On Monday we flew to Marble Point, which is about 45 mins (by helo) west from McMurdo, so that Liu could collect some moresediment samples. There weren’t going to be any penguin colonies there because of the sea ice reaching right up to the shore – although, historically, when the area was ice free there were colonies. In fact, Larry and Dr. Emslie found a site from 10 years previously where they had sampled an abandoned colony. The square of disturbed pebbles was unchanged from ten years prior. Its amazing how little things will change in Antarctica. There was a big “road” (really just cleared space) left over from huge earth-moving vehicles from over 20 years ago, when NSF was considering moving the main USAP base to Marble Point. There was some trash strewn about – rusted cans, ropes, and pieces of wood. Treads were still visible in the soil. This stability of Antarctica attests to how much humans can indeed impact this fragile environment.
Since there was no mission in mind (except for Liu) I was left to my own devices for 7 hours, during which I hiked around, explored the area, relaxed, and contemplated life :). Marble Point is very desolate – almost completely lifeless (except for the skuas), and completely silent. It was the most silent place in the world that I have ever been to. The only sound to be heard was the wind, the creaking of the ice, and the occasional squawk of a skua. At one point, I hallucinated hearing the distant sound of a highway filled with the sound of driving cars – but upon closer inspection, I realized this was strong wind blowing through the glacial valleys in the nearby mountains. It was an eerie, lonely sound.
On the other side of the helo was open ocean…and looking down into it at one point, I saw my first confirmed sighting of Minke whales!!!! 🙂