Scouting the Sea Ice

I was going to try and update this more frequently, wasn’t I? My apologies. It has been a long couple of days out on the sea ice.

Being out on the ice is a strange experience. Here at McMurdo, you can pretend you’re just in some small town in Alaska. Out on the ice, though, the vast expanse of frozen water stretches out around you and the landscape is considerably more alien. I still find it slightly unnerving to drive across the sea ice, despite the fact that it is demonstrably strong enough (at this time of year) to land enormous planes on and has no trouble with our little pisten bully.

On Monday we went out on a scouting trip to see what the terrain was like around the places we wanted to go. It turned out to be a very long commute, mostly due to the very uneven surface. Sea ice that has been around for a few seasons (which we call multi-year sea ice) collects hummocks of windblown snow called sastrugi. You can see a few in the foreground of this picture. They are usually of a concrete-like hardness, and since a pisten bully has no suspension aside from the spring-mounted driver’s seat, you have to go over them quite slowly to avoid shaking yourself and your equipment to bits.

We did see some interesting wind effects. In this picture, you can see the snow blowing over the ice on the right-hand side; on the left-hand side the wind is blocked by our parked pisten bully. In the middle Rich is conveniently blotting out the setting sun so that I can take the photo. (I need to do a proper introduction post for Steve, my advisor and the head of the project, and Rich, our collaborator; this blog is kind of me-centric, but they are the masterminds of this whole business.)

We concluded our scouting mission a bit before sunset, having gotten some good experience with ice driving and ideas of how long it took to drive out, and headed back to base. Next post: our scientific adventures on Tuesday.

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One Response to “Scouting the Sea Ice”

  1. Marla Says:

    Keep these coming….makes me appreciate the relative warmth of a fall day in Anchorage. Will think of you when at the State Fair with your mom this weekend:)

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