What a busy end of season! After we made it under Erebus Glacier Tongue to image the grounding line it was full speed ahead to try to get as many dives as possible. We sure did collect a lot of new data, but now that we’re all back in Atlanta it’s time for a review.
The Turkey Trot and Thanksgiving
We were lucky enough to participate in some of the Thanksgiving shenanigans at McMurdo. First thing in the morning was the Antarctic Racing Series Turkey Trot. Team Icefin had a strong presence at the event – some running, and some wearing onesies on the sidelines. Check out the Wall Street Journal’s video about the event. After the race and a midday dance party, the whole crew cleaned up real nice for a lovely dinner. The galley staff do an incredible job decorating and cooking up an impressive holiday spread. With so much great science and a stellar team, we had a lot to be thankful for.
Barne Glacier Overnight and Iceberg
In addition to diving at Evan’s Ice Wall (pictured at the top of this article), our last big target was Barne Glacier and its nearby iceberg. The term iceberg is probably misleading, given that this behemoth can be seen from miles away and is hundreds of meters across (like those Canadian-American units?). Because this site is a 3 hour PistenBully ride from town, we decided to do our 3 dives back-to-back rather than 1-2 per day. The result: a ton of great new data and several very silly pictures from our sea ice sleepover. Icefin was able to succesfully scan along the front of the rapidly-calving Barne Glacier terminus, as well as make a pilgrimmage 1 kilometer out to the iceberg.
Cape Royds and Shackleton’s Hut
After completing our three dives at Barne Glacier we packed up and stowed everything in our PistenBullies. Then we made off on snowmobile for a special trip to Cape Royds that Britney arranged. There we were able to talk to Dr. Jean Pennycook about the colony of Adelie Penguins that calls Cape Royds home. Dr. Pennycook has been coming down to Antarctica for almost two decades to study the behavior of penguins, turning her experience into valuable educational experiences for those who don’t have the chance to come down to Antarctica. You learn more about Jean and her work at Penguin Science and Women In Antarctica. Although we couldn’t get too near the penguins at their colony, we were lucky enough to have a visit from a group of Adelies as we were snowmobiling there.
Before leaving, Britney gave us a tour of Shackleton’s Hut. This hut was erected in early 1908, as part of a 1907-1909 expedition led by Shackleton to try to reach the South Pole. Although he had to turn back only 97 miles from the pole, his group did complete the first summit of Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world. There’s plenty of great information about early Antarctic exploration and Shackleton’s intrepid crew of scientists and specialists to be found at The Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Last Days on Ice
The day after we returned from Royds I got to celebrate my birthday in Antarctica! Matt and I took a hike up Castle Rock. It’s a prominent volcanic feature, accessed by hiking across the glacier up above McMurdo and Scott Bases. Though it’s a bit of a scramble, the view from the top are well worth it. Best. Birthday. Ever.
We then had several dives closer to McMurdo – back at the Scott Base Shelf site and a reoccupation of SIMPLE site from previous seasons. Among the big successes of the season was flying Icefin with a brand new payload: the water sampler that Andy has been developing! This makes Icefin capable of bringing back in-situ water samples from locations that previously we were not even able to access. That same day, unfortunately, we caught a little bad weather one day and ended up having to bring the whole crew back into town in a single PistenBully (see previous post for Instagram video).
Before I caught my plane back to New Zealand, we did find time for a quick trip to the Observation Tube. It’s a hole that is drilled through the ice, with a pipe (like Super Mario!) inserted down into the water. A glass bubble at the bottom has just enough room for a person, allowing you to sit below the sea ice and directly observe a little piece of the ocean world. We brought along Trident, a rad underwater drone from our friends at Open ROV, to be deployed through an adjacent fish hut hole. Our friend Max came for a little job swap: he drove the robot and we got to learn about what it’s like to be a firefighter in Antarctica!
After an 8 hour flight on a very cramped military aircraft, Frances, Matt, and I landed back in Christchurch. It was bizarre and striking to react to smelling plants and seeing big groups of people for the first time since we left. I had sincerely forgotten that the sun would set. So of course we went downtown to grab some food and smell some flowers.. and to cheers to an incredible season at the bottom of the world.