The Aurora Australis (Southern Lights)

One of the more amazing things that we got to experience while we were in Antarctica was seeing the Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, dance their way across the night sky above us. It was an unbelievable spectacle!

Here’s how it happened: Bev and I had to stay at work quite late one night, and though were a very tired after dinner we felt like we really needed a little bit of exercise (we hadn’t gotten much the couple weeks before that… and we really wanted to stretch out our muscles). We were in no mood to go to the gym. It was still WinFly, and the dark of night was quickly being overcome by the summer sun, so instead we decided to go for a hike out to Hut Point to see the stars. The hike out to Hut Point is only about a mile or so, and it’s the only place close enough that we could hike to without having to check out with the fire department (and then check back in after our return). Also, if you all recall, the historic Discovery Hut is located out here (“Hut” Point), which makes it a pretty awesome place to visit any time. We got a late start on hiking so it was already quite dark and cold, but the wind was calm and there was not a visible cloud in the sky. As we hiked away from the station we slowed down to look up at the stars and see the Milky Way slowly starting to become more visible, and when we were about half way to Hut Point Bev noticed that there were some strange foggy-looking streaks and patches in the sky, and from behind one of the hills it looked like a faint spotlight was shining upward. We kept walking, looking at the sky, and Bev pointed out that outside of the main station area there SHOULDN’T be any lights that bright, which lead to the question about what the Southern Lights might look like… and that’s when we realized that we were actually looking at them! It was an Aurora. The Aurora Australis!!

"Auroral Bands above Observation Hill" by Edward Wilson in "Diary of the 'Discovery' Expedition." Image Credit via Adventures of Maritime History

“Auroral Bands above Observation Hill”
by Edward Wilson in
“Diary of the ‘Discovery’ Expedition.”
Image Credit via Adventures of Maritime History

As you can imagine, it was very exciting and truly an amazing sight to behold! The further away we hiked from station, the brighter and more colorful the lights became. Eventually, we got behind the Discovery Hut, which partially shielded us from the station lights, and there it was in its full splendor straight above us: wonderful hues of neon green streaking across the sky and dropping over the frozen Ross Sea like a curtain of light! It felt like you could reach out and touch them. The spectacle only got better the longer we endured the Antarctic cold. The aurora slowly moved from the sky above Ross Island (north) toward the sky over the mountains at the edge of the Antarctic continent (south), and as it migrated across the skies it changed its shape and size, and colors. And the colors! In addition to neon greens and hues of yellow, we saw it turn bright pink, and then a radiant purple. We spent over an hour at Hut Point simply staring at the sky! It was a first for both of us, and we were just in complete awe. We couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was and how fortunate we were that we decided to hike out from the station that night, and find ourselves unexpectedly entertained by one of the most incredible natural phenomena!

I’m no skilled photographer, but in addition to being a simply amazing experience, this was a perfect time to test out my new camera and try my hand at long-exposure photography. It doesn’t do it justice the least bit, but this was the best that I could capture of the Aurora Australis. As you can see, I need more practice, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless!

The Aurora Australis, Ob Hill, and the Discovery Hut. © A. Padilla

The Aurora Australis, Ob Hill, and the Discovery Hut.
© A. Padilla

Enjoying a beautiful view of the Aurora Australis, or the "Southern Lights," from Hut Point. © A. Padilla

Enjoying a beautiful view of the Aurora Australis, or the “Southern Lights,” from Hut Point.
© A. Padilla

A gorgeous change of color in the Aurora Australis from neon green to bright purple. © A. Padilla

A gorgeous change of color in the Aurora Australis from neon green to bright purple.
© A. Padilla

The Aurora Australis, or "Southern Lights," and Vince's Cross, at Hut Point. The lights behind the cross are from the Blue Ice Runway. © A. Padilla

The Aurora Australis, or “Southern Lights,” and Vince’s Cross, at Hut Point. The lights behind the cross are from the Pegasus Blue Ice Runway.
© A. Padilla

Vince's Cross, at Hut Point, and a dramatic shift in color of the Aurora Australis. © A. Padilla

Vince’s Cross, at Hut Point, and a dramatic shift in color of the Aurora Australis.
© A. Padilla

… you didn’t think I’d post something like this without including a little bit of science, did you?? What kind of scientist would that make me? Actually, the nature and physics behind how an Aurora works is kind of difficult to explain, but Arnfinn Christensen from the Physics Department at the University of Oslo has done a pretty great job explaining The Aurora Borealis (or “Northern Lights”), so if you’d like to know the basic science behind this amazing spectacle of light check out the short video below. Enjoy!

Observation Hill

Along with the Discovery Hut and Castle Rock, Observation Hill (or simply “Ob Hill“) is one of the iconic features of Hut Point Peninsula and the McMurdo Station surroundings. Standing at 230 m high, Ob Hill offers an excellent view of McMurdo station and the Winter Quarter’s Bay as well as Scott Base and Pram Point, and on a clear day you can see straight across the bay to Mt. Discovery, the Pegasus ice runway, the sea ice runway (when it is there), the Dry Valleys, White & Black Islands, and up the peninsula to Castle Rock, the numerous Erebus Ice falls, and the ever-present smoking summit of Mt. Erebus. It also holds an important place in Antarctic history as it was named for being the place where members of Capt. Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition went to “observe” the horizon in search of the polar parties returning from the Polar Plateau and, more importantly, from the South Pole.

Here is one of the first pictures I took of Ob Hill:

Observation (or simply "Ob") Hill at dusk, seen from Hut Point near the Discovery Hut, on a cold and calm WinFly evening. © A. Padilla

Observation (or simply “Ob”) Hill rises behind McMurdo Station at dusk (right), seen from Hut Point near the Discovery Hut, on a cold and calm WinFly evening.
© A. Padilla

And here is one taken in 1902 by members of the Discovery (British) Antarctic Expedition from almost the exact same spot:

Photograph from Capt. Scott’s “Discovery” British National Antarctic Expedition. The Discovery Hut stands on the left. Observation Hill, which rises in the background (on the right), provided a wonderful vantage point for these early explorers to view the surrounding area.
Photo credit: Members of the Discovery Expedition 1901-1904, via Dr. Donal Manahan.

Also, a different vantage point in this drawing of the Aurora Australis over Ob Hill by Edward Wilson, a member of the Discovery Expedition:


Auroral Bands above Observation Hill” – a “quick” sketch by Edward Wilson, member of the 1901-1904 Discovery Expedition, published in Wilson’s own “Diary of the ‘Discovery’ Expedition.
Image Credit via Adventures of Maritime History

Perhaps the most notable feature of Ob Hill is a cross that was erected at the summit in January of 1913 in memory of Capt. Scott’s lost Polar Party of 1912. The cross itself is made of jarrah wood, and it was built by a carpenter aboard the Terra Nova upon his return to pick up the remaining members of the Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), who had spent the winter awaiting to discover the ill fate of the Polar Party that should have been returning from the South Pole.

The morning sun shines on Ob Hill and the memorial cross of the lost Polar Party. © A. Padilla

The morning sun shines on Ob Hill and the memorial cross of the lost Polar Party.
© A. Padilla

The Memorial Cross at the summit of Ob Hill, erected in January of 1913 in memory of Capt. Scott's lost Polar Party. © A. Padilla

The Memorial Cross at the summit of Ob Hill, erected in January of 1913 in memory of Capt. Scott’s lost Polar Party.
© A. Padilla

In his book, The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard writes about the Memorial Cross:

Observation Hill was clearly the place for it, it knew them all so well.  Three of them were Discovery men who lived three years under its shadow … It commanded McMurdo Sound on one side, where they had lived, and the Barrier on the other, where they had died. I was glad to see the concluding line of Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ adopted:
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The Memorial Cross on Ob Hill. The inscription reads: “In memoriam Cap. R. F. Scott, Dr. E. A. Wilson, Cap. L. E. G. Oates, Lt. H. R. Bowers, Petty Officer E. Evans R.N. Who died on the return from the South Pole March 1912. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield…” © A. Padilla

The Memorial Cross on Ob Hill. The inscription reads:
“In memoriam Cap. R. F. Scott, Dr. E. A. Wilson, Cap. L. E. G. Oates, Lt. H. R. Bowers, Petty Officer E. Evans R.N.
Who died on the return from the South Pole March 1912.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield…”
© A. Padilla

As Apsley Cherry-Garrard put it, Ob Hill commands McMurdo on one side, so we got to work and live under its shadow. It was quite a sight to behold every day, and a gentle daily reminder of the kind of place where we were living: the very same place that exactly 100 years ago claimed the lives of those brave Antarctic explorers.

We were quite lucky to work in an office with this view:

Ob Hill illuminated behind the NSF Chalet on a mid-morning sunrise (at WinFly). The view from our office window. © A. Padilla

Ob Hill illuminated behind the NSF Chalet on a mid-morning sunrise (at WinFly). The view from our office window.
© A. Padilla

Of course, living so close to this historical feature, we took the time, many times, to climb to its summit, pay our respects to the memory of the Polar Party, and to stand in awe at the expanse of the frozen world that surrounded us. Here are some pictures from our very first climb of Ob Hill:

Ob Hill rises in front of us on a calm and pleasant evening, as we get ready to climb it for the first time (at least the first time for Abe!). © A. Padilla

Ob Hill rises in front of us on a calm and pleasant evening, as we get ready to climb it for the first time (at least the first time for Abe!).
© A. Padilla

Hiking up Ob Hill. This is the view from the trail at its base. In the distance we catch a glimpse of Mt. Terror. © A. Padilla

Hiking up Ob Hill. This is the view from the trail at its base. In the distance we catch a glimpse of Mt. Terror. The ripple-like features on the ice, near the base of the hill, are the Scott Base Pressure Ridges.
© A. Padilla

At the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross. © A. Padilla

At the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross.
© A. Padilla

Bev, hanging out at the top of Ob Hill with the Memorial Cross after a wonderful evening hike to the top. © A. Padilla

Bev, hanging out at the top of Ob Hill with the Memorial Cross after a wonderful evening hike to the top.
© A. Padilla

Abe stands with the Memorial Cross at the top of Ob Hill, enjoying the calm and cool evening weather. © A. Padilla

Abe stands with the Memorial Cross at the top of Ob Hill, enjoying the calm and cool evening weather.
© A. Padilla

Although not a clear day, we got a good view of the ice runway (the temporary runway groomed on the sea ice) and the cargo planes "parked" along it. © A. Padilla

Although not a clear day, we got a good view of the ice runway (the temporary runway groomed on the sea ice) and the cargo planes “parked” along it.
© A. Padilla

The 2012 McMurdo Sea Ice Runway. The larger planes are LC-130 Hercules military cargo planes. © A. Padilla

The 2012 McMurdo Sea Ice Runway. The larger planes on the left is a LC-130 Hercules military cargo plane.
© A. Padilla

Bev and Abe hanging out at the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross to the lost Polar Party of 1912. © A. Padilla

Bev and Abe hanging out at the top of Ob Hill, with the Memorial Cross to the lost Polar Party of 1912.
© A. Padilla

A view eastward from the top of Ob Hill toward Pram Point and Scott Base (the New Zealand research station). © A. Padilla

A view eastward from the top of Ob Hill toward Pram Point and Scott Base (the New Zealand research station).
© A. Padilla

A cloudy view northward toward the rest of Ross Island. Castle Rock stands out amidst the snow and low clouds. © A. Padilla

A cloudy view northward toward the rest of Ross Island. Castle Rock stands out amidst the snow and low clouds, as Mt. Erebus hides in the distance.
© A. Padilla

Bev, the Moon, and Antarctica, after a wonderful long evening hike up Ob Hill. © A. Padilla

Bev, the Moon, and Antarctica, after a wonderful long evening hike up Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

As I mentioned earlier, Ob Hill is quite the iconic and prominent feature on the Hut Point Peninsula, so it should come as no surprise that it is one of the features we use to know that we’re getting close to “home” when we’ve been out and about the area. Below are a few other views of Ob Hill from different spots in and around the McMurdo Sound.

Ob Hill rises above Scott Base (at its base, in front) as the Royal Society Mountains stretch behind it in the distance. View from the Ross Ice Shelf. © A. Padilla

Ob Hill rises above Scott Base (at its base, in front) as the Royal Society Mountains stretch behind it in the distance. View from the Ross Ice Shelf.
© A. Padilla

Ob Hill stands sharply next to McMurdo Station, at the tip of Hut Point Peninsula. View from the Sea Ice in McMurdo Sound. © A. Padilla

Ob Hill stands sharply in the center, next to McMurdo Station (to the left), at the tip of Hut Point Peninsula. View from the Sea Ice in McMurdo Sound.
© A. Padilla

Ob Hill, seen from town, after a snowstorm. © A. Padilla

Ob Hill, seen from town, after a snowstorm.
© A. Padilla

Ob Hill, after a little bit of snow has melted off. © A. Padilla

Ob Hill, after a little bit of snow has melted off.
© A. Padilla

A good view of Ob Hill and McMurdo at its base, from outside the NASA ground station satellite receiver. © A. Padilla

A good view of Ob Hill and McMurdo at its base, from outside the NASA ground station satellite receiver. Note that practically all of the snow has melted off of Ob Hill, so this was one of our first views of its geology! But don’t worry, I’ll save that for another post.
© A. Padilla

And lastly, a few more views from the top. Enjoy!

McMurdo Station, from the top of Ob Hill, at WinFly. It is quite beautiful when it is covered in snow! © A. Padilla

McMurdo Station, from the top of Ob Hill, at WinFly. It is quite beautiful when it is covered in snow!
© A. Padilla

A contrasting view of McMurdo Station from the top of Ob Hill, later in the summer without the white blanket of snow. © A. Padilla

A contrasting view of McMurdo Station from the top of Ob Hill, later in the summer without the white blanket of snow.
© A. Padilla

A great view of the rest of the Ross Island on a beautiful sunny and clear day, with Mt. Erebus looming in the distance above Castle Rock. © A. Padilla

A great view of the rest of the Ross Island on a beautiful sunny and clear day, with Mt. Erebus looming in the distance above Castle Rock.
© A. Padilla

Bev and Abe, enjoying a beautiful and sunny hike to the top of Ob Hill. © A. Padilla

Bev and Abe, enjoying a beautiful and sunny hike to the top of Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

Some sources of information:

The Natural History Museum (U.K.)

The Natural History Museum (U.K.) – Hiking Observation Hill

Waymarking.com: Historical Marker #20

The Worst Journey in the World” – by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (Publisher: Basic Books), 1922    ← A great read, perhaps the best account of the race to the South Pole (told by a member of the expedition himself)!!

2013: A Fresh Start

The New Year welcomed us with the best weather we could have asked for! Naturally, we decided to spend the first day of 2013 outside. After sleeping in and grabbing a late brunch, a group of us decided that we would make the hike out to Castle Rock, a rock spire that juts up from a ridge atop Hut Point Peninsula, here on Ross Island.

Our destination, Castle Rock, on the right, with Mt. Erebus in the background and Half Moon Crater just ahead of us.© A. Padilla

Our destination, Castle Rock, on the right, with Mt. Erebus in the background and Half Moon Crater just ahead of us.
© A. Padilla

The rock stands 1360 ft. tall, and it was discovered by the British National Antarctic Expedition under Captain Robert F. Scott, who named it Castle Rock because of its resemblance to a castle.

The hike to Castle Rock is approximately 2.9 mi. from the trailhead, which is about 0.8 mi. from our dorms, and with the tenth of a mile scramble to the top of the rock the hike adds up to 3.8 mi. (one-way). It is a fairly easy hike if the weather is good, but it does require that you dedicate some time to getting there and back. The last time that Bev and I hiked out to Castle Rock was on a windy and cold evening in late September, back in the days when the sun still set. We got to see stars then, but the temperature was in the -10º to -20ºF range and it was a bit windy, so we made it a fairly short hike.

Abe, on our first hike to Castle Rock, on a cold and windy WinFly night. © A. Padilla

Abe, on our first hike to Castle Rock, on a cold and windy WinFly night. This is a long-exposure shot, which makes it appear lighter out than it really was.
© A. Padilla

Bev, bundled up and ready for the cold hike out to Castle Rock. Long Exposure shot.© A. Padilla

Bev, bundled up and ready for the cold hike out to Castle Rock. Long Exposure shot.
© A. Padilla

By contrast, our New Year’s day hike was more enjoyable: it was sunny and warm (~37ºF), hardly any wind, and almost no clouds in the sky. Once we got there, we decided to hang out for a while, because why not? We were there for most of the afternoon and evening, spending about 6 hours enjoying the never-ending sun. I suppose that’s one nice thing about having a sun that never sets. Though we did get some thin clouds precipitating just around us later in the evening, as I will soon show you. That was about the time we decided to make the trek home.

Here are some pictures. Enjoy!

The Royal Society Mountain, providing a wonderful background to the Arrival Heights specially protected area (foreground).© A. Padilla

The Royal Society Mountain, providing a wonderful background to the Arrival Heights specially protected area (foreground).
© A. Padilla

Bev, in front of a survival shelter, affectionately known as an "Apple." I'm sure you can guess why. :-)© A. Padilla

Bev, in front of a survival shelter, affectionately known as an “Apple.” I’m sure you can guess why. :-)
© A. Padilla

Cole Kelleher, from the Polar Geospatial Center, on the trail with the Google Street View Camera. Yes, we were mapping the Castle Rock trail for Google Street View!© A. Padilla

Cole Kelleher, from the Polar Geospatial Center, on the trail with the Google Street View Camera. Yes, we were mapping the Castle Rock trail for Google Street View!
© A. Padilla

Approaching Castle Rock.© A. Padilla

Approaching Castle Rock.
© A. Padilla

Bev, on the Castle Rock Trail. The view is South, towards McMurdo, with Mt. Discovery at center in the distance.© A. Padilla

Bev, on the Castle Rock Trail. The view is South, towards McMurdo, with Mt. Discovery at center in the distance.
© A. Padilla

Abe, on the Castle Rock Trail. The view is South, towards McMurdo, with Mt. Discovery at center in the distance.© A. Padilla

Abe, on the Castle Rock Trail. The view is South, towards McMurdo, with Mt. Discovery at center in the distance.
© A. Padilla

An excellent view of Erebus Bay. The four islands that you see are (left to right) Tent Island, Inaccessible Island, Big Razorback Island, and Little Razorback Island.© A. Padilla

An excellent view of Erebus Bay. The four islands that you see are (left to right) Tent Island, Inaccessible Island, Big Razorback Island, and Little Razorback Island.
© A. Padilla

The rest of our team trailing behind, the Apple, and Cole with the Google Street View camera.© A. Padilla

The rest of our team trailing behind, the Apple, and Cole with the Google Street View camera.
© A. Padilla

Castle Rock! Our Destination.© A. Padilla

Castle Rock! Our Destination.
© A. Padilla

Excellent volcanic layering preserved within Castle Rock! It is a record of the explosive history of this ancient volcano.© C. Kelleher

Excellent volcanic layering preserved within Castle Rock! It is a record of the explosive history of this ancient volcano.
© C. Kelleher

Quick geology lesson: Castle Rock

Geologically speaking, Castle Rock is what we call an old volcanic neck, or volcanic plug. Actually, geologically speaking it is quite young, as it formed only about 1.12 million years ago. These types of features form when lava or tuff (a combination of hot gasses, water, and volcanic rocks, ash, and debris) solidifies inside the “neck” (or the throat) of an active volcano. Because they sit inside the volcano where they can’t spread out, they tend to remain at higher temperatures longer than lava or tuff that is ejected from a volcano, resulting in the formation of a very solid, glassy, and more resistant plug within the neck of the volcano. We call this more resistant plug material a “welded” tuff. Over the last thousands of years erosion has carved out and removed all of the weaker “non-welded” tuff, leaving behind the plug that we now call Castle Rock. The specific type of rock that we find at this location is called a palagonite hyaloclastite. The first term (palagonite) means that the rock formed as a result of the interaction between volcanic glass (lava) and water. The second term (hyaloclastite) means that the eruption that produced this lava took place either underwater (submarine) or under a glacier (subglacial).

Still following? Great! Now back to the pictures:

Bev, standing atop Castle Rock. What a beautiful day!© A. Padilla

Bev, standing atop Castle Rock. What a beautiful day!
© A. Padilla

Abe, at the top of Castle Rock, after a wonderful hike up.© A. Padilla

Abe, at the top of Castle Rock, after a wonderful hike up.
© A. Padilla

Bev & Abe on Castle Rock, after a wonderful hike.© A. Padilla

Bev & Abe on Castle Rock, after a wonderful hike.
© A. Padilla

Bev, resting on Castle Rock with Mt. Erebus looming in the background.© A. Padilla

Bev, resting on Castle Rock with Mt. Erebus looming in the background.
© A. Padilla

Abe, taking a rest on Castle Rock, with Mt. Discovery in the distance. McMurdo is hidden around the center of the picture, just below the white dome.© A. Padilla

Abe, taking a rest on Castle Rock, with Mt. Discovery in the distance. McMurdo is hidden around the center of the picture, just below the white dome.
© A. Padilla

Enjoying a glass of wine with a few McMurdoite friends to celebrate the beginning of what is sure to be another great year!© A. Padilla

Enjoying a glass of wine with a few McMurdoite friends to celebrate the beginning of what is sure to be another great year!
© A. Padilla

The view north from Castle Rock. Mount Erebus in the background, and a ridge extending from castle rock in the foreground.© A. Padilla

The view north from Castle Rock. Mount Erebus in the background, and a ridge extending from castle rock in the foreground.
© A. Padilla

An incredible view of Mount Erebus. You can see the ice falls and crevasses riddling the base of the volcano quite well.© A. Padilla

An incredible view of Mount Erebus. You can see the ice falls and crevasses riddling the base of the volcano quite well.
© A. Padilla

The Royal Society Range, standing tall across the sound on the edge of Antarctic continent.© A. Padilla

The Royal Society Range, standing tall across the sound on the edge of Antarctic continent.
© A. Padilla

Hobbs Glacier, at Cape Chocolate, flowing out onto the Ice Shelf toward the Dailey Islands.© A. Padilla

Hobbs Glacier, at Cape Chocolate, flowing out onto the Ice Shelf toward the Dailey Islands.
© A. Padilla

Another good view of Erebus Bay and the ice falls at the base of Mt. Erebus.© A. Padilla

Another good view of Erebus Bay and the ice falls at the base of Mt. Erebus.
© A. Padilla

With the lack of wind, and the temperature soaring to a sizzling 37ºF, it was time for a little sun tan! Oh Yeah!© A. Padilla

With the lack of wind, and the temperature soaring to a sizzling 37ºF, it was time for a little sun tanning! Oh Yeah!
© A. Padilla

This pressure ridge marks where the glaciers coming off Hut Point Peninsula meet the McMurdo Ice Shelf, near Ackley Point.© A. Padilla

This pressure ridge marks where the glaciers coming off Hut Point Peninsula meet the McMurdo Ice Shelf, near Ackley Point.
© A. Padilla

The view south from Castle Rock, with White Island on the left and Minna Bluff on the right. You can see three features in the ice: the Pegasus road (to the runway) is the straight line across the picture, at the bottom right are the pressure ridges (near Scott Base), and in between is the edge of the Ice Shelf (sea ice on the right, ice shelf on the left).© A. Padilla

The view south from Castle Rock, with White Island on the left and Minna Bluff on the right. You can see three features in the ice: the Pegasus road (to the runway) is the straight line across the picture, at the bottom right are the pressure ridges (near Scott Base), and in between is the edge of the Ice Shelf (sea ice on the right, ice shelf on the left).
© A. Padilla

Quick atmospheric optics lesson: Solar Coronas (Optical Phenomenon)

There are a few atmospheric phenomenons that tend to be quite common around polar regions, or regions where the temperatures get quite low, including in countries like Canada, Russia, the Nordic countries, and even areas like the upper mid-West and New England. The most commonly recognized ones are sun dogs and sun halos (these two phrases are commonly interchanged, though they are quite distinct things). The one I want to talk about, because I have pictures to show you, is called a solar corona. This optical phenomenon requires light and the presence of moisture in the atmosphere, so it is not necessarily only associated with the sun; the moon can create a lunar corona. The presence of moisture, in the form of tiny cloud droplets or tiny ice crystals,  in the air causes light to diffract, or bend and scatter, when it interacts with the light. There are two parts to a solar corona: a central and very bright aureole, and one or more surrounding colored rings (basically circular rainbows). The color in the rings is the result of the scattered light, and it shows up best around the sun when the droplets or ice crystals are very tiny and low in density (when there isn’t much moisture, like when there is a very thin veil of mist in the air). During our time at Castle Rock, this happened towards the end of the day when very thin clouds started forming around us.

Whew! You made it through yet another science-y blabber? Great job! Enjoy some more pictures!

Abe atop Castle Rock, enjoying the wonderful view and a beautiful solar corona.© A. Padilla

Abe atop Castle Rock, enjoying the wonderful view and a beautiful solar corona.
© A. Padilla

Bev, atop Castle Rock, and surrounded by a wonderful solar corona.© A. Padilla

Bev atop Castle Rock, and surrounded by a wonderful solar corona.
© A. Padilla

Abe Phyle stands atop Castle Rock, surrounded by an incredible solar corona.© A. Padilla

Abe Phyle stands atop Castle Rock, surrounded by an incredible solar corona.
© A. Padilla

A solar corona, created by the bending and scattering of light as it interacts with the thin veil of mist around us.© A. Padilla

A beautiful solar corona, created by the bending and scattering of light as it interacts with the thin veil of mist in the air.
© A. Padilla

Perhaps the most radiant and colorful picture I was able to capture of the solar corona!© A. Padilla

Perhaps the most radiant and colorful picture I was able to capture of the solar corona!
© A. Padilla

It is a lot more fun to slide down the snowy hill than it is to hike it, so slide down it we did.© A. Padilla

It is a lot more fun to slide down the snowy hill than it is to hike it, so slide down it we did.
© A. Padilla

Sliding down the base of Castle Rock: much faster than hiking in the snow!© C. Kelleher

Sliding down the base of Castle Rock: much faster than hiking in the snow!
© C. Kelleher

Bev and Abe, making their way swiftly down the slopes of Castle Rock.© C. Kelleher

Bev and Abe, making their way swiftly down the slopes of Castle Rock.
© C. Kelleher

At the bottom of the hill after a good slide.© A. Padilla

At the bottom of the hill after a good slide.
© A. Padilla

Oh yeah, Abe got to carry the Google Street View camera on the hike home. WOOT WOOT!! Don't pay attention to my crooked mustache, it's the cold...© C. Kelleher

Oh yeah, Abe got to carry the Google Street View camera on the hike home. WOOT WOOT!! Don’t pay attention to my crooked mustache, it’s the cold…
© C. Kelleher

And lastly, a few other views of Castle Rock:

Castle Rock, engulfed in low clouds.© A. Padilla

Castle Rock, engulfed in low clouds.
© A. Padilla

A view of Castle Rock through ice pinnacles from the Scott Base pressure ridges.© A. Padilla

A view of Castle Rock through ice pinnacles from the Scott Base pressure ridges.
© A. Padilla

Castle Rock under total sunshine, seen from the top of Ob Hill.© A. Padilla

Castle Rock under total sunshine, seen from the top of Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

A stunning view of Mt. Erebus, the ice falls, Castle Rock, and the Half Moon Crater, seen from the top of Ob Hill.© A. Padilla

A stunning view of Mt. Erebus, the ice falls, Castle Rock, and the Half Moon Crater, seen from the top of Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

Sources:

USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS): Antarctica Detail (Castle Rock)
J. J. Anderson, 1965. Bedrock Geology of Antarctica: A Summary of Exploration, 1831-1962Geology & Paleontology of the Antarctic, Vol. 6.
P.R. Kyle, and S.B.Treves, 1974. Geology of Hut Point Peninsula, Ross IslandAntarctic Journal.
Atmospheric Optics by Les Cowley: Corona.
Metereological Optics by Dr. James Calvert: The Corona.

McMurdo Holidays – Part II

2013!

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!

Continuing with the McMurdo tradition of dressing up for just about anything, here are tons of pictures from the other “holidays” that we have celebrated so far, and the events associated with them.
Enjoy!

__________________

16-December-2012: McMurdo Prom, the Big Gym, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

The McMurdo Prom is meant to bring back those youthful high-school memories for all of the people in McMurdo… except with costumes and full-grown adults behaving like teenagers. And of course, Prom pictures are mandatory.

2012 Prom Photoshoot, the Big Gym, McMurdo Station, Antarctica.© JT Thomas

2012 Prom Photoshoot, the Big Gym, McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
© JT Thomas

Bev and Abe at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.
© R. Piuk

Obligatory prom picture, arm's length away; 2012 McMurdo Prom.© R. Piuk

Obligatory prom picture, arm’s length away; 2012 McMurdo Prom.
© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.
© R. Piuk

Crary Staff at the 2012 McMurdo Prom. Left to right: Liz, Mitch, Elisha, Mindy, Abe, Travis, and Bev.© R. Piuk

Crary Staff at the 2012 McMurdo Prom. Left to right: Liz, Mitch, Elisha, Mindy, Abe, Travis, and Bev.
© R. Piuk

Bev, Fanny, and Sue at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.© R. Piuk

Bev, Fanny, and Sue at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.
© R. Piuk

Abe, Mitch, and Charlotte at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.© R. Piuk

Abe, Mitch, and Charlotte at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.
© R. Piuk

Abe and Jeremy at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.© R. Piuk

Abe and Jeremy at the 2012 McMurdo Prom.
© R. Piuk

.

23-December-2012: McMurdo Christmas Weekend the VMF Christmas Party, Building 143 (the Vehicle Maintenance Facility), McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Really, all there is to the VMF Christmas Party is the opportunity to take pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Oh, and some dancing and holiday drinks and snacks.

Bev and Abe with Santa (Joe Shubert - our resident doctor) and Mrs. Claus (Lea Claus - flight nurse).© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe with Santa (Joe Shubert – our resident doctor) and Mrs. Claus (Lea Claus – flight nurse).
© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe with Santa and Mrs. Claus, at the VMF Christmas Party.© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe with Santa and Mrs. Claus, at the VMF Christmas Party.
© R. Piuk

The Crary Staff with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Left to Right: Elisha, Travis, Abe, Mindy, Bev, and Mitch.© R. Piuk

The Crary Staff with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Left to Right: Elisha, Travis, Abe, Mindy, Bev, and Mitch.
© R. Piuk

The Crary Staff with Santa and Mrs. Claus.© R. Piuk

The Crary Staff with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
© R. Piuk

.

24-December-2012: McMurdo Christmas Weekend and MAAG (the McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery), Building 191 (the Carpentry Workshop), McMurdo Station, Antarctica

MAAG, or the McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery, gives all of the McMurdoites a venue for showcasing their many hidden artistic talents. Whether it is music, art, performance, poetry, or simply imaginative art, this is the place for all art!

Our Christmas Portrait, in front of our decorated door at home.© A. Padilla

Our Christmas Portrait, in front of our decorated door at home.
© A. Padilla

Bev. Testing the setting for our Christmas Portrait.© A. Padilla

Bev. Testing the setting for our Christmas Portrait.
© A. Padilla

Christmas dinner: delicious lobster tails, salmon sashimi, and potatoes, paired with an incredible Saison D'Erpe-Mere, by KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren.© A. Padilla

Christmas dinner: delicious lobster tails, salmon sashimi, and potatoes, paired with an incredible Saison D’Erpe-Mere, by KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren.
© A. Padilla

Building 191, The Carp Shop, hosts of the annual McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery, or MAAG.© A. Padilla

Building 191, The Carp Shop, hosts of the annual McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery, or MAAG.
© A. Padilla

Entry way to MAAG.© A. Padilla

Entry way to MAAG.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit A:  Adult Teeter-Totter.   Artists: The Carp Shop.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit A: Adult Teeter-Totter. – Artists: The Carp Shop.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit B:  Adult Rocking Horse.   Artists: The Carp Shop.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit B: Adult Rocking Horse. – Artists: The Carp Shop.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit C:  The Human Hamster Wheel.   Artists: The Carp Shop.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit C: The Human Hamster Wheel. – Artists: The Carp Shop.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit C:  The Human Hamster Wheel.    Artists: The Carp Shop.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit C: The Human Hamster Wheel. – Artists: The Carp Shop.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit C:  The Human Hamster Wheel. Matt Blackwell takes it to the next level. Sort of. - - Artists: The Carp Shop.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit C: The Human Hamster Wheel. Matt Blackwell takes it to the next level. Sort of. – Artists: The Carp Shop.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit D:  The World's Largets Hailstone.    Artists: Fleet Operations.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit D: The World’s Largets Hailstone. – Artists: Fleet Operations.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit D:  The World's Largets Hailstone.    Artists: Fleet Operations.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit D: The World’s Largets Hailstone. – Artists: Fleet Operations.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit E:  McMurdo Apocalypse Waste Repositories.    Artists: The McMurdo Waste Department.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit E: McMurdo Apocalypse Waste Repositories. – – Artists: The McMurdo Waste Department.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit F: rocket model made from spare instrument parts.    Artist: I don't know.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit F: rocket model made from spare instrument parts. – Artist: I don’t know.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit G: Rock climber created from waste metal pieces.    Artist: Orin Salah.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit G: Rock climber created from waste metal pieces. – Artist: Orin Salah.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit H: Rose created from raw copper plates.    Artist: Brian Gardner.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit H: Rose created from raw copper plates. – Artist: Brian Gardner.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit H: A poem to accompany the Copper Rose.    Author: Brian Gardner.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit H: A poem to accompany the Copper Rose. – Author: Brian Gardner.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit I: Leatherwork, Discovery Hut, Winter Quarter's Bay, and McMurdo Station.    Artist: I Can't Remember.© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit I: Leatherwork, Discovery Hut, Winter Quarter’s Bay, and McMurdo Station. – Artist: I Can’t Remember.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Exhibit J: Mythical McMurdo Postcard - what the general public believes Antarctica is like.    Artist: Kelly Swanson.© K. Swanson

MAAG Exhibit J: Mythical McMurdo Postcard – what the general public believes Antarctica is like. – – Artist: Kelly Swanson.
© K. Swanson

MAAG Exhibit J: Mythical McMurdo Postcard.    Artist: Kelly Swanson.© K. Swanson

MAAG Exhibit J: Mythical McMurdo Postcard. – – Artist: Kelly Swanson.
© K. Swanson

Cabaret! The theme of McMurdo's 2012 MAAG.© A. Padilla

Cabaret! The theme of McMurdo’s 2012 MAAG.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Cabaret. The only actual cabaret-themed performance of the night.© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Cabaret! The only actual Cabaret-themed performance of the night.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Cabaret!© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Cabaret!
© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Cabaret!© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Cabaret!
© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Special Project Other. This was their 3rd dance performance of the season.© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Special Project Other. This was their 3rd dance performance of the season.
© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Special Project Other. - - Left to right: Kris, Bev, Sue, Grace, Carolyn, and Travis.© A. Padilla

MAAG Performance: Special Project Other. – Left to right: Kris, Bev, Sue, Grace, Carolyn, and Travis.
© A. Padilla

.

And a video of the Special Project Other MAAG performance! YAY!

.

31-December-2012: Antarctic New Year’s Eve, and Ice Stock, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Ice Stock is McMurdo’s annual outdoor musical festival, organized to ring in the Antarctic New Year. There is never a shortage of musical talent on station, which makes it that much more fun to attend. Some of the bands that get together when they arrive in McMurdo are incredibly talented, and we always get a wide range of music styles, from classic and modern rock, to pop, country and sometimes even folk! Also, there’s an annual chili cook-off that takes place during Ice Stock, so you get to eat chili AND listen to music… all in the wonderful Antarctic outdoors!

The Ice Stock Stage!© A. Padilla

The Ice Stock Stage!
© A. Padilla

The Ice Stock Stage. Observation Hill makes quite an awesome backdrop for the festival.© A. Padilla

The Ice Stock Stage. Observation Hill makes quite an awesome backdrop for the festival.
© A. Padilla

The awesome backdrop for Ice Stock: Observation Hill.© A. Padilla

The awesome backdrop for Ice Stock: Observation Hill.
© A. Padilla

Bev, enjoying a cup of chili at the 2012-2013 Ice Stock.© A. Padilla

Bev, enjoying a cup of chili at the 2012-2013 Ice Stock.
© A. Padilla

Abe, enjoying a cup of chili at the 2012-2013 Ice Stock.© A. Padilla

Abe, enjoying a cup of chili at the 2012-2013 Ice Stock.
© A. Padilla

Bev and Elisha, enjoying a cup of chili at the 2012-2013 Ice Stock.© R. Piuk

Bev and Elisha, enjoying a cup of chili at the 2012-2013 Ice Stock.
© R. Piuk

First Band we saw (not the first of the evening, though): Tennessee.© A. Padilla

First Band we saw (not the first of the evening, though): Tennessee.
© A. Padilla

Kris Perry on the saxophone, and Jen Rhemann on guitar for Rock Candy.© A. Padilla

Kris Perry on the saxophone, and Jen Rhemann on guitar for Rock Candy.
© A. Padilla

Ukuleleist PJ, for Rock Candy.© A. Padilla

Ukuleleist PJ, for Rock Candy.
© A. Padilla

Dragon Tiger live at Ice Stock!© A. Padilla

Dragon Tiger live at Ice Stock!
© A. Padilla

Dragon Tiger's lead Guitarist, Kevin Pettway.© A. Padilla

Dragon Tiger’s lead Guitarist, Kevin Pettway.
© A. Padilla

Dragon Tiger's drummer, Eli Duke.© A. Padilla

Dragon Tiger’s drummer, Eli Duke.
© A. Padilla

Abe, ringing in the new year at Ice Stock 2012-2013.© T. Buchanan

Abe, ringing in the new year at Ice Stock 2012-2013.
© T. Buchanan

Bev, ringing in the new year at Ice Stock 2012-2013.© T. Buchanan

Bev, ringing in the new year at Ice Stock 2012-2013.
© T. Buchanan

Abe with a special beer to ring in the New Year 2013, the 2007 Belgian Vintage Geuze Mariage Parfait by Brouwerij Boon! Yes, I also brought this one from home, and yes, I also managed to NOT drink it until New Year's Eve.© R. Jeong

Abe with a special beer to ring in the New Year 2013, the 2007 Belgian Vintage Geuze Mariage Parfait by Brouwerij Boon! Yes, I also brought this one from home, and yes, I also managed to NOT drink it until New Year’s Eve.
© R. Jeong

An Ice Stock dancing flash mob - organized by Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

An Ice Stock dancing flash mob – organized by Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob - organized by Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob – organized by Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Bev, perfoming in the dancing flash mob with Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Bev, perfoming in the dancing flash mob with Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob - organized by Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob – organized by Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob - organized by Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob – organized by Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob - organized by Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob – organized by Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob - organized by Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Ice Stock dancing flash mob – organized by Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Bev, dancing in the flash mob with Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

Bev, dancing in the flash mob with Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

The Ice Stock dancing flash mob - Special Project Other.© A. Padilla

The Ice Stock dancing flash mob – Special Project Other.
© A. Padilla

Sawbucks Coffee - always there to provide you with caffeinated goods! If Ivan Padilla came to Antarctica, this is where you would find him most of the time.© A. Padilla

Sawbucks Coffee – always there to provide you with caffeinated goods! If Ivan Padilla came to Antarctica, this is where you would find him most of the time.
© A. Padilla

The wonderful baristas, Forrest and Sparky, serving up caffeine at Sawbucks Coffee.© A. Padilla

The wonderful baristas, Forrest and Sparky, serving up caffeine at Sawbucks Coffee.
© A. Padilla

Our barista, Forrest, well equipped to stir any drink for you at Sawbucks Coffee.© A. Padilla

Our barista, Forrest, well equipped to stir any drink for you at Sawbucks Coffee.
© A. Padilla

Sharing a glass of champagne with friends, from left to right: Liz, Dave, Janae, Abe, & Bev.© A. Padilla

Sharing a glass of champagne with friends, from left to right: Liz, Dave, Janae, Abe, & Bev.
© A. Padilla

Tongue sticking out competition. Apparently we can all stick our tongue out quite far.© A. Padilla

Tongue sticking out competition. Apparently we can all stick our tongue out quite far.
© A. Padilla

Bev and Mitch, proud of their colorful legs.© A. Padilla

Bev and Mitch, proud of their colorful legs.
© A. Padilla

Travis, Bev, and Mitch proudly display their legging colors.© A. Padilla

Travis, Bev, and Mitch proudly display their legging colors.
© A. Padilla

Stephanie and Elisha getting a better view at the Ice Stock performances, complements of Jeff and Travis.© A. Padilla

Stephanie and Elisha getting a better view at the Ice Stock performances, complements of Jeff and Travis.
© A. Padilla

Taking a break from the music and chili. Left to right: Stephanie, Elisha, Travis, Bev, and Abe.© A. Padilla

Taking a break from the music and chili. Left to right: Stephanie, Elisha, Travis, Bev, and Abe.
© A. Padilla

Abe and Jeremy celebrate the new year with champagne.© A. Padilla

Abe and Jeremy celebrate the new year with champagne.
© A. Padilla

Abe, Bev, and Abe, enjoying the music and champagne at Ice Stock.© A. Padilla

Abe, Bev, and Abe, enjoying the music and champagne at Ice Stock.
© A. Padilla

Jeremy, Kris, Bev, and Abe, enjoying the music at Ice Stock.© A. Padilla

Jeremy, Kris, Bev, and Abe, enjoying the music at Ice Stock.
© A. Padilla

Ringing in the New Year 2013 at Ice Stock, McMurdo Station, Antarctica. HAPPY NEW YEAR 2013!!!© A. Padilla

Ringing in the New Year 2013 at Ice Stock, McMurdo Station, Antarctica. 
© A. Padilla

.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2013!!!

Merry Christmas!

All the way from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, we wish you all a WONDERFUL Holiday Season, a very Merry Christmas, and a Prosperous New Year!!

And here are some of our holiday happenings on the ice:

Entrance to the Crary Science & Engineering Center, decorated for the occasion.© A. Padilla

Entrance to the Crary Science & Engineering Center, decorated for the occasion.
© A. Padilla

Iron-Nickel meteorites, always under the watch of a festive penguin.© A. Padilla

Iron-Nickel meteorites, always under the watch of a festive penguin.
© A. Padilla

Our Emperor Penguin ready for the holidays.© A. Padilla

Our Emperor Penguin ready for the holidays.
© A. Padilla

Another team's take on a McMurdo gingerbread "house." © A. Padilla

Another team’s take on a McMurdo gingerbread “house.”
© A. Padilla

Probably the only normal-looking Gingerbread House.© A. Padilla

Probably the only normal-looking Gingerbread House.
© A. Padilla

Our gingerbread rendition to the McMurdo Station trash bins, Christmas edition, Nice Bins.© A. Padilla

Our gingerbread rendition to the McMurdo Station trash bins, Christmas edition, Nice Bins.
© A. Padilla

Our gingerbread rendition to the McMurdo Station trash bins, Christmas edition, Naughty Bins.© A. Padilla

Our gingerbread rendition to the McMurdo Station trash bins, Christmas edition, Naughty Bins.
© A. Padilla

Abe's first Gingerbreadding event!© A. Padilla

Abe’s first Gingerbreadding event!
© A. Padilla

Our Gingerbreadding Team: Abe, Bev, Travis, Cassa, Elisha, and Ben.© A. Padilla

Our Gingerbreadding Team: Abe, Bev, Travis, Cassa, Elisha, and Ben.
© A. Padilla

 

The 2012-2013 Crary Lab Summer Staff.© A. Padilla

The 2012-2013 Crary Lab Summer Staff.
© A. Padilla

 

The 2012-2013 Crary Lab Summer Staff.© A. Padilla

The 2012-2013 Crary Lab Summer Staff.
© A. Padilla

Happy Holidays from the 2012-2013 Crary Lab Staff!© A. Padilla

Happy Holidays from the 2012-2013 Crary Lab Staff!
© A. Padilla

Happy Holidays From McMurdo Station, Antarctica!!!© A. Padilla

Happy Holidays From McMurdo Station, Antarctica!!!
© A. Padilla

Fata Morgana

There’s an interesting atmospheric phenomenon called Fata Morgana that will make an appearance along the horizon over the Ross Sea and Ice Shelf every now and then, and it is quite an awesome sight when you can see it right from McMurdo Station! The first time I saw it I didn’t know what was going on, so I took the opportunity to educate myself about it, and I would like to share that with all of you in this post, along with some pictures, of course!

fa·ta   mor·ga·na (fä’tә môr-gä’nә): n. (Physics/General Physics) a mirage, attributed to the sorcery of Morgan le Fay [Italian, mirage, Morgan le Fay (from the belief that the mirage was caused by her witchcraft)fatafairy (from Vulgar Latin fātagoddess of fate) + Morgana, Morgan (probably from Old Irish Morrigain).]

A Fata Morgana is a type of complex mirage in which objects that are far away (particularly along the horizon in your field of view) are either distorted, inverted, or stretched in the vertical direction (or sometimes all of the above at the same time) so as to appear larger than they actually are. This type of mirage is commonly seen in the Polar Regions on cold days, as well as out in the open sea. Here’s a mild example of it:

View of Mt. Discovery across the sound from McMurdo station. The thick band that you see at the base of the mountain, which looks like a tall cliff, is not actually there. This is a Fata Morgana mirage (see the next image).© A. Padilla

View of Mt. Discovery across the sound from McMurdo station. The thick band that you see at the base of the mountain, which looks like a tall cliff, is not actually there. This is a Fata Morgana mirage (see the next image).
© A. Padilla

View of Mt. Discovery across the sound from McMurdo station. Note that the thick band at the base of the mountain (from the picture above) is absent.© A. Padilla

View of Mt. Discovery across the sound from McMurdo station. Note that the thick band at the base of the mountain (from the picture above) is absent.
© A. Padilla

If you’re as curious as I am, at this point you’re probably asking yourself how this happens. I’ll do my best to simplify the explanation (it took me quite some time and a lot of reading the same thing over and over again before I got a good grasp on it).

First off, there are a couple atmospheric conditions that are needed before you can see a Fata Morgana. One of those is that, of course, it has to be a cold day. This is important for another one of the required conditions: the presence of a “thermal inversion.” The way our atmosphere works is that as you go higher and higher the air gets colder and thinner (it expands and loses energy). A thermal inversion simply means that this pattern is reversed (or inverted): you get hot air sitting on top of cold air. On a really cold day, you can get a layer of hot air that flows over a layer of cold air, and the hot air can stay on top because it is less dense than cold air. If the temperature gradient is sharp enough (it goes from cold air below to hot air above over a relatively short distance) it will create something called an “atmospheric duct,” or a horizontal layer, in the lower atmosphere that can guide (or “duct”) light rays when they pass through it, following the curvature of the Earth. Another way of thinking about it is that, because the optical density and therefore the optical properties of hot air is also lower than those of cold air, you essentially end up with an optical lens (much like a camera lens) that can bend and re-direct the light as it goes through it. The presence of this atmospheric duct is very important because this is what creates the Fata Morgana: light is bent in the duct and arrives at your eye from a different direction than that from which it originated, making it seem like there is an object there. Here are a couple of illustrations that might help you understand that:

In this figure, the dashed lines indicate the direction in which the man on the left is looking (upward toward the sky), and the lines with the arrows indicate the direction in which the light was traveling. The curvature of the light path reflects the effect of the atmospheric duct (hot air above, cold air below), thus creating the mirage seen on the upper right side as the light arrives at the observer’s eyes from the same direction in which he is looking after being bent.(Image source: Astronomy.org)

In this figure, the dashed lines indicate the direction in which the man on the left is looking (upward toward the sky), and the lines with the arrows indicate the direction in which the light was traveling. The curvature of the light path reflects the effect of the atmospheric duct (hot air above, cold air below), thus creating the mirage seen on the upper right side as the light arrives at the observer’s eyes from the same direction in which he is looking after being bent.
(Image source: Astronomy.org)

A different illustration of the same process described in the figure above, with one slight difference: in this figure, the light travelling from the bottom of the object (the pine tree) to the observer’s eye is travelling at a slightly different angle than the light travelling from the top of the object, and thus arriving at the observer’s eyes from slightly different directions resulting in an optically inverted mirage (the upside down pine tree). Again, the dashed lines represent the direction in which the observer is looking, and the solid lines represent the bent light paths. The graph on the left side of the figure shows temperature (on the x-axis) increasing with altitude (on the y-axis).(Image source: National Snow & Ice Data Center)

A different illustration of the same process described in the figure above, with one slight difference: in this figure, the light travelling from the bottom of the object (the pine tree) to the observer’s eye is travelling at a slightly different angle than the light travelling from the top of the object, and thus arriving at the observer’s eyes from slightly different directions resulting in an optically inverted mirage (the upside down pine tree). Again, the dashed lines represent the direction in which the observer is looking, and the solid lines represent the bent light paths. The graph on the left side of the figure shows temperature (on the x-axis) increasing with altitude (on the y-axis).
(Image source: National Snow & Ice Data Center)

Another look at the optical inversion, though slightly exaggerated as the light rays (solid lines) do not actually bounce off the boundary (or duct) between the hot and cold layers of air, but rather bend as they approach and cross it. Perhaps it is easier to understand the inversion by looking at it this way. Again, the dotted line indicates the direction in which the observer is looking, and thus the location where the mirage is seen.(Image source: Leifi Physik)

Another look at the optical inversion, though slightly exaggerated as the light rays (solid lines) do not actually bounce off the boundary (or duct) between the hot and cold layers of air, but rather bend as they approach and cross it. Perhaps it is easier to understand the inversion by looking at it this way. Again, the dotted line indicates the direction in which the observer is looking, and thus the location where the mirage is seen.
(Image source: Leifi Physik)

These figures basically depict a single point of the mirage (only one reflection, in a perfect situation), but if you can imagine that if you look in-between the mirage and the actual object you will see many other mirages of the same object, then you’re essentially imagining what happens during the Fata Morgana: you end up with a lot of mirages stacked on top of each other filling up that space, stretched from the actual object upwards into the atmosphere (the larger the atmospheric duct, the larger the effect will be) and with alternating inverted and right-side-up images, giving you the final view of a Fata Morgana.

Below are some pictures of the Fata Morgana that we have seen across the McMurdo Sound. Pretty amazing!

Emperor Penguins marching across the Ross Sea Ice, with Black Island and a thin Fata Morgana in the background.© A. Padilla

Emperor Penguins marching across the Ross Sea Ice, with Black Island and a thin Fata Morgana at its base in the background.
© A. Padilla

Emperor Penguins huddle on the Ross Sea Ice, discussing which way to go as they are clearly lost. You can see a thin Fata Morgana at the base of Black Island in the background, and on the very right edge within the Fata Morgana you can barely catch a glimpse of the Pegasus Airfield, enlarged by the mirage!© A. Padilla

Emperor Penguins huddle on the Ross Sea Ice, discussing which way to go as they are clearly lost. You can see a thin Fata Morgana at the base of Black Island in the background, and on the very right edge within the Fata Morgana you can barely catch a glimpse of the Pegasus Airfield, enlarged vertically by the mirage!
© A. Padilla

Fata Morgana at the base of Hobbs Peak, in the Royal Society Mountains, just across the sound from McMurdo Station.© A. Padilla

Fata Morgana at the base of Hobbs Peak, in the Royal Society Mountains, just across the sound from McMurdo Station.
© A. Padilla

Hobbs Peak, in the Royal Society Mountains, without a visible Fata Morgana.© A. Padilla

Hobbs Peak, in the Royal Society Mountains, without a visible Fata Morgana.
© A. Padilla

Fata Morgana seen at the base of Cape Hodgson & the Pegasus Airfield, out in the middle of the Ross Ice Shelf. The Pegasus buildings appear much taller and bigger than they actually are.© A. Padilla

An incredible Fata Morgana seen along the coast of Cape Hodgson, Black Island, and at the Pegasus Airfield, out in the middle of the Ross Ice Shelf. The Pegasus buildings appear much taller and bigger than they actually are.
© A. Padilla

Cape Hodgson, on Black Island, and the Pegasus Runway on the Ross Ice Shelf, seen without the Fata Morgana.© A. Padilla

Cape Hodgson, on Black Island, and the Pegasus Runway on the Ross Ice Shelf, seen without the Fata Morgana.
© A. Padilla

The southwest edge of Black Island with a well-developed Fata Morgana.© A. Padilla

The southwest edge of Black Island with a well-developed Fata Morgana.
© A. Padilla

A well-developed Fata Morgana at the base of Black Island (right) and along Minna Bluff (the slightly faded terrain at the left third of the picture, which is actually about 30 miles beyond Black Island.© A. Padilla

A well-developed Fata Morgana at the base of Black Island (right) and along Minna Bluff (the slightly faded terrain at the left third of the picture, which is actually about 30 miles beyond Black Island.
© A. Padilla

Minna Bluff, at the edge of the Antarctic Continent, with an incredible Fata Morgana.© A. Padilla

Minna Bluff, at the edge of the Antarctic Continent, with an incredible Fata Morgana.
© A. Padilla

Minna Bluff without the Fata Morgana effect.© A. Padilla

Minna Bluff without the Fata Morgana effect.
© A. Padilla

I have been keeping an eye out across the McMurdo Sound, trying to capture other cool Fata Morgana, but it’s been quite warm these past few weeks that we haven’t really seen much of it. As we head into the end of summer we will start getting more cold days and hopefully we’ll see more Fata Morgana. I will do my best to add some more pictures to this post through the rest of our time here!

In the meantime, enjoy these other beautiful examples of Fata Morgana from around the world (click on images for source link):

Superior Mirage, or Fata Morgana, of boats at sea.Author: Frank R. Stockton

Superior Mirage, or Fata Morgana, of boats at sea.
Author: Frank R. Stockton

"Mirage in The Aerial World." An illustration of Fata Morgana, or a Superior Mirage, off the coast from a desert.Author: Dr. G. Hartwig

“Mirage in The Aerial World.” An illustration of Fata Morgana, or a Superior Mirage, off the coast from a desert.
Author: Dr. G. Hartwig

Example of a Fata Morgana off the coast, location unkown.(Source: Wikipedia)

Example of a Fata Morgana off the coast, location unkown.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Fata Morgana observed at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA.© Mila Zinkova (via Earth Science Picture of the Day)

Fata Morgana observed at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA.
© Mila Zinkova (via Earth Science Picture of the Day)

Fata Morgana of a ship in Nieuw-Haamstede, Zeeland, The Netherlands.© Meneer Zjeroen

Fata Morgana of a ship in Nieuw-Haamstede, Zeeland, The Netherlands.
© Meneer Zjeroen

Fata Morgana in the mountains, location unknown.(Source: RecapWhenNotInUse)

Fata Morgana in the mountains, location unknown.
(Source: RecapWhenNotInUse)

Fata Morgana of a ship off the coast, location unknown.(Source: Frimmbits)

Fata Morgana of a ship off the coast, location unknown.
(Source: Frimmbits)

Fata Morgana of a ship at sea, location unknown.(Source: Vokkaab [Tumblr.com])

Fata Morgana of a ship at sea, location unknown.
(Source: Vokkaab)

Fata Morgana off the west coast of Arctic Greenland, in Kane Basin.© Dave Walsh

Fata Morgana off the west coast of Arctic Greenland, in Kane Basin.
© Dave Walsh

Fata Morgana, or superior mirage of Joe Island, off the west coast of Arctic Greenland, in Nares Strait, near Petermann Glacier.© Dave Walsh

Fata Morgana, or superior mirage of Joe Island, off the west coast of Arctic Greenland, in Nares Strait, near Petermann Glacier.
© Dave Walsh

And lastly, because I’m a scientist… SOURCES:

- National Snow & Ice Data Center
Astronomy.org
Leifi Physik
Atmospheric Optics
Smithsonian Magazine (Actually…  awesome article about the Titanic – read it!)
NASA Atmospheric Picture of the Day

McMurdo Holidays

McMurdoites will use just about any excuse to dress up:

“It’s the first weekend of the season? Let’s dress up!”
“It’s the second weekend of the season? Anybody have a really big hat??”
“There’s an end-of-WinFly party? Where’s my mask?”
“Halloween is coming up? Of course we’ve got costumes ready!!”
“Someone saw a penguin near station? Let’s have a costume contest!”
“It’s Wednesday again?? Let’s dress up!!”
“We’re running a race? Hold on… I’m putting on my superhero leotard! Here, hold my beer.”

The holidays are particularly important for dressing up. As you can imagine, it’s a lot more fun to participate than not participate, so naturally we have come up with some costumes of our own in which to stroll around town. In my attempt to keep this post unnaturally short in the text, I will only say the following things:

1) The first set of pictures is from Halloween (and the McMurdo Halloween Party)
2) There was a costume contest at the Halloween party
3) We started putting our costumes together 2-3 days before the actual party, and finished  15 minutes after the start of the party
4) We got to the party as they were announcing the contestants for group costumes, ran on stage, and WON best group costume!

5) The second set of pictures is from the Turkey Trot 5K Race and Freezing Man (McMurdo’s version of Burning Man), which take place on our Thanksgiving holiday (Saturday)
6) There was no costume contest, just people running around town in their silly costumes
7) We did not win the race, but we did get water bottles and an Antarctic Racing Series number tag :-)

Enjoy!

————————–

27-October-2012:    McMurdo Halloween Party, Big Gym, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Mindy and Bev, putting their costume faces on and ready for Halloween.© R. Piuk

Mindy and Bev, putting their costume faces on and ready for Halloween.
© R. Piuk

Our full cast in costume. I'm sure you can all figure out the theme. Back Row (L to R): Tyler, Abe, and Buddy. Front Row: Kate, Bev, and Mindy.© A. Padilla

Our full cast in costume. I’m sure you can all figure out the theme. Back Row (L to R): Tyler, Abe, and Buddy. Front Row: Kate, Bev, and Mindy.
© A. Padilla

Full cast with weapons. Back Row (L to R): Tyler and his knife, Abe and his revolver, and Buddy with his wrench. Front Row: Kate and her candlestick, Bev with her lead pipe, and Mindy with rope.© R. Piuk

Full cast with weapons. Back Row (L to R): Tyler and his knife, Abe and his revolver, and Buddy with his wrench. Front Row: Kate and her candlestick, Bev with her lead pipe, and Mindy with rope.
© R. Piuk

Seconds after walking into the big gym, on stage for the group costume judging.© R. Piuk

Seconds after walking into the big gym, on stage for the group costume judging.
© R. Piuk

Announcing the winners of the 2012 McMurdo Halloween Group Costume Contest! As a prize, we got a trip to go visit and tour Capt. Robert F. Scott's Terra Nova Hut (built 1910), in Cape Evans, Ross Island. © R. Piuk

Announcing the winners of the 2012 McMurdo Halloween Group Costume Contest! As a prize, we got a trip to go visit and tour Capt. Robert F. Scott’s Terra Nova Hut (built 1910), in Cape Evans, Ross Island.
© R. Piuk

Obligatory Contest Winners Picture. Not bad for costumes that came together from "Skua" (our version of Goodwill) a mere couple of days before the party, eh?© R. Piuk

Obligatory Contest Winners Picture. Not bad for costumes that came together from “Skua” (our version of Goodwill) a mere couple of days before the party, eh?
© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe, costumes still intact, at Halloween Party (in the Big Gym).© R. Piuk

Bev and Abe, costumes still intact, at Halloween Party (in the Big Gym).
© R. Piuk

Part of the Crary Lab Crew: Travis Guy as Michael Phelps, and Elisha Kayser as an Amazonian Woman.© A. Padilla

Part of the Crary Lab Crew: Travis Guy as Michael Phelps, and Elisha Kayser as an Amazonian Woman.
© A. Padilla

Halloween Party Feature Performance: The Zombie Dance, with our esteemed janitors, dining assistants, and stewards.© R. Piuk

Halloween Party Feature Performance: The Zombie Dance, with our esteemed janitors, dining assistants, and stewards.
© R. Piuk

Halloween Party Feature Performance: The Zombie Dance, with our esteemed janitors, dining assistants, and stewards.© R. Piuk

Halloween Party Feature Performance: The Zombie Dance, with our esteemed janitors, dining assistants, and stewards.
© R. Piuk

————————–

23-November-2012:    McMurdo Thanksgiving Weekend, Turkey Trot 5K & Freezing Man, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Pre-Race preparations at the Chapel of the Snows.© R. Piuk

Pre-Race preparations at the Chapel of the Snows.
© R. Piuk

Putting on our game faces for the Turkey Trot.© R. Piuk

Putting on our game faces for the Turkey Trot.
© R. Piuk

Start of the 2012 Turkey Trot, at the Chapel of the Snows.© R. Piuk

Start of the 2012 Turkey Trot, at the Chapel of the Snows.
© R. Piuk

And we're off!© R. Piuk

And we’re off!
© R. Piuk

Approaching the finish line, costumes intact!© R. Piuk

Approaching the finish line, costumes intact!
© R. Piuk

Crossing the finish line! Woot Woot! Antarctic Series Race #1: check!© R. Piuk

Crossing the finish line! Woot Woot! Antarctic Series Race #1: check!
© R. Piuk

Post-race photo. Glad to be done running in that Penguin suit!© R. Piuk

Post-race photo. Glad to be done running in that Penguin suit!
© R. Piuk

Taking our Post-Race pictures at the McMurdo Station sign. Also, these are our first pictures AT the McMurdo Station sign.© R. Piuk

Taking our Post-Race pictures at the McMurdo Station sign. Also, these are our first pictures AT the McMurdo Station sign.
© R. Piuk

Feature Performance for Freezing Man: "Look at Us Now."© A. Padilla

Feature Performance for Freezing Man: “Look at Us Now.”
© A. Padilla

"Look at Us Now," Freezing Man's Feature Performance starring (L to R) Morgan, Tom, Sue, Bev, and Travis (not in this picture).© A. Padilla

“Look at Us Now,” Freezing Man’s Feature Performance starring (L to R) Morgan, Tom, Sue, Bev, and Travis (not in this picture).
© A. Padilla

"Look at Us Now," Freezing Man's Feature Performance.© A. Padilla

“Look at Us Now,” Freezing Man’s Feature Performance.
© A. Padilla

 

"Look at Us Now," Freezing Man's Feature Performance.© R. Piuk

“Look at Us Now,” Freezing Man’s Feature Performance.
© R. Piuk

 

"Look at Us Now" Finale, Freezing Man's Feature Performance. Back: Tom & Travis. Front: Morgan, Sue, and Bev.© A. Padilla

“Look at Us Now” Finale, Freezing Man’s Feature Performance. Back: Tom & Travis. Front: Morgan, Sue, and Bev.
© A. Padilla

 

"Look at Us Now" Finale. Back: Tom, & Travis. Front: Morgan, Sue, and Bev.© R. Piuk

“Look at Us Now” Finale. Back: Tom, & Travis. Front: Morgan, Sue, and Bev.
© R. Piuk

 

Post-performance at Freezing Man.© A. Padilla

Post-performance at Freezing Man.
© A. Padilla

That’s all for now. Until next time!

SnowCraft I: “Happy Camper”

If you plan on going out of “town” around here at any point in time, it is essential that you know some very important survival skills. After all, Antarctica is a harsh continent. Luckily, for those of us that have no previous survival training, the USAP provides a course called SnowCraft I designed to fill that void. Every single field-bound person (and even those not field-bound but that want to get out and explore beyond the trails in and around the McMurdo station) that comes through McMurdo as part of the USAP program is required to go through this survival training, and there seem to be bipolar opinions regarding SnowCraft I: you either love it, or you hate it. Those of us that are on the “loved it!” side refer to this survival training as “Happy Camper,” and the affectionate name really does describe the feelings that engulf you while you’re out and about experiencing the real Antarctica – you are a VERY happy camper! In an attempt to keep this post short on the text (HA! Watch me try!) and longer on the pictures, I’m only going to brush over some of the basic survival skills that I learned… and that I still remember.

The main theme of Happy Camper is to mitigate the risks that you take every time you leave the safety of McMurdo station. As I said before, Antarctica is a harsh continent, and the weather can change on a dime, from calm and so beautiful that you forget you’re in a frozen world one minute, to deadly and unforgiving the next, the same kind of deadly and unforgiving storms that claimed the lives of many an intrepid and experienced polar explorer. So what does the term “risk mitigation” mean? It means finding the right balance between the consequences of a particular event and the probability of those consequences actually happening. In simple terms, it means using your available resources to reduce the likelihood of getting caught in a life-or-death situation. As an example, let’s say you’re out exploring the sea-ice when it turns to Condition 1 in Antarctica (refer to my previous post on weather conditions if you’ve forgotten what Condition 1 means): the consequence of getting caught out during Con1 is death, and the likelihood is very high (“certain”). How do we mitigate this situation? One simple way to do it is to bring extra protective gear with you; e.g. pack extra fleeces and jackets for warmth, dry clothes, a sleeping bag and blankets, a stove with extra food & snacks, a tent, tools for snow-crafting (like a snow saw, shovel), etc., on separate duffle bags and bring them with you when you go exploring. By having these items with you, you have already drastically decreased the probability of facing death (the consequence) if you were caught in Con1 weather away from station. You have mitigated the risk! These are actually all items that are included in a survival bag, which  is issued to you by the Berg Field Center (or the BFC), McMurdo’s version of REI. Not familiar with REI? WHAT? Ok… click here: REI. Search for “Mountain Hardware.” Pick something cool. Put it in a box and send it addressed to me at McMurdo Station, APO AP 96599-1035… kidding, I know you are all somewhat intimately familiar with REI. You are required to take your survival bags with you anytime you leave station (except if you’re going on local hikes). Among the things that we learned at Happy Camper was how to use everything that comes in a survival bag (the items above, and some more). Other highlights of training:

- Properly setting up a Scott Tent: which includes building snow and ice anchors for the wind ties, and building a snow bank around the tent to secure the seams so that air doesn’t get in (Scott tents don’t typically have floors, but you can add a simple tarp so you’re not sleeping directly on the snow). I learned a very clever way to anchor the wind ties down: dig a small trench parallel to the side of the tent (to ~2-3 ft. deep), then dig a smaller trench (wide enough for the string ties) toward the tent perpendicular to the trench and at an angle reaching from the bottom of the trench to the surface close to the tent, next tie a stick (or your tent steak) to the end of the wind tie, and lastly bury the stick horizontally at the bottom of the trench with the string coming up along the smaller trench. You’re essentially using the snow and ice around you as a secure anchor for your tent’s wind ties! And it works fantastically!

Setting up a Scott Tent: after putting up the poles and tent, we bury the edge of the tent with 1-2ft. of snow to prevent wind and drifting snow from getting into the tent from underneath.
© A. Turner

One of our Scott Tents, properly set up: These tents are named after Capt. Robert F. Scott, since they are essentially the same design and material that Capt. Scott used in his expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900s. They have remained unchanged for over 100 years, and are still the best tents for use in Antarctica!
© A. Padilla

Tightening the wind ties after I buried the bamboo (tied to the end of the wind tie) in the trench to anchor it down to the ice.
© A. Padilla

- Snow quarrying: out on the Ross Ice Shelf, the ice is a few hundreds of meters thick (400-500 m), and the snow cover above that can be tens of meters thick, and because essentially all of that snow is hard-packed by the very strong Antarctic winds, it is wonderful for cutting into blocks. We flag an open space for our “snow quarry,” and using a saw we cut the snow into blocks which we can then break off by shoving a shovel underneath it. We primarily use these blocks for building snow walls to shelter our tents and cooking area from the wind, but the possibilities are endless!

Our snow quarry. Using a regular saw and a shovel, you can turn the hard-packed snow into building blocks! We cut the length and width of the block to the dimensions that we wish, and then we let nature decide the thickness of the block: because the snow accumulates in flat layers, it will develop “planes of weakness” along which they will naturally want to break. All we have to do is stick the shovel under our block, and it will break right off.
© A. Padilla

Alasdair, one of our two awesome survival guides, demonstrates what a good building snow block looks like, right before letting us loose to quarry our own.
© A. Turner

It is necessary to be able to dig our snow blocks from underneath after we have cut (sawed) them from above. Here, I am grooming the edge of the quarry so that we can easily access blocks from the side and break them from underneath.
© A. Turner

- Cold weather cooking basics: we learned how to use MSR Whisperlite stoves, running on white gas, to cook and melt snow for hot water. We also learned good ways to clean them and troubleshoot them if they stop working. Going along with cooking, we build a kitchen area by digging a trench in which we can stand so that we can keep the stoves low on the ground yet still at a comfortable working level (above your waist). A small snow wall is also a nice addition to the kitchen, and it protects us from the wind when the stoves are lit.

A trench approximately 4ft. deep makes a great kitchen. But first, we must shovel the trench out!
© A. Padilla

Learning the basics of operating an MSR Whisperlite white-gas stove in cold weather and potentially windy conditions. Also, breaking in our newly excavated kitchen!
© A. Padilla

A busy kitchen in the evening. Dr. Bob (our station dentist, on the left in the kitchen trench) takes charge of the “melting snow into water” station.
© A. Padilla

- Staying Warm: little things that you can do to keep warm (both during the day and while you sleep), which include the use of internal heat sources (heat from your body, like exercising to increase circulation of your blood, specially to the extremities of your body) and external heat sources (using toe and hand warmers, and also using simple things like water bottles filled with hot water), and most importantly fueling up! Our body needs fuel to produce heat, so we ate a LOT of chocolate! :-)

I don’t have a good picture of “staying warm,” but here is a cool picture of the sun and some clouds looming over Mt. Erebus. :-)
© A. Padilla

But I do have a picture of our group trying to stay warm (unsuccessfully) during a talk with our guides. Immediately after this, we got up and ran in circles twice around our campsite. That worked pretty well.
© A. Padilla

Survival Trenches: the most effective way to shelter yourself from bad weather in Antarctica is to dig a trench and jump in it. It is relatively easy to make a survival trench when you have a shovel and a saw, but it is quite exhausting and time-consuming. We had the option to sleep in a trench, rather than a tent, for the night, provided we were willing to build it ourselves. Well, guess what I decided to do? That’s right… and it took me well over 5 hours to do so! Here are the steps to building your own trench, in pictures:

Step #1: Pick your spot. This is mine, with a view of a volcano. You can’t have it. I marked it with two flags, either green, or red, or green and red, but not black; black flags are used for marking unstable features, like cracks in the ice. These two flags let others know that there is something there, in this case my trench, and to be cautious walking around it so that they don’t fall on my head while I’m sleeping.
© A. Padilla

Step #2: Mark the size of your trench, and start cutting into the snow. You want the trench to be wide enough for you to sleep in it, but not too wide because you will have to be heating up the air around you with your body heat. If there’s too much space between you and the trench wall you will be wasting a lot of energy and will probably not feel very warm.
© A. Padilla

Step #3: Start cutting your first layer of blocks out. You can saw your outlined trench as deep as the saw will go, and then use a shovel to break the blocks off. If you can get blocks out in good condition, you can use them later to build a roof over your trench!
© A. Padilla

Step #4: Dig deeper. It becomes more difficult to saw along the edges of your trench, but if you’re clever enough you can saw just inside the edge of your wall and at an angle to continue to dig down. A good trick when digging down is to cut as many large blocks as you can rather than just dig the snow up with a shovel. It is much easier to pick up big blocks out of your trench than to have get the snow out one shovel-full at a time. You want the trench to be deep enough for you to move around, and do things like change into dry clothes at night before you go to bed (so that you don’t wake up with frozen clothes). For me, 4-5 ft. was a good working space, I could kneel and do what I needed to do in the trench.
© A. Padilla

Step #5: Once you have finished digging your trench, put a roof on it. I also put a small snow wall on the southern side of my trench (from whence the wind will blow, and where I will have my head), so that it protects me a little more in the event that a large storm blows in. For the roof, you can line up two blocks over the trench and balance them by cutting their edges at an angle so that they meet as flat as possible over the middle of the trench. You can see my first pair of roof blocks at the top of the trench.
© A. Padilla

Step #6: This is actually an extra little step that you can add to increase the insulation of your roof. All you have to do is add snow to the little spots that remain open through which the wind could potentially sneak into your trench. An easy way to do this is to flatten the top of your roof so that you’re not trying to balance snow on an angled surface. You can also do the same along the sides of the roof, and add an extra layer of crushed snow to help seal all the openings from the wind.
© A. Padilla

Step #7: After you’ve finished your roof and extra insulation, you build yourself a “door” cover. You need to be able to move this cover easily, as it will need to block the entrance to the trench and you will need to be able to do so from the inside. You can use a duffel bag as a cover, but I decided to cut one large block, and add a smaller one on top, that I could slide over the entrance when I was ready to crawl into bed. IT’S READY!!!
© A. Padilla

Step #8: Enjoy the amazing view out the entrance of your trench. I like volcanoes.
© A. Padilla

Step #9: Sleep in your trench! This is me at the end of the day, ready for a nice long night and cold dreams! I’m pretty proud of my roof.
© A. Padilla

Step #10: The morning after, once you have survived because you did such a badass job with your survival trench, you fill in your trench and pack it as best as you can. You don’t want to leave an obstacle behind for people to fall into. This is the aftermath of my survival trench. It served me well. So long, survival trench. So long.
© A. Padilla

- Self-Awareness: Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we learned a lot about the important of self-awareness. Though, it can be interpreted in many ways, in our situation, self awareness simply meant being attentive to how our body was doing in the Antarctic conditions, knowing the limits for what your personal body can handle, and learning to recognize symptoms associated with cold-induced injuries such as hypothermia and frost-bite (as well as frost-nip, the less severe version of frost-bite, which one of our happy campers began to develop).

As you can see, this was a futile attempt at keeping this post short on the text, but hey, here are some more pictures!

On the way to our camping spot. What a beautiful sight!
© A. Padilla

If you spend enough time walking around in -20ºF weather, your eyelashes will catch a lot of the warm moisture released by your body (like your breath, or a little bit of sweat) and turn it into EYELASHCICLES!! These is my best attempt at growing them!
© A. Padilla

A “sundog” shines over Mt. Erebus and our campsite. What a great way to start the day! If you’re curious, a “sundog” is basically an atmospheric illusion created by snow crystals (called “diamond dust”) in the air which act as prisms that bend the light rays passing through them, making bright spots of light appear in the sky. Sometimes, when the ice crystals are randomly oriented in the atmosphere, they will appear as a halo around the sun, and often it will be colored, like a rainbow. The scientific name for this phenomenon is “parhelion.”
© A. Padilla

A Delta vehicle, which can carry up to 21 passengers (20 in the back compartment). This is Delta “Dawn,” which took us to our camp area and dropped us off to begin survival training.
© A. Padilla

Our little Tent Village, with our tiny little snow wall to help protect our little tents from the wind.
© A. Padilla

Another view of Tent Village, this time with Mount Erebus steaming in the background.
© A. Turner

I survived!! This is me the morning after a long night of -25ºF sleep.
© A. Turner

The remains of our Tent Village after surviving the night and taking down all of our equipment. Also, it’s hard to see in this picture, but there is snow sublimating (turning directly from solid to gas) in the background and running in little gas streams along the surface of the snow.
© A. Padilla

Our wall… the only thing that remains standing after our snowpocalypse.
© A. Padilla

We decided to take down our wall and minimize our footprint… I’m at the end of the line (right-most)  :-)
© A. Padilla

Minimizing our Footprint…
© A. Padilla

Minimizing our Footprint…
© A. Padilla

Minimizing our Footprint…
© A. Padilla

Our Happy Campers!
© A. Turner

But wait!! There’s one more thing! I hope you enjoy! :-D
© A. Padilla

A video!

 

Sea Ice Safety

There are two types of ice in the Ross Sea: ice shelves, and sea ice. Ice shelves are essentially the tips of continental ice sheets and glaciers that are floating directly on the ocean as they flow outward from the continents (they are no longer sitting on ground). The Ross Ice Shelf is essentially an outlet glacier tongue for the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets that has extended so far out that it is now floating over the Ross Sea. Sea Ice, in contrast, forms directly from freezing of the freshwater component of the ocean (the salt from the ocean will sink toward the deeper part of the ocean as the sea ice freezes at the surface). Here is a neat little diagram that illustrates the difference between the two, just imagine that Antarctica is on the left side of the diagram and the Ross Sea is on the right side; the green lines indicate the direction of flow on the glacier; and the map of the Southern Ocean below the diagram may help you get oriented on the location of the Ross Sea and McMurdo Station:

The Ross Ice Shelf is essentially an outlet glacier tongue for the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets that has extended so far out that it is now floating on the Ross Sea. Sea Ice, in contrast, forms directly from freezing of the freshwater component of the ocean (the salt from the ocean sinks toward the deeper part of the ocean as the sea ice freezes at the surface).
Source: The Alfred Wegener Institute, via Sustainable Guernsey (click on Image for link and larger image)

Map of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: Note, of relevance to the image above, the location of the Ross Ice Shelf, within the Ross Sea, and our location on the map (McMurdo Station).
Source: LIMA (Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica) Project via Geology.com (click the image for the larger version)

One of the many cool and unique things about the Southern Ocean, and the Ross Sea in particular, is that the temperature of the ocean water is about -1.9ºC, just below freezing!! You’re probably sitting there thinking “Below freezing?? How can water be colder than ice?? You guys are crazy!” The answer has a lot to do with salinity. The waters of Antarctica are essentially isolated from the rest of the ocean because of what we call the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which  flows (as the name suggests) around and around Antarctica, isolating it from the rest of the ocean currents. Because of this, warmer water from the equator cannot mix with the the colder waters of the Antarctic ocean. This is important, you see, because recall that when the sea freezes in the winter it is only the freshwater component that freezes at the surface, and the salt essentially exsolves (comes out of solution) from that freezing seawater and goes back into the deeper part of the Ross Sea. This saltier seawater in the Ross Sea partly contributes to lowering the freezing temperature of the ocean around Antarctica. An easy way to test this idea is to stick two cups of water in your freezer:  one with clean drinking water (freshwater), and one of water mixed with a spoon-full of table salt (saltwater). The water in your “clean” cup will freeze faster than the water in your “salty” cup.

Why is all of this information about ice shelves and sea ice important to us? Simply put, it is important because we live on an island (Ross Island), and in order to go anywhere outside of McMurdo Station to do work and research we have to travel across the frozen ocean. We use a range of vehicles that are adapted to travel on snow and ice, which includes snowmobiles and pick-up trucks with tracks, but I will leave the vehicle descriptions for a later post. I will only talk about one of those vehicles: the hägglund!

A Hägglund!! Jenn Erxleben, our driver and instructor for the US Antarctic Program’s Field Safety Training Program, is happy to be out on the ice with Hägglund 007 for a beautiful day of training.
© A. Padilla

The Hägglund is an articulated all-terrain tracked vehicle (as you can see above) specially designed for harsh climates and the types of conditions with a lot of snow and ice that we find in Antarctica (it was first developed in Sweden in 1974 for military use). They are amphibious, so they can travel through water as well. We use these types of vehicles (with tracks) particularly to travel around on the Sea Ice. This is how science groups studying marine organisms get out to their fishing and diving holes, and it is how McMurdo’s FSTP (Field Safety Training Program) gets around to set up safe travel routes to different locations around Ross Island and on the Sea Ice.

A few weeks ago (I am behind on posts) I got to do Sea Ice Safety training with FSTP, and it was a really awesome experience. The Sea Ice training is basically a course designed to teach you how to safely assess whether the sea ice (the frozen ocean) is safe enough for you to travel on it with a variety of vehicles, ranging from tractors and pick-up trucks, to  snowmobiles and hägglunds. First we learn how to identify features on the ice (like breathing holes that seals make, and cracks, and pressure ridges) that may be problematic for safe travel on the ice. Linear features typically indicate that there is a discontinuity below the snow & ice cover, like a crack in the ice. A pressure ridge is simply a ridge (see picture below) in the ice that forms because of compression of the ice in much the same way that mountains are formed. As an example, lets assume part of the ice fractures and a crack opens up separating the two sides of the ice. If that crack remains open long enough the water in between may freeze into a thinner layer of ice, creating a stair-stepping pattern in the ice that can then get covered by snow-pack (that’s the snow that gets blown around and compacted by the strong winds). That crack with thinner ice is now a weak feature of the sea ice, and when strong winds come racing down the shelf and sea ice they can open that crack further, or they can create enough pressure to begin pushing the two sides of the ice toward each other and forming a pressure ridge along the crack.

We also learn how to dig a trench properly in order to expose those features (our main concern are cracks in the ice), how and where to drill holes through the ice, and how to measure the thickness of the ice in order to assess whether it is safe to cross it and with which vehicles. We found two cracks on the ice that we profiled (measured their width, thickness of the ice on both sides of the crack) and determined that one of them was safe for us to cross on our hägglund, but the second (and bigger) crack was too wide and as a result the ice was too thin for us to cross safely. Below, I attempt to depict this process with the pictures that I took throughout the day:

A view of the Ross Sea Ice in the McMurdo Sound. Can you spot any continuous linear features that may indicate a discontinuity (like an ice crack)?
© A. Padilla

See that linear feature in the center of the picture? It kind of looks like a wide snow walkway within the sea ice. That is an indication of a discontinuity within the ice below the snowpack; it is the first crack we spotted during our training.
© A. Padilla

In order to analyze the ice cracks, we need to expose the top of the ice itself, which as you can see in this picture can be covered by a significant amount of snow-pack. In this case, it the snow cover is only a few inches thick, but well packed (which makes it more resistant). I dug up this ice crack myself! After that, we can measure the thickness of the ice on both sides of the crack as well as within the crack in order to determine if it is safe to travel across it with our vehicles.
© A. Padilla

An impossible to miss linear feature on the sea ice: pressure ridges. These features are a result of compression of the sea ice along big cracks (similar to the way that mountains are formed). This particular pressure ridge extends southward from Hut Point, and was a major obstacle for northbound vehicle crossings early in the season. We picked this feature to practice our newly-acquired skills on sea ice safety. Our group was the first group of the season to measure the ice thickness of this pressure ridge and assess it for vehicle crossings! Woot woot!
© A. Padilla

Once we identified the feature that we want to assess (in this case the Hut Point Pressure Ridge), we can begin with step 1, which is to dig the trench and remove the snow-pack across the feature to expose the cracks within the ice. Rory Welsch (in this picture) did a great job digging (and I helped too).
© A. Padilla

Step 2 is to drill holes across the ice so that we can drop a special measuring tape into them and measure the sea ice thickness. Harry House (my Sea Ice Safety training partner — also, casually, McMurdo Station’s Winter Site Manager), begins the drilling process after we’ve dug a trench across the ice crack.
© A. Padilla

I take a turn drilling a hole through the ice to measure its thickness on one side of the crack.
© A. Padilla

Harry House measures the thickness of the ice by dropping a measuring tape through the hole we drilled. The measuring tape has a thin and flat metal bar attached to the end of it. We drop the tape with the bar vertically, and because the measuring tape is attached in the middel, once it reaches the bottom of the hole it will turn horizontally and get stuck at the base of the ice when we pull on it. That’s how we get the ice thickness.
© A. Padilla

I am kneeling inside the trench that we dug across the Hut Point Pressure Ridge. During our transect, we drilled about 15 holes across the exposed cracks (it had multiple events, as in it cracked, then healed (froze), then cracked and healed again, leaving a stair-like geometry across the crack). The thickness of the ice across this transect varied from ~35 to ~75cm.
© A. Padilla

Another view into the trench across the Hut Point Pressure Ridge. It is approximately 3 m long, and about ½ m wide.
© A. Padilla

A good view of Mt. Discovery from the Sea Ice. Most of the features that you can see on the ice are from drift (strong winds blowing ice and snow around over the Sea Ice).
© A. Padilla

After our long day of training, we got to see the transition between the Ross Sea Ice and the Ross Ice Shelf. Here I am standing over the crack (pointing at it) that marks the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. The part of the ice that I’m standing on is multiple meters thick, whereas the Sea Ice on the other side of that is on the order of 1m thick (though it varies).
© A. Padilla

I got to see Mt. Erebus for the first time this day! Here it looms high above the Hut Point Peninsula, with McMurdo Station tucked into the Bay. Hut Point (and Scott’s Discovery Hut) is at the left end of the image, and roughly in the center is Ob Hill.
© A. Padilla

At day’s end. The lighting was just phenomenal! You can see Mt. Discovery in the background.
© A. Padilla

It was a great learning experience, and we had fantastic weather (hardly any wind, which is one of the most dangerous weather-related features of Antarctica), and I learned a lot of great stuff that I need to know for my safety. I am now all trained and ready to explore the Sea Ice!!

Condition 2 – Round 3

The weather has been a little topsy-turvy this past week and a half. It started to warm up (for Antarctic standards) toward the end of the week last week, and by the weekend it was up to 15ºF, perfect weather for my first run outside (during which I realized that I am not in as good a shape as I thought I was… though I’m going to make the argument that I am in great shape, and my struggling through the ~3.5 miles running around the station resulted from the combination of cold temperatures, unnaturally fresh and clean air, 3 inches of snow over the 2 inches of ice from the winter, and penguins… yes, penguins. They are distracting when you’re looking for them around every corner you turn). Just as I was wrapping up my first outdoor run since 11th grade, however, the weather decided to turn. It got a little windier, it started precipitating ice everywhere, and, well… to make this story short: We went into  Con2  again (if you’ve already forgotten what that means, refer to my previous post regarding weather conditions. And for a while, it looked like the weather would turn to Condition 1, but it never quite made it there… at least not for us folk in town (the road to the “airfield” and all of the camps on the ice were definitely at Con1 for part of the day). I took the opportunity to capture some views of Con2 around the lab, and illustrate for you guys the difference between Con2 and Con3. I hope you appreciate that I stood outside in -40ºF windchill weather just for you guys! Enjoy!

Just minutes after I finished my run, the weather turns colder and a little drab. But the “snow” coming down across town made it look quite wonderful… like the frozen perennial winterland it is. The blue building ahead in the picture is “Building 155 – The Galley.” This is where the cafeteria is, among other things.

The weather turning colder (and prettier… for now). The buildings at right-center of the picture are the gym (where I normally run on a treadmill when the weather outside is dreary), and the McMurdo Coffee House.

This is the view of the NSF Chalet, during Con2 weather, from just outside the entrance to my office in the Crary Lab, looking roughly southeast. The Chalet is roughly 100 ft. away (or a little less) from where I’m standing.

This is the view of the NSF Chalet, during Con3, from just outside the entrance to my office in the Crary Lab, looking roughly southeast.In the far back you can see “Ob” Hill (Observation Hill). Again, the Chalet is roughly 100 ft. away (or a little less) from where I’m standing.

Cold storage milvans outside the Crary Lab. The view is roughly northeast, during Con2, toward the pass that leads to Scott Base, one of New Zealand’s Research stations.

Cold storage milvans outside the Crary Lab. The view is roughly northeast, during Con3, toward the pass that leads to Scott Base.

This is the view, during Con2, out of the windows of the 2nd floor Library at Crary Lab. We are looking roughly South, toward the helicopter (or “helo”) landing pad.

The view, during Con3, out of the Library windows, looking roughly South at the helo landing pad. Helicopters!!

View from the Crary Library windows, during Con2, out toward the frozen Ross Sea, Mt. Discovery, and the Royal Society Range (facing roughly South).

View from the Crary Library windows, during Con3, out toward the frozen Ross Sea (facing roughly South). Mount Discovery (left-center) and The Royal Society Range (right, along the skyline) look tiny in this photo.

Lastly, the NSF Chalet after our third Con2 storm of this season… so far. Someone has a lot of digging to do!