NSF Trip to Antarctica

President Peterson in Antarctica

The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) and the National Science Board (NSB) are jointly responsible for the oversight of the U.S. research programs underway in Antarctica. President Peterson was recently recommended by the NSB chairman to serve as a member of a review team and to participate in a site visit scheduled for December 7-11, 2010.

While in Antarctica, he reviewed a broad spectrum of scientific research activities and participated in discussions with scientists conducting the research. He toured McMurdo Station science projects and facilities, including the Crary Science and Engineering Center; reviewed the science programs at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and various field locations; took a helicopter tour of the Dry Valleys; and visited various historic sites such as Cape Royds, Cape Evans and the Discovery Hut. Dispatches from his trip are included below.

From President Peterson in Antarctica

Saturday, December 4, 2010 — In Flight, 6:00 p.m. EST

I left Atlanta at around 4 p.m. Saturday, bound for Los Angeles. It is a five-hour flight and then I then have a two-hour layover in LA. From there it is a 13-hour flight into Auckland, New Zealand, another two-hour layover, and then a flight into Christchurch NZ, arriving at 1 p.m. Monday. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010 — From L.A. to Auckland

The flight to LA and then on to New Zealand is what you would expect: lots of time on the plane to get caught up on some things, to read and study up for the visit.  I am part of a five member review team traveling to Antarctica and the South Pole at the behest of the NSF to review the research programs under way there.

Monday, December 6, 2010 — Christchurch, New Zealand

I landed in Auckland at around 10 a.m. and caught the flight to Christchurch, NZ at around noon. Christchurch has a population of somewhere around 350,000 (and all 350,000 of them talk funny and drive on the wrong side of the road). Actually in checking into the hotel, I had to concentrate quite hard to understand what the young woman was saying – it was English, but not at all clear. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 — From Christchurch to McMurdo Station

C-17 Cargo plane

We met this morning at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast in the hotel and had to be packed and ready to go at 6:30 a.m.  I left all of my Atlanta clothes at the hotel and have my trusty Extremely Cold Weather (EWC) clothes and my survival bag.  We were driven to the plane, a military C-17 and loaded our ECW bag on the plane and hand-carried our survival bag on board with us.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 — McMurdo Station, 4:00 p.m.

McMurdo Station

We landed at McMurdo Station at 2:00 p.m. after a five-hour flight. The length of the flight due south of New Zealand gives you some idea of just how far south we really are. We got off the plane and the first thing that hit me is that the scenery is just spectacular, and everywhere it is cold — minus-5 degrees Celsius — and very bright as the sun is shining. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 — In the hut, McMurdo Station, 7:15 a.m.

helicopter trip

I woke up about 3:30 a.m. and it is still daylight outside—really odd. Breakfast was scheduled for 5:30 this morning, and we were supposed to be packed and ready to leave for our trip to the South Pole Station. The plane was scheduled to leave at 7:15 a.m. and it is a two-and-a-half-hour flight, again 800 miles due south.

Thursday, December 9, 2010 — In the hut, McMurdo Station, 4:15 a.m.

Woke up about this morning at 4:00 a.m., breakfast was scheduled for 5:30 this morning and we were supposed to be packed and ready to leave for our trip to the South Pole Station by 6:15 a.m. with the plane scheduled to leave at 7:15 a.m.  No news is good news and I am hopeful that this will work out and the weather will hold.

I ran out of gas last night before I was able to write about our visit to the penguin rookery... 

Thursday, December 9, 2010 — On Our Way to the South Pole, 8:15 a.m.

We are on the plane, a LC-130, which is a cargo plane with web seating for passengers on each side and cargo in the middle. There are the five of us and four other scientists who are going back down after a respite trip to McMurdo. We all have our trusty ECW bags and they are strapped in the center where we can get to them quickly.

Thursday, December 9 — At the South Pole, 8:00 p.m.

We landed at the Pole. If it was cold in the Dry Valleys yesterday, this is incredible … and it was a “nice day.” The temperature was minus-30 degrees Celsius but again, the wind was the big factor.  When it is calm, minus-30 is not too bad, but when the wind blows, it cuts right through you. In fact, it reminds me of Kansas, but much colder: you cannot have any skin exposed for very long in these conditions or it will get sun burned, wind burned, or suffer from frostbite.

Friday, December 10, 2010 — In the hut, McMurdo Station, 4:00 a.m.

We had planned to sleep in today and to meet for breakfast at 7:00, but I am up early again this morning. It is very difficult to sleep when it is always light outside. Our plans for today are to tour McMurdo Station.

Friday, December 10, 2010 — McMurdo Station, 9:30 p.m.

It has been an interesting day, but a little anticlimactic after being at the South Pole yesterday. We started the day with a three-hour tour of the Crary Science Laboratory. It is a marvelous facility built on the side of a hill with several different levels. There is some amazing science going on there, and perhaps equally as important, it is the support for the science that goes on out at the field stations.

Saturday, December 11, 2010 — In the hut, McMurdo Station, 6:00 a.m.

Today is our last day here “on the ice.” Later this afternoon we will board the C-17 and leave this frozen and barren, but beautiful place and after a five-hour flight return to Christchurch, NZ.

Saturday, December 11, 2010 — On the Plane to Christchurch, 7:30 p.m.

I am sitting on my way back to “civilization” and thinking about all I have seen and learned in just a few short days.