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14 December, 2000

Back to Mactown

It was a cloudy morning but this time the plane was able to land. There were four passengers on the two-hour flight back to McMurdo Station. Gary, Bob, and I have been out in the field for twenty-five days. In the meantime, McMurdo has gone through some changes. The sea ice is beginning to deteriorate so the runway has been moved to the permanent ice shelf for the rest of the season.

The town looks quite different from when we left. Most of the snow cover is gone leaving volcanic rock, mud, and dust. In a way I miss the white expanses of Siple Dome but it is a nice change to sleep in a bed with a bathroom down the hall. A skua gull startled me when it flew by in the afternoon. It made me realize how rare it is to see wildlife on the continent. Since arriving in Antarctica I have seen a handful of skuas around McMurdo. At Siple Dome I was lucky enough to see some snow petrels on two occasions. I wonder what these beautiful white birds are doing on the ice sheet over 400 km (250mi) from the coast and any source of food.

In the evening, I walked out to Hut Point to see how the sea ice had changed. Cracks run along the transition zone by the shore. Other breaks in the ice are seen farther out. About half a dozen Weddell seals had taken advantage of these cracks to pull themselves out onto the surface of the ice.

Gary Clow, Bob Hawley, and myself, known by our project designation as II-171, are waiting to board the LC-130 Hercules for our trip from Siple Dome to McMurdo Station.

I watched this Weddell seal as it scooted around on the fractured ice of the transition zone. It moved rather like a large slug, an 800-pound slug. It would often stop and close its eyes for a while then nuzzle the snow and continue on. I don't know what it was looking for. For a close-up look at Weddell seals, see Kolene Krysl's journals.

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