Monday, May 26, 2008

Seals, seals, and more seals!

Yesterday morning, I was in the process of doing building rounds, and when I wandered out of the aquarium to head down to the pumphouse, I realized there was something very large, very fat, and very lazy blocking my path.

Here's a more zoomed-out shot so you can get a better idea of exactly where this guy was. That little building is the pumphouse, where I was heading to do the daily maintenance checks. That didn't happen today, as I found this guy at about 10am, and he was still there at 5pm.

That's the pumphouse, where I needed to go to fix something.  This guy had other plans.

Now, the more eagle-eyed of you will notice something in that above photo. The fat elephant seal wasn't the only seal laying around at that time. See that black thing in the upper left? That's a fur seal.

Some people describe these guys as "dogs of Antarctica", as they do act very similar to dogs, in the way they roll around, and their playfulness and curiosity. Unlike the elephant seals, though, these guys can move surprisingly quickly on land, and occasionally have been known to be sort of aggressive (unlike elephant seals, which on land aren't capable of doing much more then barking at you).

A shot from the far right with both of them. Next to the elephant seal, who is shaped like a big ball of fat, the fur seals look positively elegant. And from talking with the divers, fur seals are FREAKISHLY nimble in the water. Elephant seals are, well, basically just a big blob of fat. Underwater they can move alright, but mostly they rely on being fucking big as a defensive tactic.

Eventually, the elephant seal woke up and pointed it's face in our direction. This one was very young, judging both by it's cute babyface and small size. Fully grown, the males easily push 5,000lbs and 18 feet long.

It's really strange how close you can get to them without them seaming to care that much. Then again, they were probably just trying to nap, and then all these stupid humans keep pointing these big tube things at them that make these loud clicky noises. The elephant seal would generally follow me with his eyes for a minute or two at a time, before deciding that I was boring and going back to sleep.

He seemed pretty content using this rock as a pillow. Looked very comfy.

That seal off to the left was a fur seal. He was actually a lot more interesting, as he would actually move around a bit, but he was far less interested in the silly humans then the elephant seal was, I don't think he ever looked in my direction. He would occasionally get up, flop his fins around a bit, stretch, roll over, and go back to sleep. Was awfully cute to watch, though. I think I'm going to make some short animations of the rapid-fire stuff I got of him shuffleing around. I think this photo below seriously needs some sort of capition, like "Awww, mom, I don't wanna go to school today!" or "ow, sunlight is bright". Something like that.

This guy SERIOUSLY reminded me of a dog. Just in the way that he rolled around on the rocks and things, in the way that dogs do.

Anyway, that wasn't the end of the seal appearances for the day. A leopard seal floated by, asleep on an iceberg. Now, if you're going to be afraid of any animal in Antarctica, it's going to be leopard seals. They are SERIOUS predators, and have been known to attack humans, as well as just about anything else that swims. They're VERY fast, both on land and in the water, and are massively strong with huge teeth and a jaw that fits around just about anything. And they have very few natural predators themselves, Orcas are just about the only thing that they have to be afraid of. Fortunetly, this guy seemed more interested in napping on his nice little floating bed of ice. He was on this 'berg for at least a few hours, floated all the way from one side of the station to the other, and barely acknowledged our presence.

And finally, here I managed to get all of them in the same shot:

And this was just a cool lucky shot. A bit under-exposed, as the camera was calibrated for the seals, but maybe I'll lighten it up some in photochop. Looks WAY better at full res.

Anyway, that's it for now. I'll put more up later.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Elephant Seal

I can has tissue plz?, originally uploaded by tsaven.

I'll post more pictures as well as the story behind this later. In the mean time, just be amused at the absurd amounts of cuteness.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Uh, what?

Uh, what?, originally uploaded by tsaven.

I'm not actually sure what's in this barrel, and from what I've been able to gather talking to people around station, no one is really sure what's inside it, where it came from, or how long it's been here.

And actually chipping away all the ice and opening it would just destroy the fun of it all, now wouldn't it?

So we leave it there.

The people here have a very strong sense of nostalgia for the station. A good number of years ago, some new station manager went around and took down all the old announcement and sign-out chalkboards and replaced with with nice, new, modern white boards. The day he left, everyone took down the white boards and put the old chalkboards back up, where they still are today.

And two years ago, the company offered to put in a satellite TV dish, giving us free Direct TV. The whole station voted unanimously against it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I has sleepy

I has sleepy, originally uploaded by tsaven.

This place has active days, lazy days, and then days like today where stuff never stops going wrong.

Okay, it wasn't actually that bad, our fire alarm system did go on the fritz for a while and the sprinklers freaked out (didn't trigger, but close), but I didn't have a whole lot of input into that.

My problems were caused by mother Raytheon's infinite brilliance, and being the model of efficiency; someone up in corporate decided that it would be cheaper to buy our bi-annual lumber re-supply in the USA and send it down from California on a cargo ship, rather then buying it in Chili and just having the Gould bring it down like normal.

Nevermind that doing that means we won't get new lumber until August.


So I and a couple other guys spent the majority of the day outside in the scrap wood shipping container, breaking apart used shipping crates and pallets for the 2x4 and 2x6 boards, as well as whatever 1/2" plywood we could get.

We're down to six 4x8 sheets of 1/2" ply, and four sheets of 3/4, and a couple sheets of 3/8. We're completely out of fresh 2x2, 2x4, and have maybe thirty feet of 2x6 left. We've got a good supply of 2x10 and 2x12, and we're going to have to rip it down if it turns out that we have something critical that needs to be built or fixed.

I will admit that the physical work is kinda nice. You don't really feel the cold, as you're moving around so much, and are dressed for it. It does sort of leave you exhausted, though. So you sleep when and where you can. My room mate snapped this picture of me and our mechanic crashed in dining room.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Moon over Mountians

Moon over Mountians
Originally uploaded by tsaven
I've quickly become the go-to guy on station whenever there's anything really neat that needs a good photo taken of it. Yesterday, an someone stuck their head into the workshop where I was working, and told me to get my camera and come outside.

Well, this was why.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The glamorous Antartctic life

House Mouse
Originally uploaded by tsaven
This will probably make my dad howl with glee . . .

Palmer is small enough that there are no dedicated janitors. Every Saturday, the station shuts down early and everyone (Everyone) draws a chore out of the hat. This is called "House Mouse". This was my chore for today.

(Truth be told, this is actually one of the better jobs to get. If you don't dawdle, you can knock it out in about twenty minutes, while kitchen duty can take upwards of an hour).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sunrise, Sunset

Sunrise, Sunset
Originally uploaded by tsaven
Palmer has a couple of problems that McMurdo and the South Pole don't have. Leopard Seals are one problem. Penguin poop is another. But one of the biggest productivity killers has got to be the view.

You see, Palmer is actually north of the Antarctic circle, so it does have (some) sunlight year-round. Of course, at this time of year, it doesn't get very far above the horizon, so sunrise/sunset lasts a majority of the day, and we're getting to the point where it IS the entire day.

And they are spectacular like I can't even explain.

Almost every time you set outside, you have a "wow" moment and inevitably end up standing their and gawking for a few minutes. Especially on very clear days like this, there's perpetually a few people standing on the walkway by the sauna and hot tub just staring.

Apparently, you don't ever get used to it. There's guys that have been coming here for twenty years who still go running for their camera ten times a day.

This photo doesn't do them justice, but you'll get a decent idea at full res.

Antarctica. Srsly.

Antarctica. Srsly.
Originally uploaded by tsaven
I took this picture when I was out on that fishing trip last weekend. The wind died completely for a short time, turning the whole ocean into a sheet of glass. It was pretty stunning.

You really need to view this pic at full resoultion to appreciate it. Would probably make a good large-scale print.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mailing addresses.

Okay, if you want to send me stuff, you have three options:

Small stuff: For flat mail and very small packages (under 2lbs, and pocket-sized, unless special arrangements are made in advance), they can be sent to the Denver headquarters, where they are then put in a big silver trunk and hand-carried down as luggage by whomever is headed down to Palmer that month. The mail should get to the Denver office at least a week or two in advance of the Gould leaving Punta Aranus, which happens generally at the end of every month.

It is possible that this mail can be delayed if there's no one going down with extra baggage room, or the trunk is full, or whatever. So don't send anything perishable or time-critical.

Big Stuff Quickly: Now, if you REALLY really want to, you can send me larger packages quickly, but it's at your own expense. You can ship stuff directly to the Raytheon office in Punta Aranus, and it'll go out on the next cruise down to Palmer (Again, once a month, somewhere between the 25th and 2nd). Again, this can be really expensive, and a pain in the ass in terms of customs.

Letters and packages would have to be sent via common carrier (Not USPS) directly to the husbanding agent (AGUNSA) in Punta Arenas, Chile.

Some notes on sending me stuff: Anything that comes to Antarctica, has to leave Antarctica. Our trash is packed into a couple of big shipping containers and carried out once a month on the Gould. The point is, don't send any silly or pointless kitchy stuff, or if something comes with a lot of packaging, get rid of the packaging and just send the item itself.

Antarctica is also a protected and isolated environment, which hasn't had much historical exposure to the outside world. Bacterium and things can wreck havoc on the ecosystem here, so make sure there's no dirt or plant material, bugs or things like that in whatever you send. And definitely no foods or anything perishable, as there can be very long delays. Personal mail and packages has the lowest priority in terms of cargo, so if space is tight on the ship, it gets left in PA until the next month.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nice day here

Nice day here
Originally uploaded by tsaven
This is the view outside my bedroom window. It's an unusually clear day here, at least for this time of year. Palmer is right on the edge of where a few different air and ocean currents converge, so it's very frequently overcast, or foggy, or raining/snowing/sleeting.

But this is just one of those nice days with very little wind, few clouds, and *gasp* sunlight! Of course, the sun hides behind the glacier for most of the day, leaving us in shadow, but at least it lights up the mountains nicely.

Gone Fishin'!

Over last weekend, I managed to snag a spot on the Gould to tag along on a fishing trip as a deckhand. A bunch of the "Beakers" (the generally accepted nickname for members of the science team) are collecting a few specific types of fish for some sort of researched, and we did a four-day or so trip doing both trawling, and crab pot fishing to get some of the specific fish they were looking for.

It was hard work, there's no doubt about that. The ship is 12-on, 12-off work shifts, and it's pretty grueling. I spent the majority of the time on deck, carrying around heavy things, sorting the catch, rigging lines, winching in the nets, baiting the crab pots, basically all the lousy jobs that the lowest rung of the ladder ends up doing. I've got a bunch of blisters on my hands from all the line handling, and I must have coiled a mile of rope (That actually might not be an exaggeration, now that I think about it). And the trawling is hard, because it's half an hour of intense work, and then about 45 minutes of sitting around. Basically, enough time to really get tired, and maybe ALMOST fall asleep . . . before you have to get up and go haul in the net. I slept when I could, made a 'bed' out of a few sheets of bubble wrap and a rolled-up jacket, laid out on one of the lab benches.

All in all? It was totally great.

I'll have some pictures up in a few days, hopefully.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Well, here I am. This is Antarctica.

Welp, I made it.

For the last week or so I've been on a ship ride that some people pay $8,000 a ticket for.

Sunday, Day 1: Left Punta Aranus, Chile at about 1pm, spent that day and evening navigating through the islands and passages at the tip of South America. Fairly uneventful, smooth seas, a few birds. The gentle rocking motion of the ship puts you to sleep alarmingly quickly.

Monday, Day 2: Still smooth seas, going down through the Straights of Magellan. Sea birds seemed to like riding the air currents off the ship, so most of the good bird pictures I took on this day. Finally started to get into the Drake Passage at around 9pm that night, and . . .

Tuesday, Day 3: Utter chaos.

Backround info: Most ships have a full keel, their hull come to a wedge shape underneath the waterline, which helps the ship cut the water, and gives it lateral stability. But the Gould is an icebreaker, and as such has a flat bottom so that she can slide up onto ice sheets and break through them. Of course, that makes rough seas . . . interesting.

Not only does it pitch quite a bit, the yaw angles are crazy as well. But the weirdest part is that the ship slides around laterally, and that's the hardest to get used to and compensate for. Because it's not just the deck tilting, the whole ship just suddenly slips 15 feet horizontally to the left or right, and then there's Newton's first law . . . basically, you need to hang on.

We were in the Drake Passage all of day three, and from what I'm told by the crew, it was a relatively calm and easy crossing. Again, relatively. Winds were 30mph, seas 20-25 feet. Given how loaded up most people were on Dramamine, the majority of them spent the day in their bunks, doing their best to sleep. Which is actually quite hard, as you're constantly getting tossed about in your bunk, and either getting slamming into the bulkhead, or trying not to fall off the edge. Taking a shower requires some careful planning (They gave a quick briefing on how to take a three-point shower. Always be holding onto something with one hand, basically). By the end of the day, most of our shoulders were sore from constantly being tossed into the walls and things. All of the passageways have railings and things, and you almost never let go of them.

The majority of people got some motion sickness, I was one of maybe ten that had no issues at all. Nearly everyone else was loaded up on Dramamine, in addition to wearing the patches behind their ears. There weren't very many people showing up for meals, as the idea of food was quite unappealing.

Me? I was having a blast. It was like a roller coaster ride that lasts all day! :D

Wednesday, Day 4: Got out of the Drake sometime early in the morning, and people started timidly eating again. Heavy fog most of the day, although the crew said we were only a few miles from land, you couldn't see more then thirty yards off the ship. It cleared up later in the day, just in time for (dun dun dun) Science! The ship had made a short detour to the northern side of King George island, so a bunch of the biologists on board could do some trawling/fishing. From what I could understand, their doing protein research on extreme-ophiles, fish that survive in extreme environments and things. They were trawling around 1000ft, and deeper and the water starts to get warmer. Took a couple pics, then went inside, as . . . well, science is pretty boring. Lots of standing around.

Thursday, Day 5: Ice. Which I've been told their is a lot of down here. The ship had to slow down for about 18 hours to push through some pack ice. I was sitting in the lounge going over my photos, and someone wandered in and said "Hay, y'all seen the icebergs?" So I poke my head outside and had one of those . . . "What the heck" moments, as the ship was cruising by a wall of ice roughly the size of a small planet. It was dark out, and the ships lights didn't penetrate very far, but I did what I could with the camera. Snapped some pictures, but mostly just bundled up and stood around on the bow for around an hour, watching the ship crack through sheets of ice the size of football fields.

Friday, Day 6: Um . . . so, yeah, I'm here. Got in around 4pm, went ashore to dinner at the station, but still spending tonight on the ship while they get people ready to move off the station.

Anyway, that's all for now. I'll update in a day or so with pictures, and more details and things.