On the Ice

22 Jan: Helicopters and Ships!

Hello Everyone!

This past few days has been busy! Here’s the activities over the last few days:

1. Visiting Linda AWS site

Late last week, we got to visit another automatic weather station (AWS) site – Linda AWS. It’s about a 30 to 40-minute helicopter flight out to Linda. I was joined by my colleague Andy along with a helper from the McMurdo fire department. He spent his day off with us to help out, and get the chance to see a bit of Antarctica. While the photos don’t show it, it was a mighty windy day, with winds constant at 20 to 25 miles per hour. Some snow was blowing around, which also made it a bit more of a challenge. On the return trip, we were able to catch a great view of Mt. Erebus – with a lenticular cloud covering it, and McMurdo Station all in the same view. The trip was an overall success with the station running well.

Linda AWS viewed from the helicopter

Art, Andy, and Matt from left to right

Matt in the front seat of the A-star

2. Touring the Icebreaker and Research vessels in Winter Quarter’s Bay!

This past few days we have seen the US Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star and the research vessel Nathaniel P. Palmer visit McMurdo Station, docking at the ice pier in Winter Quarter’s Bay. I had the opportunity to tour both. Amazing ships. The icebreaker has a tremendously powerful set of engines, and it actually goes up onto the ice and uses the weight of the ship to break the ice. A full channel has been cut in from the station including a turning basin to allow incoming ships to turn around, etc. The research vessel is a larger ship, with all sorts of lab space for scientists to do their work, etc. Overall, it was fun to see the view from the bridge of both vessels, and to have them both docked here at the ice pier.

Matt with the US Coast Guard Icebreaker

View from the Icebreaker bridge

Icebreaker Bridge

View of Hut Point from the Icebreaker

3. Visiting Scott Base

On Sunday afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit Scott Base, which is New Zealand’s main station in Antarctica. It’s a short ride away – and a bit of a walk (less fun in the bad weather we had on Sunday). They have a small store you can visit, and nice view South, however it wasn’t to be seen the day we went due to the bad weather.

4. Snow! Weather delays

Weather has been terrible here for the last few days, making it difficult to fly any aircraft in or out. We actually had a 2 to 3 inch snow storm in the last 24 hours, along with fog and very low cloud ceilings. It was interesting to see the volcanic rock around McMurdo and Observation Hill all turn white with snow. We’ve been canceled for flying again today due to bad weather at the locations of our weather station sites.

Lenticular Clouds around Mt. Erebus

5. Science Presentation: Fossils of Antarctica!

This past Sunday night’s science lecture was on fossils. Many have been found in Antarctica, and they are related to some of the same found in South Africa and other areas of the world. The science group giving the presentation are trying to learn about some of the past mass extinctions of species on the planet – especially during the very early Triassic period (if I have that right).

Until next time!

Matthew

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18 Jan: Into the field!

Hello Everyone!

This week has been an ever increasingly busy week! So much to talk about:

First, I should make a note about the US Antarctic Program (USAP). It is overseen by the National Science Foundation (NSF). They oversee and fund the work that is done here. It’s a bit of a hefty job, but it includes many players: Military, University grantees/researchers, forecasters, contractors, and many, many others.

On Tuesday, I got to visit the Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility that NASA (along with help from NSF), has out near Willie Field. This project launches payloads of science gear into the upper atmosphere to study all sorts of things via big, big balloons. It’s cheaper than launching a rocket and you can do some really need space science projects. They have their own weather forecasting operation there, and they do make use of our weather observations to support their forecasting activities. The ride out there, I got take a newer vehicle that they have here – a Kress. It was interesting. Bouncy – and unlike some other modes of transportation, very quiet inside. At the LDB facility I got to see the SuperTiger payload they have been trying launch. It got canceled this year due to stratospheric winds and the timeline on the season, but the project involves the study of very larger area, high resolution, trans-iron cosmic rays. Neat stuff in the space sciences. I got to see one of the vehicles they use to hold up the payload while the balloon inflates before launch. The tires are huge! I also got a few good photos of Mt. Erebus – the world’s southern most active volcano! You can see a steam plume from the top! (See the photo attached).

SuperTiger2

LDB vehicle for payload

Matthew and the LDM vechicle

Mount Erebus

On Wednesday evening, I gave the Science Lecture of the week. Funny, it coincided with when I would have started teaching! Sure enough, you can’t really take the teacher out of me! I was thrilled to have a packed room of over 50 or more scientists, Air National Guard, NASA, Weather forecasters, NSF, and station personnel attending. It was fun to talk about the weather station project, and the work we are doing. Some great questions were asked, and it was a rare chance to introduce all we do here in McMurdo. Folks keep talking with me about it – so that is good news. Glad everyone liked the presentation.

Finally, we got into the field! Yesterday, plans were to fly to Linda AWS via helicopter (helo), but it was canceled due to “flat light” conditions under solid cloud cover. Clouds make it so you cannot see the surface definition very well on the ice. It makes it very unsafe to land. So, we made lemonade out of the lemons we got, and drove out to Phoenix AWS. Phoenix AWS is at the USAP’s new airfield about 10 miles away from Ross Island. The older spot, Pegasus Field, has been closed due to melty surface conditions. We even had to remove our weather station there, as it could no longer be anchored well to the ice – it would melt out and fall over. Phoenix AWS was working until a few weeks back, so we checked into it, and it appeared to run for a few hours, but we’ll need to remove it and get into the lab here for testing. In my selfie you can see our AWS as well as other gear that is out there in use by a colleague of mine studying precipitation. I have photo of our station attached as well.

Phoenix AWS

Matthew and the suite of instruments at Phoenix AWS

Today we hoped to fly again, but also the weather was not good. See the attached satellite image. Storm (marked with an L) on the ice shelf is making it hard to get out to the places we want to be.

The US Coast Guard Icebreaker has come into town and docked at the ice pier (see the photo attached). It will be here a few days before returning to cutting in a channel for the next supply and research vessels that will visit.

Icebreakk docked at the Pier

Thanks everyone!

Cheers from McMurdo Station,

Matthew

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14 Jan: Training, Safety First!

Hello Everyone!

It has been a busy first few days here at McMurdo Station. Most of the time has been filled up with training (yes, training), meetings, and even a brief weekend break. We work 6-day weeks here, with Sunday off. (And even some science keeps going on Sundays). I’ve also been very fortunate to visit with colleagues I have not seen in some years who work very hard here at McMurdo Station to make all of the work we do possible.

First, before you can do any work out in the field, we must be trained on how to live, work, and operate all sorts of things both in McMurdo as well as out in the deep field. Hence, since arriving, we have completed the following training activities:

Light Vehicle Driver Training (and I had to do a driver’s test!)
Fire Safety
Waste Management
Medical
Environmental Awareness
Antarctic Field Safety
Outdoor Safety
Communications
Helicopter operations

Attached are photos of going through a full survival bag, so we know how to handle all of it. We practice lighting stoves, setting up tents, how to stay healthy and manage risks. Also, you can see, there is no “trash” here in Antarctica – but we do separation of all waste at source, with a 65% recycling rate. I think the US is half of that figure or so. And yes, when in the field, we bring EVERYTHING back…everything…for waste management and recycling. So, I will be bringing a Pee bottle with me on my day trips to work on the weather stations. Beyond this I had several planning meetings for planning our actual work. Now we start to dig into flying/driving places hopefully before the week is out! (Once things are scheduled)

Contents of Survival Bag

Waste bins outside of Crary

Waste bins inside the buildings

This weekend, had a nice spot of weather with temperatures around 30°F, calm winds, and sunny skies. Hence, I got to walk out to Hut Point Peninsula – just next to the station. Here I was able to get photos of some seals, and yes, the US Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star has arrived! It is cutting a channel for resupply and research vessels to visit McMurdo station in the coming weeks. Also located here is Scott’s Hut – a hut built by Sir Robert Falcon Scott, during the heroic age of exploration of Antarctica. The hut is still here, and is now a protected area – you have to have a permit to enter the hut. Inside, you find all of the items Scott, and others who used the hut, left behind, as they left them (things really don’t degrade away here that much in Antarctica). Also in the background, you can see the “ice pier” (covered with the volcanic rock found here (there is no “dirt” here). The ships will be docking in what is known as Winter Quarter’s Bay – one of the southern most points in the world you can sail a ship. At the very tip of Hut Point is a cross in honor of George T. Vince – a member of Scott’s 1901 crew. He died falling off the “Danger Slopes” in a blizzard back in 1902, and slipped into the sea/ice below. The tip of the peninsula itself has now “calved” off into the ocean and made an even steeper cliff into the water below. Also in the photo is a view of McMurdo Station as it is today, as well as Observation Hill on the other side of the station.

Seals!

US Coast Guard Icebreaker

Scott’s Hut

Vince’s Cross at Hut Point with Observation Hill and McMurdo in the backgroun

There are a series of talks/presentations given here at McMurdo Station. One is the Sunday lecture. This lecture is attended by most folks on station. The largest spot is the galley where we have our meals. This week’s presentation was on some of the historical figures who explored the Antarctic – especially ones like Vince – who are not well known, but were a part of the early exploration and early science accomplished here in Antarctica. Folks such as Crozier, Vince, Ross, McMurdo were discussed. Many impressive folks that did great work that aren’t household names, and collectively paved the way for modern Antarctic science.

More later in the week!

Best Regards,

Matthew

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11 Jan: Arrived – on the ice!

Hello Everyone!

Greetings from Antarctica! I am happy to report I have successfully made to “the ice” (as we affectionately call Antarctica)! You can see me here in front of an LC-130 Hercules aircraft, flown by the 109th New York Air National Guard. We landed a William Field – a skiway here where you can land skied aircraft like the LC-130.

Matt departing the LC-130 at Williams Field

From what I can tell, I am lucky to have arrived. The flight before ours tried to get to Antarctica, but turned back due to mechanical issues. Coming back to Christchurch after trying to get to Antarctica is called a “boomerang”. They were supposed to be flying right behind our flight yesterday, but didn’t get to go again – I’m not sure 100% sure why. Today all flights in or out of McMurdo Station have been canceled due to fog in the area. So those folks have now been in Christchurch for over a week!! You can see some of the fog in the attached image I took as we flew over North Victoria Land. The sea ice over this section of the Ross Sea is also breaking out – after all it is summer time here. Temperatures have been a near constant 18°F or 19°F today with winds up to 30 mph.

Fog over Victoria Land

Sea ice viewed from the LC-130

For the next several days I will be doing training activities to be able to do the work I will be doing here, and to do so safely, etc. More on all of that in the near future!!

Cheers,

Matthew

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8 Jan: Sights of the City and Clothing Distribution Center

Hello Everyone!

As promised, a bit more from around the City of Christchurch.

As can be seen through the city center, trams are about touring folks around the city. I have a nifty shot from the Art Center, which used to be the University of Canterbury. It is a famed location, as it is where Sir Ernest Rutherford studied before doing his famous work on the discoveries about the atom. The Arts Center is being rebuilt in places after the earthquakes. Another landmark is the Queen Victoria Clock Tower – built in honor of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. It also suffered damage in the earthquakes, but it has been restored. In another part of the city is the Bridge of Remembrance, originally to honor all of those from this region of New Zealand (Canterbury) during World War I. It has since been expanded to honor those from other events since the Great War.

Art Center at the old University of Canterbury

Queen Victoria clock tower

Bridge of Remembrance

Plaque at the bottom of the Bridge of Remembrance

Yesterday we had our issue of ECW or Extreme Cold Weather gear at the US Antarctic Program’s Clothing Distribution Center or CDC. It is located at the International Antarctic Centre here in Christchurch. We take roughly 35 to 70 lbs of ECW gear, depending on the job you are doing in Antarctica. Across from the Antarctic Centre is the where the US main hangar is for the aircraft operations that will be taking us south – hopefully later today! (We are currently on a four hour delay due to bad weather in McMurdo).

Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear on display at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC)

Antarctic Centre

USAP-NSF-Hangar

Cheers from Christchurch,

Matthew

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Jan 5: Arrival Christchurch, New Zealand

Hello Everyone!

After a long set of flights, I have arrived in New Zealand. We started on Wednesday, and arrive Friday – New Zealand time. In roughly one day, we flew 4 aircraft – Madison to Chicago, Chicago to San Francisco, San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand, and then Auckland, New Zealand to Christchurch, New Zealand. Any we have one more flight to go – in a few days – to get to Antarctica.

Weather here was stormy upon arrival (see attached satellite image with nifty swirling storm system over the country). It made for a bumpy landing in Auckland. Yesterday is just poured here – lots of rain – terrible weather. Of course, it is good to see them get some rain, things here are too dry – its near drought conditions (and odd to land in Christchurch to see brown fields). Today it slowly cleared, but the wind was impressive – up to 45 mph! Temperatures are nice compared to the USA – up to 63°F!

Storm in New Zealand upon arrival

I’ve been working on adjusting to the time zone…which is lots easier coming here than it will be go to back to the USA. I’m writing this at about 5:30 pm on Saturday afternoon – which is 10:30 pm on Friday night back in Wisconsin. When I am in Antarctica, I will be on this same time zone. In the flight down – we cross the dateline, and gain a day. When I return to Wisconsin, the day will change again and very likely arrive in Madison at the same day/time that I left New Zealand!

I’ve not been to New Zealand in over 8 years. Hence, arrival here and my walk around the city today was filled with change. The airport here has grown to a much larger terminal with a fancy welcome. The city here suffered terribly in the 2010/2011 New Zealand earthquakes. Some of my favorite places are just gone. Attached here is few examples of the damage that can still be seen – one is of a building that is being held up by steel supports. Some places, there are just vacant lots. The saddest is the Cathedral – also being held up by steel supports. The steeple tower completely fell in. The good news – decisions have been made to repair it! Other places in the city are just as vibrant and lovely as before including the botanical gardens with the roses in bloom, and the Avon river. (Anyone up for punting on the Avon?)

Chirstchurch, NZ Airport

Christchurch Cathedral

Other earthquake damage in Christchurch

Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Avon River

More from around the city in my next report!

Best Regards from Christchurch,

Matthew

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3 Jan: Prelude To Deployment

Hello Everyone!

My name is Matthew Lazzara, and welcome to my e-mailing list on my deployment to Antarctica. As I travel to Antarctica, I wanted my first installment to introduce a few things and get everyone up to speed. Some of you on this list know a whole lot about what I do and what I’ll be doing in Antarctica, but others are new to all of this.

First, a little bit about me. I am full time faculty at Madison College, and part time associate scientist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. At Madison College, I teach courses on weather and climate. At UW-Madison and at Madison College, I am principal investigator of the Antarctic Automatic Weather Station Project and Polar Climate and Weather Station Project. This work is a part of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), which is overseen by the National Science Foundation.

I’m heading to Antarctica to work on the weather stations or AWS as I’ll call them. This year most all of the work is repairs, digging the stations out of the snow and raising them up to be at a proper level, putting in new power systems to make sure the run correctly, etc. I’ll have more on this as things develop this field season. Stay tuned!

Automatic weather stations (AWS), as seen in the attached map, cover much of the Antarctic continent. While it seems like a lot, it is really very, very few stations. Antarctica is roughly the size of the continental USA and Mexico combined. In those areas, we have thousands of weather stations, while here only hundred and fifty or so stations. My team and I oversee roughly 60 stations – which is the largest surface meteorological observing network in the Antarctic! (My team and I are responsible for all of the AWS marked with a triangle on the map – regardless of the color).

2017 AWS map

Looks like the temperatures in Antarctica today aren’t a whole different than some parts of the US – and Wisconsin! (See attached map).

AWS surface temperatures in Fahrenheit on January 3rd, 2018

Today I fly from the US to New Zealand. I will be reporting more after I arrive in New Zealand!

Thanks again for joining the emailing list!

Best Regards,

Matthew

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Canceled to fly to WAIS, in McMurdo for Christmas!

We got canceled trying to go to WAIS again today, 23 December. We were the backup mission to a Herc flight to South Pole which was activated. Because of the Christmas holiday, McMurdo takes their holiday break for the next two days. As such, we are not on the schedule to try to fly to WAIS again until Tuesday, 26 December.

It’s a bummer that we are getting less time to get a jump-start on our work out at WAIS. This does, however, provide Marian and I a little stability in our schedule for the next couple days. At least for the next two mornings we know we won’t be potentially packing up all our things and moving out.

I’ll leave you all with a couple pictures I took a couple weeks ago when Marian, Joey Snarski (SPAWAR Office of Polar Programs meteorology manager), and I walked to Hut Point on a cloudy and snowy day. Despite the lack of sun, I thought there was still beauty evident in the landscape.

Happy Holidays!

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On the schedule to go to WAIS!

It’s that time of year, when the AWS team tries to go to WAIS. Marian and I have been waiting for this moment. For the past couple weeks, while we have been on the helo and Otter schedule here in McMurdo, we have also been planning and packing for our trip to WAIS.

Last night (21 Dec) Marian and I “bag dragged,” or brought all of our checked bags and hand-carry bags, up to the transport building to get everything weighed for our LC-130 flight to WAIS. This means we will not have access to any bags that we checked until we go to WAIS. It is therefore very important that one packs efficiently and intelligently, so that one’s hand-carry items can provide comfort for as many days as it takes to actually leave for WAIS.

We were hoping that we would be the primary mission today and be able to fly to WAIS. But last night we found out we were the backup mission to an LC-130 flight to the South Pole. This morning, we’ve since found out that all flights are on a 2-hour weather delay. Begin “hurry up and wait.”

One benefit of this slight delay is that I can send this update to you all! Our goal for WAIS is to service 7 AWS by Twin Otter and one AWS in close proximity to WAIS. If all goes as planned, we will have a dedicated Twin Otter, meaning we will be the only group using it, for about the first week we are at camp. That will hopefully allow us to get a good amount of work done. Another science group, POLENET, will be arriving shortly after the new year, and we will be sharing the Otter with them.

WAIS camp will be a little smaller this year than in years past, in terms of population. Our group and POLENET will be the only science groups using WAIS. I think the population will get to about 20 people at its maximum, but in the past I think it’s been at least double that at times.

Marian and I are excited to get to WAIS so we can start flying to more sites! If we do go today, I won’t be able to send any updates until we get back. However, you can be on the lookout for posts coming from Matthew Lazzara (PI of the AWS program), as he and Andy Kurth are due to arrive in McMurdo on 9 Jan! Stay tuned.

Cheers,

Dave

P.S. Here’s a picture of a seal and then a picture of a skua eating a fish, as seen on the Pressure Ridges tour.

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Pegasus North and Lorne AWS, delays, and WAIS preparation

It is long overdue that I give you all an update on our goings on in McMurdo. It’s 19 December, and since the last update I’ve given, the weather has been poor, then pretty good for a few days, and then somewhat poor again. We made it out to Pegasus North AWS on 15 December and Lorne AWS on 16 December, but other than that we have consistently been cancelled due to weather or priority. On our cancelled days, we’ve been able to prepare our cargo that we are bringing to West Antarctic Ice Sheet field camp (WAIS). This week, we have started putting the WAIS cargo into the system so it can be sent out to camp with us. Our goal is to get out to WAIS this Friday, 22 December (which is a few days ahead of schedule (which is unheard of for WAIS!)).

Between our helo visit to Pegasus North and Linda (back when Carol was still in town!) we went a full week of weather and priority cancellations. Carol left just in time: the day after she redeployed back home, a weather system brought in snow, wind, clouds, and low visibility for the next 4 or 5 days. All flights were at a standstill. LC-130 flights, aimed at bringing more pax (passengers) home, were delayed for the duration of the storm. Our Twin Otter and helo flights were also cancelled. These were trying times. As an homage to the repeated weather delays, the movie Groundhog Day was played on TV, on one of two channels that play one movie repeatedly all day. If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, the general premise is that the main character gets stuck reliving Groundhog Day over and over and over again. It was very fitting with the weather delays.

With all this downtime, Marian and I had the opportunity to organize our cargo to be sent to WAIS. We had to get instrumentation organized and ready for Evans Knoll, Thurston Island, and Harry. We also wanted to get another power system built to bring out there, since we will be replacing at least one power system (Austin). It’s always nice to have backups. After the more obvious equipment was packed, we organized all the tools we have available so that both AWS teams (me and Marian, and Matt Lazzara and Andy Kurth who will be coming to McMurdo in January) can still do field work from their respective locations (WAIS for me and Marian, McMurdo for Matt and Andy). Also as a note, this is Matt’s first deployment in many years! It’s been all the talk around town that he will be coming back to McMurdo. Everyone is excited!

On 15 December, weather was finally starting to improve. We were on the Otter and helo schedule, and naturally we were cancelled on Otter. We haven’t been able to be primary on any Otter missions since this Otter is with the New Zealand Antarctic Program, not the US Antarctic Program. That makes it less likely that we will fly, but it’s nice that they put us on the schedule anyways. We were weather delayed on helo, but we figured that delay would inevitably turn into a cancellation, so we took fate into our own hands and said no thank you, we will drive out to Pegasus instead. So we took a Mattraks out to Pegasus Airfield to remove Pegasus North.

The MatTrak truck

We needed to take the Mattraks because we would be driving on an un-groomed road (unsuitable for tired vehicles). Pegasus Airfield is no longer running, so they don’t groom the roads to it. It is a couple miles past the newly opened Phoenix Airfield, so those last two miles were really the only ones we were worried about. It’s slow going with the Mattraks, but we brought some of our music along to help the 1 hour, 15 minute drive go by just like that. When we arrived, we were not surprised to see the AWS did not right itself.

The leaning tower of Pegasus.

We began our work and removed the instrumentation and power system first.

Just the tower and guy wires remain.

Next, we needed to dig/ice pick our way down a couple feet to free the guy wires and tower base, which were frozen into the snow/ice. I was expecting this process to take much longer than it did, and after a little over two hours of ground time we had removed Pegasus North.

All of the equipment in the back of the truck.

No more Pegasus North 🙁

The next day, we went to Lorne to raise the lower instrumentation and troubleshoot issues we have been having with the Freewave modem at the site. In March 2017, transmissions clicked off unexpectedly at Lorne. Our working hypothesis was that somehow the IP address was reset to its default, which would mean it would not be able to communicate with the repeater site, White Island, to send data back to McMurdo.

While I was troubleshooting the modem issues, Marian and our boondoggler Kristy dug out the power system. From Carol and George’s earlier visit, they had reported that it was very difficult to get the power system to budge from it’s hole even a little bit. They also reported a lot of icing around the power system itself. With those notes, we were worried that it would take a lot of digging and ice picking to free the power system. Overall, I think it went much more smoothly than we were anticipating. Marian and Kristy did a great job of digging the 3 to 4 feet down to get the power out of its hole and up to the surface.

Lorne AWS upon arrival

While they were succeeding, I was not. I attempted to communicate with the modem via the laptop, but the several methods I tried did not work. Eventually, and after much discussion with Lee back in Wisconsin on the Iridium satellite phone, I decided to take the modem back to the lab to troubleshoot it there. As it turns out, despite the modem indicating it gets power, the ports do not turn on, so it can’t send any data. That was unfortunate to discover, as it means we will need to visit Lorne again, but at least we were able to raise the power system and lower instrumentation.

Lorne at the end of our visit.

We are on the helo schedule today to fly to Linda to install the Paroscientific pressure sensor recovered from Pegasus North, but the weather appears like it will not cooperate. Regardless, we hope to finish getting the rest of our WAIS cargo into the system and take care of a few loose ends. We are now approaching the time when we will be trying to take an LC-130 to WAIS, which can always be an adventure. I’ll send updates with that when I can!

Cheers,

Dave

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