How many miles is it from Pelzer, South Carolina to Antarctica? How long would it take to travel there?I measured the distance on Google maps and it was about 8,900 miles. In reality, I travel farther than this because I have to go to New Zealand before heading down to Antarctica. This is because the United States Antarctic Program runs all of their flights to McMurdo from New Zealand. I think it takes about 30 hours for me to travel from Blacksburg, Virginia to Christchurch, New Zealand. I also get all of my warm clothes issued to me in New Zealand. Then I travel another 5 to 9 hours by plane to McMurdo where the plane lands on ice on the Ross Sea or the Ross Ice Shelf. From there, it can be an hour or more over the sea ice to McMurdo base on Ross Island. It takes about a week to complete the beginning of season survival training and get more gear for field work and plan trips out to the Dry Valleys. Then it is a 45 minute helicopter ride out to field sites.
What kinds of bugs have you seen in Antarctica and have you caught any?I have not seen any bugs here in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. There are supposedly Collembola and mites where I am, but no true insects. Collembola are related to insects, and they can be found down here in the Dry Valleys. Collembola are also known as Springtails or snow fleas. You can find Collembola in North America in leaf litter. They have an appendage called a furcula that they use to "spring" or hop around. The Collembola down here apparently don't have a working furcula, so they don't hop.
Have you seen any penguin rookeries while you've been there?I have not seen any penguin rookeries. The rookeries are specially protected areas that we have to get permission to visit. There are penguin rookeries on Ross Island, where McMurdo station is located, but they are pretty far away. The closest adelie penguin rookery is at Cape Royds (about 20 miles away), and the closest emperor penguin rookery is at Cape Crozier (about 50 miles away). Ed Stump has a really good blog post about the penguins near McMurdo here. He actually got to go to the rookeries and take some pictures.
How many types of animals live in Antarctica?Overall, there are not very many animals living on the land near McMurdo. There are a handful of nematode species, mites, collembola, and tardigrades that are all very small animals that live in the soil that can be found in the Dry Valleys. The Dry Valleys are very cold, dry polar deserts that are on the Antarctic mainland, nestled in among the mountains and glaciers. Near the coast of the Ross Sea you will find Adelie penguins, Emperor penguins, Weddell seals, and Skuas. The most common animal where I am, in the Dry Valleys, is Scottnema lindsayae. This animal is a microscopic nematode that lives in the soils of the polar deserts in Antarctica. It is is a very small worm that you would be hard pressed to see without a microscope. Our friends at the nemablog specialize in these types of microscipic animals. There are trillions of nematodes in the soil in Taylor Valley, the valley that I am currently camping in. I have also seen Skuas, which look like really large, brown sea gulls, Weddell seals on the sea ice near McMurdo, and an Emperor penguin near Scott Base. There are more animals farther north where it is warmer. I have read that the marine life around Palmer Station near South America is much more diverse, but I have never been there, so I can't tell you much about that place.
Why can't people live in Antarctica, but they can visit? What kind of clothing or shelter do you have to use to keep warm?This is a really good question. No people live here permanently because it is really cold and there is no way to grow food here. Everything we need to survive is shipped or flown in from other continents. This includes everything we use to build shelter, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the fuel we use for electricity and keeping warm.
People visit here for many reasons. The first people to visit here were adventurers in the age of exploration. Great explorers like Earnest Shackleton, R. F. Scott, and Roald Amundson were looking for a route to South Pole. Many of the people who come here visit for science. There is a lot to learn about geology and biology. Many of the researchers here are trying to learn how microorganisms live in very harsh habitats, like thousands of feed underneath the ice in subglacial lakes. My research group is interested in how microorganisms live in the very dry and cold soils of the Dry Valleys, and what this desert ecosystem will do as the climate warms and ice starts to melt. Also, cosmologists, astronomers, and physicists come to Antarctica because there are some unique ways scientists can observe stars and planets and the universe from the bottom of the world. Scientists use giant balloons to put high tech telescopes up in the air above the clouds to take pictures of space, and there are special sensors that have been placed in the ice at the South Pole that are used for measuring particles from space.
We are issued Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear to keep warm. Even in the summer, the temperatures here are often below freezing, and the wind can make it much colder. ECW includes a big red parka (called "Big Red"), wind pants, and bunny boots.
|Bunny boots are really warm boots, but they're heavy and no very practical for hiking|
|Big Red - a really warm parka|
|We are issued lots of warm clothes, hats, gloves, mittens.|
|Here's a picture of McMurdo. The Crary Science Lab is the big gray building in the middle of the photo.|
|This is the tent I will be sleeping in tonight at F6 field Camp.|
|This is a Scott Tent at Lake Hoare Camp.|
|Solar panels and hut at F6 camp|
How do you make your food? Is there enough electricity?
|Kevin cooking frittatas for dinner|
We usually have enough electricity. There are solar panels at many of the established field camps.
|Solar panels that power the Lake Hoare field camp|
Thanks for the great questions! We really appreciate you following our blog.