October 16 Another Training Day

We are speeding through the training that we need to complete before we are able to begin our research. Today the two "fingies" (people who have never been here before), Mike and Elizabeth, are off at Happy Campers School. We hope they had a warm night – it was quite breezy yesterday and I was worried they would not have enough chocolate to keep them warm as they slept on the ice. Us "experienced" folk got to stay at McMurdo in our nice warm dorm rooms and attend Outdoor Recreation Training in the morning and do our diving check out in the afternoon. Jennifer staying hydrated, one of the important lessons we learned during Outdoor Recreation Training.
Outdoor Recreation Training is the orientation that everyone must take before they are allowed on any of the hiking or skiing trails around McMurdo. On Sundays, our one day off per week, we hope to take advantage of some of the chances to get outdoors and walk and enjoy the beauty all around us. It is hard sometimes, when we are so caught up in the research and excitement of the close intense focus that we need to accomplish all we hope to in the short time we have down here, to remember to appreciate our surroundings. This is a truly beautiful place, and we are incredibly lucky to be working here where the traces of humanity are small and we are reminded to be humble by the vastness around us. But you still have to look up from your work to see it!
Jennifer, Bob and Andrew preparing their dive gear for our first Antarctic dive of the year. The rest of our morning was spent preparing our dive gear for our check out dive. Though we have unpacked and organized already, we still need to put together a few last things, like the rings that attach our dry gloves to our suits and the small "tubies" that allow air to flow between our gloves and the rest of our suits. Without a tubie to break the seal at your wrist, as soon as you descend your hands will start to feel pinched from the compression of the air in the gloves, and by the time you reach a working depth, you won't be able to move your hands, and will become completely useless for conducting research. Because the tubies are small and clear, they are easy to lose, so several sets are stashed in various pockets in hopes that some will always be available.
We meet up with Rob after lunch and pack our gear into the Pisten Bully. This will become a familiar exercise and we will get more efficient as time goes on but right now we are still scattered and do a lot of unnecessary running back and forth. After Bob has put on and taken off his drysuit at least 4 times trying to figure out if he put his several layers of socks on, we all tumble in and drive to the Jetty. This location is close to the station and has a temporary hut over a long rock Jetty supporting the seawater intake that supplies the desalinization plant (which provides all our freshwater) and the seawater for the aquarium. Once in the hut we are visited by a friendly Weddell seal, who stares at us with big brown eyes, breathes deeply (spraying a few seal boogers onto us) and twists and turns gracefully to show off his silver spotted fur. The not-very-graceful (Stacy) and incredibly graceful (Leptonychotes weddellii) mammals diving at the Jetty today.
Bob and Andrew preparing for their check out dives. Note the difference in mental serenity that experience makes. This is Bob's first dive in the Antarctic. For all of us, even if we have done it before and no matter how much we practice, putting on our 40 lb weight belts, three hoods and the clumsy dry gloves is a struggle. We sweat in the warm hut but know that as soon as we hit the negative 2 degree C water we will be wanting this heat back. This is such a spectacular environment. This hole has been melted instead of drilled and so the contours are curved and artistic, the ice overhead is thick and dark, and the cracks stand out as vivid blue lines. Recent freezing has created a few brine tubes that hang like slender chandeliers from the edges of the cracks. There are a surprising number of jellies in the water column, and the dark view of the mass of rocks below is brightened by white sponges in the mud in the distance. We poke along the rocks and pass an experiment set up by another researcher, Dr. Adam Marsh (http://www.ocean.udel.edu/cms/amarsh/). The bags on the seafloor contain nudibranch eggs that have been incubating all winter and are just now getting ready to hatch. We move over the edge of the rocks into the mud (where all the exciting ecology is going on) and investigate some of the large sponges (Scolymastra). A fish (Trematomus) is hiding in the bottom of one, peeking out from the safety of the living tunnels inside.
Bob's regulator begins to bleed a steady stream of air, a sign that it may begin to free flow soon. A free flow is dangerous because it can drain your tank in just a few minutes, so we head back to the hole and access to the surface. The dive seems too short but I know there will be more and for now I am satisfied that all has gone well and that I can still feel so comfortable diving under the ice. Under the hole I pause to practice switching to my back-up regulator, and happy that I remember my skills, I climb up and join Rob and Bob on the surface. I am content.
Rob, the McMurdo dive officer, suits up again to take Jennifer and Andrew in for their check out dive. This is his third dive today – in the very cold water, this is a huge expenditure of energy and I am very grateful that Rob is willing to work so hard to help us get started on our research quickly. Their dive goes smoothly and as we return and wash up our gear I am happy and feeling deeply connected to this environment. I can’t wait to get in and see what has happened with our experiment over the last year! Rob Robbins, McMurdo diving safety officer, getting ready to check our diving skills.
Until the next dive – Stacy

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