I know we have been quiet the past two weeks, but there is good reason for that! Our cargo was quite delayed in getting here – we got it delivered to us 12 November! There was a two week pause on bringing non-essential people to the ice due to quickly rising COVID cases, but that did help to bring more cargo here since it was all very backed up. We were able to get a request in to fly to Cape Hallett by the following Wednesday since we needed to get cargo in 4-5 days in advance. It wasn’t until early that Saturday evening we heard back that we for sure were on the schedule, but that we could also fly out Thursday, Friday and Saturday! We knew it was ambitious, but it’s hard to say no when you get on the fixed wing schedule. We set it up as one station per day starting on Wednesday: Cape Hallett, Vito, Emilia, and Margaret.
Cape Hallett and Phoenix had very similar purposes: swap out the modem in the enclosure and upload a new program. Because of this, we wanted to get out to Phoenix before Cape Hallett to get a “practice” round in since we can just drive out to Phoenix. So, on Monday 14 November we drove out to do just that! Unfortunately, we were having some technical difficulties with our field laptop and couldn’t verify the program was running properly or if it was transmitting so we had to leave. In case it was running, we decided to leave the enclosure instead of bringing it back to the lab. However, it was not transmitting, and we were able to see briefly that the program did not compile correctly, so we will have to go back out and fix that.
On Wednesday (16 Nov) we had nice weather to get to Cape Hallett! We actually needed to pick up 4 kiwis (New Zealanders) and we spotted them on the sea ice as we came in, so we stopped by them first. Thankfully we did that, because our walk to the station had some good-sized bumps on the sea ice and we had two heavy sleds (we were going to swap out the 4 batteries) and we were glad we had so much help pull them to the station with us. Unfortunately, we walked up to the station and it was completely tipped over on its side. There were many damages to the sensors, inside the enclosure the modem cable connector had broke, and the guy wire holding the station to the ground had snapped. I had repowered the station and it seemed like it was running just fine, but we took the data card out and we will find out how much data was collected after the fall, if at all. Because of all of this and having almost nothing to replace or repair any of these things, we decided to leave the station as is (yes, we did leave it on its side to prevent further damages) and now plan to do a full replace another year. We couldn’t be too upset about any of this though since Cape Hallett is also a penguin rookery for adelies! Of course, we had to take some pictures of them and the scenery as well.
On Thursday (17 Nov) we got out to Vito! We had our work cut out for us starting the moment we had to look for the station. It was 4.5 miles off from the expected location and luckily one of the pilots had spotted it after about 40 minutes of flying around. The station was over half buried and we ended up digging over 9.5 ft down to get the battery cases out and up to the surface. Then we raised the station, but we learned quickly we’re are not as fast as other experienced people from the team, and it was quite cold and windy so that slowed us down even more (down to -22 F and over 10 knot winds). We spent 8 hours on the ground getting Vito dug out and raised, but we had accidentally broken the power cable to the station so it is not transmitting and that will need to be replaced another time.
Friday (18 Nov) turned out to be bad weather for Emilia, so we had to call that off. It worked out well for us to have a break after two exhausting days back to back, though! We recuperated, debriefed, and made some new plans for the rest of the season. We were able to get out to Emilia on Saturday (19 Nov) with much nicer weather (still a little chilly, 1F, but not too bad)! We brought the batteries to the surface (~2 ft deep) and did a power cycle on the station in hopes that would restart it and get transmissions going again. Thankfully, it worked! We were very, very glad to finally have a completely successful AWS visit.
We have more flights planned this coming week, but we will see if weather continues to hold!