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Wednesday, October 31, 2007: All in a days work at New Harbor
As Stacy reported in the previous post we are currently at our beautiful deep field camp New Harbor, which is about 60 miles away from McMurdo Station. Today was filled with all kinds of jobs that needed to be done around the camp and some of today’s highlights include pluming issues, moving of equipment, starting generators, drilling and cooking.

Just take in the beauty of New Harbor, and I thought McMurdo was amazing.


So the morning started off cold! I woke up a few times throughout the night because I felt pretty cold and noticed my sleeping bag was a bit unzipped. I thought this was why I felt cold but when I awoke I found it was still very cold in our hut. Upon inspection Stacy saw that the heater was on the lowest setting and turned it up. This helped out a little but our hut is so big it would be a couple of hours before cranking up the heat would make a difference. As Mindy, Stacy and I sat around the kitchen we talked about turning the oven on to help heat the hut (an old trick I remember my mom doing as a kid). Stacy turned on the oven and within a few minutes we had the oven blazing and by this time the rest of the group was awake. Marcus and Bob felt the heat immediately came over to the oven. This led to… well the picture below explains it all.

The oven seems to work better than the heaters do!

After warming up our bones we all had some breakfast. Mindy was so kind to cook everyone some oatmeal, thank you very much Mindy, and made some coffee. While we were enjoying breakfast our camp was called on the radio and we were informed that two visitors were going to be dropped off via helicopter. The visitors were Joe and Tomas from McMurdo Station and were here to help us GPS some locations. Now the real work begins.

During breakfast I went out to our lovely outhouse (see picture below) but discovered something very interesting. Upon doing the morning procedure I noticed the tube where guys pee had sprung a leak…. on the wall and my shoes. Why do I always end up with pee on me and my stuff!!! (see “Happy Camper is an Understatement” post) I reported my findings to the girls inside but they were already aware of the frozen tubes. They were inside trying to devise a plan on how to unfreeze the tubes. By this time the whole group had joined in on devising a plan and Marcus and Bryan took charge of this task. Boy did they have a good time and their plan involved a hair dryer, generator, screw driver, kerosene heater and a new barrel to dispose of the waste. Through relentless effort Marcus and Bryan got the outhouse working again and just in time.

Marcus how can you smile with frozen pee in your hands?

Bryan worked the frozen line from the inside. Notice we have two different places to do business, how luxurious!

While Marcus and Bryan battled the bathroom Mindy and Stacy were off drilling holes. These girls punched through 12 feet of “dirty ice” in no time at our soon to be dive/ROV site Explores Cove. During the drilling process Bob and I were moving our ice melting equipment which included a generator, an ice melting machine and a hot finger that you stick down a drilled hole to enlarge it.

Moving equipment, Antarctica style. I'm in the back riding the machine like it's a bronco.

So we are all set. The girls have the hole drilled and Bob and I have the ice melting equipment read but of course the unexpected incidents begin to occur. The ice melting machine that we use re-circulates glycol (think of the stuff that is in your radiator) in the hot finger and is suppose to be a nice fluid liquid. Well the liquid that was in our ice melting machine was pretty much frozen and of no use to us. Along with frozen glycol, the hot finger was busted in the shipping process

The first hot finger was not hot nor happy at the New Harbor Camp, notice the busted weld.

By this time the work day was coming to an end and everyone’s energy levels were running low. When you are busy working in the field it’s hard to remember to replenish the liquids that you displace and to continuously be munching down food. Working outdoors in a cold environment such as Antarctica will make you thirsty and hungry and if you forget to drink and eat you will feel your body crash.

So after our day of drilling, moving equipment and bathroom maintenance I was in charge of cooking dinner for the night. Each night someone else is responsible for cooking for the whole group and I elected to cook tonight. Tonight’s dinner called for chicken breast with chopped onions and rosemary, linguine with creamy pesto sauce, garlic toast and veggies. I really miss cooking as it was one of my favorite things to do back home and I had a great time making food for everyone. Yummy!

Tonight’s dinner being prepared, I think we eat better out here than we do back at McMurdo!

Just thought I would leave you with another picture to show you how beautiful this place is.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007: One Month!

Today we landed on the Antarctic continent! I know, we have been in Antarctica for a month, but we have been in and near McMurdo Station, which is on Ross Island, just off the continent. So though McMurdo is technically Antarctica, now that we are at our field camp at New Harbor, we are on the actual continent!

The real Antarctic

All our packing efforts over the last few days resulted in 2500 lbs of stuff, carefully classified into 1006 lbs of Do Not Freeze, 112 lbs of Keep Frozen, 90 lbs of Hazardous, and 1292 lbs of Everything Else. We were so fat that it took 2 helicopter flights to get us and all our gear out here. And that was after we sent the really heavy stuff – fuel, vehicles, sleds, camp gear, etc. on an earlier traverse, where it was driven across the ice in a slow convoy to a nearby staging spot at Marble Point, and then flown the shorter distance from there. The sea ice is so rough that they cannot traverse all the way here!
A Bell 212 helicopter sling loading some of our 2500 lbs of stuff.

We got to the helo hanger at 7:30, weighed ourselves, picked up our helmets and got briefed on how to properly load, ride in, and unload a Bell 212. There is a technician as well as a pilot to help but you still need to know how to be safe. The techs had previously loaded all our gear, and we took off 15 minutes apart.
Unloading the SCINI ROV from the helo at New Harbor Camp.

It is a wonderful view of McMurdo Sound from above. You can see the distinct line where the annual ice starts – where the ice that is less than a year old meets the ice that is several years old, and a less distinct line where the multi-year ice meets the permanent ice shelf. We could see icebergs pinned in the annual ice, and finally, the rim of broken ice on the shore of the continent and our camp, looking very tiny.
The edge of the Dry Valleys and the Antarctic continent.
The red building and 2 snowmachines are part of our camp.

We spent the rest of the day working quite hard in the big gorgeous silence. First we had to unload everything we had packed for the traverse, and make sure it had all actually made it there. About the time we figured out that there were 2 boxes missing, another helo came in with them. We moved all our fuel barrels, eleven 55 gallon drums of diesel, gasoline, premix, and kerosene, onto containment berms. We organized our 444 pounds of food onto shelves. We moved tables and chairs and cots and tents, and dragged around dive gear and ROV parts, and started engines and chipped a road through the pressure ridge of ice just offshore. Bryan even got the GPS base station set up and started surveying to find our dive locations. I made a quick meal of curried seafood and chocolate chip cookies – we have to cook for ourselves out here! – and finally set up a tent for bed at around midnight. Despite the comments about happy campers school, I really enjoy sleeping out on the sea ice, and besides, I was tired enough to sleep anywhere, I think! But it was worth it, we had camp all set up and were ready to start science in the morning!
The "Polar Palace" PolarHaven with some of our fuel and generators and vehicles.

Monday, October 29, 2007: Last day in paradise, Visit to Le Pegasus
Our helo flights are scheduled for tomorrow morning, our bags have been packed and are at the terminal, and our divers are grounded because they'll be flying tomorrow, so we had a bit of a breather to get our personal gear together and do some more detailed planning for the New Harbor camp site.

We also got to explore a crashed resupply plane that's been lying on the sea ice for decades...


Mindy already picked up all of our food (more than 200 pounds! that's a lotta beef!) and we shipped a lot of our bulky items like tables, fuel spill kits, and hazardous materials (glues, lab chemicals) in the past few days, but all the dive equipment and both SCINIs will fly with us. The helicopter technician and pilot need to know exactly how much everything weighs, including us, so they can balance and fuel the aircraft.

The New Harbor field camp we're going to lies at the base of Taylor Valley in the Dry Valleys region, which will place us in an ASMA, or Antarctica Specially Managed Area. While all of Antarctica falls under United Nations treaty protection, some areas of particular scientific and environmental interest have additional visitation and procedural requirements. The Dry Valleys represent almost all of the ice-free, "dirty" land on the entire continent (2.0% of Antarctia is ice-free; the ice free parts of the Dry Valleys are 1.8% of the continent), and are one of the longest term stable environments on the planet. We've heard that despite extremely hard winds during the winter, there are still human foot prints from over 50 years ago. This Australian site has more information about the ASMA system, and this paper is an example of the kind of technology that might be used to reduce impact in the valleys.
photo: plane in the snow

In the afternoon we visited an old crashed plane on the sea ice. Back in the 1970's this plane, with 80 passengers onboard, passed it's Point of No Return on the way from Christchurch to McMurdo station, which means it didn't have enough fuel to turn back. The weather deteriorated rapidly and by the time it got down here it was Condition One and the air field was invisible. After several flyovers the pilot attempted a landing, but the wing caught a snow drift and spun the plane around. Everybody survived, but the search and rescue team couldn't find the plane for a long time because of the weather.

The plane is still in amazing condition all things considered, and has a nice texture of scratched in initials from over the years.

That's pretty much all for now, we should have lots more to write about when we get to New Harbor, and we should have some form of internet access to post updates from, so check back again soon!

Sunday, October 28, 2007: Packing, Diving and Paul Airey
We spent all day organizing and packing up the significant amount of support material for our trip to New Harbor. This included 45 pounds of my dive gear - and that's not including the 43 pounds of lead or the 60 pounds of tank and regulators. We were suddenly aware of what everything weighed since each box had to be weighed and tagged for the helicopter flight. We had to decide what things we could do without - do we really need that big variable lab power supply or can we make do with something smaller and lighter?

Stacy and Mindy carry Stacy's lab cooler full of lab supplies for sample processing as well as the coring rack.


Bryan is thinking about what to pack and where to pack it...

Nick was ready to hang himself then realized we were late for dinner

This is SCINI in a box - our second system was assembled and tested, then we broke it down into the modular parts

All this stuff will fly WITH us to New Harbor on two Helicopter flights

Stacy, Bob and I are scheduled on a helo along with another scientist, a helo tech and the pilot. We have 900 pounds of gear going along with us in a Bell 212. This twin turbine, 1800 horsepower helo can carry 14 passengers or 4000 pounds of cargo. It burns almost 100 gallons per hour so we put everything we could on the Marble Point traverse which gets the equipment to a depot which is within 15 minutes by helo to New Harbor. We've been watching and hearing these guys take off and land since the helo pad is within view out our lab window - Tuesday will be our turn and I can't wait!

We didn't go diving today but we did have a dive meeting with the Diving Control Board for the USAP - Michael, Adam and Dive god Rob.

We discussed regulators, fins, training, equipment and tips for diving in these extreme conditions. Rob runs a great diving program here and is very well organized. The equipment is very old, very well maintained and very reliable. Thank you Rob!

Seals keep the ice hole open for us. This is what it looks like when they chew the ice to maintain a breathing hole.

Sunset at 2 am

The next day we went out to see Pegasus - the Navy plane that crash landed on the permanent ice runway which is now named after the plane. Though this is a Navy plane I wanted to get a picture of me holding an Air Force coin given to me by Paul Airey - the first chief master sergeant of the Air Force. The coin commemorates the Paul W. Airey NCO Academy - named after him. I met him while doing my Science Diver training under Mike Zinzser at Florida State University - Panama City. This guy is really amazing - he was an aerial gunner on B-24 bombers and did 28 combat missions during World War II. After he was forced to bail out of his flak-damaged aircraft, he was captured and became a prisoner of war in Germany from July 1944 to May 1945. The coin is a commemorative piece that he was kind enough to give me to bring along here.

Me holding the Paul W. Airey NCO Academy coin in front of Pegasus on the permanent ice

Saturday, October 27, 2007: Fata Morgan and Elvis Revived
On Shackleton’s return journey from within 97 miles of the South Pole, they were miles off their course, starving and weak, when by “an almost incredible coincidence the signal flag Joyce had mounted on the depot was raised into sight by a mirage, just in time to save the returning party.” From Shackleton’s Forgotten Men: The Untold Tragedy of The Endurance Epic, by Lennard Bickel.

Fata Morgana (Photo by Bryan Newbold)


I'm cheating here and stealing the next three paragraphs from wikipedia: A Fata Morgana, Italian translation of Morgan le Fay, the fairy shapeshifting half-sister of King Arthur, is a mirage, an optical phenomenon which results from a temperature inversion. Objects on the horizon, such as islands, cliffs, ships or icebergs, appear elongated and elevated, like "fairy tale castles".

In calm weather, the undisturbed interface between warm air over cold dense air near the surface of the ground may act as a refracting lens, producing an upside-down image, over which the distant direct image appears to hover. Fata Morgana are usually seen in the morning after a cold night which has resulted in the radiation of heat into space. They may be seen in Arctic seas on very still mornings, or commonly on Antarctic ice shelves.

Fata Morgana are superior mirages, which are distinct from the more common inferior mirages, which create the illusion of distant pools of water in the desert and on hot roads.

We typically see the Fata Morgana as raised cliffs on the distant shore as we look across McMurdo Sound to Mt. Discovery (2681 m, 8796 ft). My two photos aren't exactly the same scale or color, but hopefully you can see some difference between our Fata Morgana view with mirage cliffs and our non-Fata Morgana view without the cliffs.

Fata Morgana View of Mt. Discovery region
Non Fata Morgana View of Mt. Discovery region

There were some other strange apparitions tonight at the annual McMurdo Halloween party. Here are a few of the fun costumes that we saw!
Cara Sucher, the Crary Lab supervisor, with Bert and Ernie

Elvis revived?

The Toast Busters were a popular group entry

Marcus had his own "scare" today in the dive hole when he thought he'd lost his dive mask. Our dive tender, Allan Timm, was shooting video of Marcus for a VideoRay presentation. Marcus had taken off his mask, taken out his regulator, and was trying to talk with frozen lips. Halfway through the video you can watch him start patting around his head looking for his mask. When the video was done rolling, Marcus looked panicked. "I can't find my mask!"

Stacy crawled down the ladder and started patting around Marcus looking in the icy slush for his mask. Marcus said "I had it in my hand!" and held up his empty left hand. Stacy said "Check your other hand," and there it was! Phew!

Your last excitement for the day is another quiz. Match the wierdest thing that the team brought down in their luggage with the correct team member!

1. Stacy a. a piece of Christo’s gate from NYC
2. Bob b. battery-powered holiday lights
3. Nick c. three bottles of Thai garlic and pepper hot sauce
4. Bryan d. a star-shaped collapsible lamp
5. Marcus e. a cheerleading top
6. Mindy f. flotation material for SCINI

Don't peak below the photo until you've guessed. Below was my personal favorite costume.

Zim Zimmerman wins most creative costume

Answers to Quiz
1. Stacy = lamp
2. Bob = flotation material
3. Nick = cheerleading top
4. Bryan = piece of Christo's gate
5. Marcus = Thai hot sauce
6. Mindy = holiday lights

Hope you all have a great Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2007: Word on the McMurdo Street is….

I can see observation hill out of one of the windows in our lab. If you look closely you can see a cross that has been mounted at the top.

So after three weeks I have started to become familiar with all of the acronyms and slang that runs ramped around McMurdo Station. There are so many times when I have to search my brain to connect the acronym to the actual meaning. So just incase you intend on coming to Antarctica I have taken the liberty of introducing all of you some McMurdo idioms.


Mac Town: Short for McMurdo Station

Bag Drag: When people who are traveling to and from McMurdo Station show up to weigh in for their flight

Beaker: Scientist

Boomerang: A flight that turns back to the departing airport usually due to bad weather.

Bunny Boots: Boots that are issued to you in Christchurch. These boots water proof and keep you pretty warm.

C-17: A type of aircraft that most people fly to Mac Town in and will boomerang if there is bad weather.

CDC: The Clothing Distribution Center that is located in Christchurch. This place issues you all of your Extreme Cold Weather gear.

ChCh: Short for Christchurch

The Crud: The name of the sickness that fresh arrivals get when they come to Mac Town. Usually the crud flies in with the freshies.

D.A.: Dinning attendant who makes sure the food in the galley is fully stocked.

DNF: Do not freeze. This was written all over our food that we are sending out to our field camp.

ECW: Extreme cold weather gear. This gear is issued at the CDC and is a life saver in this cold environment.

Finjy or F.N.G: Stands for “Freakin New Guy/Gal”. We’re all a finjy at some time or another.

G.A.: General assistant who does all sorts of labor type tasks.

Helo: Short for helicopter.

The Ice: Another name for Antarctica.

Mainbody: The group of people who come during the summer season. The mainbody can reach up to 1,000 people during the summer.

Midrats: This is short of “midnight rations”. The crew who work the graveyard shift need to eat to and the galley is open at midnight to provide them with food.

NSF: National Science Foundation. They have paid for most of us beakers to be here. Thanks NSF!

Ob Hill: One of the hiking trails that is just above MacTown and provides a great view of the town.

P.I.: Principle Investigator and the person who is head of a science project. Stacy is our P.I.

POO: Point of Origin. My POO is in San Jose.

The Pole: Short for the South Pole Station. People who are flying to the pole usually come through MacTown first.

Polie: This is the person who is headed to the pole either to be a worker or a beaker.

S.A.R. Team: The Search And Rescue Team. If you get lost, these people will find you… hopefully.

Skua Central: When people are leaving MacTown and don’t want to lug all the stuff they have collected while here back home they drop it off at skua central. Think of it as a place where you can drop off anything of value that you don’t want and think someone else might.

USAP: The United States Antarctica Program, they make the whole trip possible

WinFly: Usually the group of people who fly to the Ice in August and are the first people the winter-overs will see that summer.

Winter-Overs: People who spend the winter on the Ice. Someone’s got to be here to keep the place running. There are usually about 200 winter-overs here during the winter.

And that is just some of the new words I’ve had to learn. There have been so many new people whose names I have been trying to remember that have been packed into my head. One new name I remember is Ben Bachelder. The reason I remember Ben’s name is because he was our tender dive tender today. Stacy and I dove at a site called Outfall B and we had Ben and Mindy as dive tenders. I had a great dive and it was all due to a tender dive tender named Ben.

Tender dive tender Ben in all his might and glory.

Stacy snapped this photo of me while we were at our safety stop.

The sun and blue skies returned to McMurdo Station today. It’s been pretty cloudy and overcast lately and it’s nice to be able and see Mt. Discovery across the Ice.

Thursday, October 25, 2007: Drilling and Pulling
No, today was not about dentistry! But we started out drilling (sea ice, that is) and ended up pulling (food, for our field camp). It was another windy day, so Nick and I were not that warm when we started out to meet Tom the driller on the sea ice. Rob Robbins also went with us, to try and ease things along with the Fleet Operations office, since one of the drill locations was unfortunately in the middle of the road out to the runway, and they are responsible for the road. But everything went smoothly, and since we were in the track vehicle road, which requires less maintenance than the wheeled vehicle road, Fleet Ops were flexible enough to let us drill at the dive site. I’ll point out that we did not intentionally place our site in the road, but that the road moved to over one of our long term sites! Because the roads are on sea ice here, they are regraded every year, sometimes in new locations, and the location they selected for this years road went right over one of our sites!

Tom finishing up with drilling a dive hole.


And what about the pulling? When a group is going out to a field camp, where they will have to cook for themselves instead of having the wonderful galley staff to feed them three hot meals every day, they have to do what is called a food pull to select all the things they’ll need and package it up for transport by helicopter. Mindy spent all day, and I helped her in the afternoon, in the food room, presided over by Peggy, a warmly wonderful and very capable woman. During the summer in Colorado, Peggy selects and purchases all the food that all the field teams will need during the entire season. I don’t know what the total amounts are, but just for our group of 6, going out for 11 days, that was 444 lbs of food, including 132 chocolate bars! Maybe we will all come back looking like Weddell seals!
Hopefully after eating 444 lbs of food in 11 days we will
not look as rotund as this contented Weddell seal!

You can get almost anything in the food room. Peggy has even written a cook book to help us plan good, easy meals. We’re being democratic, each of us will be cooking dinner a couple of nights, and Mindy had us go through the 6 page list of available food items (in very small print) and check off what we wanted. Then she compiled it all and started pulling things off the shelves and packing them in boxes, and weighing each box and marking it clearly on the outside. Since we are going by helicopter to our field camp in New Harbor, everything we take needs to be weighed so the pilots know how heavy the load is, and where the weight is distributed. We also have to separate out the “DNF” or Do Not Freeze items – anything liquid, in a sealed container that will burst if the contents freeze, which will happen if they are left outside for even a pretty short time. The other classifications are “CF” for Can Freeze, and of course, Keep Frozen. The strangest thing we got was 9 packages of yeast for Marcus. He found a bread maker in Skua Central (see 5 October journal) and evidently plans to keep us in fresh bread the entire time. Never mind that we don’t know if the bread maker works…nor do we know if Marcus knows how to make bread…
Nick looking casual next to our massive food pull, all nicely boxed up.
Wait, is that one of our precious chocolate bars in his pocket?

The last thing that I did today was attempt to set up yet another camera and strobe combination for tomorrow’s dive. I have flooded 2 strobes (or the same strobe twice), and the connector for Rob’s strobe, and tried taking images with the HID video lights, and tried synching the digital camera on a long shutter speed with the film camera taking strobe pictures. Only the film camera worked, but it does not have our scaling lasers attached to it, so we can’t tell the sizes of animals in those pictures, which is part of the data we need. So we did some internet research and found an excellent web site that detailed the cord wiring from a Nikonos strobe, and Marcus was convinced it would synchronize with our digital camera. We hooked it all together and it appears good – and it only took 3 zip ties – so we will attempt that tomorrow. Wish us luck!
This is the kind of picture we would LIKE to be getting out of our
underwater digital cameras, instead of ones that are all black.

I’ll bid you goodnight with one other story from yesterday. We turned back from our efforts to mark safe routes to two of our far-away sites because weather conditions were worsening. As I made the final turn into town, I noticed blowing snow coming across the hood of the Tucker – but snow is odd in Antarctica – this is a desert after all. A few seconds later I smelled burning antifreeze. It wasn’t snow, it was steam! I stopped and checked all the gauges – everything seemed normal – then turned off the engine and jumped out – and we were spewing red propylene glycol all over the snow. We quickly got out a spill kit to soak up the spill and began shoveling contaminated snow into garbage bags – we had left a trail of red drops for 10 m behind us. My investigation under the hood revealed a lot of red stuff everywhere, but no single obvious cause. Susan, who is the Sea Ice expert and was with us to help us measure cracks and decide on crossing safety, called the Vehicle Maintenance Facility on the radio and they immediately sent a mechanic out to help us. We reported the spill (any release of a hazardous substance to the Antarctic environment needs to be reported and dealt with by trained folks) and they came right down and we turned over our two bags of contaminated snow to them. And then we called the taxi service and they came and gave us a ride home. 4 hours later we had our vehicle back, all fixed. All of this amazing help, from Carl who had volunteered to work with us on his day off and ended up shoveling red snow, to the mechanics and waste specialists and taxi drivers and Susan’s expertise, are part of the incredible system down here that lets us focus on science and engineering. But we’re always aware of how lucky we are to have so much support. Thank you to everyone who is helping us, both here and at home!
Susan, Mindy and Eternal Tuck(er) on our ill-fated attempt to find a
safe route to Turtle Rock. We'll try again on a nicer day!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007: Ye Olde Leaky ROV
We've been having the good kind of pressure leaks the past couple days: the slow predictable kind with no permanent damage. While testing the electronics bottle for our backup SCINI, we found water repeatedly leaking in around our "waterproof" connectors. Usually we're worried about leaks caused by dirt and hairs around our rubber O-rings, but as we've demonstrated it's worth testing the usually reliable connectors as well.


One we determined we had a leak near our connectors by checking the dampness of different paper towels arrayed around the inside surface of our otherwise empty electronics bottle, we reversed the usual pressure and pumped up the air inside the bottle. Submerged underwater, the bubbles streaming out identified the culprit connector quickly. It's a lot easier to look for flowing bubbles on the outside of the bottle than for tiny drops of water on the inside of the bottle because usually the drops spray or get shaken around before we can inspect them.

To give an idea of the forces involved, our bottle lids have a surface area of about 30 square inches (193.5 square centimeters) and we inflated the bottle with air to a relative 5 psi (pounds per square inch); that means each lid had the equivalent of 150 pounds (68 kilograms at Earth's surface, or 667.2 newtons) of force spread across them, pushing outwards. Ultimately we would like SCINI to dive to a thousand feet (305 meters), where the pressure reaches about 425 psi; this works out to 12,750 pounds (5,783 kilograms at Earth's surface, 56,714 newtons) spread out over our thin little plastic lids... if that force was applied to my body (in a vacuum), I would break the sound barrier in less than half a second.

After sending down our troublesome bottle for a (final?) supper time pressure test in one of our dive huts, Mindy and I stopped by the old science aquarium, where marine work used to get done before our our modern spaceship/science complex was constructed a few years ago.

We were looking for an open tank we could use to rinse off SCINI after dives while we're in the field next week near New Harbor; Mindy made a very somber ruler.

Even though it's still used by a number of groups, the old aquarium reminded me of Scott's hut: cozy, lots of notes and warnings handwriten on the walls, piled up snow, and an efficent degree of disorganization.

The past few days have mostly been snowy and desaturated, but the snow blows away every now and then for us to see a new kind of sunset, like this one tuesday night. Tonight was snowier when Marcus and I went back out to recover the electronics bottle from it's final test. The snow here has a consistancy unlike any other, I think it's kind of like really good ricotta cheese, only lighter and stonger like aerogel. Either way, the bottle was bone dry inside, so we can go forward with our packing tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007: Another amazing day and dive!
So I'm in Antarctica AND I'm diving under the ice AND I'm working on underwater robots - WOW!
We start off each day meeting at breakfast to make plans for the day. We still need high resolution still photos of both tomato locations (Road and Transition) so Stacy can do her benthic ecology organism counts. We've had a terrible time getting a strobe working with the digital still camera so we hatch this crazy plan. If we can get Stacy's old Nikonus FILM camera strobe setup, she will use the film camera and I'll use the digital camera with the scaling lasers on manual mode to try to use her strobe. It's a bit far fetched but it might work and at least the film camera will get the shots we need. Also, since we need to cover areas from both locations we will swim from one to the other. It's not that far and we can go back up the other hole so we don't have to swim back to the other location. Sounds like a plan - a bit odd but hopefully we can get both locations done so we can move on to other sites that need to get done. Nothing ever goes according to plan though and I had some other problems on this dive...

So we gear up with a video camera with HID lights, a film camera, digital still camera with lasers and some other lights. I can't put my own gloves on and need help with just about all my dive gear - that's why we need dive tenders.

Nick and Matt put on my gloves.


Here's how we jump in the water (download):

(Get the Flash Player to see this player!)

After I jump in I purge my suit and begin the long descent through the ice. There's a bit of shock involved when you hit the cold water but I immediately notice my right wrist is REALLY cold. I have a leak through my dry gloves and as I reach up, a trickle goes right down my spine! Wow was that cold! Then I notice my left wrist is also cold but not as bad. I continue my descent through the 20' ice hole wondering if I'll have to scrub the dive due to my leaks. It takes a while to purge air out of my suit and hoods as I descend through the ice tube until, suddenly, I'm in "open water" under the ice and easily see the bottom, another 40' below me. I think I just forgot about the leaks as I'm overwhelmed by the incredible view below me. They didn't leak any more and the ice cold water warms up inside my many layers of synthetic insulation. I honestly didn't even think about it again until I was out of the water.

I continue to descend to the bottom where Stacy is trying to get the video camera lights going. After giving up on one and just using the one working light, we video for a bit then attempt to get the still cameras going. It's dark so you can't read the buttons until you shine your light on them. The whole time your working on anything you have to maintain your buoyancy so you don't float up or, even worse, touch the fragile bottom and it's delicate, slow growing organisms. So you get your light in the right spot, look for the right button, press a button, control buoyancy, read the menu, get the light, look for the button, control buoyancy etc... until you finally get the camera set in the right mode with the right settings. Then we tried to make some pictures. Well the plan didn't work out so well but we eventually ended up getting the shots we needed on the film camera. Mission accomplished and me running low on air, we start our ascent up the second hole. I was so focussed on the camera and trying to make some pictures, I was almost overwhelmed when I took a minute to look around. Visibility was probably 800' or more and I could see blue light filtering down through thinner cracks in the 20' of ice. The underwater scene is so surreal and amazing with so much life and color below a frozen, all white and sterile looking ice sheet. You feel like you are flying - floating in air since you can't "see" the water. It's such a cool sensation - pun intended.

I still have remnants of the crud so I was still a bit stuffy. What happens when you go up is all the gas in your dry suit, lungs, eustation tubes and nasal passages expands. For the dry suit you carefully control the expanding air by controlled venting through the shoulder valve. This is mostly automatic - or at least you control it automatically without really thinking about it. My problem this time was with my clogged nasal passages. Basically snot ends up getting pumped into the mask where the fresh water snot freezes very rapidly. This also doesn't feel so good with lots of pressure right between your eyes. I ascended very slowly so this all wasn't a big deal but I ended up with so much frozen snot in my right lens I couldn't see anything out of that eye and I ended up blinking hard to keep the ice out of my eye. Some weird experiences and sensations but well worth it!

Look closely and you will see my right eye is full of frozen snot

Yuck and ouch!

Getting out is quite a chore as the water is about 6 feet below the tomato floor. This is another reason we need dive tenders. We have to take off our tank and clip it to a line. Then the dive tenders can haul up the 60 pound tank on a line.

I'm clipping on the tank with Mindy ready to haul it up.

Next the 43 pound of lead I wear, then my fins, then I can finally climb out.

I jumped down to help Stacy with her fins - not that she needed any help.

In the afternoon we tour the wastewater plant and the drinking water plant. Mindy explained all that so well I won't repeat it here.
Here's what the wastewater "bugs" look like under a microscope

The drinking water plant uses Reverse Osmosis to make fresh, pure drinking water out of sea water. The membranes operate at 850 PSI inlet pressure - some serious pressure!

Cool hand drawn flow schematic

History Eraser button? You see a switch like this and you're just tempted to see what happens if you pull it...

Bryan and Nick are intrigued with a sample of Pteropods. These little things were growing in the salt water intake line and plugging it up.

My roomate Josh is here with the Mayo Clinic studying altitude sickness in people going to South Pole station. He gets to go to Pole so I'm jealous of him. He's jealous of me since I get to dive so I guess we're even. They're setup in the hospital right next to the hyperbaric chamber.

Josh standing next to the hyperbaric chamber

This is what we get to "take a ride in" if we ascend too quickly on a dive and get bent. You don't want to have to use this thing but every diver is really glad we have one just in case something goes wrong.

After dinner Nick and I walk down to the Jetty dive hut to do a pressure test. SCINI is made up of 2 pressure housings - one for the main controller and motor controls and another for the camera. We are building a second SCINI and we wanted to make sure the housings didn't leak. Since we have a 60' hole of our target ice water within 10 minutes walking distance we send an empty housing down on a rope and wait 30 minutes. We bring it up and look for any signs of leaks. We found one, then send it down again, wait, bring it up and so on until we are confident we have a housing that has no leaks. We're still working on one of the housings and as of Wed. night we are doing a 4 hour test since we had some possible very small leaks.

I'm hauling up a housing after it's been at 60' for 30 minutes

The sun no longer actually sets but it does duck in behind the mountains for a few hours. This means we have gorgeous sunsets that last for many hours.

Sunset at 9 pm.

Sunset at 1 am.

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.