The Argonauts: An Exploration of Life

Dinosaurs in Antarctica

Vilmar on top of the bottom of the world

The land way way down under

Read the complete journals of Vilmar’s Antarctic adventure.

Vilmar’s adventures in Antarctica continue with this four part installment of his vivid journals.


Dinosaurs in Antarctica

Sunday evening was filled with a presentation entitled “Jurassic Dinosaurs.” I almost blew this one off but was glad I didn’t.

Sir Richard Owen coined the word, “dinosaurus” 150 years ago. There were 3 genera of such in his time. Now there are hundreds of them.

They first appeared in the Triassic period about 200 million years ago and the ones studied in Antarctica are from about the early Jurassic period some 75 million years ago.

In Antarctica, the southern Trans-Antarctic range near the Beardmore Glacier has most of the bones. There may be other regions but the depth of snow and ice make discovering them virtually impossible.

The first dinosaurs were discovered here in the late 60’s by geologists and after they made their discoveries the paleontologists began appearing on the scene. It was during the 1990-1991 season that the bones were studied in depth and the area better scoured for more evidence.

Studies revealed that the creatures found here were more than likely reptilian featured animals evolving into mammals. This conclusion was reached based on the social behaviors exhibited by them. Most reptiles today are not social creatures. Alligators, crocodiles, lizards, etc do not associate in a community environment like warm blooded animals do.

The reptiles the scientists found suggested quite strongly that Antarctica was, in fact, much warmer back then simply because reptiles are cold blooded creatures and temperature dependent. As part of Gondwanaland, Antarctica was joined together with several other large land masses and situated about where central/southern Brazil is today. The dinosaurs could have very easily have started evolving here and then moved over the land bridges to other continents.

Most of the bones found were imbedded in rocks at the 12,500 foot elevation of Beardmore. The group collected about 35-40 percent of a complete skeleton belonging to a 20 foot long dinosaur. They named it cryolothasaurus (“cryo” for cold; “lotho” for the decorative crest on its head, and “saurus” for lizard. They couldn’t name it Antarctisaurus as that was already taken in the 50s by someone in South America not realizing anyone would ever find anything here. To name it austrasaurus would give people the impression that the beasts were discovered in Australia.

They decided it was a therapod which is carnivorous in nature and therapod means “beast foot.” This was gotten from the impression their feet left on the ground and from some ankle and foot bones found.

There is a lot of dinosaur diversity found here in Antarctica. Inside the cryolothasaurus was found a beaver’s ancestor’s tooth and the remains of a small herbivore (prosaurapod) that was evolving into a saurapod.

One creature was found with a rib bone deep in its jaw giving credence to the thought that maybe this particular animal bit off more than it could chew and therefore choked on a “chicken bone.” A really big chicken! It’s really not such a far fetched idea as many scientists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

They also found a bone that was much larger at one end than the other. It puzzled them for a long time until they started studying other contemporary animals. They discovered that large birds have these same features wherein one end of the bone needs to be larger in order to accommodate and support the mass of muscles needed to move the wing at the point where it is connected to the body.

In terms of therapod evolution, the beasts found here were ancestors of later period therapods suggesting the therapod creatures found elsewhere in the world started here and moved through Gondwanaland to finish their evolution. Examples are the allasoauroids, plateosaurids and dimorphodontids.

I found it amazing how the lecture hall was jam packed with people fascinated with dinosaurs. I guess kids are not the only ones with this sort of fascination.

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A River Runs Through It (PART II)

We now are at that point where the weather here is gradually warming up. With warm weather comes melting snow. With melting snow comes runoff, mud, and soggy grounds. And right now snow is melting much more quickly and actual rivulets of water are forming, joining one another and turning into streamlets cutting through town making an overall mess.

The point? It’s a return to a scenario quite similar to the little escapade my friend, Scott, went through on our cross country bicycle trip where water would find the path of least resistance and create runnels for its escape. Except that where Scott had these runnels under his tent, we are fortunate enough to only have to walk over them.

All over the station I see heavy equipment digging trenches in the roads attempting to divert the water into the embankments lining the roads themselves. The diversion works well and keeps the road itself from being washed away since the dirt here has nothing to grab onto.

In 1995, above the tank storage area, a mini-lake had formed and the heavy equipment guys went out there to chip away a small piece of the ice dam restraining the water. They were successful in releasing several hundred thousand gallons early in the morning. Later in the afternoon they went back out to chip at it again except someone got a little over-enthusiastic with the loader and shattered the restraining wall.

The next thing heard over the radios was, “Oh shit!!!, over!!” as millions of gallons came screaming through town taking out everything in its path. Whole cargo lines were washed away. Now that would be a mess!

I have been doing a lot of driving around here and it is amazing these trucks we have were able to last as long as they’ve lasted. The roads are abysmal (regardless of efforts to keep them from being washed away) and any attempts to go over 25 MPH results in teeth fillings being vibrated loose. Granted, there is nothing that can be done. It is impossible to attempt to pave roads here. The best they can do is to bring out the graders and trim the tops off the washboards. It was so bad recently that while delivering a forklift load of 16 nitrogen bottles, I hit a bump and almost lost the cage with the bottles in them—and the cage was angled upwards on the forks, too! Having heard from the gas expert here in town that at a 45 degree angle one of these cylinders can be launched several miles, I did not even want to think about what would happen if 16 of them were to let go INSIDE a cage! WOW!!

Work goes on all night long moving cargo, spreading dirt to keep the walkways and paths from being too slippery, working on roads, etc. At all hours we can hear the rumblings and beepings of big diesels.

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Shakespeare Comes to Mac Town

Well, the week began on an interesting note. I attended a meeting of folks interested in putting on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The idea is to do it on December 21st, our summer solstice. The meeting was split between purists who want to do a whole presentation (it’s a long play) with memorized lines, complete sets, costumes, lighting, etc. The other side of the camp wants minimum sets, costumes, and a script reading where the actors do their parts while reading a script.

When asked to provide input, I was not shy and sent a note stating that I opted for a minimum but tasteful setting (to give the audience a feel for where this is taking place), and the same for costumes.

I also expressed that we should go with a script reading because, all though there may be a few theatrical majors in our little group (read… purists), most folks would be doing this for fun and the stress of memorization may be too much. It’s better to do a good script reading than a poorly memorized production.

I also believe the organizer underestimated the time required for a full production. He said 50-60 hours per person but I doubt he was referring to time spent in one’s room doing the memorizing. My experience shows that people will put off the rehearsals and memorization. It’s only human nature to procrastinate and since we’ll have folks doing this for fun (as opposed to those wanting to add it to their theatrical resume) those are the folks most likely to delay. Of course, if that happens, the die-hards might get upset/anxious and the whole thing may fall down around our ankles.

I was hoping I was completely wrong about this but given that we’re dealing with adults that have to work 10/11 hours a day as opposed to idealistic college students who have lots of spare time on their hands, I just did not see the commitment.

So far nothing has come of it but we shall have to see. Towards the end of the meeting we thought it’d be cool to do a South Park version of the whole thing and we’d all be dressed as Kenny with our parkas all zipped up and only our eyeballs showing. Doing that would negate memorization completely. Plus if we chose to do MacBeth, it’d be right in character to have all the Kennys get killed. “Oh my God, they killed Kenny! Those Bastards!!” “Oh my God, they killed another Kenny! Those Bastards!!” “Oh my God, they killed yet another Kenny! Those Bastards!!”

I guess the last Kenny would have to carry a sign saying, “Oh my God, they killed me, the last Kenny! Those Bastards!!”

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Mass Casualty Drill

Saturday was the short day with everyone in eager anticipation of our mass casualty drill. This was, to me, nothing more than an excuse to give some folks a chance to get out of their work areas. Nothing much was proved and in these kinds of scenarios, the whole team must practice together frequently to ensure they perform well. The funny part was that the scenario involved a couple of drunken helicopter pilots who took off and then crashed into the gym. They played their part well because for almost two hours they sat in the cockpit, talking in a slurred voice, making faces through the windshield, and, in general acting drunk. They should have won awards.

As a side note, the flammables warehouse, #174, currently has no fire suppression and we keep paints, thinners, aerosol cans, adhesives and other nasty stuff in there. I told my folks that if the alarm were ever to go off or if they detected a fire, all I wanted to see were assholes and elbows as they fled the scene!

Well, that’s all folks!!!!

Have a great time wherever you are.

Vilmar

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