Sunday, November 28, 1999

Drivin’ and smilin’: Betsy Johnson shuttles people, mail and good cheer

Published in the Antarctic Sun

The shades are on, the radio’s playing NPR and she has a big grin on her face. It’s just another day driving the ice runway shuttle for Betsy Johnson.

She crosses the sea-ice transition more times a week than most people do in a season, piloting a huge orange van with massive wheels through the lumps and bumps where the frozen ocean meets the land of Ross Island.

In the van with her are the people and parcels going back and forth between McMurdo and the collection of buildings at the ice runway. Sometimes the van is full, sometimes she’s the only one, but Betsy doesn’t seem to mind. She is, after all, in Antarctica.

“Where else could driving in circles be more exciting?” she asked. It’s the sort of question which defies an answer, but at the same time explains why so many highly-qualified professionals–Johnson is a physical therapist–take Antarctic jobs they’d never do at home.

This isn’t the first job she’s taken because of the location: Recently she worked as a driver for a cruise line in Alaska, giving passengers tours of areas where the ships docked. She and her husband, Bryan, who works at Air Services in McMurdo, plan to work for the same cruise company again when they get off the Ice, on a working trip from Sydney to Bangkok.

But for the moment, Betsy’s working on winning a bet she made with one of her passengers: that she wouldn’t be smiling at the end of the season. She said she would make it, and her smile is still greeting everyone who scrambles up the metal step into the van.

She picks people up around town, and often goes the extra mile and drops them off at their final destination–instead of Derelict Junction.

Most people do get on at the shuttle stop there, between Building 155 and the dorms. But if they’re injured or carrying heavy things, they get picked up.

Besides the transition, where she concentrates on keeping the van from bumping around too much, Betsy keeps up a running conversation with whomever happens to be along for the trip. It’s a good-natured banter, and keeps her in touch with a lot of the goings-on as they’re happening.

It’s not the most adventurous job in town, she admits, but she gets to meet lots of people as they go to or from work, or travel out to do small repair jobs at the ice runway.

“I’m doing pretty well remembering people’s names now. It’s tough. They all know me, and they get in all bundled up, with their sunglasses on,” she said. Every now and then a bit of adrenaline kicks in. A few weeks ago the vehicles at the ice runway were gathering to convoy back to town before the weather got bad enough to prevent them from making the trip. With the wind worsening and a big line of vehicles in need of a driver to go first, Betsy, in the first few weeks of her first season on the Ice, started the long, slow drive from flag to flag, 3 miles back to town. The convoy made it safely back.

And sometimes a more relaxing event occurs. “Every once in a while, we’ll see some wildlife,” Betsy said. She’s seen seals and penguins along the road and at the ice runway. She and her passengers also get to see incredible fata morgana. She’ll stop and let folks get out and take a few pictures if there’s time.

Betsy always has her own camera with her, and will often take pictures if there’s something spectacular to see. She’s always on the lookout for fun on the trip. But even when there’s not much to be had outside the van, she always waves as passengers pile in, merrily greeting anyone who needs a ride.

Gas, food, lodging (and cargo): Marble Point serves up warmth and good cheer

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Flying into Marble Point there’s not much to see from the air. It’s about five buildings, dwarfed by fuel tanks. It’s all tucked away into the loose gravel of a spit of land between the glacier and the sea.

But upon exiting the helicopter, you discover another world. A man waves and shouts hello from across the landing area. Even the fuelie smiles as she drags a hose toward the thirsty vehicle. A woman waits in the warm house, ready with hot chocolate, tea, and coffee.

They are James Raml, Meg Flanagan and Diane Bedell. They are the real Marble Point. McMurdo’s still the big town, but this is civilization, Antarctic style.

Helicopter pilots know Marble Point well. They fly into and out of the Dry Valleys through the area.

The Cape Roberts pilots also stay here, on the west side of McMurdo Sound, to be able to fly the morning shift change even if there’s weather in McMurdo.

Raml describes the place simply. “It’s gas, food, lodging and cargo.”

For four seasons, he’s been the site manager, the telecommunications technician and general handyman. If it’s been built or repaired around Marble Point, he’s worked on it. There’s almost nobody else, and not much in the way of materials.

He took a Wannigan structure when Williams Field got rid of it. It was leaning over and pretty well beaten up.

That was a couple of years ago. Now it’s upright, with a new floor and a new coat of paint on the inside. It sleeps eight and includes a furnace that’s as clean as a new one.

All of that was done with materials left over from other projects, including work done at McMurdo or the South Pole.

There’s always more to do. Among the tasks: Cleaning up the site from decades of messy Antarctic operations, getting cargo ready for transport to the Dry Valleys, getting waste and cargo ready to return to McMurdo, and then–oh yes–the normal stuff to support life.

Even in just a short 10-minute tour of the place, Raml comes up with a list of about a dozen things he intends to work on now or in the future.

“Every year I try to get a few things done,” he said of his “spare-time” projects.

In addition to helping Raml with the cargo and life-supportjobs, Bedell makes sure the guests are at home in their well-maintained surroundings.

“We try to run it basically as a bed and breakfast,” she said.

She makes an excellent quiche, ensures that everyone has more hot drinks than they can
hold, and is the weather observer, medic, and doer of anything Raml doesn’t do–except fuels.

She is very relaxed, though, even with all that on her plate. She’ll sit with you and talk if you’re in the mood, or let you be.

Raml and Bedell make an excellent team. They have anywhere from one to 12 guests on any given night. The camp can sleep 17, and while the table is not quite big enough for everyone all at once, there’s plenty of room for eating in shifts.

The other member of the team is the refueling technician. Fuelies rotate every three weeks, which is a nice break from town, but is no picnic. Helicopters fly 24 hours a day for large portions of the season, and there’s always another one coming in.

It means all three are going all day long, stealing time “off” whenever there’s nobody visiting and no helicopter on the way.

The beautiful setting is just part of the payoff for being the first field camp put in each season, and the last to be pulled out. For all of them, it’s the appreciation on visitors’ faces when they realize this is a special place and that they’re as welcome as can be.

Ambling through Ice Town

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Three miles out onto the sea ice from McMurdo Station, a few small buildings are clustered together in two rows. Radio antennas are perched atop rooftops; vehicles come and go constantly. Bulldozers and graders clear runways, roads, and loading and fueling areas.

It’s sometimes called “Ross Island International Airport,” but more often it’s “the ice runway.”

As the staging area for cargo and passengers coming to and from Antarctica and moving around the continent, the ice runway (and later in the season, Williams Field) is a vital area for successful seasons at McMurdo, South Pole and the field camps.

It’s easy to think an airport is just about pilots and air crews, but there is much more behind the scenes. People who don’t fly at all have key roles to play in the process.

Sunday, November 21, 1999

Cold Hard Queries

Published in the Antarctic Sun

In recent days, several people have stopped by the Sun’s office and posed intriguing Antarctic trivia questions. Here are the answers we’ve found:

Is there lightning in Antarctica?

Jeff Prucinsky of Mac Weather reports, “I do not believe that there has ever been a recorded case of lightning in the Antarctic.” The reason is that lightning requires clouds that are tall enough to have large areas of positive and negative charge. Because Antarctica is so flat and white, there is little convective activity, and no chance for clouds to form high enough, Prucinsky said. With no tall clouds, there is no lightning.

How did Amundsen and Scott know when they had reached the South Pole?

Both expeditions used a navigational instrument called a theodolite (the-AHD-oh-lite), which measures the elevation of the sun above the horizon, to map the track of its orbit. From the
path of the sun across the sky, Amundsen’s and Scott’s parties were able to determine their latitude. Longitude was of no concern, since longitude is meaningless at the poles. As well, Scott knew he was at the Pole because he found a Norwegian flag planted there.

Why is a Jamesway called a Jamesway?

This is a tough one. Though we’ve been unable to pin down an answer, we’ve heard several theories, including that the building is named after a person named James Butler Way, or
after a person or corporation called Jamesway. If you can shed additional light on
these ideas, or know of other theories, please contact us at the Sun.

Esprit de ‘core’: Teamwork takes Cape Roberts Project to new depths

Published in the Antarctic Sun

It’s the deepest bedrock hole in Antarctica. When the drilling at Cape Roberts stopped for the season on Thursday the hole was 3,084 feet deep—more than 650 feet farther than the previous record.

The two drillers, Malcolm MacDonald and Frank Tansey, took turns being the most important men in the Cape Roberts Project: the men who made sure the core kept coming up out of the hole and into the hands of climate researchers.

The drillers, though, couldn’t do anything without a lot of help of all kinds. The 40-person support and science team at Cape Roberts works around the clock, which makes for some odd situations.

“It seems a bit strange to see people in here having a beer at 8:30 in the morning, but it’s their night time,” said Colleen Clarke, who runs the camp during the day. Pat Cooper, the drill site manager, has been working in Antarctica since the early 1980s.

“The ‘Antarctic factor’ down here has a lot of influence on our drilling,” Cooper said.

Among the challenges this year was an April storm, which broke out some of the sea ice near where the drill site was planned to go. In August, a team flew down to check out the area and set up the camp.

“We didn’t really know for sure what was happening until we got down here at Winfly,” Cooper said.

But things looked good, and they decided to drill this year.

Now the project involves over 60 researchers and support staff. “It’s a mix of technology and science objectives,” said Peter Barrett, a member of the project’s management team.

A 60-ton drill rig sits on the sea ice, supported by the strength of the 8-foot-thick ice and under-ice balloons, which give an additional 11 tons of lift.

A 5-inch pipe, called the sea riser, provides the conduit in which the drill passes through the 980-foot-deep sea water. It must be freestanding and self-supporting to work properly. Suspending it from the sea ice only forces the ice to support more weight.

“It has to be totally independent of the systems up here,” Cooper said.

But it is impossible to stand a 980-foot-long 5-inch pipe on its end without help from above. The pipe is sunk 30 feet into the sea floor and is supported at the middle and the top by air bladders which pull up on the pipe to maintain the pipe’s rigidity and prevent it from bending or buckling too much.

They also have to deal with the movement of the sea ice itself. Under current conditions, the ice can move nearly 60 feet in any one direction before the angle of the drilling equipment will prevent it from working properly.

“To date we have moved off 6 meters (20 feet) from where we spotted in,” Cooper said.

The project has had the same drill crew for three years, which has made things easier every year, according to science coordinator Peter Webb.

“We’ve had amazing continuity,” Cooper said. “We’re a bit of a family, really, the old Cape Roberts team.”

When the core comes out of the hole, it begins a journey which will move it faster and further than ever before in its 40-million-year history.

It is removed from the core pipe and goes to the lab at the drill site for preliminary examination.
The core is examined, scanned, tested for physical properties, and split into an archive half, stored safely for the future, and a working half, from which samples will be taken at Crary Lab.

The working half is scanned again before the core goes on the helicopter to the camp and Crary. At $10,000 per yard of core, it’s worth a little extra time to photograph and scan everything in case of a helicopter accident or other disaster.

Some samples of the core are extracted at the drill site lab, to be used to determine more about the characteristics of the rocks being drilled, as well as to attempt to approximate an age for the rock layer.

The research is not just on the core itself, though. Some researchers are using the availability of a deep hole through many layers of rock to study the rock in situ.

Christian Buecker is one of these scientists. He does what is called “down-hole logging,” sending instruments down the hole to collect data about the rock around the hole, at intervals of a tenth of an inch.

The logging process takes a long time; 12 instruments run one at a time, at a speed of between three and 33 feet per minute, through about 1,150 feet of hole at a stretch. At the end of the last
logging run, Buecker had been awake for 44 of the previous 50 hours.

“We are looking for the physical and chemical properties,” Buecker said.

The data gathered helps them understand the core better, as well as the surrounding rock.

“It partly confirms our information and gives us new information about the structure,” Buecker said.

Among other things, Buecker has learned that the temperature at 2,500 feet down the hole (below the sea floor) is 68 F. It increases as they get closer to the center of the Earth.

But 3,084 feet is as close as the project will get to the Earth’s center. But in terms of both science and technology, this is not the end.

Camp manager Jim Cowrie has put in a proposal to the member countries of the Cape Roberts Project to set up a consortium of Antarctic drillers and researchers who use drilling as a method of gathering data.

Barrett is also making an effort to expand beyond just this three-year project. He hopes eventually to be able to drill through the center of the ice sheet, perhaps at Vostok, and into the
sediment below, to see what was happening in the center of Antarctica.

But even this work, in which the margins of the ice sheet are being studied, has been fruitful.

“It’s advanced the technology and advanced the science,” Barrett said. “We actually think this is fun.”

Sunday, November 14, 1999

Present at the creation: Geologist Peter Webb got in on the ground floor of Antarctic research

Published in the Antarctic Sun

When Peter Webb left Antarctica in 1959, he thought he’d never be back. Not only was he wrong, but he’s now in the middle of his 20th season on the Ice.

A geology student at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, Webb cajoled his way down
to the Ice in 1957 on a U.S. ship as a cargo handler.

With a friend, Barrie McKelvey, accompanying him, Webb was quickly snapped up by New Zealand and U.S. field parties for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Both countries’ expeditions were long on geophysicists but short on geologists.

Webb spent the rest of that summer season in the field.

The following summer he returned to continue research associated with the IGY, and became one of the first people ever to explore the Dry Valleys.

Webb himself corresponded with and ended up meeting some of the geologists from Scott’s and Shackleton’s expeditions, who were still alive in the late 1950s.

“We headed inland to all the places they could never go,” he remembered.

Webb said he feels like he falls between eras. His first year in Antarctica was only 40 years after the age of the early explorers. His four decades since have centered on the scientific exploration of the continent.

“I often feel caught between those early expeditions and the present day,” he said.

The first part of that gap he bridged in U.S. helicopters over the Dry Valleys. The best maps they had were from early expeditions, which were closely tied to the coast and their supply ships.

“It was a very strange sensation to be holding a 1910-11 map on your knees in a helicopter in 1957,” Webb said. The maps weren’t all that complete. To find their way back to McMurdo, the pilots climbed in circles until they saw Erebus and headed that way. They had no other way of knowing where they were.

The Dry Valleys were so remote then that the only time Webb saw a helicopter was when it dropped him off and when it picked him up.

Between those times, Webb and three others spent their time walking. They set up two base camps, at Lake Vida and Lake Vanda, and “radiated out from there,” Webb said. They would carry supplies to outlying camps and then take day trips from those sites. They would climb high points and take photographic panoramas, which could later be patched together into maps.

“We were doing reconnaissance, mapping, and geology,” Webb said.

Once a week they would make radio contact via Morse code, relaying only the most basic information.

“We could have been dead six days and no one would have known,” Webb said.

They ate surplus Korean War military rations and pemmican, and had a hard time heating water. “It was all very primitive,” Webb said.

They collected rock samples, too, and all of those had to be carried by hand. The researchers would spend time collecting rocks from various places and then take a few days to hike them all
back to the nearest base camp—making several trips per day if necessary.

“One season we calculated we walked 1500 miles,” Webb remembered.

His feet aren’t worn out yet, and over 40 years later, he’s still coming to Antarctica. Now he’s the science leader for the Cape Roberts Project.

He comes for the learning, he said. “This is very good training for students.”

One of Webb’s former students now has a graduate student of his own; all three are members of the Cape Roberts team.

With such diverse minds focused on specific questions, Webb said, “it’s been a great problem-solving environment.”

The exposure to new possibilities has just appeared again, with the discovery of fossilized wood in the Cape Roberts core.

“This is a serendipitous environment,” Webb said. When planning research here, he allots 20 percent of the time for things he doesn’t yet know about.

He’s also impressed by the people who are here now.

“Back in 1957 the people who were here didn’t have a lot of interest in the place,” he said.

There was a time when Antarctica was something most people didn’t know anything about. Disinterest in the early days was such that students in his classes who had spent time in the Navy would see his slide shows, recognize places they’d been, but not even known they’d seen Antarctica.

“People would come up after class and say, ‘I think I’ve been to Antarctica,’” Webb said.

Now, though, the people here know a lot about Antarctica. “The level of education amongst the total current population is pretty good,” he said.

He is interested in seeing what happens to McMurdo as a community over the long term. “It’s unusual to take a group of people who don’t know each other and put them in this remote environment,” he said.

As for his own future, he’s not sure of specifics, but he’s confident. “Something always shows up.”

NASA goes ‘bird’ watching

Published in the Antarctic Sun

In a small office in Crary Lab, talking to satellites is more common than talking on the phone.

From the outside, it looks like any other office—except for the NASA sign. Inside, the people call it the McMurdo Ground Station.

“We’re the only ones down here that can actually see satellites from this part of the world,” said Chuck Seman, a member of the team sent down by NASA to provide satellite communications service.

They work with U.S., Canadian and European satellites in coordination with a network of ground stations in Alaska, Norway and Virginia. The network monitors satellites on what are called polar orbits—the track circling the earth from pole to pole.

Most of what the McMurdo station does involves making sure the satellites, or “birds,” are still working properly. Data is usually transferred earthward from the satellites in the Northern Hemisphere, because of better access to high-speed communication links.

The technicians at the ground station are a vital link in the satellite support process. For some satellites, the process at McMurdo begins even before launch.

In those cases, they track rockets from the launch pad through the point where they release the satellite to fly on its own.

In most cases, though, the office gets a list of satellite contacts to make. Most links last between three and 15 minutes.

The connections involve incredible feats of behind-the-scenes electrical engineering. It takes a lot to track a satellite more than 400 miles high, moving so fast it circles the Earth every 90 minutes.

On the ground at McMurdo, computers and engineers are moving a dish antenna 10 meters wide in a huge arc to follow the satellite. At the same time, they’re receiving data at rates up to 105 megabits per second—about 3,000 times as fast as the average home computer modem.

One of the tasks that keeps McMurdo Ground Station busy is an upcoming rescue mission for a satellite that has its solar panels pointing the wrong way.

Its owners are hoping that the sunlight bouncing off the ice cap will power the satellite enough to move it into proper position.

The station will attempt to contact the satellite and then be a bridge between it and the satellite’s controllers back in the U.S. It’s not a regular task, but neither is it unheard-of.

“We tried that before ... it failed,” Seman said.

There are two other major projects on the calendar at the moment. The first is a new 13-meter dish, which will be arriving on the resupply vessel this summer. It will help the U.S. government get 24-hour weather coverage worldwide. It is unclear at the moment how that will affect the six-hour satellite blackout Mac Weather has each day, Seman said.

The second project is another Antarctic mapping project like the one which just finished, in collaboration with Canada’s RADARSAT satellite, gathering high-resolution images of the Antarctic continent even through cloud cover.

“We’re the only project down here year-round,” said technician Jaime Gallo.

A lot of what goes on in the office is monitoring and preparing equipment to do the work. This can involve repairing equipment, manufacturing new parts from old machinery in storage, or just making small changes to the process to weed out potential problems.

“We’re not beakers, we’re like tweakers,” Gallo said, laughing.

Sunday, November 7, 1999

Keeping the planes apart

Published in the Antarctic Sun

It’s a blue-sky day out on McMurdo Station’s ice runway, but the world’s turned upside down in the tower.

An LC-130 is leaving for the South Pole and the tower crew is thinking “north.”

“Planes fly north to the South Pole,” air traffic controller Heidi McCaffray said, watching the aircraft head between Black Island and White Island.

Here, that statement makes sense. Close to the magnetic poles of the earth, navigation by compass is unreliable at best and dangerous at worst. Navigation is by “grid,” based on calculations involving the longitude of a current position in relation to the 180-degree longitude line, explained air traffic controller Robert Virgil.

Since McMurdo is so close to 180 degrees of longitude, “grid north” is very close to true south.

Oddly, though, helicopters use true north and south for their navigation. It means the tower has
to keep straight not only the type of aircraft on the radio, but also its direction— in real space and on its map.

They manage to do this with ease, fulfilling their basic mission. According to tower manager Mike
MacLean, “We keep the airplanes apart.”

That’s may not seem too tough at an airport which deals with only about a dozen different planes all season. But it’s not all that easy.

Runways are busy places, even when there are no planes around. Surveyors are out on the runway checking the sea ice movement, snow plows are keeping the path clear, maintenance workers are checking lights and navigational equipment, and the decelerometer crews are measuring the braking qualities of the ice.

Any time a plane comes near, to take off or land, the tower clears the runway of all people and equipment and calls out the fire department’s crash vehicle in the event of a mishap.

It’s all done by radio, and largely without the aid of tower radar, except in bad weather. Then the machine in the downstairs closet goes to work. It’s the pilot’s eyes, connected to the airplane only by the voice of the tower controller, every five seconds during final approach in bad conditions.

Of the 15 controllers on staff, two are on duty at any given time. Sometimes there are more, if they’re training or checking equipment. There’s a bed in the tower, too, in case the controllers get stuck at the runway. They don’t go home until all the planes are in.

There’s also a weather person in the tower, taking readings on the instruments outside and observing conditions on the sea ice.

Sandra Lorenzana, one of the tower’s rotating weather crew, said she does hourly observations as well as special reports and more frequent full reports if the weather is changing rapidly. These are called into Mac Weather and Mac Center, she said, to assist them in determining severe weather conditions and informing the pilots of what to expect during approach and landing.

A bit later in the season, MacLean said, there will be two towers operating around McMurdo; one will be at the ice runway until it shuts down, and the other will be at Williams Field. Last year they just had one tower and were unable to move it and set it up again in time for flights to
arrive on schedule. Now, with an extra tower (which is presently at the ice runway, just next to the operating tower), Williams Field will be up and running with fewer delays.

Rock of ages: Cape Roberts project probes Earth’s past

Published in the Antarctic Sun

It’s almost the year 2000, but in McMurdo Station’s Crary Lab it’s closer to 40 million years ago. The Cape Roberts project, in its third year of research, is still in search of layers of rock laid down during the Eocene Epoch, 35-55 million years ago.

Cape Roberts is about climate change. Right now, climate pattern forecasts are made with only a few centuries of data. Cape Roberts researchers hope to add many million years to the known body of climate data.

But this is not Mac Weather’s afternoon forecast. Knowing how climatic trends have evolved over massively long periods of time can help predict what the climate will be like in coming centuries.

In this search back in time, they are looking at material drilled from beneath the sea floor. This seabed core was drilled to a depth of 1968 feet on Friday.

The drill site is at Cape Roberts, about 75 miles northeast of McMurdo, just south of Granite Harbor, in the southwest Ross Sea.

It’s a huge team effort, involving over 60 people, including researchers, technicians, and drillers, among others. They’re all looking at what they know about the earth’s structure and applying
it to the question of climate. At the same time, they’re taking advantage of this rare opportunity to look back in time to further their own studies.

The daily schedule in Crary is a mix of routine and adventure. They begin each day by doing a basic classification of the core which arrives late each night from the drill site. In the middle of the morning they report to each other on research progress.

“With a project like this, with so many specialists, you have to keep informing each other,” said project coordinator Peter Webb.

Each of the scientists working on the Cape Roberts project is a prominent scientist back
home. Here, though, they’re in among a whole group of high-power researchers. But they
share time and space well, and are good-natured about their interactions.

After lunch, the specialists look at the core which was explained in the morning.

They plant small toothpick flags at areas where they want samples taken. In total, the samples
number in the hundreds each day, according to Matt Curren, one of the core curators who
extracts the samples.

Each sample is taken for further analysis. Paleontologists look for fossils in their samples; scientists studying the magnetic field of the earth look at the alignment of particles in their samples; sedimentologists and stratigraphers look at the layering in the sediments.

When the samples have been analyzed, the scientists come back together to discuss what they’ve found.

They compare different types of evidence relating to the age of the core material. The evidence varies widely. Some of it—sedimentary and fossilized— shows what the climate was like, which
the scientists then match up with similar climate sequences from the rest of the world.

“We know what the climate was like in other parts of the world 30-40 million years ago,” Webb said. “The purpose of this project is to try to understand present climate and future climate by looking at the past.”

Antarctica is a special place for doing this type of work because it was the heart of Gondwanaland, the supercontinent from which all landmasses on earth eventually broke off and slowly moved to their current locations.

The scientists also look at the changes in the earth’s magnetic field. They already know the history of shifts in direction and polarity of the earth’s magnetic field. By finding out what the
magnetic field pattern is within the Cape Roberts core, they can match up core sections with periods of time.

After all this work, they learn what the climate was like millions of years ago. But, just as in high school, no science project is complete without a written report. Formal academic science publication can take a long time, sometimes even years. Submission to journals, review, and then actual publication are all both bottlenecks and opportunities for verification of results.

Not so with Cape Roberts. They’ve solved the problem of publication delay by bringing their own
publication to the Ice. Terra Antartica (sic) is an Italian earth science journal which publishes the results of the Cape Roberts Project team. An editor and a graphic artist for the journal are here at McMurdo working full-time to prepare the scientists’ work for release to the wider community of world climatologists.

Before leaving the Ice in mid-December, each researcher must complete an initial report, describing their work on the core and preliminary results. Within 6 months they put out a
final science report, which is also published in Terra Antartica. Less than a year after they begin a season of drilling, the results of research and examination are available to the science world.

What these results reveal is of great import to determining climate change trends.

“The cores are really a proxy for the climate, plants, and topography,” Webb said. Sea level,
average temperatures, plant and animal life, and other information are contained in the core, a cylinder of rock just a few inches thick.

The Cape Roberts Project is a multinational collaboration, in which the U.S., New Zealand, and Italy are the major shareholders (and major funding sources). Also participating are Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The project is going well, in its third and final year of drilling.

“Cape Roberts is successful,” said Italian researcher Marco Taviani, speaking of the time and energy spent, as well as the money and international collaboration efforts.

The project expects to wrap up work and leave the Ice in mid-December. In the meantime, though, they’re hard at work inspecting, marking, analyzing, and collaboration. The phrase Webb sometimes ends meetings with seems to run their lives: “Okay, let’s go look at some more core.”

Monday, November 1, 1999

Peace place

Published in North & South

Wellington's Stokes Valley begins at a busy motorway and ends at a bush-covered ridge. The only sign there's anything up there besides the requisite possum horde and occasional pole house dweller is a white and gold spire rising 10 metres out of the trees. A string of fluttering prayer flags stretches from it to a hidden anchor point away from the possums' sharp teeth.

It's the yellow AA road sign - "Buddhist Monastery" - in a quiet cul-de-sac that directs seekers of truth and tranquillity up Rakau Grove to a giant wooden gate and behind it, Bodhinyanarama, the garden of enlightened knowing.

Beyond the gate is a scene of unexpected exertion and industry: two men - one shaven-headed and in saffron robes, the other in jeans, a T-shirt and gumboots - building a set of dirt-and-log stairs up a bush-covered hill. The monk, Sucinno, directs the visitor further up the hill to see the near-completed stupa, or reliquary. Numerous relics and treasures, gifted by Buddhist faithful, will be enshrined in the stupa to help the donors on their journey to enlightenment.

Donations to Bodhinyanarama are generous and by no means limited to special projects like the stupa. The monks are not allowed to cook food or to take anything which is not freely given; so in exchange for the laity's support in worldly things - clothing, shelter and food - the monks offer guidance along the path of the Buddha. It is part of the Buddha's design for an ideal society, with interdependence between laity and monks and nuns.

New Zealand's Buddhist community numbers nearly 30,000, and it is this web of support that keeps Bodhinyanarama's four monks and one postulant supplied with food, clothing and special projects manpower.

The monastery also hosts retreats and classes on meditation, Buddhism and other spiritual activities, paid for by donation to help cover the cost of lodging and food. Once a month, a monk travels to Auckland to meet people at the city's Buddhist centre. There is also a retreat centre on the Coromandel peninsula and other meditation centres throughout the country.

Anyone can park their preconceptions at the gate and hear the monks explain the principles of Buddhism - a religion "without a god" founded more than 2000 years ago by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) in northern India. In Thailand, where Sucinno was a monk for 14 years, his role seldom called for teaching Buddhist history and tenets. Here, he says, he spends much of his time explaining the Buddha's "four noble truths": all existence is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; freedom from suffering is nirvana; and the means of attaining nirvana is prescribed in the "eightfold path" that combines ethical conduct, mental discipline and wisdom.