Antarctic Dreamer…

Antarctic Dreamer…

On the next to the last night in McMurdo, I took what would be my final walk out to Hut Point. 

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I went alone, to have time to contemplate what this place means to me.  This vast Antarctic continent grabs a hold of you and mesmerizes you with its massive landscape, giant icebergs, sweeping valleys, and slow moving glaciers that grind their way over the land.  The Transantarctic Mountains have become a part of my everyday life for the past two+ months, and it’s hard to imagine a day now, where they won’t be in my view.

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Not only did I focus on the larger bits, but noticed the unique shapes, textures, and colors of every volcanic rock on my hike that night.  I also thought about the wealth of marine life in the water right below me.  Large or small, everything here has its purpose and place in the environment.

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As I wandered past Robert Scott’s Discovery Expedition hut, one last time, I stopped and just stood for a moment, thinking about those men back in 1902…seeing this incredible place without any other structure around.  I can’t imagine how beautiful it would have seemed, totally unchanged by the hands of mankind.

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I looked out on the horizon, imagining teams of dogs pulling sleds over the ice and snow, and the perseverance of the early explorers; how they had their own Antarctic dreams.  After three visits to this icy continent, I leave today, I wondering if I will ever be back.

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Certain sounds will stick with me:  helicopters thrumming overhead, pulling sling loads of cargo back from a field camp; flags that mark our routes on the ice…flapping wildly in the wind; the crunching sound my bunny boots made when walking on the ice in the early days of my time here; penguins squawking at us out at Hut Point.

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My hike gave me the opportunity to look back at Observation Hill…thinking about the four times I’ve climbed it on my three trips “south.”  Just two months ago I stood atop Ob Hill on a picture-perfect early December day, with no wind, blue sky, abundant sunshine and 360 degree views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Discovery, Mt. Terror, the Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo Station, Arrival Heights, and a frozen ocean down below.  Now, that sea ice is cracked and breaking apart.  I’ve not been here this late in the season before, and it has been a new experience for me seeing the open water, longer shadows as the sun dips lower on the horizon and cooling temperatures again…as winter is slowly creeping its way back to Antarctica.

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Having had the chance to come here as part of three incredible scientific projects has allowed me to learn more about the process of science and discovery from those who are leaders in their field of study.  I will be eternally grateful to the TEA (Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic), ANDRILL (Antarctic Geologic Drilling), and WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) projects/programs, who trusted me to be the eyes and ears of the scientists, work alongside them, and convey their work to so many students, teachers, and individuals for the past fifteen years.  Rest assured…that work will continue, even beyond my life as a classroom teacher.

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The work of scientists is critical to understanding this planet we call home, and its many inhabitants.  Microscopic plants; geologic features; ice and snow; creatures roaming ocean, or sky, I have had the responsibility to learn about these things and teach others. Thanks to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for recognizing that educators play an important role as part of the science that takes place around the world, and for including us as ambassadors of science, technology, and engineering through outreach programs which they fund.  Thanks to Ross Powell, Northern Illinois University, who invited me to be a part of the WISSARD Project’s education and outreach team and for the support both Ross and Reed Scherer (also Northern Illinois University) have given me throughout this project.

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(Photo above:  Susan Kelly; Reed is to the left, Ross to the right)

These opportunities charted the course for the most robust professional development experiences I could ever have hoped to take part in.  Going beyond the walls of my classroom to learn and consequently pay that knowledge forward to others has been a gift to me as an educator, but I’ve also earned it.

Not once will I ever look at a globe in my classroom again, without thinking about this special place at the bottom of the Earth…how it changed my role as a teacher, and changed my life.

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(Photo above:  Susan Kelly)

Walking with penguins in their natural habitat, witnessing seals popping up through holes in the ice to flop down and lounge in the summer sun; seeing the wisps of steam lifting up from the top of Mt. Erebus (the world’s southernmost active volcano); and walking in the Dry Valleys have all been moments I will not forget.

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I’ve been on helicopters, huge military planes (a C-141 Starlifter, LC-130 ski-eqipped Hercules, and a massive C-17), and on this trip I was fortunate enough to have a chance to fly on a DC-3 Basler.  I’ve ridden in crazy vehicles like Ivan the Terra Bus, Deltas; and crazy track vehicles like a Pisten Bully, Hagglund, and Mattrack.  There have been many snowmobile experiences; riding out to the WisSpot test area this season, but many other longer trips such as out to Cape Evans to see Scott’s Hut or Big Razorback Island to visit with scientists studying seals.

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Years ago I was able to climb down a ladder into ice caves in the tongue of the Erebus Glacier.  I’ve slept (well, sort of…not really “sleep” just shivered all night) inside of snow mound structures called quinzees, sawed snow bricks to build walls to shield tents from the wind, slept with boiling water bottles that turned to solid ice overnight, and have now experienced a true night of camping in the Antarctic with this year’s 51 mph wind and snowstorm with little to no visibility in our camp.

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Thinking back on just this season alone, I’ve interviewed the three lead scientists of WISSARD who travel the globe in search of answers to glacial, geologic, and biological questions.  The young students of WISSARD (be they undergraduates, graduates, or those working on their PhD) have inspired me with their enthusiasm and talents.  We had a great team of scientists for this project…with innovative new ideas and the ability to meet the challenges that Antarctica can throw our way.

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(Photos above and below:  Susan Kelly)

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I ‘ve talked with astronauts, medical personnel, a team of scientists collecting meteorites, a female scientist who has devoted 30 years to long term ecological studies in the Dry Valleys, and researchers launching long duration balloons to carry equipment that collects data as the balloons circle the continent.  I had a cup of cocoa with a woman who was on the team of the first four women who skied to the South Pole…hundreds of miles in a little over two months.  Absolutely every day in Antarctica provides an opportunity for learning and for meeting such interesting people.  I’m in awe of their varied talents and experiences.  They teach me, so I can better teach others.

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All of these moments are ingrained upon my memory, and as my great friend Matteo remarked (I mentioned this yesterday, too) when we disembarked from a helicopter on a sunny day at Cape Bird, Ross Island in 2006, “This is a day for all our lives.”  I’ve had many of those days here in Antarctica.  I’ll never forget them.

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So as I boarded the LC-130 Hercules to leave Antarctica, and watched from my tiny window as the icy continent slipped out of my view, I know I’ve had the experiences of a lifetime; three times!

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Summer sun is fading, sea ice has broken apart and icebergs drift away from where they calved from mighty glaciers.

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I headed north to Christchurch, New Zealand…back to sunsets and darkness at night, vegetation, smells, colors and so much more.  I hope you have enjoyed this journey with me as I have enjoyed sharing it with you.  Always keep reading and learning, traveling if you can, experiencing new cultures, friends, and landscapes.  Ask questions to enhance your knowledge, because that’s one of many things a good scientist does…asks questions.   Keep science and discovery a part of every day.  So long from the “ice.”

Cheers,

Betty

Note:  This blog post was written while sitting on a LC-130 Hercules…at 25,000 feet in the air!

Headed back to Illinois…looking forward to seeing family and friends very soon!

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47 responses to “Antarctic Dreamer…

  1. We will greatly miss your daily posts, but can’t wait to see you back at school very soon! We’ve enjoyed getting to see part of our world through your eyes. We are very blessed to have a true scientist help grow our children’s minds in the ways that you do. With that, I hope you get some rest before heading back in. I know one little girl who can’t wait to give you a big hug! Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do!
    Tanya

    • Thanks Tanya! It’s been great having you follow this adventure in science and learning. I’m getting that rest right now with family…and I’ll be back to Husmann before you know it. Your positive comments are so appreciated. Take care and see you soon! All the best, Betty

  2. Thank you for your marvelous series of observations. It has helped me appreciate the work going on in such a remote and challenging place. Godspeed on your trip home.

    • You are so welcome, Christine! I think it’s important for everyone to learn more about science, discovery, and history of these remote places on our Earth. I know each visit has been a tremendous learning experience for me. I will be back in Crystal Lake soon…taking some much needed R & R with Chris and family right now. :-) Thanks for following my journey! Cheers, Betty

  3. Thanks for sharing all your adventures. I have so enjoyed this daily trip to the Antarctic. Enjoy your homecoming!

    • HI Laura,
      Thanks for following all of the science and learning on my trip “south” and I hope that you’ve learned some new things along the way! It’s hard not to with such an incredible place to see and read about. I miss it, but I’m glad to be with Chris and family now. Stay in touch! Cheers,
      Betty

  4. God bless you, Boop, for sharing all this wonderful knowledge. I have enjoyed reading and being a part of your incredible journey.

    Safe travel back home.

    LIOB Kathy

    Sent from my iPhone

    • You have been such a wonderful supporter of our work and my blogs this season, Kathy! THANKS for reading and following and learning along with me, and for all of your positive feedback along the way. I’ll catch up with you soon! LIOB, Boop xx

    • Hey Beth,
      Almost home…a few more days of R & R and then I’ll be back in Crystal Lake. THANKS for all of your support throughout this project. MIss you girlfriend! Talk soon! Love, Boop xx

  5. Betty, thank you so much for opening my world to Antarctica. I enjoyed it all but particularly the penguins and the day you featured the young women working there. Welcome back to the States and snowy Illinois although, not quite as snowy as what you’ve experienced. The best to you and thank you again. I will miss all of this.

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thanks to you for following my journey and for posting such great comments along the way. I agree that featuring those spectacular young women scientists was a fun blog…they are great gals, doing great things! Go girls in science!!! I’m doing a presentation for the McHenry County Conservation District on Tuesday, February 26th at 6:30 pm. Call them to sign up if you’d like to see more about this adventure. Cheers, Betty

  6. Betty, I have so enjoyed reading all your blogs Nd following your adventure. Lucky you! And what a great educator you are. Looking forward to seeing you back at school. Safe travels!

    • Hi Sue,
      Thanks for following this adventure in science and learning. :-) It’s been great to share it with everyone through the blog posts each day. See you back in Crystal Lake. Cheers, Betty

  7. Hello Betty!
    Thank you for making us participates in your expedition! I showed my little soft penguin, purchased in Chicago, for the children at school, he looooooves the snow, ice and the fish! We have looked at your blog and we saw the movies when penguins fly up from the ice, when they move like kids on the snow, we saw the eggs and newborn babies and we saw YOU! The kids were fascinated! Thank you! Thanks for magic photos! Welcome back to warmer climes. Take care!
    / Berit in Luleå

    Ångra ändringarna

    • Hello Berit,
      I loved reading your comments about how you shared my photos and videos with the young children at your school in Lulea, Sweden. I have enjoyed the many contacts that have been from Lulea throughout my journey and the beautiful blanket you sent me kept me warm! Also the beautiful scarf…you are all so thoughtful. I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you on our teacher exchange in June. The time will fly now!
      Much Love, Betty :-)

  8. Me and Leah are so excited that you are coming home! I can’t wait to see your friendly face. I will definitely miss your awesome blogs and learning about Antarctica. But I know your class and your family (and your old class) will be glad your back!

    • Hi Rebekah and Leah,
      I’m very excited to see you girls and all of the children and teachers at Husmann. I am SO happy that you were actively reading the blogs and posting comments. I’m glad I could teach you from so far away. You’ll have to tell me which posts were your favorites. I’ll see you soon! I’m glad I’m coming back!! :-) Mrs. Trummel

  9. Love it all! I am envious of your time there and the many people you have met, talked with, learned from, and been part of. You have a remarkable tale to continue telling and sharing with your students and others back here. I can’t imagine leaving this awesome place, let alone being there for 2 months to view it each day. Delightful, Betty. Thanks for sharing so much with all of us.

  10. I have tears on my eyes hearing your voice saying good bye. I am sure you will remember every minute and every person you have met on all three of your tip. Be safe and I will see you very soon.

    • Hi Kai,
      I will remember every minute and all of the special people, places, and experiences I’ve been a part of in Antarctica. Thanks for following my work and learning along with me. See you soon! :-)

  11. We loved all your posts, and will miss the daily e-mail notifications! What a wonderful journey…….thanks so much for sharing. We can’t wait to see you again! Missed you lots!

    • Hi Josh and family,
      Thanks for following my journey and being a part of the great learning experience! I’ve missed you and all of the other students in class and I can’t wait to get back to teaching you in person! :-) See you soon!
      Mrs. Trummel

  12. Thank you for all the time an efforts bringing our project to the world. I regret that we had little time to have you more integrated into the science operations this year – we were doing something never before done, and there was never any guarantee of success. But through it all you were able to translate to the world what it is like to do what we do, which is a lasting contribution to our project and to society. We couldn’t have done that important job without you! Your hard work did not go unnoticed!

    Very best regards. You are truly a friend for life. See you soon.

    Reed Scherer, NIU.

    • Thanks SO much, Reed, and it was wonderful to work with you again! Your support was really important and as we know, the challenges of doing this type of work in such a remote place is always difficult. The many facets of science, technology, and engineering which were/are a part of WISSARD were unique and interesting to report on each day. It is amazing to me to watch scientists, drillers, technicians, and others at work in Antarctica. The education and outreach component is important, because it’s a way to showcase your work and teach others about what is going on right now in such remote places. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of it all. Your friendship throughout the many years of my Antarctic science experiences has been important! Thanks for everything! :-) See you soon! Betty

  13. My recent post mentions the challenges, but somehow fails to mention that despite these extreme challenges, and directly thanks to the intensive dedication of a broad range of participants, from educators to drillers to scientists, students and support people, we were ultimately wildly successful in our efforts tis season. The “real” work now begins, as we analyze the data, water and sediment samples recovered.

    I’ll continue to keep you informed of our progress.

    Cheers and thanks again,

    Reed

    • Absolutely, I echo your comments, Reed. Despite the challenges that Antarctica threw our way this season…we had great success with the WISSARD Project and I hope that people will follow our work into the future as more discoveries are made and the analysis of the data takes place. There’s more to learn and to share!! :-)

    • No, I really didn’t feel like that, Hannah. I thought bring there was a huge gift, and I learned so much from so many people. I loved watching the process of science, even though we had many delays and it was often frustrating…that’s part of science. In the end, we got great results and also made significant achievements in science research and Antarctic studies. That was very cool. :-)

    • Hi Hannah and Emily (below). Since you both asked the same question, I thought I’d write one answer. One of the most interesting things I learned was all about so many different areas of science. Just in WISSARD alone we had men and women studying biology, geochemistry, sedimentology, glaciology and more! I interviewed people collecting meteorites, those studying long term ecological effects on the Dry Valleys, and scientists studying the penguins, seals, whales, and other marine life in the region. It was all fascinating! I love to see scientists at work and learn from them. :-)

  14. Hi Josh,
    I think my favorite thing about the expedition was the opportunity to work with scientists in such a remote and challenging place. Antarctica has many unique features and presents many interesting twists to trying to do scientific work. It could be the weather, transportation, equipment and instruments or the process of working in such a remote place, but there are many challenges and I enjoyed seeing how people adapt and face those challenges. :-) I learned SO much! Can’t wait to share more with you! See you again soon! :-)

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    that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing in
    your feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

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