After a day and a half of delay, we finally received word that the weather at Terra Nova had cleared, and we were scheduled to fly at noon. We arrived at Willy Field to find mild weather, and while the Twin Otter was being loaded we had some leisure time to photograph this “Herc” (LC-130) on the taxiway, with Mount Discovery in the background. The flight in the Twin Otter was great, although the gear gets the prime position in the middle of the aircraft, and we sat at the very back of the plane. The pilots had not flown this route before, and so were enjoying the scenery and stayed low above the sea ice looking for whales. In a short while we were flying over the huge Drygalski Ice Tongue, extending far out into the Ross Sea. The landing on the skiway in Terra Nova bay was smooth and uneventful, and soon we were loaded into a small Fiat Campagnolo Bz for the short drive to the base.
Terra Nova Base is compact, and seems very well designed, far different from the sprawling Naval base that is now occupied by McMurdo. The views from the base are breathtaking, with dormant volcano Mount Melbourne to the north, granite coastlines and glacially-sculpted landscapes as far as can be seen. We were shown to our wonderful wooden bunkhouse, changed out of ECW (Extreme Cold Weather clothing required for flying), and went to Operations to check in. There we met Rita, one of the base’s coordinators, and Umberto, station leader. They were both gracious and warm, and after Umberto dispatched some pressing business, he led us on an extended tour of the station, not only to show us our two lab spaces, a wet lab for washing sediments and a dry one for sorting, but also to show us how things run. We saw the massive diesel generators that power the base, and the huge desalinization unit that produces all the freshwater the 100+ base occupants need to survive. It was very interesting to me to be able to see all these operations, as in a large base like McMurdo much goes on behind the scenes that visitors never see. Our cargo arrived, and we moved into our lab spaces. Steve was concerned that silt from our washing operations could clog the drains, and when he explained this to Alberto, the head of maintenance, he told us he could fix it by the next day. An hour later when we took some items into the washing lab, the entire drain system had been modified to our specifications! Finally we got to find out if everything we had heard about the meals was true, and indeed it was. Bottles of red, white, and sparkling wines grace every table. Our first night we had pizza- at least 8 or 10 varieties- all delicious and different from any I had eaten before. We learned that every Saturday night is pizza night, as a way of marking time. You can measure your season by how many “pizzas” you have spent here. The final mystery to solve was how we could get American-style mugs of coffee in the morning, rather than the tiny cups of espresso enjoyed by most of the Italians. But this proved no problem, as the cook prepares a large container of “café” and “latte” for dipping of biscotti. So now we drink our coffee out of bowls rather than mugs (except clever Steve who brought one).
We have arrived at a rather hectic time for the base. Their yearly freighter the Italica arrived just behind us, and the entire base is engrossed in unloading the huge shipment and getting it safely into the base. This job is complicated by the fact that sea ice is clogging the dock this season, so the Italica must be off-loaded on the ice edge, and everything transported by truck across the sea ice and up to the base; a single trip takes one hour by this method. So our plan is to be self-sufficient for a few days. There are some abandoned colonies reachable by foot from the station, and we will hike our gear over and excavate for a few days (weather allowing), requesting a helo to fly our sediments back to the base when they have a few moments. Tomorrow we head to Camp Icaro to survey for fossil sites to excavate.