Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2002/03

   

   
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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

when mates turn in a little, far red spot

18 Dec 02 - by Paolo G. Calisse

Ok, Michael has been faster them me and so you already know what happened today: we got by sky to the Scott base and to the seals. We both felt like those early explorer, except a few, little details: that instead of 3,000 we run aobut 6 kilometer, we were not pulling a 1,000 lbs sled, was not midwinter, we have not to fell into an unknown crevasse and get out of it, we had hi-tech clothes and gears, and we had eat enough food at lunch to feed the whole Amundsen party for a week, including the dogs (that would have appreciated, let me say...).

However, as I said, apart these little details everything was pretty similar. The only thing I have to address in Michael's report is that subtle irony about my sky style. He was probably referring to the fact that when getting down from even the most undetectable slope I was immediately and every time felling down to the ground.

Actually, what Michael didn't understand is that I was involved in a peculiar altough pretty refined experimental study of the movement behaviour of the Adelie Penguin.

You have to know that those nice, little penguins move in two different way on the ice. The first is just that funny and well known Charlot-like walking that everyone that got Discovery channel at home knows very well as they pass from several years the same documentary about Antarctica at least twice a day. The second is a gentle sliding and swimming down hill on their belly. Yes, I was trying to do the same, except that, for some reasons hard to explain, I was just trying it on my bottom instead of my belly.

However, let me enphasize that the behavior of the seal colony when we arrived was remarkably unlikely: they just didn't take care of us. Not a movement, not a sound, neither the minimal fight to get possession of the territory or of an army of female that, as demonstrated by any documentary, happens almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week in any respectable seal colony. And it was, let me just remark, a normal working mid week day.

Any seal just kept sleeping, enjoing the sun, like if not Michael and me, two pretty amazing representative of nothing less than the mankind, but just two silent and transparent insects where visiting them. I will not show the picture. They would just show you a black spot on a white canvas and nothing else. Thanks for the collaboration, mates.

Except the little puppy (that undisturbed continued to get his milk directly from the factory), not a single individual even opened for a second one of the eyes to watch at my evolution down the little hills. The view of these tired dog-like marine mammals sleeping was at the end even more boring than Michael quickly getting one mile ahead of me while I was continuing my experimental studies on penguin's motion technique, falling at ground in the most unlikely positions, in a fantasmagoria of arms, legs and skis intersecating each other.

After 3 hours (3 hours and 40 for me) we were back to Scott Base, with a fashinating amount of data and overexposed pictures.

We got back to McMurdo walking on the road. We soon spotted a little truck coming to our direction and asked for a ride to McMurdo. Michael got into the vehicle, while I jumped onto the back of the car. The car run quickly toward McTown, and I really enjoied those minutes watching at one of the view that I really enjoy more, the Ross Ice shelf and the surrounding mountains. On the truck there was an assortment of dirty things like "rough applications 60W bulbs", a power generator, six petrol tank, an empty white bucket and several semi-destroied toolboxes. A pretty strong smell of kerosene and dust was getting back as the car was climbing uphill on the dirty road. I was feeling a bit like in a Steinbeck's story (I don't need very much to let my fantasy run...), sitting down in that greasy truck jumping up and down, but, let's say, I really enjoied that inexplicable sense of unlimited freedom that only the simple things can give you.

That's it by now, tomorrow I'm leaving, but I'll be back soon.

p.s. Thanks to all the readers that wrote me. I'll promise I'll reply them soon.

Ski McMurdo Sound

The Kiwi Bird is in! The Kiwi Bird is in! The cry rang around McMurdo this afternoon as the NZAP Herc finally staggered in from Christchurch. At least it did for the 60+ grantees and other assorted types who are waiting for it to take them off the continent and homeward before Xmas! So we are now all bag-dragged and ready for a 9am off-deck tomorrow morning. This should be my last posting from Antarctica.

Aside from the arrival of the Kiwi Bird, the most notable thing for Paolo and I today was that we went skiing! Paolo, much to my amazement, had never skied before, but this did not deter him into thinking we could undertake a 10 mike trek taking in McMurdo Sound and a prominent local geographical feature, Castle Rock. Actually we never got off McMurdo Sound, but we weren't upset. It was a beautiful day to ski over the sea ice, looking up towards Erebus and Terror on one side and the Royal Society Range on the other.

Paolo with the Weddel SealsPaolo developed an unusual skiing style, tramping along like he was wearing oversize hiking books, but it was effective. A graded skiway ran out to Scott Base over the sea ice, the road that connects the ice runway to Williams Field runway. At Scott Base, however, it meets a pressure ridge in the ice, where the sea ice runs into the permanent floating ice of the Ross Ice Shelf. Here the ice is pushed up into great tangled slabs. To our surprise we found another ski path winding its way around the pressure ridge, so we set off to explore. This was spectacular country, and we marvelled at the ice sculptures and ridges. Then we found a small colony of Weddell seals, sunning themselves on the ice. This is high summer for them, and just like you'd find humans dotted around Bondi Beach on a summers afternoon, so the seals were basking in sun of McMurdo Sound. Generally they were motionless, though one rather frisky female pup kept crewing funny faces at us. Another pup was feeding from her mother. Paolo was entranced, and the digital camera was working overtime - he had to keep
deleting old pictures from memory to make way for new ones! Quite why they are here right now I don't understand, for there are no breaks in the ice for them to enter the sea. Later in the season, when the ice does break, this is a common place to find seals, but I wasn't expecting it at the moment.

All in all we were on the ice for about 3 hours. But it left us exhausted. And we were following tracks. It made us appreciate once more quite how incredible were the feats of the early explorers around here were - dragging sleds across the ice for 10-20 km a day, day after day, with the most basic of equipment. How did they do it?!

And that, I hope, is that, for my Antarctic diary this year. The next instalment will come when Paolo returns to South Pole with Jon Everett in the new year, and the big adventure when John Storey, Jon Lawrence and Tony Travouillon, seasick from a few days on the Astrolabe over the Southern Ocean from Hobart, set about the task of erecting the AASTINO and its instrumentation at Dome C. Watch this space.........

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