University of Southern California

There Will Be Penguins

(Editor’s note: As of January 5, bad weather was still keeping the expedition from landing on the ice. Another attempt is expected January 6.)

David Ginsburg, January 5 — Christchurch… I’m still only in Christchurch… Every time I think I’m gonna wake back up on the ice.

This is my fourth season going to McMurdo Station, which makes the journey from Los Angeles somewhat of a benign task. However, traveling with a group the size of the Antarctic Biology Course (38 people!) adds an entirely new dynamic to the trip. Chatting with each of the “first-timers” over the last several days has reminded me of my first expedition to McMurdo in 2002, when I was a doctoral student in the Marine Environmental Biology program at USC. The excitement and energy among the Antarctic Course participants is immediately apparent and makes this particular leg of the trip stand out.

I think most people have the same general questions on their first trip to the ice. For example: How long is the plane flight to McMurdo? How and where do I get the required cold-weather clothing? What is the food like? What do you do when you aren’t working in the lab? Will I get to sleep in an igloo? And perhaps the one I’ve heard the most: Will I see penguins?!

DP and DG with penguin.jpgIn another setting (somewhere closer to home, such as Catalina Island), these might seem like silly questions. But considering that the average course participant has traveled more than 8,000 miles by the time he or she reaches Antarctica, such questions take on a new perspective and are easily answered (at least I think that I smile each time I explain everyday life on the ice).

What I think is on most of the students’ minds as we prepare for our polar journey is the following: How will I survive in one of the coldest and most remote places on earth, and will I have fun doing it? Well, living and working in the extreme cold and spending extended periods away from family and friends can be scary and lonesome at times. However, doing science in Antarctica is one of the most rewarding adventures I’ve ever experienced, and no detailing of fun can describe the discoveries, memories and friends I’ve made along the way.

Having been delayed in Christchurch an extra day (which, I must admit, isn’t such a bad thing!), we are scheduled to deploy tomorrow in the early morning. I’m interested in seeing the student’s reactions to the next leg of the trip: boarding a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane… next stop, McMurdo Station, Antarctica!

David Ginsburg is a lecturer in the Environmental Studies Program of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

(Photos in this entry are from past seasons.)


David, I want to let you know how much I enjoyed sharing the book written about your journey to Antarctica with my students at Bijou Community School. You've left quite an impression, especially with my first graders. So much so, that I found myself telling them that if you're ever visiting Lake Tahoe, I will invite you to school so they can meet you. Loved the story of the menorah under the sea. Who knew sea urchins would be so agreeable. All the best to you. xoxo Cousin Charna
Hi David, Glad that you finally made it.. I didn't know about this blog until Virginia sent it to me. This is pretty cool. Send more pix.. I love seeing them, YOU, your exciting and never ending adventures above and below the ice and snow. My class loved the book. About 10 parents already commented on how much they love the book and if was true. The parents were in awe of all you are doing. Rafe Mordente was TOTALLY blown away when his daughter showed him the book.. He was in disbelief that he was reading about you and your endeavors. Small world! Keep warm, know that you are in our thoughts daily. Dad will be seeing Verena this weekend. I'm going to Phoenix to see my Jr. High school friend. Sunday we will see Johnny Mathis. The last time we say Johnny Mathis together was 52 yrs. ago in Brooklyn. It will be fun. Love and Kisses, Laura