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El Día de Sardinas

February 24, 2014

Rob writers:

Cape Marsh, Robinson Island, Antarctic Peninsula… the last place I’d imagine we’d be eating a can of sardines… Yet here we are, hunkered down in the breeze, having a Sunday Brunch of sardines and biscuits.

Our day started with the usual – obsessively checking the weather via the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) and looking at imagery and data from the three AMIGOS towers located to the south of us. Scheduled to be on the helo ramp at 0830, we finally lift off at 0925 – a total of sixteen crew and passengers bound for Cape Marsh and Matienzo station.

On the Helo Pad Waiting for Our rRde

Ted and Terry on the Helo Pad Waiting for Their Ride

Terry on Board the  Helo 94

Terry on Board the Helo 94

Rob and the Base Commander, Gabriel, on Board Helo 94

Rob and the Base Commander, Gabriel, on Board Helo 94

Ted Enjoys the Inflight Beverage Service

Ted Enjoys the Inflight Beverage Service

The flight south from Base Marambio takes about an hour – we circle to land on a rocky spot above the GPS station – touch down and out the door we go – three Norte Americanos and their five boxes of tools, parts, rations and survival gear. Though we’re only planning to be here for an hour and a half, we are prepared to stay at least five days should the weather change or helicopter issues arise.

The helo chatters off with thirteen souls bound for Matienzo Station – the Base Commander at Marambio has chosen a few people among his staff to fly to Matienzo and check on how the station faired through the long winter.

Helo Departing after Dropping Us Off at Cape Marsh

Helo Departing after Dropping Us Off at Cape Marsh

Since we’re on a tight schedule, we get right to work, photographing the GPS installation and documenting any wear and tear by the relentless wind and snow. Ted’s on the satellite phone checking in with Thomas back in Boulder, while Terry and I start digging a trench for the new antenna cable. Time flies as we work to bring the ailing station back to life. One last call to Thomas and UNAVCO confirms that we have a fully operating system – time to pack our gear and get ready for the helo arrival.

The GPS Antenna at Cape Marsh, Robertson Island

The GPS Antenna at Cape Marsh, Robertson Island

“We need to eat these sardines now!” Ted proclaims as we’re closing up our cargo boxes. These damn sardines have been an obsession with him and he will not be denied. We each gulp down an oily sardine, knowing that we’ll have to live with the aftertaste for the next hour’s helo flight. Mission accomplished and we head for home base.

Our Ride Home

Our Ride Home

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Cable Guys – Foyn Point

February 20, 2014

Ted writes:

February 17 dawned clear and warm — an incredible third day in a row of good flying weather, and we were up next. We rolled out of our bunks at 6 am, checked the weather from the AMIGOS stations we installed to the south of our target at Foyn Point — the camera system at Cape Disappointment.  It too was clear, with a few high clouds. Lift-off was set for 8, and we actually left the ground at 8:05.

The helicopters, Russian-built Mi-17 ‘Hip’ models are big, although slightly less big than I initially thought – about the same as the Argentine Navy (Armada) Sea King helicopters. But they are far easier to work with. A large loading ramp opens in the back and the interior is big and boxy. In our case, there was a bit less space because two large interior fuel tanks had been moved inside — with these, the range radius of the Mi-17 is truly incredible, over 200 miles. We were traveling about 140 miles from Marambio. In addition to the three of us (Ted, Terry, and Rob) there were six others in the aircraft. It was still mostly empty. Properly configured for a shorter flight, I think it could hold 20 people.

Helo at Marambio Base

Helo at Marambio Base

Inside Mi-17

Inside Mi-17

We lifted slowly and moved west over the barren dirt of Seymour Island and across a berg- and sea ice dotted ocean towards James Ross Island. I think of this island as the ‘ice cream island’ – a mesa of brown rock topped by a soft white ice cap that is flowing over the edge. Beautiful and you really sense the nature of ice and its ability to flow — but at the same time you realize that the flow takes centuries. We zoom low past a dozen ice cream fountains along the south edge of the island.

Ice Cream on James Ross Island

Ice Cream on James Ross Island

For many miles we cross sea ice – huge flat plates of broken ice only now cracking up in the Larsen A embayment. This year has been a very extensive ice year throughout Antarctica setting a record (nsidc.org/sea_ice_news). In the Peninsula and Weddell Sea (the ocean to the east of us), there is still heavy ice even though it is mid-February – usually the ice-free time of year for the northern Peninsula.

Sea Ice in Larsen A Embayment

Sea Ice in Larsen A Embayment

As we head toward Foyn, we fly past a much smaller Argentine base sometimes occupied in summer, although not this year. The base is Matienzo, designed to hold 8-12 people and support over-ice traverses and helicopters for exploring the glaciers of the Larsen area. Built in the 1960s, Matienzo is a bit weather-beaten since it is now rarely used; but we hope to make use of it more in the coming years.

Right next to Matienzo is a section of remnant ice shelf that is now the most northerly ice shelf in Antarcitca — the Seal Nunataks Ice Shelf — or at least, that is our working name for it. Technically it is a remnant of the Larsen Ice Shelf, stuck between the Larsen A and Larsen B embayments.

Matienzo Overflight

Matienzo Overflight

Seal Nunataks Ice Shelf

Seal Nunataks Ice Shelf

After about 90 minutes, we are there — Foyn Point, a large rock outcropping emerging from the ice cap, and the cape that marks the north side of Crane Glacier. We can see our two stations through the large porthole windows on the helo. After a few quick passes for a closer look, the pilot moves in and lands — so gently that touchdown was undetectable inside,  and we are off and working. The helo went back to Matienzo to wait, engine idling.

Foyn Point

Foyn Point

Helo on Foyn Point Unloading

Helo on Foyn Point Unloading

Helo Departs Foyn Point

Helo Departs Foyn Point

We got right to it, photographing the stations and assembling our gear for the surgery. The stations were in remarkably good shape, corrosion-free despite being next to an ocean. This may be a result of the near-continuous ice cover for the past few years — a string of cool summers since about 2008 have slowed the pace of ice evolution, and kept sea ice on the Larsen B embayment for the past four summers now. Unlike the Larsen A bay, the Larsen B shows no real signs of breaking out this year.

We first repaired the seismic sensor, attaching cables and re-booting – after all, we are the Cable Guys. The seismic sensor is intended to monitor large iceberg calving events on the nearby Hektoria and Crane Glaciers, and any continental seismicity that may be present. The sensor is located beneath a mound of rocks next to the power and communications box. A key step in the repair is the Jump Test — do we see a signal from the sensor reaching the box? ‘I got this!’ Rob says. And indeed, this is the job he was born to do. A thunderous leap and impact threatened to crack off the entire cliff we were standing on…. but when the dust had cleared, there it was: a clear spike in the data, practically spelling the word ‘Rob’ — or perhaps ‘Help!’.

The Instruments at Foyn Point

The Instruments at Foyn Point

Terry and Ted Look Inside the GPS

Terry and Ted Look Inside the GPS

The Jump Test

The Jump Test

We then repaired the GPS sensor, and called the groups managing the data reception on our Iridium phone. Success, and proven success, because the data was seen to be arriving back in the U.S.  We celebrated with a lunch extracted from our massive box of ‘snacks’ (just under 50 lbs).

On our return, we had a brief ground visit to Matienzo, to take some pictures and get a quick evaluation of how it would be useful to a larger group as a logistical base. It looks perfect, but in need of a little sprucing up.

Terry Matienzo

Terry Matienzo

We are now waiting on weather again for one possible opportunity to go to the second site – Cape Marsh, but we are prepared to depart at the next opportunity to go north. Looks like that may be February 26, a bit later than we’d hoped.

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In Marambio

February 18, 2014

Terry writes:

Ted and Rob had decidedly mixed feelings about returning to Base Marambio, a.k.a. Base Mondongo, after their one-month stint in 2006, but they admit that so far the food has been surprisingly good (and tripe-free). Of course a vegetarian would have a tough time here.

Marambio Welcomes You

Marambio Welcomes You

Marambio Street Sign

Marambio Street Sign

Marambio Dining Hall

Marambio Dining Hall

The sleeping quarters are also a bit of a challenge. The three of us are sharing a room with three other men, none of whom speak much English, but more than any of us speak 
Spanish. The ear plugs we brought for the C-130 flight are even more necessary in Room 15 once the snoring cranks up around 3:00 a.m. But the worst part of our stay so far has been our frustration in trying to get to our field sites.

Marambio Bunk House

Marambio Bunk Room 15

We spent our second day here (Thu 2/13) repacking our field equipment in anticipation of a Friday morning helicopter flight. Then at 8:30 a.m. we awoke to bright sunshine and had our equipment moved to the pad only to find out that only one helicopter would be flying one field team to their site and it wasn’t us. Later that evening we were told that no helicopters would be flying Saturday, but that Sunday would possible.

Our Gear in Flying Boxes

Our Gear in Flying Boxes

All Our Gear

All Our Gear

Helo Flying Over Base Marambio

Helo Flying Over Base Marambio

Saturday (today) we again woke to bright sunshine but were told that Sunday nobody would be flying helicopters due to a poor weather forecast. So now our hopes are on Monday for which the forecast again looks good.

The Guys Looking Out Over Base Marambio

The Guys Looking Out Over Base Marambio

View from Base Marambio

View from Base Marambio

We took advantage of the good weather this morning to take a two hour hike down a few hundred feet to a point northeast of the runway and about 150 feet above the water. On the way, we observed an armada of bergy bits being blown to the southwest by a stiff breeze in our faces. We also found mounds of fossil clams and snails eroded out from local sedimentary deposits mixed with an assortment of igneous rocks that had been transported east from the Antarctic Peninsula by long departed glaciers.

Rob and Terry Start Their Saturday Hike

Rob and Terry Start Their Saturday Hike

Ted Joins Rob and Terry for Saturday Hike

Ted Joins Rob and Terry for Saturday Hike

Are They Lost?

Are They Lost?

Ice Puzzle 1

Ice Puzzle 1

Ice Puzzle 2

Ice Puzzle 2

Man and Antarctica

Man and Antarctica

Regarding Ice

Regarding Ice

Saturday night is party night in Marambio, and the pulse of the station picks up. Slightly. Everyone is issued two beers (yay!) and dinner is something fun — for this Saturday, steak sandwiches. Beef is kind of an “Argentina thing.”

So now, again, we wait.

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Leaving El Palomar

February 17, 2014

Terry writes:

Following the Night of the Tormentas, we ended up spending three more nights there, punctuated by sweltering days, humid nights, occasional storms, numerous power outages, and even losses of running water. We were hopeful that each day would be our last, and even got as far as turning in our linen one morning only to hear that there were continuing problems with getting our C-130 tested. Following that disappointment, we were issued new linens and were thrilled to see the plane takeoff and make four circuits around the base.

We were then told to have our new linens checked in and have our bags ready for pickup at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. We had our usual beers at La Fortunata that afternoon, followed by our first and only off-base dinner at Zarco, an Italian place.

Last Dinner Off Base at Zarco, an Italian Restaurant

Last Dinner Off Base at Zarco, an Italian Restaurant

The next morning went off more or less as planned, and we took off at about 10:00 a.m. for Ushuaia, about five hours south of El Palomar. There we dropped off half our passengers who were bound for Argentine bases other than Marambio, while we took a few photos of the surrounding sunlit mountains and glaciers, huddling behind a wall to shield ourselves from a chilly 30 knot breeze, and waiting for our C-130 to be refueled.

On Board the C-130 Flying to Ushuaia

On Board the C-130 Flying to Ushuaia

The C-130 Being Refueled

The C-130 Being Refueled

Thirty minutes later we were again airborne, this time heading for rainy Rio Gallegos. IAA maintains a very nice barracks area there (Rio Gallegos is another Fuerza Aerea base). We were served two meals, pasta and beef at about 4:00 p.m., and polenta and beef at about 9:00 p.m. Some of us read books, while the others watched “Battleship,” a US Navy recruiting film in English with Spanish subtitles disguised as a science fiction thriller. Spoiler alert: the Earthlings win.

Rio Gallegos DNA Building

Rio Gallegos DNA Building

Rio Gallegos Messhall

Rio Gallegos Mess Hall

The next morning we awoke to a cloud-free sky above a landscape reminiscent of eastern Colorado. We watched from the passenger terminal as our cargo was reloaded, and then stepped aboard the C-130 for the final leg of our now 14-day journey south. After an uneventful four hour flight, we touched down in Marambio.

Terry Enjoying His Stay at El Palomar

Terry Watching from the Passenger Terminal as the Cargo Is Reloaded

Rob Making the Best of His Spare Time at El Palomar

Rob Watching from the Passenger Terminal as the Cargo Is Reloaded

C-130 Cargo Plane being Reloaded in Rio Gallegos

C-130 Cargo Plane being Reloaded in Rio Gallegos

Boarding the C-130 for the Fnal Leg of Our Now 14-Day Journey South

Boarding the C-130 for the Final Leg of Our 14-Day Journey South

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Buenos Aires

February 13, 2014

The LARISSA Project, our multidisciplinary campaign to instrument and monitor change in one of the most important areas of Antarctica for climate response, has gone south again. Hmm, that does not read as inspiringly as I intended.

The joint field season with the South Korean icebreaker, Araon, was excellent, and some significant work on bathymetry, oceanography, and sediment coring was accomplished — but we were unable to visit several important geophysical stations for repairs and upgrades. We contacted colleagues in Argentina’s Antarctic Program to ask if they could help us reach these sites. Argentina recently acquired two large new Russian Mi-17 Hip helicopters, with tremendous capabilities. With just a few flights, under good conditions, we can perhaps repair several of our measurement sites that have gone silent in the past two years.

Three of the LARISSA PIs, (Eugene Domack, Maria Vernet, and Ted) met in November with the director of Instituto Antártico Argentino (IAA), Dr.Nestor Coria, to discuss plans for this year and future years. We came up with a plan to visit several sites, and visit a small summer-only base called Matienzo, south of Marambio and located in a magnificent spot right between the Larsen A and Larsen B bay areas, on one of the Seal Nunataks.

We had a lot to do in a short time such as round up all the gear, test it, and assemble and check out some new instruments from available parts. We also needed gear that was in southern Chile, and we needed replacement parts from UNAVCO and PASSCAL (GPS and seismic science support groups funded by NSF). On top of all that, we also had to make everything fit in airline-checked baggage. Airlines will not let you bring more than six checked bags per person, no matter what. We managed to fit everything into 13 bags. We had a team of three—ok, good to go.

Sarah dropping the guys off at DIA with all their gear.
Sarah Dropping the Guys Off at DIA with All Their Gear
Terry and Ted with Gear at DIA
Terry and Ted with Gear at DIA
Terry and Rob at DIA with Gear
Terry and Rob with Gear at DIA

The flight went smoothly, but we knew that one of the real challenges would be incoming customs (adouana, in Spanish) in Argentina. They have many rules for importing equipment – understandably so – but we did not have time to really go through proper applications before departing (late November – it is agreed to try to go; late January — we go. Not enough.)

We met the challenge straight up — the bags arrived, and we walked over to an open lane, piled a small mountain of baggage on the x-ray machine, and told them quite clearly that we had cases of equipment bound for Antarctica, and we had a letter from IAA describing our expedition.

Argentine customs… let me put it this way. Dante never saw Argentine customs; that is why there are only nine levels. We learned many stories as part of the process. Here’s one. At the recent Grammy Awards, an Argentine singer won. They came home, victoriously flying in to the international airport, wildly popular now with the new recognition. The Grammy, however, is in customs.

It was a struggle, but I have to say (despite my humor above) that the Adouana Argentina staff really worked with us. Still, there is a limit to what can be done. We received permission to bring our gear into Antarctica for repairing the stations, but it must be returned in 60 days. All of it must come back.

Returning from Airport after Customs Victory - Sebastian Marinsek, Argentine Science Liaison, in front seat
Returning from Airport after Customs Victory – Rob and Terry Fight for Food after Long Day of No Eating, Sebastian Marinsek, Argentine Science Liaison, in Front Seat

But our main mission will be done – get all the instruments gathering data again. We are eager to get started.

So we set about learning more about Buenos Aires, spending the next few days eating huge steaks and drinking excellent red wine, walking through the city in summer while we pondered our next moves to prepare.

The Guys Watch the Super Bowl in Buenos Aires at Hotel Bar - Their Faces Tell It All -  Score 9 to 0
The Guys Watch the Super Bowl in Buenos Aires at Hotel Bar – Their Faces Tell It All -
Score 9 to 0
Terry Watches Super Bowl with Disappointment - Score 23 to 0
Terry Watches Super Bowl with Disappointment
Score 23 to 0
Rob Drowns His Sorrow - Final Score 36 to 8
Rob Drowns His Sorrow – Score 36 to 8
Port Building in Buenos Aires - Magnificent Architecture
Port Building in Buenos Aires – Magnificent Architecture
Casa Rosa the President's Palace - Buenos Aires
Casa Rosa the President’s Palace – Buenos Aires

We depart for Rio Gallegos Argentina and on to Marambio Station tomorrow.

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Introduction

April 1, 2013

For the past four Antarctic field seasons that usually run from November through February, Ted Scambos and colleagues have been posting updates about their expedition to the Larsen Ice Shelf region, as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Larsen Ice Shelf System Antractica (LARISSA) project. LARISSA’s goal is to understand the causes and consequences of a rapidly changing part of Antarctica, from climate to ice to ocean and the seabed below, and then to the ecosystem evolving and adapting to the change. This year’s 2013 field season has been extended from April into May: Ted Scambos, Jenn Bohlander, Rob Bauer, Erin Pettit, and Ronald Ross will accompany a group of scientists from the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) aboard the KOPRI research icebreaker Araon.

About the expedition

Who are we?

Where are we going?

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The last best place

May 6, 2013

Ted writes:

Our move to the west side of the Peninsula renewed the challenges we have faced before in trying to get work done over the high, narrow Antarctic Peninsula ridge. The weather is rarely good on both sides at the same time, and communication can be more difficult. Iridium satellite phones or a powerful shortwave radio are needed. We have the Iridium system, which can be erratic when used across international Iridium numbers. And now, in early May, daylight lasts a mere seven hours.

The sea off the Antarctic Peninsula. Daylight is now down to seven hours in this [art of the world.  (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

The sea off the Antarctic Peninsula. Daylight is now down to seven hours in this part of the world. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Antarctic Peninsula (AP) sunset landscapes as the Araon sails back to the western side of the AP. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Sunset along the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

A minke whale breaches near the Araon. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

A minke whale breaches near the R/V Araon. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Days passed with more or less the same appearance outside: dimly lit low clouds, often with snow flurries. In the week ending April and opening May, we tried three times to high-jump over the icy wall of the Antarctic Peninsula, aiming to revisit the first site we had scouted last month, namely the rocky overlook near Crane Glacier—perfect for our instrumentation. But we succeeded only once, and even then the helicopters found the outcrop covered in deep snow, hiding the many large boulders covering the site and making it impossible to land. It was time to head north. It looked like we would get nothing installed.

But on our path to the South Korean research station (King Sejong Station, on King George Island) lay one more worthy target—Cayley Glacier  and the adjacent outcrop called Spring Point. Cayley Glacier is one of the largest west-flowing glaciers in the northern Antarctic Peninsula, and it has been thinning significantly in recent years. It represents a vantage point to observe the changes in western AP glaciers up close, and make some long-range measurements of changes driven mostly by the more recent and more dramatic changes on the eastern side. The ship sailed northward along the coast overnight, setting us up for a few hours at our last best place to measure climate change in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Next morning was snowy and gray, but still majestic with icy hills framing the large calving front of the Cayley. After some preparations, we boarded Zodiac watercraft (an inflatable landing craft fitted with outboard motors) and nine of us motored over to the Spring Point promontory. We loaded the Zodiac with a seismic monitoring station and an automated camera.

Erinn Petit, Ronald Ross, Suk Young Yun, and Won Sang Lee wait for a helicopter load at Spring Point. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Erin Pettit, Ronald Ross, Suk Young Yun, and Won Sang Lee wait for a helicopter load at Spring Point. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

You Dong Cho directs the helicopter to a landing area near our Spring Point instrument installations. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

You Dong Cho directs the helicopter to a landing area near our Spring Point instrument installations. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

We could only man-haul some of the gear from the shoreline up the rocky hillside—the easy way to do it would be an airlift by the helicopters. But the weather was miserable—drizzle and snow, fog and low cloud. We were unsure if they could possibly manage it. From the hilltop we watched the back deck of the Araon, waiting to see if the cargo load would leave the deck by air (or we would have an arduous time with ropes and pulleys from the shore, requiring hours).

Despite the raw conditions, the pilots pushed on, doing three quick loads setting everything within 20 yards of our installation sites. A few hours of rock-bolting and assembling, and we had our site: three important instruments for monitoring change. The seismometer would record the fracturing and calving of the ice in the nearby glacier (about 2 miles away) as well as other glaciers up and down the Peninsula; the camera would witness the local calvings and the changes in the ice front; and a GPS system (installed earlier, but upgraded during our visit) would measure the rebound of the Earth as the great mass of ice slowly flowed off of the Antarctic continent.

Amy Leventer of Colgate College and Ronald Ross install an Extreme Ice Survey camera at Spring Point overlooking the Cayley Glacier calving front to the east, with the Araon in the foreground. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Amy Leventer of Colgate College and Ronald Ross install an Extreme Ice Survey camera at Spring Point overlooking the Cayley Glacier calving front to the east, with the R/V Araon in the foreground. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Ted, Amy, and Ronald make final camera adjustments as bergy bits float by in Brialmont Cove in Hughes Bay. (Credit: Erin Pettit, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Ted, Amy, and Ronald make final camera adjustments as bergy bits float by in Brialmont Cove in Hughes Bay. (Credit: Erin Pettit, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

We finally got ‘er done. Even better, that night was the planned End-of-the-Cruise dinner party—a huge variety of good food, sweet rice wine, beers, and very good company. We are now heading north to King Sejong station.

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East Side Story

April 28, 2013

Ted writes:

After returning from the day trip to the Crane Overlook site on April 17, we received satellite images that completely changed our plan. The images from both a NASA and a Canadian satellite showed that persistent westerly winds starting in early April had opened a large gap in the sea ice just to the east of the Larsen A, B, and C—a long highway of dark water that we could use to get to areas we have been trying to reach for four years. But the opened road on the eastern Peninsula came with a significant risk: at this point in the Antarctic season, such a path could freeze over or slam shut in a matter of days, making it difficult even for a powerful icebreaker like the Araon to escape.

The KOPRI (Korean Polar Research Institute) scientists were willing to take the risk, in part because the ship is fairly fast, capable of up to 14 knots, and because the science potential was high. The weather is much drier on the leeward eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, so we would be likely to fly more often. Communications and weather safety are better because one can see conditions approaching the ship or the field site from a long distance (without the blocking of the high Antarctic Peninsula ridge).

That evening, we took the ship as fast as possible over the northern tip of the Peninsula to the eastern side and sailed down into the gap less than two days later.

A tabular iceberg passed near Snow Hill Island as the Araon headed south toward the Larsen B region. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

A tabular iceberg passed near Snow Hill Island as the Araon headed south toward the Larsen B region. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

A flock of emperor penguins, assembled on an ice floe near Snow Hill Island. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

A flock of emperor penguins, assembled on an ice floe near Snow Hill Island. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

 

- The flock toboggans away from the sound of the passing ship.  (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

The flock toboggans away from the sound of the passing ship.
(Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

And there we were: at the fast ice edge of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, ready to fly with helicopters to the three major glaciers of our study area, one of them already fast-moving and thinning as a result of global warming (Crane Glacier), and two others (Flask and Leppard glaciers) that were poised to change if the last remnant of the Larsen B, the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf, collapsed.

Rifts near the calving front of Scar Inlet Ice Shelf could eventually form tabular icebergs.

Rifts near the calving front of Scar Inlet Ice Shelf could eventually form tabular icebergs. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

The next day (April 20) was clear and warm. The forecast suggested a gradual shift to cooler southern winds by late in the day. We loaded the helos according to a complex plan, trying to get as much done as possible. We would identify a second rock outcrop and install a seismic monitoring station, and begin work on a multi-instrument AMIGOS site on a small crevasse-free section of lower Leppard just a few miles away from the seismic site.

The flight to Leppard was spectacular and revealing. The remnant Scar Inlet shelf from the once-vast Larsen B is now completely fragmented, as cracked as a windshield after an accident, with huge deep rifts indicating fractures on the underside of the floating ice as well. It is clear that the next warm summer will be the last one for this shelf. We were eager to get to our site and get going.

Closely spaced crevasses on Scar Inlet Ice Shelf could fill with melt water during the next warm summer, leading to a possible disintegration event as happened to the main Larsen B in 2002.

Closely spaced crevasses on Scar Inlet Ice Shelf could fill with melt water during the next warm summer, leading to a possible disintegration event as happened to the main Larsen B in 2002. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

But there were problems. Our search on the mountain next to Leppard Glacier for a good seismic mounting site was hampered by bumpy winds around the peaks. Lower down, the rock sites were covered in gravel and loose talus, and were not suitable. So we decided to put the seismic station on the glacier at the AMIGOS site. Problems with the Iridium satellite phones arose. We could not contact the ship, except using the helicopter radios, and they had to be aloft to make a clear call.

Ted Scambos records some notes on Leppard Glacier. The field instrument next to Ted is a backpack-mounted, gas-powered steam drill. (photo courtesy of Jennifer Bohlander)

Ted Scambos records some notes on Leppard Glacier. The field instrument next to Ted is a backpack-mounted, gas-powered steam drill.
(Credit: Jennifer Bohlander, NSIDC)

Rob Bauer (in black) and Erin Pettit (in orange) ready equipment prior to to a radar traverse of Leppard Glacier.

Rob Bauer (in black) and Erin Pettit (in orange) ready equipment prior to to a radar traverse of Leppard Glacier. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

Slowly things moved along despite these obstacles. We conducted a radar survey, skiing a few km across the glacier. The seismic crew began to build the station. A Korean geologist and I returned to the ship in early afternoon. On the flight back, I noticed low fog forming over the Scar, a very ominous sign. Fog had trapped a group of us for over a week in 2010, and that was in summery January, not April. When we landed I asked the pilots to hurry back and get the rest of the crew right away.

An approaching fog bank was the precursor to an intense snow squall that forced a retreat from Leppard Glacier by the remaining field team of 7 scientists.

An approaching fog bank was the precursor to an intense snow squall that forced a retreat from Leppard Glacier by the remaining field team of seven scientists. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC)

But after the helos left, we realized that fog was only the beginning of the weather change. Far from being a gradual wind shift, a sudden abrupt blast of south wind hit the ship, and within minutes we were engulfed in cold blowing snow and mist. Temperatures plummeted. Our sunny day was going to end with a powerful snow squall, with seven scientists still at the Leppard site. Conditions remained beautiful there, 70 miles away.

The Araon, enshrouded in freezing mist and battling 40 knot winds at the Larsen B fast ice edge, awaits the final helicopter returning with a field party from Leppard Glacier. (photo courtesy of Erin Pettit)

The Araon, enshrouded in freezing mist and battling 40 knot winds at the Larsen B fast ice edge, awaits the final helicopter returning with a field party from Leppard Glacier. (Credit: Erin Pettit, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

We radioed the pilots and told them about the declining conditions at the ship, and they loaded the passengers and headed back. By the time they arrived at the ship, a gale of 40 knots was blowing, and visibility was only a mile or so. The pilots made two amazing landings in the blustery winds, with all passengers and gear safely returned.

By nightfall, winds had risen to 60 knots out of the south, with temperatures near zero degrees Fahrenheit. The scientists and ships crew realized that these were exactly the worst conditions for keeping the narrow lane of ocean clear of ice. Cold winds would freeze the open water, and the pack to the east of us (full of thick older ice) would start to shift westward and close us in. The Araon put on all speed and glided through the gathering slushy ice, a gale at its back, until we were north of Robertson Island (the most likely ‘pinch point’ for the drifting ice to close us in).

We were not done though—as the first gale subsided the next day, we returned south again, finding that the road was narrow but not completely shut. We traveled past the Larsen B into the Larsen C, almost touching the Antarctic Circle (in late April!) and collected a core from a key site of the Larsen C. On our way north again, we launched a quick mission to recover gear that had to be left behind when the squall hit. Then we left for good, as the oncoming Antarctic winter was rapidly freezing the sea around us.

We now are again on the west side, in a fjord called Flandres Bay, just opposite our main instrument sites, with one more week to get some stations installed.

Tomorrow looks like flyable weather.

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