The second post in the Antarctica: Weddell Seal Team series comes to us from Erika Nunlist.

Erika graduated in 2015 from Montana State University with a B.S. in Conservation Biology & Ecology and a Minor in GIS. She has worked as a wildlife technician on Sandhill cranes, Long-billed curlews, small mammals, mountain goats, and sage grouse and is exceptionally excited for her first year on ‘the ice’ researching Weddell seals.

Be sure to read the first post in this series for more background on the project and the team.

If you would like to help support this project, head on over to their campaign on Experiment! They only have 9 days left to reach their goal! 

B-009, Permit number: 2013-007, NSF, Antarctica

Made it!

October 1, 2015

Well, this is my attempt to keep people updated on my time in Antarctica. No promises on the frequency of these updates, but I will try my hardest to produce something like this regularly for the next several months. As some of you may know, writing is not my most favorite hobby in the world so I’ll probably rely heavily on photos with some sort of brief explanation. Sorry for any grammatical errors, making this one (and the ones to follow) a quickie.

First off, I made it! I am writing this right now from my dorm room in McMurdo, Antarctica. It feels so good to finally be here after so many months and hours of waiting and preparing. I can tell you now though that it was absolutely worth it. I have been here now for one and a half days, and the whole time I’ve just been kind of amazed. I’ve been amazed for multiple reasons. For starters, the amount of effort it is to get here! It took 30+ hours of (smooth) travel to get to Christchurch, New Zealand from Jackson, WY. In Christchurch we had several trainings, we got all our gear (coats, gloves, jackets, goggles, boots, snow pants, etc.) issued to us, we had to pack and repack all our belongings, and finally hurry up and wait for our opportunity to fly to the ice. The weather in McMurdo has been pretty bad with only patches here and there good enough for a plane to fly in. Luckily, we only had to wait one extra day before our opportunity presented itself. Everyone was very skeptical that we might have a “boomerang” which is when you fly partly or even mostly to McMurdo and then have to turn around and fly right back where you came from because of bad weather. It takes about 5 hours one way in the C17 we were taking, so we essentially prepared to be on the plane for 10-12 hours. Thankfully, we arrived with absolutely gorgeous conditions. It was clear, around -20 degrees, with an alpenglow feel to the whole landscape (we got in around 8:30pm). Stunning. I’m going to describe a little more in detail the phases of our trip all the way to McMurdo with the following pictures.

But.. One last thing before the pictures though! I must mention the 5 other people I’m down here with. They are all great people and I look forward to working with all of them. We have a solid crew, and I have no doubt it’s going to be a very good season for the B-009 seal crew (that’s our event number, biology 009 – this project has been going for around 40 years and the event numbers are now in the 400’s I believe – just a fact to put into perspective how long-lived this project is).

First there’s Terrill, he’s the PhD student, the head guy, I believe it’s his 3rd season down here. He just had a son, Fox, this summer. Then there’s Katie, she’s the new masters student on the project and her second year down here. I kind of knew her in Bozeman a bit, but not too much. She’s a big runner, very very nice, and a person I will definitely get along with. Eric is another returning tech from last year. He’s from Columbia Falls, always smiling, fun to have around. He worked on grizzlies in Yellowstone this summer. We also have a recently graduated master’s student, Ross. He just graduated from MSU and did his research on amphibians. Last is Mike he’s from Great Falls and the only one I hadn’t previously met out of the bunch, also a very nice and solid person to have around.

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After going to security for the last time, we got on buses that took us to the airport and the C17 we were scheduled to fly that afternoon. All in good humor, ready to leave Christchurch. From left, Ross, Terrill, Katie, Eric)

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The inside of the C17. Essentially looked like a gutted out commercial plane or something. Very spacious and very cool to see all the guts of the plane. Notice everyone’s red jackets and bunny boots (the white ones, yes that’s what they’re called). Partly required to have all the warm clothing in case of emergency but also nice to have when get off the plane in sub-zero temperatures. (Eric on the front left, Ross on the front right with Katie sitting next to him in the maroon shirt)

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All out baggage and extra cargo wrapped up and strapped down in the rear of the plane. My two colleagues Mike and Eric.

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One of the nice things about flying with the U.S. Airforce was the relaxed rule on the plane. We could walk around as much as we wanted, lay on the floor, or go up into the cockpit and talk to the pilots! The plane was on auto or something and these guys were very relaxed. I talked with them for 5-10 minutes or so. Really cool!

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One of the copilots. This is the guy that helped land us on the ice. His first time doing so, it was a very smooth landing!

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A sneak preview of Antarctica through one of the four volley ball sized windows on the plane. I was getting very excited at this point. Notice how gorgeous the weather was? Before and after this evening was and has been snowy with very limited view.

And another window shot.

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Getting off the C17 after our 5 hour flight from Christchurch. Don’t think we could’ve gotten a more perfect evening to arrive to.

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Everyone geared up and headed to the ‘Kress’ a very slow caterpillar bus thing that then transported us to McMurdo at about 10 miles an hours (if that)- it took about 45 minutes to get there.

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Everyone squeezed together for the final leg to McMurdo!

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So, you can see it was been a very exciting and interesting (and long) journey to finally get here! It feels so good to be here and I can’t wait for everything else that lies ahead.

For now, we’ll be in McMurdo for at least the next week organizing, training, preparing, etc. I’ve already had about 14 hours of training on everything from recycling (McMurdo recycles around 65% of its waste, impressive), to general safety, to light weight vehicle training, to sea ice training and survival training. I still have to do at least 4 or 5 more courses. That’s another thing that has continually impressed me: the shear amount of effort, time, and organization that has gone into having every single person here. It’s really very incredible.

I’ve also been amazed by the infrastructure here. There are a lot of buildings here, and they are all in good shape, well maintained, clean, warm, etc. I don’t know what I was expecting but this place is definitely not primitive. I just took a shower and it was just like at home. Absolutely no different except that it’s in a dorm room situation.

Last note, I must comment on the people here.  I’m excited to be around so many interesting people who I feel have a lot to offer. We’ll be very busy this season, so hopefully I’ll have time to chat with some of these folks and see what they have to offer.

That’s all I have for now. Hopefully you enjoyed.

-Erika Nunlist

Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for the third post in the series, coming tomorrow!

If you would like to help support this project, head on over to their campaign on Experiment! They only have 9 days left to reach their goal! 

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