On the Ice

Back to Linda AWS, and WAIS departure update

Earlier this week, on Monday 23 November, Mark and I took a helo “night flight” to Linda AWS to finish up the work we couldn’t get done during our first visit there 9 days prior. The helo schedule has been fairly busy as of late, so the best time that they could squeeze our flight in was at 7:30 pm that Monday night. Normally our helo flights don’t go much past 5 pm.

The night flights are much more relaxed than flying during the day. There are fewer flights to be done and fewer helo personnel. Mark and I took an A-Star (smaller of the two helos) and flew to Linda AWS to check the pressure sensor, swap it if need be, install the new power system, and raise the enclosure on the tower.

When we arrived, we noticed that the hole that we made when we tried removing the power system in our first visit was completely filled in. Those strong winds created enough blowing snow to fill the hole, as if we have never tried. Luckily, the weather was much more pleasant this go-around. Temperatures were around 15F and winds didn’t get much above 10 mph. It’s so much easier to do field work when it isn’t windy!

Linda AWS when we arrived. The old battery box is buried to the right of the station; the new one is visible.

Linda AWS when we arrived. The old power system is buried to the right of the station; the new one is visible.

Our first order of business was to check the Paroscientific pressure sensor because it was not reporting any values. We checked connections and did some diagnostics but could not correct the issue. We had to swap out the existing one for a Vaisala pressure sensor. We were able to get measurements to transmit with the Vaisala, so we plan to do some troubleshooting back in Madison with the seemingly faulty Paroscientific pressure sensor.

We dug out the existing power system, with the help of the helo pilot and connected the new one. Lastly we raised the enclosure, which involved reorganizing the long cables extending from the sensors on the tower. This, admittedly, took a little longer than expected. In the end, we finished our work at Linda and can check this AWS off the list for this field season.

Linda AWS when our work was completed.

Linda AWS when our work was completed.

In other news, Mark and I are on the schedule to go to WAIS tomorrow, Thursday 26 November (Thanksgiving). This departure date has changed many times, as weather and scheduling dictates. As I’m writing this, just a couple hours ago we thought we were going to depart on Friday, but we got an update saying the plan is to leave tomorrow.

We plan to be at WAIS until approximately December 10. While there, our internet availability will be limited to email, at best. As such, I will not be able to update you all with our work, real-time. I will be writing up equivalents to blog posts while we’re out there, so when we get back to McMurdo I can post those and you all can catch up on our adventures.

Cheers for now!

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Downtime in McMurdo

This past week has been a quiet one for Mark and I. But when it’s quiet for us, that usually means it’s hectic elsewhere.

There has been a storm parked over West Antarctica for the past several days now. A weather observer who will be going to West Antarctic Ice Sheet camp (WAIS) has been in correspondence with the folks who are already at the camp, and he says WAIS has been experiencing Condition 1 weather for the past 2 to 3 days! Here’s a recap of the 3 different “conditions” that the United States Antarctic Program classifies in Antarctica:

Severe Weather Condition I

  • Winds greater than 55 knots sustained for one minute, or
  • Visibility less than 100 feet sustained for one minute, or
  • Wind chill greater than -100°F sustained for one minute.

Severe Weather Condition II

  • Winds 48 to 55 knots sustained for one minute, or
  • Visibility less than ¼ mile, but greater than or equal to 100 feet sustained for one minute, or
  • Wind chill -75°F to -100°F sustained for one minute.

Weather Condition III

  • Winds less than 48 knots, and
  • Visibility greater than or equal to ¼ mile, and
  • Wind chill temperature warmer than -75°F.

These categories are used primarily for work and travel purposes. If the weather is too harsh, it can be potentially deadly for someone to drive a truck out to the airfield. They are also an easy way to describe how harsh conditions have become. Also, one thing I find amusing is how extreme the weather needs to be just to go from Condition 3 (good weather) to Condition 2.

Antarctic infrared satellite composite image at 03 UTC on 19 November, created by the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center. Note all the clouds streaming over West Antarctica.

Antarctic infrared satellite composite image at 03 UTC on 19 November, created by the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center. Note all the clouds streaming over West Antarctica.

While weather was terrible at WAIS, it was also poor over the Ross Ice Shelf. Very windy conditions over the shelf and in McMurdo led to many flight cancellations, and the town was almost at a stand-still for a couple of days this past week; science groups like ours who were hoping to get either helicopter or Twin Otter flights were cancelled, and flights to and from Christchurch were cancelled.

Although staying in town may not be glamorous, it can be very helpful for our field work. It gives us time to reorganize tools and equipment and prepare cargo for future visits. One of our station visits to Harry AWS, from WAIS will involve swapping out the existing electronics and instruments with new ones. During this downtime, Mark and I were able to gather the new instruments and test them to make sure they were working properly. Now we can get them into the cargo system to be shipped to WAIS. We are now preparing for flights for next week by talking with the helo and Otter coordinators and letting them know what sites we would be able to visit so they can consider those when they make the daily schedules.

Given the bad weather at WAIS, it has delayed our group’s deployment out to the field camp. The Condition 1 weather has set the camp staff back a day or two, as they will now need to dig out from all of the accumulating and blowing snow they’ve received the past few days. They also need to re-prepare the airfield at the camp so planes can land there safely. Mark and I have received word that we will hopefully be going to WAIS before the Thanksgiving holiday (which is 28-29 November here, rather than actual Thanksgiving on the 26th), so we will just have to wait and see. In the meantime, we are trying to do as much work out of McMurdo as we can.

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Ground blizzard!

Mark and I escaped a close one a couple days ago. On Saturday, 14 November, we flew helo to Linda AWS, a site about 40 miles southeast of McMurdo. We planned to install a new power system, raise the station, and investigate some issues with the pressure sensor. Hardly anything went according to the plan that day.

We arrived at the AWS at about 9:30 am. We unloaded all of our cargo from the helo, then spent the next 20 minutes verifying that we could get communications through to both McMurdo and the helicopter. Each of us bring a VHF radio that we can use to call in to McMurdo (specifically “MacOps” or McMurdo Operations) to let them know we’ve landed, as well as request for any assistance, including letting them know that we want to be picked up. We also use the radio to communicate with the helo pilots who would come pick us up. We have one satellite phone as a backup to the radios. It works just like a regular phone, such that we can call pretty much anyone. We couldn’t get a direct connection to MacOps through the radios, so we had to test going through some repeaters. That didn’t work, so we used the phone to call in. Then we tried the radios again and were finally able to speak with MacOps. I’m glad we took the time to make sure the communications worked properly.

The weather when we landed wasn’t ideal. Temperatures were OK at around 8 F, but winds were at 21 mph and only increased throughout our visit.

Linda AWS when we arrived. You can sort of tell how windy it is by looking at the blowing snow at the surface.

Linda AWS when we arrived. You can sort of tell how windy it is by looking at the blowing snow at the surface.

Given the current height of the station, we decided not to raise it with another tower section. We decided to save the power system to install for last and work on the solar panel and the pressure sensor. The solar panel had come loose from its mount, so Mark climbed up and refastened it. The pressure hasn’t been transmitting, so I looked at the sensor to see if I could find any issues with it. I couldn’t, so I left it be, for further investigation.

Once we had finished these tasks, we noticed that the winds had increased, along with the blowing snow. Land features like White Island and Minna Bluff, which were clearly visible when we landed, were getting harder and harder to see. It was at this point (around 11:00 am) that we decided to call MacOps to request to be picked up.

Mark snapped a picture of me radio-ing in to McMurdo. Note how the blowing snow has increased.

Mark snapped a picture of me radio-ing in to MacOps.

MacOps said a helo wouldn’t be coming to pick us up for another hour or so. In the mean time, we tried to dig out the existing power system. With the wind and blowing snow, that proved to be difficult, so we didn’t fully dig it out.

We built a wind wall with our equipment to block the wind; the power system that we didn’t install came in handy here, as it is a big, bulky box. Eventually we were both sitting there, listening to the winds howl, watching the blowing snow accumulate on our pants and jackets, and waiting for the approaching helo pilot to radio to us, telling us he was close. The horizon was impossible to see, but overhead we could see blue sky. This was encouraging, as it meant the helo pilot could most likely see us and be able to land. If it was an overcast day, the helo may not have been able to land (due to poor surface definition) and we would have had to wait until the weather cleared, perhaps meaning we would need to camp overnight. Our chances of being picked up were also higher because the same pilot that dropped us off was picking us up; he had the exact coordinates of our location and knew what to look for.

Me hiding behind our wind wall. The winds were blowing at a sustained 30 mph!

Me hiding behind our wind wall. The winds were blowing at a sustained 30 mph!

After about an hour and 15 minutes of waiting, we finally were contacted by the helo pilot that he was 5 minutes out. What a great feeling that was to hear his voice! When he landed, he kept the blades spinning (a “hot landing”) so we packed up our gear and got out of there as soon as possible.

Linda AWS after our visit, taken from the helicopter. This is looking into the wind, giving a good idea of how the horizon definition decreased dramatically.

Linda AWS after our visit, taken from the helicopter. This is looking into the wind, giving a good idea of how the horizon definition decreased dramatically. (The black box at the base on the right is the new power system, which we did not install, but rather just left at the site.)

Here are the observations recorded from Linda AWS during our visit. The time of 203000 UTC corresponds to 9:30 am McMurdo time.

STATION   JULDATE   TIME  T(C)  P(MB) SPD(M/S) DIR(DEG) RH(%)
Linda    2015317  203000  -12.6	  NaN	9.7    206 	58
Linda    2015317  204000  -12.7	  NaN	11.1   199 	60
Linda    2015317  205000  -13.1	  NaN	11.4   209 	66
Linda    2015317  210000  -13.4	  NaN	10.7   212 	67
Linda    2015317  211000  -14.5	  NaN	11.0   206 	72
Linda    2015317  212000  -15.4	  NaN	12.3   201 	73
Linda    2015317  221000  -17.0	  NaN	11.5   202 	74
Linda    2015317  222000  -17.2	  NaN	12.9   203 	74
Linda    2015317  223000  -17.6	  NaN	13.6   196 	73
Linda    2015317  224000  -17.8	  NaN	14.0   195 	74
Linda    2015317  225000  -17.9	  NaN	14.3   193 	75
Linda    2015317  230000  -17.9	  NaN	14.3   190 	75
Linda    2015317  231000  -17.8	  NaN	13.8   188 	76
Linda    2015317  232000  -17.7	  NaN	14.9   186 	75
Linda    2015317  233000  -17.6	  NaN	14.0   185 	76

It’s a visit like this that reaffirms my appreciation for the effectiveness of MacOps and Helo Operations. That Saturday may not seem like a huge deal to them (probably because everything on their end went relatively smoothly, overall) but their actions allowed me to sleep in a warm bed that night, and for that, I am very grateful.

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5 AWS visits

Mark and I have hit a pretty good string of flying since I last updated you all. Since White Island AWS, we have flown to 5 other AWS: Cape Hallet (for the second time), Emilia, Vito, Ferrell and Margaret. Some of these AWS need to be visited again, however, so not all of the work is done yet. In this post I’ll give a brief summary of each visit.

On Friday, 6 November, we flew with 3 boondogglers to Cape Hallett AWS. (For those who don’t know, boondogglers are people who come along on our flights to either help us do some work or just to enjoy the trip. Most boondogglers are those who rarely get to go out of town, so any flight for them is a treat. These boondogglers got spoiled because they got to go to such a beautiful place!) As I mentioned in a previous post, we needed to go back to Cape Hallett to update the program that was loaded on the data logger. In our testing in the lab, we also used a new, improved modem, so we installed that one at Cape Hallett. Everything is running properly now!

Aerial view of Cape Hallett. This time the pilots took a slightly different route than the first. Our AWS is on the flat piece of black land on the left and near the ice edge. Most of the penguins are on the light brown land.

Aerial view of Cape Hallett. This time the pilots took a slightly different route than the first. Our AWS is on the flat piece of black land on the left and near the ice edge. Most of the penguins are on the light brown land.

Due to ice conditions, we had to land the plane a fair walk from the AWS. From left to right: Shandra, Cindy, Kelsey (pilot), Laura, and Rob (pilot).

Due to ice conditions, we had to land the plane a fair walk from the AWS. From left to right: Shandra, Cindy, Kelsey (pilot), Laura, and Rob (pilot).

The penguins of Cape Hallett. There were noticeably more penguins on this visit than our first a week and a half before.

The penguins of Cape Hallett. There were noticeably more penguins on this visit than our first a week and a half before.

Done with the work! Can't tell, right? All the changes happened on the inside.

Me and the fully-functioning Cape Hallett AWS.

The next day, 7 November, we flew to Emilia and Vito AWS via Twin Otter. These AWS are on the Ross Ice Shelf, fairly close to each other, and only about an hour from McMurdo. The trip was relatively quick. At Emilia, we swapped out aerovanes. After that we flew to Vito and power cycled it because it hadn’t been transmitting. That didn’t work, so we removed the electronics box to bring back to the lab so we could troubleshoot.

Emilia AWS with a new anemometer on top.

Emilia AWS with a new anemometer on top.

Vito AWS when we arrived.

Vito AWS when we arrived.

Vito AWS after we pulled the electronics.

Vito AWS after we pulled the electronics.

The next working day, Monday 9 November, we flew helo to Ferrell AWS. Here we raised the station by adding a new tower section and moving most of the instrumentation higher up on the tower. We did not bring a new data card to swap out from the data logger (which stores all of the data collected at the station [there isn’t enough bandwidth to transmit it all via Argos]) so we will need to swing by the AWS later in the season to do that.

Ferrell AWS before we made it taller.

Ferrell AWS before we made it taller.

There's Mark on the tower, installing the solar panel.

There’s Mark on the tower, installing the solar panel mount.

Ferrell AWS after our work there was done.

Ferrell AWS after our work there was done.

Flying to Ferrell had marked our 4th day of flying in 5 work days. It is excellent to get out in the field that often, but also tiring. We had the next two days off to rest and regroup.

Yesterday, Thursday 12 November, we flew Twin Otter to Margaret AWS. Margaret is on the opposite side of the Ross Ice Shelf from McMurdo and is about a 2 and a half hour flight. The weather is notoriously poor in that area, so we were thrilled to get the opportunity to fly.

Like Ferrell, Margaret needed to be raised. Due to the raise, we either needed to dig up the existing batteries that we buried in the snow or install a new power system. The battery cables in the existing system would not extend far enough for the raise, and we didn’t have any extensions.

We first added a new tower section, then decided to try to dig out the existing batteries. It turns out they were about 8 feet below snow surface, and there were 3 boxes to retrieve. That was way too much work than we could afford to do, in terms of time and energy. We installed the new power system, and everything worked like a charm.

Margaret AWS when we arrived.

Margaret AWS when we arrived.

Margaret AWS after we raised it and installed a new power system (black box on the bottom).

Margaret AWS after we raised it and installed a new power system (black box on the bottom).

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White Island AWS, and a Science Talk

Fourth times a charm.

Mark and I visited White Island AWS yesterday, 4 November, to do a station inspection. It was our fourth day of being on the helicopter (helo) schedule to visit the site. (For the record, helo flights are much easier to plan around compared to Twin Otter because helo flights don’t usually take up an entire day.) The first two days, we were canceled due to weather. The third day, 3 November, it was windy in McMurdo but it appeared okay at White Island. We departed McMurdo on the helo, but as we approached White Island we saw a low cloud/fog bank creeping over the tallest part of the island, Mt Heine, where our AWS is situated. The helos are unable to fly through clouds such as that, for obvious safety reasons, so we had to turn back. That cloud bank may have been the beginning of some poor weather in McMurdo, as the rest of the day was quite windy (15-20 mph, air temp around -5F, wind chills down to -30F) in town with a lot of blowing and drifting snow.

Yesterday was the fourth time we tried, and we got there. Our goal was to inspect the station to make sure instruments and cables looked fine. One point of concern for us was the state of the wind monitor. White Island experiences strong winds (even possibly the highest wind speed ever recorded at a UW AWS! More on that later….), and we don’t have a high wind speed sensor installed. We just have our standard RM Young wind monitor.

On our way to White Island, we dropped of one passenger, an electrical technician, at Black Island (the two islands are essentially right next to each other and about a 15 minute flight from McMurdo).

The manned station at Black Island. We dropped off the man in Big Red on the left.

The manned station at Black Island. We dropped off the man in Big Red on the left.

The winds were quite strong at Black Island (~50 mph) as they usually are, but our AWS at White Island was recording winds at only~10 mph.

I have never been to Black Island, and consequently never seen the area between the two islands. It looked pretty cool, especially with the blue ice.

The view on our way from Black Island to White Island. Black island is pictured in the foreground, with Mt Discovery in the background.

The view on our way from Black Island to White Island. Black island is pictured in the foreground, with Mt Discovery in the background.

A blue ice field. There is no net snow accumulation here so the ice is exposed.

A blue ice field. There is no net snow accumulation, mostly due to the high winds, so the ice is exposed.

We approached White Island and negotiated a good spot to land the helo. Once safely on the ground, Mark and I grabbed our bags and made the short hike up to the station.

The winds were fairly calm when we first arrived at the AWS, which was a little surprising considering how strong they were at Black Island. Mark and I shrugged it off and started inspecting the station. We checked the instruments to make sure nothing was broken, checked the cabling to make sure it was still secured. In particular, we looked for damage to the wind monitor at the top of the station.

White Island AWS, with Mark on the left for scale.

White Island AWS, with Mark on the left for scale.

Back in July of this year, a high wind speed affected the area surrounding White Island. For about half a day, wind speeds at White Island AWS were around 60 m/s (134 mph!). The wind speed peaked at 62.7 m/s (140.3 mph) which, if verified, would set the record for highest wind speed ever recorded at one of our AWS!

With good reason, we were curious to see the state of the wind monitor. In most cases, we would install a high wind speed system at a site that recorded such wind speeds. Since White Island AWS was only installed 4 years ago, and it’s our first AWS on this island, we weren’t sure how high the wind speeds were. We think we’re getting the idea now.

Speaking of high winds, after about 10 minutes of Mark and I checking the AWS, the winds started to pick up. There was actually a time when the wind went from calm, to a sustained wind of about 20 mph for 30 seconds, then calm again. It was very strange. After a couple minutes of calm winds, it picked up again and remained gusty. For the last 20-30 minutes of our visit, winds were measuring a sustained wind speed of around 30 mph with gusts around 40 mph. Here are the obs, recorded from White Island AWS and posted on our website, during our visit:

STATION        JULDATE   TIME   T(C)    P(MB) SPD(M/S)    DIR(DEG)
White Island    2015308  000000	-24.5	895.1	3.3	   191 		
White Island    2015308  001000	-25.8	894.5	8.7	   180 		
White Island    2015308  002000	-26.5	894.5	12.3	   191 		
White Island    2015308  004000	-26.7	894.0	12.3	   192 		
White Island    2015308  005000	-26.6	894.1	13.2	   193

The time is listed in UTC, and since NZDT is 13 hours ahead of UTC, the first observation listed corresponds to 1 pm on Julian day 308, or 4 November. We landed at 12:55 pm, so it just about matches up with our ground time. We departed at 1:45 pm. Also, one thing to note about the observations is that there is an observation missing at 003000, or 1:30 pm NZDT. This is because we had powered down the AWS to troubleshoot some issues with the data card on board the data logger.

As a fun fact, at 1:40 pm the air temperature was -16.1 F, so with a recorded wind speed of 27.5 mph the wind chill was -46.7 F! That’s almost as cold as I experienced at the South Pole last season!

After Mark and I got back into town, we changed gears a bit and did some final preparations for our presentation at the Crary Wednesday Science Lecture. Crary is the building in which our group and many other science groups work. Every Wednesday, a person or group will give a talk about their work or research they’re doing. Mark and I talked about “Telling Antarctic Meteorology Stories: From Observations to Modeling.” For the first half of the presentation, I spoke about the history of our AWS program and touched on some research that has been done with AWS data. Then Mark talked about how observations can be used to improve weather models and likewise spoke about some research using such models. It turned out very well!

Dave talking during the Crary Wednesday Science Lecture.

Dave talking during the Crary Wednesday Science Lecture.

Mark talking at the Crary Wednesday Science Lecture.

Mark talking at the Crary Wednesday Science Lecture.

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Cape Hallett AWS

Antarctica is a harsh continent.

It’s harshness comes in many forms. Some are obvious: the cold, the wind, the seclusion. Others manifest themselves through seemingly benign circumstances.

Mark and I went to Cape Hallett this past Monday, 26 October, to switch the transmissions on our AWS from Argos to Iridium. Iridium enables us to send more data real-time, making it more convenient to obtain and study the data measured by Cape Hallett’s many instruments. Before our trip, we needed to update the program on the CR1000 data logger to accommodate the Iridium modem. In McMurdo, we did this and went through hours of testing to get the modem to transmit. Finally, we got it. We felt ready to visit one of the most beautiful places in Antarctica.

View of McMurdo Station from the Twin Otter on our way to Cape Hallett. It's still a snowy scene this early in the season.

View of McMurdo Station from the Twin Otter on our way to Cape Hallett. It’s still a snowy scene this early in the season.

Even the flight to Cape Hallett is beautiful. We flew by Twin Otter and had the frozen Ross Sea to our right and the Transantarctic Mountains to our left as we headed due North from McMurdo. With us were three people from the Environmental department who were coming to pick up trash that has remained at Cape Hallett since the United States-New Zealand manned station there closed in 1973. For a couple of them, it was their first Twin Otter flight, and I think they were spoiled.

The Environmental Crew, during our stop at the Cape Reynolds fuel cache along the way.

The Environmental Crew, during our stop at the Cape Reynolds fuel cache along the way. From left to right: Ted Doerr, Anne Hellie, Nate Williams

A prominent peak in the Transantarctic Mountains, viewed from the window.

A prominent peak in the Transantarctic Mountains, viewed from the window.

The total flight time to Cape Hallett was about three hours. As we approached our landing site we began to fly among the mountains, rather than along them, as they welcomed us to our three and a half hour visit.

The plane circled once then landed on sea ice. Mark and I got our gear, including a ladder, and walked to Cape Hallett AWS on sea ice and around the penguin rookery. It was about a 25 minute walk and was quite tiring since we were carrying all of our gear. We couldn’t land closer to the AWS because the sea ice was very bumpy; it would have been very dangerous to try to land on it.

An example of the rough, bumpy ice.

An example of the rough, bumpy ice.

Once at the AWS, we got to work installing the new Iridium antenna and wiring the Iridium modem to the data logger. Though wiring in the field isn’t optimal, the work was relatively easy, and within about a half hour we had everything connected, mounted and ready for transmission. We used our Iridium satellite phone to call back to McMurdo to see if the transmissions came through, i.e. an email was sent from the modem. We got confirmation that an email was sent, so we assumed everything was all set to go. We then enjoyed some of the scenery and headed back to the Otter.

Cape Hallett AWS before we began our work. The Argos antenna is the white rod pointing vertically at the top of the AWS.

Cape Hallett AWS before we began our work. The Argos antenna is the white rod pointing vertically at the top of the AWS.

Anne Hellie took some great pictures of us as we worked. You may be abl to see penguins on the light brown section of land, and on the right side of the picture the Twin Otter tail is just visible.

Anne Hellie took some great pictures of us as we worked. You may be able to see penguins on the light brown section of land, and on the right side of the picture the Twin Otter tail is just visible.

Cape Hallett AWS after our work was completed. The Argos antenna was removed, and the Iridium antenna was mounted on the lower cross arm, on the left side.

Cape Hallett AWS after our work was completed. The Argos antenna was removed, and the Iridium antenna was mounted on the lower cross arm, on the left side.

Walking back to the Otter, we noticed some cool scenes that had great potential for good photos.

Walking back to the Otter, we noticed some cool scenes that had great potential for good photos.

CHAmtnpengvert

We saw many penguing tracks in the snow, mostly of their claws. We assume that these are tracks of their bellies as they slide on the surface.

We saw many penguin tracks in the snow, mostly of their claws. We assume that these are tracks of their bellies as they slide on the surface.

The mountain acted as a great backdrop for many pictures.

The mountain acted as a great backdrop for many pictures.

After all the pictures were taken and everything was packed back into the plane, we headed back home to McMurdo. We got back into town around 8 pm, and I checked my emails to see the transmissions that I expected to be coming from Cape Hallett AWS every 10 minutes since we installed the modem. The emails were there, but to my dismay there weren’t any data with them. The email contained a simple status check and coordinate update, but data were supposed to be in an attachment. It turns out that the program we uploaded to the data logger was trying to send too much data through the modem, so the modem didn’t send any at all.

And therein lies the harshness of Antarctica.

What was a pleasant and simple visit turned into something that was too good to be true. After all, how often does something work on the first try in the field? Granted, this issue isn’t Antarctic centric; any field work is subject to mistakes such as this. When Mark and I were testing the Iridium modem in the lab before our flight, we ran into issues with getting it to simply transmit anything. Once we solved that issue, we didn’t notice that data weren’t being transmitted. Unfortunately, it took a flight to Cape Hallett to realize that.

Ever since we returned from that visit, we’ve been working on adjusting the program, testing the modem and re-testing it to work in multiple scenarios. We have been on the Twin Otter schedule, as backup, so when we do get back to Cape Hallett, we are confident that we can get the transmissions to work. We have two new modems that we’ve been testing and three new programs that we’ve proven can transmit data.

Now we’re waiting on our chance to get back out there.

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We are back in McMurdo!

It’s that time of year again! The AWS Program has returned to McMurdo to continue maintaining our gold-standard network of surface meteorological observations!

This year, our work will be split between two teams of two field members each. The first field team consists of myself and Mark Seefeldt. Mark is an Arctic and Antarctic research scientist out of the University of Colorado-Boulder, and he has had ties to Antarctic field work for many years. Like me, this trip is Mark’s fourth to the ice. Unlike me, Mark has done his deployments over the span of 22 years, his last deployment being 11 years ago. I’ve done 4 in 4 years. We will be doing work out of McMurdo until around 21 November, when we will head out to West Antarctic Ice Sheet field camp (WAIS). We are scheduled to leave the ice on December 14.

Lee and Carol will then arrive on the ice in late December, around the 30th, and stay through mid-February. Their field season should be a mirror image of ours, in a way. They will fly out to WAIS as soon as they can after they’ve arrived, then head back to McMurdo around 23 January to finish up the remainder of the field work.

The two big highlights of this year’s plans will be visiting Cape Hallett, to switch the AWS from Argos to Iridium transmissions, and doing field work out of WAIS. We have been attempting to install a couple new stations and visit many more out of WAIS for the past couple years but haven’t had the best luck. Here’s to this year being a good one!

Mark and I arrived on the ice on 21 October, and it’s only been 4 days so far but it feels like so much longer! We’ve completed the annual training (field safety, environmental awareness, fire safety, waste management, etc) and had many meetings to get things going for the season (science in-briefs, meeting with flight coordinators, etc). On top of that, we were asked to be ready to fly to Cape Hallett on Monday, 26 October, meaning we needed to get everything ready for that as well. This involved troubleshooting some issues with the Iridium modem we are going to install. I feel bad for posting this “introductory” post so late, but hopefully I can make it up to you with a photo journal of the trip thus far!

I had an 11-hour layover in Sydney on my way down to the ice, so I spent some time in downtown Sydney and saw the Opera House.

I had an 11-hour layover in Sydney on my way down to the ice, so I spent some time in downtown Sydney and saw the Opera House.

We were up bright and early in Christchurch to go through the passenger terminal and board the C-17.

We were up bright and early in Christchurch to go through the passenger terminal and board the C-17.

Our flight consisted of 76 people on board... Can you find the helicopter?

Our flight consisted of 76 people on board… Can you find the helicopter?

The C-17 has landed!

The C-17 has landed!

Mark and I were lucky enough to come down so early in the season that there were still a few sunsets in McMurdo! The sun rose early in the morning of 24 October and won't set again until 21 February!

Mark and I were lucky enough to come down so early in the season that there were still a few sunsets in McMurdo! The sun rose early in the morning of 24 October and won’t set again until 21 February!

Morning sunlight highlights a fresh snow cover on Observation Hill.

Morning sunlight highlights a fresh snow cover on Observation Hill.

The ground at McMurdo, or cookies and cream? We may never know....

The ground at McMurdo, or cookies and cream? We may never know….

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End of AWS Field Season 2014-2015

Hi Everyone!

Sorry to leave you all hanging for the past month! We left the continent 3 February, then took some time off and got back to the office about 2 weeks ago, but I figured I should finish explaining the end of the season. I left off on 23 January when we went to Cape Bird AWS, so I will basically be explaining our last week on the ice.

In this last week we had plans to take Twin Otter flights to both Siple Dome AWS and Vito AWS, helo flights to Ferrell AWS and both of the Marble Point AWS, and then drive out to the airfields for Willie Field AWS and Pegasus North AWS. We knew this was a lot of work to finish up in the end, but if weather and scheduling was on our side we would be able to get it all done before we left.

Tuesday 27 January we had our first chance to fly, and we had actually been scheduled for both a Twin Otter flight to Siple Dome and helo flights to Ferrell AWS and Marble Point AWS. We took this opportunity to divide and conquer, so Lee and Elin headed to Siple Dome for the day and Dave and I went on the helo flight later that afternoon. At Siple Dome AWS, Lee was able to verify that the pressure sensor was working properly and complete a general check of the station.

Dave and I headed out on the A-Star helo in the afternoon. This was easily my favorite helo ride of season because I got to sit in the front with the huge windows! Before we got to Marble Point, the pilot had us stop on the sea ice to check for something that had fallen. Dave got out of the helo and tried to get the black material off the ice. It turns out it was a snowmobile cover, and he couldn’t get it out because the straps were too frozen in the ice to pull it out.

Dave trying to get the snowmobile cover off the sea ice near McMurdo

Dave trying to get the snowmobile cover off the sea ice near McMurdo

Then we landed at Marble Point and did some quick station inspections at both Marble Point AWS and Marble Point II AWS while our pilot went to the fuel cache. The original Marble Point AWS, which was installed in 1980, is still looking great! Marble Point II AWS might need to have it’s guy-wires tightened next year, but otherwise also looks great.

Marble Point AWS

Marble Point AWS

Marble Point II AWS

Marble Point II AWS

Then the helo pilot came back to pick us up and delivered some of the best cookies I have ever eaten! Yes, these cookies came from the fuel cache at Marble Point where a husband and wife live all season. Then we flew to Ferrell AWS and along the way we saw icebergs, Adelie penguins, Emperor penguins, and whales. It was definitely the best part of the trip!

We stopped on the sea ice to get a good look at 3 Emperor penguins

We stopped on the sea ice to get a good look at 3 Emperor penguins

Then we made it to Ferrell AWS. As you all might recall, we already visited Ferrell about a month previously. After the first visit, Ferrell was still not transmitting well via Freewave, so it was decided that we were going to switch back to Argos transmission. Dave and I had to change out the freewave antenna for an Argos antenna, and then change the program on the CR1000. I worked on changing the antennas and Dave worked on the laptop to install the new program. We realized pretty quickly this was going to be tough because we were experiencing constant 20 knot winds, and Dave was having trouble connecting to the CR1000. After some help from Dave, I finished changing out the antennas and then we still weren’t able to connect to the CR1000. After about 2 hours in the 20 knot winds, we figured it was time to give up and there was nothing else we could try. It’s never a good feeling leaving a site knowing that it’s not transmitting.

Carol on the tower and Dave to the left at Ferrell AWS

Carol on the tower and Dave to the left at Ferrell AWS

Luckily for us, we asked to get put on the night schedule for helo, and Lee and Elin headed back the next evening. Lee was able to install the new program and it’s now working much better transmitting via Argos.

On 29 January we had 3 work days left and we needed to still try and get out to Vito AWS, Willie Field AWS, and Pegasus North AWS. Luckily, that morning we were put on the Twin Otter schedule to visit Vito AWS. Technically, this was the third time that we went to Vito AWS this season. First, Lee and Drew did a raise and system replacement 28 November and then a couple days later they needed to put on a new Argos plug, but then in mid Decemeber the station unexpectedly stopped transmitting. This trip we needed to do a system reboot to try and get it transmitting again. Fortunately, this worked and it was a quick trip which ended with an unbelievable flight back to McMurdo!

Landing at Vito AWS

Landing at Vito AWS

30 January we reserved a pickup truck and drove out to both Willie Field AWS and Pegasus North AWS. Dave and Lee dropped off Elin and I at Willie Field AWS while they drove out to Pegasus North AWS, which is quite far. This left Elin and I with about hour to start taking off the instruments so we could add a tower section to do a raise. Elin and I tried our best to add the tower section ourselves, but we couldn’t get it all the way on. Dave and Lee did a quick station inspection at Pegasus North and decided they didn’t need to do any further work there. Then they came back and they tried to fit the tower section on, and after about 30 minutes we figured we were going to need to come back tomorrow. We needed to drill new holes into the tower section to secure bolts in the new tower section. Then we finished putting all instruments back on and drove back to McMurdo.

The pickup truck parked on the ice shelf near the Willie Field airfield

The pickup truck parked on the ice shelf near the Willie Field airfield

31 January we drove back to Willie Field with a fancy drill we borrowed from UNAVCO. Dave did the drilling and we were able to get the new tower section secured! Whew!

Dave drilling new holes for the tower section at Willie Field AWS

Dave drilling new holes for the tower section at Willie Field AWS

We finished the work at Willie Feild AWS early in the morning. Then we had a couple of outbrief meetings and we cleared out our lab space in the afternoon. Once we were finished with all of that, we had finally completed the field season with our final week of 9 station visits in 5 days!

On Sunday we had the pleasure of going to dinner at the New Zealand base, Scott Base, to meet with one of our collaborators Adrian McDonald. He is the PI of the SNOW WEB project which deploys AWS that you can set up very quickly and they are only deployed during the summer season. He had just come back to Antarctica to recover his 20 stations before the start of winter. Scott Base has delicious food since it’s much smaller than McMurdo.

We were scheduled to leave the ice on an Airbus, a commercial aircraft, the morning of Monday 2 February. We learned early Monday morning that our flight was going to be 12 hours delayed and then we did end up leaving at about midnight that night. We got to New Zealand at about 6am on Tuesday, and then the four of us went on a roadtrip to Queenstown and headed back to the US at the end of the week.

Loading the Airbus

Loading the Airbus

This season we visited 80% of the sites we had planned to visit, which makes for a very successful season! We weren’t able to complete the new installations in West Antarctica, but we will try again next season.

Here’s a video I made about Windless Bight, Cape Bird, Marble Point, and Ferrell visits

Thanks for following along this season! This was my first time in Antarctica and it was an unforgettable experience! We will be back again next season with more blog posts!

Carol

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Windless Bight and Cape Bird AWS

Hey Everyone!

This past week has easily been my favorite of the season! Dave and I had the opportunity to snowmobile out to Windless Bight and then once Lee and Elin got back from WAIS we were able to all head to Cape Bird. Windless Bight is surrounded by mountains and Cape Bird is at a penguin rookery, so the views at both of these locations were spectacular!

On 21 January, Dave and I snowmobiled out to Windless Bight. The ride was about 20 to 30 miles from McMurdo, and took about 45 minutes one way. We didn’t have much to bring with us, so Dave just pulled one 10 foot long sled behind his snowmobile and I didn’t have anything attached to mine.

Dave riding up to the sled of gear

Dave riding up to the sled of gear

Once we got the sled hooked in and our helmets on, we started riding the marked route to Windless Bight. The station is about 2 miles after the end of the route, but we had the GPS all set up so we wouldn’t get lost.

Along the the flagged route to Windless Bight

Along the the flagged route to Windless Bight

Then once we got to the site we quickly learned how fresh the powder was, and we realized our sled was definitely covered in snow.

We arrived at the site and our sled was covered with snow

We arrived at the site and our sled was covered with snow

Every step I took I fell in to about my knees and then near the tower the snow is looser, so we fell in almost to our waist. Windless Bight is working well, but it gets a lot of accumulation every year so we try and raise the batteries to the surface every year. We also decided to raise the lower temperature and enclosures about foot. After raising the lower temperature and enclosure, we got to work digging down to battery.

Windless Bight before moving the batteries up

Windless Bight before moving the batteries up

As for the scenery and the weather conditions, it was honestly perfect. It was a nice and clear day, so the views of Mount Erebus, White Island, Black Island, and Mount Discovery were perfect. The temperatures were warm and we didn’t even need to be wearing our jackets while we were digging. We got down to battery and then quickly learned that the black battery box was covered in an ice layer. This happens when the sun melts the ice around the black, reflective battery box. We then proceeded to chip away at the ice for about the next hour or two.

Dave picking the ice

Dave picking the ice

Carol picking the ice

Carol picking the ice

We eventually got it free and then we moved it up onto one of our ledges. Then we filled in the snow and put the battery box back at snow level.

Final work at Windless Bight

Final work at Windless Bight

Since we had snowmobiled, we could take our time and not feel rushed due to weather or other scheduling rushes. After we were done we ate some more cold pizza and brownies, and admired the mountains for the next twenty minutes. Then we headed back to base after about three hours at the site.

On 23 January, 2015 we took the helicopter to Cape Bird AWS. We needed to change the temperature sensor since Dave and Lee learned last year that the radiation shield had fallen off. The helicopter flight was cool because we were able to see the icebreaker channel and a lot of open water!

Open water on the way to Cape Bird

Open water on the way to Cape Bird

We landed near the beach and then we had to walk up lots of little stairs to the actual station. We got to the top and then we could see the penguin rookery on the other side of the cliff. I was freaking out! There were 10,000s penguins and they were loud and kind of smelled bad, but we were all very excited to see penguins, so it didn’t matter.

Cape Bird penguin rookery! Basically all of the brown area is filled with penguins

Cape Bird penguin rookery! Basically all of the brown area is filled with penguins

After our first quick looks at the penguins, Lee climbed the ladder and started to take off the old temperature sensor while I started to cut some of the wiring so we could get the old cable loose.

From left to right: Dave, Lee, and Carol

From left to right: Dave, Lee, and Carol

Then Lee put on the new temperature sensor, we secured down the cables, and our work was done!

New temperature sensor

New temperature sensor

SONY DSC

We had about twenty minutes to hang around the rookery before the helicopters pilots needed to leave. We wandered down towards the water and spotted penguins on all of the icebergs.

A couple of penguins on an iceberg

A couple of penguins on an iceberg

That was our week! Both station visits were very successful and a lot of fun!

We have one more week in McMurdo where we have plans to head to Siple Dome, Vito, Ferrell, and Marble Point. We will also be in the process of cleaning up the lab for the season and packing up.

Till next time!

Carol

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South Pole Telescopes, SPICECORE, and Henry AWS

As Carol said, I’ll be talking about a few more of the things we did while we were at South Pole, including our second and final station visit to Henry AWS. We were to do pretty much the same thing at Henry as Nico: replace the existing instrumentation and raise the station.

First (and I forgot to mention this to Carol for her to put in her post), some friends we met at Pole had a friend who took a picture of the LC-130 we all were on as we left McMurdo for South Pole on 5 January!

The Herc taking off from Willie Field and bringing us to Pole

The Herc taking off from Willie Field and bringing us to Pole

One of the first places we visited while we were awaiting a flight was the South Pole Telescope and other Astronomical/Cosmological Experimentation building(s).

The South Pole Telescope is on the left, the BICEPS III telescope on the right.

The South Pole Telescope is on the left, the BICEPS III telescope on the right.

There are several telescopes and projects going on. Carol and I spoke with some people who have instrumentation on the South Pole Telescope (SPT), and one guy has the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT, though the Telescope may not be in the name) instrument on it. They need to have a global network of instruments looking at the same point in the sky at the same time to be able to resolve the EH, because it is so small (fractions of an arcsecond [From Google: A second of arc (arcsecond, arcsec) is 160 of an arc minute, 13,600 of a degree, 11,296,000 of a circle, and π648,000 (about 1206,265) of a radian. This is approximately the angle subtended by a U.S. dime coin at a distance of 4 kilometres (about 2.5 mi).] !!!! ). Other telescopes that have this instrument are in Hawaii, California and Arizona.

Another telescope is BICEPS III, which they were finishing up building when we were there. When we went for the tour, they were calibrating the mount by recording the angle of the mount and noting which star was in the center of the screen. This way, when they scan the sky, they can document which stars are where and know where in the sky it is. This telescope, compared to BICEPS II, is able to see more “colors” (wavelengths) in the microwave part of the spectrum, so they can sort out what is noise and what isn’t in their data collection.

During another one of our off-days, Carol, Hans (a research assistant) and I visited South Pole Ice Core (SPICE Core).

The SPICECORE tent, where they do the ice coring.

The SPICECORE tent, where they do the ice coring.

We snowmobiled from the station to SPICECORE, with Hans driving and pulling Carol and I on a sled. (Hauling people in sleds on a snowmobile is a common mode of transportation at Pole.) The SPICECORE project is similar to that of the recent ice coring that took place in West Antarctica at WAIS. SPICECORE is drilling a hole deep within the ice sheet at South Pole and retrieving 2-meter-long ice core samples to be diagnosed back in the US.

We timed our visit just right, because when we arrived they were in the process of raising a core they had just drilled. We saw the drill come up from the hole and watched them remove the core from the bearings. They remove cores a couple meters in length at a time. They were ~420 m below surface then, and they hope to get to 700 m by the end of the summer. The ice core they removed is over 5000 years old!

The drill coming out of the hole with an ice core in it!

The drill coming out of the hole with an ice core in it!

The ancient ice!

The ancient ice!

South Pole Station also has a greenhouse. It is small, but has a small room with chairs, a couch and a table. It is a great place to hang out for a while and get some fresh smells of greenery and feel the humid air. I’m not sure if any of the plants are for research, but I do know that the chefs grow greens such as spinach and kale and use those for salads. No wonder the food is so good at Pole!

The South Pole Greenhouse

The South Pole Greenhouse

Once we were humidified, we were ready to get out into the field.

As Carol said, we finished Nico AWS successfully. The next day, Thursday 15 January, Carol and I flew to Henry AWS. As fate would have it (“fate” because originally a different Twin Otter crew was to fly us at Pole, but their plane had issues so they swapped crews in McMurdo), Henry Perk, who has been a Twin Otter pilot for about 30 years in Antarctica, was the pilot who flew some of our team members to initially install Henry AWS back in 1993!

Our field crew for that day also included 3 extra diggers: Hans Boenish (an aforementioned RA), Luke Magolda (works in cargo), and Corey Biddle (a surveyor). They were an excellent crew to have to help us out! Hans and Luke also took a lot of great pictures and video of our servicing, which was great because it wasn’t practical for Carol nor I to take such pictures.

The crew, from left to right: Hans, me, Carol, Corey, Luke

The crew, from left to right: Hans, me, Carol, Corey, Luke (Picture taken after the visit. We all survived the cold!)

We arrived at Henry AWS at 8:45 am and got started with our work. The weather was quite pleasant for the beginning of the visit (air temperatures around -20 F, winds around 10 kts, wind chill around -40 F), but just as with Nico AWS, it would turn sour and cut our visit short.

We were pleasantly surprised to see how (relatively) tall Henry AWS was upon arrival:

Henry AWS upon arrival.

Henry AWS upon arrival.

We all got to work right away. I took initial pictures and instrument height measurements of the station, then Hans, Corey and Luke began digging while Carol set up the GPS and I looked through our instrumentation to start assembling mounts. It was then that I discovered that we didn’t have the mounting bracket kits to mount the ADG and solar pyranometer instruments on an instrument arm. I scoured our tool bag and the instrument case for any spare parts that could be used. I decided that I would worry about this later; by this time our diggers had already removed the existing enclosure and were beginning to remove two of the four existing batteries.

Hans (left) and Luke removing the enclosure (picture courtesy of Luke).

Hans (left) and Luke removing the enclosure (picture courtesy of Luke).

Once the digging was complete, we removed the old instrumentation and put on the new tower section. This is always interesting, as a lot of tugging, yanking, and some pounding is necessary to fit the new tower section on. Also, some high clouds started rolling in, and we could see that the horizon where the prevailing wind was coming from was starting to get washed out. White out conditions were approaching.

Installing the new tower section (picture courtesy of Hans).

Installing the new tower section (picture courtesy of Hans).

With the new tower section on, we then put the new power system with batteries into the bottom of the pit. This is a multi-person job as there were four batteries to put in one box, and each battery weighs 70 lbs. After that, the enclosure could be installed just below snow surface. As Carol mentioned, this is done to keep the ambient temperature around the enclosure near -50 F.

Now the rest of the instrumentation could be installed. At this point, I asked Corey if he could try and devise some mounting brackets for the ADG and pyranometer. While he was coming up with what turned out to be some great mounts using some parts from the old instrumentation, I installed the wind monitor.

Carol and I then tackled the rest of the instrumentation, with the help of Hans and Luke who installed the relative humidity sensor. We were at about 3 and a half hours of ground time, and Carol and I were installing the solar panel, when the co-pilot Dillon yelled up to Carol and I: “Whiteout conditions in 3 minutes! Better get done or you’re going to have to camp here!”

Our adrenaline starting pumping. We still needed to tighten the solar panel down, which was made more difficult because we both had been outside on the tower for a long time. Then I had to go plug all of the instruments into the enclosure and verify that the station turned on. Unfortunately, given our lack of time, we were not able to install the instrument boom with the ADG and pyranometer. We appreciated Corey’s hard work, but we weren’t able to put it to use.

Henry turned on the Otter engines to warm them up. I was at the bottom of the pit plugging in the instruments, with others holding shovels, eagerly waiting for me to finish so they could fill in the hole with snow. Dillon was loading cargo into the plane. The Otter engines were blasting in our ears, contributing to the haste of the situation. Whiteout conditions were creeping ever closer.

Everything was plugged in successfully, and we tried our best to fill in the hole as much as we could before jumping into the plane.

Henry AWS upon completion (almost). Carol, Corey and Hans fill in the pit with as much snow as they can.

Henry AWS upon completion (almost). Carol, Corey and Hans fill in the pit with as much snow as they can.

It was an exciting end to our field work out of Pole. Lucky for us, we had a great pilot in Henry to fly us out of two tough situations in our visits to Nico and Henry AWS. To top it off, we have confirmed that both stations are transmitting nominally.

The following day, Friday 16 January, Carol and I left South Pole to head back to McMurdo. Considering we were waiting to do our work for 8 days, we were quite pleased to only have to leave Pole one day later than scheduled. This didn’t come without some stress though… The original herc (LC-130) flight that was flying from McMurdo was supposed to get into Pole at 1 pm. About 15 minutes before it was going to land, we heard an announcement on the PA system saying the herc boomeranged due to mechanical issues. Turns out, one of the four engines failed, so the herc had to go back to McMurdo. We didn’t end up leaving Pole until 10 pm that night. Either way, we were glad we didn’t have to wait more than a day!

Now we are back in McMurdo, working on sending retrograde cargo back to the US and planning our last few station visits. Will we be able to visit any more this season?…

Next time, with Dave and Carol.

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