Let the on-ice festivities commence! Hi, I’m Dave Mikolajczyk, and I will be guiding you, dear reader, along for some informative, entertaining, and hopefully never-boring stories that will describe the 2018-19 AWS field season. As it turns out, the story began before you even knew it….
The team arrived in McMurdo yesterday, Tuesday 27 November. We’ve got a full family this year (at least for the first few weeks): myself and Lee Welhouse from UW-Madison, Forbes Filip from Madison Area Technical College (MATC), Elina Valkonen from the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Mike Penn from the PolarTREC program (Polar Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating). Mike will be on the ice for a few weeks, departing just before Christmas, while the rest of us will be here until early February. Also, Elina and Mike will be writing blogs of their own, and you can follow along with theirs here:
This field season promises to be a busy one, as we will be doing work for several projects. We will be doing the standard servicing and maintenance for the AWS network, with field work out of McMurdo, South Pole, and West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) field camp. For the joint UW-MATC project (for which a test AWS was installed last season at Willie Field) we will be installing 4 Polar Climate and Weather Stations (PCWS), all collocated at existing AWS (except at South Pole). In addition to field work, we will be installing some computer hardware in McMurdo that is used to acquire satellite data.
Lee and Mike will be going in about a week to South Pole to service our 2 AWS and install a new PCWS near the South Pole runway. They plan to spend about a week there doing that field work. Elina and I will be going to WAIS after Christmas, through about 20 January, servicing as many AWS as we can! Otherwise, anyone and everyone who is in McMurdo will be doing site visits around McMurdo and the Ross Ice Shelf.
Before arriving on the ice, we of course came through Christchurch, New Zealand. We arrived in Christchurch on Sunday, 25 November. The following day, we got our completed our orientation and got our cold weather gear at the Clothing Distribution Center. Once all of that was done, we were able to get out and enjoy the city. The weather wasn’t the greatest (temperatures in the 50s F, cloudy, rainy) but it was still pleasant enough to walk around. The sun did peak through at times! I walked through the Botanic Gardens and enjoyed the colorful flowers, good smells, and sounds of wildlife.
A bumblebee and a flower.
The next day was flight day. We were originally scheduled to fly on a 757, but the morning of it was switched to a C17. That delayed our departure by a couple hours, but that was OK. It gave us some time to grab a bite to eat, get some last items at the grocery store, and snap this stellar shot of the crew:
The field team. From left to right: Lee, Forbes, Elina, Mike, me.
Then we boarded the C17 and headed South for McMurdo! The flight was very smooth with plenty of leg room, which is always welcome on these flights. As we approached McMurdo, the skies cleared and we got some great sights of the sea ice and ice-covered mountains.
The sea ice as viewed from the window.
The ice-covered mountains.
We’re on the ice!
That’s all I have for updates right now. We’re hoping to get our trainings done, cargo organized, and be ready to possibly fly this weekend at the earliest, or definitely by early next week. Cheers! -Dave
I have returned from Antarctica. Here’s the last report of what was a very busy last week!!
1. Work continues to the very end!
We continued to work right up to the very end of our deployment. With a break in the weather, we were able to travel to several AWS sites including Alexander Tall Tower! AWS, which is a nearly 100-foot-tall station with 6 levels of weather observing. The station has been slowly getting buried into the snow…its less than 88 feet tall now. Next year we’ll have to raise it up. We also visited Minna Bluff AWS to prevent it from falling over. The rime ice formations there this year have been just tremendous!! The weather station had nearly toppled over with the base of the station nearly kicking out. With some hard work, we now have a well anchored weather station at Minna Bluff, and we even dug out the old anchors for removal next season. On our last day, we finally got some new sensors installed at our testing location at Willie Field AWS and even a new test system installed as well!! It was a busy, busy end of the field season. You can’t leave until you clean up, so we had a full day of packing up our gear, cleaning the lab where we did our work, and we even vacuumed out our dorm room!
Twin Otter parked near Alexander Tall Tower AWS
Alexander Tall Tower AWS
Bell 212 Helo at Minna Bluff
Rime Ice at Minna Bluff AWS
Matthew at Minna Bluff AWS with the new anchoring system
At McMurdo Station, we are always among friends. Beyond a great group of folks to work with throughout the station, I brought a great team with me from Madison College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We also found many other folks around the station who are from both schools! Wisconsin has had a great and long-standing tie to the Antarctic. The roots of our project go back many decades as Antarctic meteorology has been an area of study for many years here in Madison.
Madison College friends
3. The Vehicles in Antarctica
I’ve included a series of photos of the transportation means we had access to in Antarctica. There are tracked vehicles, helicopters, fixed-winged aircraft, and many others that are used all around the station. I think the most iconic is Ivan the Terra bus – the main mode of transportation from the airfield to McMurdo Station proper.
Ivan the Terra bus
4. Chapel of the Snows and Roll Cage Mary
The last Sunday before I left Antarctica, I visited both the Chapel at McMurdo Station as well as a statue of Saint Mary, we affectionately call “Roll Cage Mary”. The Chapel has been a place of worship by many faith traditions over the years as well as a gathering place for other meetings and events. The reason we call the statue of Saint Mary “Roll Cage Mary” is that there is a protective metal grid around it to protect it from ice and rocks that blow around in high wind conditions. This is located on a trail system that has been established around McMurdo Station, where you can hike around.
Chapel of the Snows
Roll Cage Mary
After a solid month in Antarctica, it was time to say goodbye. While it was wonderful to be in Antarctica, it is great to get back home and back to family. I have a fisheye lens like photo of the C-17 aircraft I left on. The US Air Force helps out as a part of the US Antarctic Program to move people and cargo to and from Antarctica.
Thank you all so very much for joining my e-mailing list! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!!
It turned out that our attempt to go to Thurston Island on 16 January was our last flying day to an AWS from WAIS for the season. The weather at Thurston didn’t cooperate for the remainder of our stay. The original plan was to have us stay at WAIS until the week of Monday, 22 January. After 16 January, we saw that the forecast for Thurston wasn’t going to clear up for the next few days. On top of that, on Wednesday we heard that a storm was going to hit WAIS for a few days, starting on that Friday. Winds were going to start howling, with a lot of blowing snow and low visibility. Definitely not flying weather. Since we knew we wouldn’t be flying from WAIS over the weekend, knew that we had work to do with Matt and Andy in McMurdo, and had the luxury of “relocating” to McMurdo with the CKB Twin Otter, on Thursday morning, 18 January, we decided that we would leave WAIS.
We packed up all of our gear, both personal and work equipment. We cleaned out our tents and had the help of the POLENETters to take down our tents. We packed some food for the flights and departed a little after 9 am. Our route would be from WAIS to Shackleton Glacier Camp (SHG) to refuel, then to McMurdo. SHG is field camp this field season set up in the Transantarctic Mountains, near the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf.
A map of our flight path from WAIS, to Shackleton Glacier Camp (SHG), then to McMurdo.
I say that this was luxurious to leave WAIS by Twin Otter because it pretty much allowed us to leave whenever we wanted. Typically, we would have to wait for a Herc to come from McMurdo to pick us up. Since Hercs are usually in high demand for other missions on the continent, they break often, and they are less flexible than the Otters in terms of flying in poor weather, it is more difficult to leave WAIS on a Herc than an Otter.
One stipulation about about taking the Otter is that it takes longer to get to McMurdo. The plane is slower, and it needs to stop to refuel. Flight time for a Herc is about 3.5 hours, but for an Otter it was 8 hours, including the pit stop. However, since we flew into the Transantarctics, we got some awesome views, which I’ll show in a bit. The long flight also gave us time to reflect on our stay at WAIS…
Overall, both Marian and I agree that we had a great time at WAIS and wish we could have stayed there longer. The camp staff was awesome. Everyone got along really well, and there was always something to do on the nights. We would typically have a movie night/watch a show in the galley. The chef made delicious food for every meal (we were definitely spoiled in this regard). Playing cribbage was a regular occurrence. Everyone helped out whenever they could, whether it be helping with washing dishes, shoveling snow for the snow melters, or helping camp staff with tasks.
One example was helping Zach organize food we got on a Herc. We spent an afternoon out at the “freezer cave” where the food was stored. We took the food out of the triwalls they were sent in, made an inventory, then helped carry the food down to the cave.
The door to the freezer cave, with the chef Zach in the middle, Marian on the left, and Peter (POLENET) on the right.
The freezer cave.
Cool ice formations on the ceiling.
About midway through our stay at the camp, the engineers from both of the Otter crews took a day to make a ski route around camp. There are cross country skis available for use, but no one had ever made a route at WAIS until this year! It was great to get out on a Sunday to get some exercise. It had also been about a year since I skied last… It’s more of a workout than I remember.
The ski trail went right by Kominko-Slade!
Me and the trail, with tent city to my left and Winterville behind me.
So, back to our flight to SHG and McMurdo. After about 3 hours in the air, we started to fly over the mountains. The views were spectacular.
When we landed, we spent about an hour at the camp. It’s a gorgeous camp, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. The weather, according to the people there, all year was pretty much like when we were there: sunny, temperatures around 20 F, and low winds. Very pleasant.
The Otter crew refueled the plane, and we all had some pizza at their camp galley. The chefs knew we were coming, so they made some extra for us (tasty!). We said hi to them (one of which was the WAIS chef when I was there a couple years ago) and some other SHG camp staff (some of which I also met at WAIS a couple years ago [it’s a small continent]).
Our Otter on the left, and the SHG Otter on the right.
Looking in the opposite direction as the Otters. In the distance is part of Shackleton Glacier and one of its “steps,” and you may notice the ice falls as the glacier falls down the steep rocky slope.
We (reluctantly) departed the camp, McMurdo bound. The sights were just as cool leaving the camp as they were coming in.
A better view of the ice falls, from the plane.
We got back to McMurdo around 5 pm that evening. It was a long day of flying, but we were happy to be back in town to try to get as much work done as we could in our last couple weeks on the ice. And with that, this concludes the WAIS blog posts.
On 13 January, the weather was forecasted to be good enough on the coast for us to go to Evans Knoll and Thurston Island. We were very excited at the prospect of getting both of those sites done in one day. For each of the sites, we were hoping to replace the RM Young wind monitor with a Taylor high wind system. The sites are windy places, and the RM Young has had a tough time standing up to the wind for more than a year it seems. We figured we could try installing a high wind system, as these are more robust and have proven themselves worthy in some of our windiest locations (e.g., Manuela, Minna Bluff).
Along for the ride with us came Alex Wernle, a student with the POLENET group. She came with us to help us bring our cargo to the AWS from the Otter, but this trip also functioned as a good way for her to see some cool sights.
The flight to Evans Knoll and Thurston Island is a long one, with it taking about 2.5 hours to Evans and another hour to Thurston. The flight path to Evans Knoll from WAIS takes from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the mountains/volcanoes along the coast, where the ice sheets start to flow onto the ocean, calve, and create icebergs. This provides for some really cool scenery.
Ice sheets and ice bergs, with some open water, along the way to Evans Knoll.
We also flew by an amazing example of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, or waves caused by shear between two adjacent layers in the atmosphere. I’ve seen these waves in cloud forms on their own, but never like the following picture, where the waves are at the top of one cloud layer with more clouds above. It is also a really stark example of the wave features that can be created.
Kelvin-Helmholtz waves in the clouds below the wing of the Otter.
It was a bumpy landing when we arrived at Evans Knoll, as it was extremely flat light due to overcast skies. Flat light means that it is extremely difficult to discern surface definition. This is especially hazardous for pilots here in Antarctica because the majority of their landings are in the open ice fields of the continent. Despite the difficulty, the pilots got us on the ground safely and we prepared to hike up the hill to our AWS.
View from the plane of Evans Knoll (background, with some rock exposed on the side of the hill). The cloudy conditions make it almost impossible to see surface features.
Where we de-planed, with the fuel cache in the foreground and our AWS up at the horizon on the hill. It’s the short, dark line between the red flags.
Marian, Alex, and I got all of our gear in hand and began hiking up the hill. It’s a fairly steep hike, so with carrying around 40 pounds of gear each, it can be taxing. Slow and steady is the key. We didn’t make it very far, however, as we hiked about 50 feet up the hill and encountered a crevasse. We hiked back down to discuss our options. It’s very unsafe to hike across a crevasse. Since we didn’t have a mountaineer with us (someone skilled and knowledgeable in basically everything outdoors), nor did we have crevasse training, nor did we have the equipment necessary to make this trek a safe one, we made the decision to abandon the mission. It was an easy decision in terms of safety, but a hard one because the AWS was so close, and we were so close to completing this work. Alas, Antarctica is a harsh continent.
We packed up and headed for Thurston Island to see if we could do the wind sensor swap out there. We flew for about 20 minutes, but the cloud deck only got thicker. We turned around to head back to WAIS after the pilots determined the flat light conditions were not going to get any better. Alas, yet again, it’s a harsh continent. But at least we all made it back safely.
On 16 January, we tried to get to Thurston Island again. The forecast called for scattered cloud cover for the day at Thurston, which would provide enough sunlight to allow the pilots to see the surface definition and features. Marian and I packed our things on the Otter and headed out once again.
It was mostly sunny for most of our flight, so we could see some of the cool ice formations along the way.
The icescape along the way.
Unfortunately, Antarctica is a harsh continent. Shortly after we passed Evans Knoll, the clouds began to thicken. It was a low layer of stratocumulus that just got thicker and wouldn’t budge. We were thinking, what happened to the promised “scattered” clouds? As it was getting to be about the time that we would be at Thurston Island, the cloud layer was as thick as ever. We descended a bit, flying parallel to Thurston Island, to poke our heads under the clouds to see how the surface definition looked. It was the flattest of flat light. No chance of landing safely. So we had to head back to WAIS for a 3.5 hour ride during which we had plenty of time to sulk. At least we had the icescape to try and cheer us up.
A couple of weather cancelation days after our dig-out of the Turn 1 fuel cache, we got to another AWS on 11 Jan: Janet. This site hadn’t been visited since 2013 and needed to be raised. We also wanted to replace the power system there because it seemed to be getting a little low on battery voltage at the end of this past winter. Since it had been almost 5 years since it was last visited, we were expecting the power system to be quite buried. It ended up working out that we could bring 4 of the POLENET crew with us to help dig. This made the visit go very smoothly.
Janet is about an hour and a half’s Otter flight away from WAIS. Along the way, we were able to see some mountains in the distance. When we approached Janet, one mountain stood out among the rest: Mt. Sidley. This is also where the rest of the POLENET crew went while we were at Janet.
Mt. Sidley on the horizon as we are approaching a landing at Janet AWS
Janet upon arrival, with the 4 POLETNET crew in the background on the right: Dave, Austin, Peter, and Alex… Those goofballs.
As is standard with any raise we do, we first got the heights of the instruments, noted any that were buried, and started digging. Once we dug out the enclosure, I checked that the datalogger was still running, that data looked nominal, removed the data card, and powered down the station. Then Marian and I could free the cables and remove instrumentation while the POLENET crew dug out the power system.
The AWS and POLENET groups working in harmony at Janet, with Mt. Sidley in the background
The one thing that gave me trouble with this raise was the pipe on which the aerovane is mounted, one top of the tower. It was quite stuck, and I couldn’t yank it off with either my hands or a big, heavy orange wrench Marian and I affectionately call the murder wrench (think the board game “Clue”) (see picture below).
Me with the murder wrench, trying to remove the aerovane pipe
Finally, I got the idea to just hammer the pipe off, using a channel locks tool to grip the tower section and provide more surface area to hammer. It worked! We could put the new 7-foot tower section on.
The new tower section is on! But as this picture indicates, the shovels are always the stars of the show.
We finished the work in record time for us this field season (~4 hours), and it was a very satisfying day.
Janet AWS after our raise
With the completion of Janet, we were done with all of the AWS raises out of WAIS, and we only had the coastal sites of Evans Knoll and Thurston Island to complete. These last two, however, turned out to give us a lot of trouble…
It has been a busy few days!
1. Automatic Weather Station Work
This week has been a better weather week so we’ve been able to visit a few weather stations! We made a few attempts to get to Windless Bight AWS. This weather station is located near McMurdo Station. It is not something we can land a helicopter at, due to the soft snow surface. So, we have to drive out. The first attempt didn’t work out – the snow at this location was so very soft and very deep! We drove out on a tracked set of vehicles called a Pisten Bully. Another attempt was made by some Antarctic support staff to help us get a new tower installed for our weather station (we didn’t go as we had another AWS to fly to and service!). Hence, we snowmobiled out to the site, and installed the AWS electronics and sensors on the new tower.
Matthew and the Pisten Bully
Matthew on a snowmobile
Dave and Marian installing instruments on the new tower at Windless Bight AWS
Matthew after servicing Windless Bight AWS
Windless Bight is one of my favorite places – if you stop moving around, it is a very, very quiet place. There is little wind. (Hence, the snow that falls here sticks around and is very, very soft!) It is also a great spot to view Mt. Erebus – the world’s southern-most active volcano! Right here on Ross Island, where McMurdo Station is located, this volcano isn’t really like ones you might think of in Hawai’i, but more like one with a bit of steam, etc. On this very sunny day, you can see the plume from the top.
Matthew with Mt. Erebus in the background
Another AWS we serviced was Elaine AWS – on the Southern Ross Ice Shelf. This station is near the TransAntarctic Mountains, and is a 2 and half hour flight on a twin otter fixed-wing airplane. We refuel part way there, near the Holland Range, then get to find Elaine AWS. These stations on the ice move – as the ice is moving. This makes finding them a bit of a challenge. Luckily, I spotted it, and we had a great day servicing the station.
One question that you may wonder – how do we name our weather stations? Some are named after existing geographical features already named (e.g. White Island, Marble Point, etc.). Others are named for people important in Antarctic meteorology (e.g. Austin, Kathie, Schwerdtfeger, Lettau, etc.) Others are named for those who have supported us (e.g. Marlene, Henry, Kominko-Slade, etc.) or family members…however, none are named for those of us who actually deploy here to work on the project.
2. Climbing Observation Hill – View of McMurdo
This past Sunday, I took a short hike to the top of Observation Hill. This is the large hill that is right next to the station – and roughly separates McMurdo Station (USA) from the New Zealand station, Scott Base. It has a great view of McMurdo and surrounding areas. It is also a famous location – used by the early explorers of Antarctica to watch for returning expeditions to South Pole. One such expedition did not make it back, Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s trek to South Pole in 1912, never did make it back. A cross has been place at the top of the hill in honor of him and his party. It still standing there to this day.
Matthew and Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s cross
Matthew at top Observation Hill
3. Vessel Off load/On load…
The Ocean Giant container ship has been keeping McMurdo busy this past week. In only 2 and half days, the ship was completely unloaded. The ship is already reloaded with items going back to the US. It’s a tremendous job. I keep snapping a photo of the ship now and again (and you can see it in my Ob Hill photo as well). Today the ship left and a refueling vessel has arrived! (I missed a photo of the ship switch…)
The Ocean Giant vessel
After a long period of few flights on and off continent, we did not get any “fresh” vegetables or fruits (or even eggs for that matter!). Finally, we got some recently. Some from the Vessel, and even the research vessel….more will be on future flights. We call these “Freshies”. It is so nice to get an apple to enjoy. Eggs are now very popular at breakfast!!
It’s snowing here – photos attached.
In the evening of 5 Jan, another Twin Otter came to camp! This one has the call-sign CKB (the first Otter’s call-sign is KBG), with pilots Phil and Tyson. Given the Twin Otter needs for both our group and POLENET, the flight coordinators must have seen the utility in having two planes here. And indeed it is useful!
But having two planes is only useful when you can fly somewhere. On 6 Jan, weather was bad everywhere but at WAIS, so there was no flying. Since Marian and I finished our work at Kominko-Slade, we were available to help POLENET with their seismic site they have that’s a 20-minute snowmobile ride away from camp. As we had heard and would soon experience, the POLENET sites are WAY more buried than any of our AWS. A total of 8 of us went to the site on 3 snowmobiles. Given the amount of digging and size of their power systems (more than 10 70-pound batteries compared to our 2!), it’s no wonder POLENET brings so many people to the ice.
The POLENET site near WAIS.
We had to raise the solar panel tripod (pictured above on the left) and move that to a flat surface. That was buried about 4 to 5 feet. We also had to raise the seismic sensor which was buried around 12 feet. The pile of snow on the right in the picture above is from the deep pit.
The pit, with Austin and Peter (not pictured) deep in it. They weren’t quite yet to the bottom of the sensor.
Helping POLENET out definitely made the digging at our sites seem like nothing comparatively. So that was a positive thing we got out of this trip! A new sense of perspective… Marian and I left once the digging was complete and our services were no longer needed. POLENET successfully raised this site, so they have that going for them, which is nice.
After a day of rest on Sunday, 7 Jan, we were canceled on 8 Jan for our Otter missions to any of our AWS sites due to weather. There is a fuel cache, Turn 1, about an hour’s flight away at which the fuel drums needed to be raised to the surface. Since Marian and I weren’t doing anything else, we offered to fly with CKB to help them dig it out. Terry and Alex from POLENET also came along.
The weather at WAIS was cloudy and dreary, but it was nice and sunny at Turn 1. The wind, however, was fairly strong at around 15 knots when we arrived and only increased throughout our stay. There were 32 drums full of fuel that we were tasked with digging out.
Turn 1 fuel cache upon arrival, with 32 mostly-buried fuel drums.
Since the fuel drums are full of fuel, each one weighed about 450 pounds. Our plan was to try to dig them completely out on one side of the drum and then try to have a sort of ramp up to the surface on the other side. Then we would try to yank it up with the help of a couple cargo straps.
Once we were in agreement on our plan of action, the six of us (Marian, Terry, Alex, Phil, Tyson, and myself) began digging. Where else to start?
The first 20 drums.
Once we dug out the first line of drums, we cleared the snow off the surface (to the left of the drums in the picture) so we had a good area to place the drums. Then we all assumed our positions to pull the first drum out. Alex and I were in the pit to help push the drum up. Phil and Tyson each had a cargo strap, which Alex and I secured around the fuel drum. Marian and Terry each took the end of the cargo strap and helped Phil and Tyson pull on the fuel drum. We weren’t sure how well it would work, but much to our delight, it worked beautifully. It only took a couple pulls/heaves to get each drum to the surface.
Now the drums are on the surface!
We all took a break after the first line of drums. The second line of drums was a little bit more intense because the wind had increased, and blowing snow became a nuisance. Regardless, we got those drums up and finished our work in a couple hours. It was a good workout and pretty satisfying to raise them. They probably have a couple years where they can be neglected before they will need to be raised again… which is representative of just about all field work in Antarctica.
Greetings from McMurdo Station!
1. More about McMurdo Station
The station I am at – here in Antarctica – is McMurdo Station. It is the largest station in Antarctica (see photo with Observation Hill in the background). It holds roughly up to 1100 people, although this year there are a bit fewer – more like 700 to 850 or so. The station was established back in the 1956-1957 during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). This is the southernmost place you can sail a ship in the world. The folks who are working here are not deployed for more than a year at a time. No families/children – just those who help support the science mission of the US Antarctic Program, as either support staff, or the science groups leading science efforts. The station is staffed year-round, however, there are much fewer who winter-over and stay to work on projects or prepare for the next summer science “field season” (typically 150 give or take a few winter-over). The station has all the things you need just like you have at home: A hospital, a fire department, places to live (dorms), eat (the galley – as this was historically a Naval station), work (in my case, the Crary Science and Engineering Center), waste management, etc.
McMurdo with Observation Hill in the background
2. Weather – and more cancellations
This week has been filled with stormy weather (see attached). We had a storm here in McMurdo, and now that it has moved on, the weather isn’t good at the AWS sites we hope to visit. Hopefully we’ll have a break in the coming days. This is a difficult situation as we are flying long distances to visit the AWS sites, and have to have weather good at the AWS site, at a refueling site, and here in McMurdo is a tall order!
3. Whales! (and a Skua)
A few days back, we got to see a minke whale in the open water cut open but the icebreaker! It was a fun to see whales – my very first time here after 10 deployments over the last 22 years. I’m not always here during a time when there is open water. Much of the sea life really does cling to the edge of the sea ice. I also got a photo of a skua – which is a lot like a seagull.
4. Resupply Vessel Arrives!
Speaking of ships, the Ocean Giant – the resupply vessel has just arrived on station! This next week we will see McMurdo Station, which is already a 24-hour operation, become super busy with the offload and on load of cargo and supplies for the station. It’s an impressive operation involving a segment of the US Navy, the New Zealand Defense Forces, personnel on the vessel along with the support staff (NSF’s contractor Antarctic Support Contract) already here at McMurdo Station.
Ocean Giant vessel arrives
More next time!!
The day we went to Austin AWS, the POLENET crew arrived at WAIS. There are 8 of them, so they definitely made an immediate impact on camp life in that they nearly doubled the population! They also take up a lot of space in our “science mod,” as evidenced by the following pictures.
The science mod, before the POLENET infestation.
The science mod, after the POLENET infestation.
It took some coping, but Marian and I eventually accepted that fact that we needed to share our space with them. And in all seriousness, POLENET is a great crew to work alongside, so we can’t complain.
The day after POLENET arrived (4 Jan), they got priority for using the Twin Otter and ended up flying to one of their sites. Marian and I took this opportunity to go to Kominko-Slade AWS, a 5-minute snowmobile ride away, to raise it. It had been several years since it was last raised, so we were prepared to do a lot of digging to unbury the 2 boxes of batteries (~150 pounds each) for the power system. This AWS has some extra instrumentation (hence an extra power system box), so we knew we had a long day ahead of us. The weather was great that day, with light winds and sunny skies. As it turns out, it took us two days to finish the work, but we lucked out in that the weather was good both days and even better on the second day.
Kominko-Slade on arrival, with our snowmobile and Marian in the background.
After we arrived, we recorded the heights of all the instruments and noted ones that were buried. The ADG and solar radiation sensor boom is buried just below the surface, and you may see it extending out to the left from the tower. Then we started digging out the buried instruments and power system.
Marian working on freeing the top battery box (they were stacked).
The view from the hole. I’m standing atop the second power box. We (mostly Marian) dug out a staircase to more easily raise the boxes.
We reached the second power system, but at that point it was getting to be lunchtime in town so we decided to wait with raising the second one until after we fueled ourselves up. That’s another perk of working at KMS; we got a hot lunch!
After the delicious grub, thanks to the awesome camp chef Zach, we got back to Kominko-Slade and raised that second power box. We then began removing instrumentation from the tower to prep for putting on a new tower section. We tried the troublesome 7-footer that we had attempted to use at Kathie and Austin, but as we expected, it didn’t fit on Kominko-
Slade either. We attached a 5-foot tower section instead. The remainder of the day, until around dinner time, we worked on reinstalling the instrumentation and filling in the pit we had dug. We resigned ourselves to finishing our work the following day and heading back to town for the night.
Kominko-Slade, as we left it at the end of our first day there.
The next day, 5 Jan, Marian and I went back out to Kominko-Slade. It worked out in that the weather was not good at any of our sites to fly to and the weather was great at WAIS!
Marian on the tower.
The rest of the work we had to do went very smoothly and within a couple comfortable hours we were finished. Kominko-Slade is safe from a snow burial for another several years!
The newly-raised Kominko-Slade AWS.
Harry AWS, 2 January
On 2 January, we took an Otter to Harry AWS. For this site, we wanted to install a boom with an ADG sensor and move the solar radiation sensor currently installed at Harry onto said boom. The pressure sensor has been acting oddly at times, so we wanted to check the wiring on that. We also wanted to raise the station if needed. Before going, we weren’t sure if we needed to add another tower section or not. As it turned out, we did not need to add a tower section! A pleasant surprise. The battery box was only buried a few inches, so digging that up was easy.
Harry AWS upon arrival. It’s plenty tall!
It was quite windy for the duration of our visit, with sustained winds of 15 to 20 knots. Fortunately for us, the temperature was quite warm (around -7 C) so despite the winds, it was still bearable working conditions.
Marian and I dug out the power system then worked on doing any necessary maintenance to instruments on the tower. There wasn’t any issue found with the pressure sensor, so we are unsure why it would occasionally have bad readings. We raised the lower temperature sensor, enclosure, and solar panel. We installed the boom with the ADG and solar radiation sensor as well. Troy noticed that the station was leaning slightly, so we used a cargo strap to function as a guy wire and hopefully prevent any further leaning.
Harry after servicing. The Twin Otter always spices up the picture.
Austin AWS, 3 January
Flying two days in a row! We were very excited to get out to Austin as this was our highest priority site. We stopped receiving transmissions from the site in March 2017, and our hypothesis was that was caused by a failure with the fuse box in the power system which then shut the AWS down. Before the transmission failure, we noticed from the ADG measurements that the station was getting buried very quickly. We knew that we had a long day of digging ahead of us, but if we couldn’t visit Austin this year we were worried that it would get buried by the next time we could visit.
Austin is also a tough site because it is one of the furthest AWS from WAIS which means more time flying, more fuel, and more of a chance that the weather could turn either at Austin or at WAIS, preventing us from going. The forecast at Austin for that day called for clear skies but fog in the vicinity. Another one of our sites, Evans Knoll, was clear, so our plan of action was to fly to Austin and if conditions were too poor, we would head to Evans Knoll. As it turned out, the weather was gorgeous at Austin for our entire visit; clear skies and low winds (and relatively warm temperatures around -10 C).
Austin AWS upon arrival.
Austin was as buried as we were fearing, but we were very happy that the enclosure was still above the surface. This allowed us to check the datalogger right away, but as expected, it was not powered on.
We began digging down to the power system buried about 8 feet below the enclosure. We also needed to dig out the ADG/solar radiation sensor boom and the lower temperature sensor that was mounted on the opposite side of the enclosure.
The two pits at Austin, with the power system pit in the foreground. This may be where we just reached the top of the box.
After a little over an hour, enough had been dug out for Marian and I to start removing the instrumentation and install the new tower section. As opposed to Kathie, we were prepared to use a cargo strap to help us get the tower section on. And it worked very well. Given the amount of accumulation at Austin, we decided to put a 7-foot and a 5-foot tower section on, to raise it 12 feet. This will hopefully make the next visit a little easier, as the only thing that will hopefully be buried is the power system.
About halfway through, we were welcomed with an unexpected visitor… a skua!
It’s always strange seeing wildlife in the middle of the continent. There’s almost literally nothing but snow and ice for hundreds of miles. It’s amazing that an animal could make it this far. We think that it got here by accident, though, and that it probably won’t make it back to the coast, or a place where it can find food. We were hoping for the best for the little guy!
After that interesting distraction, we finished up with the station raise to make Austin look like new again.
Austin after the raise.
One bummer that we didn’t learn about until a couple days after our visit is that the real-time transmissions are not working. We are not sure whether it’s simply a loose cable connection or if there is something wrong with the Argos transceiver. We did verify that the station was powered on and collecting data when we left, so at least we will have the data card collecting the data in the meantime.
Also, as a bonus, right before we left we noticed some fata morgana on the horizon. This is a mirage effect caused by cold air at the surface. It tends to make things look taller than they are. You can see this effect right on the edge of the horizon in the picture below.
The fata morgana at Austin. You may notice the little bit of distortion along the horizon.