Gib Finneyโ€™s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
A Couple More Favorites
29 June 2008, Finney @ 11:42 pm

[This post written 6/29/08; position: lat -52’59”, long -66’29”; temp 4C; wind chill -11C]

So…it was not exactly a busy day today. Well, back up a minute. It was a busy and somewhat nerve-wracking day for the scientists, because they are getting all of their samples ready for shipping, which is a very big deal, since if the samples don’t make it back to the U.S., or they are spoiled when they arrive, that is a huge loss. So they are kind of in nail-biting mode. But for Ash and Rainy and me, it was not busy. We read some more of Treasure Island. We watched Part One of Lord of the Rings on the big TV in the NBP’s movie room, which has big fluffy chairs and holders for drinks and popcorn!

But also, there was sunshine! And it isn’t all that cold out anymore. We went out on deck, and I didn’t even need a hat. Well, not at first anyway. Rainy and I had our cameras. There were a few petrels chasing the ship, as usual. One of the things we have been doing the last couple of days is trying to get good pictures of them, which is WAY hard. Especially the Cape petrels, which fly really fast and can change directions in a split second. I have hundreds of rotten pictures of flying petrels by now. Today I almost got a totally awesome picture of a giant petrel. See above. This is my best petrel picture by far. It was also my last chance, so I guess this one’s as good as it’s going to get. Dude. If only I had gotten its beak in the picture! As you can see, giant petrels aren’t exactly beautiful, but I like them anyway, because they fly slowly. They are like the 737s of the petrel world. Goodbye petrels. I will miss you all. And a special goodbye to that snow petrel that stared at me the day the big iceberg calved. Petrels fly fast and far. I guess it could be anywhere in Antarctica by now!

Continuing to show you my favorite trip pictures taken by other people, here is one taken by Paul McGill. The guy in the Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses is Jake Ellena, the giant slingshot guy. (And also the official Keeper of the Data, and the bird survey guy.) He is also The Dude. I mean. This picture was taken on the bridge on June 7. The wind chill where Jake was standing was -24C. He is a very cool guy in more ways than one.

That’s it for now. I don’t want to be late for the party in the galley tonight! We are all supposed to wear pieces of extreme weather clothing we were issued but never wore. Hmmm. I dunno…I think I wore everything. A lot. Ash is going to wear his sea boots and Rainy is going to wear her Yazoo cap.


Rough Water, But No More Ice!
28 June 2008, Finney @ 7:09 pm

[This post written 6/28/08; position: lat -54’15”, long -60’20”; temp 4C; wind chill -12C]

There are a lot of things I could write about tonight, but dude, we are in some rough water and I am not feeling so hot. So this will be kind of short.

These are pictures of the Nathaniel B. Palmer’s engine room, which is one of the most awesome things Ash and I have seen on the trip. Rainy does not agree so much. She says no matter how great an engine is, it can’t compare to a monster iceberg. And she probably has a point. Still, as you can see the ship’s engines are way cool. The guy in blue is the engineer who showed us around. His name is Jerry Lake. It is so loud down there we had to wear ear protectors part of the time. I guess it’s not surprising. I probably mentioned this earlier. But the NBP has four giant Caterpillar engines with a total of 12,000 horsepower. Today I also learned that the NBP makes its own fresh water! It uses waste heat from the engines to take seawater and remove the salt from it so we can use it for drinking and showers. All this time, I was feeling virtuous for not showering very much, because I thought we probably just had a big tank of water, which I would rather drink than stay clean with. Oh well.

Also, we had a big meeting today where all the scientists talked about what they had done on our voyage, and what interesting things they had found out. A lot of it I couldn’t understand. We saw a totally awesome movie of stuff the Phoenix ROV saw. They saw a lot more of those round dimples in the underwater ice (and I learned that they are sometimes called suncups.) And we saw the salp chains, a jellyfish, and a squid that had been partly eaten. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Twining talked about the chemistry of the water, and the ways it differs depending on how close you get to the iceberg. Dr. Vernet talked about the microscopic life forms she has seen on the voyage, and how they differed from her last iceberg voyage, which happened in the Antarctic summer. Nicki Middaugh and Vivien Peng talked about their studies of the bacteria in the seawater, and how different things seemed to affect them. Dr. Helly talked about his measurements of the icebergs. Dr. Rock showed us pictures of the underwater parts of the icebergs that he made using his special sonar device. And Dr. Kaufmann talked about the animals they found in the MOCNESS, and how they differed depending on where they were in relationship to the icebergs.

Now the scientists will go home to their labs in the U.S. and spend some time looking closer at the data from their experiments on the voyage to see exactly what they show. And in March, they will come back down here and do some more!


Packing and Patching
27 June 2008, Finney @ 7:51 pm

[This post written 6/27/08; position: lat -55’35”, long -53’53”; temp 2C; wind chill -7C]

We have had a pretty sweet day’s travel. There’s not much wind, and the water has been a lot calmer than yesterday. I just went up to the bridge, and the pilot told me we are going about 10 knots, so that’s a little faster. We are still going north and west, but mostly west, toward South America. I’ve been thinking about how weird it will be when I get home, to be able to say, “South America? Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” I know it’s a big place, and just because I’ve been to Punta Arenas and Santiago doesn’t mean I’ve seen the whole thing. I’m just saying. Also, when school starts up again at the end of summer, dude, Ash and Rainy and I are going to have the most awesome “What I did during Summer Vacation” reports ever.

But that is kind of off the track. Though I didn’t expect to have much to write about today (in fact, I was looking through everybody’s pictures again to find some more excellent ones to post), it turns out something pretty interesting is going on down in the labs. Of course, the scientists are now packing up the supplies and equipment they unpacked and arranged nicely in the ship’s labs a month ago. That is a lot of work all by itself. Some of the stuff will be stored in Punta Arenas to wait for the next voyage next March. But some — including the samples of seawater and sea creatures — will be shipped back to the U.S. Lots of paperwork has to be filled out for customs officials in both Chile and America. It is keeping the researchers pretty busy.

But there’s more. When I went downstairs to see what was happening today, I saw that the floor of the long hallway down there was covered with a black net! At first, I wondered what the heck! Then I realized it was the MOCNESS nets. But why would those nets be on the floor outside the lab? I soon found out. Each time they are used, they get holes in them. Sometimes the holes are made when the net snags on something underwater. Sometimes they are made when the nets are pulled in full of the stuff they have gathered. I have seen so many pictures of fishermen repairing their nets, but I never really thought about why they have to repair them before. Today I sure did, as I watched Stian sewing up the holes with a big, heavy-duty sewing machine, and Stephanie patching them up by hand with a big needle and an awl. In the top picture, you can see Marko looking for holes, and in the bottom picture, you can see Stephanie and Stian at work.

When they are done, the MOCNESS and its nets will be packed away and stored till the scientists need them again. One thing I have learned on this trip is that some of the work scientists do is simple but hard. You don’t have to be a genius to sort krill or patch nets or get water samples. But you do have to pay a lot of attention, be careful, and do a really good job. Otherwise, your discoveries will not be convincing to other people. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable — to live on a ship in Antarctica for a month, for example, working 18 hours a day in the cold and dark. You have to really love what you’re doing.


Wild Things
26 June 2008, Finney @ 7:46 pm

[This post written 6/26/08; position: lat -56’48”, long -47’48”; temp 2C; wind chill -14C]

As you can see, if you are following our position with a map, we have spent the day traveling mostly west and a little north. We are in rough seas, with the waves coming toward us at an angle. For a while, we were going at the speed of 12 knots, but Captain Mike slowed us down to 8 knots, because with the waves and stuff, going slower is easier on the ship — and probably on us passengers, too!

Not very much is happening on the ship now, because we have left the icebergs behind, and most of the scientific equipment can’t be used when we are moving this fast anyway. Ash and Rainy and I spent the day playing cards, watching movies, raiding the galley for hot chocolate and cake, and reading. We are reading Treasure Island right now. We only have one copy of it, so one of us reads aloud and the other two listen, and we take turns so no one’s voice gets too tired. Being on a ship is a lot different now than it used to be. Thank goodness.

My big excitement today was going out on the aft deck to watch the petrels. There are always at least a couple that like to follow along behind the ship. Today they were Cape petrels. The wind was blowing pretty hard out there, but the petrels seem to love it. They look almost like kites sometimes. Then they dip down to skim the waves, watching for things to eat, and they look like birds again. My petrel was a snow petrel — not like these. I didn’t see it today. I hope it is not gone forever, even though I know it probably is.

When I was thinking over the question of what today’s blog should be about, I thought of all the pictures people besides me have taken on this trip. We have all put our pictures on the ship’s big computer so everyone can see them. Dude, there are lots of good photographers on this trip! So I decided to put up a few of my favorites not taken by Gib Finney. I might have to do this more than once, there are so many good ones. Here are the ones I picked for today:

The top one was taken by Kim Reisenbichler, who I think of mainly as one of the RC airplane pilots. But he is also a marine biologist. These are the penguins we saw on the small iceberg the other day. He captured two of them slip-sliding off into the water. That is so hard! He is an awesome photographer. The one in the middle is a krill, taken by Stephanie Bush, who works with Dr. Robison at MBARI. Dude. Her pictures folder is full of great photos like this, of all the weird creatures the researchers have found in the Tucker Trawl and the MOCNESS — all kinds of worms, jellies, squids, little crustaceans, and stuff that looks almost too weird to be real. The third picture was a mystery that I had to solve by asking people questions. The picture was taken by Tim Kramer. The guy in the picture is Rob Sherlock, who works at MBARI and is a marine biologist and all-around tech guy kind of like Kim. But what is he holding? It looks like a doll, and it is! It’s a doll of Max from Where the Wild Things Are, and it belongs to Rob’s little boy. Rob says doll Max has had his picture taken with almost every piece of equipment Rob has worked on. Cool, huh? Max and Snowball should get together with Strike and have a party. ๐Ÿ™‚


The Dirt of Antarctica
25 June 2008, Finney @ 11:36 am

[This post written 6/25/08; position: lat -57’52”, long -42’40”; temp 0C; wind chill -15C]

This morning I decided I’d better take a shower. Mom would probably be upset if she knew how few I’ve had in the last month, but hey, what’s the point of having an adventure if you have to stay as clean as you do at home? You might think that is why this post is titled “The Dirt of Antarctica.” But you would be wrong. I had just finished showering and was getting dressed when someone out in the hallway yelled that there were humpback whales on the port side aft.

I don’t know if I have explained about port and starboard, forward and aft. Forward and aft are easy. Forward means toward the pointed end of the ship, the end that normally goes through the water first. And aft means the back end of the ship. Port is the left side of the ship when you are facing forward. And starboard is the right side of the ship, same deal. You mght think it is kind of hard to keep track of which is which. Grandpa Finney, who was a merchant marine for a while when he was young, taught me a simple way. He said, “Look at the words. Left and port have the same number of letters.” I never had any trouble after that.

But anyway, back to the humpback whales. I got dressed in record time, and this time, I remembered to grab my camera. Rainy was downstairs helping the biologists sort MOCNESS stuff. (There were some little squids today!) I yelled, “Humpback whales!” to the whole lab. Dr. Robison rushed up the stairs along with me, and Rainy was right behind. Ash was upstairs helping Steve and Kim build a new airplane out of parts from old ones. But I ran up there and yelled, “Humpback whales!” to them, too.

We did see some humpbacks once we got out on deck. But they were pretty far away and I didn’t get any good pictures of them. What we did see, very close, was the strangest chunk of ice ever. Some parts of it were clear as glass. Some parts were milky blue. And other parts were almost black. Petrels were flying all around it, and Rainy said that probably meant the black parts were bird doo. For which I gave her a rabbit punch. When Dr. Shaw saw the ice, he wanted to go out and get a piece right away. So he and Dr. Smith and First Mate Rachelle and a couple of other people got into a small motor boat and went out to see if they could chip off a sample. Here are some pictures I took:

As you can see, it didn’t look like any other piece of ice we have seen on this voyage. We Three Musketeers rushed to the bow of the ship (that’s the very most pointy part, way forward) and stood on the catwalk so we could look down at the boat and the ice chunk. That’s where I got these pictures. As you can see from the closeup, not only was it weird colors and a weird shape. It was also full of those dimple pockets like the ones the ROV saw underneath the first iceberg we stopped at (SS1). You can see them pretty well in the bottom picture. They made the ice look like the skin of a dinosaur! (Well, okay, what I imagine the skin of a dinosaur would look like.)

Just before dinner, we went down to the lab and Dr. Shaw showed us the sample they got. He said the ice was so hard they had to use a short sledgehammer to get a piece about the size of a soccer ball. He is very excited about it, because it turns out those stripes are made of dirt and pebbles that are deep inside the ice. He says this means the ice was probably part of an Antarctic glacier at one time, and the dirt inside it — and inside its bigger cousins, the icebergs — may be helping to fertilize the ocean so more things can live and grow in it!

Now we are almost ready to turn the ship and head back toward Punta Arenas, a trip that will take a few days. Once we get there, we will fly home. I don’t know whether we will see any more icebergs on the way back, but I hope so. I’m pretty sure we’ll see more petrels. We might see more penguins, too. But the only ones who will be making any sounds are the real ones, thank goodness.


The Petrel and the Ice
24 June 2008, Finney @ 7:56 pm

[This post written 6/24/08; position: lat -57’52”, long -42’40”; temp 1C; wind chill -11C]

Today has been interesting in a lot of different ways. I guess I will start with the ice we found that had a brown stripe. There were a lot of small chunks of ice in the sea yesterday, and we went through a patch of it where almost all of the pieces had a brown stripe running through them. There’s a picture of one above, which was about the size of my dad’s old Volkswagen beetle, I would say. The icebreaker broke it not long after the picture was taken. That was pretty great for Dr. Shaw, who captured a piece so he could see what was in the brown stripe. Yesterday, while it was still frozen, he thought it was probably a layer of ash or dust from a volcano. But today, after it thawed out, he discovered that it was actually something that had once been alive, like algae maybe. (It smells like fish.) He has given some to the biologists to see if they can figure out exactly what it is. Right now, it is still somewhat mysterious.

Another exciting thing is that the ROV had a really great day today. Brett, Paul, and Dr. Robison guided it down 56 meters, where they got some very cool pictures of the underwater parts of the iceberg. They expected to find stuff growing on the ice, but there wasn’t much. The scientists think this may be because it’s winter, so there’s not much light, which plants need in order to grow — even those that grow underwater. They also saw some interesting sea creatures, including chains of salps, a medusa jellyfish, and a squid about 8 inches long. This was the last flight for the Phoenix. Tomorrow we will be going all around the iceberg one more time for Dr. Helly, and Dr. Twining and Dr. Shaw will do some more water sampling. They will use the towfish, which is always fun to watch.

Now we get to the embarrassing part, which is that when one of the best photo opportunities of the trip came along, I did not have my camera. Dude. I always have it with me when I go out on deck. But this morning, I was feeling sort of sad when I woke up, I guess because Rainy and Ash don’t believe me about Strike. And it was easy to wish I were home playing with my other friends and Doofus in the warm sun instead of out here in the ice, and easy to leave the camera on my bunk. I climbed the stairs up to the lifeboat deck and stood by the railing looking at iceberg A43K. It was snowing, and there were lots of petrels fishing in the slushy brash ice between the ship and the distant iceberg. I love to watch them. They are so good at flying, no matter how much or how little wind there is. They can skim along right above the water, so close they’re almost touching it. If I could fly, I would hope to fly like that. I was standing there watching them, and one landed on the railing right next to me. I could have reached out and tried to touch it, though I didn’t, of course. I would have scared it away.

It was a snow petrel, pure white except for its eyes, beak, and feet. (Like I say, I didn’t have my camera, and I am pathetic at taking bird pictures anyway. I asked Rob Sherlock if I could use this picture just to show you what a snow petrel looks like.) So one of these was sitting on the railing right next to me. It turned its head and looked at me with a shiny black eye, and it opened its beak a little. You’ll laugh but I stood there wondering if it was going to start talking, like Strike. But it didn’t. Instead, it turned toward the iceberg, gave a little cry, raised its wings and flew off.

At that very instant, the iceberg calved. A long piece of its white cliff face fell away, longer by far than the Nathaniel B. Palmer, longer than three Nathaniel B. Palmers I’d guess — slowly at first, then faster. For a second or two, all that ice disappeared beneath the dark gray water. Then it bobbed to the surface again, and the air was suddenly full of petrels and powdery ice. A wave with a frothy white crest started toward the ship. I don’t know how tall it was. Tall enough to make me wonder if I should be trying to get inside. The ice must have made a huge noise when it hit the water, but I have no memory of that. My memory is silent except for the pounding of my heart.

Just then, the petrel came back. I can’t explain how I knew it was the same one. But there is no doubt in my mind. The wave was coming toward us, but the petrel wasn’t worried. It turned its head to look at me again. And it seemed to me there was a question in its eye — a question about me and Old Gib and the future. I can’t explain this, either, but I felt as if the ice and the petrel had changed something inside me, as if a switch went from one position to another. And I knew Old Gib didn’t have to worry anymore. While I watched the wave and the petrel, I had made the earthshaking decision that would somehow allow Roxy to fulfill her destiny. The strangest thing is that it wasn’t anything big. It was one of those spider footsteps that shakes everything on the big web. I decided to stay on deck and watch the rest of the calving along with that fearless petrel. I will never forget the sight. Every time I think of it, I will remember it as the moment when I decided Old Gib was okay after all, and I wouldn’t mind growing up to be what he is: a scientist.

I almost ended the post there. LOL! You probably want to know what happened when the wave hit the ship. Nothing much. The ship rocked, but not much more than it has rocked many a night since our journey began.


Mocness Loch Ness
23 June 2008, Finney @ 10:14 pm

[This post written 6/23/08; position: lat -58’01”, long -43’10”; temp 1C; wind chill -14C]

Before I do anything else, I want to answer Niknik’s questions about pack ice. First of all, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t understand something, chances are there are other people out there who also don’t understand it. Now that I think about it, “pack ice” is kind of a weird phrase. Like a pack of dogs, only it’s ice! Niknik wants to know what pack ice is, how it can “come for you,” and why wind makes it happen faster. Pack ice is the free-drifting ice that forms every winter on the polar oceans. We got to watch some pack ice forming when we were further south on this trip, and it’s way cool how it happens. First, the water starts to look sort of greasy as the first ice crystals form. This is called grease ice. As the freezing continues, round patties of ice form in the grease ice. They look kind of like lily pads, only white. This is called pancake ice. You can see a picture of pancake ice in my blog entry for May 2, “Mom Has a Cow.” As the winter goes on, the ice becomes a floating layer of chunks jostling against each other. These chunks can get quite big, and eventually there are so many of them that there is more ice than open water. The pack ice grows each winter. Down here, it starts on the southernmost shores of the Antarctic continent, or at the ice shelves, and it grows steadily northward all winter. When spring comes, it begins to shrink again.

When I said the pack ice was “coming for us,” I was being dramatic. It’s just ice. It was coming toward us, blown by the wind. The wind catches the taller chunks of ice and pushes on them as if they were sails. Since the wind was going 50 miles per hour that day, the pack ice was moving fast. Probably slower than the wind speed, but still pretty fast. I hope this answers your questions!

Next, I got up early, and Rainy did, too. (Ash doesn’t count in this case, because he always gets up early, but not for the MOCNESS; for the engineers.) Why, you might ask? Well, I have been getting more and more curious about the MOCNESS. That’s the thing that gathers specimens of krill, squid, jellyfish, and all that strange-looking stuff in the pictures I have put up sometimes. MOCNESS is one of those words that is made from the first letters of a lot of other words. In this case, Multiple Opening-Closing Net Environmental Sensing System. For most of us, including me, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Mostly, I just call it the Mocness. And it reminds me of Loch Ness in Scotland, where Nessy the water monster is supposed to live. Plus, sometimes the scientists laugh and call the MOCNESS a monster. So when I say it, I get a creepy, mysterious feeling that is totally irrational, but there it is. So, I was curious about it and wanted to see what it looks like and how it works. So Rainy and I got up early, because the MOCNESS is always launched at midnight and retrieved at dawn. Here is what we saw:

Dude. It is huge. At the top, you can see them bringing it out of the water (it’s the big black square thing) and laying it down on the special brackets on the deck. There are big, black nets attached to it. Danni says there are six. In the next two pictures, you can see people pulling the nets out of the water and dragging them onto the deck. In the bottom two pictures, you can see that there is a sort of bottle at the end of each net. These are called the “cod ends.” Inside the bottles are all the sea creatures the nets have gathered during the night. They are poured into the buckets and then sorted, which I have blogged about before. (See “Penguins,” June 12.)

So there it is, mysteries of the MOCNESS revealed. Pretty cool, huh? Now I just wish I could solve the mystery of Strike’s “decision tree.” It would be nice if I had some clue about the nature of the huge decision I will soon be making, but Strike is still not sure he should tell me. He is driving me nuts.


The Opposite of a Storm
22 June 2008, Finney @ 11:57 pm

[This post written 6/22/08; position: lat -57’44”, long -42’57”; temp -2C; wind chill -19C]

A lot has happened today. I could begin by saying that I’m pretty ticked off at Strike, or Old Gib. Or myself. I’m not sure which. I called the meeting of the Three Musketeers, and then Strike refused to say anything. He wants me to help him, but then he makes me look like an idiot in front of my friends. Seriously. They are beginning to think I’m off my rocker, and I don’t blame them. I can tell you this: Old Gib is nothing like the scientists on the ship. I would rather be like them than like him. They are careful and considerate. Maybe Old Gib is changing history in a way he didn’t intend to, by making me want to change who I turn out to be!

But that’s enough about Strike. Right now, I don’t want to talk about him, or even think about him. I want to talk about all the cool stuff that happened today. First, when we woke up, the storm was totally gone. The ocean was smooth, the sun was out, and it was so warm out that the ice on the decks was drippy and slushy. Last night after dark, we found a small iceberg where the engineers launched a drone. The drone is a stripped down version of a special piece of equipment called a Lagrangian Sediment Trap (LST for short). The drone test came out well, so today they launched the real LST. You can see a picture of it on the left at the bottom. The LST sinks down to a certain depth and waits there for the iceberg to pass above it. Stuff falling down through the water underneath the iceberg goes into those big funnels you can see and ends up in specimen cups at the bottoms of the funnels. When the LST is done, it comes back up to the surface and signals that it’s ready to be picked up. It has a red flag with reflecting tape so we can see it in the water and snag it. It’s pretty cool. I can’t wait to see what they find when they open the cups.

As you can also tell from the picture, we saw chinstrap penguins again, and this time I had my camera ready. They seem to like these smaller icebergs a lot. We had so much fun watching them, because they do bunches of laughable stuff. For instance, one group kept climbing up onto the iceberg, then getting too close to the edge and sliding off into the water. The group in the picture climbed up, saw that their friends were already on the iceberg, and then ran as fast as they could join their buddies. Well…I’m not totally sure they knew the other penguins, but they sure wanted to be part of that bigger group. You can see them hurrying as fast as they can go — which is not all that fast. They are much faster when they are in the water. That’s good, because the water is full of things that like to eat penguins, like seals and orcas. Maybe they seem so happy when they’re on an iceberg because they are safer when they’re out of the water.

Last of all, it was so warm today that the small iceberg calved. That happened right at sunset, which was about 2:30 this afternoon. I was listening to the crew talking on their radios, and I heard someone on the bridge say, “Can you hear that ice grinding and popping?” I couldn’t hear it, but then the captain said we were going to move away from the iceberg, out to a safer distance. I found Rainy and Ash and told them about all this, and Rainy said, “I bet the iceberg’s going to calve! Let’s go up to the bridge and watch.”

So we got our jackets and went up there. We stood outside watching it for a long time, or so it seemed to me. The sun went down, and it got too dark to take good pictures, so I put my camera in its case. Just then, whoosh, a big chunk of ice fell majestically off of the iceberg and into the ocean. It kicked up a big cloud of ice powder and water spray. We still didn’t hear anything. I guess the wind was blowing the wrong direction. But it was beautiful to watch. I hope we will get to see another calving before we have to leave Antarctica. That day is getting closer and closer. ๐Ÿ™


The Truth About Roxy
21 June 2008, Finney @ 6:56 pm

[This post written 6/21/08; position: lat -58’09”, long -42’36”; temp -6.3C; wind chill -29.9C]

We had a lot of exciting stuff planned for today. But this huge storm came, and it has changed everybody’s schedule. It is hard to safely put expensive equipment over the side of the boat when the waves are 15 feet high, not to mention the fact that somebody might fall overboard. Dude. Up on the bridge today, they measured the wind at 50 miles per hour. The spookiest thing is that the wind made the pack ice start hurtling toward us incredibly fast. When I looked out the porthole this morning, I thought I saw a thin white line of ice far in the distance. I thought maybe it was our iceberg, because I wasn’t sure where we might have traveled to in the night. But when I asked about it, Rob said, “That’s not the iceberg. That’s the pack ice. It’s coming toward us fast.” A couple of hours later, we were practically in the ice. It was moving that fast!

At the science meeting today, Dr. Smith said he was pretty worried about it. If the pack ice catches up with our iceberg, we won’t be able to study it anymore, because the other ice will throw off all the readings. Not to mention it would not be so great to get caught in the ice ourselves. I mean, sure, we are an icebreaker. But even icebreakers have to be careful. The big waves and the wind are pretty cool, though. I took these pictures this morning. Some people got seasick, including Ash, but I have my sea legs very firmly now, I guess, because I am fine. The wind makes howling sounds all around the ship. It is spooky and fun.

To continue with the strange revelations of Strike the Penguin, alias Strike the Avatar, my last post ended with me saying to Strike, “Dude. You’re Old Gib, aren’t you?”

“Well…not precisely,” said Strike, sounding exactly like a scientist. “But I suppose you could say, for practical purposes, yes. To answer the other part of your question, I am here because this is a dangerous moment in time. There is a major decision tree in your immediate future. The branches are huge. If you make the wrong decision…” Here he paused for so long that I began to think he had turned back into an ordinary stuffed penguin again.

“What? What wrong decision?” I practically shouted it.

He sighed again. “This is so dangerous,” he said. “It’s so hard to predict how much you need to know. If you know too much…” Another long pause.

“Oh fer cryin’ out loud,” I said, exasperated. “You’ve already decided I need to know more than I do, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, messing with time like this!”

“True,” he replied.

“Okay, so what do I need to know in order to make the right decision?”

“That’s the trouble,” said Strike. “It’s hard to know what the right decision is.”

“Oh, great,” I said. “Just beautiful.” I thought it over for a few seconds. “Can you at least tell me what it is you want to make sure happens or doesn’t happen? I mean, is it life or death again?”

“Oh, yes, yes, it’s definitely life or death,” said Strike. “Massive life or death, you might say. You see, if Roxy does not become the first President of the World, millions of people will die.”

It was a long, bottomless moment before I managed to squeak out, “What the…?”

“It’s true,” said Strike, and sighed again.

I could see why. I mean, dude. My little sister, President of the World? What would this mean? Bzillions of people forced to play doggy every night before dinner? I cleared my throat. “Uh…please tell me this doesn’t happen until she’s grown up.”

“Of course, of course. She’s a wonderful grown-up woman by the time all this happens, or should happen.”

“Okay. But what does this have to do with what happens to me, right now, on the icebreaker?”

“You know how time is, my friend. I know you know. Everything’s connected. It’s the cosmic spiderweb. What happens in one little corner of time can jiggle all the other parts of it and change everything.”

At that moment, I felt as if I didn’t know anything — in fact, as if I had never known anything in my life, and never would. But that was wrong. I did know one thing. It was time to call a meeting of the Three Musketeers, and without delay.


Old Gib’s Avatar
20 June 2008, Finney @ 7:28 pm

[This post written 6/20/08; position: lat -58’09”, long -42’36”; temp 0C; wind chill -10C]

June 20th turns out to be a very special day in Antarctica. I have been so busy keeping track of ROV launchings and plane flights, lasers and ice caves and weird sea creatures, that I didn’t think about it until this morning, when Adam sent around an email greeting from Palmer Station. June 20th is summer solstice. For all of you on the northern half of the planet, it’s the longest day of the year. I am thinking about that and feeling a little wistful, imagining what it’s like at home right now. In our town, it has probably been a hot day, maybe with some thunder showers, but not enough to cool things down much. Pretty soon, kids climbing trees and playing catch will stop and sniff the air as their parents start barbecues. They will eat dinner outside on screened porches, because it’s too warm to be inside. And when they’re done, they’ll race back out into the neighborhood to meet their friends and play some more before dark. The great thing is, it’ll be a long time before dark. At nine-thirty, the fireflies will just be coming out, because this is the summer solstice — the day when there are more hours of light than on any other day of the year.

But that’s at home. Here in Antarctica, everything is backwards. It’s not the summer solstice. It’s the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year! Believe me, we are not eating outside here. At Palmer Station, the people who are staying in Antarctica all through the long, dark winter are sitting down to a big, fancy dinner with wine tonight, making a celebration out of it. After all, what else could you do? Better than whining about it, as my dad would say. But I haven’t told you the craziest part yet. After dinner, they go out and jump into the sea! I am serious. Dude. The water is -1.5C. That is colder than freezing! I don’t think they are going to let people jump off the Nathaniel B. Palmer. But if they did, I would not be dumb enough to do it. They must be pretty desperate for stuff to do down there!

Before I started thinking about the solstice, I planned to do a post about Dr. Vernet and her diatoms, and I guess I will still do that, especially since diatoms remind me of crystals and ice, so they seem like a good subject for the shortest day of the year.

Diatoms are these tiny, tiny plants that live in water. You can find them in lakes as well as in oceans, like down here. They are so small you can only see them with a microscope. One of the coolest things about them is that they spend their lives in these little structures they make out of silica, which is the same stuff sand and glass is made of. No kidding. These things are so weird they are like from some other planet. In the picture above, the ones on the left are Corethron criophilum. The one on the right is Asteromphalus sp. I hope I spelled those right. Dr. Vernet and her helpers (who are the ones who use all those purple gloves) take water samples every day and look at them all to see what kinds of microscopic life forms they contain. They find some amazing stuff, that’s for sure. Next time I go swimming in the lake, I’m going to be thinking about what else might be in there with me that I can’t even see!

Of course, you probably are also waiting to hear about what happened next with Strike. As you probably recall, he had just announced that he was from the future, which did not surprise me at all. How else could he be warning me about things before they happen?

After he said that, I said, “All right, but that’s only half the answer. How did you get here? And why did you come?”

He sighed. Seriously. It was a sigh, even though he probably has no lungs. “You sent me,” he said. “I probably should not have told you that.” He sounded so miserable I almost felt sorry for him.

I sent you? You mean, Old Gib sent you?” I was referring to my future self. The one who grows up to be a scientist and invents the unner, which makes it possible for me to save my sister Roxy’s life. Unless you have read The Power of Un, you don’t know how weird I turn out to be. It’s like this. When I first met Old Gib in the woods near our house, I thought he was a homeless ax murderer. I have a lot of trouble thinking of Old Gib as in any way related to me. “Why did he send you instead of just coming himself?” Which is what he did last time. He came in person to deliver the unner to me. And I have reason to believe he did some other things, too, while he was at it. Or I did them while I was at it, depending on your preferred point of view.

“It’s too hard to come back in person. It’s easier to send an avatar, like Strike,” said Strike.

“An avatar,” I repeated, feeling dense. As far as I know, an avatar is the character you pretend to be in an online game or an RPG. I did not get how Strike could be an avatar. At least not at first. Then I started thinking. An avatar can’t do anything on its own. It is just a substitute for the real person who is actually playing the game.

“Dude,” I said, as the truth hit me. “You’re Old Gib, aren’t you!”


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