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Saturday, November 27, 2010

McMurdo Station, Antarctica: Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5 km Run- Thanksgiving 2010

Answers to questions asked by the 5th grade class at General Mitchell School in Cudahy, WI:

* Who/What inspired you to go to Antarctica?

I had a teacher who went to Antarctica very often. He showed slideshows with lots of pictures of Antarctica. I thought the images were beautiful. I like to challenge myself and I like to try new things. This teacher of mine asked me if I wanted to go with him the next time he went to Antarctica and, although I was afraid because I didn’t know what to expect, I said yes. It was one of the best choices of my life. I have learned so much about what the earth was like long ago, before there was ice covering Antarctica. A friend of mine (who is also a scientist) asked me if I wanted to go again this year to help him look for traces of ancient life in Antarctica such as animal burrows and animal footprints and I said yes again. Going to Antarctica is risky and hard work, but the rewards are indescribable. You get to see things that you cannot see anywhere else on Earth.

*Do you enjoy the cold weather? Why/Why not?

Some days I enjoy it and, honestly, some days I hate it. I lived in Alaska for 4 years and I like the crisp clean cold air of winter. Antarctica is similar only it gets really windy. The ice and snow are so beautiful (sometimes the ice is bright blue like the sky) and when it is really windy it can be so very pretty. But it can get cold, very very cold. I have been in winds that made it feel like -90F. When I want to cook dinner in the cold or if I am standing still for a long time my hands get very cold. It makes it difficult to do simple tasks like unscrew a lid on a jar or light a match or tie a knot. I don’t like it much at those times, but the cold is part of working in Antarctica and you get used to it, you have to if you want to do work here.

*How did you get to Antarctica? How long did it take?

I flew from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles, California. I got on another plane and flew across the Pacific Ocean to Auckland, New Zealand. I got off that plane and got on a smaller plane to Christchurch New Zealand. We stayed there for 1 day to rest and get some cold weather gear. I got on a Military jet and flew to McMurdo station. The flights to New Zealand took about 20 hours. The flight to Antarctica from New Zealand took about 6 hours. I still have a 4 hour flight to get to our remote camp on the Beardmore Glacier. In two weeks we will fly for another two hours to set up another remote camp after that at Shackleton Glacier. Then, at the end of January we will do it all in reverse to get home.

*Have you had any encounters with wild animals? (Polar bears, penguins)

There are no polar bears in the Antarctic, only in the Arctic. There are penguins however. This time here we have been so busy that we haven’t had the chance to go out of town to see the penguins. I wish we had the time. I saw both Emperor Penguins and Adele Penguins last time I was here. This time all I have seen is a large bird called a skua at McMurdo station.

*How many people are with you right now?

There are 3 people with me, one other scientist and his student. There are about another 500-1000 people at McMurdo station right now because it is summer in Antarctica and it is warmer so that scientists can study safely in the warmer weather. During the winter there are only 60 people that live in McMurdo.

*Have you had to use your crevasse training?

No I have not and I hope I never will. We train for a “worst case scenario” but hope it never happens. We try to be very very very careful when we are out on glaciers where there are crevasses and if we see any we stop and turn around or go another way.

*What keeps you warm during the day and at night?

Right now we have a bunch of nice warm buildings we can stay in. You can look at the McMurdo station webcam at:


We are sleeping in one of the brown buildings between the big blue building and the green building. When we are out on the glacier sleeping in tents it is harder to get warm. We use yellow tents so that the sun shines through them (24 hours of sunlight here right now) and heats up the tents. It can get to be 80 degrees in the tent if you use a yellow tent. We also have many helpers out at our remote camp such as carpenters and cooks and other people who build buildings on the glacier and install heaters that keep us warm. We could not do this without lots of additional people. There will be 60 scientists on the Beardmore Glacier but also 40 support personnel who are not scientists who will help us to do our work

We hope you are having fun and staying safe! Hope to hear from you soon :)

I am having much fun and I am staying very safe. Thank you for such smart and fun questions. I will talk to you soon hopefully. It is a beautiful day here, 33 degrees. There is snow melting off the buildings and water is dripping onto the ground and running in the streets today.