Encounters Waay Down Under (Antarctica)

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Antarctica in View

It’s past midnight Sunday and it’s snowing outside as the NSF LM Gould research vessel approaches Antarctica’s western peninsula. We’re slated to end our 967 mile journey to Palmer Research Station by noon Monday. What a ride it’s been.  Quite rocky for a couple days but I hardly got seasick at all. Thank you, Transderm Scop Patch!  Instead, my worries shifted to envisioning myself strapped onto my bottom bunk bed being hurled into the ocean. It felt like I was on a teeter-totter at times.  But today was quite calm. We spotted a couple whales spouting and breaching—one a humpback and the other a minke. And lots of Cape petrels frolicking on the leeward side.

There's been no shore in sight for a couple days, but plenty of distractions in the boat to keep me from getting freaked out wondering if I’ll ever see land again. My two journalist colleagues and I flocked to several scientists asking for tutorials on their research topics, which range from the role marine viruses (a billion of them in a liter of seawater—who knew?) play in the food chain to the effect of climate warming on penguins and krill. Now I feel slightly more on top of things as we head to Palmer, where we’ll learn more by doing fieldwork with researchers.

I feel almost too excited to sleep—anticipating my first sight of glaciers. And right now I don’t envy the scientists who will continue on after dropping us off at Palmer Research Station. They’ll be doing research from the ship for more than a month.

Stay tuned for more once I arrive at Palmer, where we’ll have full Internet and email access. And tune in to KGNU radio (88.5 FM Boulder/Denver or live www.kgnu.org) Tuesday 8:35 – 9:00 a.m. as I’ll cohost the weekly “How On Earth” science show live from Antarctica!



Southbound on the LM Gould vessel

As I type on my laptop in the “muster room,” the living room of the ship, I have to grab books and notepads, which keep sliding across the table as the ship rolls back and forth. Undulates. It’s very quiet here, despite the 34-odd passengers and crew members.  I suspect several are sick in their rooms or napping under the influence of anti-nausea drugs. Luckily, my Transderm Scop Patch – or sheer luck—is keeping seasickness at bay, though I’m feeling groggy and very dry mouthed.

We’re riding through the 1,000-kilometer-wide Drake Passage portion of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which flows from west to east. We’re heading to the Western Antarctic Peninsula, and ultimately to Palmer Research Station on Anvers Island, where we’re expected to arrive on Monday and where I’ll stay for two weeks.  We’re now closer to the Peninsula than to Cape Horn. Last night I watched pods of Magellanic penguins  frolicking in the boat’s current,  as well as snowy Sheathbills catching the boat’s air current, and gray-brown albatross swooning in the wind.

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Setting sail today--Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Among the things I'm thankful for today is not getting blown off the dock yesterday, when winds swept a more petite colleague--a poet in residence, actually-off her feet, like Mary Poppins. The dock was closed so cargo could not be loaded onto the LM Gould vessel, my 215-feet-long home for the next four days.

So we're now scheduled to leave at 2p today. I'm soon off for a jog through this clean and friendly city to brace my body and mind for the tumultuous voyage. Here's a photo of me newly outfitted in U.S. government-ordered Extreme Cold Weather gear.

Much love to all, and enjoy family, friends, turkey (tofurkey for some?) and relaxation--at least for today, those of you in the U.S.


Pisco Sours and Sleep Deprivation in Punta Arenas  

After three flights and some 20 hours of travel, and many more hours of no sleep, I've landed in Punta Arenas, Chile, with several others affiliated with the U.S. Antarctica Program. It's a breezy town with colonial buildings and the ocean within a stone's throw of anywhere. We flew over a snow-capped volcano and glistening glaciers in Patagonia on route here from Santiago. They took my breath away.

After all the buildup and hype, I had to taste a pisco sour, the local drink, and I can say I'm underwhelmed. Heretical to say around here, no doubt. Tomorrow we'll be outfitted with the "ECW" gear--for extreme cold weather and have a tour of the Laurence M. Gould vessel (see photo, courtesy of Chris Neill, our PI from Marine Biological Lab).

Then we'll sleep in it tomorrow night at the dock and then setting out for the Drake Passage. I'm thrilled, and admittedly trepidacious as I'm so prone to seasickness. We'll have no Net access but will have intermittent email access on the boat but I'll post (if I'm not too nauseous) from the ship via my husband and IT manager, Tom. Wish me luck!



The Final Countdown Before the Big Trip

After many weeks of having liters of my blood sucked, my boobs squeezed, my teeth X-rayed, my heart monitored, and my bank account emptied (on medical bills insurance won’t cover), I’ve been declared “PQed.” That’s “Physically Qualified,” for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym-obsessed U.S. government —its Antarctica logistics subcontractor Raytheon Polar Services, specifically.

 It’s still hard to believe that on Monday, Nov. 22,  I’ll begin a month-long science field trip to the Western Antarctica Peninsula. (See map.) In the ever-shrinking world of journalism, it’s all the more shocking that I could be on a fellowship for such an extravagant trip of a lifetime. The Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., is sponsoring the trip for three journalists.

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