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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!