Antarctic Expedition: 
First Collection of Algae by SCUBA

Ever wonder what it's like to come face-to-face with a leopard seal? Or plunge into the icy depths of the Antarctic waters in nothing but a neoprene wetsuit? Richard Fralick, Ph.D. recounts his experiences as Head Diver on the first SCUBA expedition to study algae in Antarctica in 1964. Their task was to observe, collect, identify, and preserve examples of marine algae in freezing waters. From tumultuous seas to curious (and sometimes dangerous!) animals, this book takes a close look at the challenges and day-to-day life faced by Fralick and his team as they endured the barren Antarctic to learn more about the wonderful planet we call Earth.

 
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The Book

There are two versions of the book. Below find information about each version, and links for where to buy them on Amazon.

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The Color Version

The original edition includes full color, original photographs from the trip, converted from slides into digital files, and a glossy cover. Cost is $22.99.

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The Black and White version

The black and white version includes all the same photos in black in white, and a matte cover. Cost is $11.99.

Take a Sneak Peek into the the book!

In this section, they have just arrived at the base and are about to begin exploring.

Chapter 3: The Melchior Base

“Southwards, a magnificent Alpine country, illuminated by the rising sun, rose slowly from the sea; there were mighty fells with snowy crowns and with sharp, uncovered teeth, around the valleys through which enormous, broad rivers of ice came flowing to the sea.” - J. Gunnar Andersson, South Georgia Island, 1902

AFTER A 12-HOUR CRUISE from Deception, the San Martin and its research team arrived at Melchior Island. We knew that Melchior Base, also known as Destacamento Melchior, was located on a small peninsula that had two arms extending in a northerly direction. In addition to the main house there were some smaller sheds and several tall radio antennas; an emergency house (dog food and emergency food and supplies were stored here); a jetty with a small crane for unloading food and equipment; a small cold storage house; a workshop; and fuel storage hut. Since a fire in the main house could be potentially devastating, the smaller buildings were arranged at a reasonable distance from the main building.

The ship anchored off the north side of the island, but we couldn’t see the base, just a mountain of snow. We did observe several radio antennae projecting out of the snow and a small emergency house close to the ocean. 
Many Antarctic scientific bases were surrounded by small, woodshed size buildings or shelters where researchers could shelter during the occasional whiteout. Over many years these shelters became known as emergency houses. Often, due to shortages of space in the main base, the emergency houses were used to store tons of dried dog food. Dogs have not been used on any Antarctic base for many years, however if a party were stranded they would not have starved. Although the dogs were no longer used to move equipment around on Antarctic islands their food supplies still remained. We tasted some and it was terrible. Later that day my voice developed a slight growl.

There was also a small, dark structure lying on the top of a snow ridge, which was actually the top of the chimney to the base building hidden below the snow. I was surprised at how desolate this location seemed. No doors, windows, or structures were recognizable due to the heavy snow cover accumulated by many years of being unoccupied. The thought that the base could be filled with snow and ice passed through my mind. Maybe it had collapsed and only the chimney was left. A few other small buildings were buried without a trace, such as the Argentine Navy crew house.

A cargo barge was deployed off the icebreaker to carry some of the scientists and naval crew from the ship to a small stone dock with stone stairs extending into the water. To get off the barge that ferried us to the base emergency house, we had to chop the ice accumulated on the stone steps leading to the small building above.
Many of the officers, sailors, and scientists began the task of digging out the base. Five small shovels were passed around from person to person, each of whom took a turn for about a fifteen-minute digging shift. After about an hour the crew cleared around the chimney and reached the peak of the roof.

Eventually we stopped digging by the chimney because we realized we were digging in the wrong place. After some discussion, we moved the digging site to a place estimated to be near the front door of the base. After 20 feet of snow removal we saw the top frame of the doorway and were able to clear a pathway to the door. The door was unlocked of course. Nothing inside was worth stealing. The doorway was on the corner of the building facing the small harbor, also called a caleta, which opened to the northeast. 

Everyone wanted to be first to enter the base. Mack pointed out that, “This is like breaking into a sealed burial vault.” Someone in our small group had a flashlight and upon entering the hallway found some candles, which quickly lit the way. The first thing we noticed was that the linoleum floor was soggy and spongy underfoot. All the rooms were in reasonable condition, but by our standards, the base overall was in tough shape—buried in the snow, no heat, no cooking facilities, no lights, no generators, and no toilets or showers. Inhospitable to say the least.