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Mr. Pastirik's Daily Log 20 November 2005

November 20, 2005

Today is Sunday, November 20, 2005. I awoke refreshed. It is amazing how easy it is to sleep on a bed with a pillow instead of ice! I shared coffee with my room mate Bob “Black Island” Gosdin. His nick name stems from his trip to Black Island to repair a repeater for the radio. Bob hails from Horseshoe Bay, Texas located on LBJ Lake. This is Bob’s second season on the ice. He is a heavy equipment mechanic. He knows his way around tractors, and other huge pieces of equipment. He took me on a tour of his shop. It is a pretty amazing place. He is also a source of great information about McMurdo, and when I need an answer to a question, he knows it or knows where to go. He is a real nice fellow.

I talked with Barbara and Carsen Lee this morning (my wife and daughter). Not being around them is the hardest part of the trip by far. So, rather than moping around, I took a walk by Scott’s hut, and up the hill to the memorial named for the person that Willie field is named for. It is relatively high, cold and windy up there. It is amazing how quickly one can get away from civilization. Following good happy camper school technique, I told my room mate where I was going, bundled up, and gave an estimated time of return. I was five minutes late, and true to form, Bob (who has taken snow school too) was beginning to get concerned. It is a stark place, and a study in contrasts. The black basaltic rock overlaying the white ice and snow, the warmth of the building interiors and the surrounding outside cold, the aloneness of walking the hill and the camaraderie of the galley at meal time.

I have a few places indoors that I want to see. They are the greenhouse (you read it correctly), the desalinization plant (using reverse osmosis to purify seawater), the aquarium, and the weather station. Though, mostly I enjoy the outdoors; especially the wind, cloud formations, and changing images of mountain and ice.

I relearned today that ice of Antarctica is not static, but moves. The pole placement has to be redone because the ice that holds the actual pole is moving down slope to the sea. The pole sits at approximately 8500 feet (I will check the exact height later) on the polar plateau. It is not the highest point on Antarctica. Vostok, the Russian station sits higher. There are two other “poles” in Antarctica of note. While the earth rotates on its axis on an imaginary line connecting the north and south poles, the magnetic pole is not (relatively) any where near the geographic south pole. The earth can be thought of as a giant bar magnet. The field that this magnet produces protects us from much of the sun’s dangerous emissions. Also, it funnels or accelerates some particles so fast that electrons are ripped from their nuclei, and as they rejoin their nuclei release packets of light called photons. We appreciate these photons as giant curtains of light called aurora. These are only visible in the dark periods of the year. The northern lights over the northern hemisphere are called Aurora Borealis, while the southern version is the Aurora Australis. I will miss them because we are in summer and it is perpetually light outside now. In New Zealand I hope to see the star pattern or constellation called the Southern Cross. The North Star (Polaris) found relatively fixed above the geographic North Pole is invisible from here, and the Southern Cross serves the same direction aligning function here. The other “pole” is called the “Pole of Inaccessibility” because it is so difficult to get to.

Antarctica is divided into two parts (East and West Antarctica) by the Transantarctic Mountains. East Antarctic holds concern for scientists. Much of it is reportedly underline by water, and as the earth warms because of the greenhouse effect (driven by carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal), the ice could “slip into the sea, melt and cause massive flooding of coastal cities. Not a good scenario. The Antarctic Peninsula, called the Banana Belt because of its relatively balmy temperatures, is bordered by the Weddell Sea/Ronne Ice Shelf extends towards South America. To give you and idea of how large Antarctica is here are two facts. One, the continental U.S. would easily fit inside the area of the Antarctic, and the South Pole is approximately 800 miles from McMurdo and is considered the close approach…

I just met an Air Force flight surgeon with a rank of Lt. Colonel named Jim Barrow. He was kind enough to share some pictures of Antarctica with me. He has been to pole. Everyone seems to want to talk with a teacher to help with the outreach effort. I appreciate it. For example, I met Charlie Kaminsky, a Raytheon employee two days ago that indicated that I could have sent to me a set of ECW to show to students. It is a small world. Charlie has a friend named Dave Dundee who is an astronomer at the Fernbank Science Center in the DeKalb County School System where I teach.

Two places one can access on the web to find out more information about Antarctica are
www.AntarcticaSun.usap.gov (Try keywords Antarctic Sun USAP if you have trouble accessing the site directly, it worked for me.) This is the newspaper (online or hardcopy of Antarctica) and the second site is http://www.mcmurdo.usap.gov/. This gives information about the USAP (United States Antarctic Program), procedures, etc. I recommend both. Our ANTCI site should be up in the next couple of days. Long distance communication, different time schedule, and slow internet speed makes things difficult. Other interesting sites are produced by the US government agencies NOAA, and NASA.

After dinner, Andreas Beyersdorf and Dr. Barry Lefer discussed with me the overview of why the experiments are being done, and their relative importance. Tomorrow’s flight will examine a fairly large number of chemicals in the air including water, ozone, hydroxyl ion, carbon monoxide, nitrogen containing compounds, sulfuric acid, hydrocarbons, etc. as well as a number of physical items including temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, etc. All of these items, and more will be correlated and examined for relationships among them. Models of their interactions will be created and tested in an effort to greater understand the sources and sinks of chemicals. Larger goals will be to integrate the work done in Antarctica with information collected globally. ANTCI scientists are endeavoring to increase the scope and depth of understanding as to how the larger chemical cycles including that between Carbon and Nitrogen operate, and ultimately to understand man-made (anthropogenic) effects on our atmosphere.

Enough for today. Remember to take care of one another. mp