Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

Another Day of Science and Mystery

September 27, 2009

Friday night was another overnight at the hut. We had dinner on station, which saved us the time we would otherwise have spent cooking and washing dishes at camp, and then headed out onto the ice. (A side note and brief glimpse into the mind of a couple of working scientists: Steve and Rich both profess to greatly enjoy doing dishes. Dishes, you see, unlike science, have a straightforward methodology and a well-defined endpoint. When you’re done doing a science experiment, it has already raised ten more questions which you must rush off to address; but when you’re done doing dishes, you can bask in a sense of closure and accomplishment.)

We got up around six A.M. the next day (my cot was next to the door, so as people went in and out I got several bracing facefuls of -28C air to drag me into alertness.) The sunlight is getting longer by about 20 minutes every day, so every time we go out we have to get up earlier in order to take measurements while the sites are still in shadow. Somehow, we managed to get the light dusting of snow swept off three sites and measure them all before the sun caught up with us–we made it with just a couple of minutes to spare:

From Pupsicles and Traverse Gear

The sun catches the edge of the site just moments after we complete our measurements.

It was all very dramatic, really. Rich tells me the measurements are excellent, and are showing exactly what we predicted they would show, which is gratifying. I’ll post graphs when Rich gets them all processed.

Having completed our Science and packed our gear, we went investigate a peculiar phenomenon which Steve had discovered earlier that morning:

From Pupsicles and Traverse Gear

Rich and Steve search the snow for tracks that might suggest how this happened.

That, if it’s not obvious, is a very frozen Weddell seal pup stuck in the ice like a flagpole. We investigated the area pretty thoroughly, and found evidence of the birth (blood, the afterbirth and umbilical cord, the outline left on the ice where the mother seal had been lying) but no identifiable footprints other than our own. The seal clearly froze while lying flat on the ice, as you can see from another angle:

From Pupsicles and Traverse Gear

'Flat-bottomed Seals': the less-successful predecessor to Queen's famous hit song

We thought someone from the seal research group might have set it up somehow, but those we’ve talked to deny it, and as I’ve said, there were no visible tracks. The other possibility is that the body was simply levered up by the action of the moving sea ice; if you look at the tail, you can see where some slabs of ice have been tilted upward.

Antarctica is a mysterious place.

As a bonus, we found what we think must be new-frozen frost flowers on the ice nearby:

From Pupsicles and Traverse Gear

Today's theme: things that are charming, fuzzy, and frozen.



September 13, 2009

Another beautifully sunny day, entirely worthless for albedo measurements. We stopped by our Tent Island study site anyway, just to say hello to the seals and make sure the local street gangs (groups of young, disaffected Adelies, mostly, looking to rumble tourists for pebbles) hadn’t vandalized it.

You may recall that we spent quite a while last week, on the 4th, doing janitorial duty on the ice, clearing off the crust of salty snow that was clinging tenuously to the surface. We came back a few days later on the 7th and the surface was still perfectly clean.

Our beautiful clean ice.

We came back today to find this:


The top photo shows the old crust, which we originally assumed had been there for months. The bottom photo shows the new crust--the bumps are slightly smaller and it's softer, but otherwise strikingly similar.

This is intriguing, because, as I mentioned before, we originally figured that the peculiar snowy crust on the ice must be composed of old frost flowers. However, frost flowers only form on new sea ice. This sea ice is several feet thick and months old. And this new snow crust isn’t just composed of snow fallen from the sky, because that would be fresh; this is salty.

There have been a couple of warm days since the 7th, and a minor storm (seen here out the front of the pisten bully as I attempt to drive home through it):

Fortunately there is nothing to actually run into out here.

But, frankly, we’re pretty stumped as to what could have regenerated the snow crust like this.

After visiting the study site and scratching our heads over unusual snow phenomena, we headed up to Cape Evans to visit Cape Evans Hut, used by both Scott and Shackleton during various Antarctic expeditions.

Cryogenically preserved ketchup

More picturesque than our lab, if rather smaller.

Oh, and here’s our second mystery of the day: we discovered, on examining the high-resolution pictures, that a century-old British paper from the hut has a front-page story about an injury that occurred in the small town of Saranac Lake, New York. Saranac Lake, New York also happens to be the town that Rich calls home. Bizarre coincidence, or prophetic attempt to communicate across a vast span of time and space?