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Vilmar on the peak of Observation Hill near McMurdo Station on Ross Island.

An adventure way way down under

My Antarctic adventure

Update: Vilmar’s adventure in Antarctica is one of our first real-time adventures. Well, as real-time as it could get in the year 2000. Vilmar sent us regular updates from the road and we would relay his message to the world. It was the advent of social media. And, it is one of my all-time favorite, guest adventures. For your convenience, we’ve taken all the updates and put them into this one story. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: Vilmar Tavares has just arrived in Antarctica for a six-month work assignment (one of the few ways a person is allowed on this continent). His first letter doesn’t waste any words, “DAMMIT it is COLD here! Seeing a number like forty-two below zero wind chill and actually sticking your face into it are two totally different things! And to think it is springtime! Ah, I can smell the flowers now…or is it the penguins?”

Today’s major topic is diversity

Antarctica continent
Antarctica continent as recently mapped by the Canadian satellite Radarsat. It is the first high-resolution radar map of Antarctica. Scientists were most surprised to see a complex pattern of ice streams draining into the ocean. Courtesy of NASA.

I never cease to be amazed by the people I meet here and their talents and knowledge and experiences.

For example, many folks here are the “green” environmental types that want to defend the earth. That makes me very happy. Almost all have a spirit of adventure I’ve not found in any other cross-section of the population I’ve ever associated or worked with. I have a young lady working for me now who will be going to trek Nepal with her boyfriend. My boss’s boss is taking off for two weeks to rent a sailboat with eleven other people and sail New Zealand’s Northern Islands. Others have worked in Greenland. Some will go to India when they are done here. Others to Alaska. Many are physically fit and do sports like mountain climbing, cross-country bicycling, skiing, and so on.

Many of the people here are from Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, or Alaska so nasty weather is second-hand to them.

Antarctica ventrifacts
The wind blows hard creating a type of rock called a ventifact or wind-faceted stone. [Editor’s note: Sorry, the original high-res picture has been lost.]

I have a friend here into such things as the universe and the metaphysics associated with it. He also practices yoga aerobics and wishes to teach it someday. Another guy, a sheet metal worker, plays and makes nearly world-class violins. He will be going to Italy for three years to study violin making and earn the title of a world-class builder. To offset costs he will be staying at a monastery that offers room and board in trade for three hours of manual labor a day. Another young lady is also a violin player and has brought her 150-year-old violin. I am trying to convince them to put on a recital.

The most unusual combination of talents comes from a guy named Oso (bear, in Spanish). He comes from a German father and Mexican mother yet speaks neither German or Spanish. Both parents are immigrants but their parents refused to speak other than English in order to more quickly blend into their communities. He is one of the three cooks for the station and it is no easy task cooking meals when food takes months to get here and all he has to work with are food products stored in freezers or grown in our little greenhouse. [Editor’s note: Do you need freezers in Antarctica?]

Anyway, speaking with him last night I came to find out that he enjoys music and he let me borrow a CD from Cape Verde. He said that the lyrics were fascinating as it was basically pidgin Portuguese, similar in differences of tongue as Creole English is to English. I found it very unusual that a non-German/Spanish speaker, who looks Spanish, is nicknamed Oso, would listen to or even know about Cabo Verde music. The CD is titled: Alma de Cabo Verde. It’s a Tinder Production of Cabo Verde, 1996. If you get a chance to listen to it, do so. Really quite good.

Antarctica icehenge

View all of Vilmar’s photos in his Antarctica Pictorial.

On a different note, living here adds a totally different dimension to one’s life. Whether it’s dressing, staying hydrated, eating enough, or travelling. The other day we had one really clear day so I went to New Zealand’s Scott Base and got great pictures of Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror. They were named after Scott’s two ships from his first expedition. Mt. Erebus was venting steam (it is an active volcano) and sits right on our little island.

People begin to wonder about the rationality of folks who want to come to the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth only to live on an island with an active volcano! It’s stunningly beautiful, though.

The weather changes in a flash! So when we go anywhere we have to bring all our extreme weather gear with us and radios in case we get stuck in a whiteout. Just yesterday, for example, it started out about fifteen degrees Fahrenheit with a light wind. Then the temp dropped to zero degrees Fahrenheit and the winds kicked up to fifty to sixty-five kilometers per hour. Then it cleared a bit. Then it snowed again and has been for twenty-four hours. All the changes occurred within a few hours so if a person thought it was going to be a clear day and took off, they would have found themselves in blizzard conditions within thirty minutes. Dangerous. This continent does not forgive mental lapses. It WILL kill you without consideration. Much like the peaks in the Western USA or Alaska except that it’s like this twelve months a year.

I love it!

Just another WOW! day at the Bottom of the World

Antarctica McMurdo Station sunset
McMurdo Station sunset

Editor’s Note: Vilmar Tavares continues his six-month work assignment on Ross Island in Antarctica. Ross Island has an active volcano on it and is generally surrounded by pack ice which gives it the impression of being linked to the continent. Vilmar works for a company that provides support services to the National Science Foundation, and he is in charge of several warehouses that supply administrative supplies: oils, cleaners, paints, solvents, and bulk issue items like toilet paper. Not just anyone can get a job here, but Vilmar has extensive qualifications because of his twenty-six years of experience with the United States Airforce.

Hey guys and gals!

I checked out a cross country bike today after dinner and went out tooling around town to see how it handled in snow and icy roads. Never having ridden in these conditions I was not quite sure what to expect. I also wasn’t prepared for the little adventure I had, either.

Went to the room, got my arctic mittens, liners, and a cap. Then I got my pack, two cameras and headed towards Hut Point to do some photography. The hut was built by Scott in 1902 (it looks brand new from the outside!) and I found a decently preserved, yet desiccated, Weddel seal hanging around outside as if a sentinel.

Antarctica ice cliff
Ice cliff

All was well as I continued to Vince’s Cross, a wooden cross serving as a memorial to George Vince, one of a party of twelve men in Scott’s crew who was out exploring in search of a penguin rookery. Not finding it, they split up and a party of eight returned only to be faced with extreme cold and a blizzard at Castle Rock (just a couple of miles from the station here). They found themselves on a steep slippery slope where three of the men stepped on a patch of bare ice and tumbled out of sight. All three miraculously came to a halt when a patch of soft snow stopped them at the edge of a precipice as a howling dog flashed past and disappeared into the sea pounding below. One of the other men, Frank Wild, took charge of leading the remaining five who were left at the head of the slope. He led them off in the direction of their ship but suddenly came upon a cliff with the dark sea below. Another step and he would have gone right over the edge. Unfortunately, one of the others, Vince Cross, couldnÕt get a grip on the slippery ice and, like the dog, he vanished over the edge and into the sea. What a sucky way to die.

This site is only a few minutes walk (and visible from) the station and my bedroom window.

On my way to Vince’s Cross, I dug trenches in the packed snow to set the bike in so I could get a photo of myself and was trying to figure out how to set it all up when someone walked by and did me a favor by taking my picture.

So I now have a photo of myself cycling in Antarctica. Hope you guys don’t get too jealous. :-) :-) :-)

Then I made it to the cross and the wind came up out of nowhere. Easily thirty-five to forty-five miles per hour. So, here I am with cameras in hand trying to take photos of Mt. Discovery and the Royal Society Range when this little tempest stirs the teapot called my life. I chill off in a hurry and scramble to get my glove inserts on, cameras stowed, coat zipped up to the top, all the while trying not to lose either the bike, the cameras, the helmet, my goggles and my arctic mittens. If any of them fell, they’d go the way of Vince as this was where he met his Maker. In my case, the sea is still frozen but the drop is fearsome.

So now I gain a better appreciation for the mercilessness of this climate. One minute all seems well and temps are zero, then the wind picks up and all bets are off.

Antarctica icehenge
Antarctica “icehenge.”

I must say that writing this probably does not convey the feelings and emotions one feels while experiencing this place but I developed one hell of a lot of respect for the guys who tried to live here so long ago. The adversities they confronted just can’t be transmitted via the written word.

I was purposefully taking my time mentally check listing where each object was located on my person: between my legs, under an arm, gripped in my teeth, or firmly clenched in a hand. All the while getting colder and colder. Then I either put in on, put it in my pack, pulled it shut, or zipped it up. One at a time, never loosening my grip until I was done. My fingers got very cold. My face was stinging. But I finished and went for the shelter of a small hill and then pedaled back to the station.

I also never realized how physically exerting it is to pedal in fifty below zero wind chill. Especially when it is blowing in your face! I know I could not have gone more than half a mile and I was panting at the end.

So that was my little adventure for today. The weather is supposed to get nasty again tonight. We’d been getting snow and winds for the past two days so today’s sunshine (and fifteen above zero temps) was very welcome (albeit I really like it stormy). Plus, on a clear day like today, it is possible to see with great depth and definition the Royal Society Range, Kukri Hills, Asgard and Olympus Ranges plus the Koettlitz, Bowers Piedmont, Ferrar, and Wilson Piedmont glaciers. Words can’t describe the powerful beauty. So if and when the blow does come, I will venture out again on my trusty steed to see what it feels like.

Freezingly yours,

More news from the South

Antarctica fish that dont freeze
In Antarctica the fish that don’t freeze.

Hi everyone!

Today I had an “interesting” McMurdo moment.

They say that having a good life is nothing more than a matter of good timing and possibly location and genes. I just finished eating lunch and was walking out the door when several people came into the Galley holding sheets of paper. At first, I thought the plane (De plane, boss! De plane!) had come in early then I noticed they were “old” hands. Seasoned salts as it were. Being a curious animal I hung around thinking they were going to do a poetry reading for the mess hall or possibly, heaven forbid it being this early, Christmas carols! Then everyone’s attention was summoned by clanging on a glass and the group launched into the song, “Hello, Dolly.” With further inquiries, I was able to determine that there is a young lady who has a penchant for food trays that are subdivided into little compartments. Over the winter they were used and I was able to use them also until they switched to plain blue ones like you find in the buffet restaurants. Anyway, she stole one and would use it every day. The dining staff didn’t care and would wash it for her.

Then someone kidnapped it from her. They took a picture of it strapped with duct tape to a chair and a note saying that if she didn’t sing “Hello Dolly” at 12:30 in the dining facility, she’d never see her tray alive again.

OK, so maybe in telling it doesn’t convey the same amount of silliness as seeing it in person but it was quite funny when it happened.

I almost felt like taking my parka off today as it was so warm. Or at least it felt like it! Got up to 20 degrees and with the sun shining and no wind blowing it felt almost tropical.

The hills that had snow on them now are almost bare since the dark rock sucks up thermal energy that melts surrounding snow. Basically, the same concept that will clear this area within a few weeks. The nasty weather will also go away in a few weeks and we should see no more blizzard-like conditions.

I understand that torrents of water flow down from the hills as summer approaches. The roads get very muddy and after all the snow and ice has melted, the dust settles in. Roads need to be watered in order to keep the dust down and when the winds blow dust gets into everything.

My two folks came in today. I was very glad to see them!

Also came to the realization that being here and being so detached from goings on in the US, I do not get my knickers in a twist over what happens politically. Maybe it’s because I am so busy that I do not want to dedicate efforts to writing letters. I’m not sure but at this stage, I really do not give a s*.

Met a guy who wintered at the South Pole and he mentioned one of the things they do is to try getting into the “300 Club.” To join you need to get into a sauna that is cranked up to 200 degrees and then rush outside into 100 below weather and run around the Pole to claim you ran around the world. I don’t see how a person can do that as the flesh is supposed to freeze in seconds at that temp but I guess the heat given off by the body allows one to do so. He also said he’d try and see how long he could stand outside in just a pair of pants and shirt in 100 below weather. Longest was just over one minute. Crazy. But then you’d have to be a bit eccentric just to want to winter over at the pole.

Exciting Air Force news: the first C-17 landed here today. It came with only 50,000 pounds of cargo and left with passengers. The folks it took were not supposed to have left until the next flight but at the last minute, they chose to take them so a mad scramble ensued trying to locate these individuals.

Heard that one of the games folks in the Dining Hall play is “Who’s That Crotch.” We have to turn in our trays through this small opening in a wall and the folks on the other side of the wall only see our crotches as we walk up. To see a face you have to bend down at the waist and peer upwards. So after a while, they can tell who it is just by the crotch. VERY strange.

The biting hawk was out today blowing chilly breezes into my clothing. Still a beautiful day out. No clouds to speak of and a fair nip in the air—most likely about 5 degrees or so with 30 to 40 MPH gusts. As I crested this snow hill coming to work I feared being blown backwards and down again. It was persistent enough that in just a few minutes any exposed skin became very sensitive. Plus it actually forced me to walk into it head down a la Mr. Natural.

The station is really getting crowded now. About 740 people are in and the chow hall is beginning to have long lines and folks begin to scheme when they will go eat or do clothes.

Last night was party night so I shaved for the occasion.

Antarctica fish research
Antarctica fish research

The carpenter shop put on the first party of the season in their building. It’s known as the “Carp Shop” party and has become a legend. At first, I thought it had a fish theme due to the name but I’ll get to that later.

Newly shaved I went to eat then back to the shop to catch up on email and other correspondence to include this infernal journal that’s become an albatross around my neck. But I know that soon it will be finished and worth all the effort as the days will settle into a routine with little to write about.

Then I headed off. Easy to find as the building seemed to take on the properties of a magnet. From my vantage point on a small bluff, I could see people being drawn to one location as if in those old science fiction movies where humans are made zombies and pulled in to become food for the green-eyed aliens.

Star Trek’s tractor beam concept also works for the effect it seemed to have on folks.

Now on a roll of ideas, I’ll venture to say it looked like an aerial shot of the savannas in Africa where you see a watering hole and the animals have their tracks radially pounded into the ground and you see them attracted to the pull of the relief the water will provide them. The same relief some of these folks were feeling when they went to their own special “watering” hole. Pretty cool, really.

It was packed in there. Margaritas flowing freely, beer pouring into thirsty gullets, sodas left virtually untouched. (HA!) The music was quite good and folks would jump up on tables and dance away. A treasure trove of costumes were found so folks would be putting on the weirdest colors of wigs, strange clothes, and then parade around having a great time.

The Carp Shop folks even made a mirror ball and hooked it up to a homemade motor connected to a lift chain with a small spotlight hung off a cargo door. Quite innovative. A DJ booth was set up and guys donated their CD collections for use. Huge Peavey loudspeakers were located throughout, blenders were going, “shot” girls and guys distributing cups of margaritas to anyone wishing one. I had several. Not too strong so I kept my wits about me.

It was a good way to meet folks from other locations on the station.

The only difficulty the party presented was for those with weak bladders. The bathrooms were outhouses, unheated. And the wind was still blowing strongly so some folks would be in line anticipating a quick jump into the pisser only to find themselves ill-dressed for it and vacillating between giving up their spot to get a heavy coat or risk getting colder. Then they got smart and started lining up indoors.

The highlight of the evening was the barbecue. 10 PM, sun still shining, zero degrees and wind blowing—people were still barbecuing. They had started at 6 with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and what not. But then they brought out “THE FISH.”

Probably the closest to a “carp” that matched their name, this thing was a monster.

Scientists here catch Antarctic Cod and have been studying them for years in an effort to determine what they have in their system that keeps them from freezing in 28-degree water. If they can figure it out then we may have an environmentally safe solution for all the anti-freeze we use in vehicles, motors, etc.

The fish is also under stress from the fishing industry since many countries are now restricting where fleets may go in and around their international zones, then the industry is encroaching into Antarctic waters. Efforts are underway to ban fishing south of the Antarctic Circle but that’s a tough fight right now.

Anyway, our “delicacy” weighed in at 125 pounds and was caught in waters over 1400 feet deep. They are an ugly species and soon I will go to the station aquarium to see one live and swimming. A very tasty fish, too, albeit a little on the greasy side.

Left at midnight with the sun having set not long before. Still a nice “dusk-y” color behind the mountains. I suspect in another week it’ll be up 24 hours.

Well, that’s it for now.

Vilmar walks up a hill and comes down a mountain

Antarctica Ob Hill
Vilmar on Ob Hill.

Funny how a one-day weekend makes you so much more efficient at leisure activities than a three day weekend. The desire to cram a bunch of activities into such a short period in an effort to make up for not having two days off is intense.

The best thing is to pick one or two activities and do them. The hell with the rest. For me, it was to catch up on my journal, climb a hill, and maybe go to the aquarium.

First things first, I got the hell out of my room as the fuel pump went out in the boiler for the dorm and it was COLD in there. So I spent a few hours in the morning catching up on email at work. Then lunch. Then a bit of exercise. Then the room was warm again.

As I write this, having completed my exercise for the day I can go, “HMMMM…now I know why I will never climb mountains.” But I’d decided that since it was such a nice day (little wind, partly cloudy, somewhat warm) I would climb Observation Hill. Looked fairly easy. Seemed to have a path…..(key word here is “seemed”.) What the hell….why not?

Trudging through the snow and loose rock was OK until I was one half of the way up. Here I found some buildings from the nuclear plant authorized by Congress in 1960. After getting to McMurdo in December 1961, it became operational in March 1962. It produced 1,800 kilowatts but in September 1972 shield water leakage shut it down. It was dismantled and returned to the United States in 1973- 1975. Chernobyl comes to mind.

Continuing on, it got a bit slick with few rocks for a proper grip. I wondered if the soles of my shoes might get cold enough to harden and lose their ability to grip. But I continued to the 2/3 point. Then I looked back downwards into the town and the first tinges of doubt began to creep in.

There was another couple there when I arrived so I commented on how it sucked to be out of shape, proceeded to rest a bit and then headed upwards.

Every step forward increased the pitch of the alarms going off in my head about what would happen if I took a miss-step. This felt like billy goat country to me and I dared not to look back over my shoulder.

It is amazing what drives people to do things they normally are not prone to do which sometimes results in serious injury; simply because we dare not let our pride interfere with our common sense. That’s exactly what I was doing. Under normal circumstances, I’d have assessed the risks in the climb up to this point and I’d have stopped, turned around and called it a day. Not because I am a chicken s* but because this was something a bit out of my league. But those other two folks were behind me. I could not be bested by them. So up I went. Then I did something else foolish. I strayed off the “path” and struck off on my own up what could not have been more than a six-inch wide track covered with snow. Sheer walls on one side, sheer drops on another. I felt my coat drag and grab on the protruding rocks. Damn, I did not like it. Then I broke free and got to an open snow-covered slope and finished the climb. Heart pumping a beat to make the wildest tribes of savages proud. To say it was not worth it would be a lie.

So I learned a lesson—I can do this kind of stuff. The question now is: will I try something similar again and kill myself through a sense of false security and confidence? One way to find out.

But, OH! What a view from 750 feet up!!

On top of the hill, there is a cross, made of Australian jarrah wood, commemorating Scott and his four companions. Erected by members of Scott’s last expedition, they took two days to carry it up to the top of the hill. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the classic, “The Worst Journey in the World”, wrote the following, “There was some discussion as to the inscription, it being urged that there should be some quotation from the Bible because ‘the women think a lot of these things.’ But I was glad to see the concluding line of Tennyson’s Ulysses’ adopted: ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’…. Tuesday, January 22. Rousing out at 6 a.m. we got the large piece of the cross up Observation Hill by 11 a.m. It was a heavy job, and the ice was looking bad all around, and I for one was glad when we had got it up by 5 o’clock or so. It is really magnificent, and will be a permanent memorial which could be seen from the ship nine miles off with a naked eye. It stands nine feet out of the rocks, and many feet into the ground, and I do not believe it will ever move. When it was up, facing out over the Barrier, we gave three cheers and one more.”

As a side note, June 1993 brought with it hurricane-force winds to McMurdo which knocked down the cross. In January 1994 members of McMurdo and Scott Base worked together to carry the cross up the hill, erecting it, 81 years and one day after it was originally placed on the hill. Many joined in the task and a small service by the local clergy closed the ceremony. So having achieved the summit I looked back down and wondered how I was going to make it without killing myself. EASY! I sat down, planted one outstretched foot in front of me, tucked another underneath me and they served as my brakes. The left pounding occasionally into the slick surface to act as my brake, the one underneath did some braking and much steering. My hands grabbed at any rocks available. And this way I made my way down one-quarter of the hill after which I walked/skipped/jumped the rest of the way.

Yep, me and climbing do not get along. But I will do it again.

Mail Day and Fish that Don’t Freeze

Antarctica Adélie penguins
Antarctica Adélie penguins

The mail arrived today. Two pallets full of it. Of course, I did not get my carry-on luggage that I mailed to myself nor did I get any of the stuff my folks sent but I did get the order I made with last week!! Oh, well, at least there were a lot of happy people here today. And tomorrow we should see the results of 2 more pallets and another 20,000 pounds is at Christchurch waiting for us.

It had to happen eventually so I guess sooner is better than later-I fell down today. Headed to lunch I took a shortcut down a little hill and slipped. Recovery was very rapid but I was caught in the act. This gal looks at me and I tell her she didn’t see anything; just me performing some Antarctic ice-walking tricks.

Weather is getting warmer but the wind blows to beat all get out and it is cold. However, on Thursday, the wind disappeared and it was almost warm out. Very nice and bright with the sun actually causing the skin to feel hot in its radiance.

What I like during the day is to see the moon circling overhead and being to notice its change of shape as the days roll into one another. Since the moon never seems to set, as I assume the sun is relatively weak and never able to outshine it in the heavens, I enjoy looking for it in different parts of the sky during the passing of the day.

In an effort to enrich my knowledge of this area and its fauna (so to speak) I attended a lecture on the cod caught in these waters. It was given by the “Cod Man”, Art Devries, who has been coming down here since 1961!!! What a racket!! He’s spent 38 years studying fish here. What a narrow focus. When he tried to get conversational in his lecture he’d stumble, hem and haw. But when he got technical with words and equations that had us reeling (pun intended), he’d be on a roll. Amazing man.

The water under the Ross Ice Shelf at depths exceeding 500 meters is under tremendous pressures and does not freeze (one of the characteristics to keep things from freezing.) It actually does not freeze until it reaches -3.2 degrees Celsius.

As it passes under the ice shelf it rises to the surface and nucleates, forming ice crystals which then form sub-floor ice under the normal surface ice that exists. It attaches itself to the surface ice and increases the ice depth by a considerable amount.

When the scientists fish here they pull up their lines to find them full of attached rime ice down at the 30-60 meter level. Further, from McMurdo, the ice forms up to a level of 160 meters. The mystery to be solved is how the fish can take in this water, which is cold enough to form ice crystals, through its gills yet somehow does not freeze itself solid.

In experiments, the scientists would take some of these fish and when their serum is cooled and the fish returned to water they’d flash freeze. Yet if their serum was warmed and the fish returned to the water and the water slowly cooled to below freezing, they’d not freeze. So something in the fish’s serum reacts to temperature and this is the mystery—what is in the fish’s serum and the DNA.

Today is the last day the sun sets. It does so at about 1 AM and rises again at 2. Tomorrow it stops setting. Imagine, one hour difference per day! From now on the sun will circle overhead in a slightly tilted angle (higher in the east than the west) through the skies, all the while gradually increasing in height until December 21st at which time the tilt will shift to the west and it will eventually set sometime in February.

Dinosaurs in Antarctica

Antarctic landscape
An alien-looking Antarctic landscape

Sunday evening was filled with a presentation entitled “Jurassic Dinosaurs.” I almost blew this one off but was glad I didn’t.

Sir Richard Owen coined the word, “dinosaurus” 150 years ago. There were 3 genera of such in his time. Now there are hundreds of them.

They first appeared in the Triassic period about 200 million years ago and the ones studied in Antarctica are from about the early Jurassic period some 75 million years ago.

In Antarctica, the southern Trans-Antarctic range near the Beardmore Glacier has most of the bones. There may be other regions but the depth of snow and ice make discovering them virtually impossible.

The first dinosaurs were discovered here in the late ’60s by geologists and after they made their discoveries the paleontologists began appearing on the scene. It was during the 1990-1991 season that the bones were studied in depth and the area better scoured for more evidence.

Studies revealed that the creatures found here were more than likely reptilian featured animals evolving into mammals. This conclusion was reached based on the social behaviors exhibited by them. Most reptiles today are not social creatures. Alligators, crocodiles, lizards, etc do not associate in a community environment like warm-blooded animals do.

The reptiles the scientists found suggested quite strongly that Antarctica was, in fact, much warmer back then simply because reptiles are cold-blooded creatures and temperature dependent. As part of Gondwanaland, Antarctica was joined together with several other large land masses and situated about where central/southern Brazil is today. The dinosaurs could have very easily have started evolving here and then moved over the land bridges to other continents.

Antarctica dinosaur fossils
Antarctica dinosaur fossils

Most of the bones found were embedded in rocks at the 12,500-foot elevation of Beardmore. The group collected about 35-40 percent of a complete skeleton belonging to a 20-foot long dinosaur. They named it cryolothasaurus (“cryo” for cold; “lotho” for the decorative crest on its head, and “saurus” for lizard. They couldn’t name it Antarctisaurus as that was already taken in the 50s by someone in South America not realizing anyone would ever find anything here. To name it austrasaurus would give people the impression that the beasts were discovered in Australia.

They decided it was a therapod which is carnivorous in nature and therapod means “beast foot.” This was gotten from the impression their feet left on the ground and from some ankle and foot bones found.

There is a lot of dinosaur diversity found here in Antarctica. Inside the cryolothasaurus was found a beaver’s ancestor’s tooth and the remains of a small herbivore (prosaurapod) that was evolving into a saurapod.

One creature was found with a rib bone deep in its jaw giving credence to the thought that maybe this particular animal bit off more than it could chew and therefore choked on a “chicken bone.” A really big chicken! It’s really not such a far fetched idea as many scientists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

They also found a bone that was much larger at one end than the other. It puzzled them for a long time until they started studying other contemporary animals. They discovered that large birds have these same features wherein one end of the bone needs to be larger in order to accommodate and support the mass of muscles needed to move the wing at the point where it is connected to the body.

In terms of therapod evolution, the beasts found here were ancestors of later period therapods suggesting the therapod creatures found elsewhere in the world started here and moved through Gondwanaland to finish their evolution. Examples are the allasoauroids, plateosaurids and dimorphodontids.

I found it amazing how the lecture hall was jam-packed with people fascinated with dinosaurs. I guess kids are not the only ones with this sort of fascination.

A River Runs Through It (PART II)

Antarctica bus stuck in the ice and mud
Bus stuck in the ice and mud

We now are at that point where the weather here is gradually warming up. With warm weather comes melting snow. With melting snow comes runoff, mud, and soggy grounds. And right now the snow is melting much more quickly and actual rivulets of water are forming, joining one another and turning into streamlets cutting through town making an overall mess.

The point? It’s a return to a scenario quite similar to the little escapade my friend, Scott, went through on our cross country bicycle trip where water would find the path of least resistance and create runnels for its escape. Except that where Scott had these runnels under his tent, we are fortunate enough to only have to walk over them.

All over the station, I see heavy equipment digging trenches in the roads attempting to divert the water into the embankments lining the roads themselves. The diversion works well and keeps the road itself from being washed away since the dirt here has nothing to grab onto.

In 1995, above the tank storage area, a mini-lake had formed and the heavy equipment guys went out there to chip away a small piece of the ice dam restraining the water. They were successful in releasing several hundred thousand gallons early in the morning. Later in the afternoon, they went back out to chip at it again except someone got a little over-enthusiastic with the loader and shattered the restraining wall.

The next thing heard over the radios was, “Oh shit!!!, over!!” as millions of gallons came screaming through town taking out everything in its path. Whole cargo lines were washed away. Now that would be a mess!

I have been doing a lot of driving around here and it is amazing these trucks we have were able to last as long as they’ve lasted. The roads are abysmal (regardless of efforts to keep them from being washed away) and any attempts to go over 25 MPH results in teeth fillings being vibrated loose. Granted, there is nothing that can be done. It is impossible to attempt to pave roads here. The best they can do is to bring out the graders and trim the tops off the washboards. It was so bad recently that while delivering a forklift load of 16 nitrogen bottles, I hit a bump and almost lost the cage with the bottles in them—and the cage was angled upwards on the forks, too! Having heard from the gas expert here in town that at a 45-degree angle one of these cylinders can be launched several miles, I did not even want to think about what would happen if 16 of them were to let go INSIDE a cage! WOW!!

Work goes on all night long moving cargo, spreading dirt to keep the walkways and paths from being too slippery, working on roads, etc. At all hours we can hear the rumblings and beepings of big diesels.

Shakespeare Comes to Mac Town

Antarctica greenhouse
Antarctica greenhouse. Lettuce anyone.

Well, the week began on an interesting note. I attended a meeting of folks interested in putting on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The idea is to do it on December 21st, our summer solstice. The meeting was split between purists who want to do a whole presentation (it’s a long play) with memorized lines, complete sets, costumes, lighting, etc. The other side of the camp wants minimum sets, costumes, and a script reading where the actors do their parts while reading a script.

When asked to provide input, I was not shy and sent a note stating that I opted for a minimum but tasteful setting (to give the audience a feel for where this is taking place), and the same for costumes.

I also expressed that we should go with a script reading because, all though there may be a few theatrical majors in our little group (read… purists), most folks would be doing this for fun and the stress of memorization may be too much. It’s better to do a good script reading than a poorly memorized production.

I also believe the organizer underestimated the time required for a full production. He said 50-60 hours per person but I doubt he was referring to time spent in one’s room doing the memorizing. My experience shows that people will put off the rehearsals and memorization. It’s only human nature to procrastinate and since we’ll have folks doing this for fun (as opposed to those wanting to add it to their theatrical resume) those are the folks most likely to delay. Of course, if that happens, the die-hards might get upset/anxious and the whole thing may fall down around our ankles.

I was hoping I was completely wrong about this but given that we’re dealing with adults that have to work 10/11 hours a day as opposed to idealistic college students who have lots of spare time on their hands, I just did not see the commitment.

So far nothing has come of it but we shall have to see. Towards the end of the meeting, we thought it’d be cool to do a South Park version of the whole thing and we’d all be dressed as Kenny with our parkas all zipped up and only our eyeballs showing. Doing that would negate memorization completely. Plus if we chose to do Macbeth, it’d be right in character to have all the Kennys get killed. “Oh my God, they killed Kenny! Those Bastards!!” “Oh my God, they killed another Kenny! Those Bastards!!” “Oh my God, they killed yet another Kenny! Those Bastards!!”

I guess the last Kenny would have to carry a sign saying, “Oh my God, they killed me, the last Kenny! Those Bastards!!”

Mass Casualty Drill

Boeing C 17 Globemaster
Boeing C-17 Globemaster bringing in new supplies.

Saturday was the short day with everyone in eager anticipation of our mass casualty drill. This was, to me, nothing more than an excuse to give some folks a chance to get out of their work areas. Nothing much was proved and in these kinds of scenarios, the whole team must practice together frequently to ensure they perform well. The funny part was that the scenario involved a couple of drunken helicopter pilots who took off and then crashed into the gym. They played their part well because for almost two hours they sat in the cockpit, talking in a slurred voice, making faces through the windshield, and, in general acting drunk. They should have won awards.

As a side note, the flammables warehouse, #174, currently has no fire suppression and we keep paints, thinners, aerosol cans, adhesives and other nasty stuff in there. I told my folks that if the alarm were ever to go off or if they detected a fire, all I wanted to see were assholes and elbows as they fled the scene!

Well, that’s all folks!!!!

Have a great time wherever you are.



Most of these photos were taken by Vilmar. However, some he got from the public domain server accessible to McMurdo station personnel.  To the best of our knowledge, they are put on a public domain directory for everyone on the station to use, and folks copy them off to send back home or to news sources. No copyrights are being violated. If you happen to be the photographer, please contact us and we will attribute the photos to you, or we will happily remove the images. 

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