Friday, February 17, 2006

Finishing up in Antarctica

I suppose I should wrap up this travelouge properly. The main body of the class shipped out on Feb 3, along with about 120 other people. The five teaching assistants (including yours truly) and one of the instructors stayed behind to clean up, pack up gear, finish up a few experiments, and return all our gear to the various storehouses from which we had borrowed it.

You can become close friends with the person sitting next to you on the hour long bus ride out to the airfield.

Ivan the Terra Bus departs with our crew inside.

By the way, should you feel the need to order your own Terra Bus, you can get it or any number of the other weird vehicles seen around McMurdo Station from Foremost:

After the class left we managed to work in one more snowmobile trip to our deep ice holes to retrieve the foam plugs covering the holes. No one else would be using those holes any more, so we needed to bring the caps back. Shortly after this trip the weather descended on us and shut down any other fun plans we might have had.

On Feb 7th, we stragglers gathered all of our gear up and headed out to the ice runway. The weather had been very ugly for the previous two days, and there were still snow flurries blowing all morning in McMurdo when we were scheduled to leave. We were expecting the flight to have to be canceled, forcing us to sit around in our single change of clothes from our carry-on bags for an unknown length of time. However, when we arrived out at the airfield the weather was quite a bit better. It was still overcast and windy, but the cloud ceiling was high, and there was no snow falling. We waited around for about two hours, and the C17 finally showed up. A small group of people arriving to spend the winter here got off the plane, and the crew unloaded some cargo. Then, with the engines still idling, all the return cargo was loaded on the plane. The return cargo included one special piece of equipment.

From our distant vantage point it was hard to see exactly how they moved this helo, but it sure looked like they just got a bunch of guys behind it and pushed really hard.

After the precious cargo was loaded, the passengers, 91 of us, were allowed on the plane. At one point someone figured out that we actually had 92 passengers ready to go aboard, and only 91 seats, so one woman volunteered to stay at McMurdo for an extra few days (while her checked luggage went with the plane to XChurch). Counting is hard.

The big cardboard box being carried by the gentleman above (Jason) is a sample container. The critical biological samples that need to stay frozen get hand carried by the person responsible for them. Dry ice keeps the samples cold for a reasonable period of time, and then the US Antarctic Program arranges a person to meet you at each of your airport layovers to replenish your dry ice for the next leg.

Inside the plane we chose seats and settled down for the ride. Dave, Brent, Sonya and I all sat together in a show of solidarity against something. No one is sure what though.

The bonus of having the Bell 212 helo on the flight was that we had a ton of extra space in the carg o area around the helo. We were able to get up and walk around, and look through the windows.

The view out the window was mainly a bunch of white stuff, and then a lot of blue stuff.

The flight arrived in XChurch at about 11pm, and I stepped out into the first dark night I had seen in six weeks. The air was warm and moist, and I was suddenly very hot in all my clothes. We had to do the normal customs check in and baggage claim that all international passengers go through, then walk over to the Antarctic center to return all of our cold weather gear. With 90 people descending on the center all at once, the gear check in took a little while. We finally arrived at our hotel around 1:30AM and promptly went to sleep.

The rest of my group flew home the following day, except for Sonya, who traveled with her family around the south island for a spell, and myself. I rented a car and did a solo trip around the South Island, and hit all the major sights. But that's left for another post sometime.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

2-2-06 Ice crack

Part of our group took a trip out to a crack in the ice about seven miles north of McMurdo Station today. We went out there to make a few CTD casts and measure the UV light environment under the ice. We got to take a quick helicopter flight out to the site, and then we spent three hours taking measurements and fooling around. Most of the time was spent on the latter activities.

Part of our crew checked the ice thickness around the hole by drilling through to the seawater. Much like our site back at McMurdo, the ice here is very thick. They finally broke through the bottom of the ice just as they were running out of drill shaft at the top of this long drill.

The wind was up, so we spent a good chunk of time building a wind shelter wall. The excercise of making the wall certainly helped keep those of us building the wall plenty warm.

Feeling pretty smug about the wall:

Mount Erebus was doing its normal smoking routine all afternoon.

Back at the station, instead of the fuel tanker pulling in, the cargo ship has tied up to the dock. Apparently the fuel tanker is stuck further back in the channel, so the supply ship pulled in. This begins the start of vessel week, when they stop selling alcohol in the shop and close the bars. The offload and reload of the cargo ship takes about six days of 24hr-a-day work once it gets started.

The majority of the class takes off tomorrow afternoon, leaving 5 TA's and one instructor to deal with the storage and returning of lab equipment to the storeroom. Hopefully we can squeeze one more snowmobile trip in there somewhere.