Oct. 30, 2015: Working in severe weather conditions is a common experience in Antarctica. We landed under clear but hazy skies, weather conditions about -5°F with 15-20 knot winds. Over the next two hours, conditions worsened to -15°F with 40 knot winds. When visibility dropped to 50ft, the pilot ordered a rapid pullout, leaving the station’s servicing unfinished.
Anja and Jerry drove out on the Castle Rock loop road with Paul Carpenter, Chief Engineer at PASSCAL, to their test “facility” today to install a couple of seismometers for testing and burn-in. PASSCAL (Portable Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere) is the group from New Mexico who are providing the seismometers and data loggers that we’re using on this project. Their test facility consists of an insulated storage van, which was almost as cold inside as out, just off the loop road on the way to Castle Rock, on a rise above the Ross Ice Shelf; very cold and windy there. We drove out to the site in a Mattrack, a Ford F250 with tracks replacing the wheels. (I’d like to see this thing in a Monster Truck Rally.)
Installing the instrument involved:
Digging a couple of holes in the ice about 4’x4′ by 4′ deep.
Leveling the bottom of the hole and placing a piece of 1’x1′ ceramic tile backed with 3″ of syntactic foam for insulation, which provides a hard, level surface to set the cylindrical instrument on.
make sure that the seismo is aligned to true north (declination here at McMurdo is 144°E)
then fill in the hole, burying the instrument for a few days.
As you can see from the photos and short video below, we had a hell of a blow, and it was REALLY cold. When the door of the van opened, snow blew in and didn’t melt. We had to keep sweeping it up and throwing it out the door, not unlike sand in the desert blowing in through an open door or window. Strange.
Reading this blog you might have recognized that we have a lot of time because we can’t fly due to the current weather conditions. However, we collected some of the data loggers by now and started to analyze the data. Nevertheless, there is some time for recreation with lots of opportunities around McMurdo!
The big board on the way to the mess room announces the highlights of the day, fitness classes, movies, talks. A craft room is open for everyone that wants to be creative and it’s possible to rent cross country skies and climbing shoes at the gear room.
Ob tube: A hole drilled through the sea ice. It’s not much more, but it’s possible to climb down the tube installed there and observe life and light under the sea ice.
Hiking Ob Hill: Observation Hill is McMurdo’s local mountain. A nice hike with a great view towards the ice shelf, sea ice, and McMurdo station.
Hiking around Scott’s Hut: Close to McMurdo is Scott’s Hut. Robert F. Scott build this hut in 1911 on his expedition to reach the south pole. On his way back he and his crew died. The cross at Ob Hill was erected in memory of Scott. Scott’s Hut is still standing.
Cross country skiing: During our shakedown we had some time to try cross country skiing.
Hula hoop: Time to learn something new – why not hula hoop?! We build hula hoops and learned some first tricks.
Friday Night Entertainment: 7:30-8:30, Twilight Zone mini-marathon in the Coffee House/Wine Bar
Nov. 3, 2015: Just returned from our two-day survival “Shakedown,” (It used to be called Happy “Camper,” for some unknown reason). This course is a two-day (one-night) course in surviving on the Ice while awaiting rescue. This course is required of all groups heading out into the “deep field” camps.
It started out with a two-hour lecture at the Science Support Center (SSC) here at McMurdo, where two Mountaineers (they’re now called “Field Safety Coordinators”) went over principles of surviving out on the ice for a few days while awaiting rescue. This included: building a snow kitchen (1/2 igloo to act as a wind screen), how to melt water on a camp stove (a little more complicated than it sounds, but not a whole lot more), and how to pitch a tent in high winds and blowing snow (both of which we experienced when we went out for the field portion of the training).
After our lecture, we loaded the Hagglund for our trip out onto the Ice.
Passing Scott’s Base (Kiwi base between McM and the ‘Transition” where the sea ice meets the Ross Island, we headed out towards Willie’s field (the smaller of the two airstrips at MCM) and then hung a left and went “offroad” for about one kilometer to the Happy Camper camp site.
Setting up camp
After laying out our tent line, 90° from the road, we started setting up camp. As soon as we started setting up the tents, the wind picked up and it was pretty blustery. It was as if the mountaineers had ordered the wind for us at just the right time, to make the training exercise very “real world.”
Note the bamboo stakes. The snow was the right consistency for staking vertically, rather than using horizontal “deadman” stakes on the rainfly guys, as one would typically use on the Ice. Also, we used every possible stake point and guy because, as stated earlier, the wind was howling. Also note the snow fillets we’ve built up around the tents. This is to keep the loose, wind blown snow from filtering in between the rainfly and the tent itself. (Rainfly is a bit of misnomer, since it never rains here. The fly is more about adding an additional layer of insulation to the tent itself.)
After the tents were up and our gear stowed inside them, we began building our kitchen and its accompanying wind wall. Building the kitchen consisted of sticking a large toothed saw into the snow and sawing two parallel straight lines about one foot apart and about five feet in length. Then sawing lines one foot apart, connecting the two parallel lines to form blocks about one foot square. Then insert a square edged shovel into the first short line, and start prying blocks up out of the snow. The resulting blocks were pretty light, and had the feel and sound of Styrofoam blocks (they squeaked when you rubbed them together). Thus, the floor of our kitchen served as the quarry for our ice block wind walls.
We continued to excavate the blocks from the floor of our kitchen until we had a shelf at just the right height to set our stove on, and a bench for everyone to sit on and eat.
Melting snow to make water takes a bit of time, and you have to be careful not to burn it. Yep, burn it. If you try to melt the snow without “seeding” the pan with some water at the bottom, the microscopic dust particles suspended in the snow can burn and really stink up the pan.
To be able to reach our stations on the Ross Ice Shelf we have to fly with a Twin Otter. Every morning we are ready at 7 am and wait for the phone call that confirms our flight. After 4 days of being ready and eventually hanging around at the office because we didn’t fly we finally took off to go to the first station on Friday.
After a pleasant one hour flight to the ice edge we reached our station ‘DR01’.
Our two main tasks are setting up a GPS station (UNAVCO) and digging out the data logger of the seismometer (PASSCAL).
San Diego -> Los Angeles -> Sydney -> Christchurch, NZ (25 hours of flying)
Made it to Christchurch and the next morning arrived at the US Antarctic Program (USAP) offices for a preliminary briefing (only one of many to come) and to be outfitted with our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) in a small office with locker rooms at the USAP Center.
Bound for McMurdo Station, Antarctica the following day. We boarded a C17 transport plane and shared our seats with a search and rescue helicopter headed for the New Zealand (Scott) Base on the other side of Ross Island from McMurdo. We’re sitting on the starboard side of the plane (left side of the photo) towards the tail of the plane.