Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Well today was a little slow. McMurdo is to South Pole, as well, Monica Lewinski is to Hillary Clinton (not too sure thats a good description). Its like a big Alaskan mining town, black volcanic dirt, powerlines, a maze of ugly buildings. I spent a little of last evening in the "Coffee House" which is a pleasant wine-bar with tables and couches, and this morning wandered around to Scott Hut, where Scott and his crews possessions, and even last, half-cooked meal, are preserved within. The three US coast guard icebreakers are working all hours in McMurdo sound, grinding and cracking there way through the sea-ice to make way for the tankers to reach the dock and unload their gallons of fuel.

I watched one trawl at great speed through its channel and smash into new ice, where a great sheared chunk of ice slid half-way up the vessel. There is stopped, for nearly two hours, and I learned from another Ice breaker chief that they split an oil valve in that move, and nearly spilled fuel and oil into the hull, though thankfully the waters of the sound were not in danger.The chief explained that the ships received incredible damage each year as they carve into the harbours, sometimes losing entire propellers to the ice. This said, they can crack and move into ice that is up to 6m thick, though their hulls are only 2" thick at their fronts. Amazing.

I find it hard though to look at McMurdo and be at peace with human's contact in Antarctica, for here it is obvious that though care is taken now, the coast in particular is still suffering from the impact of our endeavours. McMurdo sound has a higher heavy metal content than Boston harbour, thanks to a policy held up until only twenty years ago, of driving old and near-useless vehicles and rubbish out onto the sea-ice, that melts in summer and then drops the garbage and vehicles to the bottom of the sound.

I have 'bag-drag' at 7pm tonight (like a check-in, only they weigh you with your bags - which is a little depressing), hopeful of flying to Pole tomorrow. Though the katabatic winds are strong and icy today, I have my fingers crossed that it will improve enough in the morning to allow us to fly.

smiles
Jess

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