Walking on the Ice

Walking on the ice may seem pretty obvious if you’re in the Antarctic, but for the first few days we were told to “stay on the brown stuff”, i.e. the safe roads in and around the station. Today was our first outing on the white stuff as part of our training. After a briefing, we were divided in three groups, tossed our ECW bags in the back of a Hägglund and climbed onboard. We drove back around Scott base on the road toward the airfield, but then headed onto the sea ice covering Mc Murdo sound. We stopped at one of the holes where we’ll be sampling over the coming weeks. The goals were to spot ice cracks, drill holes, probe the ice thickness, and learn landmarks and weather cues (i.e., when a polar storm is coming from the south and how long until it hits).

We did accomplish all these objectives (the ice turned out to be 155 cm/5 ft thick), but for everyone the memories will be of the wildlife. A seal was resting by the hole with skuas nearby, and (woohoo!) an emperor penguin stood all day by our field area! Apparently it’s a juvenile who’s molting and whose feather coat is not quite waterproof, so it’s very vulnerable for a while. That’s while they seek loneliness at this age. I couldn’t imagine how to top such a magical encounter until after we got back on station: the other groups, who had come after us, saw two seals playing in the flooded hole and were approached up close by a whole group of curious and adorable Adélie penguins! Although it’s quite rare to see them this far inland, we might see more as the ice starts breaking up in the coming weeks. This afternoon I did see from afar 3 Adélies moving fast on their belly past a group of seals, so let’s hope for the best!

In the rest of the afternoon, we got acquainted with the instrumentation in our labs and our sampling tools. I’m amazed at these facilities, especially given how hard it is to get stuff down here. We’re now officially ready to begin field work, which is the plan for most of tomorrow.

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