Saturday, January 30, 2010

from 90 degrees south

I am at the actual South Pole--more on this later.....temp minus 20 something--with windchill close to minus 40 not cold for here!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cape Crozier

I just spent two nights at the Cape Crozier Field Camp, high above the sea on the southern most point of Ross Island, Antarctica. The helicopter took us around Mount Erebus and Mount Terror to the camp consisting of a small hut and tents (5 total residents when I was there-2 penguin research assistants and 2 BBC camera person/ producers and me.)

Three others arrived with me for the day- scientist David Ainley and science educator Jean Pennycook came to band penguin chicks--and annual endeavor for the study of penguins and penguin colonies. (They have a great website

Not having a permit to touch penguins my assistance was limited to bending the metal bands into a more closed shape and by taking pictures. They banded 1,000 chicks---from the 150,000 nesting pairs.They worked rapidly- choosing penguins large enough at this point to have a chance to survive from the many skuas who await the opportunity to consume a vulnerable young bird--may do not survive! The bands allow them to collect data regarding health, nesting patterns, migration, etc.

It was a gorgeous, sunny, blue sky day----the best of the season I was told. For the first time I could actually hear waves and surf and the blue of the water against the ice edge was spectacular. This was the beginning open water around this side of Ross Island.

The banding finished and we all hiked back up the mountain, (quite a haul) and a helo picked up those not staying. I made my home in a Scott tent, had dinner with my new camp mates--who had been there for over 3 months! ....without leaving at all! They were impressive and welcoming. (The BBC guys had taken a short break from this isolated site.) I took a short walk to the highest local peak (Pat's Peak)to get an overview of the ice edge and surrounding mountains and snow fields.

The next day was also spectacular--relatively warm and not windy. I took a different route to the sea, down what is commonly known as the Penguin Highway. In this crease between a snow field and a mountain side skinny penguins descend to the sea and fattened they return to feed their young.

I spent the day water coloring, half way down and on the beach. The background sound was the constant chirping and chattering of penguins and the waves breaking and skuas crying out. At the end of the day I witnessed the actions of another animal perilous to penguins (in addition to skuas.) I watched a leopard seal consume penguins in the sea--his big head rising out of the water and then chomping down on a swimming penguin. Meanwhile on the beach a Weddell Seal slumbered, penguins keeping their distance--although this kind of seal is not a threat. An amazing day of being in the middle of a completely other kind of world.

I wearily climbed back up the mountains, inadvertently taking a longer route. I could see--(but be careful not to step on) bright orange lichens on black/ brown rocks-this with the blue sky and white snow was graphically beautiful. I avoided, as best I could, the skua nests--but they were none to happy to see me and dive bombed me for quite a distance.

I left the next day--along with the penguin researchers-- a morning helicopter brought us back to McMurdo Station.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Farewell Lake Hoare--back in MacTown...

I flew back yesterday, arrived after one day of ice fog delay--no helicopters were coming the Dry Valley way on Monday. It does feel quite urban here at McMurdo Station after three weeks in a field camp. Sleeping inside felt far too warm---I had gotten used to tent life. Running water definitely has its advantages however, as do clean changes of clothes.

I had a fabulous time at Lake Hoare. It is a glorious spot with its backdrop of the Canada Glacier to the east and Mt. 1882 and other peaks behind and to the west--with the Seuss Glacier in the distance and of course the camp sitting on Lake Hoare itself. The ambiance of the camp itself-people working hard by day and enjoying each others' company in the hut after a day's collecting of samples or climbing on glaciers or filtering water or for me, sitting out somewhere watercoloring until toes and paint began to freeze. The atmosphere was all due to the generosity of spirit generated by the helpful knowledgeable and camp manager Rae Spain and her lovely assistant Becky Peace. Cold (but not really, really cold--hovering around freezing) were met with cups of hot tea, fresh baked cookies and delicious dinners along with encouragement for the work done by scientists and artist alike.

I did a great deal of work there--once again travel brings out the landscape painter in me. The watercolors and drawings seemed to get better the longer I was here—I started large and gradually they did get smaller and smaller. Not sure what I will do with all these landscapes—but something….

We had a late start flying back. Whales and penguins were visible along the ice edge. The icebreakers had come in to open the ice for the arriving tanker. Open water brings penguins and whales closer to McMurdo, happily so for the residents here.

It doesn't seem like I will be in my room for too many night again as tomorrow the plan is to go to Cape Crozier where there is a penguin rookery much larger than the one at Cape Royds. David Ainley will be there too—if as always weather allows—and right now it is getting very cloudy and the winds at Crozier often stop travel.

The great working team of scientist and artist Michaud and Engler will end as Luigi heads back to Sicily –once again weather depending, on Friday.

And now I do the cloud go away incantation---and hope to get to Cape Crozier tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Walking to the field of ventifacts

Sunday morning at Lake Hoare--the one day off for most people in Antarctica. The winds have changed direction----they are the Katabatic Winds coming from the west off the Antarctic Ice Field beyond the Dry Valleys. In the winter they can be fierce--today not too bad. The sky was quite blue when Meghan (a field safety person here to help with glacier study, Becky--Lake Hoare assistant manager, Luigi, microbiologist  and I set out to see the field of ventifacts. A ventifact is a rock sculpted by the wind. The winds have carved these stones in different places all over the Dry Valleys.

We headed down Lake Hoare, on the lake itself, stabilizers on our feet. Then back through the fabulous Defile-the narrow passage along the Seuss Glacier and then UP! and UP! and UP! Scrambly loose rock and sand, goatlike Meghan and Becky were far ahead, Luigi next--me dragging behind. At the top--finally the rocks pictured here--Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth --in a landscape. It was warmer and warmer until the top when the perspiration form all the effort combined with the wind as chilling. I love hand warmers--my frozen finger tips were mad warm by putting these little packets in my gloves. We wandered from ventifact to ventifact--taking pictures, commenting on their resemblance to crocs and lion heads and dinosaurs.

Going back down was much easier--of course, back across the lake and home to Lake Hoare camp. As it was Sunday, Rae was off from cooking duties and in the traditions since I have been here Luigi made pasta for the twelve people here last night here in at Lake Hoare. Tomorrow a late afternoon flight back to MacTown.

Friday, January 15, 2010

at Lake Hoare and back to Goldman Ponds

Yesterday was spent close to  camp, finishing the window view drawing project. I ended up drawing 25 windows here and one from  Cape Royds.

                                            Canada Glacier at Lake Hoare Field Camp

Today I returned to the Goldman Ponds with Luigi so he could take his last samples from the Dry Valleys. These ponds are located almost directly across the valley on the north side and up the mountain from Lake Hoare--a quick helicopter trip away. I did 2 small watercolors there--but my feet and then the watercolors on my palette were literally freezing so I quit and Luigi and took a walk to the other ponds. These are pictured below.

After doing several larger watercolor/gouache drawings and the book I have decided to continue small--tearing the 30 x 42" paper into 60  4 x 6 " so I can work fast and catch the infinite number of amazing views here.

                         Antarctic Windows Project 25-- 4.5  x 3.5" drawings in an accordion book
                                                Goldman Ponds area

This evening Lake Hoare Camp is full. There are four carpenters, here to remove the polar haven--(a structure in the middle of the lake for researching a large drilled hole into the water.)  Five members of the "stream team" (stream researchers) are here too--they come on the weekends to catch up on email, take the Sunday shower and do other work. Rae cooked up a huge pan of enchiladas and there were freshies--salad!!! a rarity out here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Today's journey.....Sea and ponds

Today Luigi and I visited 3 different sites in the Taylor Valley---for his gathering of water samples for DNA research and for my new vistas. For me it was an okay day (not stellar) --for Luigi--a comedy of errors. I don't have pictures of his numerous unfortunate episodes but all I can say is that it is good that he has a sense of humor.

Our first stop was at New Harbor Point--the mouth of the Taylor Glacier Valley. Here the valley meets the frozen Ross Sea. There was enough open (non-frozen) area for Luigi to collect wet sediment  from the sea floor. I explored the shore looking for drawing sites, watched Mt Erebus emerge from the clouds and also saw the first living thing besides humans in a couple of weeks--2 skuas. As we were walking back along the shore Luigi sunk into the beach sand/mud up to his ankles and later to his waist. This was not a whole lot of fun in a cold place with no water to wash off and limited clothes. As we were near a closed but accessible field station he was able to clean up a bit and hang his mud-covered wind pants to dry (reduced to wearing heavy long johns.) And in addition,  just as he was walking back ( I was further back--doing a quick sketch) the helicopter arrived and scattered our unsecured belongings all over the beach. Fortunately nothing was damaged-and Luigi scrambled and got it all together.

From there we flew to the pond we now fondly call "Luigi's Choice Pond", a life-filled very salty puddle of water with an algae green center and very red edges--all living, what is called,  mat--bacteria and microbes making a very fungi-like substance (pictured here.) It was miserably cold there--the wind was blowing, there was nowhere to get out of the wind and I was glad we didn't stay long--I  did a silly drawing of the helicopter (and landscape) that landed for this leg of our journey. Poor Liuigi had to wade into this pond to gather his water samples, freezing his exposed wet hands.

Our final stop was a larger series of connected ponds, near Lake Frixell and in view of the long edge of the Commonwealth Glacier. Here we found a less exposed spot (not so windy). I managed to paint a small watercolor while Luigi gathered his last samples. This time the sediment at the bottom of the pond decided to pull him in--like quicksand. He had to struggle to get his hip waders and self out of the pond. We were both glad to return to camp! and drink hot chocolate!