Friday, November 21, 2014

(there and) Back again: a Scientist's Journey

The past couple of days have been all about sitting on airplanes,
standing in long immigration and customs queues, and waiting in
airports.  The journey back from "The Ice" can be a long one.
Typically it si broken by a night stay here or there; Christchurch is
most common.  Our case was different, however, as our flight was
initially scheduled to arrive late in the evening, and was then
delayed 5 hours due to weather in McMurdo...

So here are the legs of travel between McMurdo and Hanover:

1) Fly from McMurdo to Christchurch, NZ on a USAF C-17 (~5 hours)
2) Fly from Christchurch to Sydney, AU, on Air New Zealand (~3.5
2) Fly from Sydney to Dallas/Ft Worth on Quantas (~15 hours)
3) Fly from DFW to Boston on American (~3 hours)
4) Bus from BOS to Hanover on the Dartmouth Coach (~3 hours).

In the end, we left for the Pegaus ice runway Wednesday evening at about 6:30 pm local
time, which is 17 hours ahead of EST.  I finally arrived in Boston  at
about 10 pm on Thursday, after a total of about 30 hours of continuous
travel, 26 hours of which were actualy spent flying on airplanes.  By
then it was too late to catch the last bus to Hanover, so after a
night in a Boston hotel, I boarded the bus for the final leg home.

That's it for this trip; it's been a whirlwind.  Tune in again next time!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting sorted

The process of coming back through McMurdo from a field camp is pretty remarkable, and I think of it as an exercise in shedding; of stuff and responsibility.  Our cargo from the plane arrives in a big bin- first we return our camping gear to the Berg Field Center, from which it came.  We give back our generators and mechanical gear to the Mechanical Equipment Center.  Our radios go back to the communication center.  Finally our science cargo is weighed, measured, tagged, and submitted to the cargo system.  We are then left with our personal gear and cold weather clothing.  We completed this process quickly today, and by evening (just after dinner), we took the near-final step in the process, the "Bag drag" which is essentially checking in for our flight.  We then shed almost the last of our posessions, and are left with the bare minimum; our essential cold-weather clothes (we're required to wear them on the plane) and a small hand-carry bag.  We then become (again) the "ungone"- those who have prepared everything for departure and are simply waiting for a plane.  And as I saw first-hand 2 years ago, this can sometimes take weeks...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Flight out!

Wouldn't it be perfect if the only weather window for days happened to
be on a Sunday.  This morning at 3, it was starting to look like this
might be the case...  But the hopful sign was that the barometer was
rising, a reversal of the trend of the past few days.  By 7:00, when
the pilots were making decisions about whether to fly or not, it was
starting to clear, but not perfect yet; the word came from McMurdo
that they would delay by 3 hours, and make a decision at 10.  I'd
begun the packing process at about 4:30, noting the improving weather
trend and hopeful.

And as it happened, the weather continued to get better and better, to
the point where it was practically 'hot' out by the time the airplane
arrived.  But not everywhere; the pilot said that it'd been foggy up
until only a few miles (about 10) from where we were camped...  whew!

We'd piled our cargo for loading on the plane and were ready.  We
loaded up the plane, hopped on, and after a 2-hour flight, we were
back at McMurdo again!

[Loading the plane.  As when we arrived, the only evidence of our presence is the borehole casing!  We've extended it in case it's a long time until the next folks come for a visit.]

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday is a no-fly day...

And wouldn't you know it, today 'dawned' clear- it looks like the
weather has broken, the barometer's rising.  It would be a perfect day
for us to fly out, but it is not to be as it's Sunday...

So we'll take advantage of this delay to make more measurements, and
we're hopeful for the weather to continue to improve for tomorrow.

Fingers crossed, and I'll be making weather observations starting at 3 tomorrow!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tasks you just don't want to do!

You know how challenging it is to get out of a warm sleeping bag in
the morning?  Imagine you're having to do just that, but it's -22 C
outside.  Much nicer just to stay in bed, right?  Well, not an
option.  Getting out of the warm bag, putting on clothes, crawling out
into the pretty-much whiteout conditions...

Now imagine having to do that at 3 am.

And then again at 4 am.

And then again at 5 am....

And at that point, I just give up and figure the pleasure of being in
the warm sleeping bag is not worth the difficulty of getting out of it
again and again and again...   so at that point I just stay up.

Why am I doing this?  It's not what you might think.  On a flight day,
the aviation weather office in McMurdo wants hourly updates on our
current weather, starting 6 hours before the planned launch of our
aircraft.  Our schedule calls for the plane to leave McMurdo at 9, so
the first observation has to some in at 3.

So, now consider that you're not only getting out of your warm
sleeping bag, but you are then having to see the really lousy flying
weather, record it faithfully, and duly report it to the weather
office in McMurdo, knowing that it will mean the delay or cancellation
of your pull-out flight...

Now that's a task I could do without!  :)

Friday, November 14, 2014

What does "Nil and Nil" mean?

Well, 'nil' is short for nonexistant, or nothing, and in this case
each nil refers to a weather component, surface definition and horizon
definition.  The airplanes need both in order to fly, so they can see
to land- today we had none of either- it was a 'nil and nil' kind of

but we made the most of it, making more measurements in the borehole.
Still, we'd rather be flying!

 [Camp in 'nil and nil' conditions- it's impossible to see the horizon or identify surface features, this is what we often call 'flat' light.  Very different from a windy storm, but the effects on aviation are the same!]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

First flight attempt, scrubbed for weather.

After I wrote that last blog post, the aviation folks at McMurdo
offered us a chance to fly today, just in case, and we took them up on
it.  We were not optimistic either, but were just as willing to give
it a try as not...  and it got much nicer in the afternoon and
evening, so we were a little more hopeful.

So I was up at 3am to pass weather observations.  And even from
listening to the wind on my tent I could tell it wouldn't be good.  On
popping out of the tent to look around, I saw we had less than 200
meters of visibility in any direction, and no horizon or surface
definition.  Definitely not flyable weather!  But I dutifully called
it in every hour until the call came at 7:30 that we were cancelled.
Then we set up for some science today, making more temperature
measurements in the borhole.  Better than just waiting!

As I write this, the weather has cleared up again, in the
afternoon/evening.  So we are hopeful again.  We'll see what it looks
like tomorrow morning at 3:00!