In a turn of events, we actually weren’t able to get to anymore AWS in the last 3 full days in Antarctica. We had planned to get to Windless Bight AWS on February 10th, but the visibility was too low for us to safely snowmobile. It was disappointing because it was the last AWS on our list that we needed to get to. Then the 11th and 12th we needed to worry about cleaning up the lab/office, returning all our equipment, and packing all our personnel items.
There was also a bit of drama concerning leaving the continent. Larger wheeled aircraft still weren’t getting to McMurdo because the ice runway wasn’t ready yet. The week were trying leave many of friends had been delayed somewhere between 1 to 3 days since they were using the smaller LC-130 aircraft. We got very lucky in that we left February 13th, which was the day were originally scheduled to leave! I was the last name on the list of priority to get on the plane 🙂
In general, we had an extremely successful season thanks to a great team of 4 spread over 4 months! We are all safely back in Madison, WI and working on the various updates from the field season.
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Feb 14: Leaving Antarctica, ending the 2015-2016 season
Monday, February 8th we enjoyed our annual Helo journey all over Ross Island. We first flew to Cape Bird AWS to try and fix the aerovane. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that the white plastic had ripped out part of the main frame of the aerovane. Lee was able to find the part about 30 feet away from the AWS. Our usual replacement of the nose cone and propeller couldn’t work this time, so next year we will need to buy a new aerovane and go back to the land of the penguins 🙂
Cape Bird AWS broken aerovane
Broken pieces from the aerovane. Only 1 of the 4 propeller blades survived.
WE SAW PENGUINS!!!
Then we flew back to McMurdo, switched into a different Helo, and flew up to Minna Bluff. We have a special Taylor high wind speed sensor at Minna Bluff AWS, which is more robust since it’s maximum wind speed was 61.3 m/s or 137 mph. We’ve been noticing that it seems to reading 0 m/s and it takes a long time to get back up to higher wind speeds. Lee took a look and it sounds like there’s something loose in the cylinder. There might be some rimming stuck inside too. We decided that next year we will replace it with a new sensor we have in Wisconsin.
Minna Bluff AWS
Then we enjoyed a ton of amazing views on the flight from Minna Bluff to Marble Point. We flew across the blue ice and through the edge of the Dry Valleys. It was incredible!
Blue ice, which is formed here due to sublimation and high winds.
The we landed at Marble Point where we have 2 different systems. The original has been installed since 1980 and the newer one was installed in 2011. Both systems looked great! Then we flew over to Marble Point; the actual refueling station. The pilot wanted to get some more fuel before taking the long way back to McMurdo, since the helicopters can’t fly over open water.
Ryan, the pilot, refueling the AStar
On the way back to McMurdo, we flew along the edge of the Dry Valleys again. We also went along the dirty ice edge where there were about 10 Orca whales. It was a long and awesome day of flying!
Thursday, February 9th we made out last helo trip of the season. This time we were going to be dropped off and left alone for a couple of hours at Lorne AWS on the Ross Ice Shelf. We were prepared to add a 7 ft tower section, but we asked the pilot to take it back since it was already about 12 ft tall. The helo pilot left, and this was the first time this season that we weren’t working with close support.
Lorne was another AWS that lost power at some point over the winter. Thus, we wanted to recover the old batteries and replace them with a new 3-battery power system. I raised the lower temperature sensor (I’m a pro at this now… It’s the easiest thing to raise haha), and we detached the enclosure in order to get it out of the way while we were digging. Then we started the hunt to find the 2 briefcases of batteries. It took about an hour to dig down nearly 6 feet and loosen the cases out of the snow. Lee got the first one out and detached all the cables. Then I got the second one out just as I was about to give up and let Lee get it.
The 6 ft empty snow pit
Then we filled in the hole, attached the enclosure again, and started plugging in all the cables. Lee tried to figure out why the pressure gauge wasn’t working, but no luck. We will need to go back next year and replace it with a new pressure gauge.
Our last item of business is our snowmobile trip out to Windless Bight tomorrow!
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Feb 10: Finished all of the Helo flights
We managed to get to 2 AWS via Otter and another AWS via Helo all in the same day. I’m not sure if this has ever been done during the duration of the AWS project!
Friday, February 5th we first headed out to Nascent AWS. This was a site that hadn’t been visited for 10 years, so we didn’t know what to expect. We planned to remove the AWS instrumentation and anything else that we could get. This site was a little different in that it had a gps that was still transmitting as of 3.5 years ago. We also had a 1 km resolution satellite image that was helpful. In the end the pilots were able to find it, and it was much taller than I expected!
Nascent AWS with Lee (left) and Henry the pilot (right)
The pilots and our boondogglers were extremely helpful removing everything! We dug down to recover the 4 solar panels and the CR10X enclosure. We had to dig down about 7 feet to get to the enclosure.
Lee (left) reaching down for the bottom of the enclosure with Ken the co-pilot (left)
We removed as much tower as possible and then loaded everything onto the plane. We spent less than 2 hours on the ground, which was much faster than anticipated. It really helped to have 6 people helping!
Then we flew over to Vito AWS. This is an AWS that we have struggled to get working consistently for about a year now. The site has been visited 6 times over 15 months. There has been a lot of troubleshooting done with the enclousre/electronics/power system, but nothing has worked. Thus, we decided to completely replace the enclosure with the old AWS2B that was removed from Brianna in West Antarctica. We swapped the enclosure boxes and had to dig out the power cable a couple of inches. The we plugged in the power cable and waited for a transmission from the Teleonics. At that point, there was nothing else we could try and do. We heard the Teleonics beeping, but it wasn’t displaying the data like it usually does. We waited for about 20 or 25 minutes to make sure we could at least get 2 transmissions, yet the hex data never came through. We left Vito AWS not 100% sure it was working, which is not ideal. Once we got back to the lab, we found out it was working properly!
On the way back from Vito AWS to McMurdo, the pilots got a call from comms at McMurdo asking us if we still wanted to get on our Helo ride later than afternoon. It was going to be close, but we figured we had enough time. We got dropped off at the helo pad, and within an hour and half of landing on the Otter we were taking off on a helo.
We had planned to fly to Cape Bird AWS to check the broken aerovane, but it was too cloudy over there again. The same thing had happened to us a couple of days before.
Low cloud surrounding Mount Bird near Cape Bird
As we turned around, I suggested that we try going back to Laurie II to replace the nose cone and propeller on the aerovane. The pilot checked in with helo ops and checked his fuel levels. He said he would be able to make it, but he warned us it was going to be really windy. Thus, we wanted to be on the ground for as little time as possible. I prepped the nose cone and prop while in the back of the helo and then handed it off to Lee. It was blowing at least 25 kts when we landed. Lee quickly climbed to the top and swapped out the parts while I took a picture :)… into the sun like a terrible photographer…. I didn’t want to face the wind.
Lee swapped out the nose cone and prop at Laurie II AWS
Nascent and Vito AWS were our last flights with the Twin Ottter. There are still 4 sites that need to be visited with the helo, and we will be snowmobiling to Windless Bight. We have one more week in Antarctica!
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Feb 6: 3 sites in 1 day on Otter and Helo
On Thursday, January 28th we got to fly to Alexander Tall Tower! I’m been excited about most of the AWS sites this season, but I was particularly excited about this sites because it’s a unique system that’s about 100 feet tall versus the others which are about 15 feet tall. The 3 riggers (Andrew, Mikey, and Buddy) and 2 helpers from town were able to come too. The 2 helpers were from the IT department, Bill and Bartley, and I had met both of them before. Bartley helped us replace some hard drives this year, so it was nice he was able to come out with us!
It was another nice and sunny day, but it was a little bit breezy on the shelf. The flight took about 45 minutes which was an appreciated break from the 2 long fly days before. The riggers checked that the tower was plume and level using their surveying tools, and they tightened the guy wires. Lee and I decided that it wasn’t necessary to do an instrument raise because we would have needed to raise the lowest 4 levels of instrumentation. We did raise the junction box and a couple of the cables that were closest to the snow surface.
Alexander Tall Tower AWS
Bottom of the tower
Buddy climbed up to the top of the tower to check that the pyranometer was still level. Lee was thinking about climbing up, but it was actually pretty windy, especially at the top of the tower. Once Buddy was done, we were able to have early day and leave the site by 11am.
Buddy climbing to the top of the tower
Friday, January 29th we were canceled for the Otter, but we got to go on our first Helo flight of the season. We were scheduled to go to both Laurie II and Ferrell AWS. Laurie II AWS stopped transmitting in the fall, so we had planned to check the batteries and power cycle the system. We just needed to swap the data cards at Ferrell AWS since this wasn’t done earlier in the season.
We got to the Helo pad and the pilot explained that it was probably going to be very windy. Since these were going to be quick visits, we decided it was fine to go ahead and fly out. We landed at Laurie II and the wind was at least 20 kts, and we immediately noticed that the nose cone had cracked and the prop was missing.
Laurie II AWS with a broken aerovane
Lee tested the voltage for the battery with and without the solar panel, and it was fine. He figured the batteries weren’t the problem, so we power cycled and got a transmission on the Teleonics. We were only on the ground for 30 minutes and most of it we spent in the Helo waiting to check the batteries and the transmission. We will need to fly back to Laurie II AWS to replace the nose cone and prop.
We then flew over to Ferrell AWS, where we quickly swapped out the data card and got a gps coordinate just in case it wasn’t done early this season. The wind was still about 20 kts, so we didn’t stay out there for too long.
On the way back to McMurdo we were able to see the large crack in the sea ice near McMurdo. You can see it’s a big piece of ice via the satellite image 🙂
Ice Crack via satellite image
Views of the ice crack from the Helo
It’s been a full week in McMurdo! We’ve got another 2 weeks to finish 8 more sites.
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Jan 30: Alexander Tall Tower, Laurie II, and Ferrell AWS
We got out of WAIS on Thursday, January 21st by a Basler plane. There were 2 members of the camp who had gotten hand injuries earlier this month, and they need to get seen my the doctors in McMurdo. There was a Basler passing over WAIS on the way back to McMurdo, so they were kind enough to stop by and pick put 9 of us from camp. We were notified about this plan at 9:30am and then plane was coming at 10:30am. Then lead to Lee and I quickly packing up all of personal bags, tents, and our equipment in an hour. We had to leave more equipment than we wanted to out at WAIS, but we grabbed all the important items. Flying back on the Basler was a lot of fun because there were windows and the camp chef quickly baked some cookies for our journey 🙂
The camp staff waving goodbye to us 🙂
Then we took Friday to regroup and got on the Otter and Helo schedule again. We got the whole weekend off and then we got cancelled on Monday, but Tuesday we got to go to Siple Dome which is an actual camp staffed with 2 people for the whole season. For our first flight to Siple we took 3 riggers with us (Andrew, Mikey, and Buddy), and then there were 2 passengers going to fix a seismic station. Since there were so many of us we got to take a Basler again which was fun! It took about 3 hours to get there and we had 4 hours of ground time. We knew that this still wouldn’t be enough to complete the station move.
The work that we needed to do at Siple Dome AWS was a little usual. The old AWS was located a couple of miles east of the Siple Dome camp. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to snowmobile there which cuts down our ground time by 30 minutes to an hour, thus we wanted to move the AWS closer to the camp and the skiway. In order to do this, we needed to first put up new tower, remove all the instrumentation, and re-install all the instrumentation on the new tower. We figured it would take more than 4 hours to complete all this work, so 2 flights would be necessary.
First, we had the riggers help us install the new tower. We finished securing the tower in about an hour thanks to the expert riggers!
The riggers and Lee putting together the tower sections with the Basler in the background
Next, all 5 of us snowmobiled over to the old AWS. The riggers were able to help us bring the power system to the snow level which was super helpful! Then we figured that was all could really do until we had more time to come back. We thought about unplugging the instruments and waiting to install them until the next flight, but there’s always a possibility we couldn’t get back to Siple Dome this season and then we would lose a year’s worth of data. We snowmobiled back to the camp area, notified the pilots we were done, and flew back to McMurdo.
Old Siple Dome AWS batteries at the snow level
We got lucky in that the very next day we got confirmed to take an Otter back to Siple Dome. The Otter is a smaller plane, so this time it took about 3.5 hours to get there. We had 3 hours of ground time and we knew it would take almost exactly that amount of time to finish our work. First we snowmobiled to the old AWS and removed all the instrumentation in about an hour.
Old Siple Dome AWS once all of the instrumentation was removed
Then we snowmobiled to the new tower with the all the instrumentation and began re-installing everything. We finished everything in just enough time and we were pretty exhausted. We did about 13 hours of flying for about 6 hours of work, but we did get lucky because the weather was clam, sunny, and about 20 F both days we were there. This kind of weather is unheard of at Siple Dome because it’s usually fogged in really bad.
New Siple Dome AWS
Enjoy a video of the Siple Dome visit!
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Jan 28: Siple Dome 2 days in a row
Both Saturday and Sunday we weren’t able to fly due to bad weather and crew rest, but Monday we got out to our last 2 sites out of WAIS: Theresa AWS and Kathie AWS.
We first flew to Theresa AWS, which was my favorite flight this season! Theresa is located near Horlick Mountains, so we were able to see some mountains along the way.
The Horlick Mountains
We landed at the site and it was very windy, maybe 20 kts. Luckily, we only had about 45 minutes worth of work to do because it was a little uncomfortable. Theresa unexpectedly turned off in October, so we assumed it might have been a power issue. Lee checked the battery and solar panel voltage and noted they both were fine, thus we didn’t install a new power system. Then Lee checked the connection from the power to the AWS2B enclosure. He thinks the plug might have gotten loose due to the winds, but he bent it back a little bit and re-plugged it and it worked! We verified a transmission with the Teleonics, and then we headed out to install Kathie.
Once at Kathie, we had nearly perfect weather conditions for an installation. The wind was calm, it was sunny, and the temperatures were about 10 to 15 Fahrenheit. We had 2 extra helpers from camp and 2 pilots, which were super helpful when it came to raising the tower. We got the 20 foot tower up, secured it with the guy wires, and we got all that done in about an hour. Then we finished putting up the last couple of instruments, plugged them all in, and wrapped all the cables. At that point, all we had to do was test for transmission on the Teleonics and it worked! We packed up and got back on the plane again to fly back to WAIS.
On the way back we had to stop at a fuel cache, which was fun because I had never been to one before. The pilots wanted to take out 4 barrels of fuel. We had to dig down to the barrels and then turn them right side up. It took about 30 or 40 minutes to get all of the fuel pumped out, and then we had to load all of the empty barrels back on the plane. We got back to WAIS after a 12 hour day for about 4 hours of work, and 8 hours of flying and fueling.
Fuel Cache in West Antarctica
Lee and I are now done with all the AWS out of WAIS. We are hoping to get back to McMurdo tonight on one of the late night flights. As we all know, it will likely take a couple of tries before that happens. We have at most 1 Snowmoble, 3 Otter, and 3 Helo trips left to complete out of McMurdo. All things considered, we might get fairly close to finishing the rest of work before we leave Antarctica Feb. 13th.
We enjoyed a few more cancellations and one more mechanical issue with the plane in the air, but we eventually landed at WAIS Divide on Jan. 14th in the afternoon. We were welcomed by the camp staff, and they appreciated that we had been waiting for about 10 days to get here. There ended up being another flight that came to WAIS that night, so they hadn’t had a flight for 2 weeks and then they had 2 flights in 2 days.
We got a quick tour of the camp, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon setting up the tents and unpacking. Lee did some testing with the old pressure sensor, and we found and organized our cargo so we would be ready for our flights.
Jan. 15th we had our first opportunity to fly! We went to Harry AWS site first where we needed to take out the old AWS2B instrumentation and replace it with new CR1000 instrumentation. We flew with Jonathan Willie (who got his degree with Dave Bromwich) and Ryan Scott, and they are both meteorologists too. They were very excited to get out of WAIS camp on a Twin Otter flight!
Harry AWS upon arrival
First, we dug down to the junction box and recovered that by cutting the cables to the batteries. We decided that it wasn’t worth it to dig 5 or more feet to recover the batteries. Then we removed all of the old instrumentation from the tower and added a 7 foot tower section, which is always a fun adventure.
Lee climbed up the tower and lined up the tower section, but it wasn’t going down all the way. Lee was doing everything he could to push the tower section down further. Then Troy (the pilot) suggested to secure it with a cargo strap that we could just leave at the site, so Lee figured that was our best option.
Then we started putting all of the new AWSCR1000 instrumentation on the tower. The only issue was that we didn’t end up having an extra humidity sensor (it’s a really long story), and we forgot to grab a horizontal pole to mount the Acoustic Depth Gauge. Otherwise everything worked perfectly, we finished in about 2 and half hours, and we were able to verify transmission with the Teleonics.
Harry AWS after the instrument swap
Then we tried to fly over to Theresa AWS but it was too covered in cloud for us to land, so then we headed over to Byrd AWS. We arrived at Byrd station and we refueled. While the pilots were refueling, we got a brief tour of the camp via a couple minute journey on a sled on the back of a snow machine. They have only 5 people staying there currently, but Byrd used to be the largest camp in West Antarctica before WAIS divide existed. There was an ice core drilled there and the building is now buried.
They only had 5 people staying at Byrd Camp
Then we went back to the plane and taxied over the Byrd AWS site. We needed to check the aerovane because the wind speed wasn’t working properly. Lee climbed to the top of the tower and quickly learned that the wind speed cable had been tightened too much. After about 15 minutes we verified that it was working properly again!
Lee fixing the aerovane at Bryd AWS
Then we got to back to WAIS and landed in white out conditions…. which made for a fun landing!
The weather was bad Saturday, Janurary 16th and the whole camp took the day off on Sunday, January 17th. There will only be 3 more days of flying due to the pilot’s contract ending. We will likely be leaving by the end of the week, or at least by January 23rd.
If you want to learn more about what it’s like at WAIS, check out Dave’s blog from a couple of weeks ago. I also made a quick little tour video of WAIS 🙂
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Jan 16: We Made it to WAIS!
Thursday and Friday were more days of broken planes and weather cancellations. Thursday we went out to the airfield about 4pm, and we were quickly informed that the flight crew had broken a door on the plane we were supposed fly on. We had to wait at the airfield for another hour because there was possibility we were going on a different plane. Then we were told the flight was cancelled due to weather. Friday was much of the same except we got weather cancelled before we had to go all the way to the airfield, which is much nicer! It’s a lot of effort to put on all of our cold weather gear, pack up our bags, and travel in the shuttle buses 30 minutes each way to get to the airfield.
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday there were no flights even scheduled to WAIS. Lee and I decided it would be good to try and at least get one site done out of McMurdo, so reserved a truck on Saturday and drove out the our AWS at Pegasus airfield; Pegasus North AWS. I takes a little over an hour to drive there, and it probably took about 20 minutes to find the AWS since things always seems to change in that area. Unfortunately, we had to park the truck about 150 feet away from the site since the folks at Pegasus didn’t trust the stability of the ice between the truck and the site. We had planned to install a box of 3 new batteries (~225 lbs), but it was too heavy to carry that far. Instead we just added 1 new battery to the 2 old batteries already at the site.
Pegasus North AWS
As you can see, Pegasus North is very tilted. This is because it’s in an area of ice that often melts and then refreezes, and the tower isn’t very deep in the ice. We might have to go back later in the season, with the riggers, to see if we can make it straight.
Lee pulling old batteries from PGN
Pegasus North has two wooden boxes of old batteries that have been disconnected for years, but every time we go there they are too iced in to remove. Lee was able to wrench one of them out of the ice. We were never going to be able carry the box to the truck (you can see the truck in the picture), so Lee used one of the ice picks to pull it across the ice. It actually worked quite well! We had finally completed our first day of field work after 10 days in Antarctica.
We are scheduled for a flight to WAIS tomorrow……….
Enjoy a video of how I killed some time in McMurdo 🙂
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Jan 11: Pegasus North AWS and More WAIS Cancellations
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were days of delays and cancellations. Monday we got cancelled to go to Nascent AWS due to weather all over the Ross Ice Shelf. We spent the rest of the day packing up and organizing to fly to WAIS the next day. Tuesday we woke up early to transport to the airfield, but we got delayed due to weather. Then we left for transport at 11am to depart at 1pm. This seemed to be just in time for the visibility to decrease to less than a mile, but in any case we all boarded the LC-130. Lee and I got to sit upstairs in the cockpit, which was exciting!
Cockpit of the LC-130
Then we started to taxi, but it seemed like we were taxiing for a long time. After about 15 minutes, I saw one of the pilots take off his seat belt, so I knew we weren’t going anywhere. The plane stopped and then the pilot explained that one of the skis wasn’t aligned properly, so he didn’t feel comfortable taking off. Then we got back on the shuttles and headed back to McMurdo.
Wednesday we woke up early again and then we were weather delayed in the morning. This time we were scheduled to leave at 6pm, so I had a relatively boring day in McMurdo. We got to the airfield and then got on the LC-130 at about 5:30pm. Luckily, the planes to WAIS are relatively empty and there were only 10 passengers.
LC-130’s at Williams Field Runway
The plane taxied and got up in the air for about 15 minutes. Then the load masters in the passenger area were telling us that we had to turn back around because the altimeter broke. We landed again at Williams Field and got to hangout on the plane for about 20 minutes while they fixed the altimeter. Since we flew around for a bit, they had to refuel again before we left. We were shuttled off the plane at that point, and we were told we would be trying to fly again after they refueled. We noticed that the plane wasn’t moving to refuel. At that point I figured there was bad weather at WAIS. Sure enough, after another 20 or 30 minutes of waiting we were told the flight was cancelled. After 5 hours at the airfield we got back to town. I couldn’t be too upset since I got to take a shower and I didn’t have a roommate 🙂
We will be trying to go again at 6pm tonight!
Posted inUncategorized|Comments Off on Jan 7: A Tale of Broken Planes
Lee and I arrived in McMurdo on 30 December at about 7pm. In the past 4 days we have gotten all of the initial training completed, and all of our equipment in the cargo system to get to West Antarctic Ice Sheet field camp (WAIS). We are scheduled to leave for WAIS on 5 January, and we might go to our first site out of McMurdo, Nascent AWS, on 4 January.
We arrived just before the holiday weekend for New Year’s which was celebrated on Sat. 2 January and Sun. 3 January, so there wasn’t much time to get everything ready for the WAIS field camp. I celebrated the New Year a little bit at Ice Stock, which is an outdoor concert event with a chilli cookoff and complementary coffee and Baileys. Other than that, I used this weekend to catch up on sleep, unpack, and reorganize.
This blog will mostly detail the journey to get to Antarctica. I left my parents house near O’Hare at about 1pm on Sat. 26 December, flew to LAX, took the long journey over the Pacific, and eventually landed in Sydney. Since I had a 10 hour layover in Sydney, I went downtown and took a ferry ride.
Sydney ferry ride
Very rainy and foggy day in the Sydney Harbor
Then we arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand at about 11pm on Mon. 28 December. The next morning, 29 December, we had our first training videos and got all of our extreme cold weather gear at the clothing distribution center, which was across the street from our hotel. We had the rest of the day free, so I went for a walk since the weather was sunny and 65F!
A park I found during my walk in New Zealand
Then the next day, Wed. 30 December, we checked in for our ice flight at 7:30am. We all got out to the runway and the plane engines were started, but within about 10 minutes they were turned off again; mechanical delay.
Lee is the one in the red shirt 🙂
Luckily there’s usually at least 3 LC-130 planes in Christchurch, so waited about 2 hours and got on a different plane. Then we were off to Antarctica and we got there in about 7 hours because we had a glorious 100 mph tail wind.
Me on the LC-130 for the second try
The glory that is the LC-130
The plane landed on the ice runway and then we all spent about 15 minutes outside the plane taking photos 🙂 Then we took “Ivan the Terra Bus” from the runway to McMurdo.
Our first views of Antarctica with Mt. Erebus in the background
“Ivan” the Terra Bus
Then we were in town and it felt weird to be back. Not much has changed in the past 11 months, and thankfully there’s still 24/7 cookies 🙂
I will try and update the blog as often as I can before we get out to WAIS.
Finally, enjoy a video I made about the 83 hour journey to Antarctica.