Posts Tagged ‘Logistics’

The Voyage of the Endurance

June 11, 2011

Hey guys! I wrote you a song! It’s about the epic tale of survival that resulted from Shackleton’s attempted Trans-Antarctic Expedition; I used this website as a reference for some of the events, or you could read Shackleton’s own book on the experience, South. Be sure to check out the pictures, which are widely and deservedly regarded as the best part of the book.

Sung to the tune of (The Bonnie Ship) The Diamond.

The Voyage of the Endurance

‘Twas early in the century
The world prepared for war
But Shackleton intended the Antarctic to explore.
Some men sail for profit
Some sail for renown
But this one sailed for Science and the glory of the Crown.

Through the icebergs that clash, through the great waves that roll,
The mighty ship Endurance went a-sailing for the Pole.

The whalermen had warned them
That the ice would be severe
They were still above the Circle when the first floes did appear
Still bravely they sailed southward
But soon they were beset
Imprisoned in the heaving ice, but not defeated yet

Through the icebergs…

They whiled away the winter
Drifting ‘cross the Weddell Sea
When finally the sun arose, they thought they’d soon be free
But the mounting pressure of the ice
Was more than she could bear
In just days the stout Endurance was crushed beyond repair

Through the icebergs…

They loaded up the lifeboats
With provisions piled high
They watched her sink beneath the ice as, helpless, they stood by
The men camped on an icefloe
Let it take them where it would
It brought them near an island before breaking up for good.

Through the icebergs…

The isle was cold and barren
Inhospitable to man
So Shackleton devised another daring rescue plan.
He’d sail eight hundred miles
‘Cross the world’s most stormy sea
To the whalers on South Georgia he would make his earnest plea.

Through the icebergs…

A thousand times the pounding waves
Near sank the tiny boat
They lost most of their gear and food, yet somehow stayed afloat
When the party reached South Georgia
Thirst-tormented and sore
They realized the whaler-camp was on the further shore.

Through the icebergs…

They scaled the craggy mountains
And crossed crevasses deep
They stumbled into whaler-camp half-crazed from lack of sleep
The whalers were astonished
When these strange men came in view
Soon Shackleton secured a ship to rescue all his crew

Through the icebergs…

Let Shackleton’s Antarctic fame
For centuries survive
For with all their trials and troubles, every man came back alive!


The Altered Nature of Things

September 4, 2009

One of the weirdest things about the extreme cold is the way familiar substances begin to betray your expectations. Plastics stiffen and become brittle after just a few seconds’ exposure to the outside air. Metal burns to the touch. Moving parts freeze together or shrink apart. Batteries dwindle to a fraction of their former capacity and LCDs update sluggishly. The various vital fluids of vehicles freeze and coagulate. I can’t even imagine how much more bizarre and difficult it is at the South Pole, where ambient temperatures regularly dip below -100F.

We had a lot of this out in the field today. My issues with spectacles persist (frosting over completely, attempting to freeze to my face, what have you) and the goggles do nothing don’t help very much. (The little fan died their first day out, as I sort of expected it to do.) Our ice corer nearly got stuck in the ice. And our electronic thermometer, which we use to take the temperature of ice cores, refuses to function properly when it gets too cold. This meant I spent quite a while with it stuck down the front of my pants, nestled against my belly, trying to get it warm enough to give a reading–like an emperor penguin incubating an egg, as my advisor put it.

Speaking of penguins, I saw my first sign of the local wildlife today. Small clouds of steam, puffing up from a crack in the sea ice once a second or so: a Weddell seal at a breathing hole. We didn’t see the actual seal, of course. Weddell seals are fascinating creatures. They live under the sea ice, so they have to breathe through any cracks or holes in the ice they can find. They keep them open by chewing away at the ice as the holes freeze over. Any hole in the ice is likely to attract a Weddell seal; Antarctic divers often find themselves suddenly sharing their diving hole with a half-ton of blubbery, snorting Weddell, and our Kiwi friends say that their little hut on the sea ice has been visited (and splattered with seal snot) more than once.

A Weddell seal breathing hole in a sea ice crack.

It seems like a precarious lifestyle, being dependent upon the ever-shifting sea ice just to be able to breathe. Antarctic animals are a resilient and determined lot.

Scouting the Sea Ice

September 2, 2009

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.

Gear, Revisited

August 23, 2009

Examples of things you may find in your allotment of gear. Exactly what you get depends on your job.

Examples of things you may find in your allotment of gear. Exactly what you get depends on your job.

Went out to collect my Extreme Cold Weather Gear from the stores today. There were a few dozen other folks there, maybe a dozen or so other first-timers. I milled around, being slightly nervous and taking photos of things.

They gave us a Briefing and had us watch an Instructional DVD, which mostly just went over what to pack in which bags. Your parka, windpants and boots go in your carry-on, and you put them on before the flight, just in case. Then you’ve got your checked bags, like with any airline, including a “Boomerang Bag.” You pack your toiletries and spare clothes in the Boomerang Bag, and if the flight gets delayed, or has to turn back halfway to the Ice, they give it back so you have something to get you through the 24 hours until the next try.

After the briefing we got to test the fit of everything we’d been issued. Here I am kitted out with full-on ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear:

Ready for anything.

Ready for anything.

And minus the parka:

Antarctic ninja.

Antarctic ninja, while feared and respected for their skills in cold-weather combat, are usually easy to spot on the ice.

The flight is at 0700 tomorrow, because it takes five hours to get to McMurdo (it’s a faster plane than they usually use) and they want to get there during the brief hour or two of daylight available this time of year. This means we have to check in at 0400 and, consequently, leave the hotel at 0315.

So I had best get started sorting my things into Carryon, Boomerang and Checked. With any luck I’ll have time tomorrow on the plane to compose a post about the Little Blue Penguins and artificial Antarctic windstorms at the International Antarctic Centre museum.


August 15, 2009

Keep meaning to post more about Science, but I have been nitpicking myself on accuracy. I believe I shall try to do more citing in my explanatory sorts of posts.

In the meantime, my snazzy prescription glacier glasses have arrived to save me from snow blindness:
Sunglasses are Cool, regardless of whether you are in Antarctica or not.

I also have backup eye protection in the form of these snow goggles, which were the only pair I could find that would fit over my ordinary glasses and which have a tiny fan on them to prevent fogging. I did not realize until I took this picture that they are, basically, larger than my entire head.

Goggles, or facehugger?

Life's little niceties

August 8, 2009

T minus one week. This is beginning to seem more real.

On the suggestion of someone I met at my advisor’s Fourth of July party, I am reading The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Gerard’s account of Scott’s ill-fated expedition. Reading it has convinced me that I will be living in the very lap of luxury during my trip. The food will be plentiful and varied. I will be unlikely to develop scurvy. When I’m camping in the Dry Valleys, my gear will be constructed of the best synthetic, high-tech fabrics, and my tent will be sturdy and warm. I will not have to get it there by personally dragging it the entire way on a sledge. And when I’m at McMurdo, I will be able to take a hot shower. Every day. All that and Internet access besides. Yes, the modern Antarctic explorer has got it pretty easy.

The past couple of weeks have been an ever-accelerating rush to acquire appropriate equipment, mostly scientific but some for personal use. All visitors to the Antarctic, for instance, are required to bring two pairs of sunglasses. With the reflection of sun off snow and ice, and the extra UV allowed in by the hole in the ozone, snow blindness is a very real concern. It turns out that prescription glasses for someone with terrible eyesight, which I have, in a wraparound “glacier glasses” style, which is necessary for snow use, cost a fair bit. Fortunately the grant will cover it. A store in Fremont supplied my second set of sunshades, a pair of snow goggles designed to fit over my current glasses and fitted with a tiny fan to help prevent fogging. (The odds that it will continue working in Antarctic winter conditions are probably slim, but it was the only pair they had–and, hey, gadgets!)

In addition to the eye protection, I have been acquiring some small-scale cold-weather gear. Several people have instructed me that I should be sure to bring my own hat–it is not quite clear to me whether the one supplied to you by the logistics folks fits poorly or is simply unbearably unstylish. Socks, because it’s nice to have your own, and gloves, because the odds that they will have any small enough for my hands are rather low. Perhaps a balaclava. Next problem: what books have a sufficiently high quality-to-weight ratio to be worth bringing?

I know I promised to explain how Earth escaped from Snowball conditions. Short answer: carbon dioxide. Long answer will arrive soon.