Antarctica: Where did we go?

By Cindy Furse · October 18, 2010 (updated 12-28-2010)

About this blog … I’ve added a lot of links to extra information.  If you see something underlined, you can click on it for more information, photos, videos, etc.  Hope you enjoy reading about our expedition!

Antarctica is on the southern tip of the world.  It is the largest desert in the world.  In spite of the fact that it is an entire frozen continent, it is actually so DRY that mostly the snow and ice just blow around rather than producing new snow.
How did we get there from Salt Lake City, Utah?  First we flew to Sydney, Australia and then Christchurch, New Zealand.

HERE is the googlemap showing our trip.

And HERE are some pictures from our (short!) time in Sydney (Russell the Ram meets Koala bears) and Christchurch.

While we were in Christchurch, we got all of our clothing to be outfitted for Antarctica, thanks to Paul Woodgate and his team at Antarctica New Zealand. (more on that in the next blog!)

The next day, we all suited up in our Antarctic gear (roasting like stewing chickens in the warm New Zealand sun), and rode with many other scientists in an Airbus jetliner to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  That flight was SOOO cool!  The plane was full of other scientists — geologists, biologists, glaciologists, mathematicians, engineers, and more.  They were all excited about their science, and about Antarctica.  We all had a lot in common and lots of great fun and funny conversations.  The pilots opened up the cockpit door, and we got to go visit with the pilots and see all of the controls of the plane.  They were excited about our flight, too.  Usually it is only the big military planes that make this trip, but recently Australia started experimenting with using the Airbus instead.  This way they could make the entire trip there and back on one tank of gas, not needing to refuel in Antarctica.  Since all of the fuel in Antarctica has to be brought in during the summer by ocean liner, this is a big savings.  For us … it meant FABULOUS windows to see the most spectacular view … Antarctica, unfolding below us … David called it ‘surreal’.  Definitely, it was.  So amazing to watch an entire continent unfold below you, an untouched and pristine continent, a very special place where only a few people  get to go.

Antarctica begins to unfold below us...

The landing was amazing!  It was on the sea ice, the middle of the frozen ocean!  The ice runway is used until late spring, when it is replaced by one further away on land.  When the plane came down on the ice, yes, it shimmied and skidded a little.  The snow poofed up all around, and it was pretty amazing!  For more photos of our flight and a video of the landing, click HERE.

Joyce and Ken getting off the plane on the ice landing strip at McMurdo Station, Antarctica

When we got off the plane at McMurdo, it was cold and windy, but we were more than sufficiently dressed in our cold weather gear.  You are not allowed to move around anywhere in Antarctica without wearing and/or toting your full compliment of Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear.  It seemed pretty unreal to finally be here for real, and what a strange and icy place …

McMurdo is run by the American support teams, so many scientists were headed there.  We were with the New Zealand team, so we were headed for Scott Base

Scott Base, Antarctica

When we arrived in Scott Base (see our photos and videos HERE), we were met by David Washer, supervisor of Scott Base.  What a wonderful, welcoming introduction.  We put all of our gear in lockers, and he gave us a tour of the base … the kitchen with the infinite hot water and selection of all kinds of tea, the sun room with Edmund Hillary’s ice axe, the library and selection of dress up clothes for humor and fun (hence Gideon’s skirt in the photo blog), the super-efficient laundry and drying room (conservation MATTERS here where one litre of clean water requires 2 litres of petrol to produce), the garage with its array of astonishing vehicles, the darling bunk rooms where we would meet new friends, and more …

The Utah Mathpedition arrives at Scott Base: (LtoR) Ken, Joyce, Cindy, David (sitting)

Our team was made up of Dr. Ken Golden (professor of math), Dr. Joyce Lin (postdoctoral researcher in the math department), Dr. Cindy Furse (professor of of electrical and computer engineering), and David Lubbers (undergraduate senior in electrical and computer engineering).

We stayed two nights at Scott Base to get oriented, get our stuff together, and get our basic outdoor training completed. We loved Scott Base, with its family feel.  It can support about 85 researchers, and around 65 were there when we were.  We were all coming and going to different parts of Antarctica, all studying different things, and it was great fun to learn what everyone else was doing.

And then we took a Pisten Bully (a fancy type of snow cat .. the kindergarten kids following our trip called this the ‘CatMobile’!) from Scott Base, around Hut Point, past McMurdo and the ice landing strip … to a slippery, shiny, wavy bit of ice to finish off our field training.  (Here is a MAP or TWO to show you where we were).  Our last task was setting up a survival tent in the wind on sheer ice.  It was a bit tricky.  Besides not falling down, there is nothing to nail tent stakes into.  To hold a tent to sheer ice, you first drill V-shaped holes in the ice by hand with an ice crew.  Next you have to thread a cord into and back out of the V-shaped hole you made.  Then you tie it off, and weight down the edges with whatever you can find, such as our emergency packs (the blue and orange bags on the left).  Previous field training even the week before, everyone had to stay overnight in their tents.  We didn’t.  I guess they decided abbreviated training was sufficient.  So we just set up and then took down our lovely tent.  I was sort of sad not to stay out on the ice.  But when the wind blew hard at night, I wasn’t all THAT sad after all.  (For more pictures of our training, click HERE.)

Success! Our tent is up.

Then it was on to our home — camp K131, run by Antarctic Legend, Dr. Tim Haskell.The straight in front of Scott Base is now named ‘Haskell Straight’ for this awesome scientist who has done a great deal of his own Antarctic research and helped support the research of hundreds of other scientists as well.  Tim passed the ‘1000 day’ mark for 1000 days spent in Antarctica while we were there. This was his 35th year on the continent.

Antarctic Camp K131

Map of K131, Scott Base, McMurdo, Scott and Shackleton huts, Mount Erebus, etc.

Here is my question of the day:

If YOU were going to Antarctica, what would you take with YOU?  (The kindergarteners decided we needed our PJs and a stuffed animal … little did they know about the hundreds of pounds of scientific gear we were hauling with us!)

Math of the Day:
We were about 20-30 km from Scott Base.  How far is 20-30 km? In the US, we usually calculate this in miles. So, let’s find out how many miles this is.  We know that 1 kilometer = 0.621371192 miles, so 20 km x .62 miles/km = 12.4 miles.

Hmm. That is far enough, it would be a long can cross country ski back to Scott Base and the nearest shower!

This blog was originally posted on the UofU blog: redthread.utah.edu

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