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