Winter Over Blog #9 2016
Into countdown time before the swarms arrive starting first week of October.
It is Sunday 25th September and just turned the clocks forward to daylight saving time. Ironic that as Antarctica moves towards 24hrs light we are moving our watches for daylight saving. Don’t think that daylight will be in short supply down here for the months to come.
This is my last day on fire crew (that basically means you are on house arrest for the week).This has been every second week throughout winter. So as this is an “on duty’ day it is a good time to write the final blog (possibly penultimate, if I get enthused.)
Before readers get the impression that your tax payers dollar is frittered away and life is one big party down at Scott Base ( well, I don’t know what happens in summer )but over winter we work 6 days a week with just Sundays off, though during the core winter months, a bonus of one 2 day weekend /month.
Recreation, well it differs for different people, Scott Base has a small gym, library, DVD library and a bar, and McMurdo just over the hill with a whole lot more people and places – so although we are isolated the proximity to big brother neighbour makes us very lucky compared with other bases scattered around this continent.
The Gym, Sauna, Library and Lounge
Depending on your mind-set, some spend their time down here outside of work hours eating, watching an inordinate number of mind numbing horror and zombie movies, and propping up the bar.(to each his own.)
For the party type affectionardos, I have only made it to around 9.30-10pm for these events and then seen the aftermath early morning, still out for the count in various locations.
For a comparatively small community on Ross Island there was a surprising number of reasonable musicians from keyboard and guitar to violin and trumpet. Reminds me of an interview from a DVD on Antarctica in which a McMurdo resident made the comment that Antarctica was full of “part time workers and full time dreamers). A significant percentage of the regulars that come down every year for 6-8months it is their only yearly employment. So perhaps not so surprising that a significant subset of the population have the leisure time to learn and enhance musical skills.
The horror mini golf
Strange that living in isolated communities brings out the cross dressing traits esp. in the males. All the dresses, wigs, stockings, (and a few donning and amazingly competent on high heels!) come out of the closet so to speak. I have never really “got “the dress up thing where people spend ages getting into strange ‘get ups’ and then just sit around and drink to excess. I did try on several occasions to dress up but still didn’t really get it – other than observing that the guys do (unfairly) often have longer eyelashes and shapelier legs than many of the females.
Queen’s Birthday party Black light Party Queens theme dress up – yes a female cat is called a Queen
But as the Antarctica - a year on ice DVD produced by Scott Base resident movie maker made the comment that despite the ratio of females to males being heavily skewed on the males side , for females the “ odds are good, but the goods are odd”.
As a new comer to Antarctica winter I had no idea of the significance of Mid-Winter day. Sort of like Xmas day without the presents. Greetings are sent out to all bases throughout the southern latitudes. It was interesting to see from the return greetings the vast range of nations that share the isolation and it did in some indefinable way provide a feeling of unity among all the nations who occupy bases down here. Like a tendril reaching out to say Hi. Even one greeting from Greenland made its way down here.
The mid-winter greetings from other Antarctic and sub Antarctic Bases
Mid-winter activities included a “tit for tat” dinner with 40 odd Americans joining us for a sit down dinner, complete with table clothes and breaking out the best silver.
Scott Base mid-winter dinner
The following week a return invite from McMurdo – complete with dinosaur theme. Sadly, due to fire crew duties half of us could only partake in the pre-dinner snacks before having to return to base to let those not on duty enjoy the main courses and the remainder of the evening.
McMurdo Mid-Winter Dinosaur theme dinner
4th of July parade 4th of July Fete
Most of the highlights /recreation for me were not the parties but the indefinable experience of walking in -50c, placing flag routes, the surprising moments of drilling and measuring sea ice thickness to see if it is thick enough to drive Hagglunds, and feel a Weddell seal tugging on the other end of the tape measure from under the ice. To see the auroras, the sunrises, the sunsets, vastness of the landscape, the blue of the icebergs stuck in the frozen sea, clouds, the wind sculptured sea ice. To sit and listen to the ethereal calls of the seals under the ice.
Nordic skate on sea ice, Flag planting, experiencing the outdoors on a bracing day, checking out an iceberg, heading in a Hagglunds to Cape Evans and Terra Nova historic hut, measuring sea ice thickness with Weddell seal on the other end of the measuring tape.
To observe the beauty of the Barne Glacier, to see the historic huts of Shackleton and Scott , to see where they lived and their knickknacks and imagine what it would have been like then compare to today. To enjoy the quiet retreat of the wee hut on the sea ice shelf a respite from the constant hum of the generators, fans, light pollution and bone dry atmosphere of Scott Base.
Cape Evans and Terra Nova Hut, with Mt Erebus in background, inside the Hut
The Barne Glacier
Cape Royds and Shackleton’s Hut
One thing I would like to have experienced would be to see more of the research that is being done down here. Completing a Victoria University on line course on Antarctica gave me an insight in to the issues that confront Antarctica and the role of this unique continent as a sentinel to world planetary health, the fascination of the geology and fossil findings, the sea ice work. The visit to the science labs at Crary (McMurdo) and invite to tour the NASA satellite dome over the hill gave just a wee intro to some of the ongoing work that goes on all year. All the satellites swinging around. Including one that measures the entire earth’s ground moisture every 3 days. (And liked the high powered NASA decision tree options by the door!)
And just hanging out with our own science tech Ursula collecting data on things like the ozone hole formation. Or Scott base field support and resident glaciologist Becky, learning about the aspects of sea ice formation.
Specimens from the Crary Lab- fossil fern and skull of Weddell Seal
NASA – inside the dome, the plethora of satellites around earth, and the NASA office mantra
Checking the sea ice probe Snow covered sea ice cracks
Someone that smiles at my jokes
Ok I admit that I would love to have been here in the days where diving down under the sea ice, was just a matter of donning a good (very good) dry suit. That climbing Mt Erebus and looking observing the Crater Lake, to walk in the dry valleys or duck into an ice cave formation was just a matter of going there. And getting there with huskies and sledges. It does leave you with the feeling of frustration of being so near and yet so far. But if that is as good as it gets then I will still take it and add it to the memory banks as one of the few who has had the privilege to spend time down at the bottom of the world.
A symphony of colour on a still midwinter nightGeolocation