It has been a busy week here in Antarctica, which started with Christmas Dinner last Thursday. Here on base, we had the 25th and 26th off so we were able to enjoy Christmas dinner together on Christmas day. Technically, this was our second day off since getting to Antarctica and I think it was a much needed break for everyone. The dinner was delicious featuring prime rib, crab, a bunch of appetizers, and plenty of different types of desserts. We all went up for multiple plates of food!
After a nice 2 days off, we found out we were on the helicopter schedule to visit Ferrell for the morning of 27 December. I was so excited to go on my first station visit and go on a helicopter for the first time! Our flight time was at 9am, so we got ready to leave Crary a little after 8am. Then we went in the PAX terminal to weigh ourselves and all of cargo before the flight and put the cargo in one of the loading boxes.
Then we headed out to the helicopter, got our seatbelts clipped, and our helmets plugged into the radio. Soon enough we were off flying to Ferrell! We flew true east to the Ross Ice Shelf and it was my first time getting a really good view of all of the topography in the area! It was a beautiful view from the helicopter. As we were flying, we were able to communicate with the pilots to discuss if they were going to leave us at the site or come back in a couple of hour to pick us up. Since there were low level clouds over the ice sheet, it was decided that we shouldn’t be left there since it might be difficult to come back to the location later. Our goal was to try and finish in about an hour so the pilots wouldn’t get too behind schedule.
We got all of our cargo unloaded and we got right to work. Unfortunately, the weather was quite windy which made it a little more difficult. We tried to dig down to the batteries to retrieve them, but we decided that we weren’t going to have enough time to dig them out. We brought a power system with us, so we were able to connect it at ground level.
Then we raised the enclosure box about 3 feet up to make sure it doesn’t get buried over the next year, and dissembled the argos antenna. We completed all of our station measurements and then had to fiddle with checking the freewave transmission which only occurs every 30 minutes. After about an hour and a half we and the pilots decided that we should start getting ready to head back to McMurdo. We all climbed back in the helo to warm up a little before Lee could head back to reconnect at the right time to check the transmission. After a quick warm up, Lee went back out to the station to check but the helicopters had to start the engine so it was a little bit stressful. In the end we weren’t able to connect to check the transmission before we left, but in getting back to lab we learned that it had worked! Unfortunately, the station still doesn’t have a consistent data flow so we might head back to Ferrell later in the season to change the transmission to Iridium. Overall it was still a successful first visit!
The next day we were on the schedule again to head out to Laurie II! This site had not been visited in 8 years, so we all knew there was a high possibility that we weren’t going to be able to find it for multiple reasons 1.we knew it was going to be very buried by the snow and 2. we knew it is on a moving ice sheet, so the GPS locations were going to be incorrect. We got ready to fly out and we warned the pilots of the situation and just as we thought, it wasn’t obvious at first glance. Image flying in a helicopter and getting to a ice sheet where you can see for what seems like miles. I was thinking we have to be able to find this because it’s going to stick out since there’s nothing else out there….. literally nothing else. This was not the case. It ended up taking us 30 minutes of searching to finally find it 5km northeast of the GPS locations from 8 years ago. The helo tech found it and we were all so surprised and happy when he said over the radio that he spotted it. Then the pilots left us at the site for the next 7 hours 🙂
Then we got to work digging! We needed to get to the bottom of the enclosure which ended up being about 5 or 6 feet below the snow surface. This took about 2 hours of digging and carefully using the ice pick to get to the cables and plugs.
Then we did a full raise with 2 – 7 foot tower sections to make the tower about 16 feet above the surface. Once the tower sections were in place we all did some training climbing the tower and getting comfortable with the harnesses. Then it was time to move all of the instruments as high as we could. This way we don’t have to visit the sites quite as frequently because of snow accumulation. At this point it was definitely a team effort with 2 people on the tower and the other 2 getting tools and visuals for the people on the tower.
Then we wrapped up and taped the cables and started to refill in the pit we made. The whole raise took about 5.5 hours. Then we checked the transmission and it was working, so all was well. At this point we needed to get picked up, so we called helo operations and we had to wait around for another hour for a helo to come pick us up. In the mean time, we took some fun photos and played some baseball with ice balls and a shovel. Then we heard the helo coming and we all got down and prepared for about 30 seconds of the most intense winds I have ever experienced. Basically the helicopters land about 30 feet from where you are sitting, so it’s a huge wind gust right when they land (I have a really good video I will try and show later). Then we loaded the helo and after a long day we headed back to McMurdo.
The next day we had the day off of flying, but 30 December we got to go on an unexpected visit in the middle of the afternoon. About 2:30pm we got a call from helo ops that we could try and head out to Minna Bluff, so we said we would be ready in 45 minutes. We quickly got all of our cargo together and one of our office mates was able to drive us down in the pickup truck with our power system. Then we got all of our cargo weighed and ready to get on the helo after a hectic 30 minutes of getting everything together. Then we got to Minna Bluff and it was my first time on the actual continent of Antarctica since McMurdo is on Ross Island and the other AWS are on the Ross Ice Shelf.
I’m going to give you a quick history over the past year of Minna Bluff AWS. In August the station stopped transmitted unexpectedly. There was nothing we could do until we had planned to visit it in November. In November, we got an e-mail with pictures showing that the whole instrument boom had come off of the tower section. This must have occurred during a particularly intense storm with high winds speeds. During October, Minna Bluff often has a maximum wind speed of 40 m/s or 90 mph, so it’s not surprising for instruments to get damaged. Lee and Drew visited Minna Bluff mid November to recover the instruments and bring them back to the lab to test if they could be reused. Lee worked on testing the instruments and decided that we could bring them back to the site and reuse the high wind speed aerovanes. During this visit we were able to replace the instruments and change out the batteries for a new power system. This visit took just about an hour, so we were able to get back in time for dinner!
I think that’s it! At this point we are hoping to maybe get one more chance to take a flight to Marble Point and Cape Bird before Dave and I head to South Pole on 5 January. 13 sites have been visited out of list of 33, so we are doing well so far!
Here’s a video I made about traveling to Antarctica:
Happy New Year! More updates to come!