Jan. 13, 2014: After 30 hours of flying and running around airports, I made it to Christchurch, New Zealand, the jumping-off point for much of the U.S. Antarctic Program. McMurdo Station, which will be our home base of the next month, is on the southern tip Ross Island, just off the coast of Antarctica and joined to it by ice.
McMurdo via helicopter. The dark brown buildings on the left are dorms, the blue building is the galley, and the gray many-armed building on the right is the science lab. Working out of McMurdo (population 886 today; just below freezing) is very different from last year working out of the South Pole Station (population around 100; way, way below freezing). Here in McMurdo, there is quite a bit to do — hiking trails, animal watching, sports equipment rentals, two bars, a coffee/wine house, band performances, lounge and pool rooms in every dorm, and so much more. At the South Pole, for leisure time you could read in your room, read in the library, or read in the lab.
When weather permitted, my team flew by helicopter or by a small twin-engine plane to the remote locations of our seismic stations. Here I am sporting a super-fashionable helicopter helmet.
Jan. 29, 2014: Today, I finally made it to the field! This is a MILR (seismic name)/IGGY (GPS name) station near Miller Range. There was quite a bit of work to be done. We replaced most of the instrumentation and moved the seismic sensor from the rock to a hole in the snow in an attempt to make it less noisy. The noise might have been due to wind buffeting the sensor’s enclosure, or, possibly, to the rock shifting.
One day, standing outside the science building looking across McMurdo Sound, I noticed that the mountains appeared to have vertical stripes. The more I looked, the more it appeared the base of the mountains was reflected upward, not downward in the water, as you might expect. I was told this is an unusual type of mirage called a “Fata Morgana.” They’re named for the sorceress Morgan Le Fay because the mirages often seem to create the crenellated turrets of fairy castles at the horizon.
A Fata Morgana created by a thermal inversion near the horizon, with warm air overlying cold air (typically, warm air is closest to the ground). Light paths are bent by these thermal layers, and your eye perceives the light as having originated from a different location.