The amazing journey from the Antarctica Research Center in Christchurch, New Zealand to “The Ice” started with a 8 hour flight in a C130 Hercules airplane (aka The Herc). After a 24 hour delay (because of weather in McMurdo) we finally got clearance to depart and start our journey. We headed through a NZ military security screening gate area and boarded the shuttle to the C130 boarding area… and then…BANG…it hit me; all of a sudden my lifelong dream of going to this remote continent was becoming real. No turning back now! Talk is cheap, but when you’re looking at that C130, it really sinks in. This was really happening and that’s when then butterflies and anxiousness began. Sarah’s been to Antarctica before, but it was all new and all unknown for a first timer like me.
When we boarded the C130 (SAFAIR of South Africa), we were handed a brown bag lunch. We all piled in and found a seat. The plane was truly a military style C130 and had 45 standard comair style seating along with a ton of cargo. The flight crew were all military personal and gave us a safety briefing, some water, and ear plugs. Ear plugs were definitely required because it was noisy. Very noisy. Elena was the smart one in our group. She brought a set of Bose noise cancelling head phones- a true asset for this flight! After takeoff, the flight was smooth and it didn’t take long for the butterflies to go anyway.
During the flight, the pilots allowed us to spend some time in the cockpit. It was amazing… Awesome sights as we approached Antarctica. Much to my surprise, they used both Celestial navigation (by tracking the position of the sun) and GPS because we were too close to the magnetic south pole for traditional NAVs. Pretty cool. They even took time out to teach me how to use sight reduction tables. Not just an overview, but calculators and reference books! I guess you could call it the beginning of my Antarctica endless training program.
As we approached the continent, everyone was excited- looking out the windows, talking, chattering, laughing, a lot of oohh’s and Aahh’s … The excitement was electrifying. We were almost there.
We landed on the ice runway called Pegasus Field (NZPG). It was breathtaking! We scrambled to get on our ECW gear and get out of the plane so we could finally step foot on Antarctica. This was definitely a moment to behold forever! White everywhere! Snow and Ice and very unusual shuttle vehicles. We finally made it!
Figure 1. Our ride onto Continent.
Figure 2. Our ride into town!
Altogether, accounting for both flying time and layovers, we’ve already been on the move for
2 + 6 + 2 + 13 + 3 + 1.5 = 27.5 hours
from Washington, D.C. to Christchurch, New Zealand. Flights and airports disorient all senses of space and time; we become more anonymous while we traverse time zones and distorted political borders. It’s an apt preview of the transcendence of our destination. Under the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica does not belong to any single political entity. The continent spans all 24 time zones, yet it can be continuously illuminated or dark for months at a time. Facing nature in its rawest form, we will indeed be reminded of our anonymity as we coexist with the cornucopia of flora, fauna, and microbiota on Earth.
Christchurch is a beautiful city located on South Island in New Zealand. We stopped here to regroup, rest, and get our government issued Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing. We were delayed for 24 hours so we had some extra time to catch up on sleep and get to know a vibrantly hip and deeply resilient locale.
Figure 1. All the gear we need to survive in Antarctica! Far left: Big Red, the canonical parka for all US Antarctic Program grantees and personnel.
Figure 2. A little garden across from the Canterbury Museum, which documents Māori history and British colonization of New Zealand.
Figure 3. Re:START, the mall built from upcycled shipping containers.
Figure 4. On exhibit at the Christchurch Art Gallery; it’s built from 0.5 mm pencil lead!
Welcome to our Antarctic blog! We thought it would be fun to post some updates from the field for students and colleagues, and friends and family. The National Science Foundation and the US Antarctic Program are supporting our lab’s research into long-term cell survival in the Dry Valleys, so over the coming weeks, our team of five will be collecting samples from our planet’s coldest, driest desert. We’ll be analyzing many of them in real time with a variety of advanced sequencing technologies. We’ll have updates as the science unfolds!
Oy, but we have to get there first. We’re 3/4th of the way to Antarctica, but our cargo plane to the ice was delayed, then scrubbed, then rescheduled, and now it’s delayed again. We’ve spent a few nights in Christchurch now, and we’re just waiting for the weather to improve at our destination, McMurdo Station. It’s nearly eight hours away over the empty waters of the vast Southern Ocean. The C-130 Hercules we’re flying down on doesn’t carry enough fuel to get all the way to Antarctica and then back to New Zealand if weather conditions prevent a landing, so the pilots are pretty conservative. A couple times this season, flights have “boomeranged” at the last point of safe return, meaning ten hours of flying just to end up where they started and have to do it all again the next day. Fingers crossed that won’t be us!
Figure 1. Ready to go.