Antarctic Journey


World’s Fair has been dormant for some time now. Sincere apologies to those who had been following it. We are reactivating it in conjunction with a project called “Antarctica: Persistence of Vision”. The project is part of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writer’s Program: a science outreach program designed to combine art and science as a way to highlight and promote the beauty and value of Antarctica and the scientific research going on there. At the moment, Dr. Trish Suchy and I, both from Louisiana State University, are waiting in a hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand for a flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

So far we’ve been delayed by 3 days for weather. Flights to Antarctica do not go unless almost everything is perfect for the entire trip – and are known to “boomerang”, which means to turn back mid-flight if the weather in Antarctica changes during the 8 hour flight from New Zealand. Collaborators on our project from the University of Wisconsin were boomeranged two days ago, but are now in Antarctica.

“Antarctica: Persistence of Vision” is a project that is attempting to show the arc of exploration and scientific research from the past to the present in Antarctica. Scott, Shackleton and many of the other “Heroic Age” explorers performed a significant amount of research on their expeditions. They also typically had professional photographers included in the expeditions, one of the most famous being Herbert Ponting who photographed Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition. We (Trish and I) are going to be re-enacting some of the most iconic of these photographs using modern researchers and modern settings. Where there might be a sled in a Heroic Age photo, there will be a snowmobile in ours. The modern lab at McMurdo, called Crary Lab, will be the site for re-enacting photos of scientists who did research in the originally established base camps and huts in the area. We’ll also be extending our photo-re-enactments into a newer technical form called video portraiture. Artists like Bill Viola and Robert Wilson (Voom Portraits) have used video portraiture extensively. Basically one films an extreme slow motion video loop, so that what looks like a photograph at first glance is seen to be moving upon further inspection. One can play with many factors in the video portraits including how static or dynamic they are. They are typically accompanied by a soundscape, usually music.

At the moment, we are simply waiting for a flight in Christchurch. Our originally scheduled flight has been postponed about 6 times over the past 72 hours due to weather in Antarctica. Each time we get a delay phone call it can be for anywhere between 2 hrs and 24 hrs. During our wait we’ve met a number of people from the USAP (US Antarctic Program), along with a number of subcontractors going to the Ice for various jobs, and a few of the other grantees as well. These seem to be the 3 main population groups: USAP (including both higher level administrative positions through to managerial and support staff), subcontractors (working on a variety of projects, and not all commercial subcontractors, these include groups like the Air National Guard (ANG) who run the flights), and grantees (people doing federally funded science and science-outreach projects).

Each time we get delayed it increases our sense of detachment and feeling of being in suspended animation. Not quite in the “outside” world but not quite in Antarctica yet either.

There are 3 weather conditions in Antarctica: Conditions 1, 2 and 3. Condition 3 is all clear, low wind and “relatively” okay temperatures (actual definition: wind less than 48 knots and temperature warmer than -75F). Condition 2 is called when any one of the following is true: wind speed 48-55 knots, temperature -75 to -100F, or visibility less than ¼ mile. Planes don’t fly in Condition 2, and that is apparently what has been happening there for the past 3 days. Condition 1 is a serious storm, when any condition 2 wind or temperature criterion is exceeded or visibility goes to less than 100 feet. No one is allowed to leave the station in Condition 1 without approval from the Station Manager, and even travel within the station can be restricted. It seems like the definitions are backwards (that 1 should be “best” weather and 3 should be worst, but interestingly they are defined in the 3, 2, 1 direction instead). Once McMurdo gets some consistent Condition 3 weather again, we’ll be able to start our 8 hour flight from New Zealand. Stay tuned for further updates and photos.

Just a little update:  since this post went up our flight has been postponed first for 24 hours, then by 4 hours, then by 2 hours, then by another 24 hours, then by 4 hours, then by 2 hours, then by another 2 hours, then by another 24 hours.  We are currently scheduled to fly tomorrow.  Apparently although delays are normal, this is even a record for "regulars" who are flying with us and who have been to Antarctica up to a dozen times.

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