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Tuesday, December 11, 2007: Farewell!
Last Sunday we said our farewell and thank you to the community. Many people have volunteered to help us, taking time off work to come drill holes and haul heavy gear around. Even more have helped us as part of their jobs, but have done much more than that, making themselves available after hours and for inconvenient requests. We very much appreciate all that everyone has done to make things go well. So on Sunday, we set up both ROVs and invited our friends to come out and see underwater Antarctica for themselves.
Underwater life in Antarctica.

Now that we have finished our field work for the season, we are returning all the borrowed gear, equipment, vehicles, etc. Whatever we don’t return, we have to account for! So far, we are only missing two ice screws, which is pretty good, considering that the list of borrowed items ran to 14 pages long.
I have a theory that ice actually eats ice screws. Look at those teeth!

All the stuff that we need to bring back to with us, we have to pack up for shipping home. There are a multitude of options in terms of speed, temperature control, and expense, but all have a lot of paperwork associated with them, which has never been my strong point. We have 19 crates and boxes, before we even get to our personal gear.
Crates 1 and 2 out of 19...

And to make it all the more challenging, the weather has finally gotten nice. Clear blue sky all day makes the mountains seem so close. The sun is warm though in the shadows or a breeze it is still very cold. Nighttime walks are a wonderful way to wind down for sleep.
On a bedtime hike, Bob holds communications for the kiwi station on his fingertips.

Thanks to you too for your interest in our work and for all your comments and questions. Remember, this is only the first season of a three year project! We will update periodically until we deploy to Antarctica again in October 2008. Please come visit us again!
I'll leave you with some of my favorite images from this season -

Monday, December 10, 2007: Ridges, Open House
Last friday I got to tour the pressure ridges near Scott Base with a small group. Our leader was Ann Bancroft, a member of the American Women's Antarctic Expedition to the south pole back in 1992, who now works as the site manager for the long duration balloon project.

Also, yesturday was the last time SCINI went in the water this season, we hosted an open house for the McMurdo community down at the jetty with both SCINI and VideoRay in the water...


The pressure ridges were a special treat as us Americans are usually prohibited from this more dangerous, constantly changing area. The pressure of the thick Ross Ice shelf (out of sight from the shore) pushes this thinner sea ice up against the rocky base of Observation Hill in front of Scott Base; the crevases and peaks sometimes rise so fast you can see the landscape moving from the New Zealander's base.

Here are some final clips of SCINI and video ray driving together, which gives a much better idea of how the two vehicles interact and their scale compared to the objects they investigate.

Here are 2 clips of VideoRay from SCINI's perspective, first with scaling lasers powered up (you can see the algea bloom is getting thicker this time of season as the laser's path lights up particles) and later lighting up a rock scene with nice warm bright external lights. You can really see the difference in video quality, though of course the VideoRay's more polished lighting and dome close the gap a lot:

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VideoRay Lasers(download, smaller).

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VideoRay Bright(download, smaller).

And here's SCINI manuevering around some benthic life, then shooting off into the unknown, never to be seen again...

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SCINI investigating (download).

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And away! (download).

Sunday, December 9, 2007: Tales for the Spicy Penguin
Penguino, Penguino,

He's Nice-O!, Not Mean-O!,



Shortly before my son Jack was born my wife and I watched March of the Penguins and something from it stuck in our subconcious... Not long after he entered the world he became El Penguino.

When he was just a few days old and I was doing the midnight feedings I would sing the above rhyme to him. Over the last 2 years he has collected a few more nicknames, The Small Man and Mr Helpful being the most prominent, but he is still El Piquante Penguino de Quispamsis.

The Small Man doing what he does best. And ceaselessly.


and robbing passers-by.

So it was clear when the chance to visit Antarctica prsented itself I had to come back with penguin pictures, movies, trivia, tales, and even a hitchhiker if I could manage it. All but the hitchhiker turned out to be possible. Luckily I was able to use the SCINI project to lure Peque, the World's Most Technically Astute Penguin, into travelling with me. He has really enjoyed himself, and at cape royds he made friends with a seal who was interested in using our dive hole.

As luck would have it a dive trip to Cape Royds came up and with only a little abject pleading I was able to convince Stacy to take me along. When we got there I was amazed to see that the dive was going to be done through a hole melted in a crack in the ice. We had to break up the ice that had formed over the surface of the hole and dip it out with a bucket.

After the dive we went over to the penguin rookery and Shackleton's Hut. The Hut was impressive. The wind was really biting and the snow was blowing and it was overcast. The men that wintered in that hut had weeks at a time where the bad weather we were experiencing would have been a welcome respite from the continuous storm they sheltered from in that little wooden hut.

The most important feature was a great old stove. I want a beautiful stove just like that to put in my house. It must have been a fight to see who got the bunk closest to the stove.

The warmest thing in their world

Just outside the hut was the penguin rookery. I sang them the Penguino rhyme, but the wind must have blown the words away because they did not respond. There were about 4,000 breeding pairs of penguins living in the area.

Lots of Birds...

We were at the end of the world. The sea ice ended and we could see the open water of the Ross Sea. And the penguins trekking over the ice for about a mile to jump in and fish.

We had a tour guide in the person of Dr David Ainley. He lives at Cape Royds and studies the birds. He turned me on to the excellent Penguin Science website: He knows what there is to know about the birds, and is of the opinion that Happy Feet was a movie full of truth and good messages. I asked him about the singing and dancing and he allowed he had seen no dancing (yet) but that penguins do recognize each other by their distinctive individual voices, so that singing part of the movie was not so far fetched. Looks like Jack gets a dvd for Yule.

One of the great things at Cape Royds is Penguincam! If you look at the "hut pic" for 6 Dec 2007 you can see a couple people in red jackets who Rusty and I have decided must be us (they don't get a lot of visitors).

The aliens have landed

The website has tons of pictures of penguins being at home and you can see what the weather is doing at any time. I took the following movie standing just in front of the Penguincam. Check out the flag beating itself ragged in the stiff wind.

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PENGUIN FLAG! (download).

So there you have it. I came with a clear mandate to collect penguin experiences and I can return to El Piquante Pinguino de Quispamsis with stories, pictures, and a feathery little friend suitable for cuddling and assisting on whatever engineering projects The Small Man comes up with in the next few years.

It turns out that while I have been down here winter has arrived back in New Brunswick and El Penguino has started training for his own Antarctic expedition.

Saturday, December 8, 2007: Art at McMurdo
Even in the land of ice and snow, human natures primordial need for self expression burns hot. Long winters and brief interludes from work allow time for minds to wander and creativity to flow. Below are examples of the art forms that one finds when in and around town. Take a self guided stroll through the interesting and sometimes weird art of McMurdo Station.


In the stairwell to the Crary Library

Wall in the Science Cargo Building

Boiler in the Science Cargo Building

What's under the walking Bridge?

The bridge troll of course

Crary Lab Hall

Near the Fuel Tanks

On Hut Point- Lovingly called "Roll Cage Mary"

Another Bridge Troll

At the galley entrance

In an out of the way hall is this piece with the heart and souls of McMurdoites when asked the question of "Why did you come to Antarctica?" Zoom in and read why some came.

Friday, December 7, 2007: No Words, Only Pictures


Thursday, December 6, 2007: Antarctic Hitchikers
Today we made the long trip out to Cape Royds one more time, to take advantage of a hole that David Ainley, Adelie penguin researcher extraordinaire, had for a current meter. My interest in sampling in this location is based on the penguins, but not just because they are oh-so-cute…

An Adelie penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae, poses for the camera.


But because there are lots of them, and they poop. The colony has about 2000 breeding pairs, who at this point are incubating eggs. As it was a mildly blustery day, the penguins were all head on into the wind, with the precious eggs tucked well out of sight. The buildup of guano from these birds is impressive, though perhaps not as stinky as guano piles in more temperate climates. During the warmest months, snow from the heights melts, runs into Pony Lake, and eventually through Pony Stream into the ocean.

A guano deposit from years of penguin occupation at the colony at Cape Royds.

Are you seeing why I find this interesting? The penguin poo is a source of organic or food material in a food-poor environment. Many benthic animals in the Antarctic respond rapidly and strongly to food input; some, such as seastars, are mobile and move in quickly to feed, others, such as worms, settle from the plankton and grow and reproduce rapidly. These opportunists change the community structure. I’d like to determine if there is a different ecology adjacent to food sources like penguin and seal colonies.

The seastars Odontaster validus have a “dine and dash” strategy.

When I returned from my dive I was surprised that the number of tenders had doubled from 2 to 4. As we were kind of out in the middle of the seaice, I wondered where they had come from. When I got enough gear off and my lips warmed up enough to form a coherent sentence, I learned that Hugh and Chris were with PolarDiscovery, and as the wind was blowing, their helicopter ride back to McMurdo had not shown up for the second day. They wanted to know if they could hitch a ride back to town with us. They gave us chocolate, so we were happy to accommodate ☺. You can see more of their adventures at

Our long day was rewarded with this beautiful view of the Barne Glacier in front of Mt. Erebus. A good end to a day that started with Nick singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" to me on the comms box.

BLee just put up an old post that won't show up on this front page, check it out here!

Pretty Pictures
Bob and I spent the last couple days down at the jetty doing some lighting and v
ehicle dynamics testing and we've got hours of video to pick through as an indir
ect result. Here are a few choice frames to peruse, plus a couple LIVE ACTION
video clips at the end.


Some of these are reasonably high resolution and you can make out more details if you click on them for the original file.

Le Video

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A bivalve claming up (download, smaller).

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An underice Antarctic dustwand RETREATING from our sun-like beam (download, smaller).

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Another example of benthic life fleeing from SCINI. This was by far the most agressive driving maneuver we tried, I think it's interesting how only part of the anenome responds. (download, smaller).

Thanks for playing...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007: Bring a Hankie
I'm sure everyone is going to post about the Grand Day Out to Cape Evans. So I'll just cut to the heart of the matter.


I'm sure everyone is going to post about the Grand Day Out to Cape Evans. So I'll just cut to the heart of the matter and sum up why you should turn off your computer, get up off the couch and do whatever it takes to get out in the world right up past your ears. And bring a handkerchief...

Blee compares nostril size with his new friend Lester

We were at a dive hut part of the day at Cape Evans and a great fat Weddel Seal was using the dive hole thru the ice as his house. The seal (Nick appeared to know him and claimed his name was Lester) breathed so powerfully his exhalation was moving my hair 8 feet above him. He blew snot on me; I chose to believe in welcome. Thats the really cool part of these jobs: the snot. You can't get that from TV or a movie.

You know you are really there when you feel the snot.

Monday, December 3, 2007: Details of an Ice Dive
We have given several glimpses into diving beneath the ice but looking back through the earlier posts I see we haven’t given a good description of all the effort it takes to actually do a dive here. We have been doing sampling dives about every other day so I’d like to give a start to finish description of the effort involved with making those dives.


Yesterday’s dive at Cape Armitage started off snowy with limited visibility so even a short mile from McMurdo we couldn’t see the location where we were supposed to set up the new dive site. Skeptical, I loaded the Tucker with a shovel and a large dip net and headed to meet Tom and his drill rig. The rig is a tracked Caterpillar bulldozer, called a Challenger, pulling a tracked drilling rig and followed by a tracked trailer with drill bits. I followed Tom out of town because I figured even with my inexperience, I could follow a big yellow bulldozer in falling snow without getting too lost.

The visibility gradually improved so we were able to GPS and flag the location of the dive holes we needed to drill. After mounting the 4’ diameter drill bit on the drive shaft we started to drill but soon realized the snow was about four feet deep on top of the ice. That’s a problem because it leaves the water level too far down in the hole for divers to climb out of the hole. We stopped drilling, unhooked the drill rig from the Cat and Tom started removing the snow down to the ice surface. I was surprised how hard and compact the snow was here and how much effort it takes for a big bulldozer to cut through the snow. It is not soft and fluffy like one would think and took close to an hour to remove. With the snow cleaned from the surface of the ice we were able to again position the drill bit in the hole and continuing drilling through the ice.

As the drill bit cuts, the snow and ice chips pile up in a cone around the hole. Fast shovel work is required to keep up with the drill with the main goal to keep a path in the cone clear for water to flow out when the bit breaks through the ice. Well the bit broke through the ice OK and the water flowed, but then it kept flowing and flowing, starting a lake.

Realizing that the ice must have been pressed down slightly below sea level by the weight of all the snow, we quickly built a snow dam in the cone to stop the flow. Tom then had to move a foot of snow back in around our hole just so the dive hut wouldn’t be sitting in a lake of freezing water. Freezing your dive hut into the ice is not a good idea. Once the hole was finished and the snow was smoothed for moving in the dive hut, the dip net became the weapon of choice. There are a lot of ice chunks and slush that must be dipped out, one net at a time until the surface is ice free. Each full net is heavy so it’s a workout to clear the hole.

When we finished clearing the hole, we towed the dive hut and positioned it over the hole in the ice. With careful aiming we got it right the first time.

We then drilled a second hole a few hundred yards away going through the entire process all over again. It took half a day but that's what it takes to get the dive holes ready for divers.

Next step is readying dive gear in the dive locker and partially suiting up. The base layers that keep you warm under the actual dry suit are a layer of thermal polypro underwear and then a thick fluffy insulated jumpsuit. On each foot I wear a liner sock, a neoprene sock, a wool sock and an insulated bootie that goes over the top of the other three. Getting into the dry suit wearing all that insulation should constitute a Yoga routine. Hands are then wiggled through the wrist seals while making sure that the small plastic tubes called “tubies” lie properly on your wrist and protrude through the wrist seals. These little tubes are critical because they allow air to move into your glove, keeping your hand from getting tightly squeezed during descent. They also allow you to move warmer air from around your body into your gloves by shaking your hands vigorously above your head when your hands get cold. Next is getting your head through the neck seal, particularly difficult for divers like Nick with little necks and big heads. There are two main zippers on the suit that seal you in for what you hope is a dry dive.

Our other dive gear consists of the air tank with two tank valves, each with its own separate regulator. This redundancy is a safety measure in case your primary regulator freezes and free flows air while you are doing your dive. The second regulator is on your chest within easy reach so you can switch regulators when needed. Switching regulators is a skill you must demonstrate on your check out dive here before you are allowed to continue diving in Antarctica. It sounds like a simple feat but the restricting tightness of the hoods and frozen lips makes it difficult to get a regulator in or out of your mouth. The dive guru here, Rob Robbins, demands that skill even though he says that the regulator freeze ups happen on less than 1% of the dives. I’m really glad however he made us practice that skill because I have had two free flows out of ten dives. I guess I'm really messing up his low freeze up percentages. The risk of freeze ups mandates diving with a buddy essential because the bulky insulation and dry suit make it extremely difficult to reach around and turn off your own valve to the free flowing regulator. On your own you have to quickly take your tank off to reach the valve so having your dive buddy there to turn off the valve to the free flowing regulator keeps the air in your tank and your stress level down- Thanks Stacy! Twice!

All this dive gear and the sampling gear are loaded into the Tucker and for the drive to the dive site. Once at the dive hut everything is unloaded from the Tucker into the dive hut. Preparation for the dive begins with again clearing the ice from the dive hole and then setting up our safety line. This weighted line drops through the ice hole and extends to the bottom. Spaced along the line are flags and three flashing strobes and a small emergency air tank with a regulator. The flags and strobes help us keep track of the dive hole in the twilight to dark conditions under the ice. Also attached to the bottom of the line is our box of sampling cores, an underwater digital camera and an underwater video camera.

Final dive preparation begins sitting on the edge of the hole and wiggling in to a shoulder harness weight belt weighing forty pounds. Two pound weights are then strapped on each ankle and fins are strapped on. All important dive computers are fitted to wrists or hoses and the air tank backpack is loaded on and air is turned on to both tank valves. Note that in under ice conditions, no buoyancy compensators (BC) are used because rapid assents to the surface are a bad idea, creating more danger than safety. Slushy frazil ice under the sea ice can obscure a diver pressed up against the ice, plus it's very difficult to see your dive hole when at the bottom of the ice. Proper boyancy is therefore acheived by adding or releasing air directly from the dry suit. It takes some practice but good control of your boyancy using the dry suit becomes second nature. On the head go a neoprene "gorilla mask", a thick neoprene hood and finally a latex hood. These three hoods keep my head surprisingly warm and dry but at the price of being a bit constricting and claustrophobic. It’s sure better than a wet head, but I prefer to put these on at the last minute possible before the dive.

The face mask gets its requisite spit and is filled with icy seawater so it won’t fog up. By this time I am usually getting overheated and sweating inside my suit and anxiously looking forward to getting in to the cold water. Each hand gets a wool glove and then the dry glove is stretched over a sealing ring in the dry suit for what you hope are dry hands (sometimes these leak- ask Nick!). Putting on dry gloves requires help from another person so we always have at least one dive tender assisting divers throughout the preparations. My mask goes on last and the dive tender works the mask seals under all the hoods so the mask will seal against your skin. A final check of the gear, grab a dive light and then you are ready to drop in the hole ....

...unless the hole is plugged by a thousand pound seal breathing in your hole. In that case you just wait until the seal is willing to let you use his breathing hole. Breathing holes are critical real estate here and the Weddel seals aggressively defend their breathing holes against other seals. Fortunately they seem very unconcerned about us divers using "their" holes.

Dives typically take around thirty to forty minutes to complete the sampling, explore the area and safely ascend back to the surface in the dive hole. Each diver has to ascend through the ice hole singly while the others wait just below the ice. Occassionally we even have to wait for a seal to vacate the hole before we can make our final ascent to the surface.

Tanks and weights are removed and lifted off the diver and fins removed so that the diver can climb a metal ladder that was lowered in the hole during their absence. Once out of the water, mask and gloves come back off and you stand next to the hut’s heater trying to get your lips, fingers and toes functional again. For me it’s only these extremities that get cold and the longer the dive the colder they get. It’s manageable though and each dive the cold seems less of an obstacle.

The conclusion of the dive means bringing up the down line loaded with samples and cameras, reloading the Tucker, driving back to the dive locker and spending an hour cleaning and prepping gear for the next dive. Samples are processed, cameras are downloaded and cleaned and finally much food is eaten to replace all the calories burned during the day.

Subsequent review of the digital images or video sometimes leads to the dissappoinment of finding the data unuseable for one reason or another. That forces a return to the site to repeat the sampling. Unfortunately the hut has often already been moved so the the dive is repeated without a warm hut. It's good incentive to get it right the first time.

Yesterday’s dive at Cape Armitage took us a total of about 9 hours to complete. It's a lot of work to do a dive in Antarctica but just seeing these unique and beautiful under ice communities is reward enough.

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.