Friday, January 25, 2013

Headed Home

Well, this looks like the end for this season.  I'm about to have breakfast, after which I will head to the airfield and fly back to Christchurch, the first step in heading home.

It's been an interesting ride!  Thanks for visiting on this trip, and tune back in next time!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pulling the plug

We had planned to make two more tries to make it out to Roosevelt Island, as it's getting late in the season, so today and tomorrow were our options.  The morning started out as usual, and a call from the field indicated that the weather was improving, so we had hope...

But today, something much more serious intervened.  Another airplane is currently missing in the transantarctic mountains, and all resources are currently committed to the search and rescue effort.  There has been an NSF press release about this incident, and it is being reported in New Zealand and also in the the global press.  We still don't know anything about what happened, and still have not been able to locate the aircraft.  

So it makes sense that all resources are being directed towards the search and rescue mission.  In light of this, a field season in which we failed to make it to the field seems like a very small problem.  We have spent most of the day trying to learn more about what is happening, and our thoughts are in the transantarctic mountains this evening.  

Tomorrow we start the process of "returning from the field"- stowing away our field gear, shipping cargo back to the US, and in a few days getting on a plane back towards home.  In the meantime, we are hoping for a positive outcome soon for the downed aircrew.  Fingers crossed, but this time not for our own flight but for the rescue flight.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I thought I had

The perfect trick for actually getting out into the field today; I had agreed to give the McMurdo Wednesday Science Lecture.  I figure- I have a commitment now- of course the fates would conspire to make me break it?

But no.  Weather report from Roosevelt Island:  Surface definition Nil, horizon definition Poor.  The surface and horizon are two things that the pilots really need to be able to see in order to land safely.  Not to be seen today, though.  

So that meant I had to give the talk I'd agreed to give :)

I think it went ok.  Here's the promotional poster they created for the talk- it looks pretty exciting!

We're on the board for tomorrow as well, but the weather forecast isn't great.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

High hopes, top priority.... FOG.

Well, yesterday restored my trust that there are aircraft in the vicinity, and they do fly, and in fact I can fly on them.  So for some reason I awoke this morning with higher expectations than before; partly that was also due to the fact that we were first on the priority list for this morning's flight.

But it was not to be.  Shortly before the fixed-wing coordinator called me, I got a call from Roosevelt Island; and it was foggy.  So, no flight today.  

I washed dishes again in the galley, and I was thinking about just how many plates there are to wash when there are almost 900 people on station.  But the guy across from me also washing dishes had been in the navy, where he worked on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier- a ship that carries over 5000 people!  It made me wonder about what the galley looks like on a ship like that- more than 5 times the size!  

In any case, we're top on the priority list for tomorrow's flight as well, and I've volunteered to give a science talk in the evening if we don't fly, so perhaps having made this commitment, that's what's required for us to actually fly.  As ever, fingers crossed!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Actually Flying!! Day trip to Siple Dome

What excitement to actually scramble to get ready for a flight this morning!  I got the call at 7am that we were "go" for a day trip to Siple Dome (SDM), where I needed to inspect the borehole casing on a deep borehole (1000 meters) that was finished in 1999 (see the early archives of this blog for some discussion of my work there back then).  So at 7, I learned I needed to be ready for transport at 7:30, so I kicked into gear and got everything ready.  

The De Haviland DHC-6 (AKA Twin Otter) that  took me to SDM.  I was the only passenger!  The flight to SDM from McMurdo was about 3 hours.  I had some time for a little light reading in addition to admiring the scenery...

Siple Dome is currently operated as a kind of remote gas station for airplanes- it's staffed by a crew of two.  Outside their little hut, there's a signpost with the distances to various locales.  The borehole is just a short snowmobile ride away.

Here's the video inspection system that I used to look inside the casing.  The issue was that concerned us was the possibility of damage to the casing due to firn compaction- I'd seen this before at GISP2, when I took a look at it back in 2007 (see the blog post:

The good news- all of the casing joints appeared to be completely intact, with no sign of damage or failure.  Below is a quick screen grab of one of the joints- you can see it as the white circle of snow- the snow collects in the hollow space formed by the joint.  

Ok, long day, time for bed.  We're first priority for a flight to Roosevelt tomorrow, but I don't want to get too confident (though I keep hoping!).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

And another Sunday

Another Sunday in McMurdo.  Not much to report, actually, as mostly the whole station shuts down.  

But I helped out in the kitchen again- more sweeping and mopping.  The crew really appreciates it as well, since it helps them get finished just that much more quickly!

Tomorrow, the primary mission is to another field camp, and ours is a backup.  So, we'll see how it goes...  still working to stay optimistic!  More tomorrow, either way.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday in Mactown

Well, the snow that was promised for today showed up, and in fact just about when it was promised! We were immediately canceled for a Roosevelt Island trip, but there was a possibility of a trip to Siple Dome; but that was quickly nixed as well.  

Here, you can see the snow in the air; what you can't see is Observation Hill behind me.  On a clear day, just above the buildings in the background you'd see a large, dark hill composed of volcanic rock.  Not today!  It underscores the poor visibility.  I spent most of the day working on improvements to my logging box.  It was already capable of logging data, but I have now made it easier to work with- I described it to a colleague over dinner as having been the "Volkswagen" model, and I'm improving it to the "BMW" version.  

At the end of the day, I volunteered to wash dishes again.  But this evening the dishes were finished quickly, so they moved me to sweeping and mopping.  My colleague Ross Virginia happened by ans snapped this shot for posterity!  Just looking for a way to be of use around here.  Tomorrow is Sunday, when all of McMurdo shuts down for the day.  I'd hoped to volunteer to help out with the McMurdo Marathon, but it's been cancelled on account of poor weather.  Then Monday we're back to playing Airplane Bingo- stay tuned!

Friday, January 18, 2013

High hopes, but low visibility...

Today the weather dawned beautiful and fresh in McMurdo, and we were first priority on the flight list, but it was not to be.  About 5 minutes before our 7am check in with the flight coordinators, the phone rang and it was the camp at Roosevelt Island calling- the weather wasn't good.

So, cancelled again today.  And that was our shot at priority, tomorrow we're the backup for another flight- if they are cancelled we'll see if we can go.  

But also, there's weather coming to McMurdo as well- the forecast is for heavy snow and high winds starting tomorrow afternoon- though that wouldn't keep us from taking off and getting to Roosevelt Island, the pilots also consider how they will get home again, so that could ground everyone.  

We'll see.  More tomorrow!  Today I spent some time configuring my logging electronics for internal (SD card) storage- so more improvements.  I also volunteered for dish crew, washing pots and pans for a couple of hours after dinner.  I never realized how much it takes to feed the whole station population of 900!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another day in Mactown- but we're on the schedule!

 Another morning call that we were not to fly today.  I spent some time working on my datalogging system for my temperature probe (the brass cylinder in the front) that will go down the deep borehole.  The probe talks to the silver box to the left of the computer, which in turn talks to the computer, which can log and display the data. I've been working on the little silver box, and hope to eventually get it configured so that we don't need the computer at all; but for now, logging to the computer is our best bet.

Also, the great thing that happened today was that not one but three aircraft were able to get in to the field camp that was ahead of us on priority.  So we're now bumped up to priority one for tomorrow- and we're even on the schedule!  I was so excited I took a picture of it...

As I usually say, hopeful again for tomorrow!  Fingers crossed for good weather at Roosevelt.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Three guesses

And the first two don't count.

Yep, no flying again today.  We did, however, get on the list for a short time, before we were cancelled; I almost took a picture to post of the list showing our flight, but decided that it did not make for dramatic viewing....

So, same plan again tomorrow.  Always optimistic!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday- Deja vu

Tuesday's just about over, with Nothink to report (Tintin fans may recognize this from "Flight 714").

Not even a photograph.  

It's beginning to feel a little like the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day", in which Bill Murray's character wakes up every morning and replays the same day over and over.

1) Wake up
2) Check the weather
3) Check the flight schedule
4) Grab breakfast (don't skimp, because when you are flying in the polar regions, it might be a long time until your next meal)
5) Get to my office for a 7am phone call from Fixed Wing Air Operations
6) Get the call- no flying.
7) Work on other things for the rest of the day
8) Repeat.  

I did get a manuscript finished and sent out to my coauthors today, which is good progress.  

But the clock is ticking, and we should be in the field.  Ever Hopeful!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday at McMurdo

No, not the novel, which I haven't read yet (though it promises to be a thrill), but an actual Monday at McMurdo.  

Perhaps obviously, we didn't fly anywhere today.  I actually spent most of the day working on a paper that I hope to submit soon, so in the end it was productive in that way at least.  

Also, it happened that the craft room was open after dinner, and I'd heard that the craft room had a sewing machine.  I needed to mend both my trousers and my cap, so I spent a little while working on that; below is the result; the hat used to be blue, my first round of patches was green, over a year ago, and this round of patches was red- it's gore-tex from a discarded pair of OR overboots.  So the hat is ready for the field- and I have to say I am too.  We're alternates for tomorrow as usual, so it's the 7am phone call to let us know yes or no.  Stay tuned!  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Slow Sunday at McMurdo

 On Sundays in McMurdo, most of the station shuts down, and this is the one day off for most of the station staff.  One thing this means is that there were no flights today, so no opportunity to head out to the field.  We spent most of this day continuing to work on papers, but spared a bit of time in the afternoon to walk out to Hut Point to take a look at the hut that R.F. Scott built during his first expedition to the antarctic in 1901.  It is remarkably well preserved, because it's so dry.  In this view, you can see the hut in the foreground, and McMurdo station in the background.  If you look closely, you can see three wind turbines on the hill above the station- a start at bringing renewable energy to this large station.

Here, Richard stands next to Vince's Cross, a memorial erected by the members of Scott's first expedition.  G.T. Vince drowned in McMurdo sound in 1902.

Tomorrow morning the plan is the same- be ready to go, and then wait for the 7am phone call- it could be telling us we're off on a day trip to Siple Dome, off at last to Roosevelt Island, or spending another day in "Mactown" as it's often referred to here.  I think I often end my posts with "Fingers crossed!", but I find it appropriate- so...  Fingers Crossed!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

No Flight today... but a silver lining

Got up and grabbed breakfast bright and early again today, only to get the 7am call that our mission was not selected for today's flights; once again, the decision was to try for the primary destination.  Of course, it was pretty foggy in McMurdo this morning so it was actually unlikely that anything could go.  And in the end, all of the on-ice missions were scrubbed, due to poor weather or mechanical problems.

So it's back to waiting- and unfortunately, the others are still waiting as well.  Added to that, tomorrow is Sunday and because most of the station gets Sunday off, that includes flight controllers so there's won't be any flying tomorrow either.

But there was a silver lining in the whole day.  About mid-morning I got a call from Roosevelt Island that they had found ice chips beginning to plug up the main borehole.  This happens when the cuttings left over from the drilling float to the surface of the drill fluid, and then solidify together into a solid mass.  I've experienced this before, at GRIP in Greenland.  So I needed to go around the station and come up with a tool that we could use to break up the plug- something I've referred to as a 'battering ram' since my first experience with it in 1996.  After some trudging around, I had a suitably mean-looking tool:

It's basically an ice-chipping hand tool that's used to clear ice from walkways and such around here; I've added some extra weight with 2 steel pipes scavenged from a dumpster, so that when we lower it into the borehole it will have some extra force behind it.  It's a great design, the 'stepped' front end allows all the force to be concentrated in a small area for hard ice, but then as penetration progresses it can clear a larger and larger area.  Hope it works!

The other thing I've been doing while waiting for this flight is working on data, and writing manuscripts that I hope to submit soon.  Fortunately laptops make this kind of work easy to bring with me anywhere, so that if I get stuck, I can still be productive...

Well, that's all for today.  Fingers crossed that Monday will be the day!

Friday, January 11, 2013

How do you simulate a white-out?

Well, the bad news is that the weather was good enough at the primary destinations that both of our possible flights ended up going to the first of second choice, not us.  The good news is that even if they had been able to take us, the weather at Roosevelt Island hasn't been good enough to fly anyway....

So we are still in McMurdo.  It's funny, since none of my actual science work ever happens in McMurdo, I am always, by definition, waiting to get out of town.  We're alternates for tomorrow's flights as well, so there's a possibility there; after that, there is no flying on Sundays, it's the only day the station takes off.

But on to the subject line of today's post!  During our "Happy camper" training, we needed to work on things like "what to do in a whiteout".  But as I mentioned in the post, the weather was perfect; how do you simulate it then?

You put a bucket over your head!

Here are two Happy Campers, each wandering around in their own personal white-out.  They are attempting to walk in a straight line- and from experience I can tell you that inside the bucket there is no sense of sight whatsoever; the bucket tips forward and so you can't even see out through the bottom.

For my part of the exercise, we were inside a hut, and the scenario was that our instructor had left the hut in a whiteout and we needed to find her.  We had at our disposal whatever we could find in the hut, and the rules were that anyone who went out the door had to wear a bucket on their head as a whiteout simulator.  Another happy camper and I went out the door with a rope tied around our waists; we brought with us brooms to extend our reach while "sweeping" for the lost instructor.  It took us a while, but we finally figured out a way to go in a straight line out to the outhouse, where we thought she'd probably be found.  We ended up finding her, just before we ran out of time for the exercise.  Apparently it's pretty rare for the person to be found during the exercise, which ends up as a double lesson in personal responsibility, not to be the one to get caught out like that.

Ok, too many words again.  Hopefully we'll fly tomorrow.  If I don't post for more than a day or two, I've probably made it in to Roosevelt Island, and will not be able to post again until I get back to McMurdo.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On the Flight schedule!

Ok, so we are the 3rd alternate destination, but at least we're on the schedule.  So if the weather is poor at the first destination, they will plan to fly to the alternate; if bad at both places, we are next in line!

It's a pretty efficient system for using the resources of the single aircraft that is appropriate for our flight.  It means that in the morning, three field parties will be ready to depart at a moment's notice, so that if the call is made that one destination has too poor weather for flying, the others are ready to go.  All the cargo for each group is staged next to the airplane, ready to be loaded.

But the plan is even more complicated than that, because I have another task to accomplish this season, going to Siple Dome.  In the event that we can't get the aircraft to go to Roosevelt Island, we are the 2nd alternate destination for another plane that could take us to Siple Dome.  So on paper I have to be on two planes tomorrow, but if everything works as it should, I won't go anywhere, because both planes will make it to their primary destination.

How do the planners choose who gets priority?  Many factors, but one is definitely how long they have been trying; the first two have been trying for some time now.

So, our task for today was simply to make sure our cargo was all ready to go for tomorrow, and that's complete.  Fingers crossed that we'll get to go!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Field Safety Training

I haven't posted for the last 48 hours because I was off at Field Safety training, also known locally as "Happy Camper School" because it gives many people their first taste of winter camping.  This is a full two day experience, complete with an overnight campout.  It's required of all first timers, and also for anyone who hasn't deployed to the antarctic in more than 5 years.  That's me; I had this course in 1995!

In addition to learning risk mitigation and assessment, we learned about hazards we might encounter in the field, and it turns out that while you might find things like "weather" or "whiteout" on the list, the more important ones are not that obvious- "inexperience", "complacency", and other so-called "subjective" hazards.

Well, I won't go through a blow-by blow account, but I wanted to post a few pictures- here's the camp we set up, with tent space for, all, and a nice windbreak wall, and a small kitchen.

I chose to sleep in a snow-trench. Here's what my trench looked like form the outside. I covered the top with an ensolite pad weighted down with snow blocks.


Here's what it looked like inside. I hung my bags and things from short lengths of bamboo that I drove into the wall.

The weather was just gorgeous for most of the time- we even saw a nice glimpse of Mt Erebus- one of the more impressive mountains on the Antarctic!

Ok, all for now. I hear our cargo has arrived so we'll check it out tomorrow. Ok, end of today's post- I'm pretty tired and about to fall sleep!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Made it to McMurdo!

Second time's the charm, I suppose- at least for this flight.

We got up early, caught the shuttle to the airport, and when I arrived, the silver lining to this delay was revealed; my lost luggage was waiting for me!  It was great to finally have all the gear that I set out with almost a week ago.

The flight from Christchurch to McMurdo Station is about 8 hours, so plenty of time to read, work, or sleep.  I did a little of all three.  

And pretty much as soon as we arrived, we will hit the ground running.  I have a meeting at 07:30 tomorrow morning, followed at 08:15 by the start of a two-day (overnight) field safety training course.  So, chances are good that I won't manage a blog post while I'm out there...  but I'll tell you all about it when I get back online.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

What's a Boomerang flight?

A Boomerang is a flight that lands right back where it started.

Yesterday we boomeranged, so I'm still in Christchurch. Yesterday we all got the airport and weighed in for our flight, and then began waiting. There's always some significant waiting time, and so by the time we actually boarded the plane, it was 2 hours later. Then after another hour, we took off. After just about an hour's flying time, the crew noticed something wrong with the airplane- nothing that was actually putting us in danger, but in a situation like this, they want the airplane to be in top condition. 

The C-130's flight endurance is about 10 hours, and it's about an 8 hour flight from New Zealand to the Antarctic. Most of that flight is over the Southern ocean. If you do the math, you might figure out that if the weather got bad in McMurdo just before the aircraft arrived, it wouldn't have enough fuel to return to New Zealand, which would be a Bad Thing. So after about 5 hours of flying, the flight reaches a point they call "PSR" or the Point of Safe Return (apparently it used to be known as the Point of No Return, but this frightened people, so they changed it). Usually the news that the flight has passed PSR ripples through the aircraft, since PSR is the last place from which the flight can return to Christchurch.

Ok, too many words. But the silver lining on this cloud is that having an extra day in Christchurch allowed my lost luggage to catch up to me; I finally managed to lay my hands on it this morning. So, we're set to head out again this morning. Fingers crossed!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Back to Antarctica- Roosevelt Island

Greetings once again!  I'm headed out again, this time to Roosevelt Island, a small ice rise in the Ross Ice Shelf. I'm part of an international team of scientists working on a project known as the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project. A team of drillers from New Zealand have already finished drilling a core over 700 meters (metres here in NZ) down to bedrock on the island, from which they expect to extract a climate archive. My component of the project is, not surprisingly for those who have read many of these posts, borehole logging. I'll measure temperatures and optical stratigraphy in the main borehole, and set up a continuous logging temperature string in a shallower hole, that we'll collect next year when we return for another round of logging. More on the science later. Right now, I've just arrived in Christchurch, NZ, and been issued with my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. The US antarctic program operates a warehouse here with all the things a person needs for cold weather. I didn't have my camera handy when I was there, but here is picture of my colleague and friend Rolf Tremblay with his ECW gear (this was way back in 2001, but the gear is pretty much the same, though they don't give us as many pairs of socks any more!).
I've also been informed that, as per usual, flights are delayed getting South- sounds like the weather is actually too warm and the ice runway is getting soft! And, of course, the airlines lost my luggage. So the delay in getting to the antarctic is actually not too bad, as it will hopefully allow me some time for my baggage to catch up to me. We'll see how that goes!