October 30, 2011

Antarctic Observation Tube

Last night, rather than join in the drunken madness surrounding the annual McMurdo Station Halloween party, I decided to go check out the 'observation tube' that was mentioned several times upon my arrival during the in-briefs. Mostly it was mentioned in the context of 'hey we have a great observation tube which no one is taking advantage of'. Who am I to ignore this call to action? Off to the observation tube I went! 

After checking a key out and getting a handheld emergency radio from the Fire Department, three of us made our way down the little dirt path to the sea ice walking out a few hundred yards to the orange & yellow warming huts and the small metal tube that we were looking to climb down. 

The observation tube was originally made to observe penguins swimming and doing whatever daily tasks  take them under the ice. The tube is perhaps 10 meters long and has a little glass room at the bottom big enough for just 1 person to stand at the bottom of the tube and observe the energetic life of the ocean in Antarctica under the sea ice.

Climbing down the tube was mildly claustrophobic as it's so small that you have to take your big down jacket off before going down and your elbows, knees & backside are constantly banging against the sides of the small metal tube as you descend. But it's well worth swallowing any minor mental distress over this in order to get to the bottom. 

Once in the little glass room at the bottom you can look out the windows and back up at the sea ice above.    The top of the sea ice is relatively flat and smooth from the sun and wind. But the bottom of the sea ice that hangs into the sea water is a garden of ice crystals in every possible geometry. 

The water was crowded with little krill, jelly fish- both miniature & large, and all kinds of other tiny little sea creatures. I was the only one in the group lucky enough to see any seals. Unfortunately, I only had a manual focusing lens with me (poor planning!) and couldn't get my act together fast enough to shoot them as they raced by just one time.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the whole experience were all the Star Trek sounds going on down there. It may have been the seals making so much noise, I'm not sure, but the water was filling with pinging, beeps and loud yawning noises.

View out onto the sea ice.

Warming hut near the observation tube.

The icy observation tube that you descend.

Looking up at the bottom of the sea ice and its crystal formations.

Dancing pair of krill.

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