Antarctica by Redeye

Yesterday we didn’t sleep much. We boarded our plane to Antarctica at 10 p.m., and by 4:20 in the morning we were standing on a carpet of sea ice. The sun was warm on my face, the sky was a spotless blue, and not many people needed their Big Red parkas. The temperature rose to 36 degrees.

We spent our day moving through a succession of large vehicles: a giant C-17 jet, a very large people-mover called Ivan the Terra-Bus, and finally onto our home for the next month, the great big Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker. Read on through the slideshow for the full story.

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About Hugh Powell

Hugh is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is on special assignment with the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. He has previously written for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

19 Responses to “Antarctica by Redeye”

  1. Ms. Dunbar's 5th grade class January 18, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Thanx for the awesome pix! We’re wondering if with all the noise and earplugs, could you talk on the plane?

  2. Why does Ivan need such gigantic tires? And when you say your ship can bust through three feet of ice — is that vertical feet?

  3. Hi and thanks for the great questions! It’s very difficult to talk on the plane once our earplugs are in and the engines are howling. It’s more like a game of charades where you gesticulate at each other but never quite know what they’re saying.
    Ivan has such big tires because the sea ice and ground around McMurdo isn’t always as clean and flat as it is now – Ivan has to get over humps and ridges in the ice, move through deep or chunky snow, and negotiate the transition from ice to land.
    The icebreaker is rated to break through ice that’s three feet thick at a continuous speed of three knots – that means without stopping! When the ice gets thicker, she can still break the ice by moving more slowly. When we get into thick ice later in the voyage, we’ll show you how.

  4. What a privilege to be on this mission!
    I will present your updates to the students
    involved in my Marine Science/Art class. The vehicles on your site will grap their attention for still life creativity! Reflections of warmth go out to you all.:)

    • Thanks DRyder – it’s great to hear that you are teaching a class that combines science and art. We’d love to see some of your projects someday!

  5. Ms. Barnett's second period science class (6th grade) January 19, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Hi Hugh!
    We love reading your blog and looking at Chris’s great pictures! We have two questions:

    1. How thick is the ice?
    2. Have you seen any wildlife yet?
    Stay warm and Bon voyage!

    • Hi Ms. Barnett and your students! About the ice thickness – when we left McMurdo it was still pretty thick. Some of the ice floes that had rolled over on their sides were five feet thick. But now we’re out in open water and there’s no ice at all, except for the occasional iceberg in the distance. As for wildlife, we’ve seen plenty so far – by now you may have read our post from Jan. 19, when we saw orcas, minke whales, Weddell seals, South Polar skuas, Adélie penguins, and emperor penguins. This morning we added two more species—beautiful white snow petrels (a kind of seabird) skimming over the waves, and a streamlined seal that we believe was a crabeater seal.

  6. Suzy from Ms.Barnetts 6th grade Science class January 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    I was reading your blog for HW because our class has to answer questions. As I was reading I read that you are going to live on the Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker. I was wondering what you where going to live in? I thought about living in tents but for a whole month on on a ice breaker. Thats seems like it would be hard and very uncomfertable. If you do live in tents, does it get uncomfortable? Do you have to sleep in your cloths to stay warm?
    Please write back,
    Suzy from Ms.Barnetts 6th grade class

    • Hi Suzy, thanks for your question. The Nathaniel B. Palmer is a big ship about 300 feet long. It has lots of room for us inside. We get to sleep in bunks, two to a room, and most of the scientists’ work is done in laboratories on the ship. It’s pretty warm inside (in the 60s), so we don’t have to sleep in our clothes. You can see photos of what the Palmer looks like on the posts from Jan 18th and Jan 20th.

  7. This expedition is awsome my class is learning about this. We are very interested in it. We go on the blog everyday and learn. We are following your expedition and we are inspired. We enjoy this so much. Thank you for giving us something interesting and fun to learn about. Sincerly….ME

    • Hi Jessica, thanks for writing. I’m glad you are enjoying these posts. If you have any questions about what we’re doing, or if you want anything explained in more detail, just let us know. We have about 25 more days to go and we’ll do our best to cover what you want.

  8. Well Suzy when on an Ice breaker you sleep inside of it

  9. Alex A. from Mrs.Barnett's 6th Grade Science class January 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I really love this whole expedition. It is really fun following it. I have a question. Why was this mission formed and how long did it take to get the funds and prepare for the trip?

    • Dear Alex, I asked our chief scientist, Dr. Josh Kohut, this question and this is what he said: “We knew from previous research that Modified Circumpolar Deep Water was an important physical feature in the Ross Sea, and our interest now is to see what impact that has on the biology and the chemistry here. So we assembled a team that could address all these different aspects. We wrote the proposal in the spring of 2008, we found out that we were awarded the proposal in 2009, and we’ve been planning pretty steadily ever since then. We still are planning!”

  10. Sammy from Ms.Barnett's 6th Grade Science Class January 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Hugh. It sounds like you guys had a long trip! It’s really cool that you get to live in Antarctica for some time. I hope you are staying warm and safe. It is interesting that you get to record everything that goes on. I have a question: You said the sky was a spotless blue and the sun was shining at 4:20 in the morning, is it true that the sun can come out at 4:20 am?

    • Dear Sammy. Yes, it’s weird but in Antarctica in the summertime the sun never goes all the way down. Basically, when the sun goes around the other side of the earth and it gets dark where you are, we’re so far south that we can still see around to the other side. It’s light 24 hours a day and the sun won’t go beneath the horizon until late February. In the middle of Antarctica’s winter (summer in America), the sun never comes up and it’s dark all the time.

  11. Mike from Ms.Barnetts 6th grade class January 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Hi huge sounds like fun down in Antarctica. I have a question…..How do you guys travel when you are not on the ice breaker? By snowmobile?

    • Dear Mike, we’re going to be on the icebreaker and away from land for 28 days total. The only ways to travel off the icebreaker are by a small boat called a zodiac (see Jan 21st post), which we use for glider launches, or if we find some thick sea ice and decide to send some scientists out to sample it. If we do that, we’ll just go down a big ramp and walk around on the ice—no snowmobiles.


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