Skip navigation

GOLF 4-3-9 Antarctica Expedition 2010



Arrivals Height
Ross Island
0 m above sea level

Diving at McMurdo is an incredible experience. There is so much to learn about diving under the ice, even if you trained hard in San Diego. There is so much to see and study, and it is an amazing amount of fun to hang out with the McMurdo dive team, Rob Robbins, Steve Rupp, Brenda Konar and Adam Marsh. They were the best diving buddies one can imagine. As a novice diver I did not take any photographs or video footage at all. Steve and Rob did it for me - all the images in this report are theirs.

Learning how to dive in McMurdo is fun and sometimes humbling. While I was clearly the one who “learned the most” it is just good to know that I am not the only one making mistakes. There is always something that goes wrong, and it takes constant vigilance and checking each other so mistakes can be avoided. My first time out under the ice I was at war with my mask that did not seal properly and was constantly fogged up. Polish the glass with toothpaste! Duh! Did that, solved the problem. The next dive was a lot easier and I could focus on some technique. In the end of that dive, I practiced to exchange regulators, and I was amazed how numb my mouth was and how difficult it was how to wrap my mouth around the alternate. All went well and this is really not a problem but it is surprising how difficult it is at first. Then, there are so many things to watch out for, and a good number of mistakes happen when you rush, or when you are distracted by excited dive tenders who ask too many questions. My biggest booboo was to accidentally unzip my dry suit when I zipped the second zipper over it. I flooded my suit with freezing water and I had to terminate my dive shortly after I went down. Missed out on two fantastic dives that way. Ah well, I had a number of great dives anyway.

All these lessons and experiences, as well as the training in San Diego paid off. We saw so much and accomplished everything that needed to be done. The area around McMurdo is well known for its giant barrel sponges, many of which are lined up and growing right next to a sunken gang-plank that was used by ships tied up near Arrivals Heights in the late fifties. This means that these sponges actually grew in the last 50 years to their full size! It is very interesting to explore the under-side of the sea-ice. It is made of blade-like crystals that offer protection for some tiny fish. When you exhale, the air pools in this forest of ice crystals. If you touch them they very easily break off and float around. It is particularly interesting that the sea-ice curves around as it approaches the shore line, becoming thicker as it is grounded to the shore line. There is also some ground ice, ice crystals growing from the bottom up, defining a ten meter wide carpet of up to 30cm long ice crystals in most beautiful shapes. Another very interesting sight are the brinecicles. They are like stalactites hanging down from the sea-ice formed by supercooled brine that forms in the sea-ice and ultimately sinks by gravity into seawater below the ice, and promptly freezes it as it hits the near-freezing seawater.

I was constantly amazed by the many beautiful life forms either on the seafloor and in the water. It is really special to see a Weddell seal swim by, curiously checking you out, being absolutely certain that you are neither prey nor predator (good thing, too). There are the most beautiful medusas, starfish, corals, worms….

Finally it was time to recover our experiments. Our exposure baskets were at 90 feet depth, on a rock that was full of life, in particular seastars but also some cold water corals, sea-cucumbers etc. To recover them we prepared a sealable box from an old military first aid kit, cleaned it out, sterilized it and filled it with distilled water. We are using the same trick when we dive in the ocean by submersible or ROV. There we call it a “biobox”. We transferred our SCUBA biobox into the water and did not open it until we got to our site. When opened at depth the distilled water exchanges quickly for the local seawater. The to be retrieved experiment was placed into the box, the box sealed and brought up. We decided on this procedure to avoid sample contamination in the dive hole. These dive holes concentrate all kinds of potential contamination, brought in by the divers and the seals that consider these holes theirs to do whatever they please. They like to come up at the dive holes to breathe, sometimes carrying their catch of the day, half chewed. Not so good for our experiments. They were successfully retrieved from their very scenic setting and transferred to the laboratory, where they were prepared for analysis.

Greetings from Hubert Staudigel (Hotel Sierra)