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December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Happy Holidays Y'all!
Its a very mellow Christmas Day here at McMurdo. We have today off in celebration of the holiday. Most folks are spending it lying low, watching movies, sipping coffee, and sleeping in. The town was absolutely deserted early this morning. After a few days of tropical above-freezing temps and light winds, we're back to light snow, 1/2 mile visibility, temps in the teens and frigid winds. Perfect for cozying up to a book and listening to NPR over the satellite feed. Becky is spending the holiday at a field camp in the Dry Valleys. She should return before the New Year with crazy stories and photos to share. I've been keeping busy in her absence writing and skating.

Since I don't have any skating photos of me, here's one of Bea! She can rip!
For those of you who've been wondering just exactly where the heck we are (Merry Christmas!) here's a map. Notice the positions of NZ and So. America and the tracks of our icebreakers. The icebreakers are converging on McMurdo to punch in our shipping channel for the fuel tanker and resupply vessel slated to arrive later in January. Hooray, diesel and beer for next year!
Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2006

Weather Day

Well Tuesday was a bit on the cloudy side. Compare the two photos. Where did the mountains go? In conditions like those on the right, we stay on the ground. Coffee and cookies anyone?

Antarctica is notorious for "flat light". Most downhill skiers are familiar with the poor depth perception that comes with diffuse overcast lighting and snow on the ground. Its a case of white-on-white. Flat light makes it difficult to determine relative movement, height-above-ground, and terrain fluctuations. This alone won't keep us grounded, but obscure the horizon with a little blowing snow, ice fog, or clouds and you have all the ingredients for spatial disorientation. In conditions like these skiers fall down and well, so do helicopters. Best to stay put, enjoy a nice hot beverage, and watch the cargo stack up. With one-day weekends down here we're often thankful for the extra rest day.

December 17, 2006

Fly Day

Alright, another blissfully work-free Sunday has arrived! That means it's time to catch up on sleep, calories (great big brunch this AM), and the journal.

Good weather has kept us busy down at the helicopter pad. We specialize in cramming 10 pounds of humanity and science into the proverbial 5 pound bucket, in this case a Bell 212 helicopter. On occasion we have to fly the big loads on the outside. Pictured above is a load of propane and diesel about to be hooked to the belly of the approaching aircraft. It is quite a thrill to have 11,000 lbs of thrashing machinery hovering overhead as you hook the cable to the belly.

Its been said that the Bell 212 can be a dump truck or a greyhound bus, but not both at the same time. Here is a typical dump truck load of science instruments, camping gear, food, and probably a few bottles of wine. A 212 can carry 2500 lbs of cargo, but we often run out of internal space before we max out the aircraft's lifting capability. Packing and securing internal cargo is the art of the Helo-tech. However, we occasionally forgo finesse for the brute force of a Tokyo subway pusher. Just watch out for the million dollar NASA Mars probe instrument! Seriously!!

Just over the hill from McMurdo Station is Scott Base, home to the New Zealand Antarctic Program. Notice the pretty green buildings and contained, thoughtful layout. The station has one main door with all the major buildings and workshops connected by heated corridors. Spectacular nature photographs from around New Zealand grace the station's interior. Windows are plentiful and oriented to take advantage of spectacular views. The base is a reflection of New Zealand's national identity: small, pioneering, connected to nature, and sensitive to quality of life. In short, Scott Base has a soul. To be fair, it also has 10% the population of McMurdo. More on the splendors of McMurdo later.

I haven't seen much of the Antarctic continent, but this place is my favorite so far. Situated about one hour WNW of McMurdo and just on the edge of the polar plateau is a glaciated version of the desert southwest. A geology group led by Dr. Dave Marchant of Boston University believes that they have found ice that is over a million-years-old under the rocks of the Beacon Valley. More on this research can be found at: http://people.bu.edu/marchant/ This is also one of the more challenging places we fly into. Katabatic winds coming off the plateau frequently cause nasty turbulance around these peaks.

Paperwork! What government contract work would be complete without forms in triplicate? In addition to monitoring instruments, scanning for other air traffic (C-130s, Twin Otters, and other helicopters), watching the weather, and generally keeping the pilot awake, helo-techs write up passenger manifests and track flight time. For those of you who've never tried to write legibly while riding in a 212, just imagine a washboard road in an old Toyota pickup at 35 mph. Or at least that's my excuse!
That's all for now. Thanks for the e-mails from home!

December 15, 2006

Under the Ice

Here are some cool pics that were posted on the common drive. They were taken under the sea ice by some of the dive researchers. I'm not certain what this particular team was looking at but apparently there are still a large number of unidentified organisms in this ecosystem. The other day at lunch I overheard a women describing the fourteen yet to be catalogued Foraminifera species they had found this season. Another gentlemen described a dive where he had spotted and captured an unrecognized fish; now that fish carries his name.

December 9, 2006

Monkey Wrench

After two weeks, I have finally settled into work at the water plant. Things can be pretty slow here but let's say I have found some creative ways to pass the time....I am now working my own shifts and am the solo operator every other day from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. That leaves me with every other day off, a novelty around here where most folks work ten hour days, six days a week. I have been trying to make the most of my free time and have been teaching myself to skate ski. The rising summer temperatures have forced the move of the working runway from the early season Ice Runway on the sea ice to Williams Field. Williams Field lies on top of the McMurdo ice shelf which, unlike the annual deterioration of the sea ice, remains solid through out the year. The road out to "Willie" is serviced by hourly shuttles and is thus open to solo travel. This road has an ideal surface for skating and round trip takes about two hours. Thus, I have spent a few magical afternoons skating along, listening to my i-pod and completely surrendering to the beauty of the landscape.


Mailing Addresses

Just in case you're curious......Nick and I get mail at:
Nick Giguere
McMurdo Station
Project T-902-M
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035
Rebecca Peace, RPSC
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

McMurdo Cyclocross

Summer has arrived in the Antarctic (see the bottom of this page for current temps)! That means that outdoor sporting events are underway. Last weekend it was time for the third annual McMurdo Cyclocross. The race began with a 100 yard sprint to the bike rack then a bike ride around the station's many obstacles. The 6 to 12 minute course featured stairs, a push-up stop (10 push-ups or a 2 minute penalty), hills, and lots of mud. Helo-Tech Mark Oetzmann (that's him in the dress) came in first and pilot Paul Murphy (in the Lemur suit), second. Yes, I work with these clowns! Coming soon, the McMurdo Marathon, but for now its back to work!

December 3, 2006

Welcome! Nick and I created this blog in hopes that it would keep us better connected with our favorite friends and loved ones. We will do our best keep up with frequent postings and we invite everyone to comment, reply or banter. We can take it. We can serve it too! Enjoy,
n & b