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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Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2021-22 Automatic Weather Station (AWS) Program field season! Lee Welhouse and I (Dave Mikolajczyk) will be your field team this year. We just arrived in McMurdo yesterday, 30 Nov, but our travels began a few weeks ago when we began a 20-day isolation period starting 10 Nov. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this quarantine period is required by both the New Zealand government, since we travel through Christchurch, NZ on our way to Antarctica, and the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). I had a good experience with the Managed Isolation and Quarantine period, as the New Zealand hotels were very accommodating to us. Still, it is nice to be able to roam freely outside here at McMurdo! Albeit with some COVID masking and social distancing restrictions for about a week.
This season, Lee and I hope to visit a few critical sites in West Antarctica out of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet-Divide (WAIS) field camp, as well as some sites on the Ross Ice Shelf and in the McMurdo region. Due to the pandemic, our work is pared down to visiting only the most essential sites. We also plan to do some server work in McMurdo to increase the number real-time AWS observations made available, particularly for forecasters.
I’ll end with a couple pictures and send more updates as they come!
Happy Antarctica Day!
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The last few days came and went so quickly, but we finished off the season well! On January 13 we were activated to fly out to Marilyn on a Twin Otter plane. We drove out with all of gear and loaded up the plane. We could see fog on the horizon, but we hoped that it was gone at the site. We flew with clear skies all the out, but unfortunately the fog was covering the ground and gave such horrible visibility. There was no way we could land or even find the tower, so we had to turn around and fly back. We were put back on the schedule for both Margaret and Marilyn for the next day, but again, both flights were cancelled due to weather and that left us with no more flying days.
Josh and I took a walk break earlier in the day on Monday out to Hut Point since we had heard that recently there had been penguins spotted near the open sea ice out there. As we approached the far side, I could see people with cameras and looked out and saw a group of penguins! It was very exciting, and I went to grab my camera when I heard a surprisingly loud noise (not from the penguins) and looked out towards the open water and there were minke whales! The pod swimming out there had about 6 whales and they just kept popping in and out of the water blowing out their blowholes every time they surfaced. It was an amazing way to relax watching the whales, penguins, and seals on a sunny and (nearly) 40-degree F day.
Since the weather was still nice on Monday night, Lee and Josh were able to snowmobile out to Windless Bight to fix the station since it had stopped transmitting. I joined up with them afterwards to head to Sarah (near Willie Field) to set it up with the new PCWS datalogger Josh had been working on all season and finally get all the parts working just in time to get it out to test! We hooked up all the sensors and Josh ran some code and found that it wasn’t transmitting, but there was data going through. Since we couldn’t easily figure out what was going on in the field, we decided to call it a night and head in so Josh could look into it more in the lab back in town the next day.
On Tuesday, Josh figured there was something going on with the modem out in the field since the other enclosure he had in the lab seemed to work just fine. We decided to head back out at night again and use the truck to drive out to swap out the enclosure. It was a bit snowy, but not horribly cold and windy, so we were able to do the swap fairly quickly. After running the code again, we saw it transmit! It was a great success to have a fully functioning PCWS test station out in the field to see how it lasts through the rest of summer and into winter.
On Wednesday, we cleaned and packed everything up to be stored or shipped back to Wisconsin and prepared for our flight off the ice on Thursday 16 January! After a few hours delay, we took off and made it to Christchurch around sunset.
It was a short, but successful first trip for me. The whole season went fairly well considering the technical and electronic issues that were encountered with the PCWS in the beginning, being lower priority for WAIS, and the weather delays towards the end of the season. Thank you for following along on this trip, I hope you enjoyed the stories and updates!
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This week was a long one, but we did have some success! We were on the schedule to fly out to Cape Bird on Monday 6 January, but we were cancelled due to weather. Luckily, the next morning the weather was good enough to get out! It was my first time going out to a station and going in a helicopter, so I was very excited. We didn’t need to bring a whole lot to the station as we were mostly doing a regular checkup to make sure everything was working properly. On our way to the station, I was mesmerized by the views of the sea ice, glaciers, Mt. Erebus, and everything in between. It was a very cloudy day, but still so beautiful. As we were landing, I could see penguins waddling on the ice next to the shore. Cape Bird is right by an Adélie penguin rookery that has about 40,000 penguins!
Our station is up on a cliff above the main part of the rookery and as we made it to the top, we could hear all of them and see pinpricks of the thousands of penguins below. We looked at the station and went through the checkup. The only thing we saw that should be fixed was that the antenna was slightly tilted, so Lee straightened it out. The kiwis at the camp were very nice and offeried to help, as well as make some conversation with us. They let us go down to the edge of the rookery after we were done to see the penguins a little closer. The rule, especially in this area, is that you can’t go up to the animals. However, these penguins can be very curious, so they can come up to you to check you out. I was so excited to be within just 30 feet or so from these guys, but then they came even closer and it was so cool. One penguin come right up to Lee and looked at him and the pilot who came out with us before walking away!
On Wednesday 8 January we were scheduled to go out to Margaret but got cancelled again due to weather. Thursday, we got on the schedule for both Margaret and Marilyn, but both were cancelled due to weather – we even had gotten a couple of inches of snow in McMurdo by the morning! That afternoon, the clouds cleared away and I had a chance to launch a weather balloon with one of the observers in the weather office. It was really interesting to see the system they used, and I learned how to set up the balloon and how you’re supposed to launch it. The observer I followed let me finish off tying the balloon and launch it myself! It was such a fun experience, even with the windy conditions. That night Josh and I went to New Zealand Scott Base and got to see what it was like there, as well as hit up the gift store. The snow had come back, but it made for some pretty sites around town and Scott Base.
We had asked to get to Windless Bight by helicopter, and they got us on the schedule for Friday morning, as well as Margaret and Marilyn (for Twin Otter planes). Unfortunately, all three were cancelled due to weather. Again. Were we ever going to go out?? Hopes were low, but the next day could not have been better to go out and we got activated for a helo flight to Windless Bight. It was such a different view from trip to Cape Bird, but just as gorgeous. The clear blue skies and bright white snow were stunning, and there was little wind (as the name suggests) at the station with temperatures in the teens, but the sun beating down made it feel so nice and comfortable.
Lee suggested we dig out the anchor that was used to help stabilize the new tower section when it was first put in. Josh and I each started on one of the three “legs” of the guy wire to dig them out. About two hours in, Lee realized the anchors were too far down to retrieve so we should stop. Josh was determined to find the end, so he kept working while I helped Lee on the tower. Josh got about 7 feet down before he hit the very compacted and iced snow and struggled to get any further and there were still a couple feet for him to go, so we knew we had to leave the deadmen in the snow. We finished raising the box and lower temperature sensor and got the station all set again before calling in a helo to pick us up. It wasn’t until later that Lee noticed the station wasn’t transmitting anymore, so we had to make tentative plans to go back and see what went wrong. With only a few days left, we are hoping to fix Windless, get out to Sarah and possibly Marilyn if the weather ever turns around and we can get out.
I’ll update you all on how the season ends once we get out!
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