Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sea Ice Science

Recently I went out on the sea ice with a group of scientists to help them perform some tests on the breaking strength of sea ice. In this photo our camp is a small dot in the middle and we are about 400m from the edge of the sea ice. What the group does, is using a huge chainsaw (as seen below) cut out a block (not the one he is cutting there but the final product is the next photo) of ice 15ft by 30ft and isolate it so that it is floating free from the rest of the surrounding ice.
Then a small inflatable plate and a bunch of little monitors(I have no idea what other word to use) are put into the ice along with video cameras. The cutting, clearing of ice, and getting the machines hooked up can take somewhere are 4 to 7 hours depending on weather and if everything is working correctly. Eventually the small plate is inflated and the ice will break in two. That takes about 6 seconds at the most. As exciting as this sounds, it wasn't that exciting(I think I was hoping for an explosion and then two icebergs to float to the surface rolling over and over threatening to drown everyone in the wash) but according to the scientists the data they collected that day was the best of the season and my helping out was useful.

For me the real exciting part of the day was when the penguins showed up. From what appeared to be out of nowhere, we would be working and then these little guys(Adelie penguins) would show up just to check us out. As seen in the photo below, they were super curious and would get within just a few feet of you. Throughout the day about 20 of them camp into our camp, would check us out for a little while and then get bored and head off somewhere else.

The Adelie are super fun but eventually an Emperor penguin ended up waddling over. The Emperors are probably three times as big as the Adelies and probably about 80lbs. This one was by itself and seemed a little reluctant to come quite as close but still within about 15 ft. In all I probably watched penguins for about three hours of an 18 hour work day. The weather was beautiful, science was getting done, I helped out where I could, and was once again blown away by these amazing little animals in their natural habitat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


From south pole I took a couple three hour flights to two different automated geophysical observatory (AGO) sites. Yes the entire flight looked like the photo above except when the windows would frost over and you couldn't see anything. The AGOs are located at a minimum of 300 miles away from Pole on the Eastern Antarctica Plateau. I was located at 85 degrees south latitude and 45 degrees longitude at an elevation of about 6200ft for about a week. The photo below is of AGO2 but of the four that are functional, there used to be six but two have gotten buried by drifting snow, you probably couldn't tell any difference, they look the same. There is a small building that holds all the electronic gear and the a couple of wind generators to keep the place running in the winter when solar power doesn't work. We set up a couple of tents for the week but other otherwise that is about it. My job out there is to find old caches of food, gear, or fuel laying around out there from when the air force installed the facility and then dig it up. I also helped raise the hut up which was being buried by snow drifts. It took us two days to do it but as you can kind of see it is now several feet above the snow.
The last photo is of me at AGO3, located at about 10,000ft. To work at this site we had to just do a day trip because it is quite a pain in the butt for the small airplanes to fly that far away with a ton of gear. We made it a quick trip rather than no trip at all. As you can see this hut is a little lower then the other one. My job at this site was to dig things up while the scientists fixed the machines. As you can see by how pink my face is I have been outside all day getting sun burnt. The working temp was -35 so I just shoveled until I needed food or water and then would keep shoveling. At those temps I get very cold very quickly if I am not doing something. The good thing is that when I returned to McMurdo a few days later and it was 30F it felt like it was the middle of the summer.I really liked working at the AGO sites. There is nothing out there but I stayed busy helping the scientists and digging things up. It was by far the most remote I have ever been in my life and it felt like I was finally in Antarctica. When the plane flew away there was nothing as far as the eye could see, just a horizon line that is hard to tell what is land and what is sky. Pretty cool to think that the closest thing was a three hour flight away.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Well I conquered yet another remote corner of the world and I am heading to an even more remote one today. This is all I can do for now as I am in a super rush but Pole is a trip. Good people, good food and a place that feels like I am living in a spaceship. Here is a photo of me in the old dome that is buried and being dismantled and another photo of a small tunnel connecting two areas where all moisture just freezes.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Haunted House

So recently I had the opportunity to visit two of three old huts that are scattered around Ross Island. Both huts were built around the turn of the century either by Shackleton or Scott expeditions that were trying to cross Antarctica or go to the South Pole. The huts are in pretty amazing condition considering how old they are. The two pictures above are from the hut at Cape Evans. This is were Scott based out of when he went to the South Pole and then died on the way back. Inside the hut it was as if everyone just got up and left for the day and never returned. I am not sure if the penguin on the table is food or for an experiment. Inside this hut they had stables, a dark room, other little science labs, the cooking area, sleeping area and a huge table for everyone to eat at. The bad thing was that the lighting wasn't that great so it felt a little ire inside since it was such a ghost town. Just for a reference in the photo of the hut it is probably about three in the morning on a very cloudy night.

There is another hut located at Cape Royds which was used in one of Shackleton's expeditions when he was trying to cross the continent. The hut is very cool and my photos wouldn't download for some reason but maybe the will eventually get up there. The good thing is that there is an Adelie penguin colony right there which had probably a couple hundred penguins just hanging out getting ready to breed. It smelled pretty bad but those little guys are pretty funny to just sit and watch. They will steal rocks from each other to build nests and also a lot of wing flapping and making noise.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Field Trip

I am going to try to crank out four posts this month as a certain friend wants me to break the current record of three. For the past two weeks I went out to a field camp and helped some scientists in the Granite Harbor area which is about an hour flight from McMurdo to the northwest. The group was doing some seismic testing to hopefully find a good area to drill into the earth and take core samples. My job out there was to monitor the sea ice and make sure that we all didn't get blown out to see if it started to break up. The good thing was that while I was out there the ice was actually really stable. The bad thing was that it made my job kind of boring as there wasn't too much to check. I did screw around with my camera taking black and white photos so you all get to look at some that came out okay. The first is of the scientists raising an airgun out of the water after it just shot out a giant air bubble that then bounced off the sea floor bottom and the bounced back up to the surface and was recorded by a bunch of fancy microphones. Depending on what the microphones read you can tell what are the different types of sediment in the earth. It is an interesting process for about five minutes and we did it for a couple weeks.
This photo is of a tabular iceberg, which is a giant chunk of ice that broke off a glacier that is floating in the ocean. This one is probably a couple hundred feet high and maybe a quarter mile square. Some of them can be over a mile long and they will just break off and the float around in the sea ice. Eventually they either get stuck in the ice for another winter like this one, which as you can see has ice all around it, or float out to the ocean to melt. You feel very small next to them except when you get to fly around them in a helicopter.
Here are a couple of shots from the area surrounding camp, we had some pretty beautiful skies while I was out there. Actually, I would call this place the Bermuda Triangle of Antarctica because my time was characterized by amazing weather when everyone else on the continent was getting horrible weather, and the Triangle part of the name is that nine out of eleven machines broke down while we were out there, some of them more than once requiring an enormous amount of time and energy to get them back up and running.

Monday, October 22, 2007


This is a more recent adventure I got to partake in which very few people down here have the ability to do. Because I am on the Search and Rescue team I was able to fly out to some remote field camps on a reconnaissance trip to have some terrain familiarity and also know where the resources are located if we ever need to actually do a rescue. I was fortunate to head to the Dry Valleys which are across McMurdo Sound on Antarctica. I can now say I have been to Antarctica and not just to a big island that is really far south. There is a fair amount of science that happens in the Valleys but I don't know what it is right now because none of those scientists have arrived yet. Right now it is just seal and penguin researchers and then folks studying the atmosphere. When I find out what happens in the dry valleys I will let everyone know. In the meantime I will just have to talk about how awesome my flight was. We were in the air for about 3 hours total and got to fly over the sea ice edge and see open water and then fly around in these enormous valleys that have a bunch of exposed rock, kind of unusual down here as most things are covered in ice, and then see the gigantic ice sheets that surround them. This place is beautiful when you get away from McMurdo, even on short walks or trips in a vehicle out on the sea ice, but especially really far away in a helicopter. It was another mind blowing experience and a place that I would hope to get out and actually walk around some day. The top left photo is of the Goldman Glacier that lives above Lake Hoare, in the Taylor Valley. It is probably a couple miles wide and like most glaciers down here is still advancing.
The middle photo is of a random mountain, that I don't know the name of, that sticks up in the middle of the of the Taylor Glacier. The Taylor Glacier is huge, bigger than anything I have been on in Alaska at least where this photo is taken, probably about 15 miles across. I just really liked band of rock that ran through the middle of the mountain which exists in the final photo as well but is just hidden under the ice. The last photo is of an icefall, which I don't have the name of, where ice from the the eastern continental ice shelf is funneled into and then pushed over that cliff into the Upper Wright Glacier. It is probably about 5 miles across at the bottom edge of the photo. In the left hand corner of this photo you can see a white could coming down off the upper glacier. The winds were very strong over there and this is a giant cloud of blowing snow. This whole area is a giant specially managed area that is off limits to almost everyone. When you go in there you have to carry out all your waste including pee and poop so as to not leave a trace. This is somewhat of a surprise since McMurdo is one giant trace from both the military days and even now during the National Science Foundation rein, although things are getting better from what I hear.


I am getting emails from friends that are saying they enjoy reading about my adventures so I guess I will continue to keep posting stories. This story actually took place over a month ago but I have been busy so I haven't written about it until now. One night at dinner I was talking with some friends about birthdays and I mentioned that I already had my birthday and everyone said I should just make up a day and have an"ice birthday". What happened was that they decided to have one for me. The party was billed as a "Showgirls" party where we were all going to sit around and watch the special 10 year anniversery edition of showgirls the movie, a terrible movie but really funny to laugh at. Little did I know but it was also my surprise birthday party. A bunch of people were invited but only one or two people there actually knew it wasn't my birthday. It was a giant surprise party for everyone, both me and all the guests that were just trying to celebrate my entry into the world. My three friends that made the whole thing up thought it was the best thing ever and all night long I played the role of the birthday boy. We ended up going to the bar and everybody bought me drinks. It was great. There was live music, dancing, and everyone had a fun night and not until the morning did they find out it wasn't my birthday. The photo here is probably the best photo to show a party down here. I am the dressed up pimp in the corner on the left. The photo has everything, young, old, hippies, blue-collar, hipsters, people dressed up. Everything.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Wildlife siting

Antarctica has been great but one day this week was by far the highlight of my experience down here. I took a group out onto the sea ice to do some drilling and gain some practical experience and while we were out there we got to see some emperor penguins. To my knowledge it is the first ones that have been seen this year.

At first we were just driving along and noticed something moving in the distance and decided to get a little closer. I had seen some seals but they are kind of like big blobs just laying on the ice, interesting but kind of like looking at a lion in the zoo that is sleeping on a hot day. As we got closer we could see they were penguins making there journey to the ocean after a long winter out in the middle of nowhere. There were about ten of them waddling along sometimes sliding on their bellies in single file like a they were on a mission. We stopped our vehicle about a half a kilometer away and walked to get a little closer, stopping about 200m away from them. All of a sudden one in the back of the line noticed us and changed course to check us out. Soon enough they were all on their way. About ten feet away from us they stopped and bunched up, us looking at them and us checking them out. We were only able to sit there for about 20 minutes before we had to move on but those little guys absolutley blew my mind. They had zero fear of us and wanted see what we were doing out there.
Also of note this week I got to teach a happy camper school and we had temperatures of -55 with wind chill. It was pretty damn cold out there but our students were great, working together to set up camps and learn how cook and nobody got frostbite. A few students along with myself did get a little bit of frostnip but that is how it goes in these enviroments. It happens superquick at the extreme temperatures and if nobody is looking at you to tell you that your cheeks are white you don't notice. Pretty crazy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What the hell do i actually do here?

So it has now been about a month since I arrived in Antarctica. Time is flying by. Only five more to go. I am sure someone out there might be wondering what it is I actually do on a daily basis. For those that are wondering--at least about the work day--this blog entry is for you. Some days, I spend the majority of the day inside, organizing gear for a class, or doing some office task like filling out a timesheet. Timesheets seem to take me awhile. It can be challenging trying to properly describe an activity when the catergories I am given to allocate time are somewhat limited. As for the gear, there are so many different departments down here, I can spend half a day trying to pull everything together for a two day trip, and the same returning it all when we get back. Anytime we leave the base, we have to take a "survival bag" for every two people on the trip. The survival bag has a camp stove, two sleeping bags, some foam pads for insulation, a tent, and then some other random stuff so that if your vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you can hopefully survive long enough for someone to come and get you. Anyway, we usually have classes with about 10 to 12 students, so we need a bunch of bags, and you constantly have to load them and unload them because you never know what vehicle you will be in. Logistics and prep seem to be a fair amount of my job.

When I am not doing that, I am teaching classes. Right now, there are three types of classes. One is called, "happy camper", another is a sea ice class, and lastly, there is a refresher. The refresher, is the class for returning folks who just come in for four hours, set up a tent inside, lite a stove, watch some videos, and listen to me babble for a while.

In the sea ice class, we get new people who, as part of there job, need to travel on the sea ice. We start class with a little powerpoint show describing the sea ice and how it forms and where it typically cracks and what to look for when you are driving around. That lasts about an hour, and then we go out for the rest of the day and drill holes in the ice. McMurdo base is actually located on Ross Island. I have yet to actually go to the continent of Antarctica, I have been to Ross Island. A lot of research takes place out on the frozen ocean that surrounds the ice. The sea ice is also where the planes land and take off, as long as the ice isn't melting of course. At some point during the year, the ice will become too thin for planes to land, and the runway will be moved to a permanent ice shelf that is more expensive to operate from. So my job isn't to test the ice for the runway, but I do help get information for roads and tell other people where to put roads and stuff like that. During the sea ice class, I will take students out to an area where we need some data. Some of it is "off established roadways" so they get a view of what it would be like to travel in new terrain, and some is just checking existing roads that are already starting to have cracks form in them. Where there are cracks, we drill down to find out how thick the ice is, and see if it is safe for a vehicle to travel across. It isn't rocket science, but it is pretty fun.

At happy camper school, I teach people how to use all the stuff in a survival bag. We set up tents, build snow walls with a saw and shovel in the bag. We will dig a snow shelter that looks similar to an igloo, and then teach them how to cook. That, and a slide show about frostbite and hypothermia, are roughly day one of a two day course. It is a full day, and people are pretty tired, especially if the weather is bad. For day two, we talk about how things went, teach them how to use a very high frequency(VHF) and a HF radio, and then give them a scenario where they have to set everything up pretty quick. Most people seem to love happy camper. It is their opportunity to get out camping away from the base, and do something different. It is a challenge, but one they are happy to face and over come. Some people do have an absolutely miserable experience, where they don't sleep, are always cold, and just want to get it over with so they can tell their friends the horror stories.

The classes are fun, and a good way to meet people. It also helps that it is a way I can get off base, and I get to bring other folks with me, which makes people really happy. Here are a couple of photos, one of me laying next to a mumified Weddell Seal, and another of a friend drilling during a sea ice class.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Daily life

I wanted to include some photos of things that I get to see daily that at first were very funny, but are now just the norm. Hopefully, they will be funny to you as well. The first one is a sign in the bathroom. Everything that gets thrown away has its own place; bio waste is just one of the many trash containers we have that the janitorial staff has to empty. You don't want to screw up where you put things, because it makes sorting all the stuff a disgusting pain in the butt. The second is the United States Antarctica Program(USAP) symbol. It is on everything. It is still pretty cool. The third is a little piece of art that is on someone's door. The rumor mill, is exactly what McMurdo is. People having nothing to talk about other than their job and what other people are doing. It is pretty crazy. Lastly, I threw in a photo of myself at a superhero-themed party. I went as FDX man. FDX are the big boots that I have on my feet. My power was to keep peoples feet warm.

To a certain degree all is quiet on the southern front. Work starts at 7:30 and goes until 5:30 and the normal work week is Monday through Saturday. It doesn't leave a lot of time in the day to do stuff, and the weekend, Sunday, is spent recovering from the work week and Saturday night. Work has been going well. I have been getting out onto the sea ice and trying to do some measurements to make sure we can put in a road. I say "try", because twice now, the expedition has been thwarted by vehicle malfunctions. Everyone just says "it is part of being down here", "Antarctica is a harsh continent", but those just kind of seem like excuses to me. Coming from NOLS, it is hard for me to see the value in going out to do a job, and just having to turn around and come back, accomplishing nothing with the energy I expend. On an expedition, everything has a purpose and a pretty direct outcome. The rewards seem so tangible. I wonder whether I need to shift my thinking to, "this is just how things run down here", or if it's possible to make changes in the system. Chao

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


By popular demand, and I think it is because people are assuming that if they send me something I will send them something with an Antartica stamp on it, I am posting my mailing address. No wait a second, people just want to send me things because that is what nice people do, hence why I didn't think of it. Anyway, here ya go
Galen Dossin
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

Feel free to send whatever and I don't think postage rates are that bad. It is the same as sending something to California. As of now I don't have any requests but some of you probably know me better than I know myself.
Some folks also wanted a shot of McMurdo, so that is the top photo and the bottom is of Mt. Erabus, I think it is the southern most active volcano and right around the corner from town. It is constantly putting out a bunch of little puffs.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Lunar eclipses are stupid

So the other night I had one of the more amazing evenings that I can remember. Now, some of you might be thinking that I met my future wife, and we stayed up late talking and getting to know each other, and now we can barely stand to be apart. For those of you that had thoughts like this, I am sorry that we haven't communicated enough and you are able to jump to this sort of conclusion, but people that know me well might see where this entry is headed. On the night of the 28th there was a scheduled lunar eclipse, and around 9:00 that night a group of us decided to leave the main buildings and go for a walk to try to see the eclipse without all the lights of town. When we left, the moon was clouded over, but you could see through the clouds that the shadow of the earth was starting to pass across the moon's face. It didn't seem like it would be that great of a show, but we decided to wait and hope for the best. After what seemed like an eternity, the moon was eclipsed, with just a penumbra glowing around the edges; and at just about the same time, the clouds started to part. We had a crystal clear view of the moon and because it was so dark we could also start to see the Aurora Australis. At first, it was just little hazy spots of green not doing much, but it turned into a full show with serpentine-like creatures writhing across the sky and tornados of green spinning overhead. The spectacle lasted about a half hour before fizzling out. We just lay on the ground in -10 temps with almost no wind, soaking the whole thing up. I have seen the Northern Lights a few times, and this wasn't the best show I have ever seen, but needless to say, it was very impressive. I don't think I even bothered to look at the eclipse when I turned and walked home. Perfect. I also included a nice photo from the inside of the c-17. That is what the flight from New Zealand looked like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gone Down

Hola amigos, this being the first time I have actually written on my B-log, I feel I have a little bit of catching up to do since Jake so graciously set this up for me. My time in Michigan seeing friends and family was great. Denver and orientation with Raytheon were rather pointless other than the fact that I was getting paid. Shortly after my little stint in Denver about 50 of us boarded a commercial plane and flew to Christchurch, New Zealand. Here is where the story might get remotely interesting. In Christchurch I was getting paid my normal salary and also a per diem of about $200 a day. Finally, I was able to live like the king I am. In New Zealand I tried to load up on good fresh food, enjoy the weather, and soak up as much live vegetation as possible. In between doing that, I got a ton of gear called ECW ( Extreme Cold Weather gear) and packed up my things to leave. On my scheduled morning of departure I received a phone call at 3:00am (normal departure time was 3:30am since the flight is 5hrs and the sun is now setting around 3pm) saying that our flight was delayed for the next 24hrs. What this meant was that I had a day off with more per diem money. Some friends and I quickly rented a car and drove to the Hanmer Hot Springs where we basted for a few hours, and then indulged in some more fine dining back in Christchurch, all on the company dollar. The next morning I had to get up and actually go to work, which meant a flight on a C-17 (see photo above, which is when we landed and are deplaning) which as I mentioned before is about 5 hrs sitting in a very loud giant tin can with no views; lots of fun as you can imagine. After landing, we drove in an enormous bus, "Ivan the Terra bus"(you can probably Google a photo of that) to McMurdo where we were given a room and some time to settle in. That was yesterday. The other photo is of my first sunset. After the sun sets it takes about another 2 hours for the light to go away, which means that we have somewhere around 9 hours of usable light but are gaining about 10 minutes of sunlight a day this time of year. As for temperatures, it is pretty cold, highs of +1 to lows of-10 with wind chill bringing it to around -35. That is the quick version of the past month of my life.

Here are some of my thoughts on the whole process, from hiring to now being down here. I first put in for this job (working as a field safety instructor) as just some kind of change. NOLS has been amazing, but to a certain degree I feel like I have hit a plateau, at least working as much as I have been. The Raytheon hiring process and working two courses this summer was really challenging, but with a ton of help from my personal secretary (thanks, Jake) this job seemed to just fall in my lap. This hasn't been a lifelong goal but is something that came around at just the right time and is a welcome change. Seeing the differences between a huge global corporation and a smaller but also worldwide non-profit has been interesting. Raytheon is a machine and I have felt almost zero investment in personal care from the company. It has only been through the good graces of experienced folks that this process has been enjoyable; otherwise I might be wondering why I am down here. Some NOLS folks might recognize that same attitude, but there are certain perks I have recently experienced like having travel completely paid for, and receiving food and lodging money as opposed to paying for it. With NOLS, I feel as if students are welcomed and given personal treatment and everyone is excited about making a course an experience that is unforgettable, and Raytheon is not concerned about that and seems more focused on providing things that will keep people working. Just some ideas.

As for Antarctica, I feel as if I could be anywhere in the United States, and have more creature comforts than I have had in years. There is a gym, a bowling alley, a ceramics room, an arts and crafts room, a climbing wall and a cafeteria that serves three meals a day. There are also tons of big ugly buildings, roads, and power lines everywhere that are certain to obstruct the most amazing views. People come in all shapes and sizes, which for some means incredibly obese, which leaves me often wondering what that person's job is, because I want it. This is not to say that everyone needs to be a skinny workout freak like myself, but more that my expectations were blown away in that anyone and everyone has the ability to come down here and work. It is only when you leave a building and the cold wind slaps you in the face and stings your lungs that it actually feels like you are at the end of the earth. That, and when you take the time to walk away from the buildings, even just a few minutes so you can't hear the hum of the diesel generators or see the power lines, do you get unbelievable views of enormous tracts of wilderness. I am excited about flying around in helicopters in a month when the scientists that I am supposed to keep safe show up, but for the time being I am going to be teaching people on the base how to keep themselves and their co-workers from getting some sort of cold injury, monitoring an ice road, and doing some search and rescue training. Abrazos a todo

Sunday, August 5, 2007

out of Alaska

Galen has left the state! That's right he has begin the multi-day and multi-thousand mile journey down South. Galen had a great send off meal last night at Bombay Deluxe restaurant in Anchorage (which he also graciously paid for surreptitiously, thanks Galen!). Today Galen is at home in Michigan and his next leg of the trip will take him to Denver, then Christchurch, NZ where he will wait for a C-130 (large 4 engine cargo plane) to take him to the lowest continent, when the weather allows. For an update on his mouth: Galen is back on a full diet of soft and stabby food.
Galen promised to put his Antarctica address on the blog when he get it. He said priority mail can get there in as little as 3 days. (we'll see about that)
That's all for now.
Signing off for Galen,

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Hello again all!
Well Galen is really feeling better. I saw him eat something crunchy this evening. He is on the mend.
Recently Galen ate a tortilla chip by letting it marinate in salsa for 15 minutes.
It's good to have him back.
More later,

Sunday, July 29, 2007

number 2

HI Everyone,
Jake here again. I thought I would update you all as Galen has been under the weather a bit. Galen needed to have two wisdom teeth taken out. He has been sleeping a bunch the last couple days. Word on the street is that he is feeling better today. Lets hope so.
OK that's the update.

Friday, July 27, 2007

First Post

This is Galen's friend Jake. I started this Blog for Galen (because he does not know how to use a computer). We all hope that Galen will find a few free moments to keep us all up to date with what he is up to while way down south. To the left is a photo of Galen taken on a short trip to the Harding Ice Field in April '07. As you can see he takes his umbrella with him everywhere. He will probably even take it to Antarctica (even though it will never rain). OK, that's it. Check back for more posts coming soon (we hope).