On the Ice

We’re flying!

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.

Elaine when we arrived. Notice the propeller in the snow. That should be on the wind monitor.
There we go! Elaine after our visit.
Marilyn when we arrived.
They dug a very nice hole to retrieve the power system and uncover the enclosure and cables.
The crew: left to right, me, Madeline, Lee, Avi, Monty.

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.

Minna Bluff after our work.

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. 



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Two site visits and a New Year

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.

Phoenix AWS, the PistenBully, Lee, and Nikko.

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.

White Island AWS when we arrived.

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.

Icestock 2022

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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Ever-changing schedules

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.

Observation Hill, viewed from town.
At the top of Ob Hill, looking at McMurdo.
Castle Rock. McMurdo is on the tip of Hut Point Peninsula, and Castle Rock is on the spine towards Mt Erebus.
On Castle Rock, looking at Mt Erebus.



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Partial solar eclipse in McMurdo

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.

People walking out onto the sea ice to view the eclipse.

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.

Lee (left) and me (right).

The first group of people on the sea ice were gathered around the telescope. That gave a great view of the eclipse!

Taking a picture of the eclipse through the lens of the telescope.

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.

People watching the eclipse. Some cirrus clouds provided a nice half-halo. And notice to the lower right of the sun, the reflection of the sun from my cell phone camera shows the eclipse.

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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Our arrival on the ice for the 2021-22 field season

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!


Boarding the Italian C-130 Super Hercules in Christchurch, NZ.
Seeing some sea ice on our way south!
We took Ivan on our way from Phoenix Airfield to McMurdo. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The End of the 2019-2020 Field Season

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.

Views on the way to Marilyn.
The pilot dipped into the fog to test it out – you could see the ground, but nothing in front of you. Boomerang was the only option!

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.

These Adélie penguins were waiting for the whales to move out before they jumped into the water!
A minke whale fin sticking out of the water (and a gorgeous view in the background)!

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.

It was late at night, but the sun was shining bright as ever!
Josh hooking up the last wires to the datalogger for Sarah and about to test the code.

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.

Snow falling as Lee worked to plug in the sensors to the new enclosure.

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.

The pilots let Josh and I come into the cockpit to see the last of the mountains and ice as we left and for when we landed in Christchurch!

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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12 January 2020: First AWS Visits

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!

Views on the ride to Cape Bird.

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!

The penguin that waddled right up to Lee (black boots)!
Josh next to Cape Bird after we finished servicing.

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.

About to launch the weather balloon! On the radiosonde, I wrote a message in case it happened to get found: “Hello! AMRC-AWS project helping launch!”
Scott Base sign outside their main building in the snow.

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.

Mt. Terror with lenticular clouds right above the peak!

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 had to hop into Josh’s hole and check it out… very impressive!
Josh (left) and Lee (right) next to Windless Bight as we were finishing up and about to plug everything back in (my pit is behind the station).

I’ll update you all on how the season ends once we get out!



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5 January 2020: First Week

Since the New Year, I have been going through different trainings so that I can go out in the field, as well as know the rules and way of life in McMurdo. The most important training session to go out in the field was called Antarctic Field Safety, which went over survival skills in the possible harsh environments and what is in the survival bags (brought with on every aircraft or truck that goes out of town). We learned how to start a fire with the fuel can and mini stove, set up the tent that’s provided, and how to prevent getting to the hypothermia stage. Lot’s of good information and skills to know, just in case.

My first time starting a mini stove with a fuel can.

I also had some free time with Josh to hike up Observation Hill. I had been looking forward to doing this hike, but it was much steeper than I imagined. Although it was a lot of work to get to the top, it was such a beautiful view and well worth the hike. The way down was also a little rough, but at least gravity helped and we laughed our whole way down. I felt very accomplished afterwards, I had never done such a tough hike before!

Me at the top of Observation Hill (photo credit to Josh).

I knew the Wisconsin Badgers played in the Rose Bowl on 2 January down here, so I made sure to have time to watch some of the game. I was so glad when I realized the TV’s had sports channels and got the game!

I got to visit the Mac Weather office to check on one of our displays there and the lead forecaster gave Lee and I a mini tour of the observing roof they had. It was really cool to see the instruments, antennas, and satellite dishes they had, as well as take in the incredible views. We could even see the Icebreaker ship way out past Hut Point.

Rooftop view of Mac Weather with a pinprick Icebreaker beyond the peninsula and to the right of the “ball.”

On 5 January, I took a tour of Crary Lab so I could see the touch tank of Antarctic marine life in Phase 3 of the building and learn what they study down there. I got to see starfish, sea urchins, slugs, anemones, sea spiders, fish and an isopod. The researcher there said he mostly studied the sea spiders and showed us the biggest one they had! I stuck to holding the sea urchin since spiders aren’t my favorite. Every season, the researchers catch all these animals and then release them before they leave.

Holding the sea urchin! (Sea spider to the right in the water)

There’s been a lot of work in the lab preparing to go to more stations. This upcoming week we are hoping to get out to a few sites, so stay tuned for where we go next!



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2019-2020 Field Season

Hello! My name is Taylor Norton and I am a senior undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I also work with the AMRC. I am on my first field season down on the ice, even if just for a few short weeks. Lee Welhouse and Josh Thorsland (from Madison Area Technical College) have been here since mid-November working hard on the new Polar Climate and Weather Stations (PCWS) and servicing stations as weather and flights allow. There is a new project studying Thwaites Glacier and all the people in this effort need planes to travel from West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). This meant that we could only travel to WAIS to check on the AWS Kominko-Slade (at WAIS). So, Lee and Josh had the shortest trip this group has had out to WAIS, lasting only 3 days the week before Christmas. There is still more work to be done for both MATC PCWS and UW-Madison AWS projects, and I am here to help!

To catch up on more details of what Lee and Josh have been doing, take a look at Josh’s blog: https://antarctic-josh.com/.

Before getting to McMurdo, I needed to stop in Christchurch, New Zealand to go through orientation and get my cold weather gear on 29 December. Some exchanges needed to be made since the first coat I was given was too big – the sleeves went to my knees! Afterwards, I spent some time out in the sun and warmth (65F weather) knowing I would be heading for cold temperatures soon. On the morning of 30 December, I rode on a LC-130 to McMurdo. Luckily, there were no delays! The flight was smooth and very roomy which was really nice.

A picture of the Avon River near Victoria Square in Christchurch, New Zealand and a punting boat.

The views of the sea ice and mountains as we made our way south was breathtaking. Stepping off the plane onto the ice was so surreal, but much warmer than you’d expect. Temperatures were just above freezing, so big red was almost too warm to wear! After landing at Phoenix Airfield, we took the Terra Bus to McMurdo where I saw more mountains, pressure ridges, and seals!

Sea ice and the Prince Albert Mountains as seen from the LC-130.
Here I am, just off the plane and about to get on the “bus” to McMurdo!
A small pressure ridge with seals behind it (black blobs)!

Now that I am all settled in and have seen the town (and some of its views), we will ring in the new year celebrating not only the next decade, but the 40th anniversary of the AWS program! We have accomplished a lot of great work in these past 40 years, and we hope to continue our efforts for the Antarctic community for many years to come.

I’ll keep you all updated throughout the next two weeks of the work we finish the season off with!



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The end of the 2018-19 field season

When Elina and I returned to McMurdo on 22 January, it marked the final stretch of the team’s field season. One big objective that we still needed to accomplish was swapping out the remaining 4 AWS in the McMurdo area transmitting via UHF to Iridium. We didn’t waste any time upon return, and the team visited 3 AWS on 23 January: Willie Field and Phoenix by truck, and Lorne by helicopter on a “night flight”, meaning we flew after dinner with the night crew.

There were some issues to troubleshoot at Willie Field and Phoenix. We wanted to install an Iridium modem at Willie Field, and Phoenix was not transmitting properly. We figured that we would remove the enclosures from both sites to do the work on them in the lab. We could easily go back out to those sites to reinstall the enclosures and install a new power system at Phoenix.

Lee and Elina carrying gear to Willie Field.

Lee getting to work on the enclosure and Elina setting up the portable UNAVCO GPS unit at Phoenix.

On 29 January, Lee was able to get back to out to Willie Field and Phoenix to reinstall the enclosures and new power system. Both AWS are transmitting and functioning properly!

Later on 23 January, on that helo night flight, Lee and I went to Lorne to swap the UHF modem for the Iridium modem. It was a little tedious and got a little cold at times, but it was a success!

Lee installing the Iridium modem at Lorne, with the helicopter (left) and Mt Erebus (right) in the background. The low sun angle is definitely noticeable on these night flights, which is pretty cool.

On 25 January, Lee, Elina, and I, along with two boondogglers, went to Alexander Tall Tower! to raise the power system, enclosure, and install two disdrometers on the tower. A disdrometer is an instrument that measures how many particles hits it. We use this instrument to measure blowing snow, but sometimes it’s hard or impossible to distinguish between blowing and precipitating snow. Hence, we installed two instruments on the tower, one at about head height and the other about 20 feet above the surface.

Additionally, Lee needed to climb to the top of the ~88-foot tower to move a net radiometer, which measures incoming and outgoing longwave (earth) and shortwave (sun) radiation. He climbed the tower like a champ!

Lee climbing the tower, and the rest of us watching in awe and away from the base in case he drops something.

On 28 January, Lee flew out to Sabrina and Lettau to fix a cable issue at Sabrina and swap out the data card at Lettau. Initially, we were hoping to get to Emma on this same trip and swap its data card, but due to some issues at Willie Airfield that morning, the Twin Otter wasn’t able to depart until around noon which cut into the pilots’ duty day. Lee was the only one to go on this trip because Forbes, Elina, and I were on the helo schedule to fly to Cape Bird and swap the UHF modem for Iridium. We did not end up going that day.

On 29 January, while Lee drove out to Willie Field and Phoenix, Elina and I were able to fly to Emma to swap its data card and raise the power system. Luckily, the power system was only buried a couple feet. Keith from UNAVCO was with us because after our visit to Emma, we went to Ramsey Glacier to finish removing UNAVCO’s equipment from that site because their field team the previous day didn’t have enough ground time to do it for the same reason as us!

Emma after we raised the power system and swapped the data card.

The Twin Otter at Ramsey Glacier, with Keith on the left.

We stopped at a fuel cache at Ascent Glacier in the middle of the Transantarctic Mountains on our way back to McMurdo. It was a gorgeous flight.

On 31 January, Lee took a Twin Otter to Marilyn to raise the station while Forbes, Elina, and I waited for the weather to clear to go to Cape Bird via helicopter. Unfortunately for the three of us, we were put on weather hold until early in the afternoon, at which point we were canceled due to weather. Instead of sitting around in the lab for the rest of the day, Forbes and I decided to snowmobile out to Windless Bight to raise the station and swap the UHF modem for Iridium. It ended up being a great time, and once again since we were out later in the day/night, the sun angle made everything look extra good!

Windless Bight after we raised instrumentation on the tower, dug up the power system, and installed the Iridium modem and antenna.

A sign directed which us way to go. On our way back, we had to stop to take some pictures… Mt Erebus is in the background.

Our initial redeployment date was 4 February, so after our Windless Bight visit, we were all getting ready to pack up our things and close out the field season. We were still trying to get to Cape Bird, but a big storm hit on 1 and 2 February, keeping us from getting to Cape Bird. That also meant, however, that some northbound flights got delayed, thereby delaying our departure date by a day.

On 4 February, the night before Forbes, Elina, and I left the ice (Lee stayed for a couple extra days), the four of us were on the helo schedule to go to Cape Bird. The forecast was fairly unfavorable for Cape Bird, calling for 20-knot sustained winds with gusts to 35 knots. That didn’t bother us, though; we wanted to get this site visit done! As we were waiting in the helo passenger terminal, the pilot was expressing his doubts about being able to make it to Cape Bird due to the weather. But despite those doubts, we took off anyways. And… we made it there! The weather was actually fantastic. The temperatures were around freezing, and winds were much lighter than the forecast suggested. It was a great way to end a field season!

Cape Bird after we finished servicing, including installing the Iridium modem and antenna. The Adelie penguin rookery is in the background.

Adelie penguins on the beach!

The field team: me, Forbes, Elina, Lee! Wish you were there, Mike!

Lee stayed in McMurdo until 7 February to finish up some work at Willie Field AWS and install the MRI prototype PCWS next to the AWS at Willie Field. The MRI PCWS is now named Sarah, after Josh Thorsland’s late sister. Sarah is powered on but not transmitting, as we ran out of time to be able to verify Iridium transmissions. The prototype installs did not go quite as planned this season, with only one of the four installed, but good progress was made on the project throughout the season nonetheless. Servicing of the AWS network was a huge success this season, with Margaret being the only AWS we were unable to get to on our list. While the UHF-to-Iridium transition had its hiccups, all the new Iridium modems are transmitting (except for Minna Bluff)! That’s great! Once again, it was a long but exciting field season, and I hope you had fun reading along. Until next time…

Cheers! -Dave

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