Archive for December, 2010

Ice team splits up

December 31, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, when Martin and I arrived on the Ice the rest of our team–Mel, Peter, Ruschle, and my advisor Steve–were still out in the field. They all finally made it back on Wednesday, and so we’ve been busily exchanging information before Steve and Peter headed back out into the Real World, leaving Martin and I to take their places.

I’m working on bios for everybody–I don’t like to post them without running them past the people they’re about–but I wanted to put up a few photos of the team:

Back row: me, Peter, Steve. Front row: Martin, Mel, Ruschle.


Testing out some equipment.

Steve and Peter actually headed out this morning, after a day’s delay due to runway issues.

One of the tricky things about Antarctica, you see, is its general lack of dry, non-ice-covered land; not only is there not much of it, what land does exist is of considerable scientific interest and therefore not usable for logistics. So the runways are built on the ice shelf (Pegasus, the ‘permanent’ runway) or the sea ice near station, which is a good 1.5 meters (around five feet) thick in the winter and spring and thus more than capable of supporting the weight of a C-17. It’s too far into summer now for the sea ice runway to be considered usable, so all the flights land at Pegasus, some ways from station.

Generally these runways work fine. But snow and ice are notably less durable than asphalt, in many ways, and so when a C-17 had trouble taking off during warm conditions earlier this week, it ended up gouging a lengthy hole in the packed-snow runway at Pegasus. As a result, they delayed flights by a day to see if they could fix it, and then ended up sending passengers home on C-130 ski-equipped aircraft when they couldn’t get it up to suitable standards in time for a C-17 flight. My friend Jessie, on the medical staff here, wrote a great post about the runway issues.

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Mactown Arrivals

December 28, 2010

And here I am! My journey was fairly uneventful, aside from all the earthquakes, about which more later. Here’s something I wrote on the plane down:

“I’m writing this from a C-17, very much like the one I flew in last year–or perhaps it is indeed the same plane. We’re a little less than four hours into a five-hour journey; I spent the first few hours asleep, making up for having awoken at 4:45 AM in order to catch the shuttle to the airport.”

At the terminal bright and early, with luggage. Probably I am happy because I am wearing Carhartt coveralls, widely admired by Alaskans.

My colleague Martin Schneebeli, also in his cold-weather gear, with the Antarctic Center behind him.

“There are a few dozen other people on the plane with me. Many of them are on their second attempt at getting to McMurdo, since their original flight boomeranged. A flight that boomerangs is one that has to turn back before it gets to McMurdo; in many cases these flights make it within sight of the station before they decide that visibility is too poor or the weather is otherwise too iffy to make a landing. Often this happens multiple times in a row; I believe the record is seven successive boomerangs. So we’ve all got our fingers crossed.”

Passengers and cargo.

It’s amazing how much a single trip to Antarctica has made me feel like a seasoned old hand; I have been handing out advice to all the first-timers with great enthusiasm. McMurdo Station is just the same as it was before, in some ways, and completely different in others. For instance, since the solstice was just last week, there’s brilliant sunlight every hour of every day. It’s extremely warm–it’s been above freezing most of the time we’ve been here, between 32 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and the station is all brown rocks and dust with only occasional struggling patches of snow.

Practically tropical.

Little rivers run down the hillsides. I’ve been following the local custom and running around in shirtsleeves most of the time, with the occasional light jacket if it’s windy.

Compare bright-lit, snowless Ob Hill now...


...with the Ob Hill of last spring. (albeit from the other side of the hill.)

My advisor Steve and the rest of the team got down here several weeks ago to do the first foray into the field. They were supposed to get back to McMurdo the same day I arrived, but they are still stuck out on the ice sheet, trapped by poor weather conditions. (Actually, I spoke to them by satellite phone today, and they told me that from their perspective the weather is better than it has been for a while, insofar as it’s not windy; it’s just too cloudy/foggy for the planes to be able to land.)

Tune in next time when I will explain more about our science plans!

Back to the Ice

December 22, 2010

I’m leaving for the Ice again in two days.

How did this happen? I spent the last few weeks getting ready for and attending the big geophysics conference in San Francisco, and now all of a sudden it’s time to leave. I’m mostly packed; I picked up some new gear, and after all my troubles with glasses fogging up last year, I ordered some disposable contact lenses to use instead. Although I still need to find out if contacts can survive freezing solid. Anybody happen to know?

In lieu of actual science content, which may have to wait until I’m finished packing, here is a chantey I wrote about my upcoming trip. Sea chanteys are the songs that sailors used to coordinate the pulling of ropes and hoisting of anchors and whatnot, as well as just to pass the time on long ocean voyages.

This one should be sung to the tune of “Bound for South Australia” (here’s a nice rendition.) I tried to include some traditional sea chantey elements–lots of heaving and hauling, of course, of which there is a fair bit when you’re working in Antarctica, as well as complaints about the difficulty of the journey, longings for bonnie lasses, et cetera.

McMurdo Bound, or, Way South of South Australia, a minimally processed a capella version sung by yours truly.

Antarctica is where I’m bound
Heave away, haul away
I’m headed for McMurdo Sound
Yes, bound for old McMurdo

Haul away, my icy friends
Heave away, haul away
Haul until the season ends
We’re bound for old McMurdo

I’ll board a plane in old Christchurch
And head down south to do research
Haul away…

The Southern Ocean’s very wide
Eight hours’ flight to the other side
Haul away…

The storms blow up at a frightful pace
Can’t see your hand before your face
Haul away…

From blinding sun there’s no respite
For Mactown has no summer night
Haul away…

If you’d like a girl upon your knee
There’s a bonnie lass behind ev’ry tree
Haul away…

Keep gear at hand, ’cause if it’s not
You might end up like poor old Scott
Haul away…