Lori Ross - October 30, 1996
From: Lori Ross, Palmer Station
(Lori Ross is one of Carol Vleck's research team, studying the reproductive success of Adelie penguins on Torgersen and other nearby islands. These Journal entries come from a series of letters home to family and friends.)
It is very frustrating to be weather bound. By now all the penguins have arrived on Torgersen and we were not there to catch them arriving. My project has to do with the egg laying and hatching part of the season, which will begin very soon. I am getting very anxious. I have managed to keep busy by reading and doing some lab work.
The last time we were out was another incredible field day. While I was counting the penguins in one of my colonies, I noticed that this rock was moving. Of course it was not a rock, but a huge elephant seal. He saw me and started to rear up to look taller. To an elephant seal, anything that is taller than it is another elephant seal trying to assume dominance. This guy decided that he did not want to hang around anymore so he went right through the colony in order to get to sea. If anyone ever tells you that penguins cannot move fast on land they have not seen one trying to get out of the way of an elephant seal. We also saw a mother Weddell seal and her pup on one of the shores. These guys are so cute. They look at you with their big black sad eyes with what looks to be curiosity. I have also seen a Crabeater seal, but I have yet to see a Leopard seal. I haven't seen any whales here either.
Three nights ago, the divers here showed us an underwater video that they had taken right off the pier. I was amazed at all of the life that survives and even flourishes in this frigid water. There are starfish, numerous sponges, nudobranchs (sp?), seaweed, isopods, sea anemones, sea urchins, tunicates, and others. It looked like videos I have seen of the tropics. Every surface is covered with life. I am going to copy part of the video to show when I get back.
Life on station gets very interesting when no one can get out. The other day we were iced in ( no surprise), but the weather was wonderful. It was a bright sunny warm day and both Asrun and I were very bored and anxious. She had said that she wanted to jump into the sea before she left and we decided this was a perfect day to do it. So right before dinner, we got into the hot tub until we were really hot then we climbed out and ran to this area with lots of rocks by the shore and jumped in! It was not as cold as I thought it would be, but in a way it was colder. The water was only about 29 F. I was in for about 2 seconds. It was so cold that it took my breath away. I don't really remember being in the water. When I got out, I was surprised that I was actually warm. The worst part about the whole thing was walking on the snow. I should have worn sandals. Now I can say that I have been swimming in the Antarctic Ocean [if 2 seconds counts as swimming :-) ] Oh the crazy things one does when they are bored!
It is hard to get any real work done because everyone is just hanging around and telling stories. There are a lot of interesting people here. Most of the ASA (Antarctic Support Association) employees have been to McMurdo and tell stories about their stays there. The doctor that is here has led an incredible life. He was a doctor in New Guinea for a while, had a ski clinic in Colorado for a number of years, was the set doctor for the movies "Cliffhanger" and "The River Wild". All of this and he is originally from Iowa (Mason City). He always has interesting stories to tell.
This other guy, Eric, is working on a big project down here involving population studies of the penguins, the seagulls, and the skuas among other things. He was in the Peace Corps for two years. He taught English and general science in West Africa. He lives in Alaska when he is not here, but he is originally from Rockford, IL. One of the best things about this place is meeting people who live all over the United States.
They have this thing called "The Dinner List" where everyone puts their home address and phone number, and if you are ever in the area you can drop by and they have to feed you dinner. I know people from L.A., San Francisco, New York, Maine, Alaska, Minnesota, Tucson, Wyoming and Montana. There are a lot of people here who live in Denver as this is where ASA is based. I know I am going to make some really great friends here (I already have!). It will be difficult to leave this wonderful place. It is comforting to know that I will see these people again. We have already had some really great times together. Every Saturday night we have a party. Nothing too elaborate, just good music, dancing, and pool playing. I now know how to swing dance. There are about 4 guys here who are great leaders and I can dance with them all night. Last week we had a Halloween party. The costumes that these people came up with were some of the best that I have seen. Everyone used what they could find lying around. We decorated the lounge with crepe paper and balloons, and the cook made party snacks for us. It really felt like Halloween!
The reason we had the party early was because the Polar Duke was coming in and 4 people were leaving. Asrun was one of these people. The night the Duke was here was such a beautiful night, so Asrun, John (the guy from Montana who is working on the penguins for his Ph.D..), Ross (the diver who also left on this boat), Greg (he is working on the benthic marine life project), Don (one of the cooks), and I decided to go to the hot tub to look at the stars. It was a really warm night (about +4 C), so the tub was extremely hot. Don had to work the next morning so he went to bed, but the rest of us decided that it was too hot so we got out, got bundled up and climbed the glacier. This was at 1:30 in the morning, but there was this incredible full moon so it was bright enough to see our way.
The stars were incredible without the light of the station. I finally saw the famous Southern Cross constellation. Orion was also out, only it is upside down here, as is the man in the moon. This place holds so much beauty it takes my breath away. The sun was starting to rise at 2 in the morning. This means that the sky in the west was getting light. It takes a while for the sun to rise down here. There was a light mist that covered the sea so that the mainland mountains looked very close, like we could walk to them. There are so many shades of white here, light never looked so beautiful as when it is reflecting off of a mountain or an iceberg in the middle of the sea. We finally went to sleep around 5 and then got back up around 7.
I really hated to see Asrun leave. I don't know what to do with myself now that she is gone. I am really looking forward to seeing Carol. Hopefully she will bring good weather with her. The station is going to be at maximum capacity when the next Duke comes in. That means I will have 2 new roommates. It will be a tight squeeze, but I am sure I will manage somehow. More people to make friends with!
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