Monday, October 25, 2010

Tour of Crary Science Lab

Hello again! Saturday night was the last sunset until late February. It's very weird to step outside late at night and walk into the fully blazing sunlight. I've also noticed how much brighter it is here, even when it's cloudy, because the light gets reflected by the white snow and ice everywhere. Apparently, the UV exposure down here is almost double that of the United States. I've never been one to wear sunglasses much until now. I'm glad I have them. :)

This past week, I took a tour with some friends of the Crary Science Lab, the headquarters on station for scientific research. Science is the primary reason that McMurdo Station exists and all of the scientists on station have labs in this building. There are many scientists who work out in field camps around the continent as well.

At the entrance to the lab are a number of items on display. The first picture shows the skull of a seal. The second one shows stuffed adult and baby penguins. (Note: these penguins were found dead in good condition, not killed for display.) ;) The third photo is two more stuffed penguins. Larry apparently found some ghosts in the lab as well, and seems a bit startled. :)

One of the major scientific attractions in Antarctica is Mt. Erebus, the world's southernmost active volcano and one of only a handful of volcanos in the world with a lava lake at the bottom. Because Mt. Erebus opens directly to the lava, it never builds pressure and explodes. Instead, it regularly "hiccups", sending chunks of lava into the air on a nearly daily basis. During the tour, I got to handle a few lava rocks spewed from Mt. Erebus. The rocks are full of holes and very light. Mt. Erebus produces a special kind of crystal, known as Erebus crystals, which are often trapped in the lava rocks. The smooth-edged trapezoidal portion sticking out of the top of the second rock is one of these crystals.

Sea creatures are another popular topic of study, and the lab contains its own aquarium. Below are photos of the research tanks with sea urchins growing in them. The tanks are filled with sea water that is pumped in and then pumped back out to keep them from getting stagnant. The temperature of the sea water, both in the ocean and in the aquarium, is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. (Sea water doesn't freeze until 28 degrees Fahrenheit.)

In addition to the research tanks is a touch tank, full of sea creatures that can be handled by people who are visiting the lab. Under each photo is a description of what you see.

This is an underwater cockroach creature that lives in the Antarctic waters.
I'm holding an orange underwater spider, which doesn't look like any spider I've seen before.
A group of creatures including a scallop (bottom right), a starfish (left), and some others I can't identify.
Another photo of the orange sea spider
The orange sea-spider and friends, again, many of which I can't identify.
This scientist is explaining to us how they do underwater photography in the Antarctic seas. The second photo shows the camera that does the photographing and behind it is the white tube encasing that protects it from the water. In the first photo, Larry is holding a piece of foam which is used to prevent the water pressure from crushing the camera. That foam will withstand water pressure down to one thousand feet deep.

On the way out of the lab, I saw this piece of petrified tree stump that was found near the southern end of the Queen Alexandria Mountains, not too far from the South Pole. There was a time when Antarctica was very near the Equator and harbored tropical plant life. As a result, there are a wide range of fossils preserved under the ice, but because the ice sheet covering the continent is so thick, most of them are inaccessible. I have so much fun sometimes imagining what might have lived on this land at one time in the distant past! :-D


  1. Awesome Joseph! It looks like you are having one great adventure after another. How great that there are so many scientists who can share their work with you during your stay! That's wild about the petrified tree and the once tropical Anartica! Glad the penguins were responsibly reused versus hunted. Yay science museum! Hoping all is well! Sending hugs and yum yums!

  2. Cool stuff yet again, Joseph. Happy to hear of you getting out to discover & learn about cool things down there. Another world for sure. I really liked the creatures in the touch tanks! Super cool.... Janine