Posts Tagged ‘flight’

Take to the Hills!

January 3, 2011

It occurred to me today that our study site is more remote than any other place I’ve been, by a decent margin. If the zombie apocalypse were to reach Antarctica the day after they dropped us off there, we’d have a lengthy distance to traverse, through harsh conditions, before we got back to the station–which is, itself, quite far away from the nearest truly habitable land. It’s possible to survive for a while in Antarctica by living off of fresh meat and burning blubber for heat (I think this is how Shackleton’s men survived when they were stranded on Elephant Island) but it’s not an especially pleasant experience, nor would it probably be sustainable in the long term.

In any case, being curious about just how far from station we would be, I made a map. Google Maps seems to have added considerably better imagery for this area since I tried it out on my first trip down. (I’m working on adding some of the interesting places around station to the map, as well as the further-out field sites.)

Map of McMurdo and surrounding areas

You can see that the Allan Hills area–up in the top left-hand corner of this map–is only about 140 miles/220 kilometers away from McMurdo “as the skua flies.” It’d be a bit longer if you had to find a route across the ice, supposing the sea ice was even intact enough to allow you to get to Ross Island.

In reality we won’t be too far away, just an hour’s ride in a Twin Otter, but it’ll be quite an experience regardless.

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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!