Category Archives: Antarctica

Pressure Ridges!!!!

Im no Geologer but heres my understanding of what Pressure Ridges are.   When ice layers of different thicknesses crash together (very slowly) resulting in a big messy pile of angular ice blocks.  There are two parts to the ridge.  One is underwater called the keel and the one on top is called the sail.  The driving forces that form the ridges are the currents and winds.


Girls be talkin’ about shoes and guys be talkin’ about boots….and Happy Thanksgiving

Work continued on the drill this week and we will be moving out to another location about 10 miles away from McMurdo to where the ice is thick enough to drill some test holes.   We finally got the reel container back this week (thats the building we designed and built in Lincoln this summer.   The large steel frame shown below is built in two sections.  The top section is designed to slide to the left relative to the lower section so that the crescents (the big aluminum things) can be extended out away from the container to drill.  When we shipped all of this we had to weld the two structures together so they couldnt shift while being shipped around the world.  In order to separate the structures again the tabs where ground off and removed.

McMurdo celebrates Thanksgiving on Saturday, which is today.  Heres a picture of a Turkey wearing “Bunny Boots”.  Bunny boots is a nickname for the extreme cold vapor barrier boots used by the US Armed Forces and the US Antarctic Program.   I hear they are pretty popular in Alaska also.  These were originally developed at the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Center in Natick, MA (10 minutes from my house in Massachusetts).  They are rated to -65 F and weigh 54 oz (almost 3.5 lbs) each.

Another option for Antarctic footwear is the FDX boot made by Asics.

I opted for the Cabelas boots.  They are equivalent to the FDX boots and  Bunny boots but have the ability to breath a bit better than rubber and leather.  The soles are super thick to provide insulation from the snow.

I cant talk about boots without mentioning Red Wings.  On days that I know are going to be on the warmer side Ill wear my Red Wing 2412 boots.  They’ve survived a season in Alaska and now have served me well in Antarctica too.  The only drawback to them is that they have  a steel toe which, on a cold day can transfer quite a bit of heat out of your toes.  These boots are one my favorite possessions.

Anyways, Happy Thanksgiving

A Day In The Life

I figured Id try to describe what daily life is like here.  So Ill walk through a typical day.  We work 6 days a week so this description applies to everyday except Sunday.   Ill start with the dorm.  I live in building 203 A in room 103.  The dorm rooms are about 15 x 10 and have three beds in them, two of which are bunk beds.  I love bunk beds.  They always remind me of my step brother John and the movie step brothers.

This is my sweet set up in the dorm.  The reason I didnt take the bunk bed route is because sometimes they put three in a room.  This way Ive got a little privacy.   I think I did a pretty good job decorating.  I was going for the minimalist look.   I scored that alarm clock from SKUA, which is a free gear swap the station has running.   It has a light thats almost bright enough to show the time on the wall but doesnt actually work. I wake up to the sound of a rain forest every morning at 0630.  Then I fall back to sleep until 0645 when its really time to get up.  I wear the same pants everyday ( knock off Carharts).  Over the pants I wear a dirty set of insulated Carhart bibs and tuck my wrenches, sharpie, pen, notebook and my Fluke Volt alert in the front pocket of my bibs.  I  always wear two layers under my bibs because otherwise some sensitive chest areas get bothered.

I had to throw in the sock monkey because I promised my friend Andi that Id bring it to Antarctica with me. Andi made this sock monkey out of the socks she wore while we were working on a trail crew together in Alaska last summer.

I eat breakfast at 0700 in the galley.

Then the crew meets up at 0730 at Crary to rally for the day of work at the drill construction site (SPOTSA).

We typically are in the van a 0745 and head out to the sea ice where the drill is being constructed.  The next picture shows the transition from land to the sea ice where the ice road starts.

The ride out to the drill is only about a mile.  A typical day of work may include working on plumbing manifolds, installing sensors and instruments and other various mechanical projects.  Inside our “Mec” we have a stick welder, a drill press, milling machine and a lathe as well as a whole bunch of fun power tools.  Yesterday, I worked on bolting our day tank (fuel tank) down to the platform that it will live on.  A lot of time is spent working outside in the wind and cold and this is a good example of what we do.  I fabricated two clamps on the rear of the tank that we used to secure it to the ISO corner.  Heres a picture of the platform all assembled.  Theres nothing better than welding and machining in Antarctica in a towable, collapsable building.

We are currently preparing for our first wet test of the system where we will introduce water to the system for first time to check for leaks and verify that the HPUs work as expected.  Most of the activity happening now is wiring pumps, general electrical work, checking the fuel system and manifolds to make sure they are working to supply JP8 to the burners and generators.  Ill go into more detail on the drill in an upcoming post about how the drill works.

Lunch happens at 1200.  We all pile back in the van and drive back to Mactown to the galley.  Its amazing how much food it takes to keep your body happy in cold and windy conditions.   Wednesday is cookie day so we head in at 1130.  Everybody loves cookie day.  We usually bring back about 60,000 cookies to drill camp every Wednesday.  Theres a soft serve ice cream machine called Frosty boy in the galley.  If its not working there are usually violent riots.  Some people have serious addictions to Frosty Boy and cant live without it.  Luckily Im not one of them but I hear its a slippery slope.

We are usually back at the van at 1300 and head back out to the drill for the afternoon and work until 1730.  Ive switched to military time because its 24 hours of daylight here.  I usually eat dinner after work and head back to the room to change clothes and give a call to Becky.   Its usually about 1900 by the time dinner is over and I talk to Becky.   Theres usually quite a bit going on every day.  There are usually movies playing at the coffee house, yoga, science lectures, knitting, hiking…all kinds of fun stuff.

Then its bedtime.  I usually listen to a podcast before and sometimes after I go to sleep.  Ive been listening to Radiolab, A Prairie Home Companion, Stuff you should know and Stuff you missed in History class and This American Life.  The next thing I know Im in a rain forest again and its time to do it all over again.

Our trip out to the dive hut was the first time I had been far enough away from the station to feel the remoteness of Antarctica.  The quietness and vastness of Antarctica is deafening.  No people, no traffic, no horns, no sirens.  Just seals.


This week I had the opportunity to ride out North of town in a Piston Bully with a scientist name Stacy Kim to retrieve one of her dive huts.  Stacy is a researcher in Benthic Ecology which is the study of how organisms that live on the sea floor interact to form communities.  Stacy uses a tethered, submersible ROV with various instrumentation to help her research.  The ROV occasionally requires divers to be in the water.  That’s where the dive hut comes in, also known as an apple.

The horizontal feature in this picture is a crack in the sea ice.  Seals use these cracks to get up on the ice.  They don’t ever have to worry about anything when they’re out of the water because they are to of the food chain outside of the ocean.  There were 6 or 7 mothers and pups laying out.

This little guy says, “Pass the Milk, I be thirsty!”

Nice doggies.


This is a breathing hole the seals use


Seal poo.

Mt. Erebus

Mt Erebus is the second largest active volcano in Antarctica and the 6th highest ultra mountain in the world (an ultra mountain is a peak that is at least 4921 ft above the next highest peak around it).  Its basically a measure of “mountain independence .  Its also visible from drill camp every day.

The mountain has been continuously active since 1972 as you can see in the picture from the steam spouting out the top.  There’s lava in there.  It also appears to be deceptively close as if its right behind the peak in the foreground.  Its actually 30 miles away.


This clearly isn’t my picture but that’s the business going on inside Mt. Erebus.

Open Mic Night

Every other Thursday night there is an open mic night at the movie theatre in the coffee house.  They also show movies there a few times a week.  This weeks feature film is Hobo With a Shotgun.  I will most certainly be in attendance.   One of the drill crew members is a banjo rock star and performed at open mic this week.  Daren is shown below on the right.  Hes the one shredding on the banjo.  You cant even see his fingers because they are all moving at the speed of light.  Pretty impressive.

Penguin Poop

Turns out that just beyond the wall Im sitting at is a lab where penguin poop is dissected.  Jean Pennycook was kind enough to show me around and introduce me to some of her friends.

This friendly little guy is a penguin.  Unfortunately, he goes back in the freezer when playtime is over.

Snowcraft-AKA-Industrial Camping-AKA Happy Camper

Anyone that is scheduled for field work in the Antarctic program gets to take Snowcraft I, which also known as Happy Camper.  Its basically a crash course in survival for Antarctica.  After some classroom instruction the class of about 20 is hauled out to the ice shelf and sets up for a night of camping using Scott tents, mountain tents and snow trenches (optional).  We were taught how to build walls using the snow.  Antarctic snow is so dry and dense that it has the consistency of Styrofoam and can be cut into shapes with a saw.  We had really nice conditions.  No wind and pretty warm.  The low overnight was only -1 F.  We really lucked out.

Hauling our gear out to the camp site aka Snow Mountain City

This is a picture of a Scott tent.  Despite the fact that the inventor of this tent died in it, these are tremendously robust tents.  They cannot be blown over in a windstorm and you can even cook in them.  They are held down by using whats called a deadman which is basically an object buried in the snow tied to the tent using a Truckers H itch.

Before you go to bed in Antarctica sometimes (if you’re really in trouble) you have to make your bed by digging a trench to sleep in.  

Here is a shot looking up at the roof and the stairs to get into the trench.  I used flagpoles and snowblocks to construct the roof.

HF radio training

Putting a bucket over your head with a thick hood is a great way to simulate white out conditions.  This excersize is to show how quickly you can get disoriented.  This line of people were attempting to find the bathrooms in the background of the picture.

Snow Machines

Part of being in Antarctica is training and lots of it.  Luckily most of it is a lot of fun.  This was one of many surreal experiences that Ive had here so far.  Sitting on a snowmobile on the sea ice in watching a C 17 land and helos (helicopters) take off and land from Mactown with epic mountains in the background.


Mactown has a fleet of Ski Doo Skandia sleds.  Most are 550 fans with super wide tracks for towing traction.


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