On the Ice

Ever-changing schedules

It’s been a couple weeks since I sent an update about our field season. I’ll try to give a quick overview and rundown now, but I will say now that it looks like we will be visiting our first sites of the field season today!

This field season, there have been many discussions between the science groups, the flight coordinators, and the field season planners of scheduling, fuel availability, and prioritizing science teams to accomplish field work. There were five science groups that wanted to do field work at WAIS. One group deployed to WAIS a couple weeks ago. Due to staffing shortages and fuel availability in West Antarctica (and I’m sure many other things I don’t know about), about a week ago it was determined that our AWS project could not be supported at WAIS. Our West Antarctica worked was canceled this season. Fortunately, we have other sites we can visit from McMurdo and other work to do in town, including setting up a new server that can process realtime AWS data and gather satellite composite imagery.

During this whirlwind of scheduling adjustments, Lee and I were able to get our cargo organized for visiting a couple of our sites by helicopter, Minna Bluff and White Island, as well as get ready for the AWS we can visit by ground transportation (Willie Field, Sarah, Phoenix, Windless Bight). We do have some sites we want to visit by Twin Otter (Alexander Tall Tower!, Schwerdtfeger, Marilyn, Elaine), but that work isn’t scheduled to happen until late January when both of the Otters return from WAIS. These will be regularly serviced but we will also be installing Polar Climate and Weather Stations (PCWS) at the latter 3 sites as part of our project with Madison College to develop a new datalogger.

Due to COVID restrictions, life in MCM has been a little different. There are four different COVID “levels” (red, yellow, blue, green) that indicate various requirements for masking/social distancing. Red is the most restrictive, green is no restrictions. When Lee and I arrived, we were in level yellow for about a week, which meant we had to wear masks and social distance. Over the past couple weeks, we had been in level blue (masks but no social distancing). But the past couple days we’ve been in green! It’s felt a little livelier around town because of that.

This weekend is a two-day weekend as we celebrate the holiday season. We will all enjoy a holiday feast on Saturday night. Hopefully next week Lee and I will be able to do some helo work! And here are some pictures from some hikes I’ve done around town, including up Observation Hill and Castle Rock.

Observation Hill, viewed from town.
At the top of Ob Hill, looking at McMurdo.
Castle Rock. McMurdo is on the tip of Hut Point Peninsula, and Castle Rock is on the spine towards Mt Erebus.
On Castle Rock, looking at Mt Erebus.



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Partial solar eclipse in McMurdo

Lee and I saw the partial solar eclipse in McMurdo last night! The whole town was buzzing yesterday in anticipation. While our eclipse was partial, others in Antarctica experienced a total solar eclipse. The path of totality passed over WAIS field camp! I hope they had good weather for viewing.

Many people here in McMurdo went out onto the sea ice road from town to view the eclipse. The people organizing this also had a nice display of information on the Galley for those interested. There were some scientists out there as well who set up some instrumentation, including a telescope, to gather some data about the eclipse.

The eclipse started at 8:21 pm local time, peaked at 9:15, and ended at 10:07. It was sunny all day until around 4-5 pm, then some clouds started rolling in. We held out hope that the skies would clear, and around 7 pm, they did. Lee and I headed out to the sea ice road around 8:30.

People walking out onto the sea ice to view the eclipse.

The sky was clear of clouds, and the temperatures were in the 20s F, but it was quite windy. It definitely felt cold at times, but that’s why we wear our cold weather gear.

Lee (left) and me (right).

The first group of people on the sea ice were gathered around the telescope. That gave a great view of the eclipse!

Taking a picture of the eclipse through the lens of the telescope.

We walked down to the end of the road where many people were watching the eclipse. This is where the rest of the scientists had their instruments set up. We got there around 9:05. Lee and I didn’t have any eclipse viewing glasses, and while we got some fleeting glimpses borrowing others, someone was handing some out there, so Lee and I got to view the eclipse when it reached its peak! It reached ~82% coverage here in McMurdo. The sunlight did seem dimmer around the time of the peak, but it wasn’t by much. The light bits of cirrus cloud may have contributed to the dimming as well. It’s amazing how bright the sun is even if it is mostly blocked by the moon.

People watching the eclipse. Some cirrus clouds provided a nice half-halo. And notice to the lower right of the sun, the reflection of the sun from my cell phone camera shows the eclipse.

It was a great experience to be able to see the eclipse in McMurdo! We were lucky to have the clouds clear out to give us a great view.



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Our arrival on the ice for the 2021-22 field season

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2021-22 Automatic Weather Station (AWS) Program field season! Lee Welhouse and I (Dave Mikolajczyk) will be your field team this year. We just arrived in McMurdo yesterday, 30 Nov, but our travels began a few weeks ago when we began a 20-day isolation period starting 10 Nov. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this quarantine period is required by both the New Zealand government, since we travel through Christchurch, NZ on our way to Antarctica, and the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). I had a good experience with the Managed Isolation and Quarantine period, as the New Zealand hotels were very accommodating to us. Still, it is nice to be able to roam freely outside here at McMurdo! Albeit with some COVID masking and social distancing restrictions for about a week.

This season, Lee and I hope to visit a few critical sites in West Antarctica out of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet-Divide (WAIS) field camp, as well as some sites on the Ross Ice Shelf and in the McMurdo region. Due to the pandemic, our work is pared down to visiting only the most essential sites. We also plan to do some server work in McMurdo to increase the number real-time AWS observations made available, particularly for forecasters.

I’ll end with a couple pictures and send more updates as they come!

Happy Antarctica Day!


Boarding the Italian C-130 Super Hercules in Christchurch, NZ.
Seeing some sea ice on our way south!
We took Ivan on our way from Phoenix Airfield to McMurdo. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

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The End of the 2019-2020 Field Season

The last few days came and went so quickly, but we finished off the season well! On January 13 we were activated to fly out to Marilyn on a Twin Otter plane. We drove out with all of gear and loaded up the plane. We could see fog on the horizon, but we hoped that it was gone at the site. We flew with clear skies all the out, but unfortunately the fog was covering the ground and gave such horrible visibility. There was no way we could land or even find the tower, so we had to turn around and fly back. We were put back on the schedule for both Margaret and Marilyn for the next day, but again, both flights were cancelled due to weather and that left us with no more flying days.

Views on the way to Marilyn.
The pilot dipped into the fog to test it out – you could see the ground, but nothing in front of you. Boomerang was the only option!

Josh and I took a walk break earlier in the day on Monday out to Hut Point since we had heard that recently there had been penguins spotted near the open sea ice out there. As we approached the far side, I could see people with cameras and looked out and saw a group of penguins! It was very exciting, and I went to grab my camera when I heard a surprisingly loud noise (not from the penguins) and looked out towards the open water and there were minke whales! The pod swimming out there had about 6 whales and they just kept popping in and out of the water blowing out their blowholes every time they surfaced. It was an amazing way to relax watching the whales, penguins, and seals on a sunny and (nearly) 40-degree F day.

These Adélie penguins were waiting for the whales to move out before they jumped into the water!
A minke whale fin sticking out of the water (and a gorgeous view in the background)!

Since the weather was still nice on Monday night, Lee and Josh were able to snowmobile out to Windless Bight to fix the station since it had stopped transmitting. I joined up with them afterwards to head to Sarah (near Willie Field) to set it up with the new PCWS datalogger Josh had been working on all season and finally get all the parts working just in time to get it out to test! We hooked up all the sensors and Josh ran some code and found that it wasn’t transmitting, but there was data going through. Since we couldn’t easily figure out what was going on in the field, we decided to call it a night and head in so Josh could look into it more in the lab back in town the next day.

It was late at night, but the sun was shining bright as ever!
Josh hooking up the last wires to the datalogger for Sarah and about to test the code.

On Tuesday, Josh figured there was something going on with the modem out in the field since the other enclosure he had in the lab seemed to work just fine. We decided to head back out at night again and use the truck to drive out to swap out the enclosure. It was a bit snowy, but not horribly cold and windy, so we were able to do the swap fairly quickly. After running the code again, we saw it transmit! It was a great success to have a fully functioning PCWS test station out in the field to see how it lasts through the rest of summer and into winter.

Snow falling as Lee worked to plug in the sensors to the new enclosure.

On Wednesday, we cleaned and packed everything up to be stored or shipped back to Wisconsin and prepared for our flight off the ice on Thursday 16 January! After a few hours delay, we took off and made it to Christchurch around sunset.

The pilots let Josh and I come into the cockpit to see the last of the mountains and ice as we left and for when we landed in Christchurch!

It was a short, but successful first trip for me. The whole season went fairly well considering the technical and electronic issues that were encountered with the PCWS in the beginning, being lower priority for WAIS, and the weather delays towards the end of the season. Thank you for following along on this trip, I hope you enjoyed the stories and updates!



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12 January 2020: First AWS Visits

This week was a long one, but we did have some success! We were on the schedule to fly out to Cape Bird on Monday 6 January, but we were cancelled due to weather. Luckily, the next morning the weather was good enough to get out! It was my first time going out to a station and going in a helicopter, so I was very excited. We didn’t need to bring a whole lot to the station as we were mostly doing a regular checkup to make sure everything was working properly. On our way to the station, I was mesmerized by the views of the sea ice, glaciers, Mt. Erebus, and everything in between. It was a very cloudy day, but still so beautiful. As we were landing, I could see penguins waddling on the ice next to the shore. Cape Bird is right by an Adélie penguin rookery that has about 40,000 penguins!

Views on the ride to Cape Bird.

Our station is up on a cliff above the main part of the rookery and as we made it to the top, we could hear all of them and see pinpricks of the thousands of penguins below. We looked at the station and went through the checkup. The only thing we saw that should be fixed was that the antenna was slightly tilted, so Lee straightened it out. The kiwis at the camp were very nice and offeried to help, as well as make some conversation with us. They let us go down to the edge of the rookery after we were done to see the penguins a little closer. The rule, especially in this area, is that you can’t go up to the animals. However, these penguins can be very curious, so they can come up to you to check you out. I was so excited to be within just 30 feet or so from these guys, but then they came even closer and it was so cool. One penguin come right up to Lee and looked at him and the pilot who came out with us before walking away!

The penguin that waddled right up to Lee (black boots)!
Josh next to Cape Bird after we finished servicing.

On Wednesday 8 January we were scheduled to go out to Margaret but got cancelled again due to weather. Thursday, we got on the schedule for both Margaret and Marilyn, but both were cancelled due to weather – we even had gotten a couple of inches of snow in McMurdo by the morning! That afternoon, the clouds cleared away and I had a chance to launch a weather balloon with one of the observers in the weather office. It was really interesting to see the system they used, and I learned how to set up the balloon and how you’re supposed to launch it. The observer I followed let me finish off tying the balloon and launch it myself! It was such a fun experience, even with the windy conditions. That night Josh and I went to New Zealand Scott Base and got to see what it was like there, as well as hit up the gift store. The snow had come back, but it made for some pretty sites around town and Scott Base.

About to launch the weather balloon! On the radiosonde, I wrote a message in case it happened to get found: “Hello! AMRC-AWS project helping launch!”
Scott Base sign outside their main building in the snow.

We had asked to get to Windless Bight by helicopter, and they got us on the schedule for Friday morning, as well as Margaret and Marilyn (for Twin Otter planes). Unfortunately, all three were cancelled due to weather. Again. Were we ever going to go out?? Hopes were low, but the next day could not have been better to go out and we got activated for a helo flight to Windless Bight. It was such a different view from trip to Cape Bird, but just as gorgeous. The clear blue skies and bright white snow were stunning, and there was little wind (as the name suggests) at the station with temperatures in the teens, but the sun beating down made it feel so nice and comfortable.

Mt. Terror with lenticular clouds right above the peak!

Lee suggested we dig out the anchor that was used to help stabilize the new tower section when it was first put in. Josh and I each started on one of the three “legs” of the guy wire to dig them out. About two hours in, Lee realized the anchors were too far down to retrieve so we should stop. Josh was determined to find the end, so he kept working while I helped Lee on the tower. Josh got about 7 feet down before he hit the very compacted and iced snow and struggled to get any further and there were still a couple feet for him to go, so we knew we had to leave the deadmen in the snow. We finished raising the box and lower temperature sensor and got the station all set again before calling in a helo to pick us up. It wasn’t until later that Lee noticed the station wasn’t transmitting anymore, so we had to make tentative plans to go back and see what went wrong. With only a few days left, we are hoping to fix Windless, get out to Sarah and possibly Marilyn if the weather ever turns around and we can get out.

I had to hop into Josh’s hole and check it out… very impressive!
Josh (left) and Lee (right) next to Windless Bight as we were finishing up and about to plug everything back in (my pit is behind the station).

I’ll update you all on how the season ends once we get out!



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5 January 2020: First Week

Since the New Year, I have been going through different trainings so that I can go out in the field, as well as know the rules and way of life in McMurdo. The most important training session to go out in the field was called Antarctic Field Safety, which went over survival skills in the possible harsh environments and what is in the survival bags (brought with on every aircraft or truck that goes out of town). We learned how to start a fire with the fuel can and mini stove, set up the tent that’s provided, and how to prevent getting to the hypothermia stage. Lot’s of good information and skills to know, just in case.

My first time starting a mini stove with a fuel can.

I also had some free time with Josh to hike up Observation Hill. I had been looking forward to doing this hike, but it was much steeper than I imagined. Although it was a lot of work to get to the top, it was such a beautiful view and well worth the hike. The way down was also a little rough, but at least gravity helped and we laughed our whole way down. I felt very accomplished afterwards, I had never done such a tough hike before!

Me at the top of Observation Hill (photo credit to Josh).

I knew the Wisconsin Badgers played in the Rose Bowl on 2 January down here, so I made sure to have time to watch some of the game. I was so glad when I realized the TV’s had sports channels and got the game!

I got to visit the Mac Weather office to check on one of our displays there and the lead forecaster gave Lee and I a mini tour of the observing roof they had. It was really cool to see the instruments, antennas, and satellite dishes they had, as well as take in the incredible views. We could even see the Icebreaker ship way out past Hut Point.

Rooftop view of Mac Weather with a pinprick Icebreaker beyond the peninsula and to the right of the “ball.”

On 5 January, I took a tour of Crary Lab so I could see the touch tank of Antarctic marine life in Phase 3 of the building and learn what they study down there. I got to see starfish, sea urchins, slugs, anemones, sea spiders, fish and an isopod. The researcher there said he mostly studied the sea spiders and showed us the biggest one they had! I stuck to holding the sea urchin since spiders aren’t my favorite. Every season, the researchers catch all these animals and then release them before they leave.

Holding the sea urchin! (Sea spider to the right in the water)

There’s been a lot of work in the lab preparing to go to more stations. This upcoming week we are hoping to get out to a few sites, so stay tuned for where we go next!



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2019-2020 Field Season

Hello! My name is Taylor Norton and I am a senior undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I also work with the AMRC. I am on my first field season down on the ice, even if just for a few short weeks. Lee Welhouse and Josh Thorsland (from Madison Area Technical College) have been here since mid-November working hard on the new Polar Climate and Weather Stations (PCWS) and servicing stations as weather and flights allow. There is a new project studying Thwaites Glacier and all the people in this effort need planes to travel from West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). This meant that we could only travel to WAIS to check on the AWS Kominko-Slade (at WAIS). So, Lee and Josh had the shortest trip this group has had out to WAIS, lasting only 3 days the week before Christmas. There is still more work to be done for both MATC PCWS and UW-Madison AWS projects, and I am here to help!

To catch up on more details of what Lee and Josh have been doing, take a look at Josh’s blog: https://antarctic-josh.com/.

Before getting to McMurdo, I needed to stop in Christchurch, New Zealand to go through orientation and get my cold weather gear on 29 December. Some exchanges needed to be made since the first coat I was given was too big – the sleeves went to my knees! Afterwards, I spent some time out in the sun and warmth (65F weather) knowing I would be heading for cold temperatures soon. On the morning of 30 December, I rode on a LC-130 to McMurdo. Luckily, there were no delays! The flight was smooth and very roomy which was really nice.

A picture of the Avon River near Victoria Square in Christchurch, New Zealand and a punting boat.

The views of the sea ice and mountains as we made our way south was breathtaking. Stepping off the plane onto the ice was so surreal, but much warmer than you’d expect. Temperatures were just above freezing, so big red was almost too warm to wear! After landing at Phoenix Airfield, we took the Terra Bus to McMurdo where I saw more mountains, pressure ridges, and seals!

Sea ice and the Prince Albert Mountains as seen from the LC-130.
Here I am, just off the plane and about to get on the “bus” to McMurdo!
A small pressure ridge with seals behind it (black blobs)!

Now that I am all settled in and have seen the town (and some of its views), we will ring in the new year celebrating not only the next decade, but the 40th anniversary of the AWS program! We have accomplished a lot of great work in these past 40 years, and we hope to continue our efforts for the Antarctic community for many years to come.

I’ll keep you all updated throughout the next two weeks of the work we finish the season off with!



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The end of the 2018-19 field season

When Elina and I returned to McMurdo on 22 January, it marked the final stretch of the team’s field season. One big objective that we still needed to accomplish was swapping out the remaining 4 AWS in the McMurdo area transmitting via UHF to Iridium. We didn’t waste any time upon return, and the team visited 3 AWS on 23 January: Willie Field and Phoenix by truck, and Lorne by helicopter on a “night flight”, meaning we flew after dinner with the night crew.

There were some issues to troubleshoot at Willie Field and Phoenix. We wanted to install an Iridium modem at Willie Field, and Phoenix was not transmitting properly. We figured that we would remove the enclosures from both sites to do the work on them in the lab. We could easily go back out to those sites to reinstall the enclosures and install a new power system at Phoenix.

Lee and Elina carrying gear to Willie Field.

Lee getting to work on the enclosure and Elina setting up the portable UNAVCO GPS unit at Phoenix.

On 29 January, Lee was able to get back to out to Willie Field and Phoenix to reinstall the enclosures and new power system. Both AWS are transmitting and functioning properly!

Later on 23 January, on that helo night flight, Lee and I went to Lorne to swap the UHF modem for the Iridium modem. It was a little tedious and got a little cold at times, but it was a success!

Lee installing the Iridium modem at Lorne, with the helicopter (left) and Mt Erebus (right) in the background. The low sun angle is definitely noticeable on these night flights, which is pretty cool.

On 25 January, Lee, Elina, and I, along with two boondogglers, went to Alexander Tall Tower! to raise the power system, enclosure, and install two disdrometers on the tower. A disdrometer is an instrument that measures how many particles hits it. We use this instrument to measure blowing snow, but sometimes it’s hard or impossible to distinguish between blowing and precipitating snow. Hence, we installed two instruments on the tower, one at about head height and the other about 20 feet above the surface.

Additionally, Lee needed to climb to the top of the ~88-foot tower to move a net radiometer, which measures incoming and outgoing longwave (earth) and shortwave (sun) radiation. He climbed the tower like a champ!

Lee climbing the tower, and the rest of us watching in awe and away from the base in case he drops something.

On 28 January, Lee flew out to Sabrina and Lettau to fix a cable issue at Sabrina and swap out the data card at Lettau. Initially, we were hoping to get to Emma on this same trip and swap its data card, but due to some issues at Willie Airfield that morning, the Twin Otter wasn’t able to depart until around noon which cut into the pilots’ duty day. Lee was the only one to go on this trip because Forbes, Elina, and I were on the helo schedule to fly to Cape Bird and swap the UHF modem for Iridium. We did not end up going that day.

On 29 January, while Lee drove out to Willie Field and Phoenix, Elina and I were able to fly to Emma to swap its data card and raise the power system. Luckily, the power system was only buried a couple feet. Keith from UNAVCO was with us because after our visit to Emma, we went to Ramsey Glacier to finish removing UNAVCO’s equipment from that site because their field team the previous day didn’t have enough ground time to do it for the same reason as us!

Emma after we raised the power system and swapped the data card.

The Twin Otter at Ramsey Glacier, with Keith on the left.

We stopped at a fuel cache at Ascent Glacier in the middle of the Transantarctic Mountains on our way back to McMurdo. It was a gorgeous flight.

On 31 January, Lee took a Twin Otter to Marilyn to raise the station while Forbes, Elina, and I waited for the weather to clear to go to Cape Bird via helicopter. Unfortunately for the three of us, we were put on weather hold until early in the afternoon, at which point we were canceled due to weather. Instead of sitting around in the lab for the rest of the day, Forbes and I decided to snowmobile out to Windless Bight to raise the station and swap the UHF modem for Iridium. It ended up being a great time, and once again since we were out later in the day/night, the sun angle made everything look extra good!

Windless Bight after we raised instrumentation on the tower, dug up the power system, and installed the Iridium modem and antenna.

A sign directed which us way to go. On our way back, we had to stop to take some pictures… Mt Erebus is in the background.

Our initial redeployment date was 4 February, so after our Windless Bight visit, we were all getting ready to pack up our things and close out the field season. We were still trying to get to Cape Bird, but a big storm hit on 1 and 2 February, keeping us from getting to Cape Bird. That also meant, however, that some northbound flights got delayed, thereby delaying our departure date by a day.

On 4 February, the night before Forbes, Elina, and I left the ice (Lee stayed for a couple extra days), the four of us were on the helo schedule to go to Cape Bird. The forecast was fairly unfavorable for Cape Bird, calling for 20-knot sustained winds with gusts to 35 knots. That didn’t bother us, though; we wanted to get this site visit done! As we were waiting in the helo passenger terminal, the pilot was expressing his doubts about being able to make it to Cape Bird due to the weather. But despite those doubts, we took off anyways. And… we made it there! The weather was actually fantastic. The temperatures were around freezing, and winds were much lighter than the forecast suggested. It was a great way to end a field season!

Cape Bird after we finished servicing, including installing the Iridium modem and antenna. The Adelie penguin rookery is in the background.

Adelie penguins on the beach!

The field team: me, Forbes, Elina, Lee! Wish you were there, Mike!

Lee stayed in McMurdo until 7 February to finish up some work at Willie Field AWS and install the MRI prototype PCWS next to the AWS at Willie Field. The MRI PCWS is now named Sarah, after Josh Thorsland’s late sister. Sarah is powered on but not transmitting, as we ran out of time to be able to verify Iridium transmissions. The prototype installs did not go quite as planned this season, with only one of the four installed, but good progress was made on the project throughout the season nonetheless. Servicing of the AWS network was a huge success this season, with Margaret being the only AWS we were unable to get to on our list. While the UHF-to-Iridium transition had its hiccups, all the new Iridium modems are transmitting (except for Minna Bluff)! That’s great! Once again, it was a long but exciting field season, and I hope you had fun reading along. Until next time…

Cheers! -Dave

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The final 5 site visits from WAIS

In our last 5 working days at WAIS, from 17 through 21 January, Elina and I visited the remaining 5 AWS on our list. It was a whirlwind of work, and timing was perfect for us to catch our Herc flight back to McMurdo on 22 January. But first, the site visits…

On 17 January, we went to Theresa and Erin. The plan was to go to Theresa first, then refuel at a fuel cache at the Ohio Range near Theresa. After that, we would go to Erin, then go to Fallone Nunatak nearby where POLENET has a seismic and GPS site. As such, two POLENETters, Andrew and Aurora, came along for the ride.

The weather conditions at Theresa and Erin were far and away the most challenging that Elina and I experienced this field season, especially at Theresa. Theresa and Erin are located south of WAIS camp, near the Transantarctic Mountains. They are near the beginning of the Ross Air Stream, which is a wind regime where strong winds are concentrated near the Transantarctic Mountains and flow parallel to them and to the north. Skies were clear on this particular day, but it was very windy at the surface. When we arrived at Theresa, the temperature was around -4 F (-20 C) and winds were around 30 knots and increased to around 35 knots throughout the visit.

Theresa upon arrival. Notice the “soft” horizon; that’s blowing snow, an indication of how windy it was.

Notice in the picture that the battery box(es) are buried. I could not find a record of when the battery boxes were last at the surface, so I had no idea how far we would have to dig for them. Regardless, while Elina and I did work on the tower, the others were digging exuberantly to recover the batteries. After Elina and I measured the instrument heights above the surface, we removed the instrument boom so we could attach a new tower section on top.

Elina and I on the tower, just after we put a new section on. Our digging crew was already making great progress.

The hole they dug to get the batteries!

The batteries were buried about 8 to 10 feet! It’s so awesome that they were able to recover them. The Antarctic environment thanks us.

Theresa after we raised the station and power system.

Next stop: the Ohio Range fuel cache, about a 20-minute flight away. This fuel cache is in a “blue ice” area, which means that winds are so high here that there isn’t much of any snow accumulation throughout the year. It all gets blown away, exposing ice that appears blue because any accumulated snow has been compressed so much that air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals become enlarged.

The fuel barrels.

After the Otter was nice and full with fuel, we headed over to Erin, about a 45-minute light away. The Transantarctic Mountains are also visible from Erin, though we weren’t quite as close to them as at Theresa or the Ohio Range. Erin doesn’t get much accumulation, so all we needed to do here was swap out the data card in the CR1000 data logger, dig up the power system (buried about 2 feet), and raise the enclosure and lower temperature sensor on the tower. It was still windy at Erin, but not as much as at Theresa. Winds were around 20 knots when we landed, and it was slightly warmer at around 5 F (-15 C).

Erin after our visit.

We were on the ground for about an hour. Then it was time to head over to POLENET’s site at Fallone Nunatak. A nunatak is a land feature, typically a mountain, then has exposed rock amongst a field of snow or ice.

The power system for the GPS system is in the foreground, with Andrew and Aurora servicing the seismic instrumentation in the background.

The weather was much nicer at Fallone Nunatak, with relatively light winds and temperatures around 20 F (-7 C). It was like being at the beach!

POLENET doing work.

After about an hour, they were done with their work and we were ready to head back to WAIS. It was another long but productive day of field work. Two days later, we had yet another very productive day, though not quite as long…

On 19 January, Elina and I flew to Harry and Elizabeth. Joining us on this trip were Scott Deaton (WAIS physician’s assistant) and Nick Chisari (WAIS cargo). We wanted to swap out the pressure sensor at Harry and raise Elizabeth. These two site visits were pretty straightforward.

Harry upon arrival. The pilots had cached fuel there earlier in the season, hence the red drums in the background.

Elina carried through a task of highest import, placing an AWS sticker on the enclosure and thereby signifying UW-Madison’s claim to Harry AWS.

Harry after servicing. We also raised the power system and installed a relative humidity sensor.

Next, we flew to Elizabeth to add a new tower section and raise the power system.

Elizabeth upon arrival.

The power system was buried about 4 feet down, which is nothing! We all were expert diggers at this point. The raise went very smoothly, and we were able to get back to WAIS before dinnertime!

Elizabeth after servicing (note the sticker).

Two days later, on 21 January, we went to our last AWS site on our list this season: Janet. The purpose of this visit was to replace the batteries which had failed over the past winter, indicating their capacitance was poor and they couldn’t retain their charge. Two members of UNAVCO came along, as well as Mark the mountaineer, as we first visited UNAVCO’s GPS site at Toney Mountain before going to Janet. UNAVCO had visited Toney Mountain once before, but the winds were too high (~55 knots) for them to safely do their work. This day was only marginally better than that; winds were a sustained 35-40 knots when we visited! Luckily it was a quick visit for them.

The UNAVCO power system (left) and antenna (right) at the top of the ridge. Notice the wispy white of blowing snow over the rock…

Looking back at the Twin Otter. You can see the “footprint” downwind of the Otter as it blocks the blowing snow at the surface.

We then skedaddled over to Janet, where the winds were much calmer but it was still a chilly -4 F (-20 C). While we successfully swapped the batteries at the station, the others began digging out a fuel cache nearby, where around 12 drums of fuel had been buried since they were placed there in 2012.

Janet upon arrival, with Elina setting up the portable UNAVCO GPS unit.

Janet after we replaced the batteries.

When we were done, we went over to help dig out the fuel barrels. The Otter filled up with fuel, and we loaded as many remaining fuel barrels that were empty onto the Otter to bring back to WAIS. It was quite the effort!

The fuel cache at Janet. Our AWS is in the upper left in the background.

We headed back to WAIS, which actually turned out to be a bit more of an adventure than we thought. There was unexpected fog over WAIS. We tried landing at the runway, but the fog was too thick and visibility too poor. So we flew back to the edge of the fog, landed, and then taxied for about 15 miles until we reached camp. The taxi took about 1 hour 15 minutes! But it sure did beat having to set up camp in the middle of nowhere!

The next day, 22 January, we packed up our things and got on a Herc for McMurdo. All of the science groups left camp that day, leaving the camp staff behind so they could finish out the summer season there and close down camp. The Herc didn’t arrive until around 8 pm, so we had all day to get our stuff ready. But that also meant we had all day for the Herc to cancel its mission, as it usually seems to do… But it didn’t! We enjoyed some delicious calzones for dinner, had one last drink (or two), and bid farewell to WAIS.

The Herc when it landed at WAIS, with all of us waiting to board the plane.

Cheers! -Dave

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The AWS team has redeployed!

The field season is over! The entire AWS team (myself, Lee, Elina, Forbes) have returned to the US… Elina, Forbes, and I left the ice on 5 February, while Lee left the ice on 7 February. Lee stayed an extra couple days to install the PCWS prototype at Willie Field and finish servicing our Willie Field AWS site. He also stayed longer to ensure that Cape Bird could get its Iridium modem installed. As it turns out, the four of us got to go to Cape Bird on Monday, 4 February, the night before the three of us left! It was a great “end” to the field season. But more on that later.

I will post one more blog post about our work out at WAIS (there are 3 more site visits I have yet to write about). After that, I’ll write a post about the rest of our work in McMurdo after Elina and I returned from WAIS. We all were very busy in the final couple weeks of the field season, which is what we were expecting and hoping for. That means we got a lot of work done!

For the time being, I’ll leave you all with a smattering of pictures.

The Twin Otter parked at Ramsey Glacier, a UNAVCO GPS site. 29 Jan 2019

The flagged route leading me and Forbes back to McMurdo from our visit to Windless Bight… Though we could have also just followed our outbound snowmobile tracks from earlier that day. 31 Jan 2019

Fata morgana on the horizon distorting buildings at Willie Airfield, viewed from the shuttle van on our way out to the airfield to fly to Tall Tower!. 25 Jan 2019

Lee climbed to the top of Tall Tower!! 25 Jan 2019

Adelie penguins at Cape Bird! 4 Feb 2019

Cheers! -Dave

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