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.
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. From left to right: Ted Doerr, Anne Hellie, Nate Williams
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.
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.
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.
Walking back to the Otter, we noticed some cool scenes that had great potential for good photos.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
Morning sunlight highlights a fresh snow cover on Observation Hill.
The ground at McMurdo, or cookies and cream? We may never know….
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Then Lee put on the new temperature sensor, we secured down the cables, and our work was done!
New temperature sensor
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
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!
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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
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.
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 1⁄60 of an arc minute, 1⁄3,600 of a degree, 1⁄1,296,000 of a circle, and π⁄648,000 (about 1⁄206,265) 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.
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 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
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 (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.
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).
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).
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.
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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Dave and I got back from the South Pole on Saturday, January 17th after completing AWS visits at both Nico and Henry. This post will talk about a couple of things we did while we waited nine days for our flight and then what happened at the Nico visit. Dave will talk about some other activities at Pole and the Henry visit.
We arrived at South Pole late on Monday, January 5th. Dave and I almost immediately felt how cold it was and quickly learned we would be experiencing a lot of shortness of breath. After a quick briefing we learned that we would not be staying in the South Pole station because the population was too high. Instead, we would be staying about a quater of a mile from the station in the “hypertats”. The hypertat was heated to normal temperatures (65F to 70F), and in all honestly it wasn’t too bad! The worst part was that there was no running water, so you either had to use the outhouse or walk back to the station which was about a five minute walk.
Betty: The Best Hypertat
The first couple of days we knew we wouldn’t be flying to any AWS because we would be acclimating to the altitude (~9,300 ft) and organizing all of the gear. We also quickly learned that we were missing a couple essential items; channel locks, fuses, and shovels. We got the channel locks from the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF) and found 4 shovels in the shed at the cargo yard. The most difficult item to find was the fuses, it took us a whole day to figure out that we needed car fuses, and luckily the VMF had just what we needed!
After our first 2-3 days at South Pole we had found everything we needed and we were pretty well acclimated to the high altitude. Then it was time to wait for the Twin Otter plane to be available. We knew that it was likely going to be a long wait since a couple of camps near the South Pole needed to be pulled out. In the mean time, we were able to visit a lot of science that was going on at South Pole.
One of my favorite visits was to the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO). They take real-time carbon dioxide measurements, launch ozone balloons, and track the ozone hole during the springtime. We learned all about the history of ozone hole, and about some of instrumentation they use for their atmospheric operations. They claim to have “The Cleanest Air in the World” thanks to a clean air sector that extends from 340 to 110 degrees longitude for 80 miles. In theory, our AWS were within the clean air sector. We warned them we would be flying through it, so they understood.
Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO)
After a great tour by Andy, we were given glass tubes to do our own collection of “The Cleanest Air in the World”. As we were leaving we saw all of the tanks of air samples they have been collecting all season long.
Air Samples from ARO
In the mean time, we played a lot of games of cribbage in many of the different hangout rooms at the station. There was the dining room, the lounge, the greenhouse (where they grow food to eat!), and the game room. The game room had this awesome cribbage board that had Antarctica carved in it. We probably played about 10 to 20 games on that board!
Antarctic Cribbage board
One evening we were given a tour from “Mike the Plumber” to see the snow tunnels underground that carry the water and sewage to and from the station. These tunnels were very tight and the temperature under the snow was about -50F. All of our eyelashes froze, but we didn’t get too cold! Along the way there are a bunch of shrines craved into the walls of the snow. There are busts of Amundsen, dead fish, glycol, food, alcohol, and at the end My Little Pony!
Carol at the My Little Pony shrine of the snow tunnels
One last event we participated in was another weather balloon launch. I hadn’t done a balloon launch in McMurdo yet, so I got to do one at the South Pole. We joined the meteorologist Jeremiah for the launch and he showed us how to calibrate the instrument. Then we each wrote messages on the package that is attached to the balloon and then I sent it up in the air!
Carol doing a weather balloon launch at South Pole
We visited a lot of other science that Dave will talk about in the next post!
Then it was finally our chance to use the Twin Otter plane and head to our first sight Nico. After nine days of waiting around we were definitely ready to get out in the field. Lucky for us, we were able to take two people with us to help dig out the stations and add all of the new instrumentation. For the first visit we got help from Darrin from the VMF and Grant from Spice Core who actually works for IDDO at SSEC. He works three floors above our office in Wisconsin and we had to travel all the way to the South Pole to meet him.
From left to right: Carol, Grant, Darrin, and Dave
We left about 8:35am and headed about 60 miles grid east to Nico AWS. The weather was close to whiteout conditions on the way, but the pilots figured that conditions might get better. When we arrived at the sight it was about five to six feet tall and it was not too bad outside. We figured we wouldn’t need to do too much digging to get down to the enclosure and the battery box.
Before fixing Nico AWS with the Twin Otter in the background
It turns out we needed to dig down about five or six feet to get to the enclosure and then we decided it would be too difficult to try and recover the battery, so they were left at the site. It took about an two hours to get all of the instrumentation off and install the battery box. Then we added another seven foot tower section and began to put on all of the instruments.
Then it was time for the tough part. Being at the South Pole is a new kind of beast that both Dave and I hadn’t experienced. At that point we needed to start climbing the tower and adding the areovane, two temperature sensors (one with an aspirated shield), ADG, Argos transmitter, solar panel and relative humidity sensor. While Dave and I were on the tower we asked our helpers to attached the enclosure and the relative humidity sensors since that wasn’t too high. Dave and I struggled to keep our hands warm in the -20F temperatures with a -40F wind chill. I had to go into the plane once to try and warm up my hands. After about a five minute warm up I got back on the tower to help get the last few instruments installed. At that point we noticed that Henry (our pilot) was building a runway with snow piles. The weather had turned pretty quickly and it started to snow with near whiteout conditions. Dave finished plugging everything in quickly and we tried to check if it was transmitting properly but the Teleonics wasn’t working and we needed to head back. Dillan (our co-pilot) warned us of the possibility of having to camp out.
In the end we packed up the plane and the site visit took about five hours. For all of the work we did and being in those intense conditions, we considered that pretty fast. We managed to make the tower about thirteen or fourteen feet tall and got both the battery box and enclosure buried under the snow surface. Near the South Pole, it’s considered better to bury electronics since they will experience consistent temperatures of about -50F versus the ambient temperature can get as low as -100F in the winter. Sorry we don’t have more pictures, but it’s very difficult in those temperatures to take pictures and there wasn’t much time for breaks 🙂
After fixing Nico AWS
In the next blog post Dave will have more photos of the Henry visit because one of the diggers that came with us took a lot of pictures while we were working!
I made another blog post of some of random things we did at South Pole!
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On 31 December 2014 I launched a weather balloon! The weather observers do weather balloon (radiosonde) launches twice a day during the summer and once a day during winter here.
I went with Carol and Elin to the Mac Weather office, where the forecasters, observers, and Joey work. We asked the observer, Edward, if we could join him in the balloon launch and he was more than happy to have us along. They’ve said that doing the launches ends up becoming a chore rather than a fun experience, but for us newbies and weather nerds it’s awesome!
He gathered the string and instrumentation and we walked to the launch site called Sausage Point (there’s a fun story behind this name), which is across Winter Quarters Bay from Hut Point. It’s near the weather office, but we need to walk through the water treatment facility… Random yes, and smelly, but also nice and humid inside!
The water treatment facility
We then come to a staging area where the balloons are kept and we can access the helium. Edward meticulously attached the balloon to the nozzle, started pumping the helium. While the balloon was getting bigger and bigger, he made final preparations such as cutting the string at proper length to tie the instruments to the balloon and making some calls, presumably to Mac Ops notifying them and any air traffic that a balloon will be launched soon.
The instrumentation. All the data is gathered on this device!
The balloon, pre-inflation.
Finally the balloon was done inflating (took about 3 minutes) and Edward turned off the supply of helium. He tied the string real, real tight and handed me the now-connected instrument and balloon. At that point, all I really had to do was make sure the balloon didn’t hit anything as I exited the staging area to go outside and make sure I let go of it when I planned on letting it go!
Edward (left) making final preparations before handing it all to me.
Of course, I posed for a couple photos (thanks to Elin for taking them) and then I let it go!
Me and the weather balloon.
As others have told me and I realized myself, it is odd letting go of instrumentation like that. It doesn’t feel right. But it is majestic when the balloon takes to the sky; a bright white orb sharply contrasted against the deep blue, with the instrumentation at the end of the string revolving rapidly, almost uncontrollably, below the balloon. Yes, I’m a weather balloon newbie indeed.
And as a bonus, we have the data from the launch available on our ftp site! You can find it here:
It has been a busy week here in Antarctica, which started with Christmas Dinner last Thursday. Here on base, we had the 25th and 26th off so we were able to enjoy Christmas dinner together on Christmas day. Technically, this was our second day off since getting to Antarctica and I think it was a much needed break for everyone. The dinner was delicious featuring prime rib, crab, a bunch of appetizers, and plenty of different types of desserts. We all went up for multiple plates of food!
From left to right: Carol, Dave, Lee, and Elin
After a nice 2 days off, we found out we were on the helicopter schedule to visit Ferrell for the morning of 27 December. I was so excited to go on my first station visit and go on a helicopter for the first time! Our flight time was at 9am, so we got ready to leave Crary a little after 8am. Then we went in the PAX terminal to weigh ourselves and all of cargo before the flight and put the cargo in one of the loading boxes.
Then we headed out to the helicopter, got our seatbelts clipped, and our helmets plugged into the radio. Soon enough we were off flying to Ferrell! We flew true east to the Ross Ice Shelf and it was my first time getting a really good view of all of the topography in the area! It was a beautiful view from the helicopter. As we were flying, we were able to communicate with the pilots to discuss if they were going to leave us at the site or come back in a couple of hour to pick us up. Since there were low level clouds over the ice sheet, it was decided that we shouldn’t be left there since it might be difficult to come back to the location later. Our goal was to try and finish in about an hour so the pilots wouldn’t get too behind schedule.
We got all of our cargo unloaded and we got right to work. Unfortunately, the weather was quite windy which made it a little more difficult. We tried to dig down to the batteries to retrieve them, but we decided that we weren’t going to have enough time to dig them out. We brought a power system with us, so we were able to connect it at ground level.
Working on Ferrell from left to right: Dave, Lee and Carol
Then we raised the enclosure box about 3 feet up to make sure it doesn’t get buried over the next year, and dissembled the argos antenna. We completed all of our station measurements and then had to fiddle with checking the freewave transmission which only occurs every 30 minutes. After about an hour and a half we and the pilots decided that we should start getting ready to head back to McMurdo. We all climbed back in the helo to warm up a little before Lee could head back to reconnect at the right time to check the transmission. After a quick warm up, Lee went back out to the station to check but the helicopters had to start the engine so it was a little bit stressful. In the end we weren’t able to connect to check the transmission before we left, but in getting back to lab we learned that it had worked! Unfortunately, the station still doesn’t have a consistent data flow so we might head back to Ferrell later in the season to change the transmission to Iridium. Overall it was still a successful first visit!
Ferrell AWS after 27 December visit
The next day we were on the schedule again to head out to Laurie II! This site had not been visited in 8 years, so we all knew there was a high possibility that we weren’t going to be able to find it for multiple reasons 1.we knew it was going to be very buried by the snow and 2. we knew it is on a moving ice sheet, so the GPS locations were going to be incorrect. We got ready to fly out and we warned the pilots of the situation and just as we thought, it wasn’t obvious at first glance. Image flying in a helicopter and getting to a ice sheet where you can see for what seems like miles. I was thinking we have to be able to find this because it’s going to stick out since there’s nothing else out there….. literally nothing else. This was not the case. It ended up taking us 30 minutes of searching to finally find it 5km northeast of the GPS locations from 8 years ago. The helo tech found it and we were all so surprised and happy when he said over the radio that he spotted it. Then the pilots left us at the site for the next 7 hours 🙂
Laurie II about 2.5 feet tall
Then we got to work digging! We needed to get to the bottom of the enclosure which ended up being about 5 or 6 feet below the snow surface. This took about 2 hours of digging and carefully using the ice pick to get to the cables and plugs.
Digging down to the bottom of the enclosure from left to right: Elin, Lee, and Dave
Then we did a full raise with 2 – 7 foot tower sections to make the tower about 16 feet above the surface. Once the tower sections were in place we all did some training climbing the tower and getting comfortable with the harnesses. Then it was time to move all of the instruments as high as we could. This way we don’t have to visit the sites quite as frequently because of snow accumulation. At this point it was definitely a team effort with 2 people on the tower and the other 2 getting tools and visuals for the people on the tower.
Dave and Elin fixing the instrument boom to the top of tower section
Then we wrapped up and taped the cables and started to refill in the pit we made. The whole raise took about 5.5 hours. Then we checked the transmission and it was working, so all was well. At this point we needed to get picked up, so we called helo operations and we had to wait around for another hour for a helo to come pick us up. In the mean time, we took some fun photos and played some baseball with ice balls and a shovel. Then we heard the helo coming and we all got down and prepared for about 30 seconds of the most intense winds I have ever experienced. Basically the helicopters land about 30 feet from where you are sitting, so it’s a huge wind gust right when they land (I have a really good video I will try and show later). Then we loaded the helo and after a long day we headed back to McMurdo.
Laurie II after raise with Mount Terror in the background
The next day we had the day off of flying, but 30 December we got to go on an unexpected visit in the middle of the afternoon. About 2:30pm we got a call from helo ops that we could try and head out to Minna Bluff, so we said we would be ready in 45 minutes. We quickly got all of our cargo together and one of our office mates was able to drive us down in the pickup truck with our power system. Then we got all of our cargo weighed and ready to get on the helo after a hectic 30 minutes of getting everything together. Then we got to Minna Bluff and it was my first time on the actual continent of Antarctica since McMurdo is on Ross Island and the other AWS are on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Minna Bluff AWS on the right
I’m going to give you a quick history over the past year of Minna Bluff AWS. In August the station stopped transmitted unexpectedly. There was nothing we could do until we had planned to visit it in November. In November, we got an e-mail with pictures showing that the whole instrument boom had come off of the tower section. This must have occurred during a particularly intense storm with high winds speeds. During October, Minna Bluff often has a maximum wind speed of 40 m/s or 90 mph, so it’s not surprising for instruments to get damaged. Lee and Drew visited Minna Bluff mid November to recover the instruments and bring them back to the lab to test if they could be reused. Lee worked on testing the instruments and decided that we could bring them back to the site and reuse the high wind speed aerovanes. During this visit we were able to replace the instruments and change out the batteries for a new power system. This visit took just about an hour, so we were able to get back in time for dinner!
Fixing Minna Bluff from left to right: Elin, Dave, and Lee
I think that’s it! At this point we are hoping to maybe get one more chance to take a flight to Marble Point and Cape Bird before Dave and I head to South Pole on 5 January. 13 sites have been visited out of list of 33, so we are doing well so far!
Here’s a video I made about traveling to Antarctica:
Dave, Elin, and I have now been in Antarctica for a week! Unfortunately we haven’t been able to take any flights out to our sites in the past week due to cloudy skies and crowded scheduling for the helo flights.. We have been trying to fly to Ferrell or Laurie II since Monday, but it hasn’t worked out. In the mean time, we have been able to get a lot of stuff ready for our teams trips to WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) and South Pole. The main things we have been able to do is build power boxes and haul all of the parts of the AWS to the science cargo center.
First, we decided to build the power boxes. We got a truck and drove up to our orange shed to fill the truck with about 20 batteries that each weigh about 65 pounds. Then we brought them back to Crary lab to charge them up overnight.
Truck full of batteries
Charging all of the batteries before we pack them into the power boxes
Once all of the batteries were charged we put them into power boxes which are large black pelican cases that are stuffed with foam. Then we cut out the foam and insert 2 batteries per box. Then we cover the batteries with another layer of foam, and then the solar panel goes on top. We probably made about 7 or 8 boxes each of them weighing 181 pounds!
Power box with the solar panel in the upper right corner
Then once those were made we went back to the orange shed to grab some other items like tower sections. We then checked to make sure we had all of the different stations that we needed and we drove all of the very heavy stuff to science cargo to get packed up for the flight to WAIS.
Packing all of our 10 foot and 7 foot tower sections
All of our gear that’s ready to go out to WAIS, and those black bags are Elin and Lee’s sleep kits
After everything was packed, weighed, and strapped down on the palates, we made sure to inventory all of our items with the correct projects numbers, locations, and weights.
Lee and Dave have been working on wiring for the new South Pole stations; Henry and Nico. Otherwise there’s not too much other stuff we need to do to prep for our trips. We are hoping we can take our first helo flight on Saturday!
Setting up some of the instrumentation for Henry
Otherwise, we have been able to participate in a weather balloon launch with Ang, go on a hikes to Hut Point and Observation Hill, and make a little video of Christmas cheer! Enjoy!
Hi everyone! Dave has already introduced me, but I’m Carol Costanza and I’m a research intern at the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center. This is my first time to Antarctica, so this past week has been a whirlwind of new and awesome experiences!
I’m going to start off with getting issued our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear in Christchurch, NZ on Monday, 15 December. We watched a couple of videos about issues including NSF policies, medical issues, and proper clothing. Then we proceeded to try on our clothing to make sure that it all fit properly.
Watching training videos with the wall of ECW clothing in the background
Some of the gear I got included a red parka, snow pants, bunny boots, goggles, gloves, mittens, glove liners, neck warms, a fleece jacket, fleece pants, and a balaclava. This clothing was then all stored at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) in orange bags until our flight to Antarctica. Then we were delayed for a day in New Zealand, but we did head back to the CDC two days later on Wednesday, 17 December for our flight down to the ice at 1pm.
Before the flight we had to change into our ECW gear and then weigh all of our gear. We had a fairly strict weight limit of 75 pounds of checked bags and 15 pounds for carry on. We checked in for our flight and then we watched some more training videos about the flight. We all had to check in for our flight early, so we had plenty of time to grab some food and play a couple of games of cribbage!
Briefing room before our flight on the LC-130
Then we got ready to get on the plane! We took a short bus ride to the runway and we were given ear plugs and a lunch when we entered the plane. It was an 8 hour flight that was long and very loud. Here a couple of pictures of what it looked like on the inside.
Dave sitting across from me on the LC-130
The seating was like this on both sides of the L-130
Dave and Joey playing cribbage on the plane
Air Force personnel sleeping on one of the palates in the back
Then once we landed we took a Delta, a bus with HUGE wheels, to McMurdo base. At this point it was already close to 10pm, so we were getting pretty tired. Then we had the pleasure of sitting through another briefing of PowerPoints and finally we got our room keys and got our bags. It was a long day of travel that started with leaving our hotel in New Zealand at 8am and arriving in McMurdo at about 10 or 11pm.
We had another early morning and then we began another round of training. First, we had snowmobile training at 8am where we learned how to fix them and ride them. It was a lot of fun going out on the ice sheet and riding around for about 30 minutes!
Snowmobiling with McMurdo station in background
Then we went to Field Support and Training (FS&T) Antarctic Field Safety course. We learned about assessing risk and being safe in the field. We then got to test out making tents and starting a whisper stove.
Making fire with a whisper stove
That was all of the training for Thursday! Then on Friday I had some more training about driving trucks (no I didn’t drive an trucks), waste management, and emergency firehouse information. Then Dave and I went to high altitude training since we are going to be heading to South Pole in about 3 weeks. We learned all about altitude sickness and how to use a GAMOW bag. Someone in our class wanted to get in the bag, so we had him go in the bag and actually use it. Basically you increase the pressure inside the bag which simulates moving to a lower altitude.
Using a GAMOW bag…. This was picture from google (http://www2.umaine.edu/USITASE/logbooks/archives07/Nov/NovGallery.html)
Finally, we toured through Crary lab and the weather office. We plan to head back to the weather office for a weather balloon launch sometime soon 🙂
I have been taking a lot more photos and video along the way. I plan to edit a couple of videos, but I’m not sure if I will be able to share them through this blog due to the size of the files and the slower internet at McMurdo. I’m hoping I can find a way!
I’m looking forward to getting out in the field and sharing some more experiences with you!
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