Sunday, December 4, 2011


Oh yeah.

I've been saving this one for a special post, but i've got a treat to share, reeders. A field trip to the Dry Valleys!

For this post, we're talking ..... first steps on the actual continent ... first (and second) Helicopter Trips ... aerial photography .... Hiking .... Divetending for equipment ... and mummified seals! yes, you heerd right reeders, mumified seal.

So, we've been putting instruments down in a number of places to get longer-term enviromental monitoring. We had sensors close to base at Fish Hut 9 (where rusty the seal hangs out) and a bit farther at Cape Evans, but we also had a sensor at New Harbor which is in the Dry Valleys. The dry valleys are an incredible habitat, a desert so harsh that NASA uses it as the Mars Proving Grounds, testing equipment to be sent to another planet. It receives less than a couple centimeters of precipitation per year, and the winds are powerful strong. Glaciers flow down between each peak, and there are corpses of seals that are hundreds and in some cases thousands of years old - well preserved because of the cold, dry environment. We flew out to the base right at the edge of the sea ice to meet divers there who retrieved our equipment that had been down about 3 weeks, and then pack it all up to go back with us to McMurdo. The whole trip took about 6 hours, of which we did about 3 hours of work, had some lunch, and had a little time to hike up a couple hills and see a seal mummy. Well, it might have been a daddy - I wasn't sure, and I considered it impolite to ask. Also it had been dead for centuries and was a seal, so communication would have proven difficult.

And if you'd like more detailed information the dry valleys and lots of maps and GORGEOUS pictures go here:

And now for my pictures!

Let's take the bird up for a spin...

It was a bit cozy with 6 people and all of our gear, but I didn't mind at all. It's hard to worry about that...

..when your view out the window is this! Mt. Erebus from about 1000 feet up on the ride out. The whole trip was about 40 minutes each way

We actually flew over the seal group who were skidooing (and riding sleds) to find one of there satellite tagged animals.

My first site of the dry valleys. They are on the main continent, as opposed to McMurdo which is on Ross Island. We had to cross the McMurdo Sound which is of course frozen entirely right now, which you can see in the foreground.

This is the little New Harbor camp that the divers have spent the last 8 weeks at. They were really awesome and the camp was very cozy and fun. The shed Evan is entering is actually the outhouse. You pee in a funnel (or for the ladies a tin can that you have to empty into the funnel), and you poop in a bucket. When the bucket is full you have to put the lid on and pack it for shipping back to McMurdo. There is no leaving human waste on the continent because of the environmental impacts. However, do not envy the job of lidding and carrying the poop buckets...

Divers preparing to retrieve our sensors - They're from UCSC! Go Banana Slugs!

Danni testing the strength of our rope to make sure it would support hauling up our 115 pound instruments and weights. It held me doing pull ups just after that, so it was all good.

What's in the hole? SURPRISE SEAL!!!! no, just kidding this time, but you can see the extra scuba tank they tie off down there. Pretty clear water.

After successful sensor recovery and packing, it was time to take a little walk on the most remote desert on earth.

Even in the desert, there is water. A little bit of ice melt leads to small streams. We have to make sure not to touch the water with our boots because microbes grow in the water, and we don't want to introduce any foreign species into it. Here Pauline is doing a running jump to clear the stream.

No words can capture the stark beauty of this place

Here she is. One side of her is bone, stripped by the prevailing winds for centuries, and the other side still has fur! Sad and beautiful all at once.

I think Georgia O'Keefe would have loved to paint this.

This is a glacier spilling into the valley- albeit fairly slowly. Also, want a novel idea for a drink? Try 100,000 year old ice in your next glass of soda or whiskey. I enjoyed some glacial ice in my cup last night, and the thought of this ice being formed 20,000 years before Homo sapiens even left Africa was pretty amusing to think about.

A view over the Taylor Valley with a suspiciously well stacked pile of rocks we found. I sensed a little human involvement in the creation of that particular formation.

Thank you Dry Valleys, and thank you Antarctica! My time here is brief, but the memories are indelible.

PS- i lost that hat the next week. have you seen it? email me if you find it - thanks.

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