This past week started out a little slow to get a break from the physical work we did last week and to prep for the incoming week. The weather was good to us again this week and was decently warm for here! Our AWS named Alexander Tall Tower! is about 100 ft tall and has 6 main levels of instrumentation. It requires riggers to check and maintain the safety of the tower as well as climb it for us to do raises of the instruments. They were able to get out on 21 Nov. to do the checks. Since we had also planned to dig out the batteries, they offered to start that process if they had time, which was very nice of them. They had time to dig and were able to dig down to not only our battery case but two of the cases for UNAVCO’s GPS system! Impressive work and much of a surprise when Troy, our pilot, showed us pictures the next day.
We were then able to go out with them on 24 Nov. to finish digging and guide the riggers where the instruments should go. We brought along Erika from UNAVCO so she could check on their system (and help dig it out) and I decided to ask for the full rigger team of 6 instead of 4 because I knew lifting those batteries would be a lot of work. It turned out to be a great decision to bring more people as we were all doing something almost the whole time! We were able to get all power systems to the surface and rewired properly. The riggers were only able to get two booms raised as it took longer than they expected, but they thought of a different way to finish up the work and redo the cable management for future work on the station. We will try to get out with them again this year to finish the raise.
On 25 Nov. we got out to Lorne AWS – our first helo ride this season! It was Angie’s first time in a helicopter at all, so it was very exciting. We knew there was some digging involved, but we ended up with a much deeper hole than anticipated! It was nearly 6 ft deep and it was only us digging it all out. There was a storm expected to roll in back in McMurdo, so we knew we would have to get back in a timely matter, but it looked like the clouds were coming in faster than anticipated. We ended up needing to cut our time short because of this and only had time to raise the enclosure and solar panel. Still successful for an easier raise next visit!
It was also Thanksgiving this week and McMurdo celebrates on the following Saturday, so this year it was 26 Nov. We had a nice meal and sat with the twin otter and helo pilots and flight crew! We were by far the largest table at the 7:00pm serving time and it was nice to eat with friendly, familiar and new faces. I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving wherever you spent it!
I know we have been quiet the past two weeks, but there is good reason for that! Our cargo was quite delayed in getting here – we got it delivered to us 12 November! There was a two week pause on bringing non-essential people to the ice due to quickly rising COVID cases, but that did help to bring more cargo here since it was all very backed up. We were able to get a request in to fly to Cape Hallett by the following Wednesday since we needed to get cargo in 4-5 days in advance. It wasn’t until early that Saturday evening we heard back that we for sure were on the schedule, but that we could also fly out Thursday, Friday and Saturday! We knew it was ambitious, but it’s hard to say no when you get on the fixed wing schedule. We set it up as one station per day starting on Wednesday: Cape Hallett, Vito, Emilia, and Margaret.
Cape Hallett and Phoenix had very similar purposes: swap out the modem in the enclosure and upload a new program. Because of this, we wanted to get out to Phoenix before Cape Hallett to get a “practice” round in since we can just drive out to Phoenix. So, on Monday 14 November we drove out to do just that! Unfortunately, we were having some technical difficulties with our field laptop and couldn’t verify the program was running properly or if it was transmitting so we had to leave. In case it was running, we decided to leave the enclosure instead of bringing it back to the lab. However, it was not transmitting, and we were able to see briefly that the program did not compile correctly, so we will have to go back out and fix that.
On Wednesday (16 Nov) we had nice weather to get to Cape Hallett! We actually needed to pick up 4 kiwis (New Zealanders) and we spotted them on the sea ice as we came in, so we stopped by them first. Thankfully we did that, because our walk to the station had some good-sized bumps on the sea ice and we had two heavy sleds (we were going to swap out the 4 batteries) and we were glad we had so much help pull them to the station with us. Unfortunately, we walked up to the station and it was completely tipped over on its side. There were many damages to the sensors, inside the enclosure the modem cable connector had broke, and the guy wire holding the station to the ground had snapped. I had repowered the station and it seemed like it was running just fine, but we took the data card out and we will find out how much data was collected after the fall, if at all. Because of all of this and having almost nothing to replace or repair any of these things, we decided to leave the station as is (yes, we did leave it on its side to prevent further damages) and now plan to do a full replace another year. We couldn’t be too upset about any of this though since Cape Hallett is also a penguin rookery for adelies! Of course, we had to take some pictures of them and the scenery as well.
On Thursday (17 Nov) we got out to Vito! We had our work cut out for us starting the moment we had to look for the station. It was 4.5 miles off from the expected location and luckily one of the pilots had spotted it after about 40 minutes of flying around. The station was over half buried and we ended up digging over 9.5 ft down to get the battery cases out and up to the surface. Then we raised the station, but we learned quickly we’re are not as fast as other experienced people from the team, and it was quite cold and windy so that slowed us down even more (down to -22 F and over 10 knot winds). We spent 8 hours on the ground getting Vito dug out and raised, but we had accidentally broken the power cable to the station so it is not transmitting and that will need to be replaced another time.
Friday (18 Nov) turned out to be bad weather for Emilia, so we had to call that off. It worked out well for us to have a break after two exhausting days back to back, though! We recuperated, debriefed, and made some new plans for the rest of the season. We were able to get out to Emilia on Saturday (19 Nov) with much nicer weather (still a little chilly, 1F, but not too bad)! We brought the batteries to the surface (~2 ft deep) and did a power cycle on the station in hopes that would restart it and get transmissions going again. Thankfully, it worked! We were very, very glad to finally have a completely successful AWS visit.
We have more flights planned this coming week, but we will see if weather continues to hold!
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Hello all, the 2022-2023 Automatic Weather Station (AWS) Program field season has begun! We have two groups coming down this season, Team A and Team B. Myself (Taylor Norton) and Angie Montgomery consist of Team A while Team B includes Lee Welhouse and Mckenzie Dice. Angie and I arrived on the ice on 28 October 2022 and will stay until early-mid December. Lee and Mckenzie will fly down early December and stay until late January.
Angie and I have been going through all the trainings necessary for life and work here in McMurdo the past week. This includes field safety (health concerns with cold and in case you get stranded unexpectedly), environmental protection, how to sort garbage, how to drive the specialized trucks, and others! We also have to meet with many people to go over the plan for which AWS we want to go to and know how to communicate with people while we are out. We are hoping to get out to our first AWS soon! We have also taken a few walks around town looking at the beautiful views, especially with it being Angie’s first time here. The AWS we plan to go to are mostly on the Ross Ice Shelf and around the McMurdo area. These stations require taking fixed wing aircraft, helicopters (aka helos) and a truck with snow tires. Lee and Mckenzie will work mostly out of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), but maybe a few McMurdo area stations late in the season as well.
I will give more updates once we get out into the field, but below are some pictures to start!
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Lee and I returned from the ice in mid-February! As with any field season, it takes a bit of time to get back into the swing of things. The first couple weeks back are always tricky to get the body used to the new time zone, and the pace of life, and all that. And since I wanted to be sure, I let a few months pass by. So, now is a great time to update you all on the end of our field season and go over how things went.
We worked right up until the end of the field season. I left the ice on 4 February, and the night before, we flew to Cape Bird to check on the health of the AWS there. This AWS is on the northern end of Ross Island and is near the coast. In the summer, the sea ice opens up, and when it gets windy a lot of sea spray can reach the AWS, damaging the instruments and cabling over time. It’s amazing how a little bit of salt can eventually weaken and corrode metal nuts and bolts! But, one advantage of going to Cape Bird is that it’s located near an Adelie penguin rookery. So yes, we get to see thousands of penguins. And seals and whales and Skua!
Lee remained on the ice for a few days after I left, and he went back to Sarah PCWS and Phoenix AWS to try some last-minute repairs. Although Lee wasn’t able to get Phoenix transmitting, he was able to get Sarah back up and running, and it is still going strong as of this writing! Skomik PCWS unfortunately stopped transmitting on 11 February, so at least we have one PCWS still running.
This field season was one of the biggest tests of our patience in dealing with delays and cancelations. Because we missed the 2020-21 field season due to COVID, we had a lot of work planned and high expectations. Of course, also due to COVID delays, there were scheduling and resource conflicts that came up in practically every facet of our deployment. At times it seemed as though Lee and I wouldn’t get much of any field work completed. But just as we’ve seen in years past, everyone from the National Science Foundation, to the Antarctic Support Contract, to the fixed wing and helicopter flight coordinators, to the pilots, to our fellow scientists and people of McMurdo, wanted us to succeed, did their best to make that happen, and followed through when resources were finally available. When we could fly, we flew! Lee and I ended up getting some good field work completed in the second half of this season. Hopefully we can carry that over that momentum to the next field season. Until then…
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This past week, we successfully installed Skomik PCWS, collocated at Schwerdtfeger AWS and one of NIWC’s Wind Alert AWS. Skomik is named after my dad, Ed Mikolajczyk, and his late best friend, Mark Skogseth (it’s a combination of their last names).
On 26 January, we took a Twin Otter (me, Lee, and Ryan Adamson from NIWC) to Schwerdtfeger AWS to raise Schwerdtfeger and install Skomik. Ryan was there to fix up the NIWC AWS.
There has been a lot of work put into getting this new PCWS up and running over the past couple years. The programming work done by Andy Kurth, Forbes Filip, and Josh Thorsland, among others, has been outstanding and exhausting at times, and it is still ongoing. But they got the latest version of the program to work, and we got the good weather to go out and install it. It was a great feeling to see the result of all the hard work. Of course, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as originally planned.
We first began by digging a 5-foot deep hole to install the new tower for Skomik. We dug it wide enough to fit a board that would serve as the tower base. Lee assembled the 15 feet of tower section, attached the guy wires to the guy collar on the tower, and then we all put the tower in the hole.
We refilled in the hole with snow, compacting it as best as we could. We planned to let the tower sit there for over an hour, at which point it would be well frozen in and sturdy. While we let the tower sit, we dug 3 ~5-foot deep holes for the deadmen anchors. We attached the guy wires to the deadmen, then buried the deadmen in the holes. We went to work on Schwerdtfeger while we let the new Skomik tower sit.
Given the height of Schwerdtfeger, we decided that we didn’t need to add a tower section, as it was pretty much the same height as the NIWC AWS and Skomik. We still had to dig up the power system, but that wasn’t too buried. When we finished that, Skomik was ready to be climbed to install instruments. I installed the instruments on Skomik while Lee raised the instrumentation on Schwerdtfeger. Things were going very smoothly.
When Lee completed the work on Schwerdtefeger and I installed all the instruments on Skomik, we were ready to upload the program to Skomik, check the data, and test for transmissions.
Unfortunately, we ran into issues with the cable connecting the antenna to the modem, so after much troubleshooting and trying to get things to work, we had to leave with Skomik’s transmissions not working. We also noticed that some data were outputting incorrect data, so we needed to fix some of the programming. It was a bummer to finish the day like that, especially after everything else went so well.
Fortunately, the flight coordinators and Otter pilots were willing to try to get us back there. Since we didn’t expect to need much ground time at Skomik, and we have some other sites on the Ross Ice Shelf we need to visit by Otter, we planned to go to Emilia right after Skomik. Two days later, and many hours troubleshooting the programming, on 28 January, we made it back to Skomik! We swapped out the antenna and cable, swapped out the wind monitor and upper temperature assembly, reuploaded a new program, and got it running and transmitting! There’s still work to be done with this project, but it was a great feeling to get a PCWS up and running in the field… And I made sure to remember to put a PCWS sticker on the enclosure as well.
With that work completed, we scooted on over to Emilia, north of Skomik and closer to the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. The work we needed to do at Emilia was simply enough on paper: standard station raise with digging up the power system, adding a 10-foot tower section, and replace the nose cone and propeller on the wind monitor (the wind speed wasn’t working). However, it had been several years since we had been to Emilia, and it was quite buried.
We figured we had a lot of digging ahead of us, and unfortunately, we were correct, and then some. We got to work, digging a huge pit, and eventually reached the power system, which was buried 7 feet 5 inches! Beat Windless Bight by an inch. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, and on the slightly cooler side, which prevented us from getting too hot as we shoveled snow.
We swapped out the batteries in the power system, since they were starting to report slightly lower voltages, and did the arduous task of filling the hole in with snow. We added the tower section and reinstalled the instrumentation, verified transmissions, and headed back to McMurdo after a long but successful day.
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On 20 January, Lee and I took snow machines to return to Willie Field AWS and reinstall the enclosure, and then go to Windless Bight AWS to raise the station. Since the snow road was moved, Willie Field AWS was no longer near the road, requiring us to take something other than a truck to visit it. We zipped over to it and reinstalled the enclosure with the new CR1000X datalogger. Everything went smoothly there, and we headed over to Windless Bight.
It’s about a 45-minute drive from Willie Field to Windless Bight. As we approached Windless Bight, the surface conditions became ideal for snow machining, as there was a bit of fresh snow from a recent storm. Since this area generally has light winds, or “windless” conditions, the snow didn’t blow away.
We arrived, and it was a beautiful, sunny, windless, and warm (around 33F) day.
Since the snow doesn’t blow away, there is a lot of annual accumulation at Windless Bight. As you can tell from the picture, there wasn’t a big black box (our power system) at the surface under the enclosure. That means we needed to dig down and recover it. The last time we were at Windless Bight was in the 2019-20 field season. We ended up needing to dig down 7 feet 4 inches to get the power system!
Once we had the power system at the surface, we refilled the hole (always depressing to erase the hard work we had just done) and put on a new tower section. We also needed to install a new enclosure since we wanted to swap CR1000 dataloggers and install a new pressure sensor.
It was a successful day, as both AWS are both transmitting and functioning properly.
The Otters are back in town! This past Thursday, the Twin Otters came back to McMurdo from WAIS, much earlier than we expected. And the past two days, we flew on them! On Friday, we flew to Elaine on the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf near the Transantarctic Mountains. Yesterday we flew to Marilyn, also on the shelf near the TAs, but much closer to town. Both sites had similar issues: they weren’t transmitting and the wind monitor was broken. And both visits had similar results: they’re transmitting now, and the wind monitors were replaced.
Also, at Elaine, Marilyn, and Schwerdtfeger, there are collocated AWS installed by Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC). This group does weather forecasting in McMurdo, and these sites are important for their forecasting. They can visit them more often than we can, so we are in the process of transitioning these sites to them. We’re also hoping to install a PCWS at Schwerdtfeger, so there will be side-by-side-by-side AWS there.
Monty from NIWC came with us to both Elaine and Marilyn, while Avi and Madeline from PASSCAL came to Marilyn.
In related news, we also flew on helo to Minna Bluff about a week and a half ago. We got that one up and running too, as it wasn’t transmitting.
Regarding our flight schedule, we got approved to do four more helo flights: Laurie II, Cape Bird, Ferrell, and revisiting White Island to install a high wind system. We’re on the helo schedule tomorrow to go to Laurie II. Also, in addition to taking the Otter to Schwerdtfeger and Tall Tower!, we’ve asked if we can get four additional sites on the Otter schedule: Lettau, Margaret, Emilia, and Vito. Each of those sites need to be raised.
While we’ve had success at our sites visited by air, we haven’t been successful at the ones visited by ground, Phoenix and Willie Field. We swapped the enclosure on Phoenix, but then it wouldn’t transmit. And we tried installing a new datalogger on Willie Field, the CR1000X, but we couldn’t get the temperature to read properly. Fortunately, we fixed that issue with Willie Field, so once we’re ready to install the PCWS at Sarah, we will do that. We’re still trying to figure out how to fix Phoenix.
Happy New Year everyone! Time for another field season update. About a week and a half ago, Lee and I visited our first AWS of the season! But it wasn’t the AWS we were looking for… And on New Year’s Eve we got to our second site. We topped off that with some New Year’s celebrations this past weekend, including Icestock. But first…
On 23 December, Lee and I hitched a ride with Nikko from UNAVCO (University NAVSTAR Consortium, focusing on GPS systems) out on the snow road on the McMurdo Ice Shelf to the airfields in hopes of us visiting our Willie Field AWS and collocated Sarah PCWS. Nikko wanted to go to the end of the snow road at Phoenix Airfield where his group has some instrumentation. We also have an AWS, Phoenix, there. It had been quite warm in the week leading up to that day, with highs in the 40s F, and with the warm temperatures, the snow gets very soft on the ice shelf. It then becomes difficult, and damaging to the snow road, to drive wheeled vehicles out to the airfields… PistenBully to the rescue! This is a small, cube-shaped tracked vehicle that is much more kind to the snow road. Nikko got trained to drive a PistenBully, since it’s not like driving a normal car or truck, and he offered us a ride and to stop at our sites on the way.
We were planning to remove the enclosures on Willie Field and Sarah to replace some sensors and electronics. Since Willie Field was installed in 1992, it was located just off the snow road ~50 feet and near Willie Field Airfield, so it would be very convenient to visit. All it would take is a drive on the road and we could service it. As we were tooling along on the snow road in the PistenBully (our average speed was about 10 mph), Lee and I were looking to the left when we thought Willie Field AWS would be visible. But we never saw it… We kept driving and looking, with no luck, and eventually got to the end of the snow road at Phoenix Airfield. Scratching our heads, we took some pictures of our AWS and removed the enclosure so we could take it back to the lab and replace the pressure sensor.
Once the quick half hour visit was done at Phoenix, we headed back to Willie Field Airfield to search for our site. Lee plugged in the coordinates and, as we approached Willie Field Airfield, we noticed the arrow pointing to the left instead of the right where we thought it would be. Eventually, as we looked left, we saw both Willie Field AWS and Sarah in the distance. We figured that they must have moved the location of the snow road! Rather than us just trekking straight out to our sites, we decided we would head back to town and find out why the snow road was moved. For all we knew, there were some cracks in the ice around our site that would have made it dangerous to visit. We later found out that the road was moved because it was getting too close to the edge of the McMurdo Ice Shelf. The surface conditions around our AWS are safe, so we plan to take snow machines to visit them later this season. That day turned out to be more interesting than we had planned.
On New Year’s Eve, we took a helicopter to visit White Island AWS, located on White Island just south of McMurdo. It felt great to finally get on an airframe to do some field work. We brought Madeline from PASSCAL (Portable Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere) with us to show her our AWS and have an extra hand in the field. White Island had stopped transmitting a few months ago. It’s on the top of Mt. Heine, the tallest peak on the island, is on rock, and can get very windy. Our two best guesses as to why were 1) a broken antenna or antenna cable, and 2) an issue with the power system. When we arrived, it was a sunny and fairly warm day with temperatures around 28 F, but it was pretty windy, which made it feel colder. We don’t know how windy, however, because the wind monitor was completely busted. The strong winds had done a number on it, completely breaking off the tail fin and the propeller. We will have to eventually revisit the site to install a new Taylor high wind system. We also noticed that the antenna cable was dangling off the tower, disconnected from the antenna. The wind strikes again. We checked the power system, and that was fine. We replaced the antenna cable and verified the station was transmitting. Despite the wind issues, we got White Island back up and running! A successful visit.
This New Year’s weekend was full of festivities, including the Holiday Party on New Year’s Eve (delayed because of level blue COVID precautions during Christmas) and Icestock on New Year’s Day. Icestock is a half-day long music festival, with a chili cookout thrown in, showcasing the incredible musical talent here in McMurdo. I love live music, so this was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.
Starting last week, we were also put on the Twin Otter schedule to go to Alexander Tall Tower!. This is a pleasant surprise, since this Otter is working out of New Zealand’s Scott Base. The two USAP Otters are at WAIS and/or South Pole until later in January. We need two visits to Tall Tower!, the first of which by just the riggers so they can do tower maintenance to make sure the tower is safely standing. Since it’s ~100 feet tall, it takes much more maintenance than our ~12 foot towers. The second visit to Tall Tower! Will involve us digging out and raising the power system while the riggers raise the instrumentation on the tower. Hopefully this week we can get out there.
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It’s been a couple weeks since I sent an update about our field season. I’ll try to give a quick overview and rundown now, but I will say now that it looks like we will be visiting our first sites of the field season today!
This field season, there have been many discussions between the science groups, the flight coordinators, and the field season planners of scheduling, fuel availability, and prioritizing science teams to accomplish field work. There were five science groups that wanted to do field work at WAIS. One group deployed to WAIS a couple weeks ago. Due to staffing shortages and fuel availability in West Antarctica (and I’m sure many other things I don’t know about), about a week ago it was determined that our AWS project could not be supported at WAIS. Our West Antarctica worked was canceled this season. Fortunately, we have other sites we can visit from McMurdo and other work to do in town, including setting up a new server that can process realtime AWS data and gather satellite composite imagery.
During this whirlwind of scheduling adjustments, Lee and I were able to get our cargo organized for visiting a couple of our sites by helicopter, Minna Bluff and White Island, as well as get ready for the AWS we can visit by ground transportation (Willie Field, Sarah, Phoenix, Windless Bight). We do have some sites we want to visit by Twin Otter (Alexander Tall Tower!, Schwerdtfeger, Marilyn, Elaine), but that work isn’t scheduled to happen until late January when both of the Otters return from WAIS. These will be regularly serviced but we will also be installing Polar Climate and Weather Stations (PCWS) at the latter 3 sites as part of our project with Madison College to develop a new datalogger.
Due to COVID restrictions, life in MCM has been a little different. There are four different COVID “levels” (red, yellow, blue, green) that indicate various requirements for masking/social distancing. Red is the most restrictive, green is no restrictions. When Lee and I arrived, we were in level yellow for about a week, which meant we had to wear masks and social distance. Over the past couple weeks, we had been in level blue (masks but no social distancing). But the past couple days we’ve been in green! It’s felt a little livelier around town because of that.
This weekend is a two-day weekend as we celebrate the holiday season. We will all enjoy a holiday feast on Saturday night. Hopefully next week Lee and I will be able to do some helo work! And here are some pictures from some hikes I’ve done around town, including up Observation Hill and Castle Rock.
Lee and I saw the partial solar eclipse in McMurdo last night! The whole town was buzzing yesterday in anticipation. While our eclipse was partial, others in Antarctica experienced a total solar eclipse. The path of totality passed over WAIS field camp! I hope they had good weather for viewing.
Many people here in McMurdo went out onto the sea ice road from town to view the eclipse. The people organizing this also had a nice display of information on the Galley for those interested. There were some scientists out there as well who set up some instrumentation, including a telescope, to gather some data about the eclipse.
The eclipse started at 8:21 pm local time, peaked at 9:15, and ended at 10:07. It was sunny all day until around 4-5 pm, then some clouds started rolling in. We held out hope that the skies would clear, and around 7 pm, they did. Lee and I headed out to the sea ice road around 8:30.
The sky was clear of clouds, and the temperatures were in the 20s F, but it was quite windy. It definitely felt cold at times, but that’s why we wear our cold weather gear.
The first group of people on the sea ice were gathered around the telescope. That gave a great view of the eclipse!
We walked down to the end of the road where many people were watching the eclipse. This is where the rest of the scientists had their instruments set up. We got there around 9:05. Lee and I didn’t have any eclipse viewing glasses, and while we got some fleeting glimpses borrowing others, someone was handing some out there, so Lee and I got to view the eclipse when it reached its peak! It reached ~82% coverage here in McMurdo. The sunlight did seem dimmer around the time of the peak, but it wasn’t by much. The light bits of cirrus cloud may have contributed to the dimming as well. It’s amazing how bright the sun is even if it is mostly blocked by the moon.
It was a great experience to be able to see the eclipse in McMurdo! We were lucky to have the clouds clear out to give us a great view.
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