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The Observation Tube, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

by HeatherBroadbent ~ December 18th, 2014

The Observation Tube or “Ob Tube” is a tube that goes through the sea ice into the seawater underneath. It allows people to get a glimpse of what Antarctic divers see down below. The sea ice is approximately 2 meters thick in this area and the water is around 8 to 9 meters deep. At the bottom of the tube is a windowed viewing area where you can stand and watch the sea life under the ice. It is quite a wonderful treat for the people working at McMurdo Station!

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I went down to the tube one evening with another polar bear scientist to see what was actually under the ice. First you have to climb into this narrow tube and then use a ladder to go to the windowed chamber. The tube is about 20 foot long and about 3 feet wide and only 1 person can fit at a time.

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The sea ice allows enough sunlight to be able to see what lies below and I saw many cool things! I saw beautiful sea ice structures that were extending several feet into the water. These are Brinicles and are formed when salt-rich water leaks out of sea ice and sinks into the sea.

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I also saw some little crustaceans swimming around in the water and lots of benthic organisms like sponges and starfish. As I was down there I kept hearing some squeaking noises and Polar bear T told me those were seal sounds. I looked and looked, but could not see the seal.

Then it was PB T’s turn in the tube. As soon as he got down there he shouted that he saw a small fish near the window and a very cool jelly fish swimming gracefully. So, he climbed back up so that I could see those two creatures. And I did! The jelly fish was swimming near the ice and the little fish was right at the window staring in at me! What a sight for both of us!

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More Food

by StacyKim ~ December 16th, 2014

Last time I wrote about garbage, and how some bears in the Arctic are so hungry they are foraging in garbage dumps (see 19 Nov. post). And the reason we “polar bears” decided to attempt this long imaginary trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic is because we are starving – and we are starving because the Arctic sea ice, where we live and hunt during the summer months, is melting too much for us to hunt effectively. Here in East Antarctica, the sea ice is still expansive, in fact it is even MORE expansive than it usually is. But, you have probably heard about global warming – how is it that there is MORE ice down here?
Emperor penguins that better watch out - for polar bears!
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Food, Glorious Food

by Peggy Malloy ~ December 14th, 2014

Have you heard of the food chain? Basically, the bigger, faster animals eat the smaller, slower animals and, often, the smaller animals eat plants. For example, an antelope eats grass and then lions eat antelope. How does that work in the Polar Regions? In the Arctic, Polar Bears are the top predator, and, thus, at the top of the food chain.

A polar bears stomach can hold 15%-20% of its weight, and a bear can weigh in at 400-1000 pounds, which means that a polar bear can eat 150-200 pound of food in one sitting!! That’s like eating 360 medium apples at once! Or around 60 large pizzas at once! They need about 4.4 pounds of fat per day to obtain enough energy to survive; that’s like eating over 17 sticks of butter a day!

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The Camp

by MartyHynes ~ December 10th, 2014

A lot of work went into the making of SCINI-Penguin camp. Every member of the bear clan played a part in erecting the tents then setting them up for the required usage. When we first built the camp the sea ice was relatively flat with little or no snow. Now that camp is in place every tent, pole, barrel, and what ever else sticks up catches the blowing snow and causes drifting. As you can see there is lots of snow built up and to maintain camp in working order so we can just move from tent to tent requires almost daily shoveling. The camp “town” site contains the heated cook tent, the heated engineering tent, a unheated storage tent, and a freezer tent. In addition to the tents are barrels of fuel for the snow machines and other gasoline equipment, propane tanks for the stove and heat and lots of other gear needed for our work.

SCINI-Penguin town site

Polar Bear SK shoveling snow
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Supercooled Water – literally!

by Ben Saenz ~ December 8th, 2014

Polar Bear BS here.  Science data is streaming in from different types of sampling and instrumentation on the SCINI-Penguin Project.  Researchers are working up to 16 hours a day, almost every day of the week to squeeze as much information out of the short time we have on the ice.

We are learning about the water currents in McMurdo sound using an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler).  This instrument uses the Doppler effect, which is why a train sounds higher when it comes at you and lower as it moves away, to measure water current speeds and directions under the ice.  The ADCP looks like this:

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