Contrails

There are none.*

OK, there is an asterisk on that statement.  There are a few regular, commercial routes that cut across coastal areas of the Antarctic continent.   Wikipedia provides the following map:

There are also a few tour flights each summer across the ice cap at about 10,000 feet altitude, and there are cases where helicopters leave contrails.  But, these are exceptions that prove the rule–when you look up, you are very unlikely to see a contrail.  I have not seen one yet.

There are other things you don’t see here.  Mosquitoes, mice and and animal tracks other than those of humans.  I’m surprised that there are not mice in the heated spaces at McMurdo, but I am told there are not.  There are a few insects on the continent, but most are along the coast of the peninsula, or are parasites on some of the birds and mammals.  In the dry valleys, to my eye, the only macroscopic living thing is algae, that forms mats in the streambeds or in the lake ice.  There are nematodes, small, very adaptable round worms, that live in the soils of the Valleys, and I’m told that they can be seen with the naked eye, but I’ve never seen any.  Later this season, the Worm Herders, who study the nematodes, will come to F6, and I will try to learn more about the worms.

There are a few visitors.  You do see, from time to time, skua birds, but I have not seen a skua yet this season, and I’m told that there are a few birds that breed in the mountains around the valleys.  I’m writing, here, about live organisms, so I’ll save for another time the subject of the mummified seals and penguins that are common in the Taylor Valley (at least).

The other thing you don’t see, but that my eyes have been trained to expect, are roads.  No matter how remote you get in the continental U.S., Alaska or even Canada, when you come over (or fly over) a tall ridge you can often see a road in the distance.  When we fly over a ridge, my eye anticipates seeing a road, but there are none to be seen.  The only overland roads down here are in McMurdo, except for residual vehicle tracks in the Wright Valley from Lake Brownworth to Lake Vanda made during an overland trip by the Kiwis in the 1970s.  Pilot Ryan pointed those out to us on a flight into the Wright Valley on November 20.  They are still fairly distinct after about 40 years.

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