Petroushka\’s Miscellany


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Scientific category.

Yet More Antarctic Christmas Carols

In case you weren’t already convinced that Antarctica is special, this should do it: a hut built for Robert Falcon Scott in McMurdo Sound in 1911 is still there, preserved on ice, in nearly the same shape today as it was back when Scott and Amundson were racing to the pole early last century. At the time, it was the biggest structure in Antarctica. It is full of tins of food, has a dark room full of dark room chemicals, and the remains of sled dogs are still preserved outside (ew). A somewhat creepy but probably very moving reminder of the hardships endured by Antarctic explorers, and of the fact that Scott’s team reached the South Pole, but didn’t make it back to the Sound. Check it out next time you’re in Antarctica!

Also, Christmas is coming up, and with it more lyrics for the Antarctic Christmas Songbook. Hurrah! All the lyrics have been put together on one easy-to-read page for your Christmas enjoyment. I hope many of you will be inspired to save a turkey and roast a penguin instead this year. I’m sure I will . . . .

The Antarctic Hut Song
Deck the Halls
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Polar Bear Migration Song


The Antarctic Christmas Songbook, Part 2

More Antarctic Christmas (and Hannukah) songs, these ones written by Paul and Sus from New York City. Raytheon is the company where our friend is working, hence its recurrence in the Songbook. Also, Paul and Sus are Jewish and so know the tune to Hannukah, Oh Hannukah and were able to write brilliant lyrics for that too, which fits perfectly with the way the Songbook came about in the first place. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have the whole world singing the Antarctic Christmas Songbook!

Here Comes Raytheon (to the tune of Here Comes Santa Claus)
Rudolph the Sunburned Scientist
Snowy Night (to the tune of Silent Night)
Penguins Roasting on an Open Fire
Antarctica, Antarctica (to the tune of Hannukah, Oh Hannukah)
The South Po-el (to the tune of The First Noel)
On the Seventh Continent (to the tune of Good King Wenceslas)
Amundson is Coming to Town  


The Antarctic Christmas Songbook

Antarctica is fascinating: It is the fifth-largest continent. It is considered a desert because its annual precipitation is less than 10 inches a year. The precipitation that falls on the Antarctic interior is lower than that which falls on the Sahara. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was recorded in Antarctica: -89.2ºC. It has winds of up to 320km/h.

More than 99% of Antarctica is covered in ice. This is about 90% of the world’s ice, and more than two-thirds of the world’s fresh water. It also makes Antarctica the highest continent in the world. On Deception Island, you can have a swim in water heated by one of the two active Antarctic volcanoes, while being ogled by penguins.

The only plants in Antarctica are algae, lichens and mosses. There are also some fungi and one liverwort. The largest truly land-based animals in Antarctica (i.e. those that neither depend on the sea for their food nor leave Antarctica in winter) are mites, ticks and nematode worms. The seas surrounding Antarctica, however, have 200 different kinds of fish, some with antifreeze for blood; six species of seal; 12 species of bird; lots of whales; jelly-like creatures called salps; and so much krill that it outweighs all us humans put together.

The ozone hole measured this year over Antarctica is the biggest ever recorded: 29.5 km2 with a mass deficit of 39.8 megatonnes (i.e. the amount of ozone missing now compared to a baseline measured decades ago, before the ozone layer started disintegrating).

Read more interesting facts about Antarctica on the ozone hole website and on this fabulous website devoted entirely to all things Antarctic.

Anyway, during a recent trip to the Sinai desert, in the middle of Ramadan, we were thinking about a friend who is currently working in Antarctica. In between swimming, snorkling, lying in hammocks in the hot shade, and trying to avoid getting sunburnt, we came up with the Antarctic Christmas Songbook. The lyrics to some of the songs are below. I will add the rest when I get them from my friends, who have since returned to NYC after their Egyptian holiday.

Click here to get to the lyrics for all the songs below (and more!)

While Scientists Watch Their Rocks by Night (to the tune of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night)
Oh Come All Ye Penguins
Hark, the Tiny Krill All Sing
God Rest Ye Merry Leopard Seals
Antarctica, Antarctica (to the tune of Oh Tannenbaum)
Antarctica Rocks (to the tune of Jingle Bell Rock)
The Leopard Seal and Penguin (to the tune of The Holly and the Ivy)
It’s Winter in the Antarctic (to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
I Saw A Ship Come Sailing In (to the tune of We Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In)
We Three Penguins (to the tune of We Three Kings of Orient Are)
The Twelve Days of Antarctic Christmas


List of plants in the botanical garden on Kitchener Island, Aswan, Egypt

Figs, sycamores, date palms (native to island).

Timber trees: African Khaya, Mahogany, Teak, Ebony, Terminallia, Tamarindus, Poinciniana, Camphor, Minbosia (Java Plum), Tamerix, Neem, Oak, Basia, Capok, Bauhinia, Bombax, Sissoo, Red Sandalwood Tree, Nephedium

Fruit crops: jackfruit, spondias, garcinia, eugenia with its spices, loquat, papaya, avocado, mango, citrus fruits, white sapote, chinese or common jujube, sapote, longan tree, guava, date palm, starfruit, fig

Spice crops: cinnamon tree, mastic tree, black pepper, red pepper

Medical and odiferous plants: pudding pipe tree (Cassia fistula), desert date, aux, vomica, jatropha (physic nut), anato, ixora, sophora, rose, pink, jasmine, murraea (orange jessamine), henna, Couronpita guianensis

Fibre products: kapok, bombax and chorisia

– From the descriptive billboard at the entrance to the garden.

Some fun facts:

Did you know that the white sapote is frost and freeze tolerant and produces a fruit that is “sweet and soft like custard“, which some people find horribly bitter and others find not bitter at all?

That the fig is distantly related to the mulberry, is pollinated by insects and has sap that contains copious milky latex irritating to human skin?

That the jujube (Ziziphus jujuba), which has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years in China, has shiny bright green leaves with two spines at the base of each one, some hooked and others long daggers?

And that the nephelium, aka the rambutan tree, is related to the lychee and has equally delicious fruit (except for the species with fruit so sour even monkeys won’t eat them), and seeds that are poisonous when eaten raw but apparently good when roasted?