Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Day

New Year's Day brings us Icestock, the annual outdoor music festival and chili cookoff. The stage is setup on two flatbed trailers, and there is a set of bleachers at the other end of the concert grounds. Around the concert area they've set up a number of cargo containers for the chili cookoff participants to do their work in. The music goes on for the rest of the afternoon, and promises to be quite good, as there are some talented bands in town.

A dozer bucket full of ice for chilling the beer that is probably already freezing. I don't quite understand the logic behind that one.

Friday, December 30, 2005

More ice breaker excitement

12-31 New Year's "Eve"
The ice breaker finally made it all the way in to the ice pier. They broke the channel in this morning, and are now spending the rest of the day out in the turning basin widening the basin and widening the channel in to the pier. It was quite a sight to be right down by the water and see all the ice move in response to the breaker shoving its way in.

The breaker also managed to shove this large piece of ice up onto the pier. I don't think these guys were supposed to be out there, but they lend a good sense of scale.

The ice breaker still has a hammer and sickle insignia on the bow. It appears to be a big case piece of metal, so it probably wouldn't be easy to remove or paint over.

Snow vehicles

McMurdo station is teeming with all sorts of vehicles made for driving around on the ice and in town. Here are a few:

The terra buggies:

The tires on these trucks are five and half feet tall.

This next terra buggy is one of the main transports for getting passengers to and from the ice airstrips. It's called "Ivan the Terra Bus".

They have Ford vans with 36" tires on them:

They have Ford pickups with tracks on them:

And they have dedicated tracked vehicles:

There are few normal trucks driving around as well. They probably stick to the dirt roads of the station. There are also a number of large tractors, bulldozers, road graders, forklifts, and cranes for moving shipping containers and doing construction projects.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

12-30 Friday


A few more pictures from around town.
This is the view from the top of Observation Hill. This view shows you the entire station including all the fuel storage tanks, and Mount Erebus in the background.

Here's a picture of me next to the cross on top of Observation Hill. The cross is dedicated to Robert Scott and the others in his crew that died during their return from the South Pole in 1913. There certainly are a lot of crosses spread around town.

The icebreaker is still making the rounds just offshore from the station. They are cutting a wide turning basin for the cargo ships and tanker coming in later. This is the second day of cutting the corner out. The rumor is that there will be a few commercial cruise liners coming in before the supply ship shows up. The passengers will likely get a chance to jump on shore for a few hours and wander around the station.

One other TA is showing up on the plane flight today, and that will round out our advance party for the class. The rest of the class, all 29 people, will show up next Friday along with a congressional delegation. It will be a full plane flight.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

12-29 note

Noon McMurdo time, Thursday 12-29-2005

The icebreaker that was just a dim dot on the horizon two days ago (see the previous post) has made quite a bit of headway in the last 36 hours. Last night at midnight it was about 1.5 miles out from the station. This morning it is sitting probably 1/2 a mile from the dock, and it has begun breaking up a wide corner for itself and the later ships to turn in to get to the ice dock. It has spent much of the morning first breaking a single channel, and then gradually widening the channel so that it can turn and circle back to its initial channel. After making this circle, it will break up the ice inside the circle to form the open corner for ships to turn in. After it breaks up the ice in this corner, it will finally break the last portion of the path in to the ice dock. The ice breaker seems to make about 1/2 to 1 ship's length per run at the fresh ice. When widening the existing channel it is able to grind along the edge of the channel for many boat lengths. The ice out there appears to be a few feet thick still, but it's hard to tell from my vantage point at the station.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Antarctica trip, the beginning

I got lucky and was chosen to go to Antarctica to help TA for the NSF's Polar Biology course, which is being taught during January of 2006 at McMurdo Station.

On December 22, I hopped on a plane and headed south for New Zealand. About 24 hours later I arrived in Christchurch and checked into my hotel. An unfortunate side effect of my scheduling to arrive in Antarctica prior to the rest of the class arriving was that I had to spend my Xmas holiday in a hotel in Xchurch. I spent two and a half days traipsing around the city, riding the bus and doing some low-key sight seeing. Monday the 26th was the cold weather gear fitting at the Antarctic Center by the Xchurch airport. We spent about 2 hours going through all the cold weather survival gear that the program provides to each participant. Every piece of clothing gets tried on, and ill-fitting pieces are exchanged for better ones. I finagled a few extra pairs of socks and fleece long-johns for diving purposes, and stuffed my bags until the seams were bursting.

The ice flight from Xchurch to McMurdo was scheduled for early Tuesday morning, the 27th. Bad weather in McMurdo forced a two hour delay of the departure, which meant that I got an extra two hours to sleep in. We showed up at the Antarctic Center at 8:30am to suit up, get our gear stowed, and watch some informational videos. After clearing customs, we boarded a bus and headed over to the airfield. There we were greeted by an Air Force C-17 stuffed to the gills with palletized cargo headed to the South Pole station. There were about 12 passengers on our flight.

Here I am in part of my cold weather gear (including the giant clown-shoe-sized boots) in front of our airplane.

The C-17 flight is only 5 hours, and is really quite comfortable. The cargo area is pressurized and heated to around 60 F, so you can relax and read a book. The flight was as smooth as any commercial airliner.

When we finally began our approach to McMurdo the crew began lowering the cabin temperature and we suited up. The landing proceeded without incident. The C-17 lands at one of the more remote ice landing strips. The landing strip is on top of a few hundred feet of ice, and the C-17 lands using normal wheels rather than skis.

Our trip into the station was in the back of a cramped tracked sno-cat type vehicle, over a chewed up road across the ice. After 45 minutes we reached New Zealand's Scott base, and transfered into a Land Cruiser Troopie for the ride over the hill to McMurdo.

The weather on our arrival in Antarctica was absolutely perfect. No wind, sunny, and a temperature slightly above freezing. After dinner I took a short walk out to Scott's hut on the point near McMurdo. A seal was sitting on the ice just down the hill from me, and far out on the horizon you could see the NSF-chartered Russian ice breaker heading in towards McMurdo. The breaker is still a few miles out and it is actively breaking through the sea ice to get in to the station.

The work in lab so far has consisted of sorting supplies and chemicals in preparation for the arrival of the class in about one week. With six different instructors teaching different topics during the month, the amount and diversity of supplies shipped in for the course is overwhelming.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Julian day conversion

NOAA keeps a handy Javascript application at the webpage below for converting a normal calendar date into Julian days. The catch is that it does this conversion using January 1 of any year as Julian day 1, rather than calculating Julian day from noon on January 1, 4713 BC. Most sites on the web give you a Julian date starting from this ancient date. For certain calculations, it is just simpler to express your date within a year in Julian days (i.e. 1 - 365, 366 on a leap year). This NOAA calculator does this for you.