Update #5

Antarctic fieldwork is typified by intense boredom or intense activity, and not much middle ground. During the next few days we finished our screenwashing in cold, snowy conditions, dryscreened the sediments as they dried, picked the coarse fraction for bone and eggshell, and sat around waiting for the snow to melt or blow away. During this down time we borrowed a couple of movies from the Canadian Twin Otter pilots and tried to make them work on an Italian DVD player (ever hear of “Regions” for DVD coding?). It turns out the black market DVDs from Asia are the most forgiving in which DVD players they will operate in. The things you learn doing Antarctic research…

By Wednesday we decided to go back into the field, this time farther south to Inexpressible Island where a large modern colony resides, and where Baroni found some abandoned sites as well. This island was named by the Scott Northern Party, who missed a connection with the ship and was marooned here to winter over in a snow cave, then walked back to Hut Point (McMurdo) in the spring! We landed on the southern end of the island to begin our survey, and with the wind rolling down from the Preistley Glacier it was indeed a cold place, even in mid-summer. Massive erratic boulders are scattered across a stark landscape, and our survey yielded no results on the south side. We worked our way back north, towards a small satellite of the main the colony, and soon found abandoned sites, the first of which proved to be much deeper than anticipated. As we worked, penguins strolled over in small groups to investigate our activities. A second test pit was shallower, but still had much eggshell and bone preserved, and as we surveyed the area further we found that abandoned sites are scattered around this area, intermixed with deceptively similar glacial debris, so obviously more work could be done. We loaded the cargo net, and awaited pickup by Stu for a ride home. On the way, he stopped by a small inlet with many seals sunbathing so Steve could look for the elusive Ross Seal, the last Antarctic seal to check off his life-list. A quick flight home and it was time for another wonderful Terra Nova dinner.

The next day we were scheduled for a long day at Edmonson Point, the site of another active colony, this time to the north. The flight over was spectacular, crossing over the flank of Mt. Melbourne and looking down on the massive crevasse fields in the glaciers. We flew past the southern end of the Deep Freeze Range, and I spotted granite peaks that would be popular climbing objectives almost anywhere else on the planet, but here I am sure they have never been touched. A huge peak named Mt. Monteagle (2780 m), looking like Mt. Foraker in Alaska, stands to the north of Cape Edmondson. Cape Edmonson itself is set up with a rudimentary camp used infrequently by penguin researchers. The colony is small and obviously barely sustaining itself, due to the huge distance the birds must travel for open water and devastating impacts from skua predation. This season we could not even see the open water in the distance, and yet the birds were diligently crossing the ice in small packs, back and forth to bring food to the chicks. And lurking all around the edges of the colony were skua pairs, waiting for a parent to be inattentive for a moment so they could snag themselves a (Warning: this photo could be disturbing!) chick dinner. The many abandoned mounds throughout the colony appeared young in age, so Ed and Steve profiled a few to see how deep the deposits were. We were after the oldest record, so we searched the high ground for older deposits and found a few. Jurek was delighted to find much vegetation in this otherwise lunar landscape, such as this green valley full of moss and algae. As we waited for our pickup, I hiked down the beach to search for seal carcasses, and found this tremendous view of Mt. Melbourne. Ed hooked up the slingload for our pilot Dave, and he flew our sediments back to base before returning for us. The flight back was as scenic as the approach, with highlights being this close pass to the Shield Nunatak and flying across the Campbell Ice Tongue. As we approached Terra Nova, we got a great view of the ice runway and the setting of the station. We spent the next day screenwashing the sediments from these two days work, and are set to go the abandoned German Gondwana Station late on Saturday.

More later,

On to Update #6

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