Today marks the 2011 Winter Solstice which means the days are getting longer in the U.S., but in my case, the days are about to get much longer. Rather than a paltry 10 hours of daylight per day, starting today I am embarking on a journey that will be providing continuous, 24 hour-per-day sunlight! If your physical geography lessons are still fresh in your mind, then it won’t be too difficult to solve the puzzle of how I am about to affect this change. That’s right, I’m going to Antarctica!
It is going to be a topsy-turvy trip akin to Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole during which my 24+ hour travel will result in a complete loss of a calendar day (only 364 days in 2011 for me) and an almost immediate transition from winter to the Austral summer where I will be hanging by my feet upside down on that quirky side of the planet. Apparently, our old friend Coriolis will make the toilets flush backwards and the sun will traverse the sky counter-clockwise. It truly will feel like a upside down, mixed-up Wonderland.
This incredible opportunity presented itself this summer when my friend and colleague at LASP, Lars Kalnajs, asked if I might be interested in joining him and another friend and colleague, Sam Dorsi, on a campaign to install and test ground ozone monitoring stations in remote locations on Antarctica. First off, if these names ring a bell, it’s because these two guys are the same characters with whom I launched 3 balloons to the edge of space in 2010! One of the most important lessons I learned from those adventures is the incredible importance of working well with others in challenging situations; and I knew that if I had an opportunity to work with them again in the future, I wouldn’t blink an eye. So when this proposal was put on the table, my answer required no deliberation: Of course I wanted to join this expedition to the far reaches of the Earth!
The details of this scientific enterprise will be addressed in future posts, but I’m sure you’re wondering where exactly we’ll be going, how long we will be going, etc. Our research campaign will be based out of McMurdo Station which is the largest such research station (~1000 people), which by extension also makes it the largest settlement in on the continent, since Antarctica is a continent of science only! The launching point for McMurdo is 6 hours north in Christchurch, New Zealand, but international flights only go to Auckland on the North Island of NZ which are 14 hours from LA which is 3 hours from Denver. As you can see, it is quite a journey just to get to Antarctica, but compared to the epic journeys of the early polar explorers, this trip is a breeze. The additional complications of the holiday season helped dictate a slightly early departure from Denver with the added benefit that we will get to explore a sliver of New Zealand over the Christmas weekend before getting down to business on the icy continent. After the quick holiday, we will hop our flight down to Christchurch where we will deal with the final logistics before boarding a C17 military transport on December 28th for the actual flight to the ice. Upon arrival at McMurdo, more logistics and training will ensue before we can finally begin our work in earnest. We will then spend 5 weeks preparing the ozone instrument stations and deploying one per week in remote locations in the vicinity of McMurdo. Then finally in mid-February after the scientific campaigns have been completed, we will fly back to Christchurch where I will vacation with the Kiwis for a few weeks. Finally, in mid-March I will return home to Colorado.
My departure from Denver is imminent, and I must admit that the build up to the trip is like nothing I have ever experienced. I have pored over books and movies of the great white South, and have pictured myself a thousand times on the exotic continent of Antarctica. In my mind, this is the trip of a lifetime and is like going to the Moon or Mars to me. And like the pioneering polar explorers, the Apollo astronauts, and the Mars rovers, I aim to document my experience to my full capacity. My gear packing is short on clothes, but long on electronic gadgets. I have no fewer than 6 GPS devices, 5 cameras, 2 panoramic time lapse rigs, and a fully autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with onboard video that I will be exploiting to the fullest to capture my experience of Antarctica. This adventure will certainly be the essence of my website title as I share my stories and explore technological means of sharing those stories.
Although I am skeptical of its performance in Antarctica, I will be checking in periodically using my SPOT Messenger which will update the map below. So sit back, sign up to follow this blog (top right of the webpage), and enjoy our expedition from your favorite easy chair!