updates from Luana

Montgomery Middle School

Hello Mrs Pitters' class! 

I am very excited to share my adventure in Antarctica with you, and I will use this page as my way of communicating with you!

You can check my daily updates on my blog!

About me

 

I am a scientist born in Brazil and I am currently living in the USA studing the genomes of fish that live in polar environments. 

If there is anything you want to know about me please send the questions through Mrs Pitters and I will answer them here!

Question of the day

 

While in Antarctica I will be answering one question from you every day! Mrs Pitters will send me the questions and I will post the answers here! I will ask some of my colleagues in the training program for help answering your questions so you will have views from different scientists!

My first day in Antarctica will be January 5th!

 

Day 0 - How do we get to Antarctica? 

We are all meeting in New Zealand in a city called Christchurch, from there we will take a military flight that will get us to McMurdo station in Antarctica. The other US Antarctic base, Palmer station, is usually reached by boat that leaves from Punta Arenas in Chile!

1. What was your first day like?  What surprised you?

The first day in Antarctica was overly exciting, seeing the mountains around us and the vast flat ice where our plane landed was very impressive. I was surprised by the temperature, it was cold, but not too cold!

 

2. What is the weather like?

The weather has been very mild, and that’s because we are in the Antarctic summer. The temperature has been around +1C and -7C since I have been here. The weather can change quickly around here; the wind can pick up and the visibility decrease very quickly which can be a challenge for working outside.

 

3. What type of work will you be doing in Antarctica?

I am participation in a training course and we will be looking at various organisms. So far, we are practicing techniques for drilling holes in the sea ice so we can either look at what is living in the layers of the ice itself, or to access the ocean water below.

 

4. Where does your trash go?

That is a great question! All the trash that is produced in the base comes back to the USA, we have a very careful waste sorting system here. For example, the food waste goes out frozen until it arrives in the USA so it does not start rotting.

Daily temperature at McMurdo

I will update you on the temperature everyday!

Temperature will be in degrees Celsius!

                        Temp (C)

Day01 - Jan-05. -1C
Day02 - Jan-06. -1C
Day03 - Jan-07. -1C
Day04 - Jan-08. +2C
Day05 - Jan-09. -3C 
Day06 - Jan-10. 0C
Day07 - Jan-11. -7C
Day08 - Jan-12. -4C 
Day09 - Jan-13. -1C
Day10 - Jan-14. -3C
Day11 - Jan-15. -2C
Day12 - Jan-16. -3C (-7 windchill)
Day13 - Jan-17. -8C (-16 windhcill)
Day14 - Jan-18. -4C (-8 windchill)
Day15 - Jan-19. -4C (-16 windchill)
Day16 - Jan-20. -2C (-11 windchill)
Day17 - Jan-21. -4C (-10 windchill)
Day18 - Jan-22. -5C (-17 windchill)
Day19 - Jan-23. -6C (-18 windchill) 
Day20 - Jan-24. -5C
Day21 - Jan-25. -4C (-11 windchill)
Day22 - Jan-26. Australia Day!
Day23 - Jan-27. -2C 
Day24 - Jan-28. -9C (-18 windchill) 
Day25 - Jan-29. -7C
Day26 - Jan-30 - 
Day27 - Jan-31 - 
Day28 - Feb-01. -1C (-10 windchill) 
Day29 - Feb-02. -8C (-17 windchill)
Day30 - Feb-03. -7C (-11 windchill)

Day31 - Feb-04. -9C (-15 windchill)

6. Why are you studying in Antarctica? What is your favorite fish?

I am studying in Antarctica because the fish I study can survive in this very cold environment. In the Southern Ocean, the ocean surrounding Antarctica, the sea water is below 0 degrees Celsius. The fish produce a special protein, called an antifreeze protein, that allow the fish to not freeze (unlike the sharks recently in the USA storms). There are species of fish that are closely related to the Antarctic fish that live in temperate environments. I am mostly interested in the evolution of the antifreeze protein because it allows these fish to survive in polar environments. The protein is an adaptation to the cold environment and that is why I am studying them in Antarctica and not in other warmer areas.

I am in Antarctica as part of a course to learn how to study organisms in this specific ecosystem. There are many unique features of conducting science in such a cold and remote place. There are several teachers (experts) showing my class how to stay safe and warm, while performing all sorts of experiments on the ice.  

My favorite fish is probably the clown fish (Amphiprion percula). I guess I just like how they look and the fact that they can change sex during their lifetime. 

7. Do you eat the ice from out side?

We don’t usually eat the ice from the outside. The ice in front of the station is frozen sea ice, and it has salt trapped in it. The ice usually has a layer of snow, that is freshwater. But we have ice machines for human consumption of ice in the buildings.

 

8. What do you do when your plans change?

Normally in science, plans can change frequently, and doing science in Antarctica definitely adds more scope for changes. While here we are always checking the weather and the ice conditions to be able to get samples, or get to places. When plans change, we have to adapt and make new plans. It can be a little frustrating when you really need a sample but you are not allowed to go on the ice to get it. But safety is the main concern here, and we ultimately all learn quickly to have alternative plans in case conditions change.

 

9. Are you enjoying your studies?

I am enjoying my studies very much. It has been nice to think about other system that I don’t necessarily work on, such as phytoplankton blooms, and understand more about the Antarctic region. We have been learning a lot from the lectures and from talking to the instructors that have vast experience in many areas of research. 

10. Do the penguins mind having you in their territory?

The penguins that we have seen while here up close came to our encounter, so I think they were curious to see what we were doing. While in Antarctica we are not supposed to get close to any penguins or marine mammal if that disturbs their behaviour, we were very lucky to have them approach us!

 

11. How thick is the ice you are drilling?

When we got here the ice we were drilling was about 1.8 meters. At one stage just before we were not allowed in our sampling location anymore, we measured sea ice about 90 cm thick.

12. Are the weekends different than the week? What do you do for fun?

The weekends are pretty similar to the week, apart from Sundays when they have brunch in the galley, which makes for a good change in our weekly routine. In the training we have been very busy and the days sometimes are very similar to one another. When I have a little free time I go out for a hike. That is great around here, but can be very cold at times.

13. Do you get paid? If so, how much?

I am not directly paid to be here as we are part of a training program for scientists in the early stages of their careers. Our group is composed of mostly postdocs and PhD candidates that are close to finishing their degrees. Because we are employed elsewhere we are paid by our home institutions. Some people who are participating in the course are in between jobs, and therefore, not being paid.

 

14. How are you able to stay that long in the cold? Do you have a house there?

 To come to Antarctica as part of the NSF (National Science Foundation Program) we get issued ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and we bring it all with us whenever we are out in the field, even if we think we won't need to wear it. We wear many insulating layers and a windproof layer.

 

15. Do you see animals everyday when you're working or only some days?

While working outside, I have seen animals most days. When we got here, in the first two weeks there were plenty of Weddell Seals on the ice close to the base. I was lucky enough to have seen penguins up close twice. Now, the seals are not around the base anymore, but we can still see them in the distance.

 

16. How long did it take to pack for the trip?

 It took me about two days, I packed on 30 and 31  December. The most difficult thing was to not be sure of what I would really need. But I am happy with what I brought here, maybe I would have brought more socks!

17. Are there any landmarks in Antarctica?

From McMurdo Station, Mt Erebus is the most prominent landmark. It is on Ross Island (same as the station) and is 3,794 metres (12,448 ft) tall. It is an active volcano (the most southerly volcano in the world). There are a lot of volcanoes in Antarctica! Mt Sidley is the tallest, though is dormant and more remote. The highest peak in Antarctica is Mt Vinson at 4,892 metres (16,050 feet) above sea level, but because it rises from a mountain range does not appear as tall as Mt Erebus.

There are other natural features as well, including ice shelves such as the Ross Ice Shelf, and glaciers such as the Barnes Glacier.

Human features include huts from famous expeditions, e.g. Scott's and Shackleton's, and various research stations.

The South Pole is also located in Antarctica. The Amundsen-Scott Station is built there.

18. Are there any igloos over there?

Not really! Traditional Igloos were snow houses built by the native people of parts of Canda and Greenland. Snow is a really good insulator because there are many small air pockets. There are no people who permanently live in Antarctica, although there are now researchers there all year round. The closest we come to Igloos are the Apples - bright coloured emergency shelters built in a similar shape (you can see a picture on my blog section).

19. What is the lowest temperature you have experienced there?

The weather here has been quite balmy because it is Summer. The coldest has been -9C so far, though with windchill -18C (Antarctica is one of the windiest places on earth). The Lowest temperature that I have experienced was on the day that I went for a hike on Hut Point Ridge trail, the observed temperature in the base was about -6 and with the wind chill it was -18 degrees Celsius, but when we got to the ridge there was a much stronger wind than in the base. I am not certain of the temperature, but it felt really cold especially on my legs with a layer of wool and thick hiking pants. It was actually colder when I left Pullman (in Washington State) to come here! So the coldest temperature I have experienced was around -21C on New Year's Day last year. 

20. At what temperature can you experience frost bite

Generally below -4C you can develop frostbite, but it depends a little on your definition. Frostbite should mean a rapid cooling of your tissue that leads to ice crystals forming in your cells! If you are well prepared then the effects are minor; usually the cold and wind will find a small gap in your clothes, your skin will get cold and pink, but when you go back inside and warm up it will get better. This is why we check each other frequently when outside so that gaps can be covered. For the early explorers of Antarctica frostbite was a real problem because they didn't have a nice warm house to return to. When you get cold and don't have enough food your body starts to shut down and moves blood away from the fingers and toes into important internal organs. As a result the fingers and toes can freeze long enough that the cells burst and there can be no recovery - those parts are dead. Eventually they will fall off and there will be a high risk of infection which the body can't fight because there is poor blood flow to those areas.

Hypothermia is another risk, and happens when the whole body gets too cold. This can be a more gradual process (or can occur quite quickly) depending on the conditions. For example if you get wet swimming in the ocean or lakes you probably won't get frostbite until you get out, but your overall body temperature will drop very quickly!

21. Are there gay penguins?

Interesting question! Ultimately one that we can't answer because we can't understand how penguins perceive the world. But I'll try to relay some things that people have documented and you'll have to think on it yourselves! Male penguins have certainly formed pairs, and have successfully built nests and raised eggs together in zoos - either adopting an egg abandoned by a female or given to them when a female died. Other pairs have built nests together and brought in a stone which they treated as an egg. In the zoo environment it is hard to know if the male-male pairs occur in some cases because there is a shortage of females, however when forcibly separated and placed with a female some males have bred and others have not. In the wild, as early as 1910, young penguins that did not have a mate were seen to display many different sexual behaviours including homosexual pairs. The observations were only published in 2012 because at the time it was deemed immoral!

22. Are you comfortable living over there?

Living at McMurdo is very comfortable, the dorms for scientists are very spacious and well heated. The base has plenty of food, and there are a few fitness classes available. I spend most of my time at the Crary lab, which has an amazing infrastructure for science and a library upstairs where we had all of our lectures and they also have some chairs and lounges where I usually do my work.

23. Have you ever seen anything there that you never expected to see?

I did not see anything that I did not expect to see while here. But the thing that still surprises me a little is the sun never setting at this time of the year. I still get surprised when I get out of a building in the middle of the night and the sun is out!

24. How did you meet Mrs. Pitters?

I met Mrs. Pitters through my Postdoctoral supervisor who has known her for a long time and they were already collaborating.

25. What causes the cracks in the ice

Essentially most of the cracks are caused by pressure. Some of the cracks can be formed by the tide, called tidal cracks. With the rise of the tide the ice cracks and then it closes again with the fall of the tide. There are other cracks that can be formed by the wind pushing part of the ice in one direction, until it fractures and forms a crack.

26. What is your favorite part about this experience so far?

My three favorite parts were: my first encounter with penguins, when they came walking very close to us; the sampling trip to the ice edge where we could see where the sea ice finished and the open water started; and the visit to Cape Evans.

5. What do you see when you walk outside?

Outside of the base, there is a vast area of sea ice and beyond that we can see islands and the continent. It’s very white and on the sea ice we often can see some seals in the distance.