(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on March 23, 2008. Sunturday is when it's Sunday here, Saturday back in the real world. The day of the week are Sunturday, Monunday, Tuesonday, Wedsnuesday, Thursnesday, Friursday, and Satriday. Yep.)
All sorts of interesting developments here at the bottom of the earth. I successfully avoided eating the ice cream won at last week's trivia contest, and have caught endless grief for my folly. Evidently, Kiwi ice cream is the best in the world, bourne of the most wholesome eggs and milk and stuff. One of the things I love about New Zealand is that they steadfastly refuse to be "Americated". The three flavors of ice cream we won were Hokey Pokey (Pronounced "hikey pikey", sort of a butterbrickle, I think), Rocky Road (strawberry with biscuit (cookie) crumbles mixed in, and Jelly Tip, which sounds just nasty. It's vanilla ice cream with jelly swirls and chocolate chips. We had another science lecture tonight, the second of my stay here. Dr. Mike Lizotte from the University of Wisconsin gave a presentation tonight on the science his group is doing in the McMurdo dry valleys, as well as in the Arctic. A lot of interesting stuff, much of it on the cutting edge of climate studies and our understanding of the way greenhouse gasses will impact the global climate. One of the interesting slides from his presentation showed that millions of square miles of arctic land will transition from being barren to tundra, or from tundra to arctic forest land. I asked him if that wouldn't tie up millions oftons of carbon, mediating the greenhouse effect. He didn't answer that question directly, but pointed out that there is some ongoing science that shows that a lot of methane will be liberated by the warming of the arctic, which is even more detrimental to the greenhouse situation than carbon dioxide is. It is so cool to be able to attend these science briefings, with only twenty or so people in attendance, even though they are doing some really cutting-edge stuff. This last Friday, I got a chance to take part in a great old Antarctic tradition: radio darts. I helped the IT&C (Information Technology and Communications) team to defeat the dastardly Kiwis at darts on their hometurf. Ordinarily, we engage a team of dart-throwers from the south pole via radio, and compare scores. Unfortunately, the Scott Base Comms Tech couldn't find the right parts to make the radio work, so we had to just play the Kiwis in real time, and submit the scores to Pole via e-mail. This has been a tradition since time immemorial, and it was a big honor to get to be a radio dart player. We didn't hear back from pole, and wondered what they were up to, before we realized that our dart match fell on the equinox, which is a major holiday at pole. They watch the sun spiral down to the horizon during March, then it screws itself downto earth about now. On the equinox, the sun traverses the whole sky at exactly the horizon, so it is sunset for 24 hours. The Polies take two days off to celebrate the end of summer, so they weren't there shooting darts like they should have been. After the equinox, it will be twilight for a couple of weeks, and then dark for six months. It is not that extreme here. It is still light in the daytime, and dark at night. The days are getting markedly shorter, and the nights are getting noticeably shorter, but it's not too much different from the real world. If you pay attention to where the sun is in the sky, it's still quite strange. At noon, the sun is in the north (which never happens in the northern hemisphere). It is getting a little creepier around here-it definitely is not normal, as far as the path of the sun and the transition between day and night-soon it will be dark all the time. I'll take a bunch of pictures, and pass them along. In the meantime, I've attached some pictures that I've clipped from the internet, showing someone in a "big red" parka with all the gear, and a McMurdo sunset.
*A Kiwi term meaning thanks and goodbye, simultaneously. Pronouced:"Cheese".