Wednesday, 30 November 2011

pigeons and fish

Ah, yes, I'm still here. But we're definitely on the 20:30 flight tonight though. Hopefully it will take off this time, and not boomerang (return to McMurdo). If we don't make it out I may find some skis and set out on foot. McMurdo is no longer a pretty snow-covered village:

To keep myself sane I thought I'd try yoga. I fear I may have got this confused with meditation at some point, as I was hoping we'd just lie on the floor humming for an hour. It turns out to be a sneakily strenuous activity - sneaky because you never actually move very fast, strenuous because I seemed to be tied in a knot and standing on one leg most of the time.

I didn't take any photos, but thought I'd pinch a few from the web to give you a flavour of what I was supposed to be doing. I am most proud of having managed both a right and left bind. However, I was mildly terrified that if I toppled over I wouldn't be able to untangle my arms in time to prevent a broken nose. Luckily this did not happen.

I think my poorest effort was the sleeping pigeon - mine more resembled an uncomfortably dozing chicken. The flexibility genes mysteriously went to my brother, so I am expecting a demonstration of a rather more relaxed pigeon at Christmas please Robin.

Today's excitement was a trip down to the aquarium where they have a 'touch tank'. We opted not to touch any of the spiky ones (I tried this whilst on holiday in Greece aged 8 and it didn't go well), but did prod all the squishy ones, desite the neon yellow one looking like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Ok, time to pack. Again.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Allergic to McMurdo

The fact that I'm posting is part good news and part bad news.

The bad news is that I'm still in McMurdo. There are now 7 of us waiting to get to Byrd Camp, ready to jump on a plane at the drop of a hat. I got as far stripping my bed and heading out the door yesterday before we were told that bad weather inland meant that they weren't flying. Some of the boys made it as far as the ice runway - really gutting. I've now also been leapfrogged as two more experienced people flew in from Christchurch, so they get priority and I will be on the second flight out, whenever that is...

The good news is that I've not been incarcerated! I've been feeling really rubbish the last 24 hours, and with the possiblity of a flight at any time I was holding off heading to medical in case they decided I was properly ill and quarantined me (although this would obviously be the sensible thing to do...). I passed the decision on this morning by asking one of our PIs (principal investigators) what to do, and he sent me straight off to medical. Oh ok. I looked as perky as possible and tried not to sneeze everywhere, and was rewarded with the news that it's just a cold, made worse by a mild allergy to McMurdo dust. Phew. So I have a selection of exciting pills to take, and I'm still good to fly at any time.

The second good news is that flights are now coming in from Christchurch, and this means fresh fruit and vegetables!! There were even limes at lunch, so I gobbled several down segments in the hope that this will speed up my recovery.

As ever, I hope not to be posting tomorrow...

Monday, 28 November 2011

What am I doing here?!

It has been politely requested that I might want to actually explain to people what I am doing here, other than eating a lot and playing in the snow...

I'm down here working with scientists from the POLENET project. Our aim is to collect GPS and seismic data from both Greenland and Antarctica. There is some information, and podcasts from last year, here:

In my normal life I run computer models which attempt to reconstruct the extent of the Antarctic ice sheet over the last 20,000 years - the time since the last ice age. The Antarctic ice sheet was bigger 20,000 years ago, and since this time ~3.6 x 10^18 kg of ice has melted; enough to raise sea level by ~10m. The removal of this mass of ice from Antarctica causes the land underneath the ice to rebound upwards, like a set of scales. However, the Earth actually behaves like a viscous fluid, therefore the rebound is not instantaneous, but continues to the present-day, even though most of the ice melting took place several thousand years ago. The GPS receivers that we are deploying will sit on rocky outcrops and measure this rate of rebound - the picture opposite is the GPS receiver here at McMurdo.

Meanwhile, the seismometers record the passing of seismic waves. These are released whenever there is an earthquake anywhere around the world; the waves travel through the interior of the Earth, and the time taken for the waves to reach our seismometers in Antarctica tells us about the structure of the Earth beneath; it's density, elasticity and viscosity. This information allows us to predict how the solid Earth will respond to changes in ice mass, i.e. the rate of postglacial rebound.

It gets a little tricky at this point. The rate of rebound measured by the GPS receivers is actually a combination of two processes: rebound due to past ice mass changes, and rebound due to present-day ice melting. Any mismatch between my model predictions (of rebound due to past ice melting) and the GPS observations may therefore be attributed to current melting.

The particular GPS receivers that I'll be installing will be around Pine Island Glacier (PIG) - this is thought to be the fastest-melting glacier in Antarctica so our measurements will provide an important insight into precisely how fast it is melting, and hence how much it is contributing to sea-level rise.

Flights are still all over the place, with another two cancelled this morning, but we are still firmly on the departure board, so have our fingers crossed that we will escape today...

On a lighter note here is a link to the start of the Turkey Trot:

I am in my usual camouflage black.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Happy Anniversary

Not only have I deserted Duncan for a month, but I am missing our second wedding anniversary. Luckily, it is surprisingly simple to call home from Antarctica, so I was able to surprise him with a phone call this morning. For his part, he sent through a special Antarctic crossword, which I think I've completed. A couple of clues are a little obscure unless you know me very well!

On a less exciting note, our first flight to Byrd Camp, which was supposed to fly last Wednesday and was rescheduled to today, got cancelled 15 minutes before they were due to leave. It's pretty frustrating because we now have good weather here, and I can hear helicopters buzzing all over the place, but apparently it's pretty windy at Byrd. We all have our fingers crossed that they'll get a couple of flights out there tomorrow.

We are still scheduled to 'bag drag' at 19:15 tonight, which involves taking all our hold luggage up to cargo. After this we'll just be left with hand luggage to survive for however long it takes. In the meantime, I thought I'd list my current top ten pieces of Antarctic kit:

1. Jenny's smartwool trousers - super comfortable, perfect temperature for McMurdo, and almost trendy.

2. Montane Windproof trousers - since it's not too cold here, just a windproof layer will keep you pretty warm if you head out for a walk. A last minute addition to my bag which have been used a lot.

3. My red/orange 'romper suit' top - bought for £10 in the middle of the night at 10-Mila this year, mainly to demonstrate my complete lack of fashion sense, turns out to be the perfect mid-layer.

4. Scott Base beanie - a lovely little merino hat which has added to the confusion about my nationality (Scott Base is the New Zealand base over the hill). Just right for McMurdo temperatures.

5. Rachel's down jacket - my 'big red' parka is a little overkill for the current 'warm' weather, but this down jacket is perfect to dash between buildings. Sadly now stowed in cargo for Byrd...

6. lip balm - carried everywhere

7. nalgene water bottle - personalised with a smartwool sticker

8. sunglasses - I have finally ditched my £2 pair bought at Boots in the early '90s

9. camera - a careful balance is required to avoid looking too much like a tourist

10. yak traks - actually found some to fit my size 4 trainers, and they've kept me upright on the black ice so far...

I suspect the list will look somewhat different once we move out to Byrd, and some 'proper' weather!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The waiting game

We're supposed to fly to Byrd tomorrow, and have already been bumped to Tuesday, but there is a pretty big backlog as nothing has flown for about five days, so it is time to play the waiting game. I've been cramming my days to keep me occupied. So here are a few photos from the last few days:

Some of yesterday's race route (the road down on the bottom/right). I didn't realise the hill was that long...

A well-earned Thanksgiving Dinner. I *nearly* managed to eat all of it.

The result of eating too much at Thanksgiving Dinner (don't tell Dave I've posted this photo).

A stirring walk was needed after eating so much, so our group of scientists headed out to Scott's Hut, just half a mile away.

Today I headed out for a longer walk with Dave: a lap of Observation Hill, and then a quick sprint up to the summit to finish. Amazing views, freezing cold in the wind, and toasty warm in the sun when you're out of the wind. Dave completed the walk in trainers and a light jacket, completely oblivious to the weather - reminded me of Robin!!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Apparently Thanksgiving was last Thursday, but we celebrate on the nearest Saturday. There is much excitement about the Thanksgiving Dinner later today, but the day started with the Turkey Trot. Oops, I accidentally entered a race..

When I heard about this, I didn't know whether to be excited or terrified. I haven't run since August, but couldn't turn down this opportunity. So I headed up to the BFC to hire out some 'yak-traks' to put on my trainers. I tested them out on a 50m jog, which constitued my warm up, and lined up with an assortment of people in bikinis (over a lot of thermals), hawaiian shirts, and turkey outfits. I regretted looking a little too serious in my lycra and windproof!

One of the turkeys shouted 'go', and there was a mad sprint up the hill. I thought that was a bit keen, so set off at a sensible pace for a 5km race in Antarctica. Although, in retrospect, I realised I didn't have much experience in this department. I'd heard the race was uphill all the way to the Scott Base sign, then downhill all the way back. Sounds simple.

Halfway up the hill we turned into a sharp headwind, and several people in shorts and comedy outfits began to keel over. I plodded on with my sights set on some rather hidous lycra in front of me, keeping my buff tucked up over my nose in an attempt to keep breathing. We seemed to turn endless corners that were not on the race map that I'd seen, each of which revealed another hill! I think I had been first lady from the start, but a pretty waitress came trotting past on the steepest hill, so I determined to hold onto second - the waitress was looking pretty sprightly.

At last, I could see people running towards me, the halfway point must be near! A burst of energy carried me up to the turnaround sign, only to catch sight of a rather feminine-looking penguin hot on my heels. Bother. A bit of a tussle with the penguin ensued, but my yak-traks gave me lots of confidence on the descent, and I cruised back into town, and my lungs just about held out for a final sprint past the galley.

It turns out the penguin had competed for the US in biathlon in the 98 olympics, so I was right to be scared, but I apologised for getting a bit competitive on a fun run!

Racing in Antarctica was tough. My legs felt fine, but the cold air and the biting wind made my lungs want to burst, so I was very pleased it was only 5km. My time: 25:10, a personal best time on snow at least!!

Time for Thanksgiving Dinner :-)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Temperature control

Living in McMurdo is really pretty comfortable, considering that you're in Antarctica: all the buildings are toasty and warm, and equipped with all mod cons. However, the weather is not so simple, and can change pretty quickly...

We went to condition 2 for a short period yesterday. Condition 3 is normal weather, with no restrictions on activities, although this can still encompass some pretty nasty weather. Condition 2 means that it's got really windy/cold/low visibility and you really don't want to be outside - certain activities are restricted, and work tends to stop. Condition 1 is a proper storm where you're not allowed outside. If this hits when we're at Byrd then emergency procedures kick in.

Anyway, condition 2 meant it was time to put on some extra layers and wrap up warm to scamper between buildings. However, it's so warm inside, that you have about a 2 minute window to get out before you completely overheat!!

I had the same trouble camping out the other day - I'd prepared for a proper cold night, and ended up roasting in my giant fluffy sleeping bag with its fleece liner!

It's all very tricky, and I haven't quite got the hang of it yet. I'm looking forward to getting to Byrd, where it is simply cold.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

How many Pippa's are there in Antarctica?

I wonder how many Pippa's there are in Antarctica right now? Well this one is in McMurdo, all trained up to survive in the snow, and ready to head out to Byrd Camp. Nothing is flying in or out of here at the moment as the weather seems to be distinctly scottish - big fat flakes of snow and near zero temperatures, making everything turn to black ice, cunningly hidden by an inch of powder. It's prettier than the dusty mining town I was expecting though.

There's a little more training to do, a little more eating to do, and definitely some sleeping to catch up on. We celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday, then the plan is the weather clears up and we fly out to the middle of nowhere. I've attached a picture of me practising for this part :-) We all have our names on our jackets, cos once you put on three hats and a balaclava it gets a bit tricky to work out who you're talking to!!

Right now, it is time to eat (this could be said of any time though) - I really need to escape from McMurdo, because the food here is free, and there is a lot of it...