Saturday, November 28, 2009

News from Crozier

From Grant:

Blogging is a little slow due to sat-phone-only internet at Crozier thus far. So, I will send a few updates to Viola and she will post them, along with suitable images from her collection from past years.

Scott, Annie and I have been here for 10 days now. The penguins have gotten a late start, and it seems that many will not attempt breeding this year. Of the ones that have started, many have only one egg, probably hedging their bets. It seems windier than usual - my tent was up for 24 hours before it was obliterated in a 105 mph gust - and we've already had several days of fieldwork with 40mph winds, which is not pleasant. But, generally things are going smoothly with our work - hoping to have the full colony surveyed for bands by this weekend.

First Minke Whales (3) yesterday!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The stormy days continue!

Scott tent in a storm, Cape Crozier, 2007

I spoke to Grant via satellite phone two days ago. The Cape Crozier crew (Grant, Scott, and Annie) arrived safely on Nov. 16th & 17th and then promptly got stuck in the hut due to high winds. After four days they had only had a total of six hours in the penguin colony and one broken tent (after a 103 mph gust). The internet is not working, so there will be no direct updates for some time.

Grant says that the Crozier colony is at full capacity but the birds are breeding very late this year. Many birds had yet to lay eggs as of November 20th. Cape Royds (a smaller colony on the western side of Ross Island) is down in population by an order of magnitude - there were only 14 birds (or was it 14 pairs?) so far. Yikes! Cape Royds did very poorly during the iceberg years, and it has yet to recover.

In the meantime Cosimo and I are in Italy, living a literally opposite existence and fantasizing about Antarctica (well, just me, Cosimo doesn't know any better yet). It's dark and humid-cold here in November, but at least the food is great. Thanks to Google video chat, Cosimo now believes that "da" (daddy) lives in mamma's computer.

Snow drifting off Pat's Peak during high winds, Ross Sea visible in the distance, 2007

The Adelie penguin colony at Cape Crozier as seen from the sea ice

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stormy days in McMurdo

Blowing snow partially obscures "Hotel California", the "Mammoth Mountain Inn" and Observation Hill.

We got through all the safety training courses, found and sorted all our gear, selected and packed 500+ lbs of food for Crozier, and ferried it all down to the helo pad. While we were unloading, a whiteout approached, gradually obscuring Minna Bluff, Black Island, White the time we got back to Crary Lab winds were above 40 knots and visibility was less than 1/4 mile. Time to write and analyze data! Perhaps we'll get out to field camps tomorrow...

A view from our lab window - the lab truck carrying some project's gear to the helo-pad, a PistenBully (tracked vehicle in center) is parked at the plug-in spot, many types of recycling bins line the road on the left.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Made it!

Annie enjoys a change of scenery

All went smoothly this morning and we were standing on the frozen ocean of McMurdo Sound by about 3:45 this afternoon. We arrived on the warmest day of the 2009-10 Austral summer so far - about 20 degrees F, very little wind, and clear skies. Annie and Scott are exploring McMurdo before heading to snow school tomorrow morning. PenguinScience education leader Jean Pennycook is already here and has set up our lab for us. It is all so familiar, yet so strange.

Our extended stay in Christchurch provided the opportunity to watch David Ainley and Peter Young present "The Last Ocean" last night to a full house at the Christchurch Art Center. Peter has put together some beautiful video, interspersed with fantastic photos by John Weller. This came on the heels of the very sad story in Friday's news about an abandoned (illegal) 130 km gillnet set at 1500 m off the Australian sector of Antarctica (found with 29 tonnes of toothfish in it). All in all a bit overwhelming, but also motivating. We are working on a synthesis of all the available biological datasets for the Ross Sea so that we can demonstrate the unique value of this place. These datasets contain observations spanning nearly 100 years and have been provided by over 40 different project teams.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Up at 4:30, at the Clothing Distribution Center by 5:30. Put on Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, loaded onto world's narrowest(?) buses, drove onto tarmac and sat next to the C-17 that was to be our ride to the ice. A few minutes later we were informed that the plane had a fuel leak and we were probably not going anywhere, but we needed to wait to find out for sure. People on the sunny side of the bus started to squirm and open windows. About 45 minutes later it was confirmed - we're not going anywhere. Bags returned to us, ECW gear re-stowed, street clothes re-donned. Back at hotel by 10:00. It will probably be Monday before we try again.

A "mechanical" is when you either don't leave or you get "boomeranged" due to mechanical problems with the airplane. "Boomeranged" is when you leave the Christchurch airport, but have to return; for example, because of a mechanical or bad weather.

Scott waiting patiently on the bus.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Heading South, again...

So we took a year off to have a baby (Cosimo was born Nov. 17, 2008), and now the blog is taking on a second author (i.e., me)... I head to New Zealand via Sydney tonight to begin my 13th field season studying Ross Island's Adélie Penguins. I have very mixed feelings - very much looking forward to the beauty and adventure of Crozier, but also very sad to be apart from Viola and Cosimo for 6+ weeks. Plus I'm going to have to deal with all the logistics at McMurdo without Viola's help this time. Yikes.

The reason for our Antarctic hiatus...(photo by Viola)