LuAnn's Blog

LuAnn writes educational activities for Earth science courses and teaches technology-based workshops for teachers. She works for TERC, a non-profit educational research and development firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When she’s not in Antarctica, she lives among cactus and coyotes in the desert environment of Mesa, Arizona in the United States. Use the form at the top to email questions or comments to LuAnn.

On my way — September 26, 2006

If you want to go to Antarctica, take good care of your body!

As a 47-year-old woman whose job keeps her behind a computer most of the day, I admit that I’m not exactly in peak condition. For several weeks, I experienced a mild level of anxiety knowing that I would be uninvited on this Antarctic adventure if I didn’t pass the physical exam…

The folks who manage all the logistics for the U.S. stations in Antarctica want to be sure that everyone on the ice is in good working order. Because access to medical and dental services is limited, they’ll only take people who compile specific evidence that shows they can expect to be well for at least the next 6 months. A 62-page document entitled “Deployment Paperwork Made Easy” contained the instructions for compiling this evidence. Once I had read and interpreted the instructions, I began my weeks-long quest to show that I was Physically Qualified (PQ’d) for the Antarctic experience.

Before I was done, I attended eight separate appointments with doctors, dentists, and other professionals. I had to have several test tubes filled with bodily fluids and sent off to people I don’t even know. I also had a tetanus shot, a mammogram, a full set of dental x-rays, and some minor periodontal surgery. Because I’m not yet 50, I got to skip some of the physical tests (like a stress test) and because I’m not planning to stay through the 6 dark months of winter, I didn’t have to take any psychological tests either. I’d already had my wisdom teeth out. It took only about a week after I’d sent off my packets before I got the good news: “You have been physically qualified for deployment. Your P.Q. status is good for six months.”

So I’m on my way! With the physical tests behind me, I’m turning to the hundreds of other little details I’ll need to address in order to spend two months away from home in Antarctica. Drop me a note if you have questions!

PQ’d smiles, LuAnn

Opposite Extremes — September 30, 2006

Predicted Highs & LowsThrough September, the daily high temperatures at my home in Mesa, Arizona have been roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Even in Celsius, the temperature difference between the two places is about 40 degrees!

I’m discovering that getting ready for the extreme cold while living in the extreme heat is an exercise in irony. For instance, it’s difficult to imagine needing additional layers of clothing while I’m wearing a tank top and shorts. Likewise, when I look out my window at the sun-baked desert, I can only make a wild guess as to whether I’ll need to wear tights under my long underwear or if a pair of knee-high wool socks will be enough. I’m fortunate to have a friend who has skied competitively, and she was kind enough to loan me several stocking hats and headbands. As I put them into my car on a hot Phoenix afternoon, I gave serious consideration to using them as hot pads to insulate my hands from the superheated steering wheel… This friend also hooked me up with some great gloves, which kept me from having to shop for them. You might imagine that shopping for cold weather gear in Arizona is a bit dicey at any time of year—I can assure you that it can be downright difficult during summertime clearance events!

Despite the warmth I’m feeling on my part of the planet today, I expect the difference in temperatures between Arizona and Antarctica to decrease over the next month. As the September equinox has recently passed, the cool nights of the northern hemisphere are now longer than its warm days. That means that Arizona loses a little bit more heat each night than it gains each day, so temperatures will begin to drop. Conversely, Antarctic days are now longer than their nights, so temperatures will begin to rise there. Because Mesa and McMurdo are at very different latitudes (33° versus 78° from the equator, respectively), their temperatures won’t ever meet in the middle. By the time I arrive on the ice in late October though, I expect it’ll be at least a little bit easier for Arizonans to imagine Antarctica.

Cooling down smiles,


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