November 19, 2010 — Today we zipped around the Antarctic Peninsula to our new home on the sea ice in the shadow of Mount Erebus. It was about a 30-40 minute ‘drive’ along a ‘road’ to our camp. The drive was a fantastical adventure in a Piston Bully – a track vehicle that zips along in bumpy good time on the ice.
Going out to our camp were Ken, Joyce, David, and me plus two other researchers – Gary and Erin – plus our driver, Gideon. We each had a large black duffel bag with our winter gear, a large black duffel bag with our sleeping bag, a carry-on sized green tote for our incidentals, plus a few pieces of science gear not already packed in those bags and a 5 gallon container of distilled water. We also carried three large bags of survival gear, enough tents, stoves, sleeping bags, and food for everyone who was with us to survive for 3-4 days until the weather clears. With as quickly as the weather can change around here, this is an important safety guideline … never leave without your full winter gear and never leave without enough stuff to really camp out a storm.
This Piston Bully has a cab for the driver and passenger, and a large back that can carry 10 people. At first we thought we might get all our stuff in just the Bully, but there was just too much. So Gideon hooked up a trailer, and we put most of the stuff in there, leaving room for the rest of us in the back.
It looks like the ice is smooth when you are quite far from it, but there are a lot of places it is still very bumpy. The tides occur in Antarctica the same as they do in other parts of the ocean. But these tides push up the ice into ridges all along the edge of the sea ice. These ridges can be small and gentle or broken and rough. The small and gentle ones didn’t look so hazardous at first, but since they often end up below the level of the ocean, the water can percolate up through the ice or through cracks, and then freeze on the top making a very very slippery slope. The broken ice that is rough has all kinds of cracks, so you have to be careful there too. The Piston Bully traversed all of these different types of ice with bumpy, noisy, rattly good nature, as we zipped, lurched, bounded, and bumped along at about 10-20 miles per hour. It was really exciting as we watched the Antarctica we had flown over just a couple of days before unfold before us. We even popped the sky roof open and stuck our heads out the top to enjoy the view (and the coooold wind first hand).
Our camp, and our travels, are on a road across the ocean of ice. The ice is relatively flat, which means it it looks flat when you see it from a distance and pretty wavey when you are right on it. The road is maintained several times a day by huge huge tractors towing graders behind them. They zip along at 20-30 miles per hour, and it looks like their drivers are having a ton of fun. There are also all kinds of Piston Bullys and the occasional Hagglund (an amphibious carrier similar to the Bulley but capable of also traversing open water). Many of the vehicles have tracks like the Bully and Haaglund, and others have large, wide wheels. Seems like everything is larger here! There are also lots of snow mobiles, a few vans (with high suspension and large wheels), and several kinds of tractors. The road is marked with red and green flags. Hazards are marked with black flags that mean ‘Danger! Keep away!’. Blue flags mark fuel lines, hoses that are run above the ground. The ground here is always frozen, and you can’t dig through it, so these all important fuel lines cannot be easily buried. The flags eventually become so tattered from the wind. Crossed flags mean some sort of ice transition (bumps and possible cracks or crevasses). Two vertical flags means time for a turn. Three parallel flags means the start of the road or trail. Flags are on high poles, maybe 6’ or more off the ground.
Our ride in the Piston Bully was so much fun, and we will get another similar ride going home in a couple of weeks. We took several videos for Mrs. Corlett’s class, and will send them to you when we get back.
Right now we are ‘out of touch’ on the ice, but are sending this back to Scott Base and then to you with another scientist who is headed there tomorrow. We got our lab all set up and made our first measurements. There are a lot of little things to work out, and I will write about that tomorrow, but so far, things are going really well.
Joyce is going to write to you about what it is like to live at a Scientific Camp in Antarctica. It is a lot of fun, both from what we are getting to see and do, and from the other scientists who are here too. Russell the Ram sends his love. He has been resting up after such a busy trip yesterday, and he seems to be having a lot of trouble going to sleep. It is as bright at midnight as it is a noon. The sun never goes down, just does circles in the sky.
To the rest of our team back at home …. Wow, and thank you! Every time we turn around, we are so aware of your great help in preparing for this adventure, and we find so many little and large things you have done to make this research successful. Thank you to Erik, Jacob, Ryan, Bryan, Christian and Adam!
And to our families and friends … We are all excited to be here, healthy and doing well. The weather is lovely. It is strikingly beautiful here. Perhaps the most striking part of this adventure for me is just how tiny we really are, standing in midst of this huge expanse of frozen sea. How huge and vast and expansive and magnificent and how very, very, very precious our earth really is.