Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Introducing Guest Blogger -- R. Ann Siracusa

Hey all,

I'm having a great time here in Vancouver so far.  Jonathon and I had a great weekend--check back for Friday's blog about that.  But today, we have a great guest blogger who has graced my pages before. R. Ann Siracusa has a fantastic blog that I really loved reading.  It's right up my alley, and I can't wait to hear what you think!!!

Before we get to that, here's a little about Ann...

R. Ann Siracusa has been writing fiction and non-fiction for over thirty years. While working in her chosen career of architecture/urban planning and raising a family, she made time to travel and to write. This talented author combines good story telling and experience with other cultures into novels which transport readers to exotic settings, immerse them in romance, intrigue, and adventure, and makes them laugh. She has traveled to every location she writes about.

As I mentioned, she and I are a lot alike when it comes to our writing. Like my guest blogger, I too write only about places that I've personally visited.  I love the fact I can give that personal touch to each book.

As R. Ann Siracusa does!  So, with no further ado let's see where she is going to take us today!!!


By R. Ann Siracusa

Writers find their inspiration everywhere. All they have to do is look, listen, and ask "What if…?"

Usually, I draw ideas from my world travels and the places I've visited, but sometimes it works the other way around. I got the idea for a suspense novel while I was doing research to prepare for a trip to Antarctica last February and early March.

"Why did you want to go there?" you might ask.

I heard that question a lot, and the simple answer was, "I haven't been there." People also asked if I knew someone who lived there and about the Polar Bears.

Sorry. Wrong continent.

The more I learned about the Antarctica and the research bases there, the more I was intrigued. Click! Click! Bright idea! What could be a more compelling venue than a novel set at one of the research stations in Antarctica?

Oh, I know!

How about a murder at the South Pole station just as the six months of darkness set in and the iced-in station is inaccessible for the winter? Tah-dah! Murder on Thin Ice (working title).


And you thought you knew all the continents. There are seven, right? You can even name them: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

So, where is this Gondwana?

Once upon a time...a long, long, long time ago...there was just one mass of land on the earth. [I said it was a long time ago.] By the early Paleozoic, about 500 million years ago -- give or take a million years or so -- that single land mass had separated into two supercontinents: Gondwana and Laurasia.

500 million years is a hard concept for me to get my mind around, since I can't even remember if I took my pills this morning.

At one point Gondwana was located partially north of the equator, which means that oil, plant and animal fossils now exist under all the ice. As land masses were wont to do millions of years ago, Gondwana eventually drifted south. Forty million years ago the first large ice caps formed as Antarctica settled into its position over the South Pole, stopped drifting, and accepted its future as a rugged individualist. It became the coldest and windiest place on earth.


Thirty countries -- all parties to the Antarctic Treaty -- maintain seventy scientific research stations on Antarctica which house about 1,000 people in the winter and up to 5,000 in the summer. The range of subjects being studied is extensive and too boring to name; sufficient to say that many of the research projects could not be conducted anywhere else in the world. Anything military is forbidden by the Treaty.

Most of the research facilities are located on the periphery of the land mass or the islands. A few are inland, and only one -- the American Amundsen-Scott Station -- is located at the geographic and magnetic South Pole.

The perfect location for a murder.

The South Pole Station in Murder On Thin Ice is a fictional place called Ice Bucket Station, but it is patterned after the most recently constructed Amundsen-Scott Station.

The newer facilities look like something out of Star Wars.
World's first Antiomissions base

Most are built on pillars that can be cranked up a story or two as the ferocious winds blow snow against the structures. Some stations can even be moved.
Amundsen-Scott Station – South Pole                     China's Taishan Station 


Attempting to create a setting that is as factual and realistic as possible, I had to learn a lot about the stations. Some of the aspects of the story depend on the unique ways things are done there. My trip to Antarctica didn't provide the opportunity to land on the continent itself or travel to a station. It is very difficult and costly for anyone other than the research, station, and transportation staffs, to make landfall or visit a station. Here are some interesting things about the continent and Amundsen-Scott station.

No Government

No government? Oh, I love it already.

Antarctica has never had an indigenous population, doesn't belong to a country or any group of countries, and has no nationality. The continent was believed to exist as early as the second century AD, but the South Pole wasn't reached until December 1911 by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, and a month later by Englishman Robert Scott.

Systematic exploration began with the International Geographic Year, July 1957 through December 31, 1959. After that, the representatives of the twelve nations which had made claims and participated in the exploration met in 1959 and drafted the Antarctic Treaty, which dedicated the entire continent to peaceful scientific research. When it came into effect, all territorial claims were suspended. Now nearly fifty countries have signed the treaty, which represents about 80% of the world population.

The result is a continent that has never been affected by war, where the environment is protected, and where the priority is scientific research. At least so far!

You Can't Get There From Here

That's not quite true, but it isn't easy, no matter where here is. Access is by ship along the coast (sometimes) and plane (sometimes).

There are twenty airports, thirty helicopter pads (no developed public access airports), and one harbor at US McMurdoc Station. Most of the coastal stations have anchorages off shore, and supplies are transferred by small boats, barges, or helicopters.

Ships going to Antarctic Ocean have to be ice-strengthened, and there are only two places where larger cruise ships can anchor. Passengers are not allowed to go to shore. For about four to five months in the winter, the sea is impassible.

Desert Climate

The first thing that surprised me is that, without the ice, Antarctica would have a desert climate. It only snows the equivalent of one inch of rain in the interior of the continent, and rains/snows the equivalent of twenty inches rain along the coast. One of the driest locations on the earth.

Despite that, Antarctica is said to have the harshest weather in the world. The strong winds of Antarctica are called Katabatics (Greek for flow downhill), and average about 67miles per hour and have been measured at a steady 200 miles per hour (not just gusts).
Antarctic winds in action

And cold! At the South Pole, the average summer high temperature is 5°F (-15°C); average winter low temperature, -112°F (-80°C). The temperature, measured by satellite at -135.3°F. Only cold-adapted organism such as certain types of algae, bacteria, fungi, and certain animals such a mites, nematodes, penguins, seals, and tardigrades, can survive.

I'd never heard of an animal called a tardigrade and had to look it up. After that, the animal took on a major role in my novel. 
Tardigrades are microscopic animals more commonly known by their non-scientific name, the water bear. They are less than 1mm long and are found in the sea, in fresh water and on land.

I did see many seals and penguins (enough to last me a lifetime).

Active Volcanoes

The chain of mountains that forms the islands around Antarctica and run through the middle of the continent are an extension of the Andes. There are at least thirty volcanoes. At 12,448 feet above sea level, Mt. Erebus is the southernmost and the most active volcano in the world according to National Geographic.
Photo  – National Geographic

Altitude Sickness

When I read that altitude sickness is often experienced by newcomers to the South Pole station, I did a double take. The Amundsen-Scott station sits on 9,000 feet of solid ice, and the altitude there is about 11,000 feet, an elevation higher than Macchu Piccu in the Andes. That's about two miles of ice that never melts, since the temperature in the summer averages below freezing.

No Time Zone

Unlike anywhere else in the world, Antarctica is not in any time zone. The US stations keep time according to New Zealand time. I don't know what the stations of other countries do.

Two Minute Showers

Residents of the Amundsen-Scott Station are allowed only two-minute showers, twice a week. Water is a precious commodity in spite of ice all around. It has to be scooped up and melted to supply station with water, which is heated with the exhaust from the electric power generating plant.

One full load of laundry per person per week is allowed under normal circumstances.

One Sunrise, One Sunset

At the South Pole station, there is one sunrise and one sunset per year. That's right! Six month of darkness and six months of light. The moon rises every two weeks.
Night at the South Pole                      Moon over the station


Antarctica is the best place in the world to look for Meteorites. If there is something on the snow, if fell from the sky.

Everything That Comes, Goes

Everything has to be shipped to the South Pole station by air, and all waste (except sewer waste) has to be collected, then recycled or shipped away by air, and disposed of somewhere else. Nearly 70% of the waste is recycled (better than the US average of 34%). The non-recyclable trash generated is collected in cardboard boxes call triwalls.

In my novel, this is an important fact that played into the solution of the mystery.


If not, you can read about it when Murder On Thin Ice is released. Or me ask a question. I'll do my best to answer.

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Amazing information, Ann!  I'm so impressed.  We're hoping to go down to Antarctica next year when we are in South America again.  I may have some questions!  And those Tardigrades?  Wow! Those are just creepy!!!!

Want to learn more about our guest?  Check out all her books at her website... http://www.rannsiracusa.com/.

Let her know what you think in the comments below!

Until next time!!!


CJ England

Follow Your Dreams


Ray said...

What an informative interesting blog. I have known several Navy men who wintered over in Antarctica. One worked with a desk facing mine. He was the only Hospital Corpsman who was a licensed nuclear power plant operator. I don't know if nuclear power is still used in Antarctica, but it was when he was there.

Toni Noel said...

As always your blog is fascinating. I love the working title of your novel, and the premise. Just surviving in that climate must require a lot of energy.


Melissa Keir said...

What an informative post! Thanks for sharing parts of your trip! I love that you got to see so much and brought back the inspiration for a story.