Summer’s End

Summit (298 of 7)Winter is coming – temperatures are starting to drop and the nights are almost dark. The final flight period is over and summer has officially come to an end.

It was a full season – raising the TAWO building, supporting a number of interesting research projects both large and small, and sending out a bunch of material no longer needed on site. We had 26 LC-130 Herc flights this summer and now the Guard has returned to New York to prepare for the upcoming Antarctic season./static/images/status/weather/weather-tempout-lastweek.png

Now we have closed for winter and there are just six of us left on station: Manager, Mechanic, Heavy Equipment Operator, and three Science Techs (PFS, NOAA, and ICECAPS). We still have HF radio and a satellite internet connection (though still limited bandwidth so no youtube or skype videos). Our next contact with the outside world will be in mid-October when the next crew arrives on a Twin Otter from Akureyri, Iceland. They’ll care for the instruments and station from October through February.

In the meanwhile we have our work cut out for us to winterize the station. Pallets need to be moved to the berm, buildings need to be dragged out away from the main station to limit drifting, and vehicles need to be winterized and parked away from station as well – and everything needs to be flagged and mapped! The winter drifting is unimaginable – huge pallets and whole buildings can disappear beneath drifts of snow. Come spring there’s too much snow to shovel all by hand so heavy equipment is used, however it’s all too easy to destroy things when you’re not exactly sure where every buried item is! So we must flag everything, photograph everything, map everything and hope that any changes are recorded with as much detail as possible.

It’s almost eerily quiet with everyone gone – 19 people left on the last plane. With no cook we’ll each be taking turns cooking, and travel even on station is more tightly controlled. Everyone carries a radio. It won’t get fully dark until November, after we’re gone, but the sun is setting earlier and earlier: tonight it will set at 9:30pm and rise at 3:51am. A week from now it will set at 8:45pm and rise at 4:24am. There have been some beautiful sunsets so far!

So thank you to everyone who participated this summer season!

The Summit Summer Crew

The Summit Summer Crew

The last plane...

The last plane…

IMG_1841

All quiet in the Big House

All quiet in the Big House

Summit (297 of 7)

Leave a comment

Filed under Arctic, Flights, Greenland, Summit Station, Winter

sunset4

Sunset over the fuel pits on August 14th, 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Summit Sunsets

Sunset on August 6, 2015 at Summit (photo by

Sunset on August 6, 2015 at Summit (photo by “Medic Luke”)

At 72° 35’46″N 38° 25’19″W Summit is above the Arctic Circle. This means that for a few months each summer the sun never sets and the winters are long and dark. Unlike at the South Pole however, where there is only one sunrise and sunset each year (see my old post from Pole about sunsets here), Summit gets several months in the spring and fall with sunrises and sunsets. The last sunrise here was on May 6th, 2015 and last night, on August 6th, the long day ended. Though the sun technically set at 12:22am, rising again just 37minutes later at 12:59am, due to atmospheric distortions it didn’t visually appear to go below the horizon at all. Several people stayed up to watch, and the light was beautiful. It changes fast at these latitudes – tonight it will set at 11:54pm, rising again at 01:26am. This makes today unusual in that we have two sunsets on one day! One at 12:22am and another at 11:54pm….all a matter of arbitrary time zones (we’re on the same time as Kanger), but it’s kind of interesting nevertheless. It will continue setting earlier and rising later until November 14th when it will set for the last time, not to rise until January 28th! For more information about sun rise and set times and lengths of twilight check out this link: http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/greenland/summit-camp The North and South poles each have one sunrise and one sunset per year due to the tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun. If the earth’s axis were perpendicular to its orbital plane the sun would appear to just skim the horizon year-round at the Poles and the rise and set times of the sun around the world would stay constant. It’s a beautiful confirmation of our planet and its position in space …

A diagram showing daylight on Earth on the equinoxes. (Wikipedia)

A diagram showing daylight on Earth on the equinoxes. (Wikipedia)

The US Naval Astronomical Observatory has a neat website that allows you to search for full sun and moon rise/set tables based on your city or lat/long. Check it out: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.php 2015 Chart for Summit Station, Greenland: Sunrise&set Table 2015 And finally…one of my favorite things ever: www.solarsystemscope.com/daylightmap Pull the scroll bar
at the top to the right to speed up time, to the left to reverse. We’re roughly in the middle of Greenland, so try fast forwarding to Nov 14 and compare that to Jun 21, our longest day, or to Aug 6, our first sunset. Enjoy!

August 6, 2015 - First sunset (photo by

August 6, 2015 – First sunset (photo by “Medic Luke”)

Leave a comment

Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Stations, Summit Station

JSEP

After Flight Period 4 we enjoyed a peaceful few weeks with just 11 of us on station. We focused on clearing snow from around the buildings, moving cargo off the old winter berm, equipment maintenance and many smaller projects around station.

On July 15 Flight Period 5 began with a bang: We had two flights that day the first of which brought in a Distinguished Visitor (DV) delegation for a quick visit to Summit.  US Ambassador to Denmark, Rufus Gifford, arrived with reporters from several news agencies, a PFS representative, and a NOAA scientist who will be staying on to work on some projects. It was a quick visit, but they got a tour of the station, stopping by the MSF, the GISP2 borehole, and even the freezer trench.

The second plane of the day (just 2hrs later) brought the DV tour back to Kanger, and delivered 35 new pax to Summit! This large group included the late summer carp crew, augmented with iron-workers to help with the TAWO lift project, and 25 high school students and teachers with the Joint Science and Education Project aka JSEP.

A chain gang for freshies - JSEP students lend a hand Photo by Clair

A chain gang for freshies – JSEP students lend a hand Photo by Clair

The project was developed in 2004 as a collaboration between the US, Denmark, and Greenland.  Teachers and students from each of the three countries come together for 3 weeks of learning about some of the research taking place in Greenland and the logistics that support it. Dartmouth College is also involved with professor Ross Virginia and graduate students Amber and Alden joining the group this year. (DartmouthIGERT) 

The group spent 2 weeks in Kangerlussuaq visiting the ice edge and various scientists in the area followed by a week at Summit Station. This year at Summit the students learned about albedo (reflectivity) of the snow, glacial flow, and Summit history. It was great to meet the students, one of which had never seen snow before, and to learn about where they were all from. They also shared some Greenlandic and Danish vocabulary. 46 people is about as many as Summit can support, but it was fun to have them here!

Visiting the GISP2 borehole on the station tour Photo by JSEP

Visiting the GISP2 borehole on the station tour Photo by JSEP

The GISP2 borehole cover - it's capped to preserve the borehole for potential future research.

The GISP2 borehole cover – it’s capped to preserve the borehole for potential future research.

If you will be a high school senior in 2016-17, or know someone who will, and are curious about the polar regions, Greenland, and Arctic science keep an eye out here: http://www.arcus.org/jsep or contact NSF Einstein Fellow Erica Wallstrom (ewallstr@nsf.gov) for the 2016 JSEP application!

If you’re a K-12 teacher check out PolarTREC (Teachers and Researcher Exploring and Collaborating) at polartrec.com. The goal of this program is to increase teacher’s awareness of the Polar Regions and to give them tools to spread that awareness to their students back home.

Check out JSEP and some photos from their trip on Twitter at:

https://twitter.com/jsep_gl

Or follow #JSEP_GL

The JSEP group was only here from July 15-18 and we are back to 26 on station with a big focus on preparing for the TAWO lift. Much like the Big House lift last year (AntarcticArctic.wordpress.com/heavy-lifting) the 2015 TAWO project includes the additional complication of welding on new sections of steel to the building’s legs.

Meanwhile, we’re scheduled for 6 Hercs this flight period focusing on getting in as much fuel as possible in preparation for winter.

JSEP 2015 - Photo by Robbie

JSEP 2015 – Photo by Robbie

Leave a comment

Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Flight Period 4

Herc!

“Down South” (meaning the USAP and Antarctica) flights happen almost daily through the summer season to field camps and Pole. It’s at a bigger scale, more planes involved, more crews. Up here in Greenland we have Flight Periods during which a few hercs at a time fly up to Greenland and complete missions to Summit. This means that we have a week or so of intense flight activity, one or two flights a day, and then a break of 2-3 weeks without any flights at all.

The arrival of an LC-130 Ski equipped Herc is a significant event at Summit. Most of the fuel on station is brought in via plane, so the morning of a flight requires that the mechanic reconfigures our fuel system to receive fuel. The cargo coordinator is busy prepping and staging cargo. The HEO is involved if we plan to use the cargo sled. The field coordinator is busy gathering loose load, helping with the fuel pit reconfiguration and with last minute cargo issues. As the manager, my role is to provide hourly weather observations, aka wx obs, 3 hours prior to the offdeck (the first ob is usually due at 450am). These are sent to a wide group of folks in the US and around Greenland via email and will determine whether the conditions meet the requirements for the flight. The manager also coordinates with the Air National Guard unit based in Kangerlussuaq regarding manifest or schedule changes and relays this to the team at Summit.

Approachway Flags

Approachway Flags

When a plane is in the air we monitor designated HF and VHF channels in the Big House. Once the plane is approximately 30 minutes out we are able to make contact with our air to ground radio and confirm current weather conditions, estimated fuel amounts, and cargo details.

The herc lines up with the skiway and comes in to land, much like on a tarmac runway except there are large skis that sit below the wheels. These can be raised or lowered so they can take off on the tarmac of Kanger and land on our snow skiway. The skiway at Summit is one of the longest in the world – 3 miles long and lined with rows of black flags. Approach flags extend 2 miles off both ends of the skiway. Near the station are the fuel pits and a groomed area marked off by lesser flags, this is the taxiway where the planes park for fuel and cargo operations.

Looking down the skiway at Byrd surface camp in West Antarctica

Looking down the skiway at Byrd surface camp in West Antarctica

Once the plane has landed and pulls off onto the taxiway, the skis are raised to prevent them from freezing to the snow surface. While the plane is on the ground at a cold remote site such as Summit, field camps, and the South Pole – the propellers are left running to circulate fluid and to avoid potential problems from shutting down and restarting the engines. It makes for a very loud and potentially dangerous environment. The propwash is incredibly strong and the exhaust at any point behind the tips of the wings is overpowering so those working behind the plane in the exhaust plume wear fitted respirator masks. When it gets really cold (below -50F or so) contrails form on the ground limiting visibility and restricting cargo operations.

A skier coming in to land at the South Pole - contrails grow pronounced in the very cold.

A skier coming in to land at the South Pole – contrails grow pronounced in the very cold.

On the ground the loadmaster steps off herding the pax if any, away from the props and around the front of the plane. The flight engineer follows and walks around the wingtip to the fueling port while the rear doors of the plane open and cargo offload begins. Our mechanic hauls out the heavy duty fuel hose just under the wing and works with the flight engineer to pump fuel into our bladders and tanks. This flight period we’ve been averaging about 3000 gallons of fuel per flight. Meanwhile cargo is unloaded and loaded onto the plane with loaders or sleds. The Hercs can fit 6 pallets with no pax.

Kitted out for cargo operations

Kitted out for cargo operations

In the office I relay information over two different radios between the flight crew in the plane and the folks on the ground and back to Kanger as necessary. Often the pilots will want updated wind speeds and altimeter readings or forecasts from Kanger.

“Summit Station, Skier 71”

“Skier 71, Summit, Go ahead”

“Summit, what is your current wind and altimeter please?”

“Skier 71, wind is one eight zero at zero seven knots, altimeter is three

zero zero seven”

“Copy all and can you relay to Sonde our ETD Summit is 1330 zulu?”

“Affirmative”

Loading a LC-130 at Pole

Loading an LC-130 at Pole

I log all operations, communications, fuel numbers, and pallets loaded with their weights and dimensions, watching as I can from the Big House office. The planes are often on the ground for an hour to an hour and a half, though it’s a fast hour.

The Big House office comms suite...

The Big House office comms suite…

Once they depart there’s a weight off of everyone’s shoulders. Folks get busy cleaning up – reconfiguring our fuel system to transfer fuel between tanks and bladders, checking in and delivering cargo, grooming the skiway as needed, delivering baggage, and orienting passengers new to Summit.

The whiteboard of Summit. Flights, projects, to dos, population...

The whiteboard of Summit. Flights, projects, to dos, population…

With cargo and fuel operations completed any departing pax are ushered onto the plane and they prepare to depart. On skiways, especially here at Summit, being at 10,550ft and with summer temperatures as warm as 25F, taking off can be a bit of a challenge. Soft sticky snow, thin air, heavy loads…all of these can result in a futile “slide.” The plan taxis back onto the runway and gives it a good go – engines gunned, props spinning, snow flying up behind the skis…they rush down the runway with all eyes on station watching for the moment they offdeck. Often they just can’t get enough speed and at the end of the skiway they feather the props, slow, and turn around for another go. They gun it again, the sound washing over the station…props spinning, snow flying up in a cloud behind the plane, binoculars are out and folks are pressed against windows and on the decks, holding their breath. This time the front ski lifts…a little more…and the back skies are off the snow – we have an offdeck! Someone shouts over the radio “the skier is offdeck!” and I log it in my records and send out a notice to the wider group that the skier is headed off.

We’ve had good luck this flight period – almost no slides. The most I’ve seen here at Summit is 11 tries…at that point they had unloaded most of the cargo and even taken on some of the fuel they just delivered. The fewer slides the better. The earlier in the day the colder…the better.

Flight days are long and sometimes stressful, but they’re exciting too and it’s always good to see retro cargo leave and to receive mail and freshies! Today’s flight was the last of this flight period. We sent off 19 pax leaving just 11 of us here on station.

1 Comment

Filed under Arctic, Flights, Greenland, Summit Station

Welcome to Summit!

Welcome to Summit Station!
72°35’46.4″N 38°25’19.1″W, 10,530 ftSummit_2015(18)

The sky is a crisp blue, the snow a brilliant white. The drifting is impressive; some buildings are still buried to the roof. The air is thin. It’s barely cold and all is well.

We assembled in Schenectady, New York. Early the next morning, the sky still dark, a bus picks us up in front of the hotel. Bags are thrown in the back of a pick-up and we ride to the Air National Guard base where the C-130 hercs await.
Loaded into the planes, earplugs in, big coats tucked under arms, we settle into the cargo net seats. A quick stop in Goose Bay Canada to refuel; the view from the tarmac is bleak…hinting a sense of the arctic with spindly trees and a briskness to the air. We wait in the small passenger area and admire the full wall world map. The spot marking Goose Bay is rubbed blank. Then it’s onward to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Boarding the Herc in Scotia, NY

Boarding the Herc in Scotia, NY

Kanger. Wide bare hills without anything for scale stretch along the silty fjord. The glacier is farther inland – just in view from the top of the hills. We have an extra day and I rode one of the bikes up Black Hill, overlooking town and the fjord. There are satellite dishes and radio antennas, but beyond those is the wide-open rolling land, ground down by the ebb and flow of the glaciers. A muskox picks its way through the tundra, stopping to graze. I sit in the lee of a boulder and soak it in – my last view of this alive world.

The KISS (Kangerlussaq International Science Support) buildings.

The KISS (Kangerlussaq International Science Support) buildings.

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Sondrestrom Fjord

Sondrestrom Fjord

Boarding the

The “Drift Buster” herc that brought us to Summit

Long hours spent on Hercs...

Long hours on Hercs…

The first week was spent turning over with the Phase I crew. They’ve been here since February and were keen to go home. Summit is in the full swing of summer. Herc flights, Twin Otters, a remote camp, long-term research projects and short-term campaigns. There’s a lot to take in, but there are a lot of familiar faces – people I’ve worked with in West Antarctica, at the South Pole, or here at Summit in previous years. It’s good to be back and should be an interesting season!

Today is June 21 – the Solstice: the longest day of the year, Mid-winter for those in the Antarctic, mid-summer for those of us here. At 72° North we’re above the Arctic circle, the sun spiraling around above the horizon 24 hours a day now, but unlike the South Pole where they only have one sunrise and one sunset a year, here the sun moves gradually through the sky. The last sunset was on May 5, 2015. The next sunset will be on August 7, 2015! Check this page out for more solar/lunar data. (http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/greenland/summit-camp)

Summit_Solstice_2015

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Summit Station – Phase II

Once again I am returning to the ice; North again to Summit Station (72°35’46.4″N 38°25’19.1″W) in the heart of the Greenland ice sheet. My post from last July (here) gives a more thorough background and history.

;lakdjlaf;j

The CH2M Hill Polar Services website gives a good outline of their main sites in Greenland: Thule, Kangerlussuaq, Raven, and Summit.

I started at Summit as a field coordinator before I began working in Antarctica. This time however, I’ll be in the role of Summit Station Site Supervisor, aka Camp Manager, from June-October. It will be an interesting season as we will arrive in mid summer – with maximum population, flights, and research in full swing. By August though, things should start settling down as we prepare to close for winter. In late August the last herc will depart leaving just 5 of us as a skeleton crew to maintain the station and the year round projects until mid-October when we turn over to the next crew.

The seasons and turnover at Summit is a little more complicated than at the South Pole. The core crew is comprised of a Manager, Mechanic, and three Science Technicians. These positions work three seasons, or “phases.” Phase I from Feb-Jun, Phase II Jun-Oct, and Phase III Oct-Feb. During the busy summer from April through August the camp staff is augmented with a Cook, Medic, Heavy Equipment Operator, Cargo Coordinator, and Field Coordinator. Construction crews generally come up for two roughly 6-week seasons at the beginning and end of summer.

Tower Rescue training at Polar Field Services HQ in Colorado

Tower Rescue training at Polar Field Services HQ in Colorado

Training began a few weeks ago with Tower Rescue and Wilderness First Responder certifications. As there isn’t a medic on site from August through April everyone is required to have some medical background.

And so begins deployment…from the NY Air National Guard base in Scotia, NY on a 6-7 hour LC-130 Herc flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. We’ll have a few days in “Kanger” for some additional training and then it’s onward on another 2-3 hour Herc flight to Summit  Station!

2 Comments

Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

“The PIG Diggers”

Our crew's sticker (a field camp tradition) The WAS Recovery Team has returned victorious and with smiles on our faces yet! To quote our project manager announcing the successes of the season: “…The Pine Island Glacier (PIG) Traverse arrived back at WAIS Divide field camp yesterday afternoon, Sunday January 25th NZDT, completing the full return of ~ 90,000 pounds of camp infrastructure and equipment from the PIG C site. The excavation of the buried equipment and cargo by the 4-person recovery team prior to the arrival of the traverse proved critical to the success of this effort.” We had a great season in the field, making it to all three sites: PIG, WAIS, and Byrd. We had no internet access out there, only an HF radio and two iridium phones. So let me start at the beginning… On November 19, after several weather delays, we finally boarded a LC-130 Herc and departed McMurdo for WAIS Divide. The first day at WAIS was spent digging out the PIG Traverse berm and sorting our cargo into first and second flight loads for the Twin Otter. We put-in at PIG on the 21st with the Twin Otter making two trips – first with some of our cargo and then a second flight with the four of us and more of our survival supplies.

The Twin Otter loaded down with our gear and cargo

The Twin Otter loaded down with our gear and cargo

Coming in for the landing at PIG

Coming in for the landing at PIG

PIG_20141121_15 A deep field put-in requires shelter, comms, and a heat source before the plane is allowed to leave. We had delegated tasking beforehand and the Scott tent was erected right away, McMurdo Operations (MacOps) was called on the Iridium phone, and our little whisper-lite stove was fired up to prove we could melt snow for water.  The Twin Otter pilots said their good byes and headed back to WAIS. Thankfully it was a calm and beautiful evening and we spent the next few hours settling in. I dug an outhouse trench and set up a little tent over it. Andy, our mechanic, got busy digging out and setting up the Nordic diesel drip stove which was wonderfully right at the surface of the snow on the PIG berm. DeVal, our camp manager, and Jen, the field coordinator, quickly excavated some proper floor panels from the berm and began shaving down a level area where we could set up the larger more comfortable Arctic Chief tent. Scott tents are great shelter – they are sturdy, but there isn’t much insulation and they’re quite small for a primary shelter.

Town set up

Town set up

By midnight that first night we had the Scott tent and the Arctic Chief up with the Nordic stove burning and a big pot of snow on top to melt. We sat in a circle and ate our dehydrated dinner packets then rolled out our sleeping bags and slept side by side on the floor. The next day we set up our individual mountain tents (Mountain Hardwear Trango’s) and unpacked and organized the rest of our food and cargo. Then it was time to get down to business…

The berm, buried to the top in places…

The berm, buried to the top in places…

Pine Island Glacier is located near the coast of West Antarctica – from the air you can just see a dark line that is the ocean and on a clear day on the ground you can see two little mountains peaking over the horizon. For the most part though it is flat white with awful weather, even by West Antarctic standards. Being so close to the ocean we were visited by a few South Polar Skuas and Snow Petrels! This area gets significant accumulation and it had been two years since the camp was closed and the cargo bermed. The satellite photo I posted earlier showed the cargo lines fairly clearly which was encouraging and some pallets were quite scoured. The Tucker however, was almost completely gone, with just a few inches showing above the surface!

Andy surveying the Tucker

Andy surveying the Tucker

We marked out the area to be cleared and fired up the chainsaws. The snow there is heavy and hard, more like sandstone than snow at times! Shovels worked great for the first half meter and for cleaning up edges and the bits thrown out by the chainsaws, but the chainsaws were really the star of the show. And the pick axes. The blocks were heavy too, the snow being about 50% water. Blocks were cut, heaved to the lip of the pit, and then loaded onto little sleds and dragged out of the way downwind. We did this in part to keep the working area around the pit clear and also to reduce drifting as we would eventually have to dig up buried items on either side of the Tucker as well. It took 5 days to fully clear the Tucker; to excavate around and under the vehicle, chip out the ice in the tracks, and melt out the engine and cab. And then we connected the battery and…it fired right up without a hitch and I drove it out of the hole! PIG_20141123_47

Making the first ramp cuts

Making the first ramp cuts

Hauling blocks downwind

Prying out blocks and hauling them downwind

It seemed to go a lot quicker once we were working our way down the machine itself!

It seemed to go a lot quicker once we were exposing new parts along the machine itself!

DeVal looking epic

DeVal looking epic

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

On November 28 we celebrated Thanksgiving, sleeping in and indulging in frozen corn and stuffing mix. With perfect timing the weather closed in and for the next two days we were stuck inside as the storm raged – filling in the giant Tucker hole we had just cleared. Then we started digging out the Cat 297 and fuel tank following the same process as the Tucker. 4 days later we drove that out of the ground and got to work digging out the other pallets of cargo. Just a few days after that we were hit again with another storm. And so it went…digging, sawing, and chipping out pallets of cargo, then when we’d reached a good stopping point a storm would roll through and we’d hunker down in the Chief. Old Star Trek movies proved to be a good source of entertainment and conversation.

The 297 almost ready to go

The 297 almost ready to go

Our in-house theater

Our in-house theater

Meanwhile, back at WAIS the PIG Traverse was working hard to get their sleds and tractors together and in working order. This far from McMurdo all fuel is brought in via LC-130s. Delays and cancellations meant that the WAIS Divide camp was low on fuel itself with none to spare for the traverse. So the PIG Traverse had to make a trip out to Byrd to fill their fuel bladders and on December 17th they finally headed our way. It was perfect timing, delays and all – On the 20th we unearthed our final piece, the groomer. We had been dreading this skeleton of metal, which would be rocked in hard with ice and snow. Big square things were easy to pull out, but something with so much open space meant we’d have to clear it out completely.

Digging out empty drums…

Digging out empty drums…

Triwalls to be dug out

Triwalls to be dug out

It was completely buried. If we didn’t have a photo of the berm before they’d left in Jan 2013 we’d never have known it was there at all! Only a flag marking the tip of the hitch was visible. Thankfully with a little help from our friend, the Tucker, and some chainsaw work it came out smooth as butter in just one day! We were done – all cargo excavated, ready and waiting for the Traverse to arrive.

Drilling down to find the groomer…

Drilling down to find the groomer…

The groomer emerging

The groomer emerging

As soon as we were done, with impeccable timing, the biggest storm yet closed in on us. We huddled inside the Chief for nearly 4 days waiting it out as it dumped snow and howled at 25-30kts. We read, and slept, made breakfast for dinner with some dehy hash browns and frozen eggs and watched movies on the little laptop – powering it via a little 1KW generator when the clouds were too thick for the solar panels to work. With the sun up 24/7 we had little need for electricity. A few light weight solar panels charged small electronics like our iridium phones, camera batteries, and kindles, but we had brought along a 1KW portable generator as well.

Stormy day at PIG

PIG Breezy!

A mountain tent nearly gone!

A mountain tent nearly gone!

Cargo drifts

Drifted cargo

The Traverse arrived late in the day on Christmas Eve bearing mail and baked goods from WAIS. The 9 of us crammed into the Arctic Chief for a special Christmas dinner and good times were had by all as we shared stories of the prior month and cracked open a few cans of egg nog.

The PIG Traverse rolling into town

The PIG Traverse rolling into town

Building up the cargo load for the traverse

Building up the cargo load for the traverse

Fueling the traverse tractors

Fueling the traverse tractors

The Traverse double teaming to break the load free

The Traverse double teaming to break the load free

The Chief succumbing to the ice…

After only 6 weeks – The Chief succumbing to the ice…

Andy’s contract was up at the end of December so the Twin Otter picked him up the day after Christmas – and we set to work digging out all the cargo for a second time. That big storm had created whales of drifts that had engulfed not only our tents, but the cargo we had so carefully unearthed. With everyone helping we got the traverse loaded up and on Dec 28th they left PIG with the first load of ~15 pallets. We stayed busy organizing and palletizing the remaining cargo while they drove halfway to WAIS and staged the first load. They returned a few days later and on January 4th with a break in the weather we flew back to WAIS. Job complete.

Welcome to WAIS Divide!

Welcome to WAIS Divide!

The metropolis of WAIS

The metropolis of WAIS

Tent city at WAIS

Tent city at WAIS

We spent a week at WAIS Divide, enjoying the home cooked food and the larger camp facilities like the showers…After 6 weeks at PIG with only baby wipes I didn’t mind shoveling a bunch of snow for a shower! The Twin Otter pilots had taken some photos of the buried Tucker and the folks at WAIS were pretty awed. The next task was to fly out to Byrd camp to repair the Tucker and bring it back to WAIS so it could be utilized at other camps as needed. While we waited for two mechanics from  McMurdo to join us, and then for a flight out to Byrd, we helped around camp. As an operator I mostly groomed and helped with the winter berms. WAIS_20150121_69 On Jan 12th we finally got good weather and permission to fly and it was off to Byrd. The berms at Byrd were the complete opposite from PIG, well scoured, still quite high above grade, and with much softer snow. We set up personal mountain tents to sleep in and opened up the hard sided galley module for cooking and as a DNF (do not freeze…aka heated) space. That week was spent digging out the Tucker, repairing it, verifying the fuel inventory, raising the skiway drags, and putting together a mini-traverse for the drive back to WAIS. Byrd and WAIS are only about 100 miles apart, but both sites are so remote and the environment so inhospitable that it could be very serious should anything go wrong. We loaded a piece of high molecular weight (HMW) plastic with survival supplies, the Scott tent, extra food, twice the amount of fuel they expected to use, backup iridium phones, and various other pieces of cargo to lighten the final Twin Otter flight. This ultra-slick material is the foundation for almost all Antarctic traverses these days. Then, on the morning of Jan 17th, one of the mechanics and our team lead departed Byrd for WAIS Divide. Thankfully the snow conditions were just right and the Tucker had no issues, and they sailed in to WAIS by the end of the day! The following morning the Twin Otter managed to fly out to Byrd and picked up the remaining three of us who had been left behind. We spent the final week at WAIS waiting for a flight to McMurdo and helping out around camp.

Jethro on the the Byrd Berms

Jethro on the the Byrd Berms

Fixing the Tucker

Fixing the Tucker

The mini-Byrd Traverse heading off to WAIS Divide

The mini-Byrd Traverse heading off to WAIS Divide

The Twin Otter loading up our last flight

The Twin Otter loading up our last flight

I’m back in McMurdo now, heading on to New Zealand shortly. The PIG Traverse just made it back to WAIS on Jan 25th successful in their final haul to bring the 90,000lbs of PIG cargo back. WISSARD, Siple, and WAIS Divide are in the process of shutting down. It’s been a great season with a great crew! I want to send a huge Thank You to all the McMurdo field support staff, the PIG Traverse guys, the Twin Otter crew, and the WAIS Divide camp staff!

The Herc at Willy Field, McMurdo

The Herc at Willy Field, McMurdo

Ivan the Terra Bus!

Ivan the Terra Bus!

WAIS Divide camp staff

WAIS Divide camp staff – and the vintage Alp 1 snowmobile

The WAS Recovery Team at PIG

The WAS Recovery Team at PIG (photo courtesy of DeVal)

5 Comments

Filed under Antarctica, Byrd, Field Camps, Flights, Pine Island Glacier, Traverse, WAIS Divide

PIG

I’ll be out of contact for the next few months as we work in the field, but here are some interesting links.

Recent weather and forecast for WAIS Divide can be found here:
http://www.waisdivide.unh.edu/about/weather.shtml

Weather at PIG thru Oct 22, 2014 can be found here:
http://efdl_5.cims.nyu.edu/timeseries/NYU_AWS_PIG_timeseries.html

A weather tower with webcams was established at PIG a few years ago and apparently worked until Oct 24th:
http://efdl_5.cims.nyu.edu/aws_pig/overview.html

And general Antarctic weather from automated weather stations around the continent is posted here:
http://amrc.ssec.wisc.edu/data/

Below is a satellite picture of the PIG camp area from last March. A British Antarctic Survey group passed through recently to check on a fuel cache nearby and reported that while there was large and hard sastrugi there was also a lot of scouring and the bermed material was visible above the snow – good news for us!

A satellite image of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) berm as of March 2014

A satellite image of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) berm as of March 2014

A low resolution satellite image of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) berm as of October 2014.

A low resolution satellite image of the PIG berm as of October 2014.

So for now, Goodbye!

1 Comment

Filed under Antarctica, Field Camps, Pine Island Glacier, WAIS Divide

Mac Town Time

DEN-LAX-SYD-CHC

After four flights and over 28 hours of travelling I finally landed in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s spring in the southern hemisphere and lovely, with vibrant leaves and birdsong. The next morning, we assembled at the Clothing Distribution Center (aka CDC) for a welcome briefing and our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear issue. The standard ECW set includes everything you need to work and survive in the Antarctic climate – the enormous Big Red, insulated carhartt bibs and jacket, fleece long underwear, hats, goggles, mittens, gaiters, gloves, socks, and boots – either the Bunny, or Mickey Mouse, boots or the blue FDX boots. While Bunny boots are the classic white USAP footwear, they’re rubber and don’t breathe. FDX boots are a bit warmer and are leather/cloth so they breathe, but the soles are very thick (part of why they’re so warm) and there’s no ankle support so can be treacherous at times.
A lot of it is personal choice. I generally bring my own long underwear (of varying thickness), my extra warm fleece neck gaiter which I’ve modified with chest/back flaps to protect against zipper and neck drafts, a thin gaiter more for sun and wind protection than cold, a knit wool hat with a fleece lining, a ball cap for sun, liner gloves, thick expedition weight socks, liner socks etc…

0014222d98500f73b15b06 This season I’ll be heading out to Pine Island Glacier, near the  coast  in far West Antarctica (75°45’S 100°16’W and approx. 850m  elevation), as part of the 4 person “WAS Recovery team.”  It will be  cold early in the season, but will become  downright warm by  Christmas and New Years – we’ve been told to anticipate heavy wet  snow and even the possibility of rain! So I made sure to  get good  rain/wind pants and a “little Red” jacket that is more of a  shell  than parka.
After getting our ECW and going through a few introductory briefs  we were given our mandatory flu shots then had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy Christchurch and the botanic gardens.
On November 3rd we flew to McMurdo aboard a US Air Force C-17. The whole West Antarctic family is here now: WAIS Divide, the PIG Traverse, WISSARD, Siple, and now the WAS Recovery Crew. A week or two is needed in town for training, to finalize cargo lists and put-in plans, and to round up all the gear and material needed for the season. A lot of these camps have been used season after season and most of their supplies were left overwinter on the berm. Our team is a bit different; while PIG was a large camp in 2012-13, this year we won’t be setting up the buildings or supporting any science. Our goal is just to recover the material.
As soon as WAIS gets established we’ll fly out there on an LC-130, spend a night or two then load up a Twin Otter and fly to PIG, set up a few mountain tents and get to work excavating the berm. While there are a lot of supplies buried out there most of them are useless to us, our outfit is pretty bare bones. Without a skiway the planes can’t take in much cargo. We’ll be living in small mountain tents with one larger heated yurt-like tent. We’ll have no running water or showers, and will be cooking and melting water on camp stoves. There’ll be no internet or fresh food either.
Our main focus this week in McMurdo has been to decide what to bring with us: how much food, what cargo, and which flight it will go on. We’re planning for two planes. The initial “put-in” flight will bring in our survival gear and us. The cargo list for this flight includes our tents, survival bags, sleep kits, stoves and some fuel, a basic medical kit, comms equipment (satellite phone, HF and VHF radios), our Personal Locator Beacon (PLB for emergency use), a human waste bucket, a water jug, and our shovels. The second plane will bring spare parts, fluid and fuel for the vehicles out there, more food and tools such as a heater to warm up and melt out equipment.

Our cargo staging cage

Our cargo staged in the BFC cage (the taped off plastic jugs and bottom two shelves are for a different project)

Of all the cargo, our shovels may be used most. We’ll need shovels to knock down sastrugi to clear spaces for our tents, to dig out equipment so we can dig out the pallets, to clear drifts created by the wind, to mine snow for water. We’ll be shoveling every day. Professional D-1 Operators.
“So what kind of shovels should we bring?” Our team lead asked. Immediately all four of us agreed: short shovels with square blades and D handles. We’ll bring a long handled one as an extra. Then we all laughed shaking our heads…not only do we know the types of shovels, but we didn’t have to think about which type we like best for shoveling this kind of snow! Is that a good thing….or have we been doing this too long?
The long ones are great for deep pits, or for tall people. The rounded blades that come to a bit of a point are good for dirt and rocks…but for snow I prefer the short handled small square blades – It’s short enough to wield without knocking into things, the small blade is sturdier and less likely to crack while trying to pry out chunks of hard snow, the flat edge cuts clean blocks, which is most efficient. You can also carve smooth walls and scrape flat surfaces, and if you need a point you can use the corner. Maybe I have shoveled too much…

We were originally scheduled to fly out to WAIS Divide on the 15th, but there have been significant weather and mechanical delays so this date may well get pushed back.

McMurdo!

McMurdo as seen from Ob Hill. (HDR)

"Roll Cage Mary" on Hut Point. Ob Hill and McMurdo are in the background.

“Roll Cage Mary” on Hut Point. Ob Hill and McMurdo are in the background. (HDR)

Mount Erebus on Ross Island

Mount Erebus and Castle Rock on Ross Island. (HDR)

Leave a comment

Filed under Antarctica, Field Camps, McMurdo, Pine Island Glacier