On the Ice

Staying put/Going to Windless Bight/Leaving the Ice

Since it has been a whole week since my last post, I wish I could say it has been an incredibly eventful one full of station visits. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case, as the only station we visited was Windless Bight, which we went to yesterday (18 December). In this post I’ll go over 1) our numerous flight delays, 2) our visit to Windless Bight, 3) some extra photos that I’ve taken, and 4) closing statements (as this is, in all likelihood, my last post for this field season).

1) We have had many flight delays when trying to go to Alexander Tall Tower!, White Island, and Minna Bluff. Tall Tower is one that Lee has been anxious to do because he has tried to make it out there for the past couple years but hasn’t been able to. We had already gotten weather-delayed a couple times earlier this season when trying to go to there. We were scheduled to fly out on a Twin Otter this past Friday, 14 Dec, but one of the Twin Otters needed to go to South Pole, so our next possible option was to go there today actually. We will not be going there today because we had other plans, as I will explain later, and it is snowing so there would be no flying anyways.

The wind direction at Minna Bluff AWS needs some repairs, so we were planning on taking a helo (helicopter) to visit that station, and return to White Island AWS to finished up our installation, in one trip. Our original plan was to do this trip on Saturday, 15 Dec, but they didn’t have enough helos available due to maintenance issues. We got bumped back to Monday. Come Monday, we got everything all set and ready to go, and were waiting at the helo pad to depart. After waiting for two hours (they were still backed up with flights due to maintenance issues), our flight got postponed due to low clouds on White Island. To give you an idea of what it looked like that day, here is a picture of White Island from Scott Base (granted, this picture is about 5 hours after we got cancelled):

17 December: White Island and the low cloud cover

You can see how it can get frustrating when delays occur; the weather was great at McMurdo, and it was as if the only clouds were at White Island (and probably Minna Bluff, too). Our flight then got bumped back to yesterday, 18 Dec, but Lee and I were already planning on snowmobiling out to Windless Bight. If our helo flight would have been scheduled for the morning, we may have been able to do both trips in one day. Alas, it was scheduled in the afternoon, so we needed to reschedule the helo flight to today. Today, it is snowing. So our flight got postponed, again. I’m learning (maybe the only way one can), and have now been reminded of many times, that it is very difficult to conduct our type of work down here in Antarctica. From the weather to the maintenance to everyone else’s schedules, it can be very difficult to actually get out to stations.

2) I’ll start off the discussion about our trip to Windless Bight AWS by saying that it turned out to be a successful trip! We needed to swap out all of the instrumentation and set up the new power system there. It will be transmitting its data through White Island AWS. It was very satisfying to get the work done.

We left in the morning around 9:30 am to get to the snowmobiles and didn’t start our trek out to Windless Bight, which is northeast of McMurdo near Mt Erebus and Mt Terror. It took about an hour to get to where we thought the station was, but we couldn’t locate it in the area, and due to low fuel levels in our snowmobiles, so we had to head back to McMurdo to refuel.

We ended up departing for Windless Bight at 2:30 pm and arriving at the station at 3:30 pm. Here is a picture of the station when we arrived.

Windless Bight AWS when we arrived

Notice the cloud cover; we were scheduled on helo to go to White Island and Minna Bluff, but with that cloud cover there was no way we were going to make it out anyways.

The work at the station went very smoothly. Here are a couple pictures of Lee and I working on the station.

Me removing the antenna

Lee installing the boom

At 9:30 pm we finished our work. Here’s the picture to prove it:

The updated Windless Bight AWS

We departed for McMurdo at 9:40 pm and arrived at Scott Base (where we retrieved our snowmobiles and needed to store them) at 10:30 pm. On our way back, the sun came out for a bit. What a huge difference the sun makes in terms of being able to see the topography of the snow surface! It made driving the snowmobile much easier. Here’s a picture from that time, with the supplies Lee towed hooked up to his snowmobile.

Picture taken around 10 pm. Observation Hill is the black bump just about directly below the Sun on the horizon.

After refueling the snowmobiles and everything, Lee and I were just starting to walk back when, luckily, there were a few guys with a truck passsing us by on their way to McMurdo. They offered us a ride back, which was a huge relief for us. Otherwise, it probably would have been a 40-minute, exhausting walk. Both of us were very tired after that long day of work.

When we returned to McMurdo, we went to the Galley to get our dinner that we asked to have held for us. We got there around 11:30 pm, and they had thrown out our dinner because (as we originally said) we were supposed to get it at 10 pm. The guy we talked to was very nice and said we could have the Mid Rats (midnight rations) dinner instead (you’re supposed to have a card indicating you can have it, which we didn’t). We were both kinda glad it worked out that way; fresh food, and our choice. And it was delicious. One advantage of working such a long day is the meal afterward is that much more rewarding.

3) Here are a few extra pictures that I’ve taken.

A lenticular cloud at Mt Discovery

Lee and I and the helo on White Island

On the helo flight from Ferrell to McMurdo, showing Mt Erebus’ “contrail” and Kelvin-Helmholtz instability in the low-level clouds

A seal, posing for the camera, on the Pressure Ridges tour. The pressure ridges are basically “ice-waves breaking” as the sea ice collides with the land. They are found near Scott Base.

Can you find the moon?

Looking at White Island on our way to Windless Bight, with a fata morgana (mirage) seen on the horizon

4) I just got my flight schedule a few minutes ago, and I am scheduled to depart tomorrow morning. With that, I think this will be my last post. It has been a very fun experience down here, though sometimes it was a little frustrating. I’m glad we were able to get some work done, albeit much less than I anticipated. So it goes, with life down here in Antarctica.

So there you have it. Days in the life of Dave.


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