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Travel to New Zealand

Friday, 15 October 1999

    I am finally on the Ice, but finding computer time is quite difficult. I'm a little behind in my writing schedule. The following is actually about the trip out here. There will be another letter shortly about my arrival. Sorry there are no photos as yet. I have taken several, but have not been able to get my own computer set up. As soon as I do I will start sending pictures.

    I left home in West Palm Beach, Florida on Friday, 8 October and arrived in Denver, Colorado Friday night. I checked into the Sheraton Hotel and met a couple of the firefighters that will be going down to the Ice. We had a nice dinner together.

    The company I am working for is Antarctic Support Associates. Their headquarters are in Denver. They have a contract with the National Science Foundation. The Antarctic program is a $166 million a year program. ASA has had a 10–year contract with NSF which expires this year. We should know in a week or so if it has been renewed for another 10 years. Of course we are all hoping it is.

    Saturday morning we had orientation beginning at 7:00 A.M. The first couple of hours were spent filling out paperwork (W2's, insurance forms, medical releases, direct deposit forms, etc., etc.). There were about 80 people in our group. I met another one of the electricians who seems very nice. He told me some of the projects we are going to be working on like taking care of the runway lights for the aircraft. They gave us a nice picnic lunch and as it was a gorgeous day we all sat outside on the grass looking at the snow–capped peaks around Denver. Lovely.

    After lunch they told us about a lot of the research going on around Antarctica. The geologists are studying fossils, the biologists are studying seals, penguins and sea birds. Marine biologists study the evolution of the fish. Glaciologists study ice and its relationship to the climate. Botanists study the tiny plants of Antarctica (lichens, algae, and some small grasses). Physicists study the ozone depletion. By core drilling through the ice they can tell what the air was like millions of years ago. There are also experiments to measure the neutrinos passing through the earth from outer space. And there are teams searching for meteorites. There is research in virtually every field of science.

    They spent a lot of time teaching us about ecological concerns on the Ice. Because of the climate in Antarctica, nothing ever disintegrates, so an apple core tossed aside would still be there 20 years later. The bodies of some of the early explorers who died there around the turn of the century are still in perfect condition. Needless to say waste disposal is a primary issue. All of our garbage and trash is recycled and sent back to the U.S. for disposal.

    At 15:00 we got our luggage and headed back to the airport. We were all on our own although we were all on the same flight. The flight to Los Angeles was beautiful. The weather was clear and we flew over the mountains at sunset. We had a 3–hour layover in Los Angeles before boarding the plane to New Zealand. That 747 was totally booked — not an empty seat to be found. I slept most of the trip.

    Twelve hours later we landed in Auckland, New Zealand. What a wonderful airport. Not only was it beautiful, but there were many amenities for travelers. There were seating areas for reading where each person could feel semi–private, much like a library; there were writing desks complete with stationary; nice smoking lounges, nice restaurants, etc.

    I finally arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand on 11 October (we lost a day crossing the date line) at 10:30 in the morning. I was on 5 different airplanes and in the air a total of 21 hours. I still have one more airplane and about 6 more hours to fly before reaching Antarctica.

    Here in Christchurch is where we get all of our ECW gear. This company is really big on acronyms. ECW gear stands for Extreme Cold Weather gear. The amount of clothing they give us and expect us to wear is unbelievable, but Antarctica is a dangerous place so proper clothing is essential to survival. Antarctica is the only continent where human survival totally depends on technology. Blizzards can blow up without warning, and tents are designed to be put up in minutes. Life depends on always carrying a survival kit and knowing how to use it. The coldest temperature ever recorded anywhere on the earth is –128°Fahrenheit. If you went outside in everyday clothes, you would die in less than a minute. It is so cold that steel shatters when dropped. Of course those are extreme conditions and not anything I expect to find.

    Those are just a few of the many fascinating facts about this remarkable place. I look forward to learning more and will pass on the information as I get it.

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Irma Hale
McMurdo Station, Antarctica

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