On the Ice

Jan 19: Finished WAIS

Both Saturday and Sunday we weren’t able to fly due to bad weather and crew rest, but Monday we got out to our last 2 sites out of WAIS: Theresa AWS and Kathie AWS.

We first flew to Theresa AWS, which was my favorite flight this season! Theresa is located near Horlick Mountains, so we were able to see some mountains along the way.

The Ohio Range

The Horlick Mountains

We landed at the site and it was very windy, maybe 20 kts. Luckily, we only had about 45 minutes worth of work to do because it was a little uncomfortable. Theresa unexpectedly turned off in October, so we assumed it might have been a power issue. Lee checked the battery and solar panel voltage and noted they both were fine, thus we didn’t install a new power system. Then Lee checked the connection from the power to the AWS2B enclosure. He thinks the plug might have gotten loose due to the winds, but he bent it back a little bit and re-plugged it and it worked! We verified a transmission with the Teleonics, and then we headed out to install Kathie.

Theresa AWS

Theresa AWS

Once at Kathie, we had nearly perfect weather conditions for an installation. The wind was calm, it was sunny, and the temperatures were about 10 to 15 Fahrenheit. We had 2 extra helpers from camp and 2 pilots, which were super helpful when it came to raising the tower. We got the 20 foot tower up, secured it with the guy wires, and we got all that done in about an hour. Then we finished putting up the last couple of instruments, plugged them all in, and wrapped all the cables. At that point, all we had to do was test for transmission on the Teleonics and it worked! We packed up and got back on the plane again to fly back to WAIS.

Kathie AWS

Kathie AWS

On the way back we had to stop at a fuel cache, which was fun because I had never been to one before. The pilots wanted to take out 4 barrels of fuel. We had to dig down to the barrels and then turn them right side up. It took about 30 or 40 minutes to get all of the fuel pumped out, and then we had to load all of the empty barrels back on the plane. We got back to WAIS after a 12 hour day for about 4 hours of work, and 8 hours of flying and fueling.

Fuel Cache in West Antarctica

Fuel Cache in West Antarctica

Lee and I are now done with all the AWS out of WAIS. We are hoping to get back to McMurdo tonight on one of the late night flights. As we all know, it will likely take a couple of tries before that happens. We have at most 1 Snowmoble, 3 Otter, and 3 Helo trips left to complete out of McMurdo. All things considered, we might get fairly close to finishing the rest of work before we leave Antarctica Feb. 13th.

Cheers,
Carol

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Jan 16: We Made it to WAIS!

We enjoyed a few more cancellations and one more mechanical issue with the plane in the air, but we eventually landed at WAIS Divide on Jan. 14th in the afternoon. We were welcomed by the camp staff, and they appreciated that we had been waiting for about 10 days to get here. There ended up being another flight that came to WAIS that night, so they hadn’t had a flight for 2 weeks and then they had 2 flights in 2 days.

We got a quick tour of the camp, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon setting up the tents and unpacking. Lee did some testing with the old pressure sensor, and we found and organized our cargo so we would be ready for our flights.

Jan. 15th we had our first opportunity to fly! We went to Harry AWS site first where we needed to take out the old AWS2B instrumentation and replace it with new CR1000 instrumentation. We flew with Jonathan Willie (who got his degree with Dave Bromwich) and Ryan Scott, and they are both meteorologists too. They were very excited to get out of WAIS camp on a Twin Otter flight!

Harry AWS upon arrival

Harry AWS upon arrival

First, we dug down to the junction box and recovered that by cutting the cables to the batteries. We decided that it wasn’t worth it to dig 5 or more feet to recover the batteries. Then we removed all of the old instrumentation from the tower and added a 7 foot tower section, which is always a fun adventure.

Lee climbed up the tower and lined up the tower section, but it wasn’t going down all the way. Lee was doing everything he could to push the tower section down further. Then Troy (the pilot) suggested to secure it with a cargo strap that we could just leave at the site, so Lee figured that was our best option.

Then we started putting all of the new AWSCR1000 instrumentation on the tower. The only issue was that we didn’t end up having an extra humidity sensor (it’s a really long story), and we forgot to grab a horizontal pole to mount the Acoustic Depth Gauge. Otherwise everything worked perfectly, we finished in about 2 and half hours, and we were able to verify transmission with the Teleonics.

Harry AWS after the instrument swap

Harry AWS after the instrument swap

Then we tried to fly over to Theresa AWS but it was too covered in cloud for us to land, so then we headed over to Byrd AWS. We arrived at Byrd station and we refueled. While the pilots were refueling, we got a brief tour of the camp via a couple minute journey on a sled on the back of a snow machine. They have only 5 people staying there currently, but Byrd used to be the largest camp in West Antarctica before WAIS divide existed. There was an ice core drilled there and the building is now buried.

They only had 5 people staying at Byrd Camp

They only had 5 people staying at Byrd Camp

Then we went back to the plane and taxied over the Byrd AWS site. We needed to check the aerovane because the wind speed wasn’t working properly. Lee climbed to the top of the tower and quickly learned that the wind speed cable had been tightened too much. After about 15 minutes we verified that it was working properly again!

Lee fixing the aerovane at Bryd AWS

Lee fixing the aerovane at Bryd AWS

Then we got to back to WAIS and landed in white out conditions…. which made for a fun landing!

The weather was bad Saturday, Janurary 16th and the whole camp took the day off on Sunday, January 17th. There will only be 3 more days of flying due to the pilot’s contract ending. We will likely be leaving by the end of the week, or at least by January 23rd.

If you want to learn more about what it’s like at WAIS, check out Dave’s blog from a couple of weeks ago. I also made a quick little tour video of WAIS 🙂

Cheers,
Carol

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Jan 11: Pegasus North AWS and More WAIS Cancellations

Thursday and Friday were more days of broken planes and weather cancellations. Thursday we went out to the airfield about 4pm, and we were quickly informed that the flight crew had broken a door on the plane we were supposed fly on. We had to wait at the airfield for another hour because there was possibility we were going on a different plane. Then we were told the flight was cancelled due to weather. Friday was much of the same except we got weather cancelled before we had to go all the way to the airfield, which is much nicer! It’s a lot of effort to put on all of our cold weather gear, pack up our bags, and travel in the shuttle buses 30 minutes each way to get to the airfield.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday there were no flights even scheduled to WAIS. Lee and I decided it would be good to try and at least get one site done out of McMurdo, so reserved a truck on Saturday and drove out the our AWS at Pegasus airfield; Pegasus North AWS. I takes a little over an hour to drive there, and it probably took about 20 minutes to find the AWS since things always seems to change in that area. Unfortunately, we had to park the truck about 150 feet away from the site since the folks at Pegasus didn’t trust the stability of the ice between the truck and the site. We had planned to install a box of 3 new batteries (~225 lbs), but it was too heavy to carry that far. Instead we just added 1 new battery to the 2 old batteries already at the site.

Pegasus North AWS

Pegasus North AWS

As you can see, Pegasus North is very tilted. This is because it’s in an area of ice that often melts and then refreezes, and the tower isn’t very deep in the ice. We might have to go back later in the season, with the riggers, to see if we can make it straight.

Lee pulling old batteries from PGN

Lee pulling old batteries from PGN

Pegasus North has two wooden boxes of old batteries that have been disconnected for years, but every time we go there they are too iced in to remove. Lee was able to wrench one of them out of the ice. We were never going to be able carry the box to the truck (you can see the truck in the picture), so Lee used one of the ice picks to pull it across the ice. It actually worked quite well! We had finally completed our first day of field work after 10 days in Antarctica.

We are scheduled for a flight to WAIS tomorrow……….

Enjoy a video of how I killed some time in McMurdo 🙂

Cheers,

Carol

 

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Jan 7: A Tale of Broken Planes

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were days of delays and cancellations. Monday we got cancelled to go to Nascent AWS due to weather all over the Ross Ice Shelf. We spent the rest of the day packing up and organizing to fly to WAIS the next day. Tuesday we woke up early to transport to the airfield, but we got delayed due to weather. Then we left for transport at 11am to depart at 1pm. This seemed to be just in time for the visibility to decrease to less than a mile, but in any case we all boarded the LC-130. Lee and I got to sit upstairs in the cockpit, which was exciting!

Cockpit of the LC-130

Cockpit of the LC-130

Then we started to taxi, but it seemed like we were taxiing for a long time. After about 15 minutes, I saw one of the pilots take off his seat belt, so I knew we weren’t going anywhere. The plane stopped and then the pilot explained that one of the skis wasn’t aligned properly, so he didn’t feel comfortable taking off. Then we got back on the shuttles and headed back to McMurdo.

Wednesday we woke up early again and then we were weather delayed in the morning. This time we were scheduled to leave at 6pm, so I had a relatively boring day in McMurdo. We got to the airfield and then got on the LC-130 at about 5:30pm. Luckily, the planes to WAIS are relatively empty and there were only 10 passengers.

LC-130's at Williams Field Runway

LC-130’s at Williams Field Runway

The plane taxied and got up in the air for about 15 minutes. Then the load masters in the passenger area were telling us that we had to turn back around because the altimeter broke. We landed again at Williams Field and got to hangout on the plane for about 20 minutes while they fixed the altimeter. Since we flew around for a bit, they had to refuel again before we left. We were shuttled off the plane at that point, and we were told we would be trying to fly again after they refueled. We noticed that the plane wasn’t moving to refuel. At that point I figured there was bad weather at WAIS. Sure enough, after another 20 or 30 minutes of waiting we were told the flight was cancelled. After 5 hours at the airfield we got back to town. I couldn’t be too upset since I got to take a shower and I didn’t have a roommate 🙂

We will be trying to go again at 6pm tonight!

Cheers,

Carol

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Jan 4: Start of Part 2

Lee and I arrived in McMurdo on 30 December at about 7pm. In the past 4 days we have gotten all of the initial training completed, and all of our equipment in the cargo system to get to West Antarctic Ice Sheet field camp (WAIS). We are scheduled to leave for WAIS on 5 January, and we might go to our first site out of McMurdo, Nascent AWS, on 4 January.

We arrived just before the holiday weekend for New Year’s which was celebrated on Sat. 2 January and Sun. 3 January, so there wasn’t much time to get everything ready for the WAIS field camp. I celebrated the New Year a little bit at Ice Stock, which is an outdoor concert event with a chilli cookoff and complementary coffee and Baileys. Other than that, I used this weekend to catch up on sleep, unpack, and reorganize.

This blog will mostly detail the journey to get to Antarctica. I left my parents house near O’Hare at about 1pm on Sat. 26 December, flew to LAX, took the long journey over the Pacific, and eventually landed in Sydney. Since I had a 10 hour layover in Sydney, I went downtown and took a ferry ride.

Sydney ferry ride

Sydney ferry ride

Very rainy and foggy day in the Sydney Harbor

Very rainy and foggy day in the Sydney Harbor

Then we arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand at about 11pm on Mon. 28 December. The next morning, 29 December, we had our first training videos and got all of our extreme cold weather gear at the clothing distribution center, which was across the street from our hotel. We had the rest of the day free, so I went for a walk since the weather was sunny and 65F!

A park I found during my walk

A park I found during my walk in New Zealand

Then the next day, Wed. 30 December, we checked in for our ice flight at 7:30am. We all got out to the runway and the plane engines were started, but within about 10 minutes they were turned off again; mechanical delay.

Lee is the one in the red shirt :)

Lee is the one in the red shirt 🙂

Luckily there’s usually at least 3 LC-130 planes in Christchurch, so waited about 2 hours and got on a different plane. Then we were off to Antarctica and we got there in about 7 hours because we had a glorious 100 mph tail wind.

Me on the LC-130 for the second try

Me on the LC-130 for the second try

The glory that is the LC-130

The glory that is the LC-130

The plane landed on the ice runway and then we all spent about 15 minutes outside the plane taking photos 🙂 Then we took “Ivan the Terra Bus” from the runway to McMurdo.

Our first views of Antarctica with Mt. Erebus in the background

Our first views of Antarctica with Mt. Erebus in the background

"Ivan" the Terra Bus

“Ivan” the Terra Bus

Then we were in town and it felt weird to be back. Not much has changed in the past 11 months, and thankfully there’s still 24/7 cookies 🙂

I will try and update the blog as often as I can before we get out to WAIS.

Finally, enjoy a video I made about the 83 hour journey to Antarctica.

Happy New Year!

Cheers,

Carol

 

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Dec 15: Departed WAIS, and end of Field Season Pt 1

On Tuesday, 15 December, Mark and I finally got out of the “WAISland.”

The schedule originally called for a Herc coming to WAIS at 1:30 am on Wednesday morning (16 Dec). Everyone at camp was concerned about that because the forecast was predicting a storm to hit the camp right around the time that Herc would be landing.

The schedule was thrown out the window by late Tuesday morning. Jim, a heavy equipment operator, broke his leg mid-Tuesday morning. As is standard protocol, Jim needed to be medically evacuated (what is known as a “med evac”) out of WAIS and to proper health care in Christchurch, New Zealand. Given the circumstances, the Herc that was originally scheduled to go to another field camp that afternoon was rescheduled to come to WAIS. It arrived at WAIS at 4:15 pm, and Mark, myself, Jim, and 4 others boarded to Herc to go back to McMurdo. It’s a shame that it took a med evac to get us out of WAIS, but with Christmas fast approaching, we were also happy to be on our way home. I hope Jim has a speedy recovery.

We passengers wait for the go-ahead to board the Herc. That's Jim laying on a sled, being pulled by the snowmobile.

We wait for the go-ahead to board the Herc. That’s Jim laying on a sled, being pulled by the snowmobile.

We got into McMurdo around 10 pm that night. By 10 am Wednesday morning I was on a Herc northbound for McMurdo, with Jim on board as well. On Thursday morning, I was departing Christchurch to begin the long journey back home to Madison, WI.

We're back at McMurdo!

We’re back at McMurdo!

And just like that, our portion of the field season concluded. We went from thinking we were going to be stranded at WAIS for Christmas to getting home in the blink of an eye. Overall, it was another exciting field season for me, with some really cool sites seen and some satisfying field work accomplished.

Lee and Carol should be getting to the ice between Christmas and New Year’s. I’ll let them take over from here.

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Dec 14: Botched WAIS departure, Austin AWS install, and Evans Knoll AWS

Dec 14 – Monday
Mark and I were hoping to be flying off continent, back to Christchurch, and heading home today. Instead, we are still at WAIS. The weather and flight schedules have not cooperated with us, so our new off-ice departure date is now Thursday 17 December.

We made two more attempts to fly back to McMurdo, this time via Twin Otter instead of LC-130, on this past Saturday and Sunday. There are also 3 other people from WAIS who want to get back to McMurdo. Since the Otter is a smaller aircraft, it requires fuel stops along the way to McMurdo, whereas the LC-130 can make a non-stop flight. This has two implications: the Otter trip is a long one, and weather needs to be good at 4 locations instead of 2 (we were planning to stop at Byrd Camp to pick up a passenger along the way, then stop at Siple Dome Camp to refuel, then land in McMurdo).

On both days, the weather in West Antarctica (WAIS, Byrd Camp, Siple Dome Camp) was gorgeous: mostly clear skies and calm winds. Unfortunately, the weather was poor in McMurdo, with low clouds, fog, and low visibility.

On Saturday morning, Troy, the Otter pilot, decided that we wouldn’t be going to McMurdo due to the poor weather. Given the good weather in the region, including at the site of a new station install, Mark and I decided to take the opportunity. We installed Austin AWS. West Antarctica now has a new data point!

This was both mine and Mark’s first new station install. (I was along for the install of White Island AWS a few years ago, but the Rigger crew did most of the work with the guy wires because that station is on rock. Austin AWS is on snow.) We had one boondoggler with us, Catherine Dudley (WAIS medic), and she and the pilots were excellent helpers for the entire installation.

We laid out the equipment and gear for the new installation. Catherine is pictured.

We laid out the equipment and gear for the new installation. That’s Catherine on the right. (Photo credit: Mark)

Here’s the order of operations for installing a new AWS:
0) Preassemble anything you can. The guy wires were attached to one tower section before we left; one extends from each of the three tower poles. The turnbuckles were also attached to the dead men prior to departure.
1) We asked Troy if he could use the plane to make ski marks in the snow that are oriented in the true North-South direction. He did this, as well as parked the Otter in said orientation. This is necessary for the proper installation of the anemometer, as one part of it needs to be pointed true South.
2) Connect the two tower sections (one 10 feet, one 7 feet) together on the ground.
3) Dig a hole, approximately 2 feet deep since we didn’t have a baseboard, into which we can put the tower.
4) Install as much instrumentation on the tower as is practical, while the tower is slightly lifted off the ground (we propped it up on a couple cases to make the installing easier). We installed the anemometer, Argos antenna, upper temperature, relative humidity, solar panel, enclosure, and lower temperature.

With the main hole dug and the towers connected, we assembled all of the instrumentation, save the ADG and pyranometer boom. (Photo credit: Catherine)

With the main hole dug and the towers connected, we assembled all of the instrumentation, save the ADG and pyranometer boom. From left: Mark, Troy, John. (Photo credit: Catherine)

5) Lift up the tower into the hole. This took all 5 of us to accomplish.
6) Orient the tower to have one face point North-South. This makes aligning the anemometer that much easier. One done, fill in the hole.
7) Extend the guy wires out and determine where to bury the dead men. Then dig holes for the 3 dead men, approximately 4 feet deep.

Digging a hole for one of the dead men. From left: me, Catherine, John. (Photo credit: Mark)

Digging a hole for one of the dead men. From left: me, Catherine, John. (Photo credit: Mark)

8) Attach the guy wires to the dead men, then bury the dead men in the holes, making sure the tower is level and plumb all the while.
9) Once everything is secure, the tower is secured and everything else can proceed as normal.

A new AWS! A new data point in Antarctica! And as you may be able to tell, the visibility decreased drastically by the end of our visit, and the winds had increased. (Photo credit: Mark)

A new AWS! A new data point in Antarctica! And as you may be able to tell, the visibility decreased drastically by the end of our visit as the winds had increased. (Photo credit: Mark)

We felt pretty good after we completed this install. Any work that we can do now is less work that Lee and Carol need to worry about when they come to WAIS. While we have the Otter to ourselves, we might as well take advantage of it.

Yesterday, Sunday, we tried the same thing as Saturday in taking the Otter back to McMurdo. Once again, with great weather in West Antarctica, McMurdo was the limiting factor. We were on a weather hold until 10:30 am, when we got an updated weather forecast for the evening in McMurdo. It initially called for some clearing, so Troy decided that we should go for it. Everyone loaded all their gear on the Otter, and we took off at 11:45 am. Ten minutes in the air, we boomeranged. Troy had gotten an updated observation from McMurdo where fog was rolling into the region quickly. Troy made the call that rather than being forced to camp near McMurdo, we would go back to WAIS. It was the right call, but it was a bummer because we were so close to making our scheduled departure date but now need to push it back.

Five people's personal bags and sleep kits were stuffed into the Twin Otter.

Five people’s personal bags and sleep kits were stuffed into the Twin Otter.

The consolation, once again, was that Mark and I were able to fly to another AWS, this time back to Evans Knoll AWS. We reinstalled the enclosure that we had removed a few days back, complete with a functioning pressure sensor, and installed a new solar panel.

We took 3 boondogglers with us: Kristen (chef), Anne (camp supervisor) and Kevin (mechanic). On our way to Evans Knoll, we took the scenic route and saw some amazing images of icebergs, islands, penguins and seals. Evans Knoll is near Pine Island Bay and Pine Island Glacier, an area where the ice is breaking up rapidly. Also, at Evans Knoll itself, the winds were very calm (sometimes at 0!) which was a huge improvement from the 30 knot winds we encountered on our first visit.

The sun was peaking over the hill we needed to climb to get to Evans Knoll AWS, on the right and at the crest of the hill.

The sun was peaking over the hill we needed to climb to get to Evans Knoll AWS, on the right and at the crest of the hill.

Evans Knoll AWS with the enclosure reinstalled and a new solar panel installed (on the opposite side of the tower).

Evans Knoll AWS with the enclosure reinstalled and a new solar panel installed (on the opposite side of the tower).

The latest on leaving WAIS is that our LC-130 flight (a backup mission) for today was cancelled because the primary mission went to Christchurch (no surprise there). I think we are on a primary mission for tomorrow, but we won’t find that out exactly until later tonight.

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Dec 11: Brianna, Erin, and Evans Knoll AWS

Dec 11 – Friday
The past few days have been busy ones for Mark and I. First, we have been on the flight schedule to leave WAIS on an LC-130 back to McMurdo on Wednesday night, Thursday night, and now tonight. We are still at WAIS because the plane couldn’t come Wednesday due to mechanical issues, nor could it come last night because of crew availability. It is scheduled to come tonight at 9:30 pm local time.

While we’ve been on the LC-130 schedule, we’ve also been on the Twin Otter here. It has been possible for us to still do field work because the LC-130 flights have been scheduled to arrive at WAIS around 7 pm or later.

On Wednesday, Mark and I flew with Paul Koubek (mountaineer) and Joel Gombiner (geologist) to Brianna AWS (to remove) and Erin AWS (to raise). Paul came with us because Brianna was installed near several crevasse fields. Joel came with because we had extra room and could use the extra hands for digging and other tasks in the field.

Brianna was installed in 1994 but had not been visited sine 2002 because pilots had not wanted to land among the crevasse fields. At the beginning of this field season, I spoke with Brad, from the Polar Geospatial Center, in McMurdo to get high-resolution satellite imagery of some of our more precariously located AWS, including Brianna. He was able to get me a couple images of Brianna, one with a 20-km range and one with a 2-km range. The 20 km image showed several crevasse fields, that honestly look pretty nasty, surrounding Brianna AWS. The 2 km image, however, did not show any evidence of crevasses. At WAIS, after discussing this with the pilots and with Paul, we decided that it should be safe enough to land right next to the AWS and not have to worry about crevasses (Twin Otter planes are able to land in a very short distance).

A crevasse field as we neared Brianna AWS.

A crevasse field as we neared Brianna AWS.

We landed at Brianna AWS without any problems and got right to digging out the station. With everyone, including the pilots, helping to dig, we were able to remove all the instrumentation, a battery box, and the top tower section in just over an hour. This gave us plenty of time to go to Erin AWS.

Brianna AWS when we arrived. It's short, but after almost 14 years since its last visit, it's not too bad!

Brianna AWS when we arrived. It’s short, but after almost 14 years since its last visit, it’s not too bad!

When given an opportunity to have a picture taken of you standing in a hole, you take it.

We removed (almost) all trace of Brianna. And when given an opportunity to have a picture taken of you standing in a hole, you take it.

At Erin, which has a gorgeous view of the Transantarctic Mountains, we noticed that the station did not need to be raised. It was plenty tall, so all we needed to do there was raise the enclosure.

Erin AWS, after we raised the enclosure. The Transantarctic Mountains can be seen on the horizon.

Erin AWS, after we raised the enclosure. The Transantarctic Mountains can be seen on the horizon.

On Thursday we flew by Twin Otter to Evans Knoll AWS. Our goal for this visit was to fix the anemometer and pressure sensor, both of which weren’t transmitting. We had tried to visit this site about a week earlier but were unable to land due to flat light. This time, it was nice and sunny when we landed. The wind, however, was roaring. It was a sustained 25 to 30 knots! We needed to climb up a fairly steep hill to get to the AWS, and the wind made it that much more difficult. At least it was a balmy 30 degrees F.

It was a fairly steep walk from the Twin Otter up to the AWS. That coupled with the winds made it very tiring, as Paul (left) and I realized.

It was a fairly steep walk from the Twin Otter up to the AWS. That coupled with the winds made it very tiring, as Paul (left) and I realized.

Evans Knoll AWS when we arrived.

Evans Knoll AWS when we arrived.

The anemometer was a simple fix; the nose cone and propeller were missing due to the very high winds. We were unable to fix the pressure sensor on site. One unexpected thing we noticed was that the solar panel was missing too! The high winds must have rattled it loose and flung it off its mount. Without the solar panel, the batteries can’t get charged and will eventually drain. Given this, and that we couldn’t fix the pressure sensor in the field, we decided to power down the station and remove the electronics to bring back with us. This way we can diagnose any issues with the pressure sense in the lab, get a solar panel ready to install, and put everything back at Evans Knoll (hopefully later this field season) without draining the batteries. Because it would not be fun carrying 150 pounds of batteries up that hill!

Evans Knoll AWS after we replaced the nose cone and propeller, and removed the enclosure.

Evans Knoll AWS after we replaced the nose cone and propeller, and removed the enclosure.

We were flying back to WAIS when we heard the unfortunate news that our LC-130 flight had been cancelled. It was especially unfortunate because when we got back to WAIS, the weather was gorgeous. Mostly clear skies, low winds, great visibility, and all-around perfect for an aircraft to land.

Today, Friday 11 December, the weather isn’t as good. It’s been pretty windy (~15 knots) all day, with low visibility in blowing snow. Hopefully by tonight the winds will die down so the plane can take us back to McMurdo. After all, we’re scheduled to leave the ice on Monday, 14 December!

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Dec 08: Storm at WAIS

Dec 8 – Tuesday
This past Sunday, into early Monday morning, a strong storm came through WAIS. This storm consisted mostly of high winds and blowing snow. Winds were sustained at around 25 to 30 knots (I think – this is just my guess as I don’t have the official numbers). During this time, snow drifts accumulated and grew between the tents. Pictures, and videos, really tell the whole story, and I wish I could send those along real-time, but I’ll be sure to include them once I am able to.

Visibility decreased to around 300 feet at times, leading to “Condition 2” weather. I spoke with one of the weather observers here, and she said that while she didn’t observe Condition 1 weather when she made her few weather observations, she said that most likely Condition 1 weather did occur at times. This meant that visibility got down to lower than 100 feet! This is testament to how high the winds were and much blowing snow there was.

For much of the day on Sunday, people in the camp were either hanging out in the Galley tent or the Rec tent. We either watched movies or played board games all day. There really wasn’t much else to do!

Here is a view from outside our tent on a normal evening, sans storm.

Here is a view from outside our tent on a normal evening, sans storm.

Taken by Mark, this is a similar view as in the picture above, but during the strongest parts of the storm. Visibility was extremely low!

Taken by Mark, this is a similar view as in the picture above, but during the strongest parts of the storm. Visibility was extremely low!

It was very difficult to sleep in our tent on Sunday night. The winds were whipping the tent, and at times I was worried the tent would get picked up and blown away! Of course, we have the spoiled science tent to sleep in, which is large, heated and well secured to the ground. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in a single-person mountain tent during those winds. Then I would have really been worried about blowing away.

By 7 am on Monday, the winds had died down and the blowing snow had tamed. Skies cleared, and it turned out to be a very nice day. One impact of the blowing snow is that the topography of the camp becomes very uneven, so the camp crew needs to bull doze the snow drifts down and groom the surface so it’s even and easily to travel on. The ski-way, where the planes take off and land, also needs to be groomed so planes, such as the LC-130 and the Twin Otter, can use it safely. If the ski-way isn’t well groomed, a pilot may fly over it and decide that it doesn’t look safe enough to land and they will choose not to. Grooming the ski-way is very important. That Monday morning, crews got to work right after breakfast to make the camp and ski-way safe for travel again. It’s impressive to see how quickly and methodically they do this work. Everyone knows their role, and by the end of the day the camp looked like it did on Saturday, before the storm.

A drift that developed from the storm between the science tents.

A drift that developed from the storm between the science tents. The dozier had already begun flattening the drifts around camp.

Meanwhile, Mark and I haven’t flown since we went to Thurston Island. When the weather has been good at WAIS, it was poor everywhere else. And of course when there’s a storm at WAIS pretty much everything is at a standstill. Today is no exception, as the weather is good here but a no-go at all other sites. Mark and I are planning to leave WAIS to go back to McMurdo tomorrow night, Wednesday 09 December. Given we wouldn’t be leaving until the night, we may be able to have one more chance to fly during the day. There’s talk of some high winds coming this afternoon and remaining until Wednesday morning, so we will see how that affects our plans.

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Dec 04: Thurston Island AWS

Dec 4 – Friday
On our third full day at WAIS, Mark and I flew for the second day in a row, this time to Thurston Island AWS. Our plan was to go to both Evans Knoll AWS and Thurston Island AWS, and when going over the weather with the Otter crew before departure, it looked like Evans Knoll had better weather than Thurston Island. We decided to check Evans Knoll first.

With us came John Stone, the aforementioned geologist, and Paul Koubek, a mountaineer. Paul came along because these AWS are on islands covered in ice, and with that comes crevassing as the ice spreads down the slopes of the islands. We wanted to take the extra precaution and have an expert with us to make sure we didn’t walk into a crevasse field. Spoiler alert: We didn’t encounter any crevasses while walking!

John Stone and Paul Koubek are in the background.

John Stone and Paul Koubek are in the background.

As we approached Evans Knoll, cloud cover dominated the area. This led to “flat light” in which the surface features and definitions are very difficult to discern. This made it unsafe for us to land, as the pilots could not distinguish the slopes of the island and therefore find a safe place to land. After circling the island several times they decided we shouldn’t land, so we headed to Thurston Island.

I had it in my head that the weather at Thurston would be similar to Evans Knoll, and we would shortly be heading back to WAIS. I’m very glad that I was mistaken; it was mostly sunny at Thurston, and we circled the island a couple times and then went in for a landing. We taxied close to the nunatak (area of exposed rock in an ice field) where our AWS is located, then Paul got out and checked the surface to make sure it was safe. Sure enough, it was, so we lugged our equipment up the small hill.

Paul checked for crevasses along the path from the plane to the AWS (upper right).

Paul checked for crevasses along the path from the plane to the AWS (upper right).

I was not expecting this sight to be as pretty as it was. For starters, the weather was pleasant: temperatures around 20 F and light and variable winds, with sunny skies. Also, being on the highest point of the island (I think) allowed for great views of the area. Setting aside the picturesque scene, Mark and I got to work repairing the station. This site experiences very high winds on occasion (luckily not today!), and because of that the wind monitor and the relative humidity sensor were damaged.

Thurston Island AWS upon arrival.

Thurston Island AWS upon arrival.

I climbed the tower to replace the nose cone and propeller on the wind monitor. We then removed the old relative humidity sensor and installed a new one. After adjusting the program on the data logger to accommodate the new RH sensor and verifying all data output looked good, we called our work complete and got ready to leave.

Thurston Island AWS after our work was complete.

Thurston Island AWS after our work was complete.

While Mark and I were working on our AWS, John and Paul were walking around the exposed rock regions, and John collected some rock samples. We were happy to have John come along and get some use out of this trip!

John Stone took this picture of us as we were getting ready to leave. Note how you can see the AWS on the right, below the Otter wing.

John Stone took this picture of us as we were getting ready to leave. Note how you can see the AWS on the right.

Our flight back to WAIS was a lengthy one: 467 nautical miles, to be exact. It took us about 3.5 hours, and it was the longest Twin Otter flight I had been on. We were also flying relatively high up (~16,000 feet). At this elevation, the lack of oxygen is noticeable. Mark asked the pilots about this after we landed, and they said they flew so high to catch the tail winds and get good fuel efficiency so we wouldn’t have to stop at a fuel cache on the way back to WAIS. No complaints on my end! I was able to read a couple chapters in my book and doze off a couple times. All in all, it was a good day for AWS fieldwork.

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