Saturday, January 13, 2018

Holes: part 2

"After a while he thought he could make out the shape of the mountains through the haze. At first he wasn't sure if this was another kind of mirage, but the farther he walked, the clearer they came into view...He kept walking toward [the mountain], although he didn't know why. He knew he'd have to turn around before he got there. But every time he looked at it, it seemed to encourage him."
- Louis Sachar in Holes

Mt. Erebus
Friends, I am opening this post with a photo of Mt. Erebus, the world's southernmost active volcano. Erebus dominated my skyline yesterday, slowly releasing plumes of water vapor from its summit. The mountain breathed along with me, taking deep, clear breaths of the Antarctic air. Its majestic peak was unmistakable against the clear blue sky. Yesterday was an awesome day. 

A Pisten Bully
It started with a ride in a Pisten Bully, which is a rough-and-tumble vehicle designed for Antarctic travel. By now, I'm getting used to the loud engines and rough rides - that's just how vehicles are down here. Thankfully, we only took the Bully to the snowmobile staging area, which sits on the ice shelf just outside of town. We technically could have taken it all the way to our site, but Pisten Bullys have exactly two speeds - dead slow and stop. It was much to our advantage to continue the journey on snowmobiles. We unloaded all of our gear and secured it to a series of sleds, then daisy-chained the sleds to the snowmobiles and piled ourselves on top. It felt a bit like riding a horse, to be honest. I sat astride a dense red survival bag on top of one of the sleds and used my inner thighs and my abs to keep balance on the curves. Not something I ever expected find myself doing, but it was fun. 

Adelie penguins!
As we arrived at our study site for the day (a hole drilled in the ice for us by McMurdo staff), the last remaining clouds cleared, and we could see across the Sound in all directions. Mt. Erebus stretched over the skyline, and the sun shone down on us. It was marvelous. 

Luana and I had fun lowering the zooplankton net into the
hole. Yes, that is a bamboo flag pole and a spool of line serving
as our winch.
Just when I thought the working conditions couldn't get any better, somebody in the group gasped. "Penguins!" they called, and pointed to the north. Just about 100 feet away, a group of Adelie penguins emerged from another sea ice hole (the one we couldn't use because of the seals). The Adelies were curious and waddled straight towards our group. One of them kept stopping to sniff the air and look at us. He must have decided we were safe, because eventually all 5 of the penguins walked straight past us - within 10 feet of the closest person. I was impressed at how quickly they moved and how fluidly they switched between walking and sliding on their bellies. If a penguin tripped on a chunk of ice, it would just keep moving its feet at the same rate to push itself along, acting all the while like nothing happened. That said, the little birds tripped pretty often and actually reminded me of a group of toddlers. They waddled past us and were gone just as quickly as they came. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon collecting samples of water and plankton from the ice hole. The water will be used to estimate the densities of bacteria and phytoplankton in the water, and the plankton net samples will be used to see what species of phytoplankton and zooplankton are there. In case you don't know, "plankton" refers to all organisms too small to swim against the current. Phytoplankton are microscopic algae, and zooplankton are tiny animals, including copepods and larvae (my favorite). It was an amazing day on the ice, and I can't wait to see what we caught! 

No comments:

Post a Comment