Sorry for the delay in posting blog posts. We’ve been running around McMurdo getting all kinds of things done, but nothing has been very blog worthy. George Hadmenos arrived on November 1st without any deals, so I’ve been doing some outreach activities and training with George for the past week.
Since writing the last blog post, there have been a few things that have been going on. First, the team back in Wisconsin gave me lots of great advice about fixing some major issues with a computer that manages our Ultra High Frequency (UHF) network of AWS. This involved four drives up to T-site which is about a 15 minute drive from our office up a decently step road. I take the classic Ford F-350 big tire trucks to drive up to T-site. On my final trip, I managed to get the truck stuck in some fresh snow. Unfortunately, this truck didn’t have shovel in the bed of the truck, so I couldn’t dig a path to get unstuck. Thus, I was forced to ask for help over the radio. I was initially embarrassed and annoyed that it happening, but looking back at it now it was funny. A very kind human used his truck to pull my truck out of the snow!
The stuck truck 🙁
Second, we took a trip to Willie Airfield and Phoenix Runway to mark with flags where we’ll be installing two new AWS. One new AWS will be installed near our other AWS at Willie Field and that will be for the MRI in collaboration with Madison College. The second AWS will be installed at Phoenix Runway. Willie Field is about 25 minutes from McMurdo, and Phoenix is probably another 20 minutes from Willie Field. After marking the locations of the tower with flags, we then drove back on a different day to drop off the tower sections and dig the holes for the tower sections. This time we took a mack-tracks which is a truck that’s specially designed to drive over ungroomed snow. These trips were done in collaboration with Mark Seefledt and Scott Landolt of project O-456 because they are installing precipitation instrumentation at the same locations.
Flag to mark where we’re going to install a new AWS
George and the mack-tracks
Finally, we managed to take a helicopter to Lorne AWS. This flight is only about 30 minutes grid west or true east of McMurdo. Lorne hasn’t been transmitting data since the end of March. We thought this might be due to a difference between the clock in the modem at Lorne versus the actual time. The first thing we checked was the modem clock and it was correct, so we knew the problem must be something else. I figured this wasn’t something we would be able to fix in the field, but I still called my co-worker, Dave Mikolajczyk, to see if there was anything else I should check. He suggested a power cycle, so we unplugged the power system and worked to raise the power system. This was when things got tricky. George and I freed the box most of the way around all the sides, but it was still too stuck in ice for the two of us to move it. The box weighs 250 lbs. since it has three 70 lbs. batteries. Knowing that, I removed one battery to make the box lighter, but we still couldn’t lift it. At that point, we only had about 20 minutes left of our 2 hours of ground time before we had to leave since the helicopter pilot needed to stick to his schedule. I decided to put the battery back in the case and plug everything back in. In the end, I didn’t plug everything back together completely, and I don’t think the AWS is getting power. George and I will be going back to Lorne with two more strong helpers from McMurdo, more ice picking equipment, and more time. With all those factors, I’m confident we’ll be able to get the power system raised. Also, the team back in Wisconsin figured out the reason Lorne wasn’t transmitting was an issue with the timing of the repeater it was trying to transmit through. Thus, once the power is properly connected at Lorne it should start transmitting again!
George digging at Lorne AWS
Carol after removing one of the batteries and still not being able to lift the power system
We haven’t been able to get on any Twin Otters flights due to priority and bad weather, but I’m hoping that will happen next week. I’ll keep you updated!
Welcome to another season of the On the Ice Blog. This season we’ll be servicing 20 sites out of both McMurdo Station and WAIS divide camp in west Antarctica. Like in previous seasons, we will have rotating groups of two people. I, Carol Costanza, am currently the only person in McMurdo, but I will be joined by George Hademenos in a few days. George is a high school physics teacher from Texas who will be working with me for about 3 weeks. He was selected to work with us as part of NSF’s PolarTREC program. George and I will only be based out of McMurdo for our part of the season, and I will be leaving the second week of December. Then in early December, Dave Mikolajczyk and Marian Mateling will be arriving in McMurdo, and they will be going to WAIS for most of January and leaving the ice at the beginning of February. Finally, Dr. Matthew Lazzara, PI of the AWS project, and Andy Kurth, electrical engineering instructor at Madison College, will be in McMurdo from beginning of January to mid-February. With that being said, I’ll explain what’s been going on the last week.
I left the US on Thursday, October 19th and arrived in Christchurch, NZ on Saturday, October 21st. The flights went quite well! Then on Sunday, October 22nd I had my training at the CDC in Christchurch. This included watching some training videos and getting my extreme cold weather gear. Then I had the rest of the day off, so I went to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
On Monday, October 23rd, we were scheduled to fly to Antarctica, but we were delayed due to weather. Instead, I went to breakfast at the Villas and enjoyed another relaxing afternoon outside.
The Eggs Benedict at The Villas
Then on Tuesday, October 24th, we flew to Antarctica in a C-17! The flight took about 5 hours and we landed at around 5:30 pm. I spent most of the flight standing in the back of the plane near the cargo.
Views from the back of the C-17
Departing the C-17
The rest of the week I’ve been going to training and meetings with work centers to collect equipment and schedule field work. The weather has been very windy and cold the past couple of days, but I’ve mostly been working inside. Temperatures have been mostly 5 to 15°F with winds gusting to 40 kts. The weather is supposed to be clearing up for the weekend, so that’s good news.
I hope to get out into the field by the second week in November. I’ll keep you updated as things progress. George is also writing a blog on the PolarTREC website. I’ll link to his new posts in this blog.
The beginning of the week of Dec. 5th brought some more unpleasant weather. By Thursday, December 8th we were finally able to go on a helicopter ride to both Linda AWS and Lorne AWS. For this trip, only Lee and myself would be going on the flight because we needed to call Dave back in the office on the Iridium phone to check for a transmission. Linda AWS had been transmitting its data in real-time via the radio network due to its close proximity to McMurdo. Unfortunately, the AWS was dropping transmission often during the winter or other random times. In order to fix this, we decided to change the transmission style of Linda AWS to Iridium. The Iridium network is much more reliable then the radio network.
Once we arrived at Linda AWS, Lee worked to switch out the freewave modem for the iridium modem in the enclosure. Then I worked to switch out the freewave antenna for the iridium antenna on the tower. We got everything plugged in and the new cable coiled. Then it was time to turn the station back on and test to see if Dave could see the Iridium transmissions coming through. Lee gave Dave a call and it looked like the transmission hadn’t been received yet. Within seconds of hanging up, Dave saw the transmission was received. Unfortunately, there was no way for Dave to call Lee to notify him of this, so Dave just had to wait for Lee to call him back. We waited in the helicopter, since it was blowing nearly 20 kts, for the next transmission to send in 10 minutes. Lee called Dave back and explained that it had worked correctly! Eureka!
Then we flew to Lorne AWS. The problem at Lorne AWS started after November 23rd when the new pressure sensor was installed. Once the pressure was working correctly then the wind and relative humidity values were incorrect. We went back to Lorne AWS that afternoon to check if it was an issue with the wiring or the sensors. After about an hour and a half of troubleshooting, we couldn’t conclude anything and we decided to leave.
We asked to be on the helicopter schedule again the next day to go back to Lorne AWS in order to bring a new wind sensor to make sure that the sensors hadn’t suddenly failed. We got to take the New Zealand helicopter which was a little bit different and fun! This time Dave was able to come and troubleshoot as well. After a few tests with the new and old aerovane, it was decided that the sensors weren’t the problem. Then it must be something with the datalogger or the program that the datalogger is running. We doubled checked the program and the code was incorrect for the type of wind and RH sensor at the site. Once the values were changed, all the sensors were reporting correctly again! Eureka again!
The New Zealand Helo and Lorne AWS
Once Linda AWS and Lorne AWS were all done, we only needed to take a Twin Otter plane to Gill AWS in the middle of the Ross Ice Shelf. Due to weather, scheduling, and priority issues, this site wasn’t able to be visited this season. Luckily, this site is running fine. It’s just that we haven’t been to it in nearly 6 years. We can hopefully get there in 2017!
With that, we’ll all be leaving McMurdo on Thursday, December 15th if all goes to plan. Thanks for following the adventure this season and Happy Holidays!
After the trip to Windless Bight AWS, we were able to setup a new power system to install at Willie Field AWS. After a few days of Twin Otter cancellations, we decided to drive back out to Willie Field AWS and Pegasus North AWS on Thursday, December 1st. Lee dropped Dave and I off at Willie Field AWS while he drove out to Pegasus North AWS. Dave and I pushed/pulled a sled full of our tools and the 250 lbs power system about 50 feet from the truck to the site. Then we cut the cables to the old power system that we couldn’t recover the week before and installed the new power system. In the meantime, Lee quickly changed the port for the freewave modem, and it was working correctly again.
Willie Field AWS with new power system
On Saturday, December 3rd, we flew with the riggers (Andrew, Emily, and Jon) to Alexander Tall Tower AWS, which is a 100-foot tower with 6 levels of instrumentation. The flight from McMurdo to Tall Tower takes about 45 minutes, so it’s a nice and short flight! Upon arrival, Lee, Dave, and I started to dig out the power system box, the solar panel tower, and the power cable to the tower. Since this power system box has 6 batteries it weighs about 450 lbs., thus we have to remove the batteries before we can lift it to the surface. Then we put all the batteries back in the box. For the solar panel tower, we also have to remove the deadman at the bottom of the guy wires…which is a lot of effort haha!
The boys trying to recover the deadman for the solar panel tower….. I swear I helped!! I was just taking a break 🙂
All of this digging and lifting took about 2-3 hours. At the same time, Andrew and Emily were working to raise the instrument booms back to their original heights from 2011.
Andrew and Emily raising one of the booms to about 50 feet
Then Jon and Andrew climbed up to the very top and installed a new GPS sensor. At the same time, Dave and I were practicing our karate kicks to stay warm (if only I had a picture). It must have been incredibly cold and windy 100 feet up at the top of the tower!
Jon with the GPS sensor disk at the top of the tower
Lastly, Emily helped us raise the lower instrument booms that we not at deathly, windy heights. Lee got all ~20 cables plugged in, and we were all set to leave! It ended up being nearly 7 hours on the ground and a very long day, but it was great to get all this work done! The riggers did an incredible job helping us!
The finished Alexander Tall Tower AWS!
Monday and Tuesday have been full of more cancellations due to higher priority missions and some more unpleasant weather. We have about one more week in McMurdo!
On Monday, 28 November 2016, Lee, Carol and I took a snowmobile adventure out to Windless Bight AWS to replace the power system and raise the instrumentation. We were on the Twin Otter schedule to fly to Gill AWS (as we have been for a while now) but our flight was cancelled. Since we didn’t have any other flights scheduled, and the weather was gorgeous, our day was open for us to do our field work at Windless Bight (WDB).
About a week ago, we staged a couple sleds and some equipment (tower sections, new power system, survival bags) so that it was ready whenever we decided to go to WDB. On Monday, once we reserved three snowmobiles for the day, we loaded up a truck with the rest of our gear to take out to the sleds. After fixing up the sleds, we got our snowmobiles and hooked the sleds up to them.
One of the sled-wielding snowmobiles
With snowmobiles full of gas and spirits full of gumption, we took off for WDB. It was about a 45-minute ride out to the sight, and it was a very pleasant ride given the clear skies and low winds.
WDB when we arrived
The lower temperature sensor was half-buried in snow, the base of the enclosure was just above the snow surface, and the power system was about 5-6 feet buried. We weren’t sure whether we would need to add another tower section, but given the current height of the station, we can wait one more year before adding another section and just raise the instrumentation this year.
We began digging down to the power system and thereby freeing the instrument cables as well. This allowed us to keep digging for the power system and, at the same time, removing the instrumentation and enclosure from the tower. After many shovels-full of snow, we found the power system and pulled it up to snow surface.
“It’s the pits that we had to dig so much.” –Lee
With the old, 2-battery power system removed, we began reinstalling the instrumentation higher up on the tower. As Lee was checking the aerovane, he noticed that the propeller wasn’t moving at all! “Windless Bight” lived up to its name that day, as the propeller proved that there was literally no wind at times!
We re-filled the pit we had dug with snow, on top of which we put the new, 3-battery power system. The reason we swapped power systems is that we have noticed issues with our AWS using Freewave transmissions and the 2-battery power systems not handling the load as well as we would like. It is hoped that 3 batteries will help alleviate these power issues.
WDB after our work was done
After completing the work, we had a bite to eat then loaded our gear back on the sleds to make the journey back to McMurdo. It didn’t end up being as a long of a day as we were expecting, because we didn’t install a new tower section, so that was a bonus. It also felt very good to successfully take advantage of the opportunity to visit WDB and get this work done!
The beginning of the week of November 21st brought an intense storm to McMurdo. Nearly all flying was cancelled due to low visibility and blowing snow, thus we weren’t able to do much work. Storms similar to these can create a backlog of flights on the schedule . Luckily, we were still able to get out to a few places later in the week. This week was special because we would be celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday, and we would get our first 2-day weekend in a few weeks!
On Wednesday, November 23rd we took a truck out to our site near the Williams Field skiway. We call the AWS Willie Field although it’s really off the Pegasus runway road…details. We had been cancelled on the Otter and we weren’t scheduled for the helicopter, so it was it was a good afternoon to drive out there. We needed to go to Willie Field AWS to try and recover the batteries and check if the instrumentation needed to be raised. The tower was plenty tall, so we didn’t need to add a tower section or raise the instrumentation. We dug down to try and recover the batteries, but we started to hit too many ice layers at about 4 feet that we decided we couldn’t recover them. We’ll be bringing a new 3-battery power system once we have a battery box available from another site.
Willie Field AWS in the background with Ford F-350 Truck 119
Once we got back from the airfield, we got a call from helo ops that we could try and take a night flight out to Lorne AWS. Lee and Dave took the chance on a flight and left at about 8pm. Lorne AWS needed a new solar panel with better wiring and a new pressure sensor. Both were installed successfully and they got back to McMurdo at about 10:45pm.
Then it was Saturday, and it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving! I ran the Turkey Trot in the morning. It was a race around McMurdo on the volcanic rock (no ice). The race was filled with all kind of runners wearing all kind of clothing. It was actually my first Turkey Trot I’ve ever raced!
Carol in the middle with the American hat
Then that evening the 3 of us got Thanksgiving dinner at 7pm. The kitchen serves dinner at 3, 5, and 7pm in order to makes sure all 900 people can get dinner on Thanksgiving. Those working the meals work 12+ hours days in order to prepare/serve all the delicious food. During the meal we applaud and thank the chefs for a wonderful meal!
Thanksgiving in the Galley
We’re still on schedule with our work, and we’ve only got a few sites left!
Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!
Hey all, Dave here! I arrived on the ice on Tuesday, 15 November. As Carol mentioned, I arrived just late enough to miss out on flying to Laurie II and Emma. Oh well, I’m glad that Lee and Carol were able to get those sites finished!
Before I go any further on about my first week on the ice, I should mention that while I was in Christchurch, New Zealand en route to Antarctica, I experienced my first earthquake. It happened overnight, and I was woken up by my bed shaking. I was confused at first, but after about a minute of this I realized that it was probably an earthquake. I looked up earthquakes in the area and lo and behold, there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit just north of Christchurch. Luckily, the epicenter was in a relatively rural area of New Zealand. There wasn’t much damage to be heard of in Christchurch itself, but there was some damage in small towns like Kaikoura, as well as to highway roads and rails. I feel fortunate that the damage wasn’t worse in Christchurch.
Ok back to the ice. Once I arrived in McMurdo, I hit the ground running with completing my trainings (field safety, vehicle training, outdoor safety, etc) so I could get out into the field ASAP.
The C-17 and I
This past Saturday, 19 November, Lee, Carol and I flew out to Schwerdtfeger AWS. Second time’s a charm! As Carol mentioned, we were prepared with multiple years’ worth of coordinates, as well as a good estimate of where we thought Schwerdtfeger was currently positioned given the ice movement and rate of change of the coordinates over the years.
One small battle we had to win before departing was the poor weather in McMurdo. Visibility wasn’t great in the morning at the airfield, and the Twin Otter had issues with icing on the aircraft. The three of us got out to the airfield around noon but had to wait for the flight crew (and the sun) to clear off the ice so it was safe to fly. At 1:45 pm we took off in search of Schwerdtfeger. It took about 50 minutes to get to Schwerdtfeger, and after approximately a half hour of flying in a calculated pattern over the area where we thought Schwerdtfeger to be located, the pilots spotted it!
Schwerdtfeger AWS upon arrival
Our goal for this visit was to raise the AWS and dig out the power system to get that up to the snow surface again. Given our relatively late departure and the limits of the pilots’ duty day (the amount of time they can be working in one day) becoming a factor, we had to get to work right away.
In contrast to the poor weather in McMurdo, it was gorgeous at the site. Low winds and clear skies made the 0 F (-18 C) temperatures bearable. I took pictures, Lee began checking the datalogger and data card, and Carol setup the UNAVCO GPS unit. Then we got to work clearing out snow to access the cables and digging down to retrieve the power system. After freeing the cables from both the snow and the enclosure, we measured the heights of the instruments and then began removing them. During this time, the pilots and Lee helped to get the power system up to the snow surface.
With all of the instruments removed from the tower, Lee and I installed the new tower section (which went on as easily as a favorite pair of gloves!). The three of us then took turns installing the instrumentation back on the tower, and as fast as you could say Schwerdtfeger, we had completed the raise! We verified Argos transmission and headed back to McMurdo.
Schwerdtfeger AWS after the raise
When we returned to McMurdo, the poor weather had given way to clear skies. It was a pleasant way to end my first site visit of this field season.
On Tuesday, November 18th we took a helicopter out to Laurie II AWS. Lee and I were originally scheduled to take the small A-Star helicopter, but then we realized we needed to take a 180 lbs power system that wasn’t going to fit very well on the A-Star. We got switched to the larger Bell 212 helicopter so the large, heavy box would fit better. Another 4 workers from town got to come along as well since there was plenty of room. Once we landed, we dug down a couple feet to disconnect the old power cable. Then Lee removed the junction box and solar panel. We made about a one-foot pit to put the new power system in, and Lee installed the new solar panel. Then all the cables were plugged in, wrapped, and taped onto the tower. We received a transmission that it was working, and then we packed up the helicopter and flew back to McMurdo.
Laurie II AWS with new power system
When we came back, Dave Mikolajczyk had just arrived in town! He will tell you more about this in the next blog post!
On Wednesday, November 19th we took a Twin Otter out to Emma AWS. Unfortunately, Dave wasn’t able to come because he had to do some training in McMurdo. Emma AWS is located on the far southern Ross Ice Shelf, so it’s a long plane ride out there. On the way to the site we have to stop at a fuel cache call S+200. All passengers have to get out the plane while the pilots re-fuel. This took about 40 minutes, and then we were off heading further south!
The pilots (Phil and Kelsey) re-fueling the plane
It took about 4.5 hours total to get to Emma AWS. This area of the Ross Ice Shelf is always windy due to its proximity to Transantarctic Mountain range, so it was no surprise that it was about 20 kts the whole time we were out there. We quickly dug down about 2 feet to recover the older power system. Then we installed the new power system and got all the cables plugged in, wrapped, and taped to the tower. We received a transmission that it was working. Then Lee climbed up the tower to measure the heights of the sensors. On the way up, he noticed that a lot of the bolts were loose on the tower due to the vibrations from the high winds. All of the bolts were tightened before leaving. Luckily, we were done in about an hour.
Dave will take it from here to write about the rest of the week!
On Tuesday, November 8th we took a helicopter out to Cape Bird. Since Cape Bird is an exciting place and we were a light load on the helicopter, the hairdresser at McMurdo, Alicia, was invited to come with us as well. We landed at Cape Bird and 3 New Zealanders (Kiwis) told us we landed too close to the penguins. This always seems to happen…. The Kiwis at Cape Bird are studying penguins, so they are extra protective of that area. Once we landed we hiked up the steps with our gear and replaced the aerovane in about 30 minutes. We successfully saw the wind was reporting correctly on the keypad, and then we were free to head back down the hill and take some photos of the penguins. Unfortunately, we had to wait about 2 hours for the helicopter to pick us up. It only got windy about the last 30 minutes, and I got to ask Alicia a lot of questions about hair, so it all worked out fine! The helicopter picked us about 200 feet further from the penguins so the Kiwis wouldn’t be upset.
Cape Bird AWS with a new aerovane
On Wednesday, November 9th after 5 hours of being on a weather delay for high winds, we eventually got out to White Island and Minna Bluff. We first flew to White Island and all we needed to do there was a quick inspection. Everything looked correct! Then we flew to Minna Bluff to replace the high wind speed sensor. We switched out the sensor in about 15 minutes and checked to see if it was transmitting correctly. We successfully saw the wind speed was reporting correctly on the keypad, and then we headed back to McMurdo. For the record, I’m glad we waited for the wind to calm down because the skies were clear with temperatures in the 20’s and low wind; a good day in Antarctica!
White Island AWS
Minna Bluff AWS with a new high wind speed sensor
The helicopter looking majestic on Minna Bluff
Thursday and Friday we were cancelled to go on the Twin Otter because of weather. I used that time to try and catch up on a lot of lose ends with our data transfer processing. I’m also in the process of trying to get a weather display running in Crary Lab. It’s still not working 100% yet but we’re getting closer.
On Friday night we got to see John Kerry talk in the Galley. He spoke about the beauty of Antarctica, and how much he appreciates the work that we’re doing in Antarctica. He emphasized the need to continue fighting to protect our climate. Overall, it was a very fun experience!
Secretary of State, John Kerry
Dave Mikolajczyk is currently in Christchurch, NZ, and he should be joining the team early this week!
On Friday, November 4th Lee and I had our flight activated to Schwerdtfeger AWS. On the flight to Schwerdtfeger we could not find the tower. After an hour of flying around the coordinates, we gave up and flew back to McMurdo. It turns out we were using coordinates from 2003, and I thought they were from 2013. I’ve now prepared a lot, and we’ll be bringing all the historical coordinates with us. I’ve also calculated the amount of movement and direction on the ice shelf so we have better idea of where to search. We will hopefully be trying to go back out soon.
On Saturday, November 5th Lee and I had our first flight on a helicopter out to Marble Point. We have an old style and a new style AWS at Marble Point. The older style AWS has been running for over 30 years and the newer style has been running for only a couple of years. We did a basic inspection of all the components and it all looked to be functioning properly. On the flight back from Marble Point, our helicopter pilot gave us a tour of the 5 mile long iceberg 🙂
5 mile long iceberg
On Monday, November 7th we had gotten cancelled on both the Twin Otter flight and the helicopter flight. Thus, we decided to make a trip to our AWS at Pegasus Airfield. The temperature sensor at Pegasus North AWS has been reporting incorrectly for over a year now and we planned to remove it to bring it back in the lab for testing. We took the hour long drive out to the site in the classy Ford F-350 pickup truck over the sea ice. We successfully removed the electronics and the sensors and brought them back to the lab. The C-17 had actually landed on the runway about 30 minutes before we got there, so that was fun to see! We saw them unload a helicopter from the plane.
Pegasus North AWS
C-17 parked on Pegasus runway
We’re on the schedule for lots of flights over the next week, so we’ll how much more we can get done.
In other news, John Kerry is planning to arrive in McMurdo on Friday, November 10th.