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Preparing for the pups and a tribute to Antarctic weather

My head is all over the place, I have no idea if this post is even going to make sense, but here we go.

We worked a juvenile the other day, managed to start working on her in the onion, and then the weather changed so drastically that we had to abandon ship. Our Big Reds got flew out from underneath our onion were dropped tens of feet away from the onion and flew across the sea ice. Team members were running everywhere attempting to catch gear that was flying away and trying to help hold down the onion. Some of the giant medal rods of the onion were bent in from the force of the wind, despite being anchored at the base and with additional lines.

Since then I’ve been attempting to continue to build models. I’ve been extremely antsy the last few days, pretty sure it’s from the lack of spending almost every day on the sea ice, and from getting a bit of cabin fever. When I left home I could go outside and take a walk and see greenery, go to the beach and go surfing, I haven’t seen any greenery, waves, or darkness/stars in weeks. The pups will finally be at an age that we can work with them next week. Monday is the big day. We have to make sure we have enough gear to hit the ground running and get as many tags out as possible. Which means this weekend is much more open in terms of what we want to do, there are possible recoveries, scouting for pups, snapping of thermal images, and trying to sneak in some fun and possibly checking out Discovery Hut. Discovery Hut is here in town and is a historical hut that was constructed by Robert Falcon Scott in 1902.

We tagged a beautiful female today. Photogrammetry went flawlessly, and now my brain is fried and I am exhausted. Calling it quits for the day.

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Skype with me in Antarctica today!

Oregon State University – Corvallis, Oregon

5:15 pm PST

Strand Agricultural Hall room  323

This is largely last minute, but if anyone is interesting I am skyping in with a class at Oregon State University this afternoon at 5:15 pm in room 323 in Strand Agricultural Hall. Anyone who is interested is welcome! The instructor of the class is Itchung Cheung, the Academic Programs Coordinator at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR. Thanks for your support all, this should be fun!

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And the days goes on…

We’ve had the last two days off. I slept pretty much all day on Saturday, although I did manage to finish a model I had started earlier in the season. John did a time lapse of me building one of my models today, if it comes out I think it might be really neat. With time off things like laundry and taking a shower suddenly seem to take higher priority, which always seems to make a big difference once completed.

We did a double deployment on Friday, meaning we deployed tags on two Weddell seals. We worked with two large non-reproductive females, the first weighing in at 863 lbs and the second at 1145 lbs. We were definitely worn by the end of the day, but it was a fantastic day and I think everyone on the team felt pretty good about the fact that we had tagged 3 animals in 2 days.

We’ll be able to start working with pups and post-reproductive females in the next week or two and we’ve now tagged 9 animals this season. We currently have tags out on 4 animals and nearly everyone is on call now for a last minute decision on a recovery.

Report at the office at 9:00 am tomorrow morning, we’ll either be doing recoveries or another deployment of tags.

Time often loses meaning here. The hours and days seem to blur together. I can never seem to remember what day of the week it is. Days often feel like weeks and hours like days.

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Onward march…

Barne Glacier

One of the most beautiful sights I have ever had the privilege of experiencing in person.

 Cape Royds
Do you see the Adelie Penguins?

Adélie Penguins

Watching Adelies is one of the funniest things I have ever experienced. They don’t walk, they run. At full blast, with their wings out and back, their little legs kicking themselves in the behind. It seems like they are always passing jokes and heckling each other. If you’ve ever seen Happy Feet, I literally cannot get the character’s voices and personalities out of my head, it’s fairly fitting.

 

 

Morning

We successfully deployed another set of tags on Tuesday. The weather was so nice that we decided to work without the onion, which in the end may have been a mistake. Although there was little wind and it felt extremely warm to us, I believe the onion can make a big difference in our procedure. The lighting is extremely harsh in Antarctica and the onion often turns that into even lighting, which Rachel (our vet) appreciates when she’s working on the seal, plus it is always warmer in the onion. Without the onion, the epoxy seemed to have trouble setting, and things seemed to keep freezing, and in the end the entire process seems slightly less efficient. Thus, we have decided to try and stick with the onion whenever possible.

Yesterday we spent the day with another science group and managed to take a trip out to Cape Royds, which is the site of Shackleton’s Hut and an Adélie Penguin colony. We also stopped by Barne Glacier, which is one of my favorite spots by far in the area. It’s a giant glacier, everyone says the ice is as old as Jesus, and it’s stunningly beautiful. We tagged along with another Weddell Seal group, and although they have various things they look at and study regarding Weddell seals in the area, they are predominantly known for their long term population study which has been monitoring Weddell seals in the bay for the past 30 years. They actually live in a field camp out on the sea ice at the base of Big Razorback Island. It was really neat to see how they work and live and we had a blast spending the day with them.

 

Evening

I just got back from dinner. We deployed tags on a very large female this afternoon, weighing in at a mere 1,047 pounds. I could barely reach over her to set my photogrammetry ropes. Everything went smoothly. I have been riding in the Piston Bully a fair bit lately, it’s a slow way to travel, but it’s warm and gives you a chance to listen to some tunes, and in my case catch up on some sleep. I’m exhausted, I still have to clean the stomach tubes from today, load all my photos, and try and get some sleep. We have a full day ahead of us tomorrow. We normally don’t leave until after lunch, noon or so. Tomorrow we’re leaving at 9:30 and attempting a double deployment. If all works well we might even get a couple days in town, which would give me a chance to catch up on models. That is 7 animals we have tagged this season, 6 of those I still need to model, and 3 from last season that still need to be completed. A couple days in town might not be such a bad idea.

 

The wind was howling today, making it absolutely frigid when you were standing in it, but if you managed to stay out of the wind it was actually quite pleasant.

 

Today’s Conditions:

Temperature: 12°F

Wind: 11 knots

Wind Chill: -3°F

 

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Getting back to it

B470 has a YouTube channel!

Check out our new YouTube site! Henry Kaiser has been uploading videos of both underwater footage and footage of us working on the ice.

http://www.youtube.com/user/MellishB470

 

November 4, 2012

Sunday

On Thursday (the day I stayed back), the team recovered 2 sets of gear from 2 animals. Each seal we work on has two data loggers on her/his back, one of those packs had fallen off one of our non-reproductive females. John and Markus went back out again later that night to see if they could find the lost data pack. They did, but it appears that the connectors where the heat flux sensors attach to the data loggers was proving to be a point of weakness and was returning home damaged. Hence the decision to take Friday and Saturday “off”, not only because everyone could probably use a day off at that point, but also because Markus and John needed a little time to work up a new design to prevent this problem from reoccurring. We only have a small number of data packs and we re-use them multiple times on other animals after we retrieve them.

During this time off I basically laid in bed for 2 days, resting my back, and drugged up on high dosage ibuprofen and muscle relaxants. Today was our first day back out. I rode in the PB (Piston Bully), and even though it is a bouncy ride, it’s warm and I figured it might be a bit safer of an option with my back than jumping right back into skidooing in the cold. It was probably a good call, especially since the wind was howling like crazy today. We successfully tagged another NRF (non-reproductive female) today.

Just a little insight, after I get home every day the work is far from over. The first thing I do is start recharging the camera batteries (to ensure we never run into an issue out in the field), I clean and sanitize the tubes we use to insert the stomach temperature pill (which entails large tubes covered in gross “sealy” worm infested yumminess), I download all the photogrammetry photos, log them, pick a photo set to enter into Photomodeler, and most nights I even try to get the initial referencing done. I try and blog once every 2-3 days, which happens either at night or in the little time I have in the morning. If I have spare time somewhere in there I still have to actually build the models themselves. And food, occasional showers, and sleep fit in there somewhere too. Sometimes there’s a little time for social festivities as well, but it’s usually at the cost of sleep. The way I see it, there’s 3 options down here as a scientist: work, sleep, play. You can only do 2 at a time and work is always one of them, so you either work and play or work and sleep.

 

Weather today:

Mean temperature: 5°F

Wind: 15 knots

 

November 5, 2012

Monday

The plan for today:

Markus, John, Rachel, and Allyson are going out on a helicopter to try and retrieve one of our tagged seals who is out at Cape Royds. Cape Royds is an Adele Penguin colony, and is also the site of a large channel of water and where the sea ice begins to get a bit dicey to travel on. If our female gets out much further, we won’t be able to get to her to recover our data packs. If we don’t get the data loggers off her back, we have no data. I will be sitting here, trying to balance working on my models, and resting my back so that I can hopefully return to 100%. Tomorrow, we will attempt a double deployment and tag two animals.

 

Weather today:

Temperature: 10.4°F

Visibility (miles): Unrestricted

Winds: Calm

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Stuck

Alright, so here’s how it works. When you’re working in some place like Antarctica depending on your team isn’t just a bonus if you can manage it kind of a deal, it’s a necessity. Every day we’re out on the ice we have to depend on one another physically, mentally, professionally, and often even emotionally.

 

I have bad back issues for years, I used to play a lot of golf and threw it out when I was 16, and it’s been sensitive ever since. I haven’t had many issues with it in the last four years, but every once in a while it does flare up. A consistent yoga routine seems to be the only thing that’s worked for me long term. Naturally, I haven’t been to a yoga class in four months (essentially since I’ve been living out at Newport, I usually go to Dixon – Oregon State University’s gym), excuses, excuses yeah I know. Let’s combine that fact with the fact that I work for several hours every day in an extremely cold environment in a fairly physically demanding job. My back has been flaring up since Sunday, today is Thursday. I finally said something about it today, because, well, I may not be the best at recognizing when I can’t work. Last year I was out for a week because my team told me I had to, that I looked like I was literally on death’s doorstep after getting “the crud”. I don’t remember it being that bad, but hearing how bad I looked from my teammates eyes, I knew they were right. I was completely blinded. Which is why, even though it sucks, I am at the office right now.

 

You may not know this, but parts of Antarctica are on Google Street View. It turns out, that the people that run Google Street View down here are interested in getting more street view footage on the ice. So somehow now, the Google team is going to do a Google street view of our fish hut (fish hut 21!) and the onion (our work shelter/tent). Our fish hut is at the base of Tent Island and is literally only a few feet away from Weddell seals and the island. Apparently, the push is to capture some more footage on the sea ice conjoining aspects of human presence, landscape, and wildlife – hence our hut. There may be a recovery done today as well, some scouting, and FLIR imaging. Overall, it’s not a necessary work day. So although it drives me crazy to know that I’m stuck here in town while my team is out on the ice, I know they were right in telling me to stay back. My back isn’t in a great place and bouncing around on a skidoo isn’t going to help me heal any quicker. We’re planning on doing another deployment tomorrow and that’s not something I can easily sit out for. I also have a helo recce (helicopter recce or reconnaissance mission) planned for later today to scout for seals, so really, I guess I should be logical about this for a second and recognize how amazing that is.

 

So as of now we have done 4 animals this year, 3 non-reproductive females, and 1 juvenile. I have 1 of the new models completed already and only 3 left from last season. The next bad weather day we have, my goal will be to catch up on that. Everything is working so smoothly this year, especially in comparison to last year. I have so much more of the photogrammetry procedure figured out and the additional stress from that just isn’t there this year. Our team dynamic is so much stronger, and we’re also having fun out there.

 

Hailing Frozen Thoughts has hit 11,305 views!

Oh, and the other big realization I had this morning? That’s 11,305 views THIS month. I finally figured out how to read the stats right, and Hailing Frozen Thoughts has actually been viewed 102,297 times since it was created last year. WOOO! Thanks for all the support everyone! For any curious minds out there, especially fellow students, don’t be shy to post questions/comments on the blog!

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It has finally happened….. EMPEROR PENGUINS!

 

October 27, 2012

Saturday

9,075 views on Hailing Frozen Thoughts!

Thank you so much for all your support everyone! Let’s keep it up!

 

Weather October 27, 2012

Mean Temperature: 2.6°F

Wind: 8 knots

After searching for a several hours yesterday, we finally turned around and came back to station after unsuccessfully finding a non-reproductive female (NRF). I did manage to build the first model of the season however! Now I truly can celebrate the beginning of the season. The models are easier to create because the ropes are exactly where I want them ideally since the animal is not moving, and because I now have created a procedure to follow in terms of creating my models.

 

Today, we’re going out at 11:30, hoping to catch the seals later in the afternoon. We’ve seen much more activity from the seals on our way back from the ice into town. Perhaps we’ll have better luck on this schedule. Plus, big bonus, we can eat lunch on station before going out! More food = more warmth = happy Mee-ya.

 

October 28, 2012

Sunday

We came back empty handed yet again yesterday, but we’ll just keep on trying until we get the animals we need tagged.

 

Weather October 28, 2012

Mean Temperature: 2.8°F

Winds: 7 knots

 

October 29, 2012

Monday

Yesterday was the most fantastic day! The sun was out, it was the first clear day we’ve been out on the ice since we arrived, the wind was nearly nonexistent (a miracle in and of itself), and it was warm! We spent an entire day scouting out seals. We went to Turk’s Head, which is this gorgeous place right next to the Erebus Glacier Tongue. We scoped it out and there appear to be a couple perspective adult females that are not pregnant. Our plan is to go straight to Turk’s Head today in an attempt to tag one of those females.

Now driving all over McMurdo Sound on skidoo always makes me happy, but the special reason why yesterday was fantastic? EMPEROR PENGUINS! It has finally happened all, I have seen Emperor Penguins! Only a few feet away from me, sliding, flapping, calling, and waddling around. I cannot even describe the excitement that courses through my body recalling the event even now. We’re all antsy to get our first non-reproductive female tagged. We’re going out today after lunch, hopefully we have better luck today.

Pictures of the penguins and Turk’s Head to come!

 

Weather today:

Temperature: 1.4°F

Wind Chill: -12.5°F

Skies: Partly Cloudy

Visibility (miles): Unrestricted

Winds: NW @ 7 knots

 

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Back to Work!

October 25, 2012

Thursday Morning

I woke up yesterday to low visibility, funneling winds, and a cold chill. The weather wasn’t great and worse off yet was the fact that the weather was quickly deteriorating. It was condition 2 (Con 2), which means no skidoo travel and no solo travel (one vehicle). The skidoo team stayed in, the PB (piston bully) team attempted to go out, got to the transition (the transition area from land to sea ice) before McMurdo called Con 2 and they were forced to turn around.

                                The weather on October 24, 2012

                                Condition 2

Temperature on station:  -4°F

Windchill: -28°F

Skies overcast

Visibility in miles: ½ in snow and blowing snow

Winds: E @19 knots

Although it’s disappointing to not go out, I was relieved to have an extra day to catch up on work and prepare myself.  I spent yesterday calibrating two cameras from last season, which means that I am now ready to create the last three remaining models from last season!  And instead of spending a late night in the lab getting my last minute to dos before we have to go out, I managed to leave the lab by 8 and actually try and relax, get a couple drinks with friends, and enjoy some personal time before the NEW big day.

Weather today:

Mean Temperature: 1.22°F

Winds: 9 knots

Thursday Night

We got back at 7:00 pm. Left at 10:00 am. We have four groups of animals we’re aiming for: pups, juveniles, non-reproductive females (NRF), and post-reproductive females (PRF). Reproductive female Weddell seals are just beginning to have their pups this time of year and we don’t work with them until after the pups have been weaned, roughly 4-6 weeks after birth. Last season we tagged 11 juveniles, so our top priority for this time in the season are NRF. We found one female today who seemed a promising candidate, upon a visual check she appeared non-reproductive. However, after thermal imaging and completing an ultrasound, it aroused enough suspicion that we decided not to work on her today. We returned to our fish hut, had lunch, and because we couldn’t find anymore NRFs we worked on a juvenile we found near the base of Tent Island .

Because it’s been a year since we worked on an animal, the process was a bit slower than usual, but by the end of the season we will be at maximum speed and efficiency. We are completing photogrammetry at a different time in the procedure, which I am excited about, because I believe it will be less time consuming and better for both the seal and all of us.

I don’t think I quite realized how antsy I was before today, but after getting our first animal tagged there was a general wave of relief and excitement that went around the team. I returned home famished and exhausted. I have logged the photos from today, charged up the batteries of the cameras, and cleaned the “sealy” gear. The weather is supposed to hold up, so we’ll attempt to tag another seal tomorrow! Here we go!

Photos from our dry run on Monday, our first day back out on the ice.

Thanks for the photos Rachel!

The onion is our custom built field tent. It is strong, shelters us from the elements, and goes up in only a few minutes.

Putting up the onion!

Ice screws

Hut 21! Our fish hut out on the ice provides us a warm place to take a break and eat while we’re working out in the elements all day.

Th completed project: the onion!

Markus offering “Tasty” Cheese

Hut21

Team B470!

(minus Rachel, who is taking the photo)

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The Return to the Ice

Tomorrow is the big day. Our first deployment is scheduled for tomorrow. Our goal is to tag a non-reproductive adult female. The team spent the day at McMurdo going through another walk through this morning. We practiced the process of weighing a seal by quite literally weighing two of the Crary IT staff (Crary is our science building at McMurdo). It was pretty hilarious, I’m sad to say I have no photos from the event. They were pretty excited about the idea of being our test seals and we were very grateful to have their help.

All day has entailed getting our gear (and our minds) together. I think most of the team is feeling a little crazed with the anticipation of tomorrow. We’ve all done this before (some more than others obviously), but I think you can’t help but feel a little flustered at the idea of getting back on the saddle. I’ve been creating check lists, going through photogrammetry gear and set up, looking at settings, and checking off my lists all day. I am exhausted and the most important thing I can do at this point is get a good night’s sleep, but it’s hard to convince yourself to go to bed when you still feel like there is more you can do. It’s almost 10:30 at night and Rachel, John, and I are all still running around the lab (of course by running, I mean sitting in front of our computer screens) in preparation for tomorrow. I am currently adding camera calibrations to the Photomodeler library, an important step since we are using new cameras this year.

 

Our dry run went well. It was mostly an opportunity to get our feet wet and run through a couple practice runs on the ice (weights, photogrammetry etc). It was great to get back out on the ice without the additional pressure of having to tag a seal; it gives us a chance to ease back into things. Plus, it’s a blast getting back on a skidoo. Visibility wasn’t great yesterday, I couldn’t see the peaks of the Royal Society Range, or much else really, but the wind was low, it was relatively warm, thus making it a pretty ideal working day. Setting up the onion in low wind is great and the lighting for photogrammetry is also better on a day with even lighting like yesterday.

To close for the night, I will leave you with the conditions from yesterday. I think it may be a neat practice to try and get into.

Mean Temperature: -12.9°F

Wind Chill: -14.8°F

Average wind speed: 8 knots

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One day away…

My dad also bought me this fantastic hat last year for Christmas (right after I returned from Antarctica last season). It’s a handmade knitted wool cap from New Zealand, with fleece lining on the inside, which actually makes it a pretty legitimate cold weather hat, and it also just happens to look like a penguin!  Thus, I behold to all, a photo of me with the infamous Emperor Penguin doll, my penguin hat (which has already won me several compliments around station), and my desk and models in the background. Perfect! This is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last couple of days, modeling. Last night I didn’t leave the office until midnight. But do not fret all, because I have completed 10 of the 15 models from last season!  Allow me to remind you all that before arriving on the ice this year, I only had one model completed. I’m glad things are finally coming together, and that I can go out into the field for the first time EVER knowing that I can actually create models and measurements from the photos I am collecting. I am so relieved. Now, it doesn’t seem so impossible to have all of my models done from all 40 animals before we leave the ice. This goal actually seems feasible now.

We had our first B470 team meeting on Friday. We went over the goals for the season, procedure, things we are attempting differently this year, assigned tasks etc. Tomorrow will be our first day back out on the ice as a team! Jo, Allyson, and John have been doing recce trips to scope out seals and take infrared images. For the rest of us though, tomorrow will be the big day. I can hardly wait. Tomorrow is Monday. Monday will be a dry run out on the ice, Tuesday will be a day to recollect and decide if anything needs last minute tweaking, and Wednesday will be our first scheduled deployment date (the first day we will attempt to tag a Weddel seal).

Until then, I am trying to finish up those last models (I may actually need to recalibrate a couple old cameras for a couple models), meet with Markus to discuss last minute alterations to the photogrammetry set up and/or cameras, and finally prepare all of the photogrammetry gear for tomorrow and make sure I am ready for our dry run. I’m keeping busy!

Photos from Skidoo training! We can hardly wait to get back out there on our snowmobiles!

Mee-ya and Rachel

Markus and Mee-ya trying on helmets

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