A day at the office

We were  backup on the Basler today and didn’t fly.

We are backup on MKB, the Basler air plane.
We are backup on MKB, the Basler air plane.

Ever wondered what we do when we don’t fly?

Well, we get up between 5:30 and 6:00. Go and have breakfast to be ready to receive news between 6:45 and 7:00. That’s when they tell us we are staying:

We are not flying! - Ahhhh
We are not flying! – Ahhhh

So we have to find some other tasks around the office and there is always something to do!

Lot's of work
Lot’s of work

As non native speaker Zhao and Anja get the chance to learn many colorful englisch sayings:

Hurry up and wait!

When in trouble when in doubt run in circles scream and shout!

You don’t ever know ‘cuz you never can tell!

Can’t get there from here!

By then it’s time for lunch.

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Meal time comes around more quickly than we’d like sometimes.

After lunch we  check the news and brows the internet. Lots of patience is needed for this task:

Sitting in front of a white screen!
Sitting in front of a white screen!

Or we walk over to the library and read books about the first Antarctic explorers like Scott, Shakelton and Amundsen.

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The Library is small but has a nice collection with plenty of comfortable couches and nooks to sit and read.

Such a long day. It’s almost time for dinner and to go back to sleep!

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Seems as though our lives here revolve around eating.

Cross your fingers, that we can fly to Yesterday Camp tomorrow morning.

 

Flight stations serviced

We have a map in our office with all the stations that we have to service.

Station map, already serviced stations are marked yellow.
Station map, already serviced stations are marked yellow.

The weather within the last few days was quite good. So we had the chance to reach some more of our stations by plane. This leaves our group with seven more stations. These stations are close together, within a 20 km radius. On Friday we will go out to a camp they are putting in for us right now and service the last stations from the camp by snowmobile.

Three of the stations we reached last week are about 2 km away from the ice shelf front, offering spectacular views flying there.

ce shelf front near station DR02
Ice shelf front near station DR02
Flying over the ice shelf front
Flying over the ice shelf front
Servicing station DR02
Servicing station DR02
Setting up a GPS station north of the seismic station
Setting up a GPS station north of the seismic station
Nascent iceberg, not yet a real iceberg.
Nascent iceberg, not yet a real iceberg.
Rob prepares the landing close to the ice shelf front.
Rob prepares the landing close to the ice shelf front.

A portion of the largest rift on the Ross Ice Shelf seen from the Twin Otter while flying back to McMurdo after servicing station DR15, about 200 km from the shelf front. The rift, a through-going fracture thought to penetrate the entire shelf to the water below, extends for over 100 km roughly parallel to the shelf front, and is over 1 km wide at its widest.

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Rift on the Ross Ice Shelf

Returning to McMurdo after servicing seismic station DR15, we flew over and along the largest rift on the Ross Ice Shelf. The width of the rift increases towards the center of its length, suggesting the width is increasing there. GPS stations were installed at several stations perpendicular to the shelf front to see if we can detect differential episodic motions across the rifts.

 

Transantarctic Mountains
Transantarctic Mountains

We had great views of the Transantarctic Mountains on our way to station DR16.

Luckily no one got sick on the plane so far!

Sickness Bag
Sickness Bag

Severe weather conditions

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.

Servicing ice front station DR03
Servicing ice front station DR03

 

Digging Holes at Castle Rock

Friday, 3 November 2015

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:

  1. Digging a couple of holes in the ice about 4’x4′ by 4′ deep.
  2. 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.
  3. make sure that the seismo is aligned to true north (declination here at McMurdo is 144°E)
  4. 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.

Castle Rock in the Distance
Castle Rock in the Distance

 

Arrival at the calibration facility
Arrival at the calibration facility

It was blowing!

Digging it!
Digging it!
Seismometer in place, level, aligned to True North, and ready for burial
Seismometer in place, level, aligned to True North, and ready for burial
Paul (PASSCAL) readying the instruments
Paul (PASSCAL) readying the instruments

19

Toe Warmers are your good friends on days like this (but they don't really last 6+ hours; more like 2 hours, maybe)
Toe Warmers are your good friends on days like this (but they don’t really last 6+ hours; more like 2 hours, maybe)
Ahhhhhhhh
Ahhhhhhhh

McMurdo Recreation

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!

McMurdo activities
McMurdo activities

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.

On the way down the tube
On the way down the tube
Sea ice from below, with fish
Sea ice from below, with fish

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The way back up!
The way back up!

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.

McMurdo station from Ob Hill
McMurdo station from Ob Hill
At the top of Ob Hill
At the top of Ob Hill

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.

Scott's Hut
Scott’s Hut
Scott's Hut and McMurdo
Scott’s Hut and McMurdo
Mummified Seal in front of Scott's Hut
Mummified Seal in front of Scott’s Hut

Cross country skiing: During our shakedown we had some time to try cross country skiing.

Cross country skies ready to go.
Cross country skies ready to go.
Zhao testing the skies.
Zhao testing the skies.
Anja tries to explain cross country skiing.
Anja tries to explain cross country skiing.

Hula hoop: Time to learn something new – why not hula hoop?! We build hula hoops and learned some first tricks.

Making hula hoops
Making hula hoops
First tries!
First tries!
Hula hoop group
Hula hoop group

Friday Night Entertainment: 7:30-8:30, Twilight Zone mini-marathon in the Coffee House/Wine Bar

The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone

 

Shakedown (née Happy Camper), Day 1

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.

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Loading Hagglund before heading out to camp

 

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Dean and Anja in the Hagglund

 

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Zhao

 

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Jerry

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.

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Unloading at 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.”

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Staking tent and rainfly

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.

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Sawing block for our kitchen wind screen

 

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Shelf for stove

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.

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Making our cooking area

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.

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Melting snow for water to cook our freeze-dried food with
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Mmmm, expired Mac & Cheese and “Roma Pasta” out of a bag

Ah, the fruits of our labors…

First data collected

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.

Getting ready to take off and reach our first station by Twin Otter.
Getting ready to take off and reach our first station by Twin Otter.
Relaxing before reaching the site.
Relaxing before reaching the site.

After a pleasant one hour flight to the ice edge we reached our station ‘DR01’.

Crack on the ice shelf front.
Crack at the ice shelf front
Ice edge
Ross Ice Shelf front

Our two main tasks are setting up a GPS station (UNAVCO) and digging out the data logger of the seismometer (PASSCAL).

GPS station in the middle of nowhere.
GPS station in the middle of nowhere.
Digging down to get the data logger.
Digging down to get the data logger.