On Monday, 28 November 2016, Lee, Carol and I took a snowmobile adventure out to Windless Bight AWS to replace the power system and raise the instrumentation. We were on the Twin Otter schedule to fly to Gill AWS (as we have been for a while now) but our flight was cancelled. Since we didn’t have any other flights scheduled, and the weather was gorgeous, our day was open for us to do our field work at Windless Bight (WDB).
About a week ago, we staged a couple sleds and some equipment (tower sections, new power system, survival bags) so that it was ready whenever we decided to go to WDB. On Monday, once we reserved three snowmobiles for the day, we loaded up a truck with the rest of our gear to take out to the sleds. After fixing up the sleds, we got our snowmobiles and hooked the sleds up to them.
One of the sled-wielding snowmobiles
With snowmobiles full of gas and spirits full of gumption, we took off for WDB. It was about a 45-minute ride out to the sight, and it was a very pleasant ride given the clear skies and low winds.
WDB when we arrived
The lower temperature sensor was half-buried in snow, the base of the enclosure was just above the snow surface, and the power system was about 5-6 feet buried. We weren’t sure whether we would need to add another tower section, but given the current height of the station, we can wait one more year before adding another section and just raise the instrumentation this year.
We began digging down to the power system and thereby freeing the instrument cables as well. This allowed us to keep digging for the power system and, at the same time, removing the instrumentation and enclosure from the tower. After many shovels-full of snow, we found the power system and pulled it up to snow surface.
“It’s the pits that we had to dig so much.” –Lee
With the old, 2-battery power system removed, we began reinstalling the instrumentation higher up on the tower. As Lee was checking the aerovane, he noticed that the propeller wasn’t moving at all! “Windless Bight” lived up to its name that day, as the propeller proved that there was literally no wind at times!
We re-filled the pit we had dug with snow, on top of which we put the new, 3-battery power system. The reason we swapped power systems is that we have noticed issues with our AWS using Freewave transmissions and the 2-battery power systems not handling the load as well as we would like. It is hoped that 3 batteries will help alleviate these power issues.
WDB after our work was done
After completing the work, we had a bite to eat then loaded our gear back on the sleds to make the journey back to McMurdo. It didn’t end up being as a long of a day as we were expecting, because we didn’t install a new tower section, so that was a bonus. It also felt very good to successfully take advantage of the opportunity to visit WDB and get this work done!
The beginning of the week of November 21st brought an intense storm to McMurdo. Nearly all flying was cancelled due to low visibility and blowing snow, thus we weren’t able to do much work. Storms similar to these can create a backlog of flights on the schedule . Luckily, we were still able to get out to a few places later in the week. This week was special because we would be celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday, and we would get our first 2-day weekend in a few weeks!
On Wednesday, November 23rd we took a truck out to our site near the Williams Field skiway. We call the AWS Willie Field although it’s really off the Pegasus runway road…details. We had been cancelled on the Otter and we weren’t scheduled for the helicopter, so it was it was a good afternoon to drive out there. We needed to go to Willie Field AWS to try and recover the batteries and check if the instrumentation needed to be raised. The tower was plenty tall, so we didn’t need to add a tower section or raise the instrumentation. We dug down to try and recover the batteries, but we started to hit too many ice layers at about 4 feet that we decided we couldn’t recover them. We’ll be bringing a new 3-battery power system once we have a battery box available from another site.
Willie Field AWS in the background with Ford F-350 Truck 119
Once we got back from the airfield, we got a call from helo ops that we could try and take a night flight out to Lorne AWS. Lee and Dave took the chance on a flight and left at about 8pm. Lorne AWS needed a new solar panel with better wiring and a new pressure sensor. Both were installed successfully and they got back to McMurdo at about 10:45pm.
Then it was Saturday, and it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving! I ran the Turkey Trot in the morning. It was a race around McMurdo on the volcanic rock (no ice). The race was filled with all kind of runners wearing all kind of clothing. It was actually my first Turkey Trot I’ve ever raced!
Carol in the middle with the American hat
Then that evening the 3 of us got Thanksgiving dinner at 7pm. The kitchen serves dinner at 3, 5, and 7pm in order to makes sure all 900 people can get dinner on Thanksgiving. Those working the meals work 12+ hours days in order to prepare/serve all the delicious food. During the meal we applaud and thank the chefs for a wonderful meal!
Thanksgiving in the Galley
We’re still on schedule with our work, and we’ve only got a few sites left!
Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!
Hey all, Dave here! I arrived on the ice on Tuesday, 15 November. As Carol mentioned, I arrived just late enough to miss out on flying to Laurie II and Emma. Oh well, I’m glad that Lee and Carol were able to get those sites finished!
Before I go any further on about my first week on the ice, I should mention that while I was in Christchurch, New Zealand en route to Antarctica, I experienced my first earthquake. It happened overnight, and I was woken up by my bed shaking. I was confused at first, but after about a minute of this I realized that it was probably an earthquake. I looked up earthquakes in the area and lo and behold, there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit just north of Christchurch. Luckily, the epicenter was in a relatively rural area of New Zealand. There wasn’t much damage to be heard of in Christchurch itself, but there was some damage in small towns like Kaikoura, as well as to highway roads and rails. I feel fortunate that the damage wasn’t worse in Christchurch.
Ok back to the ice. Once I arrived in McMurdo, I hit the ground running with completing my trainings (field safety, vehicle training, outdoor safety, etc) so I could get out into the field ASAP.
The C-17 and I
This past Saturday, 19 November, Lee, Carol and I flew out to Schwerdtfeger AWS. Second time’s a charm! As Carol mentioned, we were prepared with multiple years’ worth of coordinates, as well as a good estimate of where we thought Schwerdtfeger was currently positioned given the ice movement and rate of change of the coordinates over the years.
One small battle we had to win before departing was the poor weather in McMurdo. Visibility wasn’t great in the morning at the airfield, and the Twin Otter had issues with icing on the aircraft. The three of us got out to the airfield around noon but had to wait for the flight crew (and the sun) to clear off the ice so it was safe to fly. At 1:45 pm we took off in search of Schwerdtfeger. It took about 50 minutes to get to Schwerdtfeger, and after approximately a half hour of flying in a calculated pattern over the area where we thought Schwerdtfeger to be located, the pilots spotted it!
Schwerdtfeger AWS upon arrival
Our goal for this visit was to raise the AWS and dig out the power system to get that up to the snow surface again. Given our relatively late departure and the limits of the pilots’ duty day (the amount of time they can be working in one day) becoming a factor, we had to get to work right away.
In contrast to the poor weather in McMurdo, it was gorgeous at the site. Low winds and clear skies made the 0 F (-18 C) temperatures bearable. I took pictures, Lee began checking the datalogger and data card, and Carol setup the UNAVCO GPS unit. Then we got to work clearing out snow to access the cables and digging down to retrieve the power system. After freeing the cables from both the snow and the enclosure, we measured the heights of the instruments and then began removing them. During this time, the pilots and Lee helped to get the power system up to the snow surface.
With all of the instruments removed from the tower, Lee and I installed the new tower section (which went on as easily as a favorite pair of gloves!). The three of us then took turns installing the instrumentation back on the tower, and as fast as you could say Schwerdtfeger, we had completed the raise! We verified Argos transmission and headed back to McMurdo.
Schwerdtfeger AWS after the raise
When we returned to McMurdo, the poor weather had given way to clear skies. It was a pleasant way to end my first site visit of this field season.
On Tuesday, November 18th we took a helicopter out to Laurie II AWS. Lee and I were originally scheduled to take the small A-Star helicopter, but then we realized we needed to take a 180 lbs power system that wasn’t going to fit very well on the A-Star. We got switched to the larger Bell 212 helicopter so the large, heavy box would fit better. Another 4 workers from town got to come along as well since there was plenty of room. Once we landed, we dug down a couple feet to disconnect the old power cable. Then Lee removed the junction box and solar panel. We made about a one-foot pit to put the new power system in, and Lee installed the new solar panel. Then all the cables were plugged in, wrapped, and taped onto the tower. We received a transmission that it was working, and then we packed up the helicopter and flew back to McMurdo.
Laurie II AWS with new power system
When we came back, Dave Mikolajczyk had just arrived in town! He will tell you more about this in the next blog post!
On Wednesday, November 19th we took a Twin Otter out to Emma AWS. Unfortunately, Dave wasn’t able to come because he had to do some training in McMurdo. Emma AWS is located on the far southern Ross Ice Shelf, so it’s a long plane ride out there. On the way to the site we have to stop at a fuel cache call S+200. All passengers have to get out the plane while the pilots re-fuel. This took about 40 minutes, and then we were off heading further south!
The pilots (Phil and Kelsey) re-fueling the plane
It took about 4.5 hours total to get to Emma AWS. This area of the Ross Ice Shelf is always windy due to its proximity to Transantarctic Mountain range, so it was no surprise that it was about 20 kts the whole time we were out there. We quickly dug down about 2 feet to recover the older power system. Then we installed the new power system and got all the cables plugged in, wrapped, and taped to the tower. We received a transmission that it was working. Then Lee climbed up the tower to measure the heights of the sensors. On the way up, he noticed that a lot of the bolts were loose on the tower due to the vibrations from the high winds. All of the bolts were tightened before leaving. Luckily, we were done in about an hour.
Dave will take it from here to write about the rest of the week!
On Tuesday, November 8th we took a helicopter out to Cape Bird. Since Cape Bird is an exciting place and we were a light load on the helicopter, the hairdresser at McMurdo, Alicia, was invited to come with us as well. We landed at Cape Bird and 3 New Zealanders (Kiwis) told us we landed too close to the penguins. This always seems to happen…. The Kiwis at Cape Bird are studying penguins, so they are extra protective of that area. Once we landed we hiked up the steps with our gear and replaced the aerovane in about 30 minutes. We successfully saw the wind was reporting correctly on the keypad, and then we were free to head back down the hill and take some photos of the penguins. Unfortunately, we had to wait about 2 hours for the helicopter to pick us up. It only got windy about the last 30 minutes, and I got to ask Alicia a lot of questions about hair, so it all worked out fine! The helicopter picked us about 200 feet further from the penguins so the Kiwis wouldn’t be upset.
Cape Bird AWS with a new aerovane
On Wednesday, November 9th after 5 hours of being on a weather delay for high winds, we eventually got out to White Island and Minna Bluff. We first flew to White Island and all we needed to do there was a quick inspection. Everything looked correct! Then we flew to Minna Bluff to replace the high wind speed sensor. We switched out the sensor in about 15 minutes and checked to see if it was transmitting correctly. We successfully saw the wind speed was reporting correctly on the keypad, and then we headed back to McMurdo. For the record, I’m glad we waited for the wind to calm down because the skies were clear with temperatures in the 20’s and low wind; a good day in Antarctica!
White Island AWS
Minna Bluff AWS with a new high wind speed sensor
The helicopter looking majestic on Minna Bluff
Thursday and Friday we were cancelled to go on the Twin Otter because of weather. I used that time to try and catch up on a lot of lose ends with our data transfer processing. I’m also in the process of trying to get a weather display running in Crary Lab. It’s still not working 100% yet but we’re getting closer.
On Friday night we got to see John Kerry talk in the Galley. He spoke about the beauty of Antarctica, and how much he appreciates the work that we’re doing in Antarctica. He emphasized the need to continue fighting to protect our climate. Overall, it was a very fun experience!
Secretary of State, John Kerry
Dave Mikolajczyk is currently in Christchurch, NZ, and he should be joining the team early this week!
On Friday, November 4th Lee and I had our flight activated to Schwerdtfeger AWS. On the flight to Schwerdtfeger we could not find the tower. After an hour of flying around the coordinates, we gave up and flew back to McMurdo. It turns out we were using coordinates from 2003, and I thought they were from 2013. I’ve now prepared a lot, and we’ll be bringing all the historical coordinates with us. I’ve also calculated the amount of movement and direction on the ice shelf so we have better idea of where to search. We will hopefully be trying to go back out soon.
On Saturday, November 5th Lee and I had our first flight on a helicopter out to Marble Point. We have an old style and a new style AWS at Marble Point. The older style AWS has been running for over 30 years and the newer style has been running for only a couple of years. We did a basic inspection of all the components and it all looked to be functioning properly. On the flight back from Marble Point, our helicopter pilot gave us a tour of the 5 mile long iceberg 🙂
5 mile long iceberg
On Monday, November 7th we had gotten cancelled on both the Twin Otter flight and the helicopter flight. Thus, we decided to make a trip to our AWS at Pegasus Airfield. The temperature sensor at Pegasus North AWS has been reporting incorrectly for over a year now and we planned to remove it to bring it back in the lab for testing. We took the hour long drive out to the site in the classy Ford F-350 pickup truck over the sea ice. We successfully removed the electronics and the sensors and brought them back to the lab. The C-17 had actually landed on the runway about 30 minutes before we got there, so that was fun to see! We saw them unload a helicopter from the plane.
Pegasus North AWS
C-17 parked on Pegasus runway
We’re on the schedule for lots of flights over the next week, so we’ll how much more we can get done.
In other news, John Kerry is planning to arrive in McMurdo on Friday, November 10th.
Welcome to another exciting season on the ice! This season we will only be working from now until December 16th, and we have 16 AWS we would like to try and visit. Thus, it will be one of our shorter seasons in Antarctica. Here’s what been happening the past week!
On Friday, October 21st myself and Lee Welhouse left the Midwest to start our travels to Antarctica. For whatever reason we weren’t scheduled on the same flights, so Lee travelled through Sydney, Australia and I travelled through Auckland, NZ to get to Christchurch, NZ. I somehow got upgraded to business class on my flight from LAX to Auckland! I got to enjoy a lay flat seat, and I was given pajamas and some slightly better airplane food 🙂
Enjoying the flight in Business Class
Lee and I arrived at our hotel in Christchurch on the evening of Sunday, October 23rd. Then on Monday morning we had our orientation at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC). We watched a few videos, tried on all of our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, and then we were free for the rest of the day. We took the shuttle to downtown Christchurch and went to our favorite brunch spot; The Villas. Then we walked all the way back to hotel, which was about an hour long walk. Then that afternoon/evening we relaxed and went to the Brewer’s Arm for dinner.
On Tuesday, October 25th we had check in for our flight to Antarctica at 9:30am. We ended up getting a weather delay for the flight and enjoyed a lovely 4 hours at the CDC waiting around. Then we got new hotels and this time we would be staying in a hotel in downtown Christchurch, NZ, which was great news. That afternoon I wandered around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and I grabbed some dinner from one of the food carts in the Re:START mall.
On Wednesday, October 26th we got a call at 4:45am that our flight was going to be delayed 24-hours, so we would have another day off in Christchurch! Lee and I meet up for brunch at The Villas again, and then I took the bus to Lyttleton, NZ for a hike on the Bridle Path. The weather was not ideal, but it was nice to spend some time outside.
On Thursday, October 27th we took the shuttle to the CDC at 5:15am and we checked in for the flight. At this point they had combined some of the flights, so the flight was going to be packed with passengers. At about 7am we were told the flight would be good to go, so we all boarded the plane and we were up in the air by 9:30am. We landed at Pegasus Airfield about 2:30pm and we arrived at McMurdo station at about 3:30pm via a long bus drive in Ivan the Terra Bus. Then we had a couple more debriefs and we were given our dorm keys. Then we could finally unpack and get a bit more settled.
Waiting in the Terminal at the CDC
Looking out of the door of the C-17
Inside the C-17
Arriving on Pegasus Airfield
On Friday and Saturday, October 28th and 29th Lee and I had a variety of training, meetings, and miscellaneous work to catch up on. We got set up with a nice big office in Crary lab, and we grabbed some of our equipment out of storage. Now we are all trained and ready to go in the field!
This coming week we’ll be organizing our shed, setting up potential flights to AWS, and continuing to get settled into the routine of McMurdo. We’re hoping we might be able to get to our first AWS later this week! We’ll be in McMurdo for about the next 7 weeks, so we’re optimistic this will be plenty of time. At the same time, you never know what Antarctica will throw at you!
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.
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!
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!