Home Sweet Home

13 12 2009

Ayça picked me up at the Moline airport on Thursday evening. My trip back home passed without incident, except for a suitcase which had only been checked through to O’Hare. That showed up today. I am now happily back in Iowa, with temperatures reminding me of the early days in Antarctica.

Kristof, Ayça, Buddy and Angelo enjoy an evening at home on the sofa.

The West Lake Bonney ENDURANCE project has come to a successful end. ENDURANCE itself will fly back to the US at the end of December. Our season went extremely well, and there is talk of proposing future field campaigns for ENDURANCE or possible successor vehicles, so you may yet be reading updates from me here in the future. I’ll still put up a link to a picture album from this season once I upload it in the next week or two, but for now, this is Kristof, over and out.


9 12 2009

Today was suffused with the color of growing things. Shilpa, Chris and I took Peter’s advice and walked over from our hotel to the Riccarton Bush. This is a patch of primordial forest which was set aside by the Dean family when they homesteaded this part of New Zealand, and has been preserved ever since. It is about a 45 minute walk from the center of Christchurch, right in the middle of present-day suburbia. It was perfect for a group of people looking to readjust from the splendors of the Dry Valleys. Instead of being immense, dry, and shades of brown, blue, and white with only the wind blowing through, it was intimate, aromatic, green and filled with birdsong.

Breathing in the earthy aromas and taking in the verdant scenery of the Riccarton Bush.

We finished our excursion at the restaurant housed in the old Dean residence, which had some of the best eggplant lasagna, chocolate dessert and apricot tea ever. And we sat in the middle of a rose garden, under an arbor topped with pink blooms. What a perfect closing parenthesis to our Antarctic experience.

Taking time.

Shilpa, Kristof and Chris enjoy a luncheon with tea under the arbor in the rose garden.


8 12 2009

For Antarctica, everything today ran quite smoothly. Ivan the TerraBus picked us up in McMurdo around noon and dropped us off at the Pegasus airfield. We were on board the C-17 taking us back by 3:30. The flight back was uneventful—I slept most of the way. We landed to the sights and smells of Christchurch at around 8:30 pm, passed through customs, dropped of our ECW and hopped on the shuttle to the Windsor B&B, our home away from in Christchurch.

The most striking impressions: the muggyness when I got off the plane, the smell of grass and flowers stepping out of the airport, the currently impending darkness of night. My first nightfall since mid-October.

I gave Chris his camera back, haven’t gotten mine working yet, and didn’t ask anyone for their photos before they headed off to bed, so no pictures from today.

Cleaning Up

7 12 2009

Today was (if everything goes according to plan) the last day in Antarctica for four members of Team ENDURANCE, including me. We spent it cleaning up, packing, and returning stuff we checked out at the beginning of the season. I helped out the team at the BFC.

Emma and Leah checking all of our field gear back in to the BFC.

Shilpa at the pee bottle washing station at the BFC. We used the bottles in the field when an outhouse was too far away, or too hard to get to (like from your sleeping bag). But they do appreciate it if you clean out your own before checking it back in.

The four of us leaving tomorrow just had our bag drag, and now it’s off to the ENDURANCE good-bye party at Southern X-posure, one of the three local drinking establishments.

Bot Day

6 12 2009

Today was Bot Day in McMurdo. Both this year and last, Team ENDURANCE has maintained a friendly rivalry with another underwater robotic vehicle doing Antarctic exploration. While ENDURANCE is a large vehicle outfitted with a slew of sensors, carries all its power on board, and is capable of maneuvering autonomously, the rival robot is remotely operated and powered, and has two video cameras as its only sensors but is thin enough to fit down a 10-inch drill hole. To highlight this last fact, it is dubbed SCINI (pronounced “skinny”), and team SCINI refers to ENDURANCE as “fatty” (they even came up with an acronym to make PHATTI, though none of us remembers what that was right now).

The SCINI vehicle in the test tank at MBARI (my old playing grounds while doing my thesis). Courtesy Stacey Kim, Moss Landing Marine Labs.

This afternoon, SCINI had an open house, where the McMurdo populace was invited to come down to a dive shack on the sea ice in front of town and watch the vehicle drive around. They even gave us a chance to drive it ourselves. I made a valiant effort to sabotage their vehicle by driving it into a rock, but was foiled because they had the power on the thrusters turned down, and the protective metal cage in front of the camera dome bounced off harmlessly.

Then tonight, Peter and Bill gave the Sunday Science Lecture on ENDURANCE. The lectures are open to the entire McMurdo community and are held in the Galley. It was pretty impressive to see all the work that we’ve done over the past 6 weeks—the past two years, in fact—summarized and displayed. The Galley was full, and there were a lot of interesting questions. The lecture was recorded, and should be viewable on the McMurdo Station server in a few days.

The awesome poster we got made to advertise the Sunday Night Science Lecture. That's Bill Stone doing Slim Pickens.

Tomorrow, Peter, Chris, Shilpa and I pack our bags and get ready to leave for New Zealand on Tuesday. The remaining team stays for another five days and prepares ENDURANCE and all accompanying cargo for shipment back to the US.

Back in MacTown

5 12 2009

This morning, I got up still slightly groggy from last night’s escapades. Since we are returning to Christchurch on Tuesday, Peter, Chris, Shilpa and I were prioritized to leave Lake Bonney on the early flight at around 10 am. We packed up our stuff and helped Emma get ready for leaving camp by moving some empty barrels and taking down some empty tents. When the helo landed, we finished putting on our ECW, brought our gear up for the helo tech to pack in, clambered in, buckled up, and we were off. As our last views of Lake Bonney passed by in the windows, I’d wager we were all thinking about the great times we’ve had there and whether we’d ever see this beautiful panorama again.

Shilpa got the window seat on the ride back from Lake Bonney to McMurdo.

My view wasn't quite as good.

After a 32 minute flight, we arrived in McMurdo. Just like when we arrived at the beginning of the season, it felt like we’d been gone a long time, but yet had never left. We all took showers, did some laundry, ate some fresh fruit and salad in the Galley, and once again took up the accoutrements of normal, civilized life.

My bed in the Bunk Room in the dorm called Hotel California, where Chris, Maciej, Jim and I have been put. There have been weather delays of more than a month for some of the large parties going out to the field this year, and the town is bursting at the seams trying to accommodate everyone.

Final Hurrah

4 12 2009

Bill, Chris and I just got back from climbing up the Matterhorn. The Taylor Valley Matterhorn, that is. After finishing packing in the ‘bothouse, we came back to camp and then headed out for a 9-hr hike that we just finished. We didn’t make it all the way up, but the climb and views were astounding. The ventifact rocks towards the top were crazy.

A ventifact formation we dubbed 'Sprocket Rock' after the ENDURANCE cat mascot Sprocket. Look, he's about to pounce on that bird!

Three happy dudes.