Posts Tagged ‘people’


February 26, 2011

I am far behind on transcribing posts; I’ve been traveling around New Zealand, so Web access has been difficult to get.

Most of you have probably heard about the major quake that struck Christchurch on Tuesday. I was well away from it at the time, but since Christchurch is the “gateway to the Antarctic”, quite a few people from the US Antarctic Program were there when the quake struck. Most of them have been accounted for and are alive and well, although many of them have been left with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and several have hair-raising escape stories, including one person who apparently had to dig himself out of the wreckage of his hotel room and another who rappelled down the side of a building on bedsheets. The USAP personnel in Christchurch have been exceptionally helpful, starting up a makeshift refugee camp in the Clothing Distribution Center and adjoining flight terminal.

Meanwhile, down at McMurdo, the sea ice has broken out of the sound for the first time in a decade and a half (not because of the quake, it’s just coincidental.) Probably as a result, pieces of the ice shelf are breaking off. This may prove problematic, as the ice shelf is where the planes land to take people to and from the station. Right now the station staff are hurrying to move the road so that they’ll still be able to access the runway, in hopes that the summer crew still on station won’t be obligated to winter over.

So it’s exciting times at the USAP. Everyone’s thoughts are with the quake victims, of course, and with Christchurch as it struggles to rebuild.

I’m about to leave for a four-day hike, but I’ll be back in touch when I return.


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.

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!

Caffeinating at McMurdo

September 24, 2009

Those of you who know me know that my love for coffee borders on obsession. My travelogues always seem to end up centered around it in one way or another–the espresso I got in a beautiful old shop in Alexandria, the seven-dollar iced coffee at the top of the Shanghai Tower, the caffè corretto that made nights in Venice that much more entertaining. I don’t see why this trip should be any different, so I thought I’d discuss the places I’ve found coffee around McMurdo.

The most basic coffee at McMurdo is found in the galley. The galley is a broad, open space, quite pleasant to hang out in and a nice place to catch up with friends; the food is of course free and generally surprisingly tasty given the limited ingredients with which the chefs have to work.

McMurdo's vital center.

The coffee is not what you’d call gourmet, but neither is it actively bad, and it certainly does the job.

Simple, economical brain fuel.

If you want to get a little more involved in the coffeemaking process, you can buy coffee beans at the store (roasted in my beautiful hometown of Anchorage–there are a lot of Alaskans working here, and clearly they have had some influence on the purchasing process.) If you have neglected to bring suitable equipment, you can also buy a French press, a thermos and a coffee mug or three.

One stop shopping for all your coffee needs.

Thus equipped, you can make coffee in your dorm or office with relative ease (provided you can find a source of hot water.) Or you can sponge off others who have their own coffeemaking setup; I’ve found if I’m nice to the IT guys in the science building, they will sometimes share their coffee. On no account, however, should you forget your camera in their office:

If you do, then you come back to a memory card full of this sort of thing. Thanks, Holly.

One of the best places to get coffee, of course, is the Coffeehouse. The Coffeehouse is a beautifully appointed building made from a couple of Quonset huts. It has Internet access (although not wifi–we are in Antarctica, after all) and it’s decorated with a variety of old polar exploration paraphernalia:

Just in case your coffee inspires you to go on a new expedition, you'll be set for gear.

A latte, with a hint of cinnamon. Also available for coffee enhancement: Bushmill's.

It’s really more like a combination coffeehouse and bar, with a variety of wines and liquors available. Regardless of what you choose to drink, it’s a pretty excellent place to go for a relaxing conversation with a fellow coffee-loving friend:

Rebecca enjoys her cappuccino. Stimulating intellectual conversation + stimulating beverage = win.

The best coffee, though, happens when your field safety people bring an espresso maker to the ice hut. Then Rich makes lattes:

The rigors of Antarctic camping.

Our Heroes

September 7, 2009

As I mentioned in a previous post, the little band of which I am a part includes two other members:

Steve Warren is the Principal Investigator of the project, a professor at University of Washington, and my advisor (my advisor for astrobiology-related projects, that is; my advisor for glaciology projects is Ed Waddington.) He’s been down to the Ice more times than I can keep track of, he knows an immense amount about light and radiation and how it relates to climate, and he keeps his eyes open for interesting problems to solve.

Rich Brandt is a research scientist at University of Washington, though he telecommutes in from upstate New York. He is an expert on ice, snow and the reflection of light therefrom. He too has lots of on-Ice experience. He uses his excellent camera skills and vast collection of equipment to record Antarctic vistas and small stuffed penguins alike.

These are the individuals with whom I am privileged to work, who have developed most of the research protocols we’re following as we do science on this trip. They will show up in my pictures a lot.