On the Ice

Dave and Elina are back from WAIS!

Elina and I have returned to McMurdo from WAIS! Spoiler alert: it was a huge success! I wrote some blog posts out there about our experiences, so I’ll post them one at a time here, starting with our arrival to camp.

29 Dec 2018: Dave and Elina are at WAIS

It almost seemed like we were going to spend New Year’s in McMurdo. The town had both New Year’s Eve and Day off, meaning no flying on those days. The weather outlook appeared poor for flying on Sunday, 30 Dec. By Friday, 28 Dec, Elina and I were going to be on the next Herc (LC-130) out to WAIS and if we didn’t “bag drag” or get our cargo, luggage, and weights into the system by the end of the day, then we would fly on Sunday at the earliest, suggesting we wouldn’t make it to WAIS. But by around 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday, we finally got word that we were going to bag drag that Friday night for a 10 am departure on Saturday, 29 Dec. It all seemed so sudden, and one of the most miraculous things in USAP history happened: we made it out to WAIS on our first try! We left McMurdo an hour later than planned, but other than that, everything went smoothly as we got to WAIS early in the afternoon on Sunday. To boot, Elina and I got to spend the majority of our flight in the cockpit of the Herc, including during takeoff!

Sitting in the cockpit of the Herc.

Proof positive.


There were four passengers on the Herc: me, Elina, and two people with Communications, Peter and Caleb, who were trying to get to Byrd field camp, a little over 100 miles from WAIS, to set up communications equipment. The comms folks had been attempting to get to Byrd on their own Herc flight, but delays prevented them from doing so. Their plan was to take this Herc to WAIS and fly to Byrd on one of the Twin Otters at WAIS.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at WAIS. It was a nice day, mostly cloudy but not too bad. We couldn’t complain.

Me and the Herc.

Elina and the Herc.

We said hello to the camp manager, James, located our sleep kits (very important for optimal sleeping!), and went to the “Science Module” where we would work. The mod, as we call it, was already occupied by POLENET/PASSCAL/UNAVCO (6 people) and would be stuffed with a couple more science groups in about a week. Things were going to be tight!

The mod, with Elina back in our designated corner.

Once we got things settled, we got situated with our sleeping tents. Both of us opted to use Arctic Oven tents, rather than the mountain tents that were issued to us. The Arctic Ovens are bigger, and I think, a little more comfortable. Elina took one that was already set up but unoccupied, and I set up one with the help of Elina and the camp Physician’s Assistant (PA), Scott.

My arctic oven tent.

Due to the larger population this year, the camp location is different than last. Last year camp was kept on the winter-over storage berms (elevated mounds of snow), but this year it’s set up in the standard “summertime” location upwind of the berms. One benefit of this is that camp is mostly flat, rather than on a hill.

Bird’s eye view of most of WAIS camp, taken from the Otter. The main camp buildings are in the middle line, with the other Otter at the bottom. Cargo lines are on the left, and tent city is on the right. The winter-over berms are not pictured but to the left of everything shown here.

Our plans here at WAIS are to visit 9 AWS sites by Twin Otter. There are fuel restrictions for our Twin Otter use due to the beginning of the Thwaites science project extravaganza, which is a 4-year effort between the United States Antarctic Program and the British Antarctic Survey to study the Thwaites glacier region, on the West Antarctic coast, with numerous projects. As such, we are only allotted 6 Otter flights. We’re planning on doubling up on some site visits for a flight or two to maximize our chances of visiting all AWS.

Map of West Antarctica with our AWS sites. WAIS camp is at the Kominko-Slade (WAIS) marker. We hope to visit all AWS circled in magenta. The red polygon denotes the approximate extent of Thwaites Glacier, including the ice shelf on the far left end of the polygon.

Cheers! -Dave

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