Friday, February 1, 2008

Finally Done!

I've been holed up in my Christchurch hotel for the last few days putting the finishing touches on my Antarctic Correspondent's Diary for the Economist's online edition. 4,500 words hot off the presses. At the moment, it's supposed to appear the week of February 11th, one entry each day for the week. If you go here, you'll see the Correspondent's Diary section on the upper right. I'm told there's a chance it may get pushed back to make room for a diary from the political riots in Kenya. Understandably a little more important and timely right now than Antarctica.

At the moment, I'm sitting in the ferry terminal surrounded by lush green mountains waiting to go from New Zealand's South Island to the North. Couldn't be happier!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Best Shave of My Life

Well, I was paroled from Antarctica last night. Unfortunately, I left a little bit of me behind. No, I'm not talking about my sanity (I'm hoping that will eventually come back someday...) However, I did lose my iPod somewhere on a hiking trail at McMurdo. Oh well. It was only a Shuffle, and it was already a few years old. No penguins this time either. There were killer whales though, and I could hear them surfacing and blowing water out of their blow-holes while I was out hiking.

We got into Christchurch around 8 last night. Our flight was truly international. There were a bunch of Kiwis, some people from the Italian Antarctic program, and some seriously hardcore Russian guys. They lived up to the stereotype: One of them was so drunk he kept falling over on the flight and had to be picked up. Last I saw of him, he was laying on a pile of coats in the immigration line. Wonder if they let him into the country or not...

After some drinking last night, I woke up to a beautifully overcast drizzle today. Just smelling moisture has been amazing. After breakfast, I headed to get a much needed shave and a haircut. I went to this fancy place called the Groom Room. It was one of these wood-paneled British barbershops that looked like it belonged in Sweeney Todd. Totally unbelievable. The woman tipped the chair back and put hot towels on my face, gave me a massage, and then gave me an old-school straight-razor shave. Something only a guy can truly appreciate. She even offered to pluck the stray hairs on my eyebrows. Did I take her up on the offer? You'll just have to guess.

So now I have a few days here. I've got to finish writing my Correspondent's Diary for the Economist website (it's supposed to run the week of February 11th). Then off to meet Willoughby for some traveling!!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How To Relax At The South Pole II

Yes indeed. That's bocce in front of the geographical pole. Click here for the animation. Don't know why it doesn't display above...

Sorry I haven't finished Science Lesson Part II yet. I've been switching to days, so I've been exhausted and sans satellite. I leave tomorrow morning (fingers crossed on the weather...) so I'll finish it soon...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Science Lesson Part I

I promised the other day that I'd actually write something substantive about science, so here it is. (I can't resist mentioning it though: I did indeed take my record-breaking third shower of the season a few days ago...)

I had a really interesting conversation yesterday with this professor from Dartmouth who just arrived at the Pole as part of a joint Norwegian-US Traverse, and I think it may spawn another Economist article. It has to do with ice sheets, global warming, rising sea levels, and how you go about figuring all this stuff out.

Let me back up a little bit. Everyone knows about global warming. And everyone knows that one of the really bad things that could happen with global warming is a rise in global sea levels. There's this nice google map that shows what parts of the world will get flooded when sea levels rise. It's pretty cool. You can adjust the amount of sea level rise and then check out your own favorite neighborhood-Bangladesh, Manhattan, Florida, etc.- to see if it's still above water or not. Anyway, rising sea levels come from two things. First off, as temperatures increase, water expands. This is just basic science: hotter things take up more room. In a hot air balloon, turning on the flame heats the air in the balloon. The air expands and the balloon becomes buoyant.

The second cause is the big one. When you melt ice that's sitting on land (such as the three mile thick ice sheet I'm sitting on right now), the water flows into the ocean and causes the sea level to rise. Just to be clear, this only happens for ice sitting on land, not ice that's already floating on water. The usual analogy is an icecube in a full glass of water. When it melts, the glass doesn't overflow. This is because the meltwater takes up the space that the ice was already taking up. Because of this, all the stuff you see on the melting of the Artic and the North Pole doesn't contribute to rising sea levels. That ice was already floating in water. The melting of the Artic is alarming for other reasons which I won't get into right now...

This brings me back to Antarctica. Most of the Earth's fresh water is locked up in the icesheets here, so obviously what they're doing is really important for sea levels. We do know that West Antarctica, the part that juts out towards South America, is warming up and melting really quickly. The problem is that the ice in East Antarctica, the huge part closer to where I am, may actually be getting thicker. That's because, in a warmer climate, it's expected to snow more. That snow falls onto the ice and stays there. If more snow falls than ice melts, the sea level actually goes back down.

So here's the real kicker: we don't actually know if Antarctica is losing ice or gaining ice, overall. There are models and calculations and some satellite data, but there's very little on the ground data from East Antarctica. We just don't know. I even think the recent IPCC report concluded that it was too early to say whether Antarctica is losing ice or not (though I have to check on that).

This is all an interesting little tidbit. One that doesn't usually get reported amidst all the scary stuff you see on the news. I'm guessing the media thinks that people are too stupid to digest complicated information. "Well, if Antarctica isn't melting, that means that global warming isn't real and we don't have to do anything about it." I trust you guys more than that.

So how do we figure out what's really happening in East Antarctica? I'll save that for Science Lesson Part II. But for those of you who just can't wait, I'll give you a preview: You get in some tractors and you spend two-and-a-half months driving across the ice...

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Well, I had just gone for a long, stinky run and was psyched to take my record-breaking third shower of the season. I walk into the bathroom just as this guy is posting signs saying that all showers are forbidden for the next few days. Apparently they're doing maintenance on the well where they melt the snow to get our water. Damn.

For whatever reason, I feel like I'm only writing about hygiene this year. You all must be getting bored. I think I'll make my next few posts about something interesting and scientific, just to keep y'all entertained :)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Article Link

In case you care, you can find my Economist article here. The photo is mine too...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shower Counter

Well, last night was number two. That already ties my total from last year. And considering that I did laundry last week for the first time ever down here, I'd say that I've reached a new hygienic high. I even went for a two mile run on the treadmill last night. With the altitude, that's not too bad either...