17 November, 1995

November 17, 1995

Location: Marsh Base - King George Island, Bransfield Strait

Update: The OSU Science team continued their investigation of potential hydrothermal vent areas with a long ZAPS TOYO along an area that topographically looked promising. Working with the sled is a slow process which requires nearly the entire team to be up and working. Someone has to monitor the position of the sled above the sea floor at all times using an altimeter to prevent running into the bottom or some projection from the sea floor. Others have to monitor the data that is coming up from the electronic sampling equipment on the sled. And still another group is monitoring the winch and cable connecting the ZAPS sled to the ship so that ice or some current does not pull on and somehow break the connection.

By about 3:00 AM the ZAPS work was done and Dr. Ben Sloan was ready to take another sediment sample from this area using the corer. An excellent sample was taken and recovered on the ship. Ben and Amelia Shevenell logged and preserved the core samples later that day. They found some interesting variations in the sample. In this core they identified sands and gravels that were glacial eratics deposited from melting ice. They also found a number of black layers that contained carbon compounds. They will have to do further analysis to determine the origin of these sediments.

Dick Von Herzen and I had gotten up early this morning in the event that Ben and Amelia need some help on watch given their early morning coring work. They had both taken naps before the start of their watch at 8:00 AM, and thanked us for our conscientiousness, but said that they were fine.

It was a beautiful morning, and Dick and I took advantage of the beautiful weather to do some sight seeing. We were headed to Marsh Base, a Chilean military base and air field on King George Island to pick up some packages of equipment and software th at were needed on the ship. The Chilean government often assists the US science programs by flying in needed supplies and equipment into Marsh Base for pick up by ships under special circumstances.

A Zodiac would be needed to get to the base from the ship, because there was about 400 meters of ice still in the bay at the Base. We were the first ship to come to the base this year, and the Chileans were uncertain whether the ice was still sufficiently firm for people to be able to walk to the base. No one would know if it was possible to reach the base until the Zodiac reached the ice.

A small group would have the opportunity to leave the ship to pick up the packages. Barney Kane, an ASA Marine Technician would pilot the Zodiac and be responsible for making sure that the ice was safe enough for passage to the base. Jim Holik the MPC, from ASA would act as interpreter. Dick Von Herzen would represent the science teams. I was also given the opportunity to go and represent the science party. At 12:00 noon the Zodiac had been removed from the hold and had been lowered to the starboard side of the ship. A rope ladder had been secured to facilitate our transfer to the Zodiac. Barney was the first in the Zodiac. He started the small outboard engine while two of the crew members maintained the stern and bow lines.

By this time all hands who were not on watch were on deck watching our preparation for departure. We were stationed about 3/4 of a mile from the ice. The beach seemed very far away as the remaining three of us entered the Zodiac to head to Marsh Base.

The four of us were dressed in full orange float coats and heavy boots. There was a strong breeze blowing out to sea that mixed with spray from the waves making it brisk looking toward the beach. Our route to the beach was protected by small mountains and glaciers on both sides. Marsh Base is located in a small inlet on King George Island. High basalt rock columns thrust up through the snow along the shoreline like ruble from an ancient Roman Coliseum. These rock formations were beautiful and riveting. They are the Earthís art. Their shapes had been sculpted by mother nature with skill reminiscent of the great masters. It was difficult not to fixate on these shoreline marvels, but the bouncing of the boat constantly redirected our focus to maintain our balance.

In less than 5 minutes we had made it to the edge of the ice. Four penguins and a seal were the only ones there to great us. They seemed to mock our caution as we approached the ice by walking right to the edge and squawking at us. We surveyed the iceís edge to try to determine its thickness and stability. It appeared that there was about 3 feet of ice, and no major cracks were visible indicating that a breakup was not impending.

We decided that we would land at a point were an old but eroded walking path ended at the waterís edge. Jim was the first to leave the Zodiac and venture onto the ice. It seemed to be solid and stable. Dick and I joined him while Barney tended the Zodiac. I used an Ice auger to drill holes in the ice to determine its depth. I drilled through about 2 feet of wet ice, before all felt confident that the ice was safe enough for us to attempt to cross it.

I drilled a third hole leaving the auger in the ice as an anchor. An ice probe was driven into the ice in the first hole to provide two points to tie off the Zodiac. We pulled the boat up onto the ice and tied it off. Dick volunteered to lead the group across the ice. A rope was fixed around his waste, and the four of us formed a line behind him holding the rope in the event that the ice broke underneath him or us. Dick used an ice probe to check the hardness of the ice in front of him as he walked. We were the only people who appeared to be moving anywhere near the base. The base seemed to be deserted even though the ship had radioed us that the Chileans saw us and told us to be extremely careful because they were unsure about the safety of the ice. No one from the base had been on the ice for weeks.

We continued in with the rope connecting us, feeling our way across the ice. Our crossing of the ice covered a distance of about a quarter of a mile and was uneventful. The ice was firm, but near the shore, the ice had large cracks and the surface had become very slushy. There were places where we would step through slush to the top of our boots. We made it to shore and started toward what we thought was the Chilean base. We had now officially set foot in Antarctica!

In actuality, we were headed toward a Russian science base. The Chilean Military base were the buildings to the left in this small maze of square steel boxes. One of the military personnel waved to us from about a quarter mile from the beach directing us to come toward him. The spring thaw had arrived and the gravely black surface of the island was soft and muddy.

When we finally reached the official, he welcomed us to the base, with Jim acting as our interpreter. He was pleased to see us, and informed us that our arrival had coincided with the arrival of the Base commander at the air strip. Most of the personnel were there and that it would be a while before we could talk to one of the bases main officials before we would be allowed to depart.

He gave us a tour of the base, and took us through a number of the buildings. The buildings were square steel boxes, perched on steel pilings above the snow. They were built above the ground because the heat from inside the buildings would melt the permafrost below the floors causing the buildings to sink.

To occupy our time until we were official cleared and received the packages, he suggested that we stop by the Russian base and look at their ìShopsî. A shop was a set of shelves with small mementos for sale in some of the bases homes. We were greeted by a Russian Doctor who had such a shop in his home. He invited us in and showed us his wares. We thanked him for his time, but purchased nothing. He coerced us into visiting a second shop, and the two Russian men made their best sales pitch. Dick was prepared to by a souvenir, but all the money he had was Chilean pesos, which the Russians were unwilling to accept.

We thanked them again for their time, and made our way back to the base hoping that we could pick up our packages and be on our way. We walked though what was actually a small year round village, population: 57. The men on the base are able to bring there families on their tour of duty at Marsh Base. Their time at Marsh is typically a year. There is a school, hospital and church at the base. The school has two rooms, meeting the needs of children of all ages. The children are all taught in English, even though their native language is Spanish. As we walked to the radio house to complete the protocols for departure, the base had become alive with activity as the people returned to their homes from greeting the Commander.

Children were playing in a small open area between the houses. People were riding on snowmobiles to get back from the air field. Helicopters were landing at a small landing pad near the radio house. The whole temperament of the base had changed in a matter of minutes. What had been a quite and deserted places had been transformed into a winter beehive of activity, with the whine of engines from all types of machines for transport creating a drone.

When we made it to the radio house we were invited in. Jim continued as interpreter. The commander was very accommodating and excited about our arrival. He provided us with coffee, and conversation. Even though we were on a short time table to get back to the ship, it was essential that we follow their procedures and accept their hospitality. They had done an important favor for us by flying in the packages that we needed. It was important that they understand our appreciation by abiding by their procedures for entrance and departure from the base, as well as recognizing their hospitality and generosity. It was an opportunity to blend and respect the diversity of our two cultures.

We collected our packages and said what must have been a dozen good byes and thank you's to a dozen military people, but by 1:30 PM we were on our way back to the ship. I took the lead on the way back to the Zodiac. The cracks in the ice had opened noticeable since noon. In a few days the bay would probably be clear of ice. When we arrived at the Zodiac there were penguins in the water and on the beach guarding it. We loaded the gear, and launched our boat. The penguins followed us for a bit as w e headed back to the Palmer. Our visit was an experience that I will never forget. For Dick it was the crowning jewel in his career of research and travel. As a result of this excursion he had set foot on every continent in the world. This is an accom plishment tfor whiich few people can ever boast.

We returned to the ship, again transfixed by the beauty of this stark and barren island, and without ceremony, climbed the ladder back on deck, and made the Zodiac secure by 2:00 PM. The Captain gave the order to leave station, and we left this inlet for another evening of work by the OSU team to collect data about hydrothermal vents in this area.

It took Dick and I until 4:00 PM at the start of our watch to slow our minds down from the events of the early afternoon. We talked about the people and families that lived there year round, and pondered about what it would be like to join them. For the most part, our watch was a time not of talk, but of reflection on a day we will never forget.

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