FORWARD BASE B

"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

A Documentary: Diving Under the Antarctic Ice Sheet

I sometimes watch documentaries about far off things and by following my curiosity feel struck by a spiritual sense of wonder.  It’s the total opposite of the heavy ashen feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when someone is watching one of those “reality” shows or a sitcom with a laugh track.  One feels divine, the other feels banal and dreary as snack cake wrappers on the sidewalk.

I recently found this documentary about diving under the Antarctic Ice.

There’s a smoldering black volcano, frosted in white, Mount Erebus, looming over their wind-savaged ice sheet.
There’s the cozy McMurdo base that feels like a colony on another planet.

The film shows what the crew has to deal with trying to film there, it’s not just nature footage disconnected from their struggle.
There’s logistics we’d normally never think about.  Because the ice changes constantly, a route that was safe for vehicles at the last survey might not be anymore.  Even getting to the locations they want to shoot at comes with substantial dangers.
Their leader seems extremely patient and after decades of experience pretty much unflappable.  Even when being told bad news he just respectfully listens.  They have a task to accomplish, not make-work, so whining doesn’t help.

Once they start diving, it’s amazing how there’s plenty of life below thriving in an eerie glow of light filtered through tons of ice.  I’ve been fascinated by these creatures ever since I read as a kid that they actually have anti-freeze in their blood.   Growing like coral on the ocean floor are these formations of ice crystals, the points where freeze battles thaw.  They find actual tubes of ice formed by sea water passing through currents of melting fresh water. The divers can only spend about 20 minutes even with heavy duty suits.  And again there’s details we’d never think about—even with all their gear, their lips are still directly exposed to the sub-freezing water.
There’s just a short time they can do their work in the spring when they have enough sunlight and the waters are still among the clearest in the world, they can see a quarter mile in the dim light!  They don’t have long before plankton and algae blooms cloud up the water for the summer.

I looked up some things on life in Antarctica and discovered that McMurdo base always has at least one bar open and signs in each building telling people the conditions outside, whether it’s even permissible to go out.  Mount Erebus actually has a volcanology lab on top.

The skyline of McMurdo base at night, lit up it seems like a real town.

The skyline of McMurdo base at night, lit up it seems like a real town.

 

Apparently something like 5000 people live in Antarctica in the summer, closer to 1000 in the winter.  There is still no such thing as an Antarctican, there have been 10 people born there since 1978, as close as we get for now.

It’s obvious watching this film that these people are operating in environments almost completely hostile to human life.  Suddenly all the talk of moonbases and mars colonies seems quite silly.
Even life in Antarctica right here on earth is impractical.  Or look at all the uninhabited deserts and mountains in pretty much every country on Earth.  Not that many people are willing to live in Montana let alone on Mars.
I suppose the next frontier might simply be to develop technologies that open up marginal lands and make people less dependent on centralized grids.
At present all the trends point to urbanization and the more people are forced to live in the center to find jobs and mates, the more control the rulers will have, just as Pharaohs had over peasants stuck on a narrow fertile strip by the Nile surrounded by desert.

3 responses to “A Documentary: Diving Under the Antarctic Ice Sheet

  1. Alrenous December 13, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Antarctica, deep ocean. Lots of places to test a moonbase prototype. Asteroids have super-easy mining once you can get there, but it’s hard to see what’s economically attractive about putting industry in another deep gravity well that doesn’t even come with a comfy blanket. I dunno, maybe there’s something.

    • Giovanni Dannato December 13, 2015 at 6:34 am

      When there are few moonbases in Antarctica I have but little hope for moonbases on the moon.
      I did some reading on the station at the actual South Pople, Amundsen-Scott base. Apparently, even McMurdo station is a tropical paradise by comparison. They’ve experimented with growing hydroponic crops, but it’s just a supplement, not even close to a mainstay. Even on earth, the temperatures get so low on a bad day that even the jet fuel they rely on for warmth can start to freeze, precipitating a crisis among the residents.
      Check out the Antarctic Sun sometime.

  2. Sam J. December 19, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    I don’t know if I posted this before. I don’t think so but your post on habitats reminded me of this. We can harness the temperature difference in the tropical sea with a vortex power plant. After one plant is built it can be used to create floating islands with the power plants electricity. The electricity can be used to make concrete (actually Carbocrete) to make more vortex islands. It’s a exponential function. Getting bigger and bigger faster and faster so that theoretically you could make enough islands with greater than first world power consumption and living standards for every person on the planet in fifteen years.

    http://www.powermag.com/harnessing-energy-from-upward-heat-convection/

    http://vortexengine.ca/index.shtml

    You really should read this by James Bowery it’s terribly interesting and shows the power of exponential function processes and what they can do. It’s a mental sketch of how to build the Islands.

    http://jimbowery.blogspot.com/2014/05/introduction-extinction-of-human-race.html

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