Preparing for a trip to 'the other Pole'

Preparing for a trip to 'the other Pole'

December 6th, 2011 Thom Benson in News

Dr. James McClintock near Palmer Station Antarctica

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Thom Benson with the Tennessee Aquarium has a close encounter with "Pepper," one of the aquarium's macaroni penguins

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

My mind has been wandering a bit lately. While many people are thinking about the North Pole during December, I've been counting down the days until an Tennessee Aquarium member's trip leaves for Antarctica. This will be a voyage of science and exploration. We'll be travelling with Dr. James McClintock Professor of Polar and Marine Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. McClintock's research is based out of Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula.

I have always been fascinated with polar exploration for a variety of reasons. The meteorologist in me loves extremes. Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth. The animal lover in me wants to see, and know more about, albatross, seals, whales and penguins. As a SCUBA diver, I'm intrigued by underwater images from beneath the ice. (Although I'll leave that kind of diving to others like Dr. McClintock.) And, there's a part of me that is in awe of the remote and pristine conditions of the polar regions.

I have been to the Arctic Circle before, which was an amazing experience, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to actually visit Antarctica. So, I'd like to share this experience with others via this blog.

This adventure begins in Chattanooga tomorrow with a short flight to Atlanta before a much more lengthy flight to Buenos Aires. We'll have a day to explore the capital city of Argentina before heading to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina which is billed as the "Southernmost City in the World." After a few hours on land, we'll board Le Boreal, an impressive cruise ship, for the trip across the famous Drake Passage.

In total, we'll end up roughly 7,000 miles south of the Tennessee Valley by the time we reach the Antarctic Peninsula.

Right now "Frosty the Snowman" is playing in the background, but in the Southern Hemisphere summer is about to begin. Some people have asked about the weather conditions we'll encounter. I'm sure we'll experience quite a bit of variety in the coming days. Even during the long days of the austral summer, warm is a relative term. But last week when snow was coating Signal Mountain at a temperature of 31 degrees, the weather observation at Palmer Station was also 31. The only difference was a 38 mph sustained wind making it feel colder at Palmer Station. The following day the wind abated and the temperature rose to 32 while it was only 27 degrees on Signal Mountain.

So we're all "packing for bear," hoping to remain comfortably warm with multiple layers of clothing under our bright red expedition jackets.

I plan to send back images and trip reports each day, but the distance from the Equator can sometimes cause communication challenges. (Video posts will have to wait until we return.) So check back between now and December 20th. I think you'll enjoy discovering Antarctica with us.

To kick things off, test your knowledge about the North and South Poles. The Royal Geographical Society, Institute of British Geographers and the British Antarctic Survey produced this "Pole to Pole Interactive Quiz."