Feb. 4, 2014: Each year during the summer, the ice near the bases melts away, but how quickly this happens varies from year to year. Scott Base, which it lies just seaward of the boundary between the transient ice shelf and the permanent ice, claims to be 98 percent iced-in. (You can even buy a T-shirt advertising this!) This year, Scott Base was completely free of sea ice.
The breakup of the shelf in front of McMurdo happens in late January or early February and is assisted by an ice breaker. This year, the newly recommissioned U.S. Polar Star took on the job for its first mission after dry-dock. A couple days after the ship showed up, a wind blew the remaining chunks of ice out to sea, clearing McMurdo Sound early and leaving them with not much else to do. Experienced McMurdo hands commented on how early the sea ice had cleared out this year.
Following the overnight clearing of McMurdo Sound, there were several days when sheets of ice would appear and disappear along the shores. It was lovely to watch the rafts of sea ice that had broken away closer to the ice shelf and had drifted close to McMurdo’s beaches. These rafts looked delicate and ephemeral, but when the wind bumped them into each other, it was clear how massive they were. The continual splash of the water on ice sounded like the deafening hiss of white noise.
Feb. 10, 2014: Near the end of my trip, I got to fly to a site nearly at the summit of Mount Erebus. My official job was “picture-taker,” although I also served the function of “tool-fetcher.” This is a photo of the summit taken at the Lower Erebus Hut. I asked if there was an Upper Erebus Hut somewhere, but no one seemed to know.
The landscape looked like something from an alien world, especially the fumaroles — vents emitting steam and other gases. We were at such a high elevation and low temperature (lower than 30 below zero F) that the gases froze around the vents. This created enormous, otherworldly shapes.
The biggest one looked like a huge monster, with steam coming from its mouth.
Feb. 11, 2014: Departure day. I caught a transport from McMurdo to the ice runway Pegasus at 6:45 am and took off from Pegasus half an hour early. And after an 8.5-hour flight sitting along the sides of a military aircraft in crowded crash net seats, we landed in Christchurch. Tomorrow, I will catch a 7:30 a.m. flight to start my long journey back to St. Louis. It is always a treat to be in Antarctica, but I am very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again,