The cold in Antarctica is incredible. Our first week on the ice the temperature stayed around -20°F to -40°F (which also happens to be -40°C), and at times dropped as low as -70°F. Even more challenging was the fog. As it rolled in off the ice, it left behind moisture which quickly froze. The frost looked beautiful as it covered every surface in McMurdo, however it presented a unique obstacle to keeping vehicles in working order.
As soon as the weather cleared we loaded up our gear and headed out to camp. Looking at the amount of safety and emergency gear necessary for even a quick trip to the ice shelf is always a good reminder of the unpredictability of the weather down here. Fortunately the roads are well flagged and we always carry GPS and radios as well.
The first step once we reached our site was to drill and clean 4 foot wide holes for the seals to come and go from. The hardest part of this for us was the waiting. Our bodies still haven’t adjusted to the extreme cold, so waiting involved a lot of shuffling around to keep blood flowing and occasional trips back to the vehicles to warm up. Eventually, all four holes were drilled and we were ready to move the huts into position and the carpenters could begin setting up the RAC tent and heaters.
During the winfly season we will be measuring the amount of oxygen a Weddell seal uses during a dive. In order to do this we have a RAC tent for preparing the instrumentation, an experimental hut for measuring oxygen consumption, and two huts for living and cooking. It’s going to be our home away from home!