Tophat logo

Gwynne Crowder —Journal Entries

TopHat in Antarctica

Journal Entries by Date:

Journal Images click here.

March 21 - final journal entry:

After I left the "Ice", the disks were successfully recovered and everybody left by February 5. Looking at the data, it seems like things went quite well. However, the findings won't be ready for about a year; it is a lot of work to go through that amount of data, even with the help of computers!

Since I've been back in the US, I've visited both classes. I was glad I got to visit the classes again and answer some of their questions. I want to thank both classes and both teachers for working with me. I really loved working with you! Pictures from my visits to the classes.

January 14:

A couple of weeks ago, the first ship made its way into McMurdo. It was the US Coast Guard ice breaker, named the Polar Sea. For a few days before it landed, we could see it slowly approaching, breaking its way through the seasonal sea ice. The Polar Sea's Antarctic mission is to resupply science stations, to break up a path through ice to various bases, and escorting supply vessels. It and its sister ship are the biggest Coast Guard ships and are the most powerful non-nuclear icebreakers in the world.

Once the Polar Sea finishes its most vital missions, it offers occasional morale cruises for the people of McMurdo. I luckily got to go on one of these cruises today. It was super neato! The ship itself is quite large with all sorts of interesting compartments to poke around in. One of the ship's weathermen offered to take a few of us down to the engine and engine control room. To go into the engine room we were required to wear large earplug things. Nobody was allowed to walk on the bottom section of the room because it was deep with oil.

From the deck, you can see all the enormous pieces of crushed ice surrounding the icebreaker, bobbing around in the ocean. The ice has the most beautiful shades ranging from white to blue.

I'm not exactly sure where the Coast Guard took us since it got cloudy and started snowing pretty quickly. I liked the snow even though it detracted from the view. We were enclosed in a totally white, featureless world.

One of the really nice parts of the morale cruise is that there is all sorts of wildlife to see. Most of the life here lives along the coast in areas where there's open water. I saw Adelie and Emperor penguins, skuas, and seals in hordes. Very cute. I kept hearing about people sighting whales, but I would run to that part of the ship and the whale would be gone. Most of the cruise had finished and still I hadn't seen any whales, I was getting very concerned. Finally, I saw a fin crest the top of the water. I had seen a Minke whale! I guess there were Orcas around too, but I didn't see any. I had lots of fun, I certainly wouldn't mind going again!

Ship Facts:
Length = 399 ft
Beam (width) = 83.5 ft
Top of mast above waterline = 136 ft
Diesel capacity = 1,350,298 gallons
Maximum range in open water = 28,274 nautical miles
6 diesel engine sustained speed = 17 knots
Propellers = Three 16 ft diameter
Diesel-electric engines = 6
Gas turbine engines = 3
Gas turbine icebreaking ability = 6 foot ice at 3 knots continuous speed
Ship's crew = 14 officers, 130 enlisted
Helicopter detachment = 4 officers, 12 enlisted
Maximum scientific party = 35 scientists
Potable water = 26,586 gallons
Cranes = 4
General cargo = 400 tons
Helicopters = 2 HH-65A,
175 knots maximum speed,
400 nautical mile range
Boats = 1 25'8" Motor Surf Boat, 1 39' Arctic Survey Boat, 2 36' Landing Craft, 1 25' Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat

See a few pictures from the morale cruise.

January 4:

Launch today! I really didn't think it was going to happen, the weather seemed so chancey. When I first arrived in the morning, I entered a room full of very tense people. Very tense. This was rather understandable, as people have devoted an enormous amount of time to this project.

We all had set jobs for certain points throughout the day. So as the morning progressed, the tension seemed to go down a little bit as people were able to keep themselves busy. My personal job for the day was mainly to shuttle people and supplies back and forth between the lab and the launchpad on a snowmobile.

It took me a little while to get the hang of getting the snowmobile started. At first, I was unable to manage both the pull-start and the gas pedal. My oh-so-clever solution to this was to tie the gas pedal down with a spare mitten. This worked quite nicely - too nicely. After the motor started, the snowmobile gunned forward. I had to throw myself onto it, frantically trying to pull the mitten off the gas pedal before I (and the snowmobile), were rocketed into a delta. Luckily, distaster was averted and I later figured out how to manage starting the snowmobile without using my mitten.

At about noon, the workers from the National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF), the people who handle the mechanics of the actual launch, came to pick up the bottom payload otherwise known as the gondola. It had to be loaded onto a delta which was specially outfitted with a crane, for the occasion. After getting it all set up, they drove the delta out to the launch pad and then repeated the process for the top package (the actual telescope).

Once everything was out at the launch pad, the balloon itself and parachute for the bottom payload had to be rolled out and attached to the equipment. The point when they roll out the balloon is really the point of no return. They can still cancel the flight if absolutely necessary, but the balloon cannot be reused. It is too likely that something will have happened that ruined the balloon. After everything was in place, inflation of the balloons took place. I was looking around at my labmates during this time, they were obviously very nervous at this point, but nothing was within their control anymore. They just had to sit and watch the NSBF people do their job and hope that the weather would stay good. Good weather means wind speed of 4 knots or less. Basically, that equates to perfect conditions.

Back to my labmates. Even though they looked slightly ill, there was a general good feeling; everyone had done what they could and now they just had to hope that the hard work would pay off. Since we have the rather unique design of mounting the telescope on top of the balloon, this launch was much trickier than usual. First, a tow balloon must be put up to lift thetop payload off the ground. That being accomplished, they then started inflation of the main balloon. This took about 45 minutes!

I should mention that the day was an unusual mixture of really interesting busy times and tremendously long boring waits. To the amazement of my labmates, I was even able to catch a nap in one of the slow periods. For some reason, my response to the stress around me was to fall asleep. I didn't fall asleep during inflation though!

Talk about an awe-inspiring event. At this point, the sky was mostly cleared so there were these huge expanses of sky, mountain, ice shelf, and then this large silvery-clear balloon. The scale of everything was so large.

Once the main balloon was filled, the tow balloon was released, uncovering the telescope and letting it rest its weight on top of the main balloon. We had to wait a few minutes for a plane to land at the very close by air field and then, whoosh, the balloon and top payload were released. After some fantastic driving by NSBF, the bottom payload was positioned correctly and then released. Very exciting. The balloon was then on its own.

All we can do for the next week or two is moniter everything and send some commands. Due solely to the circumpolar winds, the balloon will circle the Antarctic continent and hopefully return to about the same place. Then we will attempt retrieve our disks. We are receiving data now (via a satellite link), but much more will be gained once we obtain the disks. Everything seems to be going relatively smoothly. Yippee! Check out the pictures from launch!

December 25:

Well, it's the holidays. People here seem to be a bit homesick, but there is a lot of effort made to make things nice.

On the evening of December 22, there was a small Hannukah celebration. About 10 or 15 people attended and more than half were not Jewish. People just came to learn about the holiday and help celebrate. Jewish holidays are supposed to start at sunset, but since there is no sunset here, we just had to pick a time. A large part of the Hannukah tradition is lighting candles, but we are not allowed to have open flames inside. The woman who organized the event had to talk to several people in charge to get permisson. One guy brought an accordian to entertain us. It was a very fun celebration.

The main Christmas dinner in McMurdo was served on December 24 because more people have Sunday off here. Lots of food!! I also had a Christmas dinner out at Willy Field on the 25th. This was a more intimate gathering. For the past few years, a woman from the Air National Guard has brought in special fresh foods that we would otherwise never get. I think I actually shrieked when I saw there was fresh milk to drink. Mmm...

I don't know how she managed this, but there was also real ice cream and bouquets of fresh flowers. It was very, very nice of her to do all of this. Besides all the work she did to make things nice, lots of other people went to a great deal of trouble as well. The galley workers here are the real backbone of the holiday spirit. Both the TopHat team and the experiment team next door are getting excited, as our launch dates are quickly approaching. In fact, the other experiment is scheduled to launch as soon as there is good weather. Pictures from the Willy Field Galley.

December 14:

As I was shuttling out to Willy Field this morning in the Delta, I was watching the view out the window. As a van passed us, sending clouds of fluffy snow into the air like dust on a gravel road, it occurred to me that snow is our dirt here. The landscape is very beautiful here, but it is this tremendously barren combination of jagged edged mountains and flat plains of ice. Add to this the fact that it is mostly white and blue here with the occasional dark brown patch of volcanic rubble.

There are no obvious indications of life here. However, in terms of its geological history, Antarctica had been about as prolific with life as all the other continents. Looking at it now, who would have guessed?

There are clues scattered about even though they have been rather hard to find. Antarctica and all the other continents were once part of one enormous landmass. Life at that time varied regionally, but not that much (kind of like how English is the official US language, but people from different regions have different accents). Due to shifting in the earth's crust, the landmass broke apart and the continents slowly drifted away from each other.

As the continents became more isolated from one another, the life developing on them developed in diffrent ways, which became more and more pronouced with time. As the years went by, Antarctica drifted down to the southern-most part of the globe. Vegetation and animals slowly died out due to various reasons.

How do scientists tell that animals ever lived on this continent? Fossils! Leaf impressions in stone and even dinosaur bones! However, not that many fossils have been found. More heavily relied upon is modern biochemical techniques (DNA and such). It's really hard to look around Antarctica now and imagine it teeming with life. I guess things really change with time, don't they? I got a lot of this information from an article written by R. Oldfield from Here are some assorted pictures that have nothing to do with this journal.

December 2 continued:

Well, I believe I left off right before I went to the Ice Caves. They were so neat! I think I mentioned that it was warm outside that day, but the caves hovered around a cool (not cold) temperature. Now, because snow is such a good insulator, the temperature remains about the same inside, whether it is hot or chilly-willy outside.

Walking around the caves required a good deal of crawling and wedging. There were 2 main types of crystalline ice formations that I noticed. One was rounded like the underside of a cloud and covered with something that resembled hoar frost. The other was just like stalactites or icicles.

Because we were walking around in a rift, the walls and ceilings formed very unusual and interesting shapes. Light was filtering through the ceilings, filling the caves with the most beautiful blues and periwinkles (there was even a little bit of green). If you wanted to go beyond the main chambers, there were some little side rooms that you had to worm yourself into. This is NOT recommended by me, if you are claustrophobic. I personally found it very exciting to wedge myself between 2 walls of ice that were separated by 6 inches. Frightening, but fun. I felt kind of bonded with my group after the day was done. What a busy day! Ice cave pictures.

December 2:

Today I attended Sea Ice School. It was just as much fun as Snow School, but in a different way. The day happened to be absolutely beautiful, the best day we've had so far this season. It was warm (around freezing), sunny, and with very little wind; perfect for being outside. We had a rather small group, 9 people including the instructor.

After convening, we pretty quickly hopped into a Hagglund and took off for the day. A Hagglund is a tracked, amphibious vehicle. Sitting in the front is a noisy experience, earplugs recommended! After looking at a couple different types of cracks in the ice, we headed off to the Instructor's hut for a lecture on ice dynamics. Very interesting! We learned what the different causes of ice cracks are, how to identify them, and how to cross them safely (not all are possible to cross!).

After our lesson, we took a break to eat lunch. During that time, we discussed what we wanted to do for the day. Since no one in the group was required to take this course, the instructor decided to skip some of the lessons we had all had already and take advantage of the beautiful day instead (fine by me!). We decided to head out to the Razorback Islands and look around there. On the way, we stopped and explored an iceburg. We hiked up one side of it and then slid down the other. Whee! It was nice to see some of these ice and snow formations up close, usually we have to steer clear of these areas altogether!

After continuing on to Big Razorback Island, I realized why we had picked this spot to visit. Tons of seals had wiggled themselves out of the water to sun themselves and nap! I even heard several of them snoring! We were lucky to visit at this time of year, the momma seals were out with their pups. What can I say about the seals. They are shaped rather like enormous slugs (although significantly cuter). I should mention the sounds there. Usually it is absolutely quiet here except for the wind (which can be very noisy). Not so by the seals. They made these very loud, gutteral sounds. Kind of like someone moaning in pain or a woman giving birth. It made for an odd experience.

After that, we headed over to Little Razorback Island. Once there, we first visited a diver's hut. A diving hut is placed over a hole in the ice so that scuba divers can go underwater without having to worry that the hole they entered through will freeze closed. That could be very dangerous. When the whole group had entered the hut, we used our jackets to block the light form the window. Then we took turns straining to see the ocean bottom (it was just barely visible). We could see floating in the water krill and some other unidentified sea critter (it looked like a small clear tube with fins). I decided to put my hand in the water, very cold! The temperature of the water was probably around 29 degrees Fahrenheit, seawater freezes at 28.8 degrees Fahrenheit. It only takes immersion in 50 degree water to develop hypothermia, so you can imagine that I didn't keep my hand in the water very long.

After the hut, the instructor agreed to let the group circumnavigate the island on foot together. We got to see lots of active cracks up close on our little hike. At one point, we found a hole in the ice that seals use to come up for air. The hole was starting to slush over, so the instructor went over and started telling us about some of the behaviors or seals. While he was talking, a seal surfaced and loudly grunted at us. The instructor was so surprised that he nearly peed his pants! We all flocked around the hole, hoping to catch a picture of the seal, but it had decided to go somewhere else. Someone in the group commented that we looked like paparazzi, I'd have to agree.

After our little outing, we had to learn a little more about sea ice. We shoveled down through about 6 or 7 feet of snow to reach the actual layer of sea ice. Using a hand auger, we drilled to find the depth of the ice (9 feet or so!). Everyone that needs to know the depth of the ice must use this method. Lots of people have to do this, we drive vehicles and land planes here all the time.

Just a reminder: sea ice is the seasonal ice that will break up within the next few weeks. Willy Field is on the Ross Ice Shelf, a permanent layer of ice that has a depth of about 200 or 300 feet. I tasted a little bit of the sea ice, very salty! After we finished this lesson, we had covered the essentials of sea ice, but we still had some time left before we had to be back. So, in our extra time, the instructor decided to let us go to the ice caves! I think I'll wait until next time to report on the caves. See the Sea Ice School pictures.

November Journal Entries:

November 30:

Last night, after dinner, I walked up Observation Hill. One of the really handy things about having the sun always above the horizon, is that you can get out and do things at any time of day. Of course, that also makes it hard to manage a full night's sleep.

The hike up was steep, but not too long. We waited for nice weather to climb up, sunny and not too windy. The wind can be a real problem on top of the hill, very strong. In fact, Observation Hill blocks McMurdo from the worst of the winds. Once on top, you can see that Observation Hill (as you can probably guess from the name) has a great view. It is the highest point directly by McMurdo.

From the top, you can see several mountain ranges on the Antarctic mainland, the sea ice runway, a top view of McMurdo, Castle Rock, Mount Erebus, Willy Field, and Herbie Alley. Herbie Alley is where all the worst storms come from (the south), the hurricane force blizzards. Eun and I had a snowball fight, fun! The most fun was going down the hill though. I ran and slid the whole way down. It was a mixture of snow and volcanic rock so it took a fair deal of concentration to keep from falling. But it was fun enough sliding down that I plan to do it again soon! Pictures from the steep ascent.

November 28:

I woke up yesterday and it was sunny. Finally! The weather has been so unseasonable; cloudy and snowy. The folks who know say that it's sunny and beautiful every day at this time of year, with maybe a storm once every couple of weeks. It's getting to the point where there are rivers of muddy water flowing everywhere in town. Elmer and I, in appreciation of the weather, decided to hike the Castle Rock Loop.

They only allow people to go hiking after they have attended a safety lecture, and then only on the designated routes. Castle Rock is the longest path they offer, 7 miles round trip. After getting a hearty meal at the galley, we went to the Firehouse to get clearance to leave. In order to get clearance, the weather must be condition 3 and predicted to remain so for the duration of the hike. We were issued a handheld radio (in case there was an emergency) and told them we would have to be back and check in within 6 hours. They are very strict about holding to the return time. If people are even 5 or 10 minutes late, they send out rescue crews! Better safe than sorry.

Elmer and I then headed off to find the trail head; we had an unlucky start and we walked around for about an extra mile trying to find it. It was well worth it. Wow, what a great trail. It was a higher elevation than town so we had fantastic views. The clouds were beautiful for the first half of the hike. It was primarily clear with wisps of clouds dotting here and there. It was quite windy even though the temperature itself wasn't too cold. The trail itself was mainly through the snow. Occasionally, we would cross patches of gravelly volcanic rock.

The most difficult part for me was the portion where we had to walk uphill, into the wind, on pure ice. I was convinced I was going to loose some teeth from slipping and falling before this trip was over. Along the trail, they have placed 2 emergency shelters. These are called "apples" or "tomatoes". The bigger versions of these are called zucchinis. Inside of these shelters, they keep sleeping bags, emergency dehydrated food, and a stove (vitally important in emergency situations for melting snow into water). At the second shelter, Elmer and I stopped for a water and M&M's break. Yum yum. I was used to seeing Castle Rock from afar where it really doesn't seem that big or imposing. It is rather confusing here with perspective because the air is so clear that the visibility is much greater than usual, plus, almost everything is white anyway. As we started closing in on Castle Rock, I realized how big the rock actually is. It's 413 meters high (1239 feet)! I'm not sure about this, but I think Castle Rock was formed because it was a vent for Mount Erebus. It would let the gases and lava leak out of the mountain which kept the mountain from erupting.

I walked right up to the base of the rock, but couldn't stay there long because the wind was really fierce and I was getting quite cold in the shade. On the hike back, I noticed how there is a total lack of smell here. Talk about sensory deprivation! Hardly anything to smell, see, or hear. Being without scents really makes the sense of smell acute when you return to the proximity of humanity (ie, even the smallest odors stank when we returned to town). After checking back in with the Firehouse, Elmer and I went and ate a BIG dinner. Pictures from the hike.

November 25:

Thanksgiving today!!! All of McMurdo postponed Thanksgiving from Thursday to Saturday. This was so most people could get the weekend off (a lot of people get every Sunday free). However, quite a few people had to keep working, some operations just can't stop whether it's a holiday or not! Most of the scientists worked today, myself included. We don't usually take any days off (boo-hoo). But, after working a shorter day out at Willy Field, I returned to McMurdo to eatthe Thanksgiving feast that had been prepared.

The setup in the galley was a little different than usual, everybody had to sign up for certain times to eat. This was so it wouldn't get too crowded at any given time and there would be plenty of food to go around. Everything there was nicely decorated and there was an incredible (and delicious) selection of food. People were in a pretty good mood, especially considering that everyone was away from their families. I myself felt a little glum, my first Thanksgiving away from home.

To produce the quality of food that they do for the feast, it takes a lot of extra time. Our cook staff already works full-time, so the base relies heavily on the help of volunteers. Helpers worked the equivalent of 72 kitchen shifts to prepare for the dinner!

Every wonder how much food is necessary for 880 people? Read on!

Pounds of meat: turkey-1,300, ham-150, Antarctic cod-200, salmon- 40
Gallons of gravy: 20
Desserts: pies-150, pecan tarts-500
Number of rolls: 3,000
Pans of stuffing: 24
Pounds of fresh fruit: 120
Pounds of fried onions: 24
Pounds of canned cranberry sauce: 200
Pounds of cheese: 60

Needless to say, there were leftovers. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! A few pictures.

November 21:

Well, I certainly slept well the night after snow school. All that hard work made me want to eat and sleep a lot. One thing that was truly remarkable about spending the night outdoors here was how quiet it was. No people noises, no city noises, and even no animal noises. When the wind died down, there was nothing at all.

Now that "Happy Camper" snow school is over, my life is starting to form a more regular schedule. I work every day, usually from the time I catch the shuttle in the morning (either 7:30 or 8:15) to the evening shuttle at 5:30. "Work" means driving in a van from the main McMurdo Station where we live, to Williams "Willie" Field, which is 8 miles away. Sometimes I work a little less, this is usually if I have some meeting or appointment I need to go to.

You may wonder what is actually going on in the lab from day to day. Well, we have most (if not all) of the parts built already. So what still needs to be done?

The first thing we do as we receive the different parts is test all these parts to see that nothing was broken during shipping. There is a whole lot of delicate instrumentation and it wouldn't take too much to damage it. Something to keep in mind is that while it may be easy to tell when something is broken, it is much more difficult to tell how it is broken and what should be done to fix it.

After we make sure these parts of the experiment are working, we have to see just how well they are working. In other words, we have measure the "sensitivity" of our experiment. The TopHat experiment must be extremely sensitive to get good quality data and make new scientific discoveries.

Mainly what we're working on right now is the electronics of the project. Sometimes as we're testing the equipment, we make mistakes and things get broken. Fixing these mistakes is just part of the job, EVERYBODY does things wrong from time to time.

After we have individually checked out all the separate parts to the experiment, we must assemble these pieces and make sure the entire experiment works as expected. When it all works, we go through the sensitivity measurements a few more times to make sure we have the best measurements possible. We are in the process of fine tuning all of our equipment so it is in its best working condition. This process will keep us busy until the flight takes place! Pictures of equipment and working people.

November 14 and 15:

You may notice that the journal covers two days. That's because I went to a survival course called Snowcraft I (aka Happy Camper School)! It was an adventure. Before reading about what happened, please read the description of the three categories of weather.

The course started at 9:00 in the morning when the class had to convene at the Field Safety Training Program building. The instructors started out by telling us about all the hazards of a cold weather environment, mainly frostbite and hypothermia. After explaining how to avoid and treat these conditions, they went on to describe other dangers of the Antarctic like ice crevasses, dehydration, and sunburn.

Okay, this was all interesting so far, but not jump-up-and-down exciting. After we finished with this, we put on our ECW gear and all piled into a Delta (a vehicle with REALLY big wheels). We drove out onto the Ross Ice Shelf and paused for lunch before the real work got started. During lunch, we learned how to use and take care of camping stoves. Then we were all issued sleeping bags and went to build various types of shelters so we would have somewhere to sleep that night.

It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm, and not much wind. Definitely a condition 3 day. We started by building the Scott tents. These tents were massive and heavy, but looked to be warm and able to take strong winds. Then we moved on to building a snow brick wall. We did this to make a barrier from the wind (although it would make just a good of a barrier for a snowball fight) Inside the wall, we put up expedition tents. These are the type of tents you would stay in if you were going hiking. They were neither as warm nor as resistant to the wind as the Scott tents, but they were far and away much lighter, making them much easier to transport.

After building that, we started to make a Quinzhee. To make the Quinzhee, we first piled all our gear in a big heap and covered it with a big tarp. Then we shoveled snow until the entire heap was covered with between 2 and 3 feet of snow. After letting this settle for a couple of hours, we dug a hole underground that opened into the bottom of the heap (it was underground to keep the wind from getting in). We pulled out all of the gear from the center of the snow heap through this hole and voila, we had a shelter! It was a whole lot of work to make the Quinzhee, but it looked so cool!

The last type of shelter we made was a trench. It was made by digging a hole in the ground and then covering the the hole with snow bricks. If you try to build any of these shelters on your own, remember to make the entrance face away from the wind! After helping us build these shelters, the instructors left us to fend for ourselves for the entire night!

I couldn't decide what shelter to stay in, but after a tiring evening of sledding, I decided on the Quinzhee. With the sun shining, I wormed my way into my abode and settled in for the night. I only woke up a couple of times during the night from the cold. After adding many layers of clothes and eating a snickers bar for emergency heat, I was able to sleep comfortably for the rest of the night. In fact, I slept so well that I didn't hear either my alarm or the condition 1 storm blow in! It was very dramatic.

Pitching the tents in whiteout conditions was very exciting. After cleaning up after ourselves, the instructors took us to the next part of the survival school (everything was pretty easy after spending the night outside except staying awake). For the remainder of the day, we learned how to communicate with radios and how to be safe around helicopters. I had such an exciting time at Happy Camper School. I wish I could do it again! There are pictures to go along with my story.

November 11:

Wow, it was hard getting up this morning! I went to take a nice relaxing shower only to discover I am only allowed 3, 2 minute showers per week. This is rather tricky (as you may well imagine).

Why do we have to do this, you ask? Well, for a few different reasons. Since it is so cold here, there is no unfrozen fresh water. At McMurdo, they must get all their water by taking the salt out of the ocean water. This is a rather expensive and difficult way to get usable water. In addition, Antarctica is protected by international treaty. This treaty declares that the continent must be kept pristine (free of the wear and tear of humans) and used only for scientific purposes. So by reducing the amount of water used, we reduce the impact of humans on their environment.

Everybody here is actually required to attend a waste management class. In this class, I learned that not only is water conserved, but just about everything else too! All the trash I produce must be sorted. Most people have probably heard of recycling their cans and glass, but here we recycle shampoo bottles, saran wrap, plastic, etc. You name it, we recycle it. About 70% of Antarctic waste is recycled, the remaining portion is shipped back to the United States for disposal. Antarctica has one of the best recycling systems in the whole world. Isn't that terrific?

Anyway, after my painfully short shower (I had to keep reminding myself, "It's for a good cause!"), I got to take my first trip out to my lab. Now, I usually spend my evenings and sleep in McMurdo, but I work at a remote field camp named William's Field (we call it Willy Field for short). This means that I must shuttle back and forth every day about 8 miles each way. 8 miles may not seem like a long distance, but in Antarctica, it is almost isolated. If it wasn't for the snow plows clearing the way several times a day, there would be no road at all!

Willy Field is situated on the Ross Ice Shelf. When it was first built(about 8 years ago), all the buildings were on the flat ground. Now, because of snow accumulating, the buildings are almost completely below ground level. They must be plowed out every day to remain accessible. My lab is a weather-tight barn of sorts. There is also an outhouse and a galley (kitchen). The outhouse is unheated! Not very pleasant. The galley is in a type of building called a Jamesway. There are a bunch of these here left over from the Korean war. If you have ever seen the TV show "MASH", it is the same sort of structure they use when performing surgery. I learned how to ride a snowmobile today! Do any of you know how to drive a snowmobile? It sounds fun, no? Today's pictures.

November 10 continued:

I'm here! Tired and out of it, but still here. It wasn't too cold when we first got here, mid 20's Fahrenheit. I actually felt quite hot decked out in all my ECW gear. One item I felt was absolutely necessary were the sunglasses. It was very bright even with a fairly solid cloud cover. After exiting the plane, we were quickly bustled onto a Terra Bus (these buses look like they are equipped to handle ANY weather). Looking around from the window of the bus, I realized that we had landed on the sea ice! So the only thing between me and the cold cold ocean was a layer of seasonal ice. They have people working all the time to make sure this is safe. The Terra Bus then drove us to McMurdo. There was a brief orientation and then we were free to settle in. I went to my check out my room. It is rather like a dorm room with 2 notable exceptions: much quieter and in much better condition. They try to keep things in good condition here for safety reasons and for conservation reasons. There is room for one other person in the room. There is one window in the room. I expected there to a blackout curtain because it is eternal daylight. However, the curtain just makes the room a dimmed blue. Well, now that it's dark in the room, I think I will get that much needed rest. Goodnight! Look at these pictures.

November 10:

Today's the day! I had to be at the Clothing Distribution Center by 6:00 AM to sort my clothes and go through the final clearances. Everybody is required to wear a certain portion of their ECW gear on the flight. This was very hot as it is summer in New Zealand right now. We had to go through several obstacles including being weighed and sniffed by narcotic dogs. Then we had to watch a brief safety video. The weather was reported to be good on the ice so we all loaded onto a bus to the airstrip. No commercial airlines make this trip so we were going to be transported by the Air Force. We all loaded on to a C-141. Women are seated in the front of the plane due to primitive bathroom conditions. It's easiest to see what's going on if you look at the pictures, but I will describe a little further. We sat on canvas seats and leaned against a hammock-like mesh. Because the engines were so noisy, we all had to wear earplugs. They supplied us with a bag lunch, but it was GROSS. After about a 5 or 5.5 hour flight, we landed in McMurdo. Yippee! Here are the day's pictures.

November 9:

I last left you in Christchurch, New Zealand. After getting a satisfying, but short night's sleep, I had the morning free. A note to travelers: make sure your shampoo and other gooey toiletries are well separated from your clothes (I had a minor fiasco). Christchurch is known as the city of gardens so I decided to walk to the Botanical Gardens in my spare time. It was very lovely there and I tried to saturate my senses with greenery to help with the coming months. I had to report to the Clothing Distribution Center at 2:00 PM to be issued my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. They gave everybody 2 orange bags full of gear and had us try it on to make sure it fit. People got different clothing depending on their job. I was issued 6 pairs of heavy mittens! For dinner, I had a delicious meal of seafood. It is very fresh on this island country. Tomorrow the flight is scheduled to go down to McMurdo, hope it's not delayed due to bad weather! Today's pictures.

November 6:

It was a rainy day in Chicago, the kind that makes you wish you were snuggled up inside. Unfortunately, I still had lots to do before I started my travels. After much packing and taking apart my room, I left for the airport around 1:00 PM. After much sitting around and waiting for the flight, I discovered that the plane was delayed. Finally though, we got on our way and the pilot went a little faster than usual. We maintained a speed of Mach .8. Mach .8 means that our speed was .8 times the speed of sound. We landed in Los Angeles and had a relatively small layover, 2 or 3 hours. Then came the long flight, the one to Auckland, New Zealand. We boarded the plane and man-o-man, was the plane big! I was seated in row 50 out of probably 60 rows. There were 10 seats in each row, plus there was an upper level to the plane! I was amazed that the plane was even able to get off the ground. The flight took around 12.5 hours, what a drain! It was hard to sleep so I ended up staying awake most of the night. I was able to read an entire book. Since I couldn't sleep, I got to see the most magnificent sunrise. A few interesting facts about the flight: average speed = 600 mph, flight headwind = 0-200 mph, cruising altitude = 6 miles. We crossed the International Date Line a few hours before we reached our destination. I am 18 hours ahead of you! Talk about jet lag. I reached Auckland in one piece and settled in for a 5.5 hour layover after I went through customs. It was spring there so it smelled very fragrant and fresh. Very nice after the recycled plane air. This 5 hour layover was probably the most difficult part of my trip. I was tired, disoriented, and still had lots of traveling in front of me. The next leg of my travels was from Auckland on the north island to Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand. That was a really beautiful flight. And only 2 hours! Once in Christchurch, I met up with another member of TopHat. He hadn't been able to get to McMurdo for 6 days because of bad weather at the base. After a little orientation in the clothing distribution center, I was finally able to go to my hotel. Phewf! A small note: I went directly from November 6 to November 8 when I crossed the Date Line, so I never had a November 7! Please go look at the pictures from the first chunk of my travels.

November 4:

It is only a couple of days till I leave so I am busy busy busy. Before anybody is allowed to go to Antarctica, they must take a number of tests to make sure they are physically qualified. This is important because the medical services on the ice are much less than a normal hospital and the continent is very isolated so they must be strict about the health of people working there to prevent emergencies. To get physical qualification, I had to have a full physical exam, several blood tests, a dental exam, and my wisdom teeth removed! I was lucky, because I'm so young, I did not have to take most of the tests. All and all, it wasn't so bad except for having my wisdom teeth out. Once you are physically qualified, you can receive your tickets. Although I've been PQ'ed for a while now, I didn't receive my plane tickets until yesterday! I was getting a little nervous about whether I'd receive them on time. I am now doing last minute errands and starting the packing process. In addition to the difficulty of having to pack for 3 months, I also have a weight limit of 35 pounds for all my belongings! That will be a challenge. Hopefully, the next time you will hear from me will be in Antarctica!