Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Dry Valleys Gallery

NOTE: This is the last post on this blog and I don't plan on uploading any more pictures. Hope you've enjoyed it! If this is your first visit, I suggest you start with my first post: Landing on the Ice!!!.

It has been a week since I returned and after a mostly sleepless flight across the Pacific and then further across the US to the East Coast, I am finally settling into a good sleep pattern. The trip to Antarctica was wonderful. Especially the last two weeks of field camp in the Dry Valleys were a truly ‘out of this world’ experience! I will start uploading a selection of pictures from the Dry Valleys, but given the busy work days ahead I may not be able to write much in detail. I hope that the pictures themselves will be sufficient to impress you, although I will try to add captions.

The Dry Valleys cover an area of approximately 2500 sq. miles (a little larger than the state of Delaware) and form a unique place on this vast continent of ice, and indeed a unique place on the planet. The Dry Valleys are a cold and dry desert where there is virtually no visible biological life, except for odd, hardy lichen, millimeter sized nematodes in the soil and algal mats in some of the ponds and lakes. The landscape of chocolate-brown rocks topped with beautiful majestic glaciers paused in their flow down into the broad valleys below, creates a powerful impression, the grandeur of which is hard to fathom, as there is absolutely no sense of scale. The clear dry air offers unobstructed visibility up and down the valleys making it possible to see landforms 40 miles (65 km.) away!!! The mind is at a loss trying to comprehend the enormity of its surroundings and is humbled at the realization that a human such as me is insignificant in comparison.

Jan 11 - The first day at Bull Pass. Our tents and supplies had already been dropped at our camp site ahead of our arrival at Bull Pass. The first part of our group arriving soon set up camp, and by the time the helicopter made its second trip to get me and the rest of the crew, camp was almost established. We helped get the last few things in order, had a quick supper and headed for a short evening walk on the eastern slope of Bull Pass.

Jan 12 – Today we were headed west from camp up along the ridge north of Wright Valley observing the rocks and learning about the geology of the region from my boss. As before, I will save the geology for a little later. For now, just enjoy the pictures that attempt to display this vast landscape on a 15 inch computer screen.

We climbed over rocks that had been sculpted and carved by winds over thousands of years. Across the valley we could see the snow capped Mt. Odin rising almost 2 kilometers above the valley floor which was barely a 100 meters above sea level. The River Onyx flowed through Wright Valley emptying itself into Lake Vanda which is a saline lake about 3.5 miles (5 km.) long and is mostly frozen at its surface.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Oden, the Polar Sea and the Adélies!

Our team was finally in McMurdo! Work was already in progress. They had been busy throughout their journey and even on their flight down from Christchurch! Things would soon be getting busy for me as we prepare to leave for our field camp. But, after a big lunch at the Galley, I couldn’t go back to my desk. I needed a walk. Being familiar with my routine by now, you wouldn’t be surprised that I walked to Hut Point again. It seemed like the perfect stroll after a meal.

The Oden was working away at the ice right off McMurdo. It had carved a channel all the way to the ice-peer between McMurdo and Hut Point and would be docking there later in the day. I got a good view of the 107 meter long icebreaker that had steadily worked its way to McMurdo through the sea-ice for the past few weeks. It was followed and then joined by the U.S. Coast Guard Polar Sea. It continues to work on widening the channel cut by the Oden making it possible for larger supply ships to arrive at McMurdo later this month.

The Swedish Icebreaker Oden and the U.S. Coast Guard Polar Sea.

As my lucky stars continued to shine past the Antarctic Sun, I once again noticed a large group of Adélie penguins on the ice a little south of Hut Point that was making its way straight towards McMurdo. There were probably about 50 penguins in the group and there were more groups out on the ice big and small, all making their way to Hut Point! Soon it was swarming with penguins. It seemed like the birds were holding a convention! Some of the birds came right up along the shallower slopes of the land and were completely unafraid of the human crowd that was gathering to photograph them. Both groups of bipeds seemed to be curious of each other, but of course only one kind had cameras!

Adélies are the most common and smallest of Antarctic Penguins and were named so in 1830 by French explorer Dumont d’Urville after his wife Adélie. It is also after d’Urville that the French base on the Adélie Coast takes its name. Adélie penguins stand a little over 2 feet tall and feed mainly on krill and fish. There are over 2 million pairs of Adélies all across the Antarctic coast and they gather in huge colonies nesting in November building a nest of rocks and pebbles.

Selections from the Adélie album!

Our team is scheduled to leave for field camp to the Dry Valleys on Thursday, so this will in all probability be my last post until I return from field to add pictures from that trip.

Till then, enjoy the pictures and reading rest of the blog!