Tag Archives: Deployment

Summit Deployment

Welcome Back! After a few months off to enjoy the world of trees, mountains, swimming in lakes, and not wearing 40lbs of extreme cold weather gear the time has come to deploy again. I’m on my way back to Summit Station in Greenland. I’ll be returning as the Station Manager, the same position I held last year. This time however, I’ll be running the station through the cold, dark, arctic winter from August to  February.

In the short summer season from April-August Summit Station is a busy and exciting hub of activity. Construction projects are completed, cargo is moved with the Air National Guard, it’s home to lots of people (up to around 35), the GrIT traverse comes and goes, and multiple groups conduct their research. The sun is up 24/7 and temperatures range from -20F to 30F. Current weather graphs for Summit can be found here.

The summer is brief however, and the Hercs are needed elsewhere to support science with the US Antarctic Program (USAP) on the other end of the world. In mid-late August Summit Station shuts down for the winter (see my post here from last year: https://antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/summers-end/). From August to April a skeleton crew of just 5 maintains the station and several year-round science projects. There are no LC-130 Hercs or flight periods (https://antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/flight-period-4/) to deliver fresh food or new faces, just a few Twin Otter flights in October and February for crew change-outs.

At 72°North, Summit is not at the Pole, but it is above the Arctic Circle and thus has very long days in the summer and very long nights in the winter. This year the sun has been up since May 5th, but on August 6th it will set at 11:59pm to rise again just 22 minutes later at 1:21am. Gradually the “night” will lengthen until November 14th when it will become dark 24 hours a day 7 days a week. For the next few months we’ll have beautiful sunsets.

Check this link out for August sunrise/sunset times at Summit: http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/greenland/summit-camp?month=08&year=2016

It’s not as intense as winter at the South Pole, but temperatures have fallen as low as -89F and the Aurora Borealis is stunning. Check out this post on Polar Field Services Blog Field Notes about the winter at Summit in 2009: polarfield.com/blog/greenlands-summit-camp-in-the-winter.

We’ve arrived in Schenectady, NY and from here we’ll fly up to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via the New York Air National Guard aboard Lc-130 Hercules planes. A day or two in ‘Kanger‘ and then it will be onward to Summit. It will be a busy next few weeks as we close up the station and prepare for winter.

For photos of the hercs and Kanger check out my deployment post from last year: https://antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/welcome-to-summit/

 

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Filed under Arctic, 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

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Kangerlussuaq, Summit Station

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.

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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!

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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)

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

WAS Recovery Crew

Bag Tags

The migration South has begun again. This year I’m heading back as the equipment operator on a small 4-person team: The West Antarctic Support (WAS) Recovery Crew.
Two years ago (2012-13) there were several active camps in West Antarctica: Pine Island Glacier (PIG), the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide, WISSARD, Byrd, and Siple. My post summarizing these camps and projects can be found here. With the Government Shut-Down last year the removal of the PIG and Byrd camps could not be completed and the supply berms were left to drift over. These regions have large accumulation rates – averaging over a meter annually in some coastal areas in addition to drifting snow.

Surface mass balance (1989–2009) in kg m−2 year−1. From Van den Broeke et al., 2011

Surface mass balance (1989–2009) in kg m-2 year-1. From Van den Broeke et al., 2011

Pine Island Glacier is quite a ways from McMurdo, way out “west” towards the peninsula (point A on the map below). Because it’s so far away and because the weather is so notoriously bad Hercs heading out to PIG relied on WAIS as a fueling point and Byrd as their back up. It’s easier to fly to WAIS so to initially establish PIG camp a traverse was organized to haul materials that were flown into WAIS. The projects utilizing PIG were completed in Feb 2013. The plan for cleaning up the camp was a tractor team to traverse from WAIS to PIG, collect the materials, and haul them back to WAIS where it would be used or flown via LC-130 to McMurdo. Then the government shutdown happened and the traverse had to be cancelled…So this year, two years since it was left, we’re going to try again. Our team has been organized to augment the traverse, making sure this stuff gets unburied and removed before it flows into the ocean.

A map of the West Antarctic deep field camps. The 2012-13 PIG Traverse route is shown in red.

A map of the West Antarctic deep field camps. The 2012-13 PIG Traverse route is shown in red. The traverse this year won’t go to Byrd so will just travel between points F and A. The South Pole traverse route is marked in yellow between McMurdo and Pole.

The rough schedule is to fly down to McMurdo in early November. After getting our equipment together (tents, stoves, safety and comms gear etc) we’ll fly out to WAIS. From WAIS we’ll get on a Twin Otter and head out to PIG by mid-late November. We won’t have the support of a full camp, it will just be the four of us and a few small tents (Arctic Ovens – “tent-city” tents). We’ll dig out the equipment, get it up and running, and use it to help dig out the supply berm, establish a field skiway for Twin Otters, and greet the PIG Traverse when the roll in hopefully around Dec 10. Once the traverse is loaded up and underway we’ll fly back to WAIS and out to Byrd. There isn’t a traverse planned for Byrd, so our job will be to repair some known broken equipment and try to move supplies to a new berm, or at least the snow surface as able. By late January we should be heading back to McMurdo.
As I mentioned earlier, the weather in West Antarctica is notoriously bad and delays are expected. Our schedule is flexible with options to assist with other projects if we are delayed longer than expected at one site or other.

It will be a challenging season. At WAIS there will be very limited text email, satellite phones, and radio, but there will also be cooks and galley (mess tent), and even snow melters for showers. At PIG it will be roughing it, even by Antarctica standards. It’s not as extremely cold as at Pole, but it’s wetter, which can be even more difficult. We won’t have any showers, or bathrooms, nor cooks. We’ll sleep in small unheated tents and hope for good weather. It’s close to the coast, but not close enough to see animals or water, mostly it will be back in the flat white…

For more information on PIG check out some of these interesting links:
Forrest McCarthy was a mountaineer with the PIG Traverse which left from Byrd in 2012-13. His blog here has a great page on Pine Island Glacier with a sweet video and some awesome photos!

The NSF also has a site: www.nsf.gov/news

NASA’s official site for Pine Island Glacier: Pigiceshelf.nasa.gov

The Berm at PIG at the end of the season in Feb 2013 - photo taken by Dean

The Berm at PIG at the end of the season in Feb 2013 – photo taken by Dean

PIG 2012

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

Arrival

July 16, 2014
The flight from Kanger was a quick ~2hrs on a packed LC-130. We landed smoothly and stepped off the plane into blowing snow and low clouds; More grey than white. The droning, rumbling pulse of the props faded as we made our way off the flight deck and towards the Big House. The snow was soft, sliding beneath our boots like sand. The air is thin and I breathed hard, clutching my heavy parka and water bottle. I was prepared for the cold, but maybe I’m getting used to it by now, the wind was brisk, but not shockingly cold. It’s warmer here than at Pole – more like West Antarctica (10-20 degrees Fahrenheit…above zero), and we are at the height of summer. Walking past the Shop (SOB) and the Green House I couldn’t hide a grin, it’s good to be back. Some of the Summit crew was out to greet the pax and people hugged and waved and welcomed us to Summit Station.

I spent the summers (April-August) of 2010 and 2011 here at Summit as a Field Coordinator and Science Tech respectively. While most people start in the Antarctic program before coming to Summit, things happened to work out such that I deployed up here first. It was my first experience in the polar regions, in the true Arctic, and amidst the Great Flat White. I fell in love with the variety of projects, the significant research, and the small community.
This time around I’m here for just a short period, 6 weeks till the end of August – an extra hand to wrap up the summer season and close things down for winter. There are 19 people here now, but at the end of August we will leave only five: the manager, mechanic, and three science techs. The large summer science groups have all gone and until next month we have in addition to the five person winter crew, a cook, a cargo person, a heavy equipment operator, two field coordinators (including me), a medic, an IT person, and a construction crew (aka Carps) including an electrician, a plumber, and six carpenters. The summer season, like down South, is a whirlwind of projects both for science and support. These last few weeks are a chance to delve into some of the more intensive endeavors such as raising the Big House and constructing and organizing the winter berm.

Most of the people here have spent many seasons in Antarctica and many are going back to the ice later this fall. They understand when the question “Where are you from?” isn’t easy. Saying “Well, my storage unit is in…” is a perfectly valid answer.

Here are some photos from the flight up and the first few days at Summit:

Melt pools and streams along the Greenland ice sheet near the coast

Melt pools and streams along the Greenland ice sheet near the coast

A partially frozen lake on the ice sheet

A partially frozen lake on the ice sheet

Inside the herc from Kanger to Summit

Inside the herc from Kanger to Summit

Equipment wait at Summit to offload and onload cargo and to greet the incoming pax

Equipment wait at Summit to offload and onload cargo and to greet the incoming pax

Back on the ice. The skis are lifted when the Herc comes to a stop so they don't freeze in place. The plane is now resting on the wheels.

Back on the ice. The skis are lifted when the Herc comes to a stop so they don’t freeze in place. The plane is now resting on the wheels.

A sign on the Big House

A sign on the Big House

All of Summit looking very small in the great flat white.

All of Summit looking very small in the great flat white.

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

3hrs 15min to the North Pole

3hrs15min to the North Pole

 

Kangerlussuaq, Kanger, Bluie West-8, Sondrestrom, Sonde, Søndre Strømfjord…The coastal hub for US operations is tucked back in Greenland’s longest fjord. Established in 1941 by the US military it is now a commercial and air hub for West Greenland. The small town (~550 people) is surrounded by undulating glacially scoured hills where muskox and caribou roam. No trees grow here, just scrub and grasses.

 

For science support and researchers coming from the US this is the point of entry. The town is comprised of a few houses, old military barracks, an airport, and a few other buildings. The Kangerlussuaq International Science Support, aka KISS, hosts researchers from around the world. There’s a very small grocery store, a cafeteria at the airport, and the Polar Bear restaurant with thai, muskox, and anything fried. It’s a small community and nearly everyone smiles and waves as they pass on the road. There is quite a lot of research done in the immediate area of Kanger and at sites on the ice sheet not as far away as Summit.
The Summit crew however usually spends a day or two getting the required gear and making sure everything is lined up for the season. There are some good hiking routes in the area and beautiful lake Ferguson and great views from prominent Black Ridge. In past seasons I’ve arrived in April when the ground is still covered in snow, and the wind is bitingly cold. This time we arrived in the warmth of summer – luckily just past peak mosquito season. The light lingered and it was bright well past 10pm. We are definitely now in the land of the midnight sun.

We spent two nights in Kanger, filling the day between with orientation, training, gathering gear, and stretching our legs on walks around town – enjoying the last bits of green and brown, of birds and bugs and people. Next stop the flat white – Summit Station!

The K.I.S.S. building that houses researchers and support staff.

The K.I.S.S. building that houses researchers and support staff.

Black Ridge and the old barracks

Black Ridge and the old barracks

Søndre Strømfjord - Kanger is located on the left side of the wide sandy area along the river where it meets the fjord

Søndre Strømfjord – Kanger is located on the left side of the wide sandy area along the river where it meets the fjord

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The ICE

At 3am on the morning of our “ice flight” we met at the CDC. After donning our ECW and doing a little repacking we were bussed across the road to the airport to meet the C-17. It was still dark and eerily illuminated by flashing orange lights. We were issued our sack lunch and took our seats inside.

The C-17 Globemaster is one of the largest planes to fly down to Antarctica with an overall length of 174ft and a wingspan of ~170ft. They can carry up to 18 pallets, or over 170,000 pounds of cargo. For the flights to Antarctica they often do a mix load of pax and cargo pallets. As we stepped on board they handed us earplugs and I picked a seat against the wall, snuggling into my Big Red that we are required to bring. On flights with a lot of pax two cargo pallets retro-fitted with commercial airline seats are loaded on board, but I prefer the seats along the wall.
It’s loud and bright inside, with only a few small portholes. Ducts and bundles of wire trace the ceiling and walls of the cargo hold. We settled in and soon enough were in the air. As I said, it’s loud. Leaning close you still have to shout, so everyone either fell asleep or pulled out their books and laptops. I took the opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep, feeling jet lagged again after the 230am shuttle pick up.

72 pax and several pallets of cargo

The C-17 flight deck

Just over an hour from McMurdo I went up to the cockpit to take some pictures. By now we had come in sight of the southernmost continent. Smooth white sea ice blanketed the ocean, showing the dark waters beneath through cracks here and there. Huge icebergs sat locked in place.
As we moved over the continent itself rocky mountains peeked above the snow covered glaciers. Scattered clouds cast their shadows across the milk white silky ice. These are my favorite images of Antarctica. Huge crevasse fields and ice falls, untouched ice streams, beautiful ripples formed as the fluid ice deflects around mountains of rock…Some of the glaciers are tens of miles across and hundreds of miles long. There is no scale, no sign of life. It’s desolate, and awe inspiring.

A picture of the cracking sea ice that I took on my way down a year ago

Another photo from the flight last year showing the transition from grounded glaciers to floating sea ice with trapped icebergs.

After 5 hours of flying we touch down on the ice. There are two runways here in McMurdo – the sea ice runway and “Pegasus” on the ice shelf. The sea ice runway is close to town, and is usually used until Nov/December, but this year the ice is thin, too thin already to land C-17s. Pegasus is on the ice shelf that stays frozen year-round, so there it’s solid, but over an hour from station on Ivan and the new Kress machines. The ice is groomed and grooved and works more or less like a paved runway elsewhere. While only ski-equipped planes can land at Pole or in the field, the wheeled C-17s have no problem.
Over the intercom the pilot announces: “Welcome to Antarctica!” And everyone comes alive pulling on hats, sunglasses, Big Reds, and gloves. The door opens and the light comes in. As I step out I can’t help grinning. The cold isn’t as harsh as I remember, I don’t zip my coat or put on my neck gaiter, but I can feel it sharp on my nose and cheeks. After a few minutes I notice a dull ache in my teeth from the cold. I try to stop smiling so much, but then see a friend from last year waiting to greet us. He envelopes me in a massive bear hug and I find myself grinning again. It is good to be back.

Welcome to Antarctica!

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Filed under Antarctic, Flights

Deploying

BLI-SEA-SFO-SYD-CHC! Over 20 hours of flying.
We’ll have a day for training and final prep in Christchurch, NZ and then it’s another 5-6hr flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Things get a little confusing with flying over the international date line. On my way westward I will leave the US on the 11th and arrive in Australia on the 13th, even though it’s only a 14hr flight. On the way home it’s not unusual to arrive before you’ve departed…

Meanwhile, here are some spectacular photos from the Antarctic:
http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/10/scenes-from-antarctica/100384/

The tags issued for checked luggage. The airlines are given notice to send all lost bags with these tags to Christchurch, NZ.

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PQ

On September 18th, after receiving offers for both the summer and winter Antarctic seasons I was told to “hold onto my hat as things were going to move FAST.” No truer words have been spoken. Less than a week later I landed in Denver, Colorado…and within two days had completed all the necessary appointments, paperwork, and exams to PQ for the winter at Pole.

For all of you who know what this means, it was as crazy as you can imagine. PQ stands for “Physically Qualify”, or passing the thorough medical evaluation required to deploy to Antarctica. The main stations (Palmer, McMurdo, and Pole) have small clinics with doctors and physician assistants, but their equipment and supplies are limited and it’s a long way to higher care. Medical evacuation can be a tricky business at best. In the summer months McMurdo is about a 3 hour flight from Pole, and from there it’s another 6 hour flight to Christchurch, New Zealand…And this is the best case scenario where a plane is waiting on the ground at Pole and the weather is fair at all locations. During the winter season there is a 7-8 month window where flights in and out of Pole are all but impossible.

The PQ process is a process for summer contracts, and even more involved for winter. Usually it’s a good idea to start the process 4-6 months before you deploy. With the last minute hiring I had under 3 weeks.

The first stop was at the doctors office where I had a full physical examination, blood drawn and urine collected for lab analysis and lipid tests (required to fast for 12hrs prior), a TB test, vision test, and immunization history fully reviewed. The second stop was the dentist where I had a dental exam, bitewing x-rays, and a cleaning. Between and after these appointments I kept hydrated and swung by two drug testing facilities for each of my contracts.

The next day I had a 645am appointment for the chest x-ray and gallbladder ultrasound. The x-ray was straight forward, but the ultrasound ended up being close to an hour spent laying on the table while the technician smeared warm goo across my full abdomen taking images of all my internal organs. Kind of interesting. Apparently the gallbladder shrinks to produce bile even to digest water, so no food or water is allowed for 8 hours prior to the exam – they need a good look at the full organ to check for gall stones.

Later that morning we took the Psych exam, a 2hr “scantron” test followed by a brief interview with a psychologist. Then it was a matter of completing the release forms, the 5-page medical history packet, and getting my TB test read 48-72hrs after administration.

Several tests are done every 5 years so I did not have to redo the 12 lead EKG and full dental panorama x-ray. After being poked, prodded, palpated, bled, screened, scraped, x-rayed, immunized, analyzed, and generally examined I was finally able to fax off my huge packet of paperwork and received word 10 days later that I was PQ’d for summer at least…

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