On the Ice

Installing Skomik PCWS and servicing Schwerdtfeger and Emilia AWS

This past week, we successfully installed Skomik PCWS, collocated at Schwerdtfeger AWS and one of NIWC’s Wind Alert AWS. Skomik is named after my dad, Ed Mikolajczyk, and his late best friend, Mark Skogseth (it’s a combination of their last names).

On 26 January, we took a Twin Otter (me, Lee, and Ryan Adamson from NIWC) to Schwerdtfeger AWS to raise Schwerdtfeger and install Skomik. Ryan was there to fix up the NIWC AWS.

There has been a lot of work put into getting this new PCWS up and running over the past couple years. The programming work done by Andy Kurth, Forbes Filip, and Josh Thorsland, among others, has been outstanding and exhausting at times, and it is still ongoing. But they got the latest version of the program to work, and we got the good weather to go out and install it. It was a great feeling to see the result of all the hard work. Of course, it didn’t go quite as smoothly as originally planned.

Schwerdtfeger (near) and NIWC (far) when we arrived.

We first began by digging a 5-foot deep hole to install the new tower for Skomik. We dug it wide enough to fit a board that would serve as the tower base. Lee assembled the 15 feet of tower section, attached the guy wires to the guy collar on the tower, and then we all put the tower in the hole.

The pit for Skomik’s tower.
Skomik’s tower base. Simply a piece of plywood with 3 holes for the tower.

We refilled in the hole with snow, compacting it as best as we could. We planned to let the tower sit there for over an hour, at which point it would be well frozen in and sturdy. While we let the tower sit, we dug 3 ~5-foot deep holes for the deadmen anchors. We attached the guy wires to the deadmen, then buried the deadmen in the holes. We went to work on Schwerdtfeger while we let the new Skomik tower sit.

The new tower for Skomik.

Given the height of Schwerdtfeger, we decided that we didn’t need to add a tower section, as it was pretty much the same height as the NIWC AWS and Skomik. We still had to dig up the power system, but that wasn’t too buried. When we finished that, Skomik was ready to be climbed to install instruments. I installed the instruments on Skomik while Lee raised the instrumentation on Schwerdtfeger. Things were going very smoothly.

The view from the top of Skomik, with Lee working on Schwerdtfeger and Ryan working on NIWC.

When Lee completed the work on Schwerdtefeger and I installed all the instruments on Skomik, we were ready to upload the program to Skomik, check the data, and test for transmissions.

Introducing Skomik PCWS!
The three towers: NIWC (left), Schwerdtfeger (middle), Skomik (right).

Unfortunately, we ran into issues with the cable connecting the antenna to the modem, so after much troubleshooting and trying to get things to work, we had to leave with Skomik’s transmissions not working. We also noticed that some data were outputting incorrect data, so we needed to fix some of the programming. It was a bummer to finish the day like that, especially after everything else went so well.

Fortunately, the flight coordinators and Otter pilots were willing to try to get us back there. Since we didn’t expect to need much ground time at Skomik, and we have some other sites on the Ross Ice Shelf we need to visit by Otter, we planned to go to Emilia right after Skomik. Two days later, and many hours troubleshooting the programming, on 28 January, we made it back to Skomik! We swapped out the antenna and cable, swapped out the wind monitor and upper temperature assembly, reuploaded a new program, and got it running and transmitting! There’s still work to be done with this project, but it was a great feeling to get a PCWS up and running in the field… And I made sure to remember to put a PCWS sticker on the enclosure as well.

OK, now introducing: Skomik PCWS!
The three towers, but this time from the other side, with Skomik on the left.

With that work completed, we scooted on over to Emilia, north of Skomik and closer to the northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. The work we needed to do at Emilia was simply enough on paper: standard station raise with digging up the power system, adding a 10-foot tower section, and replace the nose cone and propeller on the wind monitor (the wind speed wasn’t working). However, it had been several years since we had been to Emilia, and it was quite buried.

Emilia when we arrived.

We figured we had a lot of digging ahead of us, and unfortunately, we were correct, and then some. We got to work, digging a huge pit, and eventually reached the power system, which was buried 7 feet 5 inches! Beat Windless Bight by an inch. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, and on the slightly cooler side, which prevented us from getting too hot as we shoveled snow.

Excavating Emilia’s enclosure.
Lee’s sense of scale is uncanny.

We swapped out the batteries in the power system, since they were starting to report slightly lower voltages, and did the arduous task of filling the hole in with snow. We added the tower section and reinstalled the instrumentation, verified transmissions, and headed back to McMurdo after a long but successful day.

A taller Emilia.



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