Sundays at McMurdo

Throughout the week, we generally have very long days, 6 days a week.  Sunday, however, is our day off.  It is a day to have some fun and explore the surroundings (and also get in some much needed rest).

On this Sunday, Martin, Maya, Isabel, Alec, and I (all part of the Rosetta-Ice team) decided to use some of our free time to visit the observation tube (or “ob tube” for short), which was just recently set up in the sea ice.  After a quick breakfast, we set off at 9 am to the firehouse to “check out”.  Checking out consists of making a list who is in your party, picking up a radio to call back to the firehouse if needed, getting a safety briefing, and stating when we will return (so they can initiate rescue procedures if we aren’t back by that time and don’t call in).  After that, we take a short walk out onto the sea ice where the ob tube is located.

The observation tube installed in the sea ice. It will remain here until early December when the sea ice weakens as summer approaches.

The ob tube is installed into a hole drilled into the sea ice near dive huts that biologists use for their research while the sea ice is thick enough to support the weight of the huts.  The tube extends below the sea ice (which is ~ 2 m thick) and ends in a round viewing area that is only big enough for 1 person. To get to the viewing area, you must climb down the very narrow tube and then a small ladder at the end.  The tube is so narrow that you need to take your parka off before you descend to make it easier to climb down.

I climb down the ob tube while Martin prepares to place the lid back on when I reach the observation area.
Maya climbing down the Tube.  This show you just how much of a tight squeeze it is.

Once you make it down there, the people up top close the lid to block out the light from above.   You are left alone to sit quietly and watch the ocean under the sea ice.    The ice is beautiful from below.  You can see the algae, which marine creatures use as a food source, growing on the underside of the ice. Tiny fish swim by.  And, if you a lucky, you can see a jellyfish or seal. I didn’t see either, but I heard the seals, and the sounds were beautiful.  It is not deep here  (~8 or 9 m)  – so you can see the bottom.

The underside of the sea ice is covered in algae.
Tiny fish swim around – hanging out near the underside of the sea ice.

We sat down in the tube for about 10 min each, so we could all get through.  The rest of us were waiting on the surface, trying to stay out of the wind and stay warm.  It was a very cold day, so we tried to be good about limiting our times.

Maya, Martin, Alec, and Isabel try to stay warm and out of the wind near the diving huts.

At the end of the adventure, we checked back in at the firehouse and went to the galley to warm up and eat a late Sunday brunch (another highlight of Sundays!).  The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging out in the lounge, watching movies or reading.