"Collecting Video"

Geoff Haines-Stiles - November 11, 1994
Project Director, PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE & the LIVE FROM... specials

    We would like to share some narrative from "The Ice". The descriptions which will follow have been provided by Geoff Haines-Stiles. Geoff is the overall Project Director for "Live From Antarctica" and also he serves as the Executive Producer of the television programming. Geoff is currently in Antarctica gathering video footage. His report will be continued tomorrow. He writes:

Dear All, The past few days since we actually got here have been extremely hectic. We have had meetings to review the telecomm issues, and have begun taping. The computer systems seem to work erratically, and I have gotten half-way through messages three times only to have them seize up and crash. So this is being written at 04:20 (when there are fewer users) and all seems to be working fairly well.

Friday 11, November, 04:25 Antarctica time (which is US Eastern +18, which I always find a little easier to think of as "the next day, minus 6 hours"!)

I'm sitting here in the top floor of the Crary Science laboratory, looking out over the sea-ice to mountains which today are covered in clouds. Of course, being summer in the Antarctic, it's as bright as day, though the quality of the light changes, and -- being a TV crew -- it's already clear that there is a "magic hour", a time when the mountains look especially beautiful.

The Crary Lab is about the newest facility at McMurdo Station, and it's where the science groups have offices and laboratory space. Our office, for S-328, Live from Antarctica, is sandwiched between the team from the U.S. Geological Service, which will be recalculating the position of the exact geographic South Pole, as we will see, we hope, in Program 3, and Paul Berkman, who will soon leave to study fossil shells along the shores of McM Sound to see what they say about climate change and sea level over the past thousands of years. We plan to show Paul's research in Program 4. So we are well situated!

After more than a week of waiting, last Sunday (Nov. 6) saw us reporting at 06:45 to the Clothing Distribution Center to get our full ECW (Emergency Cold Weather) gear on (for the third time) and to go through the check-in procedure at the Antarctic Passenger Terminal at Christchurch Airport (in New Zealand). The USAP staff were upbeat about our chances today, and so we interviewed several of the scientists with whom we'd been stuck in New Zealand about their feelings and expectations. By now, the bad weather had brought so many people into town that there were over 100 of us scheduled to travel aboard a C-141 jet from Travis Air Force base, instead of the smaller C-130's operated by the U.S. Navy. Old-time Antarctic hands told us we should be glad about the C-141: maybe not much more comfortable, but a lot faster.

Buses took us out to the plane, and the slow loading process began, males to the rear, female scientists and support staff to the front where they could use the aircraft's sole toilet. All of us were in our big white "bunny boots" with at least 3 layers of clothing, but at least inside we could take off the distinctive down parka, with the NSF-U.S. Antarctic program badge. Also traveling with us were a New Zealand TV crew working on a puppet show starring "Thingy". So, incongruously stuffed into the baggage racks and staring down at us for the flight was this rather dog-like puppet, dressed in a jaunty wool hat and a multi-colored parka! There was a large box-lunch, with milk and juice and sandwiches.

Finally we took off, and there was a bit of a cheer, but the inside of the plane was very noisy, and everyone had to wear ear protectors. That made it hard to talk, and most people settled down to read, or to think about the journey that was now truly underway. One thing that made everyone amused was another creature traveling with us (in addition to Thingy) named "Baby Bear". This was a stuffed animal from a 5th grade class somewhere in the Mid-West, who had been sent solo on this trip, with human couriers, and a back-pack for messages and mementos to be added to give a reality to the kids back home to the distant places he/she/it had visited. Just like our electronic field trips! It seems many teachers and students are thinking of innovative ways to make connections around the world.

Finally, after five hours of cramped flight, the plane began its descent. The air crew was great, and allowed our cameraman up into the cockpit as we traveled over the Ice. We landed... the jets reversed thrust, but we still seemed to travel a long, long way down what we knew to be the sea-ice landing strip. And then it was out, with our parkas on, and sun-glasses and goggles, to set foot on Antarctica.

Much to our surprise, it was a beautiful day! After all the bad weather, the sky was now almost cloudless. On the horizon was the distinctive shape of Mount Erebus, with a plume of white rising from its lava lake. Erebus is an active volcano, and the whole peninsula on which McMurdo Station sits is volcanic in origin. There were the majestic peaks of the Royal Society Mountains and Mount Discovery, off across the sea-ice. People were anxious to take photos, and the ground crew was equally anxious to get us into the buses and off to town. Someone told us we were sitting on 80" of ice, on top of 1,000 feet of sea-water, which was pretty amazing given the size of the C-141, and the huge "Ivan -- The Terra Bus" which came out for the passengers.

In town, it was straight to the Galley, for a briefing from the resident station manager, going over the rules and regulations for life in Antarctica, phone numbers, keys, how to get a driver's license, and most importantly, what conservation and waste management policies were to be enforced.

We met our Guide-Mountaineer, John Roberts, a very experienced New Zealander, who had been in town for the previous 10 days, waiting our arrival. We were housed in 3-story buildings, two to a room and sharing a bathroom between each group of 2 rooms. The accommodations were like college dorms, except for the ever-present recycling bins at the entrance. There were far more categories than in the States, and we were later told that the US program manages to reach nearly 75% effectiveness in recycling, more than double the most efficient state in America.

A quick unpacking was followed by dinner -- lots of good food, which we were recommended to wash down with lots of juice or water, given that Antarctica is a desert environment. Surrounded by 90% of all the world's ice, it seemed odd to think of this place as a desert, but that's what the small annual precipitation makes it.

After dinner, our crew was determined to experience something of the place we'd been trying to get to for so long, and we climbed "Obs -- for Observation -- Hill". We passed by the old water plant, where pre-planning discussions had determined we would place the receive antenna for the live broadcasts, and made it up to the top, where a cross commemorated Robert Falcon Scott's party (who had died on the ice after their journey to the Pole). One of Scott's huts could be seen, down on the other side of town, and Scott Base, New Zealand's research station, could be seen on the other side of peninsula. It was a great view, looking back to Erebus, and down on the whole of McMurdo. JR tried to fill us in on the geography and layout, and then it was down, to get ready for the next day, our first full day in Antarctica.

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW: Antarctic training and helicopter exploring

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