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.

Entry Index
On my way — September 26, 2006
Opposite Extremes — September 30, 2006
Dinnertime — October 4, 2006
Crossing Lines — October 12, 2006
Field Studies in New Zealand — October 14, 2006
Watery New Zealand — October 15, 2006
Antarctic Arrival! — October 21, 2006
Sleeping out in Antarctica — October 28, 2006
Putting myself on the Antarctic map — October 30, 2006
Living in the Ozone Hole — November 3, 2006
Time to Eat Again — November 10, 2006
How Cold Is It? — November 12, 2006
Manual Labor — November 14, 2006
The Real Thing — November 16, 2006
My Halfway Day — November 20, 2006
Cutting the core — November 19, 2006
Spring in McMurdo — November 30, 2006
Core Technician for a Day — November 24, 2006
An Article for the Antarctic Sun — November 26, 2006
Life on the Edge — December 3, 2006
Core Supply — December 5, 2006
Reaching out in McMurdo — Decmber 11, 2006
A Picture Perfect Day — December 16, 2006
Tap Dancing in Antarctica — December 20, 2006
Leaving McMurdo — December 24, 2006

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

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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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Dinnertime — October 4, 2006

My family will probably do just fine without me while I’m gone, at least in the dinner department…

I travel for work on a fairly regular basis, so my husband and two daughters are pretty good at taking care of themselves. Whenever I’m home though, I’m the one who prepares and serves our evening meals. In the hopes that dinnertime won’t degrade to alternating days of pizza and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I’ve secured a stockpile of ready-to-make meals.

Knowing that I wanted to leave about 2 months of dinners behind, I tried one of those meal preparation franchises--you know, the places where you add all the ingredients for meals into zipper-style plastic bags, and come home with 12 ready-to-cook entrees? It was a real blast to go from station to station, pre-preparing the meals from the supply of already chopped ingredients and spices--the similarity to following a set of instructions in a chemistry lab wasn’t lost on me! The meals were a good value, and pretty tasty, but that they just weren’t familiar. My family got tired of facing a new meal every night, so this wasn’t going to work.

Camille's MeatloavesI ended up preparing and filling the freezer with multiple servings of the family’s favorites. I layered up tortillas, chicken, and cheese for four chicken enchilada casseroles and spread mashed potatoes across the top of five shepherd’s pies. My daughter Camille helped me make four meat loaves (each one of these will be good for at least two meals: there’s nothing like a meatloaf sandwich in my book!). To supplement the homemade meals, I also took a trip to the local warehouse store. Lasagna (I’ll never make it from scratch again!), chicken for the grill, and lots of ground beef went into the freezer. I also deposited half a case of canned chicken, 8 pounds of pasta noodles, and three 3-packs of pasta sauce in the pantry. No one will say that I left the cupboard bare! My final plan is to encourage friends and relatives to have my family over now and again. Weekends are usually best in case you want to consider extending an invitation... ;-)

As a last resort, I’m going to post the phone number for pizza delivery right next to the supply of peanut butter and jelly.

Dinner’s on! smiles, 


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Crossing Lines — October 12, 2006

After a frenzy of sorting and packing, I left home on Monday. Just three flights and 20 hours later, I found myself in Christchurch, New Zealand on Wednesday. I crossed both the equator and the International Date Line for my first time!

The equator is a natural boundary, separating Earth into two hemispheres that have alternating seasons and unique views of the night sky above their poles. If you cross the equator, you’ll find yourself in the opposite season of the one you left. Though folks in the northern hemisphere are raking leaves and beginning to wear coats, it’s late spring here, with blooming flowers and fresh leaves on trees.

Crossing the International Date Line is different: it’s a human-designated boundary invented for keeping track of the date. If you cross the dateline, you won’t notice any difference in time, but you’ll be on a part of the planet that has its clocks and calendars set one day ahead of or behind where you came from… Just like you have to adjust a watch whenever you cross into a new time zone, you have to adjust the date when you cross the dateline.

The dates all even out in the end. Though I didn’t experience a day named October 10 on my way here, I’ll get to live through two days named December 21 on my way home. And wherever we are on the globe, we’re all experiencing the same present moment: now is now everyplace. Despite the facts, it’s still surprising to call home and find out that it’s yesterday…

Almost done with tomorrow smiles, LuAnn

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Field Studies in New Zealand — October 14, 2006

Imagine the reflection your car would make in a mirror alongside the driver’s door… Now use your imagination to open the door of the reflected car and put your non-reflected body behind the steering wheel. That’s what it feels like to begin driving in New Zealand!

Vanessa and the Rental CarBefore heading to “the ice,” Vanessa Miller and I rented a car to facilitate some remote field studies on New Zealand’s South Island—I guess some people would just call it a road trip. After a few tips from our car rental agent, we plunged right out onto what felt like the wrong side of the road! The steering wheel isn’t the only thing that is in a different place in New Zealand cars: the windshield wiper control is on the left and the blinker lever is on the right. This caused me to start the windshield wipers instead of my blinker before each of my first 10 or 15 turns... The moving wipers apparently served as a warning to the locals though as they were successful at avoiding me. After a little practice and some time enjoying the speed limit of 100 (km per hour) on the open road, I grew a bit more confident. Though it always felt odd, I kept telling myself that as long as I was on the left side of the road, I was in my right mind.

Vanessa and I didn’t know one another when we started, but we made friends as the kilometers rolled past, each of us revealing who we are by the stories we chose to share and by our reactions to the incredible scenery. Vanessa is a New York City girl (by way of a small town in Tennessee) and I am all about the west. Traveling together in a country that’s new to both of us gave us a great range of interesting differences to discuss.

We saw gorgeous green pastures full of fat fluffy sheep and little lambs (lots and LOTS of sheep). Rows of tall living trees, trimmed close so they look like rectangular walls between neighboring fields emphasized the sense of neatness in the clean countryside. One lane bridges crossed over rocky river beds with whitewater streams. When we rose above the plains, we saw huge turquoise lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

We visited Queenstown, known as New Zealand’s Adventure Capital. Adrenaline is obviously big there: opportunities for bungy jumping, river surfing, parachuting, and other extreme sports abounded. Advertisements suggested “Thrill Therapy” to cure a range of ailments. We steered clear of the extreme stuff and took an amazing 3-hour hike. The vertical climb was intense, but the views from the top were worthwhile.

We also visited Wanaka, a city with friendly locals and visitors alike. In addition to its majestic scenery, the city also has Cinema Paradisio, a small theater with comfy couch seating and delicious food to accompany great films. It was a great place to spend a rainy evening!

Heading up the West Coast tomorrow smiles, LuAnn

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Watery New Zealand — October 15, 2006
As an avid water saver from the desert of Arizona, one small thing about New Zealand bothered me: some of the toilets use an incredible amount of water! Honestly, gallons and gallons more than seems necessary for each flush… After a day-long drive on the South Island though, I can’t fault New Zealanders for using as much water as they want—the west coast region is simply awash in water!

We drove through heavy rain for most of the day. Clouds, fog, melting snow, waterfalls, and rushing rivers were absolutely everywhere. Just stepping out of the car, I’d see rivulets of water running over the ground. I didn’t have to look far to see where they joined together to make a stream and where that stream joined another and another. It turns out that our experience with the rain wasn’t unique. We found this anonymous poem in the Arthur’s Pass Visitor’s Centre:

A poem about rain

The erosive action of all that rain was plainly obvious along the roads we traveled. The “falling rocks” signs are for real—they’re often followed up by signs that indicate “watch out for rocks that might be thrown into your windshield.” The waves of the Tasman Sea pounding on the west coast were another reminder of how water affects land. The short stretch of road that runs along the water was so strewn with large rocks and gravel that I had to drive on the right (wrong) side of the road to avoid them.

With all that water available, plants and algae grow everywhere that they can. It appears that road crews occasionally go to battle against the plants to keep them from growing into the roadway, and overhanging trees form long green tunnels over many sections of the road. Where plants win the battle, their roots work against erosion by holding rocks and soil in place. On steep mountainsides though, gravity and rain dominate, and bare rock is exposed for more erosion.

Despite the weather blocking expansive views of the incredible mountains in the region, it’s clear now that our wet road trip gave me a practical view of something even bigger: our Earth system at work.

Still damp smiles, LuAnn

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Antarctic Arrival! — October 21, 2006

Before the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) would take me to Antarctica, they insisted that I accept 35 pounds of their Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear to take with me. They loaned me 6 pairs of wool socks, two sets of long underclothes, fleece pants, field pants, a fleece jacket, bib-style snow pants, a pair of BIG boots, 2 hats, 5 sets of gloves and mittens, goggles, and a red USAP parka. I had to promise to return everything in good condition; the clothes are owned by USAP and they are reused for as many seasons as possible.

In the very wee hours of October 19, I boarded the military plane (a C-17) for the 5-hour flight from Christchurch to McMurdo Station. About half of the 113 passengers had been to Antarctica before; the other half were first-timers like me. Because there is always a chance that a flight might have to land someplace in Antarctica other than McMurdo, everyone is required to wear or carry about 80% of their ECW gear on the flight. Following the same idea of being well-prepared, each passenger receives a grocery bag of sandwiches and snacks—easily enough food for 3 meals! The flight was long and loud and the air was filled with anticipation. Before landing, there was an excited hubbub of people wrapping up in hats, gloves, and parkas. The main block of forward-facing seats in the plane looked as if a long line of red-coated skiers had missed their lift and filed into a theater instead.

The first moments after landing were truly incredible. As the door opened, a wave of cold air rolled right into the plane, revealing everyone’s exhaled breath as the small cloud of moisture it was. Stepping into the light was stunning—nothing I’d seen or read about Antarctica prepared me for the sheer immensity of the flat white open space around me. Looking to the horizon, I gasped at the beauty of the snow-covered mountains lit by low sunlight. Though the cold was a bit extreme (-13 degrees Fahrenheit), the total effect was a feast for the senses.

The rest of the day, mundane tasks such as attending the orientation lecture, touring the ANDRILL office area, and moving into my small shared dormitory room were made remarkable just by looking out the window. When my day ended around midnight, I stretched the dark blind across the window and velcroed it along all sides of the window frame to block out the sunlight. I drifted off still in wonder that this incredible place will be my home for the next two months.

Here at last smiles, LuAnn

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Sleeping out in Antarctica — October 28, 2006

Happy Camp

I spent last night camping out in Antarctica! I was one of 20 students in a one-and-a-half day Snow School (also known as Happy Camper School). We started by learning some basic concepts about surviving in the Antarctic environment—then we went straight to the field to practice them.

Though it sounds ridiculously simple, the most valuable piece of advice I learned for camping in snow is this: If you’re cold, do something about it. Following this advice made all the difference in making my night (almost) comfortable rather than miserable. The something to do about being cold should be one of the three E’s: Exercise, Eat, or find an External Heat Source. Note that putting on more clothes or getting into your sleeping bag probably won’t help: extra layers can’t produce heat, they can only trap whatever heat you put into them.

Exercise certainly warmed me up. We started by hiking at a pretty fast pace for about 20 minutes, then we went right to work setting up camp. We sawed big blocks of hard snow right out of the ground (just like you see in cartoons!) and used them to build a four-foot-high wall to block the wind. Everyone worked together to set up tents, digging into the snow with ice axes to secure the tent stakes. We continued exercising by building a snow hut (also called a quincy). We put all of the sleeping bags into a neat pile and covered them with a tarp, then buried the whole thing under a thick pile of snow. After tamping down the surface of the snow mound, we broke in at the bottom and removed the sleeping bags from inside, leaving a large hollow space big enough for 4 people to sleep inside. Some of the happy campers enjoyed shoveling snow so much that they dug snow trenches to sleep in. The trenches looked just like shallow graves to me, but the small enclosed space they created when covered with sleds or snow blocks helped keep their occupants warm and alive.

Eating was another way we kept warm.  Eat Early, Eat Often! was our motto. We got plenty of fuel to burn from lunch and frequent snacks. We also had hot drinks like cocoa and cider to warm us up from the inside. We had to melt snow over backpacking stoves to make the hot water for our drinks and dehydrated food dinners.

A campfire would have been a great external heat source, but since there’s no wood to burn we went for the next best thing, hand warmers. These little bags of chemical grains have an exothermic (heat-producing) reaction when exposed to air. They were the perfect thing to slide into my pockets and boot liners to keep my fingers and toes from getting too cold.

So it was relatively easy to stay warm while I was up, but the time eventually came to head to bed. I took a brisk walk to make sure I was warm before heading into the tent. I put on 2 pairs of clean socks along with fuzzy boot liners on my feet. I also wore two layers of long underclothes plus my fleece jacket and pants. I wore a scarf around my neck plus a hat that covered my head and eyes (to keep the light out!). I wrapped myself in a fleece sleeping bag liner, then slid into the nylon sleeping bag and rested. So long as the patch of ice that developed where I was breathing on the sleeping bag didn’t touch my face, I stayed reasonably warm and got some sleep. I did get chilly a couple of times, but I warmed myself up by shivering a little and flexing my muscles. The fresh hand warmers I put inside my leather mittens at about 2 in the morning were just what I needed to get through the rest of the night. Getting out of my sleeping bag at about 7 a.m. wasn’t bad at all. I’d lost enough heat through the night that the covers had become chilly, and getting up and dressed so that I could start moving again sounded great. The school ended after role-playing through some emergency scenarios that we might experience in the field. As the group had been working together for 24 hours by then, we felt comfortable and were able to work through the challenges.

Though I certainly hope that I won’t need to call on the skills I learned in a serious survival situation, and I don’t intend to take up snow camping as a voluntary recreational activity anytime soon, I had a great time. Thanks so much to my instructors, Kevin and Trevor, and to all of my new snow school friends.

Happy Camper smiles, LuAnn

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Putting myself on the Antarctic map — October 30, 2006

In the western United States, many cities are set up on an orthogonal grid: if you’re driving on a main street in the west, you’re most likely heading straight north, south, east, or west. The grid formed by the roads makes it convenient to use cardinal directions to describe how to get someplace. Lots of folks understand that you should Never Eat Sour Watermelon. As an avid map reader, I’ve always placed any map I’m reading in its real-world orientation—I align north on the map with north in the real world and the rest of the directions follow suit. When I use my imagination to make myself small and wander around on the map, my brain only has to change the size of things, not the orientation.

So, getting familiar with where things are in Antarctica has presented me with some challenges… Rectangular world maps (if they show Antarctica at all) usually show the continent as a big white zone stretched all the way across the bottom of the world. This traditional Mercator projection is quite useful for low- to mid-latitudes, but it stretches the polar regions all out of shape. Looking at Antarctica on a globe gives a much better feel for its shape, but the location of the South Pole near the continent’s center makes the use of cardinal directions quite difficult. After all, every coast of the continent is its north coast! Finally, the obvious cues to direction such as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west just don’t work now while the sun doesn’t set.

Antarctic MapThe most common convention for showing the whole continent is to orient it so that the prime meridian (zero degrees longitude) is pointing straight up and 180° longitude (the International Dateline) is pointing down. This puts the Ross Ice Shelf and McMurdo Station (where I am) on the bottom side of the map. When I focus in on our location on these maps, my brain has to do a mental transformation so that I don’t interpret down as south. This convention works well for the whole continent, but regional and local maps of the Ross Ice Shelf usually show North at the top, so I have to mentally rotate the continental scale view to understand how the local view fits into the bigger picture.

One solution to these issues is to superimpose an orthogonal grid over the entire Antarctic continent and refer to the directions along the lines as Grid North, Grid East, Grid South, and Grid West. Though True south and Grid south are almost 180° apart at McMurdo, and the direction to anyplace off the continent will be expressed in another coordinate system, this system solves the North-is-everywhere problem. McMurdo's GIS specialist, Jess Walker, created the map below to show the difference between Grid directions and True directions.

Grid North

Antarctic DuckAn innovative solution to all of these issues might come from the field of biology... When Antarctica is shown with the 225°W longitude at the top, the continent bears some resemblance to a duck… Can you see it here? We can simply refer to places by which part of  the duck they represent.

On the duck’s back smiles, LuAnn

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Living in the Ozone Hole — November 3, 2006

Just a couple of days after I arrived here, NASA scientists reported that the late September ozone hole over Antarctica was the largest ever measured. A couple of days later, measurements showed that the hole was also the deepest scientists have seen since they started monitoring it in 1979. A few folks wrote to ask me what it’s like to be inside the ozone hole. Another wanted to check if I'd be safe. Though the threat is invisible, I’m making sure to look after myself while there’s so little ozone available to guard me.

Nov 3. Ozone HoleAs of today, McMurdo Station is still within the ozone hole. The hole is defined as the area of Earth’s surface that has 220 or fewer Dobson units of ozone between it and the sun. The rest of the southern hemisphere has almost twice as much ozone to block ultraviolet light from reaching the surface. The record “depth” of the hole refers to the lowest concentration of ozone ever seen—only 85 Dobson Units of ozone were detected in one region.

Here’s how the hole develops over Antarctica every spring: The long, dark winters allow clouds to form high in the stratosphere over the polar region. As winter ends, sunlight provides the energy to start a complex chemical reaction on the surface of these cloud particles. This reaction between human-manufactured gases (chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs) and ozone leads to widespread ozone destruction. The hole usually lasts until late November.

The danger of living under the ozone hole comes from receiving too much UV light, the component of sunlight that causes sunburns. In humans, research has documented a higher risk of cancers and cataracts with increased UV exposure. Increased ultraviolet light has also been connected to DNA damage in the eggs and larvae of Antarctic fish.

Despite the record-breaking ozone hole being featured on the front page of the USAP’s weekly newspaper, the Antarctic Sun, people don’t seem too concerned. Most people already wear sunglasses everyday because of the bright white of the snow, and sunscreen is actually provided next to soap dispensers at many sinks. It's obvious that some folks aren't using enough sunscreen though: several people show up at dinner each day with a sunburn on their face that stops right at their hat line.

I’m still spending most of my time indoors here, but it’s starting to get a little warmer and I’m starting to get a little stir crazy. As I start getting out, you can bet I’ll be using my own UV protection to make up for the lack of ozone above me.

Sunscreened smiles, LuAnn

P.S. Lots of scientists were surprised at the size and depth of this year's ozone hole. After all, in December of 2005, a couple studies indicated that the hole should be diminishing and disappear within several decades. You can find out more about ozone and its role in climate in Jeannie Allen's excellent article Tango in the Atmosphere: Ozone and Climate Change. To look into the current controversy, enter "ozone recovery" into your favorite search engine and explore some of the results. If you want to learn a technique for measuring the ozone hole yourself, see the Earth Exploration Toolbook activity, Analyzing the Antarctic Ozone Hole.

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Time to Eat Again — November 10, 2006


Here in McMurdo, they’re pretty serious about food. Four meals are offered every day—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midrats (midnight rations). I do a lot of other stuff each day, but every time I turn around, it’s time to eat again! Every meal is a big buffet: you serve yourself and you can eat all you want. To discourage waste, the policy is “take as much as you want, but eat all that you take.”

Rob the CookThe day starts with a big breakfast, but you can only get it if you make it to the galley by 7:30 a.m. (If you don’t make it by the time they stop serving, cold cereal and milk is your only choice). The daily breakfast buffet includes scrambled eggs and bacon or ham plus breakfast potatoes. Most days, pancakes or french toast and oatmeal or grits are also offered. Yogurt and a variety of fruit are available every day too. If you're willing to stand in line, a cook will prepare eggs to order or an omelet with whatever additions you’d like. Four or five kinds of juice plus water, coffee, tea, and milk are usually available. If you're still hungry after all that, you can usually find one or more types of breakfast pastries too.

Lunch is a big production every day. It always includes a main entree plus side dishes like vegetables and cold prepared salads. Recently, beef stroganoff and chicken burritos were offered for lunch. Today, they had chicken and/or lamb gyros. There's always at least one vegetarian entree too. They also have a fresh sandwich bar where you can choose the type of bread, meat, and toppings you like—you may have to stand in line for 5 or 10 minutes, but it's worth it to have someone else make you a nice fresh sandwich. Most (all?) of the bread is made onsite and it’s quite good. There's always a dessert item too, usually some type of bars or cupcakes. And Wednesday is cookie day—most folks bring a ziplock bag with them and grab a few extras for snacks.

Dining HallEvery day when dinnertime comes around, another big buffet is open for business. A few days ago, they served BBQ ribs, halibut, and a vegetarian casserole. Side dishes included rice, asparagus, and fresh bread. A BIG bowl of fresh lettuce salad is often available at dinnertime too. To top it all off, they usually offer two or more desserts at dinnertime. If they haven’t run out of it for the week, “Frosty Boy” soft serve ice cream is available. The other night, the dessert choices were warm berry cobbler, gooey brownies, and ice cream. I went for some of each!


Fresh food is flown in from New Zealand each week right now, so they haven’t run out of too many things. If the weather gets bad or the ice runways become unusable though, I’m sure the meals will change. The best part about the food here is that you don't have to cook, clean up, or pay for it. The worst part about the food here is that I can’t afford to miss a single exercise class!

Well-fed smiles,


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How Cold Is It? — November 12, 2006

Over the three weeks I’ve been here, it’s been warming up. Of course it’s still Antarctica, so warm is a relative term. Scott Base (New Zealand’s Antarctic base located just around the corner from McMurdo) provides all the weather numbers you’d ever want to know at this website.   Here are a few qualitative observations about how cold it really is:

Freezer doorThe doors into the lab buildings are just like the ones used for walk-in freezers at restaurants!

If I don’t wear a hat, I can get a cold headache (the kind that comes from eating ice cream too fast!) from the wind blowing directly on my forehead.

When I keep my water bottle in the outer pocket of my parka on a walk, it needs to be upside down. That way, when the water starts freezing, the ice is in the bottom instead of freezing the lid shut.

My bare hands can stay pretty warm if I keep them in my pockets, but gloves are absolutely necessary for turning metal door knobs. 

I’ve learned that putting drinks on the outside sill of a window is better for chilling them than a refrigerator.

Self portrait at midnightMy nose and ears are often the same color as Big Red (my parka).

When I walk into a relatively warm and humid building from outside, my sunglasses don’t just fog over, they actually develop a coating of frost.

The first few words out of my mouth after I’ve been outside are often mumbled; the cold zaps the fine control I usually have over my lips.

And this one’s gross but it’s true:

If I wait too long to blow my nose, I have to pick it instead! The dry air takes the moisture out of everything and any moisture that is left gets frozen!

Blowing frequently smiles,


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Manual Labor — November 14, 2006

The word manual means “done with the hands.” So as I’ve worked as part of ANDRILL’s Microbiology and Porewater Geochemistry team over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a little manual labor... These pictures illustrate some of what I’ve done from my own point of view.

Manual Labor

Of course I’ve had a chance to use my mind too… I’ve worked with Stefan Vogel of Northern Illinois University and Cheih Peng, a technician from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Project.

Stefan and Cheih

Kevin Mandernack of Colorado School of Mines is also a part of our team: he is a biologist who checks out the microbial life in the top section of the core. While the majority of ANDRILL scientists were waiting for core samples from many meters below the seafloor to begin their work, our team got started first because our samples come from the very top of the core.

Porewater in SSPorewater is the water that fills the space between grains of sediment. We obtained our porewater samples from the early cores in two ways. For some, we squeezed sections of the core in a hydraulic press and collected the water. The sediments were under 20,000 pounds of pressure per square inch—what started out as a 5 cm high cylinder of wet sediment was turned into a 1 cm high disk of rock that resembled a hockey puck!

Core Pressing

Rhizons and coreOn another core, we inserted thin plastic hoses (rhizons) with evacuated collection tubes to collect water directly from the core. A series of chemical analyses are run on each porewater sample. Measurements of dissolved oxygen content, pH, alkalinity, chlorine content, and trace elements are made to characterize the porewater at various depths along the core. One thing that can be deduced from porewater is if the sediments were deposited in seawater or freshwater. The microbiologist also needs to understand the chemical environment of the porewater to see what nutrients are available for the microbes. Some of the chemical analyses we ran are time sensitive, so we had to work around the clock when our samples arrived. The sacrifice of sleep was worthwhile though: it was great to be a part of a group effort gathering data for analysis, and it was incredible to be able to look out the lab window at the midnight sun!

Lab-coated smiles,


Alkalinity and the midnight sun

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The Real Thing — November 16, 2006

I recently had my first opportunity to visit the drill site—Wow!! My first-hand view of the equipment and the expertise it takes to make this project real gave me a deep respect for the folks who planned the project and are making it happen. The thing that impressed me most was how vast the difference is between theory and reality. After all, when I’ve described the ANDRILL project to people over the past few months, I’ve used a simple diagram to explain just how the drillers get through the ice, down through the water, and into the sediments… My visit confirmed that the real thing is much more complex and even more interesting than the diagram!

ANDRILL is not your standard drilling project. For instance, most drilling projects only want to make a hole in the ground rather than retrieve a core of rock material. Even projects like the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program who do want to retrieve rock cores from the sea bottom don’t try to retrieve them through an ice shelf… ANDRILL engineers were able to adapt some of the drilling technologies developed for minerals exploration in Australia. Beyond that, they had to design several innovations and inventions to get at the sedimentary records under the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

 Diagram and Real Reamer

One example of invention is the hot water reamer that keeps the sea riser from freezing to the ice shelf (the sea riser is the cylinder that extends from the surface to several meters below the sea bottom). In the diagram, the reamer is a simple box. In real life though, it is a complex system that took several rounds of design and testing to perfect. As the reamer is lowered and raised through the ice around the sea riser, it sprays seawater that is 80 degrees C (that’s 176 degrees F—so hot that it’s almost boiling) onto the surrounding ice. The top-side operations—heating the seawater and pumping it into the reamer—take place in a building made of two shipping containers. Because hot seawater is incredibly corrosive, the system actually heats fresh water (melted snow) and passes it through a heat exchanger to heat the seawater. The part of the system that contains seawater is made of titanium, an expensive metal that has a low susceptibility to corrosion. Without this system, the sea riser would freeze to the ice shelf and be torn apart as the ice shelf raises and lowers with every tidal cycle. Several other innovations of this scale were also necessary, and the success of the project depends on them all working together.

 Cliff's Drill Photo

The trip to the drill site also gave me a chance to meet some of the folks who work there. The drill site and the science lab are only about 10 km apart but the operations are somewhat isolated from one another: the tasks of retrieving the core and doing scientific analyses on it are very different, so we don’t get much chance to interact. It was great to say hello to several members of the drilling team and to see what it takes to retrieve the core.

During my visit, four drillers were working on the rig. They had just brought up the drill string (the kilometer-long length of pipes) and replaced the drill bit and they were starting to add pipes above the bit to send it back down again. Each driller stepped into position right where and when they were needed. Whenever they had to tighten the next pipe onto the drill string, three drillers lined up and pushed together. They worked so well together that their moves might have been choreographed. They obviously know their work and are good at it, even in extremely adverse conditions. Despite some stormy days recently, we’ve moved into a phase of drilling with tens of meters of core coming into the lab each day. Every time I work with one of the core lengths, I have a new appreciation for reality!

Real smiles,


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My Halfway Day — November 20, 2006

Today marks the halfway point of the time I’ll be in Antarctica! It’s quite odd to think that it’s been just one month since I arrived. Some days, I’m pretty sure that I’ve been here two or three months. I can hardly imagine that I’ll still be here when the same amount of time that I’ve already spent here has passed again… With drilling and core work in full swing now, I’m pretty sure that I won’t have new experiences at the same rate I did last month. Maybe each day will start to feel just one day long for a change.

My perception of time is really strange here. The days are definitely longer, but it’s not at all clear what happens to the extra time. The high degree of sameness in each day (breakfast, morning meeting, lunch, afternoon meeting, dinner) is punctuated by a series of brand new experiences, but they all blend together. I’ve found that if I don’t record at least a short list of what I did each day before I go to bed, I have a difficult time reconstructing what happened yesterday.

The part where it’s a different day here than it is at home is another factor in my time weirdness. For instance, I’ve contacted two different people to wish them happy birthday and they both thought that I had called a day early. My sister noted that she read one of my blog postings while it had a date that was tomorrow for her—she got a brief time-travel feeling too! Another thing that I can't get used to is weekends. When it’s already Saturday evening here and the weekend is half over, I can call home and chat with my family and friends who are just celebrating the arrival of Friday Night. Also, you folks in the U.S. aren’t done with your weekend until I’ve already worked through a full-blown Monday. In a really odd way, it makes it seem like the weekend is three days long.


At breakfast today, I must have sounded a little panicky. I described that my halfway day made me feel that I should rush a little more, to get as much done as I can before I go. A friend responded by describing a delightful movie she’d seen last night. In “The World's Fastest Indian,” the main character accomplishes what he dreams of by doing things at his own measured pace, much to the consternation of the folks who always hurry… The message I got is that I should continue enjoying things as they come. Worrying about the fact that there will be a physical end to this adventure certainly won’t enhance the days I have left, so I’m not going to go there. Though the countdown is on, I refuse to pay attention!

Enjoying every minute smiles,


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Cutting the core — November 19, 2006

I’ve recently become a member of ANDRILL’s team of curators…

Someone with the title of curator usually works at a museum. More generally though, curators are guardians;  their job is to keep valuable things safe for the future. With valuable core coming into the lab each day, it’s perfectly fitting that ANDRILL would need a team of curators. The curatorial team keeps the core samples safe and in order. They ensure that current as well as future researchers can access accurate information and that the sequence of the one-meter core lengths is intact and clearly labeled.

labeling the core


Twice per day, we receive a batch of one-meter-long cylinders of core. Before cutting it, we compare the core itself to the log filled out by the core technicians at the drill site. I am extremely careful to be aware of which is the top of each core: if I ever got that wrong, the rock record would be read backwards! Before we start cutting, we record the depth interval of the core in meters below sea floor, label both sides of the core splits, make tags that will sit on the core halves, label two sets of core boxes, and mark the top and bottom depths on index tabs.

 Prepping the core


After preparing the core with tape and lining it up on the saw track, it takes about 10 minutes for the saw to cut through the meter of core. I’m always anxious to see inside— sometimes I see absolutely beautiful layers or other sedimentary structures; sometimes it’s a little less spectacular… It’s a little bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.


Sample Cores

VaultThe reason we cut the core is not just to admire the beautiful structures. We do it to create an archive half of the core and a working half. No destructive testing is performed on the archive half—it is kept under lock and key in a refrigerated vault. All the archive cores will be stored for future use at the Antarctic Research Facility at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

The working half sees a lot of action: as part of the data collected and stored by the curators, it is first imaged on a high resolution scanner to create a visual record of it. Then the sedimentologists make a detailed description of each section. The working cores are eventually “parted out” (sawed up into pieces) as samples for different science teams. Some pieces are made into thin sections, some are broken apart and sieved, and some are checked for their magnetic orientation. Again, the curators make certain that every sample is accurately labeled before it is passed on to the science teams. They recollect the samples too, so that future researchers might have their own look. The entire ANDRILL team and future researchers alike can rest assured that the curatorial team is taking good care of our most valuable asset, the core.

Curatorial smiles,


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Spring in McMurdo — November 30, 2006

River 2

As I walked to the galley the other morning, it was snowing just enough so that I had to brush a few flecks of snow off my face. It wasn't particularly cold or windy, but I thought the snow might signal a respite from the “warm” spell that has turned McMurdo's roads into muddy rivers. As the day went on however, the clouds disappeared and direct sunlight poured down on another warm day. Stepping outside to put away some cores in the afternoon, I was totally surprised to be standing in truly warm sunlight—I got a distinct feeling of springtime, right here on Earth’s coldest continent.

TemperaturesChecking the predicted high temperatures for Mesa and McMurdo, I see that their highs are only about 40 degrees apart this week… Though the high temperatures here are still below the freezing point of water, air that is next to a sunny wall or the dark volcanic rocks of the roads gets much warmer. Snow and ice are literally disappearing before my eyes, both downhill as water and into the atmosphere. Places where the sun shines on wet ground have a visible fog rising from them, showing that the water re-condenses into clouds right after it evaporates. My perpetual white cloud of breath is still with me too, but the temperature has actually been tolerable!

So it’s definitely warmer, but I hope that the clear, sunny skies won’t last for too long. As November in the southern hemisphere is equivalent to May in the northern hemisphere, we may not get a full-blown snowstorm before I go, but I do long for a break from all sun all the time…

Warm smiles,


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Core Technician for a Day — November 24, 2006

Out at the drill site, things are really humming along. The last 2 shifts produced over 50 meters of core—approximately twice as much as the previous daily average! With so much core to process, I got the chance to work a shift as a core technician at the drill site.

Earlier this week, the drillers switched over to a smaller drilling bit. They put a batch of special recipe concrete down the drill hole to anchor the base of the first drill string, then inserted a new, smaller diameter bit down its center. The new bit cut right through the concrete and the old bit and has started producing cores of a slightly smaller diameter than the first ones. Because the cutting area is smaller, drilling is faster, and core production is up.

Drill String Diagram 2

So while most folks were eating too much turkey and mashed potatoes in the U.S., I spent a 12-hour shift helping to clean cores, cut them into 1-meter lengths, and package them up for analysis at the lab. During the only break of the day, I had the chance to visit the drill floor while they brought up a 6-meter run of core, and I even got a chance to drive the drill! I was really thankful to enjoy such a great day of hard work with the drill site team.

Thankful smiles,


CoreTech Pics 3

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An Article for the Antarctic Sun — November 26, 2006
For the week of November 26, ANDRILL was the featured project in The Antarctic Sun, the U.S. Anatarctic Program's weekly newspaper. I contributed the following article.


ARISE-ing to the challenge of telling ANDRILL’s story

By LuAnn Dahlman

Special to the Sun

The ANDRILL team is doing world-class science and has a program in place to tell the world about it: six science educators from four countries are at McMurdo Station, participating in the research and sharing their experiences with a range of audiences across the globe.

The program is called ARISE — ANDRILL Research Immersion for Science Educators. Working daily as members of science teams, the ARISErs are genuinely immersed in current geologic research. We work side by side with the scientists, gathering data to coax out the array of stories the core has to tell about such things as tectonics and climate change. We contribute by performing chemical analyses, preparing microscope slides, counting and classifying stones (clasts), and searching core material for microfossils. We even get to do exciting tasks like using the rock saw to split the meter-long sections of core into two halves — it’s great to be the first one to have a look at the exposed sediment layers!

In addition to participating on science teams, ARISE participants are working on individual educational projects targeted to specific audiences. These projects will become part of ANDRILL’s contribution to the educational community. Along with video journals and instructional multimedia produced by ANDRILL’s media master, Megan Berg, ARISE participants’ blogs, Web sites, presentations and activities will be available for classroom use and informal learning through the Project Iceberg Web site ( When the International Polar Year (IPY) kicks off in March of 2007, we’ll have educational content available to inform and inspire students of all ages about Antarctica and geologic drilling.

Though we come from a wide range of educational situations, we each have the goal of communicating the excitement and importance of ANDRILL’s science to people beyond Antarctica. The complete story with all of the technical and scientific details won’t appeal to everyone, so we reduce its complexity appropriately for different audiences. The challenge for each of us is to capture what we can of our research experience and pass it on in ways that will raise awareness of and build value for geoscience research in Antarctica.

ARISE Group Photo

Back row, left to right, Julian Thomson, Betty Trummel, Alexander Siegmund, LuAnn Dahlman. Front row, Vanessa Miller and Matteo Cattadori.

ARISE participants

Vanessa Miller teaches fourth- and fifth-grade students at Central Park East 2 in New York City. Her school occupies the fourth story of a five-story building in east Harlem. As the playground is made of concrete, she and her class walk the short distance to Central Park in order to learn about the natural world. Vanessa is preparing a series of professional development seminars on polar science and geology for elementary school teachers in New York. She is also cultivating opportunities to involve her students in authentic science research.

Julian Thomson teaches Earth science and outdoor activities at a Steiner School in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. He worked as a field assistant on the 2005 ANDRILL project to map the drill site target for next season’s work on the sea ice. Julian makes it a priority to hike one or more of the trails around McMurdo almost every day — he’s often seen with a strange-looking camera above his head, recording the view in 360 degrees. He is working on a curriculum book about Antarctica and collecting interviews and other audio files for podcasts.

Matteo Cattadori teaches 13- through 16-year-old students in Trento, Italy. He is working with 31 schools, building a Web site to provide them with content and challenges that students can use for their end-of-year projects. He has produced photo galleries, audio files and videos to document his work with ANDRILL. Matteo’s Web site ( is called ProgettoSMILLA after the book “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.”

Betty Trummel
teaches fourth-graders at Husmann Elementary School in Crystal Lake, Ill. She participated as a T.E.A. (Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic) in the Cape Roberts Project in 1998, a previous geological drilling project. She is a prolific blogger, posting daily explanations and photos of ANDRILL science processes. She also posts descriptions and photos featuring the work of various departments around McMurdo. Betty is developing a series of presentations and short courses to share the ARISE experience with an international audience of teachers. She is also producing two books that describe ANDRILL and Antarctica for elementary school children using an ABC format.

Alexander Siegmund is a professor of geography who teaches pre-service teachers in Heidelberg, Germany. He is working with television, radio and newspaper companies to tell the story of ANDRILL to a broad audience. His descriptions, photographs and video footage will publicize the importance of scientific research on climate history. His media contacts are writing articles and producing documentaries to air nationally on German television and radio.

LuAnn Dahlman
lives in Mesa, Ariz. and works for TERC, a non-profit educational research and development firm. She develops Earth science curriculum materials and teaches technology-based professional development programs for teachers. LuAnn is developing computer-based activities for geology students and a book of hands-on learning activities. She is a co-principal investigator on an IPY project that will produce a NOVA documentary on ANDRILL plus an innovative outreach package called the Flexhibit. The Web-accessible Flexhibit content will prepare youth groups to host IPY science events in their communities.

For further information on ANDRILL’s Education and Public Outreach efforts, contact ANDRILL’s EPO coordinator, John Jackson, at

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Life on the Edge — December 3, 2006

Micheal Claeys is the Electronics Technician for science groups at McMurdo. He works on a wide range of scientific instruments and other gadgets that scientists need to do their work in Antarctica. Recently, a project that studies sea ice needed Micheal’s expertise and assistance in setting up their field test site. He wrote this article to describe some of the work he did and the wildlife he saw while working with this group.


by Micheal Claeys

Electronics Technician, Crary Laboratory

Last week, I had a chance to live on the edge. The edge of the sea ice, that is…

I was assisting a science group that is studying the strength of first-year sea ice in McMurdo Sound. In Antarctica, sea ice is used as the surface of a runway for planes to take off and land on for several months of the year, and vehicles drive across sea ice almost constantly. This makes it important to know how strong the ice is and under what conditions it may fail. The science group travels to the edge of the sea ice to perform tests and gather samples. They needed my help to set up their electrical power and instruments.

We traveled north from McMurdo in a helo (helicopter) for about 30 minutes to reach the edge of this year’s sea ice. The test site is just 300 meters from open water, so we expected to see some Antarctic wildlife, and I wasn’t disappointed. Two Adelie penguins were at the camp when we arrived, and small groups of Emperor penguins and Adelies both visited us later in the day.  The wind started blowing soon after we arrived. It was hard to walk against the wind but easy to walk with it.

day 1

Our first task was to shovel the snow off the surface of an 8 meter by 8 meter square area of the sea ice where the tests would be performed. We then used chain saws to make two parallel cuts about 25 cm apart from each other along two sides of the test area. We then cut the ice between the cuts into manageable-sized blocks and removed them with tongs. The ice was about 50 cm thick, and when we stood the blocks up in a row, it looked like a miniature Stonehenge.

ice cutting 2

The winds were picking up through the day and they eventually got up to around 100 km per hour. I could actually lean backwards into the wind with all my weight and the wind would hold me up! This made working quite difficult so we radioed in to be picked up by the helo ahead of our original schedule. We planned to go out again the following morning, but bad weather kept all helo flights from taking off the entire day.

When we returned on the third day, we had beautiful sunshine and little to no wind. As soon as the helicopter left, Emperor penguins started showing up. From the edge of the ice, they were coming out of the water and paddling over to us in a single file line. Sea ice had reformed in the open slots we had cut in the ice, but it was only a few centimeters thick. We cleaned this out and made single cuts on the other two sides of the test area. Once all four sides were cut, we had a square area of free-floating sea ice. We drilled a grid of holes in it and installed test gauges to get it ready for the fracture test. They inserted an expander along a vertical line in the ice and documented how the ice cracked using the instruments and video tape.

emperor and adelie

adelies and seal3penguins

By the end of the day, there were nearly 100 Emperor penguins surrounding us, checking out our work and equipment. They weren’t afraid, only curious, and they would get quite close to us. It was quite exciting to have these comical animals following us about and looking into our equipment boxes all day. At lunchtime, a seal popped up through a hole in the ice too. The ice edge is certainly the place to see wildlife in Antarctica.

Once our testing was complete, we had a mad scramble to pack everything up and secure it before the helo showed up to take us back to MacTown. While I enjoy troubleshooting and repairing electronic equipment for scientists in the lab, it was just great to get out and experience life on the edge.


For more information on the sea ice project, see

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Core Supply — December 5, 2006

In the planning stages for this season’s drilling, the team worked with an estimate of recovering 30 meters of core per day. Things started out pretty slowly though; for many days, we received only 10 to 15 meters of new core to sample and analyze. Drilling rates remained relatively slow down to about 200 meters below the seafloor.

Once a smaller drill bit was installed and harder rocks were encountered, core production went up dramatically. On the same day that co-chief Tim Naish was quoted saying “The team won’t know what hit them when they start getting 30 meters of core a day,” drillers actually produced a whopping 84 meters! Rumors were flying that the drill team was going for a record of 100 meters within 24 hours…

core backupThe curatorial team simply couldn’t keep up splitting and imaging that much core, so it backed up in the refrigerated vault and on the shelves. Though the core splitting actually went a bit faster with the smaller cores, the core scanner that makes a high-resolution image of each working half simply couldn’t go any faster. The scanner takes 17 minutes per meter of core if you hurry or if you don’t, and it takes additional time to get the imaging software set up between each scan and physically move new cores onto the track. The task of keeping boxes of split cores in the right order so they could be imaged sequentially became harder and harder as more boxes came in and there was less space to sort and store them—we spent plenty of time just shuffling the heavy boxes of core to keep the shallower cores above the deeper ones that kept coming in from the splitters.

Just when it started looking like we’d be buried by core, the drilling came to a halt… Cliff Atkins, senior core technician at the drill site, told me what it was like when the core stopped coming in:

“We were working along at a good pace, processing a 6-meter run of core from the drillers about every 2 hours. We had finished up a run and started expecting the next one… We waited a while and then waited some more and it still didn’t show up. We finally went up to the drill floor to see what was happening. The drillers were all standing around, looking at the hole with very serious faces, talking about what else they might try... They had begun retrieving a run of core from a depth just short of 700 meters below the sea floor and the core barrel became stuck. The 2-kilometer long cable used for pulling out core had recently begun showing signs of wear, so they didn’t want to pull too hard on it… The drill bit itself wouldn’t move forward either. Everything came to a halt.”

A new cable arrived from New Zealand within a couple of days and the core barrel was finally successfully retrieved, but the drill bit was still stuck. Though the original plan for this drilling depth was to trip out the bit (bring the full length of pipe out of the hole) and have the downhole loggers gather data from inside the drill hole, the decision was made to cement the current pipe in place and go on drilling using the smallest bit size.

The only good thing about not getting any new core for a while was that it gave us a chance to catch up getting the whole core segments split and imaged. Slowly but surely, the whole cores disappeared from the refrigerator and the shelves of boxes of core that needed imaging were cleared. We’ve just caught up today, splitting and imaging the last of the core that came from the 63 mm drill bit.

The concrete was applied at the bottom of this bit last night and they will begin coring it out again in the next shift or two. They have to build another drill string first, approximately a mile long, down the center of the three pipes that already exist. With another new bit that cuts an even smaller area, core production will likely go way back up again very soon, maybe even to the 100 meters per day level. Even if we can’t keep up, we’ll give it our best shot…

When it rains it pours smiles,


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Reaching out in McMurdo — Decmber 11, 2006

The ANDRILL team has a pretty large footprint at McMurdo Station. About 60 ANDRILLians are here (plus 25 more at Scott Base), making us the largest science project on the ice this year. We take up an entire dormitory, and you can usually identify 3 or 4 separate tables of ANDRILLians at every meal. As we are so visible around the community, people want to know about our project, and we provide a pretty constant stream of opportunities for them to learn about us.

For instance, every Sunday night, there’s a science lecture for the community in the dining hall. Several aspects of ANDRILL have been featured in these talks. ANDRILL scientists are also featured in bi-monthly Café Scientifique events. These are billed as “a place to eat, drink, and talk about science.” The event’s hosts make an informal presentation and encourage attendees to join the discussion.

As our project has made a substantial commitment to education, the ARISE participants also made a presentation to the community to share samples of how they will engage students in Antarctic geoscience. Attendees made model ANDRILL cores and participated in some core interpretation.

Meet ANDRILL's Educators Poster

The Antarctic Sun, U.S. Antarctic Program’s weekly newspaper, featured ANDRILL quite prominently a few weeks ago: for a detailed overview of the project, you can download the “All ANDRILL All the Time” issue from Our Open House was another opportunity for McMurdoites to see what we do. In a one-and-a-half hour tour, attendees could see drilling equipment and the core splitting and imaging facilities, then admire some of the actual cores. The final stop on the tour gave them a chance to move about different stations and put their hands on microscopes and other equipment to learn about the scientific analyses scientists are doing here.

So by now, most folks here on the ice have heard about our project. Even off the ice, we’re starting to create a little buzz: a substantial number of media outlets in the U.S., New Zealand, Italy, and Germany have recently dispatched reporters to McMurdo and posted stories and photos.

We’re making progress on our plan is to tell the world about the ANDRILL project—we’ve already got one continent covered!

Reaching out smiles,


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A Picture Perfect Day — December 16, 2006

Just last week, my nephew Eric sent this request:

Aunt LuAnn: The first thing I have to ask is that if you could, please take a cool picture of an iceberg before they all melt away. If possible I would like this picture to be of an iceberg of the coast, in water, and maybe even with penguins on it.

As I have spent most of the last 7 weeks essentially working inside an office in Antarctica, I didn’t have much hope for fulfilling his request. There’s good news though! As field trips are an important part of any geology project, the ANDRILL project built in the resources so that everyone would be able to take at least one Antarctic field trip. My turn finally came up on Saturday: I was one of eight ANDRILLians who went to Cape Bird, the Erebus Saddle, and Cape Crozier. Of course in Antarctica, the only way to take field trips is by helicopter. I’m pretty sure that I saw and experienced more of Antarctica in that one day than the rest of my time combined!

Ross Island

We took off from McMurdo in the early afternoon and flew north to Cape Bird. It was a delightfully sunny day and we started to see blue seawater peeking through cracks in the sea ice. The sea ice gradually disappeared and I was thrilled to see several large icebergs just off the coast. The helo dropped us off right near a stately tabular iceberg that dominated the local scenery. We spent the next couple of hours walking along the shore to the place where the helo had gone to wait for us.

Me and & Iceberg

The walk was absolutely stunning! Close up, we saw an incredible range of great ice shapes, plenty of rocks(!), and more wildlife than I would have believed possible. The dark rocks of the shore, the deep blue of the sea (a color that’s been absent from my view for too long), and the white of the icebergs were all set off by the lighter blue of the sky. Way off in the distance, across shimmering water and ice, the Transantarctic Mountains marked the horizon.

On the two-hour walk, I saw so many Adelie penguins doing so many different things that I got to the point where I could simply admire them without having to take their pictures. I also saw plenty of skuas: they are large gull-like birds that nest right in the rocks along the shore. Several times, I had one fly directly at my head and pass just inches above me, obviously warning me to get out of its nesting area. As they are quite aggressive, I learned to watch for them and avoid them rather quickly.

penguin & iceberg2 Adelies.jpgadelie and skuaStrolling

Once we all arrived at the helo, I enjoyed my first picnic in Antarctica. Honestly, though I love to eat outside better than almost anyone I know, I hadn’t had a chance to have a meal outside until then. The flight lunches are notoriously huge (in case you get stranded someplace) and not especially delicious, but my surroundings transformed it into a gourmet meal!


Our next stop was at Erebus Saddle for a quick visit with an ice core research team. We walked in fresh snow that I sunk in up to my knees. It made me recall what McMurdo was like back in October… The research team was getting set up for their 5-week field season by digging a snow pit where they’d be taking the ice core. They will be looking at the global increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide by examining air bubbles in the ice.

Our last stop was at Cape Crozier. The land and sea and ice all meet at this point and thousands of penguins have chosen it as their home. We climbed a high volcanic peak there and looked down at what looked like a massive city of penguin rookeries below us. We were too high to smell them (that’s a good thing) but we could hear a muted version of the cacophony they make. While I’m not nearly so crazy about penguins as a lot of folks in Antarctica, I’m pretty certain I attained an appropriate level of awe at seeing this huge colony.


Finally, we returned to McMurdo at 7 p.m.  I was scheduled to perform with my tap dance troupe just before the Women’s Soirée that night, so I had to dash through the shower and right to my performance. I made it just in time, complete with a glow that said I’d had one incredible Antarctic day!!

LuAnn & Percy

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Tap Dancing in Antarctica — December 20, 2006

Tap shoes in big red

While I was in college, I loved to take an activity class between my academic classes. Dance classes gave me an opportunity to use my brain to move my body, and the break from purely intellectual pursuits left me refreshed and invigorated. Imagine my surprise and delight at discovering a similar opportunity in Antarctica!

Early on, I had visited McMurdo’s main laundry room and found out there was a Tap Dance class there every Monday and Wednesday evening. The laundry is one of the few places on base with wide open floor space, so it serves as a venue for a range of activities. I decided to give it a shot and started having fun right away. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed the first class so much that I rarely missed another! I was also quite pleased when my fellow Andrillian, Percy Strong, showed up in the class. Dorothy Burke was our excellent instructor and Barb Clampet was her able assistant. Both these women gave their time and efforts freely, nurturing a great little community of new and experienced tappers in a very unlikely place.

As you might imagine, tap shoes are among the last things someone might think to bring to Antarctica, so folks who came to the class would start out wearing tennis shoes or getting “homemade” taps put onto an extra pair of shoes in the metal shop. A week or two into the class, I ordered a set of tap shoes over the Internet. I was thrilled when the shoes arrived only 8 days after I placed the order! When other dancers found out how reasonably priced they were and how quickly they could show up, everyone in the class started showing up in real tap shoes.

While I didn’t join the class with any intention of performing for anyone, I was soon caught up in the idea that we might do so. Our original target venue for a performance was the Woman’s Soirée on December 16. We ran into a snag on that pretty quickly though—the organizers made it clear that our act wouldn’t be welcome if we had a man in the group! We were quite annoyed, but it didn’t help.  As a sign of unity and support for Percy, we chose to boycott the Soirée and perform at the Town Holiday Party on December 23 instead. Unfortunately, my departure date was Dec. 21, so that meant I wouldn’t be in the dance. We finally settled on two performances: a subset of us did a pre-Soirée performance at the top of the Galley stairs, and everyone who would still be there on Dec. 23 would perform at the Christmas party. As an indication of our displeasure with the Soirée committee (who, despite keeping us out, did a wonderful job at organizing a fantastic show), we called our troupe “Contains Nuts.”

Contains Nuts

So who’d have believed that tap dancing would be one of the highlights of my participation in a geological drilling project?! The unexpectedness of tapping in Antarctica made it a pure bonus and a continual source of delight. I have some great memories of practicing in the Crary aquarium and I gained friendships I would otherwise have missed. I’m very pleased that when I got the choice to sit it out or dance, I danced!

Maria and Dorothy

Performance Preparation

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Leaving McMurdo — December 24, 2006

I’ve been through the stages of leaving: denial, acceptance, preparation,  impatience to get going, and finally, departure. I’m now 2 hours out of McMurdo, sitting in the front row of the C-17 aircraft that is carrying me to Christchurch, New Zealand…

Though I’ve been missing home pretty badly and I knew it was coming, I was _quite_ surprised on Sunday when I received a reminder that I’d have “bag drag” on Wednesday. Bag drag happens the night before you leave; it entails turning over all your checked baggage (limit of 75 pounds) and getting yourself plus all your carry-on items weighed so the cargo handlers will be able to balance the weight of passengers and cargo on the plane. Another reminder that I’d be leaving arrived in an email from Housing: I would have to clean my dorm room and pass room inspection before my departure.

I began packing by putting the stuff I knew I wouldn’t need at home into a Skua pile. Skua, named after the scavenging behavior of the bird with the same name, is a huge, free, on-going garage sale. People can put anything of value into one of the Skua bins about town and anyone who wants to look for something new (to them) can dig around and take what they need. It’s truly an efficient way for folks to reuse items. I left a pair of jeans that have become too short from the extra hot dryers, black shoes that aren’t boots that someone may appreciate on a day that they want to dress up a little, my towels, and the bottle of lotion that I hated yet needed in the constant battle against dryness. I was also able to donate wool socks directly to a person whose toes had made numerous appearances in the lounge…

After a couple hours of emptying drawers and packing bags, my half of the once-familiar dorm room was stark and bare. My bag drag schedule did allow me to go to my tap dance class one last time—the class felt like the first “normal” thing I’d done all day long. That evening, the ANDRILL team gave the 4 departing ARISErs a great send-off party in our dormitory lounge. The featured event was the ANDRILL Quiz Game, developed and hosted by QuizMasters Megan and Christian. Categories included ANDRILL Acronyms, Name that ANDRILLIAN, Italiano Offensivo, and The “Real” World. Several members of the drilling team showed up from Scott Base, thanks were expressed, and toasts were raised. A few of us raked up some of the aftermath at 3:00 a.m.

Thank You ARISErs

My last day felt quite odd: I was already packed and ready but transport time wasn’t until 5:30 p.m.  I spent time posting and downloading photos, expressing thank yous, and returning borrowed items. The nicest part of the day was when I took some time to hang out in the greenhouse hammocks with my favorite Andrillian and roommate, Megan. Some mild excitement came my way in the afternoon: I received an email from Housing telling me that I had failed my room inspection! They wanted me to vacuum the floor and they weren’t at all happy that we had unplugged our refrigerator and stored it on its side under my bed… Megan and I went back to the dorm room one last time to deal with those issues; she’ll still be in Antarctica through January 4, so she’s the beneficiary of our last minute efforts to clean up the joint.

I had my last supper in the Galley then boarded Ivan the Terrabus for the one-hour trip to the runway. The mood was somber on the bus, and the gorgeous views of mountains across the ice sheet made it very tough to be leaving. Upon boarding the plane, I was amused by the ground team as they tried repeatedly to get an accurate count of the passengers. It was quite comical watching them try to figure out if someone who was supposed to be on the flight had slipped away or if someone who wasn’t supposed to be leaving the ice had made their way onto the plane… Finally, they decided that all 64 of us were on board and they closed the door.

The C-17 lumbered into position on the runway. On its last turn, my narrow view through the 8-inch diameter window crossed the landscape like a searchlight, sweeping across the fantastic scenery one last time. The flight lifted quickly and unceremoniously; I marked my last moment of contact with the continent privately…

Two days and a lot of airport and flight time later, I’m in my home office, celebrating Christmas Eve with my extended family. I feel a little bit like a guest in my own home, having been out of the decision-making loop for 10 weeks, but it’s nice to be treated as a celebrity among the folks who have missed me. I’m missing the ice though too. Since my departure, I see that we have exceeded our original goal of drilling 1200 meters below the sea floor! Though I’m no longer physically present on the ice, I’m thrilled to be a part of the past success and the future promise that this project has for both science and education.

ANDRILLian smiles,


Parting Shot

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