On the Ice

20 Jan: Final WAIS blog post: Camp life, storm, and departure by Twin Otter

It turned out that our attempt to go to Thurston Island on 16 January was our last flying day to an AWS from WAIS for the season. The weather at Thurston didn’t cooperate for the remainder of our stay. The original plan was to have us stay at WAIS until the week of Monday, 22 January. After 16 January, we saw that the forecast for Thurston wasn’t going to clear up for the next few days. On top of that, on Wednesday we heard that a storm was going to hit WAIS for a few days, starting on that Friday. Winds were going to start howling, with a lot of blowing snow and low visibility. Definitely not flying weather. Since we knew we wouldn’t be flying from WAIS over the weekend, knew that we had work to do with Matt and Andy in McMurdo, and had the luxury of “relocating” to McMurdo with the CKB Twin Otter, on Thursday morning, 18 January, we decided that we would leave WAIS.

We packed up all of our gear, both personal and work equipment. We cleaned out our tents and had the help of the POLENETters to take down our tents. We packed some food for the flights and departed a little after 9 am. Our route would be from WAIS to Shackleton Glacier Camp (SHG) to refuel, then to McMurdo. SHG is field camp this field season set up in the Transantarctic Mountains, near the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf.

A map of our flight path from WAIS, to Shackleton Glacier Camp (SHG), then to McMurdo.

I say that this was luxurious to leave WAIS by Twin Otter because it pretty much allowed us to leave whenever we wanted. Typically, we would have to wait for a Herc to come from McMurdo to pick us up. Since Hercs are usually in high demand for other missions on the continent, they break often, and they are less flexible than the Otters in terms of flying in poor weather, it is more difficult to leave WAIS on a Herc than an Otter.

One stipulation about about taking the Otter is that it takes longer to get to McMurdo. The plane is slower, and it needs to stop to refuel. Flight time for a Herc is about 3.5 hours, but for an Otter it was 8 hours, including the pit stop. However, since we flew into the Transantarctics, we got some awesome views, which I’ll show in a bit. The long flight also gave us time to reflect on our stay at WAIS…

Overall, both Marian and I agree that we had a great time at WAIS and wish we could have stayed there longer. The camp staff was awesome. Everyone got along really well, and there was always something to do on the nights. We would typically have a movie night/watch a show in the galley. The chef made delicious food for every meal (we were definitely spoiled in this regard). Playing cribbage was a regular occurrence. Everyone helped out whenever they could, whether it be helping with washing dishes, shoveling snow for the snow melters, or helping camp staff with tasks.

One example was helping Zach organize food we got on a Herc. We spent an afternoon out at the “freezer cave” where the food was stored. We took the food out of the triwalls they were sent in, made an inventory, then helped carry the food down to the cave.

The door to the freezer cave, with the chef Zach in the middle, Marian on the left, and Peter (POLENET) on the right.

The freezer cave.

Cool ice formations on the ceiling.

About midway through our stay at the camp, the engineers from both of the Otter crews took a day to make a ski route around camp. There are cross country skis available for use, but no one had ever made a route at WAIS until this year! It was great to get out on a Sunday to get some exercise. It had also been about a year since I skied last… It’s more of a workout than I remember.

The ski trail went right by Kominko-Slade!

Me and the trail, with tent city to my left and Winterville behind me.

So, back to our flight to SHG and McMurdo. After about 3 hours in the air, we started to fly over the mountains. The views were spectacular.

When we landed, we spent about an hour at the camp. It’s a gorgeous camp, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. The weather, according to the people there, all year was pretty much like when we were there: sunny, temperatures around 20 F, and low winds. Very pleasant.

The Otter crew refueled the plane, and we all had some pizza at their camp galley. The chefs knew we were coming, so they made some extra for us (tasty!). We said hi to them (one of which was the WAIS chef when I was there a couple years ago) and some other SHG camp staff (some of which I also met at WAIS a couple years ago [it’s a small continent]).

Our Otter on the left, and the SHG Otter on the right.

Looking in the opposite direction as the Otters. In the distance is part of Shackleton Glacier and one of its “steps,” and you may notice the ice falls as the glacier falls down the steep rocky slope.

We (reluctantly) departed the camp, McMurdo bound. The sights were just as cool leaving the camp as they were coming in.

A better view of the ice falls, from the plane.

Glaciers meeting

We got back to McMurdo around 5 pm that evening. It was a long day of flying, but we were happy to be back in town to try to get as much work done as we could in our last couple weeks on the ice. And with that, this concludes the WAIS blog posts.

Cheers,
Dave

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18 Jan: Otters to Evans Knoll and Thurston Island (13 Jan), and again 16 Jan

On 13 January, the weather was forecasted to be good enough on the coast for us to go to Evans Knoll and Thurston Island. We were very excited at the prospect of getting both of those sites done in one day. For each of the sites, we were hoping to replace the RM Young wind monitor with a Taylor high wind system. The sites are windy places, and the RM Young has had a tough time standing up to the wind for more than a year it seems. We figured we could try installing a high wind system, as these are more robust and have proven themselves worthy in some of our windiest locations (e.g., Manuela, Minna Bluff).

Along for the ride with us came Alex Wernle, a student with the POLENET group. She came with us to help us bring our cargo to the AWS from the Otter, but this trip also functioned as a good way for her to see some cool sights.

The flight to Evans Knoll and Thurston Island is a long one, with it taking about 2.5 hours to Evans and another hour to Thurston. The flight path to Evans Knoll from WAIS takes from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the mountains/volcanoes along the coast, where the ice sheets start to flow onto the ocean, calve, and create icebergs. This provides for some really cool scenery.

Ice sheets and ice bergs, with some open water, along the way to Evans Knoll.

We also flew by an amazing example of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, or waves caused by shear between two adjacent layers in the atmosphere. I’ve seen these waves in cloud forms on their own, but never like the following picture, where the waves are at the top of one cloud layer with more clouds above. It is also a really stark example of the wave features that can be created.

Kelvin-Helmholtz waves in the clouds below the wing of the Otter.

It was a bumpy landing when we arrived at Evans Knoll, as it was extremely flat light due to overcast skies. Flat light means that it is extremely difficult to discern surface definition. This is especially hazardous for pilots here in Antarctica because the majority of their landings are in the open ice fields of the continent. Despite the difficulty, the pilots got us on the ground safely and we prepared to hike up the hill to our AWS.

View from the plane of Evans Knoll (background, with some rock exposed on the side of the hill). The cloudy conditions make it almost impossible to see surface features.

Where we de-planed, with the fuel cache in the foreground and our AWS up at the horizon on the hill. It’s the short, dark line between the red flags.

Marian, Alex, and I got all of our gear in hand and began hiking up the hill. It’s a fairly steep hike, so with carrying around 40 pounds of gear each, it can be taxing. Slow and steady is the key. We didn’t make it very far, however, as we hiked about 50 feet up the hill and encountered a crevasse. We hiked back down to discuss our options. It’s very unsafe to hike across a crevasse. Since we didn’t have a mountaineer with us (someone skilled and knowledgeable in basically everything outdoors), nor did we have crevasse training, nor did we have the equipment necessary to make this trek a safe one, we made the decision to abandon the mission. It was an easy decision in terms of safety, but a hard one because the AWS was so close, and we were so close to completing this work. Alas, Antarctica is a harsh continent.

We packed up and headed for Thurston Island to see if we could do the wind sensor swap out there. We flew for about 20 minutes, but the cloud deck only got thicker. We turned around to head back to WAIS after the pilots determined the flat light conditions were not going to get any better. Alas, yet again, it’s a harsh continent. But at least we all made it back safely.

On 16 January, we tried to get to Thurston Island again. The forecast called for scattered cloud cover for the day at Thurston, which would provide enough sunlight to allow the pilots to see the surface definition and features. Marian and I packed our things on the Otter and headed out once again.

It was mostly sunny for most of our flight, so we could see some of the cool ice formations along the way.

The icescape along the way.

Unfortunately, Antarctica is a harsh continent. Shortly after we passed Evans Knoll, the clouds began to thicken. It was a low layer of stratocumulus that just got thicker and wouldn’t budge. We were thinking, what happened to the promised “scattered” clouds? As it was getting to be about the time that we would be at Thurston Island, the cloud layer was as thick as ever. We descended a bit, flying parallel to Thurston Island, to poke our heads under the clouds to see how the surface definition looked. It was the flattest of flat light. No chance of landing safely. So we had to head back to WAIS for a 3.5 hour ride during which we had plenty of time to sulk. At least we had the icescape to try and cheer us up.

Cheers,
Dave Mikolajczyk

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16 Jan: Otter to Janet AWS (11 Jan 2018)

A couple of weather cancelation days after our dig-out of the Turn 1 fuel cache, we got to another AWS on 11 Jan: Janet. This site hadn’t been visited since 2013 and needed to be raised. We also wanted to replace the power system there because it seemed to be getting a little low on battery voltage at the end of this past winter. Since it had been almost 5 years since it was last visited, we were expecting the power system to be quite buried. It ended up working out that we could bring 4 of the POLENET crew with us to help dig. This made the visit go very smoothly.

Janet is about an hour and a half’s Otter flight away from WAIS. Along the way, we were able to see some mountains in the distance. When we approached Janet, one mountain stood out among the rest: Mt. Sidley. This is also where the rest of the POLENET crew went while we were at Janet.

Mt. Sidley on the horizon as we are approaching a landing at Janet AWS

Janet upon arrival, with the 4 POLETNET crew in the background on the right: Dave, Austin, Peter, and Alex… Those goofballs.

As is standard with any raise we do, we first got the heights of the instruments, noted any that were buried, and started digging. Once we dug out the enclosure, I checked that the datalogger was still running, that data looked nominal, removed the data card, and powered down the station. Then Marian and I could free the cables and remove instrumentation while the POLENET crew dug out the power system.

The AWS and POLENET groups working in harmony at Janet, with Mt. Sidley in the background

The one thing that gave me trouble with this raise was the pipe on which the aerovane is mounted, one top of the tower. It was quite stuck, and I couldn’t yank it off with either my hands or a big, heavy orange wrench Marian and I affectionately call the murder wrench (think the board game “Clue”) (see picture below).

Me with the murder wrench, trying to remove the aerovane pipe

Finally, I got the idea to just hammer the pipe off, using a channel locks tool to grip the tower section and provide more surface area to hammer. It worked! We could put the new 7-foot tower section on.

The new tower section is on! But as this picture indicates, the shovels are always the stars of the show.

We finished the work in record time for us this field season (~4 hours), and it was a very satisfying day.

Janet AWS after our raise

With the completion of Janet, we were done with all of the AWS raises out of WAIS, and we only had the coastal sites of Evans Knoll and Thurston Island to complete. These last two, however, turned out to give us a lot of trouble…

Cheers,
Dave Mikolajczyk

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2 Feb: AWS Work and more!

Hello Everyone!

It has been a busy few days!

1. Automatic Weather Station Work

This week has been a better weather week so we’ve been able to visit a few weather stations! We made a few attempts to get to Windless Bight AWS. This weather station is located near McMurdo Station. It is not something we can land a helicopter at, due to the soft snow surface. So, we have to drive out. The first attempt didn’t work out – the snow at this location was so very soft and very deep! We drove out on a tracked set of vehicles called a Pisten Bully. Another attempt was made by some Antarctic support staff to help us get a new tower installed for our weather station (we didn’t go as we had another AWS to fly to and service!). Hence, we snowmobiled out to the site, and installed the AWS electronics and sensors on the new tower.

Matthew and the Pisten Bully

Matthew on a snowmobile

Dave and Marian installing instruments on the new tower at Windless Bight AWS

Matthew after servicing Windless Bight AWS

Windless Bight is one of my favorite places – if you stop moving around, it is a very, very quiet place. There is little wind. (Hence, the snow that falls here sticks around and is very, very soft!) It is also a great spot to view Mt. Erebus – the world’s southern-most active volcano! Right here on Ross Island, where McMurdo Station is located, this volcano isn’t really like ones you might think of in Hawai’i, but more like one with a bit of steam, etc. On this very sunny day, you can see the plume from the top.

Matthew with Mt. Erebus in the background

Another AWS we serviced was Elaine AWS – on the Southern Ross Ice Shelf. This station is near the TransAntarctic Mountains, and is a 2 and half hour flight on a twin otter fixed-wing airplane. We refuel part way there, near the Holland Range, then get to find Elaine AWS. These stations on the ice move – as the ice is moving. This makes finding them a bit of a challenge. Luckily, I spotted it, and we had a great day servicing the station.

One question that you may wonder – how do we name our weather stations? Some are named after existing geographical features already named (e.g. White Island, Marble Point, etc.). Others are named for people important in Antarctic meteorology (e.g. Austin, Kathie, Schwerdtfeger, Lettau, etc.) Others are named for those who have supported us (e.g. Marlene, Henry, Kominko-Slade, etc.) or family members…however, none are named for those of us who actually deploy here to work on the project.

2. Climbing Observation Hill – View of McMurdo

This past Sunday, I took a short hike to the top of Observation Hill. This is the large hill that is right next to the station – and roughly separates McMurdo Station (USA) from the New Zealand station, Scott Base. It has a great view of McMurdo and surrounding areas. It is also a famous location – used by the early explorers of Antarctica to watch for returning expeditions to South Pole. One such expedition did not make it back, Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s trek to South Pole in 1912, never did make it back. A cross has been place at the top of the hill in honor of him and his party. It still standing there to this day.

Matthew and Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s cross

Matthew at top Observation Hill

3. Vessel Off load/On load…

The Ocean Giant container ship has been keeping McMurdo busy this past week. In only 2 and half days, the ship was completely unloaded. The ship is already reloaded with items going back to the US. It’s a tremendous job. I keep snapping a photo of the ship now and again (and you can see it in my Ob Hill photo as well). Today the ship left and a refueling vessel has arrived! (I missed a photo of the ship switch…)

The Ocean Giant vessel

4. Freshies!

After a long period of few flights on and off continent, we did not get any “fresh” vegetables or fruits (or even eggs for that matter!). Finally, we got some recently. Some from the Vessel, and even the research vessel….more will be on future flights. We call these “Freshies”. It is so nice to get an apple to enjoy. Eggs are now very popular at breakfast!!

It’s snowing here – photos attached.

More soon!!

Matthew

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14 Jan: CKB Twin Otter arrival 5 Jan, digging out a fuel cache at Turn 1 on 8 Jan

In the evening of 5 Jan, another Twin Otter came to camp! This one has the call-sign CKB (the first Otter’s call-sign is KBG), with pilots Phil and Tyson. Given the Twin Otter needs for both our group and POLENET, the flight coordinators must have seen the utility in having two planes here. And indeed it is useful!

But having two planes is only useful when you can fly somewhere. On 6 Jan, weather was bad everywhere but at WAIS, so there was no flying. Since Marian and I finished our work at Kominko-Slade, we were available to help POLENET with their seismic site they have that’s a 20-minute snowmobile ride away from camp. As we had heard and would soon experience, the POLENET sites are WAY more buried than any of our AWS. A total of 8 of us went to the site on 3 snowmobiles. Given the amount of digging and size of their power systems (more than 10 70-pound batteries compared to our 2!), it’s no wonder POLENET brings so many people to the ice.

The POLENET site near WAIS.

We had to raise the solar panel tripod (pictured above on the left) and move that to a flat surface. That was buried about 4 to 5 feet. We also had to raise the seismic sensor which was buried around 12 feet. The pile of snow on the right in the picture above is from the deep pit.

The pit, with Austin and Peter (not pictured) deep in it. They weren’t quite yet to the bottom of the sensor.

Helping POLENET out definitely made the digging at our sites seem like nothing comparatively. So that was a positive thing we got out of this trip! A new sense of perspective… Marian and I left once the digging was complete and our services were no longer needed. POLENET successfully raised this site, so they have that going for them, which is nice.

After a day of rest on Sunday, 7 Jan, we were canceled on 8 Jan for our Otter missions to any of our AWS sites due to weather. There is a fuel cache, Turn 1, about an hour’s flight away at which the fuel drums needed to be raised to the surface. Since Marian and I weren’t doing anything else, we offered to fly with CKB to help them dig it out. Terry and Alex from POLENET also came along.

The weather at WAIS was cloudy and dreary, but it was nice and sunny at Turn 1. The wind, however, was fairly strong at around 15 knots when we arrived and only increased throughout our stay. There were 32 drums full of fuel that we were tasked with digging out.

Turn 1 fuel cache upon arrival, with 32 mostly-buried fuel drums.

Since the fuel drums are full of fuel, each one weighed about 450 pounds. Our plan was to try to dig them completely out on one side of the drum and then try to have a sort of ramp up to the surface on the other side. Then we would try to yank it up with the help of a couple cargo straps.

Once we were in agreement on our plan of action, the six of us (Marian, Terry, Alex, Phil, Tyson, and myself) began digging. Where else to start?

The first 20 drums.

Once we dug out the first line of drums, we cleared the snow off the surface (to the left of the drums in the picture) so we had a good area to place the drums. Then we all assumed our positions to pull the first drum out. Alex and I were in the pit to help push the drum up. Phil and Tyson each had a cargo strap, which Alex and I secured around the fuel drum. Marian and Terry each took the end of the cargo strap and helped Phil and Tyson pull on the fuel drum. We weren’t sure how well it would work, but much to our delight, it worked beautifully. It only took a couple pulls/heaves to get each drum to the surface.

Now the drums are on the surface!

We all took a break after the first line of drums. The second line of drums was a little bit more intense because the wind had increased, and blowing snow became a nuisance. Regardless, we got those drums up and finished our work in a couple hours. It was a good workout and pretty satisfying to raise them. They probably have a couple years where they can be neglected before they will need to be raised again… which is representative of just about all field work in Antarctica.

Cheers,

Dave Mikolajczyk

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26 Jan: McMurdo Station, Weather, Vessel, and Whales!

Hello Everyone!

Greetings from McMurdo Station!

1. More about McMurdo Station

The station I am at – here in Antarctica – is McMurdo Station. It is the largest station in Antarctica (see photo with Observation Hill in the background). It holds roughly up to 1100 people, although this year there are a bit fewer – more like 700 to 850 or so. The station was established back in the 1956-1957 during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). This is the southernmost place you can sail a ship in the world. The folks who are working here are not deployed for more than a year at a time. No families/children – just those who help support the science mission of the US Antarctic Program, as either support staff, or the science groups leading science efforts. The station is staffed year-round, however, there are much fewer who winter-over and stay to work on projects or prepare for the next summer science “field season” (typically 150 give or take a few winter-over). The station has all the things you need just like you have at home: A hospital, a fire department, places to live (dorms), eat (the galley – as this was historically a Naval station), work (in my case, the Crary Science and Engineering Center), waste management, etc.

McMurdo with Observation Hill in the background

2. Weather – and more cancellations

This week has been filled with stormy weather (see attached). We had a storm here in McMurdo, and now that it has moved on, the weather isn’t good at the AWS sites we hope to visit. Hopefully we’ll have a break in the coming days. This is a difficult situation as we are flying long distances to visit the AWS sites, and have to have weather good at the AWS site, at a refueling site, and here in McMurdo is a tall order!

Antarctic storm

3. Whales! (and a Skua)

A few days back, we got to see a minke whale in the open water cut open but the icebreaker! It was a fun to see whales – my very first time here after 10 deployments over the last 22 years. I’m not always here during a time when there is open water. Much of the sea life really does cling to the edge of the sea ice. I also got a photo of a skua – which is a lot like a seagull.

Minke Whale

Skua!

4. Resupply Vessel Arrives!

Speaking of ships, the Ocean Giant – the resupply vessel has just arrived on station! This next week we will see McMurdo Station, which is already a 24-hour operation, become super busy with the offload and on load of cargo and supplies for the station. It’s an impressive operation involving a segment of the US Navy, the New Zealand Defense Forces, personnel on the vessel along with the support staff (NSF’s contractor Antarctic Support Contract) already here at McMurdo Station.

Ocean Giant vessel arrives

More next time!!

Best Regards,

Matthew

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11 Jan: POLENET arrival 3 Jan, Kominko-Slade AWS 4-5 Jan

The day we went to Austin AWS, the POLENET crew arrived at WAIS. There are 8 of them, so they definitely made an immediate impact on camp life in that they nearly doubled the population! They also take up a lot of space in our “science mod,” as evidenced by the following pictures.

The science mod, before the POLENET infestation.

The science mod, after the POLENET infestation.

It took some coping, but Marian and I eventually accepted that fact that we needed to share our space with them. And in all seriousness, POLENET is a great crew to work alongside, so we can’t complain.

The day after POLENET arrived (4 Jan), they got priority for using the Twin Otter and ended up flying to one of their sites. Marian and I took this opportunity to go to Kominko-Slade AWS, a 5-minute snowmobile ride away, to raise it. It had been several years since it was last raised, so we were prepared to do a lot of digging to unbury the 2 boxes of batteries (~150 pounds each) for the power system. This AWS has some extra instrumentation (hence an extra power system box), so we knew we had a long day ahead of us. The weather was great that day, with light winds and sunny skies. As it turns out, it took us two days to finish the work, but we lucked out in that the weather was good both days and even better on the second day.

Kominko-Slade on arrival, with our snowmobile and Marian in the background.

After we arrived, we recorded the heights of all the instruments and noted ones that were buried. The ADG and solar radiation sensor boom is buried just below the surface, and you may see it extending out to the left from the tower. Then we started digging out the buried instruments and power system.

Marian working on freeing the top battery box (they were stacked).

The view from the hole. I’m standing atop the second power box. We (mostly Marian) dug out a staircase to more easily raise the boxes.

We reached the second power system, but at that point it was getting to be lunchtime in town so we decided to wait with raising the second one until after we fueled ourselves up. That’s another perk of working at KMS; we got a hot lunch!

After the delicious grub, thanks to the awesome camp chef Zach, we got back to Kominko-Slade and raised that second power box. We then began removing instrumentation from the tower to prep for putting on a new tower section. We tried the troublesome 7-footer that we had attempted to use at Kathie and Austin, but as we expected, it didn’t fit on Kominko-
Slade either. We attached a 5-foot tower section instead. The remainder of the day, until around dinner time, we worked on reinstalling the instrumentation and filling in the pit we had dug. We resigned ourselves to finishing our work the following day and heading back to town for the night.

Kominko-Slade, as we left it at the end of our first day there.

The next day, 5 Jan, Marian and I went back out to Kominko-Slade. It worked out in that the weather was not good at any of our sites to fly to and the weather was great at WAIS!

Marian on the tower.

The rest of the work we had to do went very smoothly and within a couple comfortable hours we were finished. Kominko-Slade is safe from a snow burial for another several years!

The newly-raised Kominko-Slade AWS.

Cheers,
Dave Mikolajczyk

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10 Jan: Otter flights to Harry AWS (2 January) and Austin AWS (3 January)

Harry AWS, 2 January
On 2 January, we took an Otter to Harry AWS. For this site, we wanted to install a boom with an ADG sensor and move the solar radiation sensor currently installed at Harry onto said boom. The pressure sensor has been acting oddly at times, so we wanted to check the wiring on that. We also wanted to raise the station if needed. Before going, we weren’t sure if we needed to add another tower section or not. As it turned out, we did not need to add a tower section! A pleasant surprise. The battery box was only buried a few inches, so digging that up was easy.

Harry AWS upon arrival. It’s plenty tall!

It was quite windy for the duration of our visit, with sustained winds of 15 to 20 knots. Fortunately for us, the temperature was quite warm (around -7 C) so despite the winds, it was still bearable working conditions.

Marian and I dug out the power system then worked on doing any necessary maintenance to instruments on the tower. There wasn’t any issue found with the pressure sensor, so we are unsure why it would occasionally have bad readings. We raised the lower temperature sensor, enclosure, and solar panel. We installed the boom with the ADG and solar radiation sensor as well. Troy noticed that the station was leaning slightly, so we used a cargo strap to function as a guy wire and hopefully prevent any further leaning.

Harry after servicing. The Twin Otter always spices up the picture.

Austin AWS, 3 January
Flying two days in a row! We were very excited to get out to Austin as this was our highest priority site. We stopped receiving transmissions from the site in March 2017, and our hypothesis was that was caused by a failure with the fuse box in the power system which then shut the AWS down. Before the transmission failure, we noticed from the ADG measurements that the station was getting buried very quickly. We knew that we had a long day of digging ahead of us, but if we couldn’t visit Austin this year we were worried that it would get buried by the next time we could visit.

Austin is also a tough site because it is one of the furthest AWS from WAIS which means more time flying, more fuel, and more of a chance that the weather could turn either at Austin or at WAIS, preventing us from going. The forecast at Austin for that day called for clear skies but fog in the vicinity. Another one of our sites, Evans Knoll, was clear, so our plan of action was to fly to Austin and if conditions were too poor, we would head to Evans Knoll. As it turned out, the weather was gorgeous at Austin for our entire visit; clear skies and low winds (and relatively warm temperatures around -10 C).

Austin AWS upon arrival.

Austin was as buried as we were fearing, but we were very happy that the enclosure was still above the surface. This allowed us to check the datalogger right away, but as expected, it was not powered on.

We began digging down to the power system buried about 8 feet below the enclosure. We also needed to dig out the ADG/solar radiation sensor boom and the lower temperature sensor that was mounted on the opposite side of the enclosure.

The two pits at Austin, with the power system pit in the foreground. This may be where we just reached the top of the box.

After a little over an hour, enough had been dug out for Marian and I to start removing the instrumentation and install the new tower section. As opposed to Kathie, we were prepared to use a cargo strap to help us get the tower section on. And it worked very well. Given the amount of accumulation at Austin, we decided to put a 7-foot and a 5-foot tower section on, to raise it 12 feet. This will hopefully make the next visit a little easier, as the only thing that will hopefully be buried is the power system.

About halfway through, we were welcomed with an unexpected visitor… a skua!

It’s always strange seeing wildlife in the middle of the continent. There’s almost literally nothing but snow and ice for hundreds of miles. It’s amazing that an animal could make it this far. We think that it got here by accident, though, and that it probably won’t make it back to the coast, or a place where it can find food. We were hoping for the best for the little guy!

After that interesting distraction, we finished up with the station raise to make Austin look like new again.

Austin after the raise.

One bummer that we didn’t learn about until a couple days after our visit is that the real-time transmissions are not working. We are not sure whether it’s simply a loose cable connection or if there is something wrong with the Argos transceiver. We did verify that the station was powered on and collecting data when we left, so at least we will have the data card collecting the data in the meantime.

Also, as a bonus, right before we left we noticed some fata morgana on the horizon. This is a mirage effect caused by cold air at the surface. It tends to make things look taller than they are. You can see this effect right on the edge of the horizon in the picture below.

The fata morgana at Austin. You may notice the little bit of distortion along the horizon.

Cheers,
Dave Mikolajczyk

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7 Jan: It’s been a while!

It has been a while since I’ve written a post, and that’s with good reason. Marian and I have been very productive in the past week and a half, flying to 4 of our 7 Otter sites and completing the work at Kominko-Slade, the AWS near WAIS camp. We went on a stretch of 4 straight days of work on 3 AWS, and 4 AWS completed in 5 days, and 5 AWS in 7 days. That’s a pretty darn good ratio of AWS per work days! Given that, I haven’t had much time to write up a blog post. Now it’s Sunday, 07 Jan, so I have some time to get some updates written down. I’ll split up the posts here to make things a little bit more palatable, rather than cramming everything into one long post.

Here’s a list of the sites we’ve serviced thus far:
29 Dec: Kathie
31 Dec: Bear Peninsula
02 Jan: Harry
03 Jan: Austin
04 and 05 Jan: Kominko-Slade

This post will cover our work at Kathie and Bear Peninsula.

On 29 December, Marian and I visited our first site out of WAIS, Kathie AWS. We were ecstatic to get to this site only two days after getting to camp, especially since it was 2nd highest on our priority list. Back in January 2016, this site was installed by Lee and Carol. This is the first time we’ve revisited it, so we were very curious to see how the AWS was holding up, especially since our acoustic depth gauge (ADG) measurements indicated that there was a fair amount of snow accumulation. We were certain we were going to need to raise it with another tower section as the ADG measurements implied a lot of digging was needed. As shown in the picture below, the power system and the electronics enclosure were buried.

Kathie AWS upon arrival

After we got heights of the instruments, we began digging out the buried instrumentation. When the cables on the tower were free enough with slack, I could begin removing some of the instruments while Marian continued digging. When she dug far enough to expose the enclosure, I went down to remove the data card from the datalogger and power down the station.

Me in the pit. I’m standing on the battery box, so we had to dig about an additional 2 feet to free it. That made it a pit about 8 feet deep.

Once I removed the upper instrumentation (aerovane, upper temperature sensor), Marian and I climbed up the tower to start installing the new tower section. To put it bluntly, we had a devil of a time getting the tower section on and spent about an hour trying to do so. We brought two 7-foot sections in case one gave us trouble. As it turned out, one new tower fit slightly better than the other, but one of the poles on the existing tower was bowed out about a quarter of an inch. To solve this issue, we tried hitting it in with a sledge hammer (probably over 200 times). This got the pole to within about 1/16 of an inch of fitting, but the new tower still wouldn’t slide on. We were getting exhausted. Then Brandon had a brilliant idea: use a small cargo strap to tie around the old tower, then tighten it to synch the poles together. We tried this, and the new tower slid on after only a few cranks on the cargo strap. What a relief! Marian and I could finally start reinstalling the instrumentation on the tower.

Kathie after a successful raise.

On New Year’s Eve, Marian and I flew to Bear Peninsula. We had plenty of extra room on the plane, so we brought along two camp staff, Brian (heavy equipment operator) and Gus (weather observer). Bear Peninsula had not been visited since it was installed in November 2011. According to the data we’ve been receiving from it, it has been running smoothly for those 6 years. Of course, there are issues that the data alone can’t reveal, so it was very valuable to get to the site (if not to fix the issues, then to at least get more pictures of the site!).

Near our site, there is a bluff that a lot of snow petrels (big white birds) call home. We flew by the bluff, and I could see several of the birds flying around. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good picture of the birds themselves.

After we landed on the peninsula, in a snow field, we had about a 10 minute hike up to our AWS. It was icy up the hill until we reached the rocky area where our site is located.

The hike (on our way back actually), with the beginning of the rocky ground in the foreground and the icy hill just beyond it. Luckily there was about an inch of snow on the ice which provided enough grip for us to make it much less treacherous.

Bear Peninsula AWS upon arrival. The bluff with the snow petrels is in the background.

Bear Peninsula gets some pretty high winds at times. It’s impressive that the aerovane at the top of the tower hadn’t broken off. It was still reporting wind speed and direction, but upon further inspection, the aerovane doesn’t turn properly. This means the direction values are incorrect. This also affects wind speed values because the instrument has a difficult time turning into the wind to get good values when the wind speed is too low. On our next visit, we will need to replace this instrument.

The Gill radiation shields for the temperature and relative humidity sensors needed some fixing as well. Each shield has 3 long screw rods to hold the multiple plates together. Each shield, however, was missing a rod and one was loose. I tightened those and prevented any further damage as best as I could.

The damaged Gill radiation shield for the temperature sensor. That is not normal!

Another issue we found was that one of the three guy wires was getting worn down by a large rock near it. The guy wire isn’t rubbing against the rock on its own, but in high winds it wobbles enough to rub against the rock. It’s been worn fairly thin at that point, so we used a cargo strap to temporarily hold the guy wire in place, in case the guy wire breaks before we can replace it on our next visit.

The guy wire, the rock, and the cargo strap.

Bear Peninsula AWS after servicing.

Overall, the site visit went well. Hopefully things don’t get too damaged until we can visit it again, which will hopefully only be in a year.

Cheers,
Dave Mikolajczyk

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27 Dec: Arrival at WAIS

Marian and I arrived at WAIS today. But not before trying on three separate days, two of which were before the Christmas break. We first tried to fly to WAIS on Friday, 22 Dec, but we were a backup to the primary mission, and the primary mission flew to South Pole. The next day, we were again on the schedule but got canceled due to weather. Since the Christmas holiday break in town was on 24 and 25 Dec, that meant we wouldn’t try to fly to WAIS on those days and would instead spend Christmas in McMurdo. While it would have been nice to get to WAIS sooner, it was still nice to enjoy the Christmas festivities in McMurdo.

For our third failed attempt at flying to WAIS, on Tuesday, 26 Dec, we got onto the Herc and were ready to go, but there turned out to be a gear issue with one of the skies. We taxied for about 20 minutes before we were told to depart the Herc and wait at the airfield until they could unload the cargo from the original plane and load it on another Herc. As it turned out, that was taking too long because they had to de-fuel the injured Herc, which is a slow process. Due to the delay, we were canceled because it would push the schedule for future flights in the week too far back.

Then, today we finally made it to WAIS! As it turns out, this was the original date we had planned to get to WAIS, so we’re actually right on schedule. The weather today is gorgeous, with clear blue skies and low winds.

WAIS field camp, nary a cloud in sight

The field camp is smaller than in years past. Marian and I make 12 people at camp, with the rest being the Twin Otter crew (2 pilots and an engineer) and the camp staff (manager, cook, mechanics, observer, etc). We took the place of two carpenters, who went back to McMurdo on the Herc that dropped us off. Because they left, we were able to occupy their Arctic Oven tent and not have to set up our own. What a deal! Our tents are in a section of camp known as tent city, where everyone sleeps.

Tent city, as viewed from town. Again, nary a cloud….

Cheers,
Dave Mikolajczyk

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