds this as amusing as I do.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Month 1 in Antarctica

I've already been down here for a month.  Every day I walk outside and feel like it is my first day here. Other moments I feel like I have been here forever.

If there was ever a place to go and escape, this is it.  It is way to easy to become engulfed in the landscape, the people and the experience of being here.  I don't feel like I miss trees and vegetation until I look at photos of them and a sense of longing comes briefly comes back.  I feel more content here than I have felt in one place for a long time.  I even wonder what it would be like to spend a cold dark winter here.

Every day is a new adventure.  The people I work with and teach are always amazing.  There really isn't much of anything that I would rather be doing right now.

But, this place also goes against so many things that I believe in.  The amount of fossil fuels that this place uses is beyond comparison.  I can't begin to comprehend the millions of gallons of fuels burned each here to keep things running around here.  But I have to accept that this is the way things work around here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One of the Most Amazing Experiences of My Life

Simple as that.  A day of work led to a dream of seeing [Emperor] Penguins.  Sixteen of these super curious birds waddled and slid along near us.  Each day this place amazes me.

Weddel Seal