March 14, 2006
Funded by the
National Science Foundation
Office of Polar Programs
Location: Latitude 63° 16.1' S, Longitude 52° 22' W
Air Temperature: -0.8°C
Ozone and other holes
On my first trip to Antarctica, I flew from Christ Church to McMurdo Station and then almost instantly boarded a helicopter to go meet the NB Palmer close to the edge of the ice. I am now on my sixth cruise on this vessel and have seen much of the Antarctic coast. Yet I have never slept on shore or been beyond Palmer, McMurdo, and Scott stations. My experience of this continent is entirely tied to this vessel. That first trip was in 1998 and the eight intervening years represent approximately a quarter of my life. Not only has this vessel been the foundation for my appreciation of the Antarctic, it has, in my opinion anyway, seen me become a full-blown adult. Captain Mike was on that first cruise as chief mate. He and some of the other crew, like Lauro and Lorenzo, have made this boat their home, or at least their home away from home. Last night, Captain Mike showed me some pictures from several years ago. John Anderson looked much younger. (I think it is OK to say that today as he is wearing a t-shirt that commemorates a major birthday he recently had.) I looked young, and somehow quiet, as though I was still just listening here rather than talking.
Yesterday I was asked to explain why the ozone hole in the atmosphere is concentrated at the poles. The request came from a member of the drill crew for his 16 year-old-daughter. As soon as I heard the question, that I had already agreed to answer, I panicked. I would like to think that I am well prepared to answer whatever questions I am confronted with that concern science covered by the general press, especially Antarctica and global change. This question met all three of these criteria yet I was afraid to put my answer to paper, or the screen. She had definitely found a hole in my knowledge. The reference collection on board offered no help so I started a poll of other people on board. I talked to seven other people total. Three had no answer at all, one went for something related to the thickness of the atmosphere at the poles, two talked about atmospheric chemistry, and one about atmospheric circulation. I knew the very basics, something about chemical reactions that were related to atmospheric pollutants and that this reaction happened in the upper atmosphere above the poles. I decided that every answer I got, including mine, was basically true and rolled them all into one. Hopefully, it will pass muster with a geography teacher in a Cornwall high school. After writing my response, I no longer felt so concerned about the gap found in my knowledge, but rather quite pleased that the eight of us who discussed it could figure it out. I am happy to be sailing with such a knowledge base, even if it is split up amongst each of us. I am happy to have become not only someone who talks, but someone who is asked.
On that first trip to McMurdo, someone gave all of us UV beads; the brightness of the colors of the beads represented how much radiation they were receiving. Mine always stayed white through the dark night shift I worked. But, just like the dosimeter I wore when I worked at a laboratory with a nuclear reactor, having something there to record that you are just fine is sometimes nice. Those beads were common issue gear all over Antarctica in the 1990s. People may still have them, but as far as I am aware it is a sign that you are an old timer on the ice and they are no longer handed out in McMurdo. Their distribution has diminished coincident with the diminishing hole in our atmosphere. I hope we do not have to return to the practice.
Do you have questions? Comments?