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New Zealand behind, Antarctica ahead!


I am actually headed to Antarctica.  We have left New Zealand, and are now on a five hour flight to the Antarctic Continent, where we will arrive at Scotts BaseWe will be landing on a runway made of ice, which is a bit strange.   Also strange is the fact that the runway is first year sea-ice, as multi-year ice can have large enough pockets of liquid for aircraft gear to break through.  Apparently this is a newer development in Antarctic airstrips, caused by an aircraft breaking through the ice while landing.

We had a little trouble prior to boarding our plane in New Zealand, due to a sudden appearance of the scientist’s arch enemy, Miss Information.  We were advised we needed to be present to check our luggage, and start the security process at about 7:00 or 7:15, and that we would need to be wearing our street clothes with thermal underwear underneath.  Following a showing of our passports, and a form declaring our intention to leave the country for Antarctica, we were to wait approximately 40 minutes, which would be enough time for breakfast.

We decided to be safe, and eat breakfast before we went, which turned out to be a smart decision.  We were greeted by our Antarctica-New Zealand contact at 7:05 in the lobby, following which we were advised that we were late, and we were asked where our snow gear was.  We mad-dashed to grab our snow gear and made our way over for initial security screening, which primarily involved recording of information and packing our backs, and meeting the cutest chocolate lab screening dog named Mia.

Dr. Furse and Dr. Golden ran back to the hotel to check out, and learned we had gone well beyond our internet allowance.  Additionally, both Dr. Golden and I believed he had the room key, but were mistaken.  Fortunately our hotel was very understanding, and was kind enough to allow us the extra data usage.  Thanks are in order for the Sudima Hotel in New Zealand for supporting us in our academic voyage!  The room key is still in my back pocket, accompanying me to Antarctica.  I think the plan is to mail it from Scotts Base on our arrival.

Our room key is headed to Antarctica

Our room key is heading to Antarctica with us.

Following our checkout we geared up on snow gear, an unpleasant task in the dreamy New Zealand weather.  During our stay we consistently saw temperatures around 25 or 26 degrees C.  If we did not have so much work to do, I would gladly have spent my days lounging by our pool, or making our way to a local beach.  The palm trees and the limes growing outside our hotel were a strange contrast to the place we are now headed.  We are crazy to leave paradise.

The rest of the security screening went well; the military was both adept and efficient.  We took a military bus to our plane, and boarded.  Although we originally were to travel in a military aircraft, through some chance of fate a commercial liner needed to travel to Antarctica, so we got to ride in style.  We have a pressurized cabin, flight attendants, and outlets on the plane, all of which were welcome surprises.  Additionally, since we are on a bit larger of a plane, turbulence will be much more manageable as we prepare for our landing at Scotts Base.  Turbulence can be a real problem around Antarctica.  The Antarctic continent is windswept, and winds in excess of 100 km are not an odd occurrence.

Apparently because our plane left from a military checkpoint, in conjunction with it being a special charter flight, we were given an additional once in a lifetime opportunity.  The pilots announced that the cockpit would be open through the flight, and anyone that would like was welcome to tour the cockpit and meet the pilot.  The pilot and cockpit crew were very kind, and allowed us to take some photos in the cockpit.  I have not heard of this occurring following modern airline security screening, and it is certainly a memory I will cherish.  Dr. Golden and the co-pilot found out they have a mutual friend, so they hit it off quite well.

The plane ride is very warm, as we all have our Extreme Weather Clothing (EWC) on our persons, in case the conditions on our arrival are severe, as well as a measure in case anything goes wrong with our flight and we have to exit the plane.  All of the air conditioning vents on the plane are on full, and very few people still have their shoes on.  Our common destination and the shared experience of our journey seem to have prompted a strong camaraderie, even among those just being introduced. 

There are several groups onboard travelling to Antarctica, as well as a troop of New Zealand journalists.  It is entirely possible that some mention of us will appear in New Zealand’s media, an occurrence that we would certainly link a blog posting to, so keep on the lookout.

It is amazing to me that so many scientists, students, and professors are fortunate enough to share this adventure with us.  When I restarted school I had people warn me that school was not a worthwhile investment, and would never pay off.  My experience watching people leave school has been quite the contrary.  As for my own experience, even if I were never to land a high paying job, attending the University of Utah has been among the most rewarding choices I have ever made, hopefully evidenced by this blog. 

The atmosphere on the airplane is highly charged, and it seems that everyone is periodically breaking into grins.  All in all it is a bit of a surreal experience, even for those that have been to Antarctica several times.  Nobody can wait until we get our first glimpse of the alien land we have come to study.  The Antarctic is part of a very complex global system of which I feel honored to have the privilege to study.  I am both awed and humbled by the idea that data we collect may be used to help better understand the complexities of our amazing planet.

 I have butterflies in my stomach, and I don’t believe they will be leaving anytime soon.  For the moment there is nothing to do but revel in our anticipation, and wonder what really awaits us.

Editor’s note:  The team is actually on the ice, and out of internet communication for a while.  Thus, their posts lag their actual experience by a few days.