Posted on January 30, 2011
The sound of the ship churning through sea ice is what I imagine it might sound like if you lived inside a Slurpee machine — an endless “slusha-slusha-slush” with the occasional grating noise. When we hit an especially big chunk, the whole ship shudders. We’ll be too far north for dense ice by the time I wake up tomorrow, so I wanted to say goodbye to the pack. It’s back into berg territory from now on.
I feel like I should give you an ice glossary.
Ice comes from land (via snow that packs down over the years) or the sea (when the surface water freezes every winter). Here’s how ice evolves, and the hip vocab terms that go with it:
LAND ICE FORMING
1. Snow: You’ve seen it. It falls from the sky.
2. Firn: Old snow that packs down and solidifies until it looks like a sponge made of ice.
3. Ice sheet: A huge mass of packed ice and snow. It’s an “ice cap” when it’s larger than 50,000 square kilometers.
5. Glacier or ice shelf: Glaciers are masses of moving snow and ice that slide from high to low ground. Ice shelves are floating ice sheets that are attached to the coast.
LAND ICE BREAKING UP
1. Ice bergs or tabular bergs: Big chunks that break off. Tabular bergs are flat on top, since they come from broken up ice shelves, rather than calving violently off a glacier.
2. Bergy bits: I swear that’s the technical term. These are chunks of ice less than 15ft tall and 30 ft wide.
3. Growlers: Little baby bergs, smaller than bergy bits.
4. Brash: The remaining fragments that eventually melt into seawater.
SEA ICE FORMING
1. Frazil ice: Fine spicules or plates of ice suspended in the water. 2. Grease Ice: Coagulated frazil.
3. Slush: Big piles of floating snow.
4. Nilas: A thin, elastic crust of ice that bends with the waves. 5. Shuga: Spongy white lumps formed from slush or grease ice. 6. Ice Rind: A brittle crust.
7. Pancake ice: Big circular chunks up to 10ft across.
8. Pack ice: Any big, flat, interconnected chunks of floating ice. 9. Ice cake: A floe less than 30ft across.
10. Floe: Enormous fields of floating ice.
SEA ICE BREAKING UP
1. Ice cakes or pancakes.
Now you’re fluent in Ice!
For the last few days we’ve been in dense pack ice, all rolling with the waves like a vast, undulating puzzle. It’s completely hypnotic. To get some idea of scale in the picture, the horizon is about 10 miles away, and you could easily park a few cars on some of those big white cakes.
Posted on January 29, 2011
For those of you in-the-know about penguins, or those of you who are just curious and actually read this blog, lemme clarify my last post:
There are Adelie penguins at more southern latitudes on other parts of this continent, but the colony on Charcot Island is farther south than any colonies we’ve found on the West Antarctic Peninsula (the chunk of Antarctica that juts up towards South America). This is the first time we’ve even been able to come so far south with our ship in the pack ice, since the extent of winter ice is decreasing each year, so there may very well be small Adelie colonies further south on the Peninsula that we simply haven’t seen yet. Perhaps even more important, though, is that the ecosystem is different here, and more rapidly changing than elsewhere in Antarctica. Adelie populations further north on the Peninsula are declining. Other kinds of penguins — Gentoos and Chinstraps — are moving in, since they’re more of a “sub-polar” species.
Cute pictures of penguins are on their way — I promise! I’ll post many more photos when I’m back on land with no limitations on my internet connection.
Posted on January 29, 2011
The further south you go, the easier it is to find uncharted islands and shores still untouched by human feet. Yesterday we took two Zodiacs and landed on Charcot island, making me one of about fifteen people to ever set foot there, and one of maybe six since the early 1900s. I suppose that’s no more a claim to fame than “Eater of One of the Twenty Largest Burritos on Record” or something else along those lines, but nevertheless I feel pretty cool about it.
We also took a large plush shark named Big-Big to Charcot Island. “Shark-oh” puns abound!
Two years ago our group discovered a very small colony of Adelie penguins on Charcot, and this colony was the reason for our return. “Whoop-dee-doo, more penguins in Antarctica,” you say. But listen, the discovery is exciting for two reasons.
First: the beach at Charcot is basically a sheer cliff, making it pretty difficult terrain for stubby penguin legs. It’s impressive that they manage to hop out of the water and onto this island at all, let alone hike 100 feet up the cliff every day to reach the nook they call home.
Second: this is a lot further south than other Adelie colonies. Usually they’re more of a “sub-polar” species.
The mountaineering feats of these little guys are totally awesome, but the fact that Adelie penguins are so far south is disturbing. The life cycle of Adelies is linked to sea ice, but with winters that get warmer each year, there are fewer and fewer places along the Antarctic Peninsula that even get solid sea ice.
Navigating through icebergs and broken-up pack ice was spectacular, and getting stuck in a snowstorm on the island felt a little more like the Real Antarctic Experience I’d always imagined. But keep in mind that this is the southernmost point on our research trip, and we’ve just now reached a latitude that actually deserves to be called “The Frozen South.” It’s scary how quickly the poles are receding.
Posted on January 27, 2011
This post is dedicated to Stephen Sansom. Stephen, your dirty socks have been in my backpack since I picked them up off the beach nine months ago, and they’re here with me in Antarctica. I’ve made sure that they’ve had a good time, of course: visiting penguin colonies, hanging out on the bow of the ship, and going on adventures that I’m not even allowed to join. Below is a picture of your socks strapped to some oceanographic equipment, about to be sent 3,008 meters underwater. Don’t worry, they came back just fine. Later this afternoon they’ll set their little holey soles on an island that hasn’t even been seen since the 1980s.
Posted on January 26, 2011
I regret to inform you that we are in a state of emergency on board this ship.
WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF JUNK FOOD.
…not that there was a ton of superior-quality snack food to begin with, but as of this week our Munchies Supply has reached a dangerously low level. Scientists and crew are beginning to show signs of desperation.
The ice cream and packages of Ramen Noodles disappeared long ago, though conspiracy theorists question whether or not these snacks may simply have been hidden away by some fascist regime. Everyone knows that the Kryzpos are now on the endangered species list.
Kryzpos, you see, are a Chilean brand of potato chip, somewhat akin to the Pringle. They come in three flavors: plain, sour cream and onion, or… smoked ham. Unsurprisingly, the meat-flavored Kryzpo reserves are not suffering as badly as the plain or sour cream and onion flavors. I think we may have entered into a new age of Boat Society, with the Kryzpo as its major form of currency. I myself am hoarding a cache of sour cream and onion Kryzpos in my bunk.
IF YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, PLEASE SEND HELP OR CHEETOS.
Posted on January 25, 2011
I should mention that the soccer game against the British took place on the runway of their airstrip. Imagine the ragtag team of American scientists and sailors skidding all over the loose-gravel runway, icebergs in the distance. Then imagine three penguins waddling into the middle of our game like a couple of miniature Charlie Chaplains, and the same ragtag team now shuffling around with arms outstretched to imitate the penguins’ “aggressive” stance, attempting to herd the little stubby-legged birds off the field in time for a plane to land.
“Totally surreal” would be the only appropriate way to summarize our visit with the British. Earlier that day, before the soccer game, a few of us drove in a Sno-Cat (picture Hummer-meets-snowmobile, if you’ve never seen a Sno-Cat) up a glacier to a nearby mountain pass with views of ocean in one direction and the iceberg-littered bay in the other. And that evening, the British hosted a party for us. Outside the Party Garage they’d parked the Bar-dozer: a front-end loader whose bucket had been filled with snow and packed with beverages.
Posted on January 22, 2011
We have one chief scientist with a black eye, eight bleeding scientists, and Yours Truly still picking gravel out of her underwear. But: WE BEAT THE BRITISH AT SOCCER!!!!!!!!! WE HAVE MADE HISTORY! For the eighteen years since the ship has stopped at Rothera (a British Antarctic base) we’ve had an Americans vs. Brits “football” match, but never once have we won. This is awesome. We have earned our beer tonight. Time to party.
Posted on January 19, 2011
Let’s talk about blogs. Let’s talk about blogs written by scientists, and how it seems as if Scientist-Blogger Moses shared with all
Scientist-Bloggers the following Commandments:
Thou shalt broadcast how exciting science can be. Thou shalt covet the public’s interest. Thou shalt explain in an accessible manner exactly how relevant your research is. Thou shalt show the public that scientists are cool, hip people. Thou shalt Tweet if that’s what the kids are doing these days.
Like any other pious Scientist-Blogger, I devote some effort to following these Commandments. But how successful am I? Why are you here? Is it because I have shown you how exciting science can be? Possibly, but more likely you’re here because you’re a friend of mine. Or because you gave birth to me. (Hi, Mom and Dad!) Or because you’re already interested in the type of research I do. Maybe you like my photos. Maybe you like the way I write. Do you think I’m funny? (Bless your soul.)
I suppose I could slip you some science along with the humor and photography, the way some parents hide vegetables in little
bacon-and-mashed-potato Trojan Horses, just to get something healthy into their children’s mouths. But I know you’re a smart audience and you can taste broccoli whether it’s covered in cheese or not.
All I can do is be shamelessly myself. What I write here is what I actually find interesting or exciting or beautiful. This is how I experience the world, and I hope you’ll enjoy seeing what I see, too.
Posted on January 18, 2011
“Are you ready to rip some science from the ocean, still alive and kicking?”
– my boss, askig me to fill up a bottle of seawater
Posted on January 17, 2011
Yesterday I spent the morning building a shelter and setting up tents on an island with 120,000 penguins, had cake for lunch, took a Zodiac to another island littered with elephant seals, explored an abandoned Chilean Antarctic base on that island, played pool in the abandoned lounge, had some abandoned wine at the abandoned bar, hiked up a glacier, found a British plane wreck on top of the glacier, took the Zodiac back to the big boat but took the scenic route through some penguin-covered icebergs, and ended the day with ice cream and a trip to the ship’s sauna. How was your day?