Time to go. Just finished my last experiment of the season. Perhaps the last experiment I'll ever conduct in Antarctica. I made sure it was a big ole, over-the-top who's your daddy type experiment. Of course I had to carefully chose the soundtrack to this glorious (but yet bittersweet) moment (and by moment I mean 10 plus hours). I won't go into all the music that filled this 'moment', but it ended strong with JJ Cale, Littlest Man Band (a great band from Long Beach that apparently is the repressed artistic side of Reel Big Fish), and Wilco.
Now there is only the clean-up. We are scheduled to leave on the 7th of Feb. I say scheduled because it is rare to actually leave Antarctica when you are supposed to. Mechanical difficulties and weather conspire to make your stay anywhere from 1 to 20 days longer than was ever your intention.
Leaving entails the 'bag-drag'. You haul all of your possessions to the MCC (Movement Control Center, Antarctica is not just a harsh continent, it's an acronym) the night before your 'scheduled' flight. You check everything in (for our science group that results in about 60 lbs personal and 210 lbs science gear) at that time, except for your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and a few personal effects (toothbrush, underwear, etc). So no matter if your plane is the next day or delayed the next 10 days, all you have is your ECW gear and your personal stuff cause everything else is checked in and loaded on cargo pallets. The next time you see it will be in Christchurch, New Zealand. More horrible than the flight being delayed is the dreaded 'boomerang'. This occurs when the plane is heading to its destination and before it reaches its PSR (Point of Safe Return) the weather becomes too bad for landing. The plane then turns around and you go back to where you started and try it again the next day. Luckily, the boomerang usually occurs when you're going to Antarctica, not leaving. McMurdo is full of some great boomerang stories. Some people have boomeranged 4 flights in a row. Or the best, the guy who fill asleep on the plane and didn't know it boomeranged. He woke up happy and had on his mind ripe fruit and fresh beer. When he found out the plane boomeranged he was completely crushed (in this case the plane was trying to leave Antarctica, but because they couldn't get the landing gear back up into the plane they had to turn around).
So from here on out, it's just cleaning. It's amazing how entrenched in a place you can become in just 5 months. I gotta say, this place is a mess! We have been working in 2 labs (both are in terrible shape) and the aquarium. Today, Allison and I cleaned up the large tanks we have been using to grow our larvae in. Tomorrow we will start cleaning up the lab spaces. We also need to get our larger science gear up to the cargo department so it can be put on a ship and taken back to Pt. Hueneme, CA.
There has been a lot of ship activity just outside of town. Our lab has a great view of McMurdo Sound and the Transantarctic Mountains across the water, so we get to see the icebreakers come and go. Both have been working full time (the US and Russian breakers). We have also been visited by a tourist ship. It's an old, decomissioned Russian icebreaker, the Klebnikov (although Russian in origin, the ship seems full of Americans). We also just had our yearly visit from the fuel resupply vessel (the Paul Buck). The next vessel to come into port will be the cargo resupply vessel (the American Tern). The resupply operation will take several days of first unloading the supplies the town needs and then loading the vessel with all the junk and garbage the town has produced over the last year, which needs to be removed from the continent. It's a hectic several days with work going on non-stop. It's not a lot of fun for most of the contract workers because lots of people switch over to 12 hours shifts and much to everyone's chagrin all alcohol sales are stopped and the bars are shut down (as a safety precaution so no one gets themselves killed during the busy work week).
We took our last trip to the continent the other day. We went back to New Harbor. There's a really good field camp setup there with a couple of Jamesways and some huts. Right now Samuel Bowser is out there doing research on Formaniferans (one-celled organisms that are very complex and relatively large). Dave and Rob did one last dive to scout out the area for different kinds of seastars that aren't normally found on the Ross Island side of the McMurdo Sound.
The ice out at New Harbor was in terrible condition. Large areas had thawed and created a moat that seperated the land from the thick ice farther offshore where we dive. But when it gets cold the moat freezes over so that it's too thick to take a zodiac through and too thin to walk on. So the divers have to get in their dry suits and break the ice by walking and swimming through it, all the while pulling the zodiac (with all the dive gear) with them. Once on the thick ice, the dive gear is put on sleds and pulled to the dive hole. Even this ice is extremely uneven and makes for a tough walk. The reason why the ice is so uneven is due to dirt being blown onto the ice during storms. Ice covered by dirt warms up much quicker than the uncoverered ice due to solar heating. This creates localized areas of ice melt and therefore a very uneven ice surface.
It was a good trip and a good way to say goodbye to continent. We even broke out some cigars.
Well that's the story so far. Only a few more days to go. After this I'll spend a few days in New Zealand, to decompress a little bit. I'll be heading up to Golden Bay. Going to keep it simple and put up my tent and chill out on the beach and enjoy a land of fresh food and beverage. I also heard a crazy rumor that the sun really sets in New Zealand. It'll be good to get my night on, it's been a while.
I'll try to keep some posts going during the final stretch. Meanwhile, here's more pictures of stuff...