Greetings from Antarctica | NevadaAppeal.com

Greetings from Antarctica

Julie Allen

Happy New Year!

Let’s see, I will start at the beginning, since that is always a good place to start. My trip to the south began on Dec. 20, 1999. I arrived in New Zealand on the 22nd of December. That day I went to the clothing distribution center in Christchurch to try on cold weather clothing.

The next morning, 15 of us caught a flight to Antarctica in an LC-130. The flight to Antarctica took eight hours. After all was said and done, I spent about 23 hours on aircraft in two days!

When flying over the continent, I was invited to go into the cockpit. I will never forget what I saw as I got up the short flight of stairs and looked out over Antarctica from the cockpit of a cargo plane. It was indescribable!

It’s an incredible continent all dressed in white with huge mountains jutting up off the land. Some of the tops of the mountains were visible through the low-hanging clouds. Antarctica is beautiful.

I arrived in McMurdo, landing on the permanent ice shelf of the Ross Sea on skids, Thursday afternoon, Dec. 23. The next two days consisted of Christmas parties and tons of food and cookies. I made it just in time. McMurdo is not as beautiful. It looks like a mining town – big buildings and lots of dirt.

The weather has been very nice since I arrived, as it is the summer season here. The coldest it has been is 2 degrees F with wind-chill. The average temperature has been around 25 degrees F.

It is daylight here 24 hours a day and we are also 20 hours ahead of Nevada time. These factors took some getting used to. About 10:30 p.m., I grabbed my coat, walked outside and what to my wandering eyes did appear, but a blue sky and the sun bright and clear. I wore my sunglasses at night! Weird, huh?

McMurdo Station is located on the tip of Ross Island. There is a temporary ice sheet separating us from the mainland of Antarctica. The permanent Ross Ice Shelf is to the southeast of McMurdo, below Scott Base, which is the New Zealand base. There are approximately 800 people in McMurdo this season.

My job, as of right now, consists of working in the lab in preparation for going to the field. I am getting lab supplies together, making sure instruments are working correctly, and packing supplies for use in the field. I am assisting another student in packing and accounting for all field equipment, such as camping gear, tents, fuel, cooking stoves and food.

I have also been attending safety lectures and courses. A mandatory survival training is required for those who will be going out into the field. I attended this training, which is called “snow school” on the 4th and 5th of January.

This training included going out into the field setting up tents, building snow walls to protect the tents from high winds and building a snow cave, in case of severe weather conditions. The instructors provided stoves, food, tents, sleeping kits and some very helpful survival tips.

We camped on the permanent ice shelf of the Ross Sea for the evening and participated in classes and lectures the next day.

Our principal investigator, Dr. Chris Fritsen, should be arriving soon and we will head out to the Dry Valleys to the Lake Fryxell field camp. We will be working out in the field for the remainder of the season, which will end Feb. 20.

The rest of my time has been spent hiking around checking out the sites. There are limited places for hiking and recreation here and I am looking forward to getting out into the field.

However, I am enjoying my time here at McMurdo. In fact this week I saw several Adele penguins roaming around in front of the station!

As for the new year celebration, there was lots of parting and carrying on. McMurdo has a festival on Jan. 1 of every year called Icestocks. It is like Woodstock but Antarctica style. Bands played all day as well as a chili cook-off, where the competition was also based on presentation.

This was definitely a New Year I will never forget!

Julie Allen, a Carson City resident, is spending three months in Antarctica conducting research and experiments on a fellowship through the University of Nevada, Reno’s graduate program. She will share her experiences from time to time with Nevada Appeal readers.