University of Southern California

Finally on the Ice!

Jimmy Lee, January 8, evening — I’m happy to report that the class has finally made it to Antarctica. Their plane landed on Friday afternoon at the Pegasus airfield near McMurdo Station. The airfield is built directly on top of the Ross Ice Shelf, a 100-meter thick slab of permanent ice that floats on the ocean. Heavy machinery plows a strip of airfield into the ice, and planes will literally land on hard ice instead of pavement as in a regular airfield.

I have been out in Antarctica for two weeks as part of the advance team to set up and prepare before the whole class arrived. Part of our preparations included maintaining dive holes drilled into the sea ice for collecting specimens. In fact, we were out at our collection site near Pegasus when the plane landed. This collection site sits on top of a frozen layer of semi-permanent, multi-year sea ice. The ice here is around 20 feet thick, enough to drive heavy machinery over... plenty enough to hold us.

On the day the plane landed, we were clearing snow from the ice holes. The same storm that delayed the arrival of the class completely filled in and covered up our collection site. It took a lot of intense shoveling to excavate it.

However, we were in for a treat. No sooner then we were finished, a Weddell seal popped for air. Since this was my first time in Antarctica, I was quite ecstatic at seeing this animal up close in person. The seal bobbed in and out of the water to catch its breath, then finally dipped down and disappeared under the ice.

02_-_Weddell.jpgThis was our lucky day, because we had also seen Emperor penguins on our way out to the ice holes earlier. We were driving snowmobiles over the ice roads out to Pegasus when we saw other vehicles stopped by the side of the road. We pulled over and saw four young Emperor penguins hanging out at the edge of the road. It was quite a sight to see. Everyone must have thought so, because just as we were leaving, another vehicle coming down the other way also stopped to take photographs. It was nice to see other people, even some who have been working in Antarctica for years, still have that same fascination and wonder for this environment and its wildlife.

Jimmy Lee is a postdoctoral researcher at USC in the laboratory of expedition leader Donal Manahan.


Jimmy, I enjoyed reading your post..., glad you all arrived safely. I work at USC and was excited to hear that a team of our students were headed to Antarctica! I'm really looking forward to reading about your discoveries and experiences on the ice. Be safe and keep us posted!
Hi Jimmy, It is thrilling to follow this adventure with you and our other Wrigley friends. We thought about you yesterday when long sleeves were needed here. Take care and good science!