Photo Expedition to Ross Island

Photo Expedition to Ross Island

The city that I love and will miss for four months: Minneapolis.

Big News! Four-month Photo Expedition

I haven’t mentioned this until now because I didn’t want to jinx it, but my grant from the National Science Foundation was just approved Monday! This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be whisking me away from the Twin Cities for four months. I will be searching out and documenting some rare and unique wildlife that inhabits the shoreline near McMurdo Antarctic Research Station on Ross Island, Antarctica. The evidence I uncovered from several sources and my success as a small-animal photographer we instrumental in the grant-approval process.

McMurdo Station supplies the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station throughout the long winter (which in Southern Hemisphere is from June through September).

I am looking forward to the challenge of photographing nature’s austere beauty in this remote amazing landscape as well as the nocturnal animal that will be the focus of my work. I also have the funds to upgrade to the high-end camera gear that I could never justify before.

I will be ordering a couple of Nikon D3 cameras and a few different lenses. A few I have in mind are the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D IF AF and the Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR. If anyone has suggestions for other large-aperture lenses, let me know, low light capabilities are crucial.

I’ll be leaving Minneapolis on April 30th and flying to Christchurch, New Zealand. On May 5th I’ll be boarding the icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea for the two-week trip to McMurdo Station. During that time I hope to get some industrial photos of the working icebreaker in action.

On May 20th or there a bouts (depending on ice conditions) I will arrive at McMurdo and get prepared for my trips along the Antarctic wilderness shoreline tracking the critters that are the focus of my study. I will spend the first week checking out the site of the decommissioned nuclear power station and interviewing some of the crews working on the McMurdo-South Pole Highway. I’m sure that I can find some pretty interesting characters working there to take portraits of as well.

Then as the full Antarctic winter night begins (full darkness 24 hours a day) I can begin the pursuit of my quarry: a special drove of arctic hares that are decedents of two brought to the island by Ernest Shackleton’s third mate Avery Chicane aboard the Endurance in 1916.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a nuclear power station at McMurdo that had an unpublicized “event” in 1972 which lead to its decommission. Due to cold-war tensions at the time, this “event” was kept under wraps and was completely cleaned up before Greenpeace established World Park Base on the island in 1987.

One of the effects of this was that the arctic hares had been contaminated by the fallout. They experienced a strange mutation has had a beneficial effect on these hares; they’re bodies began manufacturing luciferin in large enough quantities to cause bioluminescence.

Normally this would pose a threat to any animal, but they have flourished. With no natural predators on the island, their luminescence does not invite attack. The eerie green light has made it easier for them to find food and apparently each other. Some have speculated that the glow has also made them more attracted to each other because the populations are growing.

Though they have been growing in number since the ‘80s, there have been almost no reported sightings for several reasons. For one, in the daylight, the glow is impossible to see — only at night is the glow visible at all. Also, since they are very shy, only a few McMurdo-South Pole Highway workers have seen them and they were reticent to report a glow-in-the-dark rabbit to their superiors. But eventually, over the years, a few of them have.

One of those men who saw them is now in Minnesota at Hazelden. I met him through a friend who was also being treated there. After extensive interviews with him and his doctors, I’m convinced of the story and was able persuade Director Mark Buffer at the National Science Foundation as well.

Now that the trip is confirmed, I can talk publicly about this. I’m still processing it all myself. I have a lot of packing and some awesome cold-weather gear to buy. REI is going to make out like a bandit, I’ll need lot of fleece, this is the biggest snow-job of my life.

It’s a absolute dream come true for me, over-wintering on the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf — truly a fool’s paradise.

Please help spread the news by clicking on any of the social bookmarks below.

Check back tomorrow for the CDPB Theme Day photo and more about Antarctica.

This photo was taken with this Lens

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”B0007WK8OE” desc=”1″]

49 replies
  1. kate
    kate says:

    Wow! Mitch, this is the first time that I’ve seen a winter photo of yours without complaining about the weather. I am SO VERY HAPPY for you!! And I sincerely hope that we will benefit from your experience, if you are allowed to publish your work while you’re there. Certainly hope so. The story of the hares is wonderful; haven’t heard of it before, but now I’ll have to start researching them. Speaking of clothes, call Ann Brancroft for help with cold weather attire. I have taught members of her family in the past (not Ann, unfortunately), and her parents and siblings are great. She, too, is very gracious. Just tell her a former teacher of SPA sent you her way. And, good luck on this wonderful journey. Again, so happy for you!!

  2. kate
    kate says:

    What a hoot! Hook, line, and sinker!! Where can I meet you so that I can pummel you to within an inch of your ever-lovin’ life!! :>) !!!!

  3. Strangetastes
    Strangetastes says:

    Wow, congratulations. This could be a life-changing experience. Will you be doing a Ross Island Daily Photo along the line’s of your neighbor Kate’s in Mazatlan? This I gotta see. I hope the sponsors are subsidizing your photo gear and clothing needs. Someone’s gross revenue is about to get a nice bump.

    Take care of your mental health. I’ve been listening to your reports of how Minnesota’s long winter is affecting you. Now, just as spring arises on the northern prairie, you are trading it for four months of Antarctic winter night. Hope they have lots of distractions down there. How many people work at the research station?

    With luck, I’ll get a much smaller piece of photo exoticism in October. I’m waiting for confirmation that a two-week photography workshop in Nepal has enough people to go forward. We’ll get a weekend in Bangkok on the way in. Kathmandu Daily Photo?

    BTW, this is a VERY nice picture today. Urban, cold and personal.

  4. Jilly
    Jilly says:

    Mitch, what absolutely fabulous news. Congratulations! So well deserved and goodness I can’t begin to think how excited you must be. I’m excited for you!

  5. Dana
    Dana says:

    Hey Mitch,

    Wow, I have all my Extreme Cold Weather Gear from the Air Force ready for you! We can try on all the stuff at once and parade around the neighborhood checking the fix. We could get some before and after shots… Before the sweat and afterwards… as you rehydrate. Cool eh?

    Very good show my friend.

    Thanks mucho,

    DANA (still down in Mississippi till May 6th)

  6. frank
    frank says:

    This is just the sort of “hare-brained” venture that one would expect to be funded by our government. In fact, one that GWB might strongly support since it involves hare-cell research.

    Knowing how talented you are, Mitch, I at first accepted your “awarding of the grant” story line. The glowing hares schtick, however, elevated the bunny tail into an un-believeable stratoshpere.

    However, the prospect of secluding you somewhere in the Antartic for four months seems a good idea, so I am applying for a grant . . . . .

  7. Funnyspice
    Funnyspice says:

    ALOHA! Clearly I’ve been away TOO LONG. The high temperatures & direct sunlight have “decomissioned” my “Rossow Filter.” You TOTALLY had me. And honestly, if I hadn’t read the comments before me, I would STILL be thrashing about on the end of your line trying to get every bit of the tasty bait down my gullet.

    And I would have started bragging to friends here! (Seriously though, how cool would this be?)

    I like to think were I still there you might have clued me in ahead of time and I could have been an accomplice.

    BRAVO, Mitchster!

  8. Curly
    Curly says:

    Well Mitch that’s one of the better stories that I’ve read today!

    Remember to snap a picture of those glowing bunnies and post it next April 1st.

    (Thanks for your support too)

  9. ben
    ben says:

    AFS 70-200 F2.8 VR and Sigma 180 or 150 macro.
    Once you finished, send them to Nelson for free, OK?

    Well, if this is true, good luck for adventure.

  10. Shoshana
    Shoshana says:

    Congratulations! This is big, and it sounds exciting and cold. In fact, I think I need to put my socks and sweater on because I get cold thinking about Antarctica.

    Hey, will you let us know if you can sweat there? Just really curious about that.

  11. JasOn
    JasOn says:

    That’s great news! What an opportunity! You are going to like the D3, I think- we’ve been getting great feedback already, and the AF-S 14-24 mm has rabid followers. The color looks a lot better to my eyes than Nikon has ever produced- not quite Canon-peachy, but just a touch warm enough to win some converts. The low light performance is outstanding, and should be a real plus for this application. Are you going to take a laptop to burn discs, or some sort of backup device with or without viewer? Woo hoo- you’re going to have great fun thinking through all of these things before you shove off.

  12. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I totally bought this until these comments reminded me it was April Fool’s =)! With all the beautiful Spring photoraphy ahead, how could you possibly leave? And just when I was hoping to have a new partner for my shooting hobby.. Good joke, though!

  13. Ghislaine
    Ghislaine says:

    OMG You a**hole!!

    I totally bought it too until I saw Melissa’s comment – you are a big pile of suck and I’m saying that because that hook was well into my digestive tract.

  14. bluemoonpaul
    bluemoonpaul says:

    Well, you pulled it off, Mitch, perhaps better than you’d expected! It’s been a ton of fun to see this play out today, after having brainstormed with you for ideas last week. This expedition thing has been so effective, I bet you don’t regret not using my “Mitch is having a sex change” concept.

    It’s no wonder so many people were hooked, as you poured in so many great details and links, but they must’ve been skimming to have missed the glowing bunnies routine!

    You one funny man!

  15. David Jenrette
    David Jenrette says:

    Your 85/1.4 and 400/2.8 are good choices, but don’t omit the 70-200 AF-S f/2.8! In conditions like you describe, that zoom might be your work horse!

    Have a great and successful journey!

    David Jenrette

  16. Alex
    Alex says:

    Nice snow-job! I liked the multiple threads woven together to create — Mrs. Stanton would have been proud.

    Ya know, the NSF _does_ have funding available ( for the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, and the proposal submission deadline is June 18. You can look at the abstracts of proposals which were funded there, and also check out the grant proposal guide. Note that the NSF doesn’t provide any money — just free transportation and room and board.

  17. Dad
    Dad says:

    I always knew You would go far in this world, but this far south?
    Great story.
    As they say, The nut doesn’t fall from the tree.

  18. Kim
    Kim says:

    Woo hoo, and congrats! Man that’s exciting. Hey, I have a friend who has been down to McMurdo about four times now, so if it would interest you to contact him for any practical advice as you prepare for the trip, let me know.
    I’ll be curious to see how your new equipment fares in those low temps and the elements, and excited to see if this lumenesence can be captured. Trip of a lifetime. Congrats!
    Seattle Daily Photo


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