Stuck on Flask Glacier

February 3, 2010

Ted writes (via Iridium modem):

The LARISSA glaciology team flew to its highest-priority glacier site, Flask Glacier, four days ago during a brief spell of clear weather. Although the forecast was dicey, the pilot spotted clear sky over our site while flying to the ice core drill camp (Site Beta) earlier in the afternoon. As soon as he arrived back in Rothera, we loaded our camp gear and three of us (Erin, Martin, and Ted) flew out to prepare the camp. The idea was that the second flight, carrying the science equipment for a GPS installation, would follow immediately.

But when we arrived, a low fog was rolling up the glacier from the coast. Like a gray carpet being rolled out, lumps of cloud bumbled in, inexorably covering our site and pushing up-glacier. The pilot landed us as close as he could, with the thought that we could report the weather first-hand the next morning and get an early flight.

Since then, the fog has been relentless, bringing a listless snow and a total grey-out. In the thirty minutes after we landed, we reveled in the spectacular scenery of the site near the uppermost end of the glacier. That seems like a distant memory now. Our world is 200 yards across, extending just beyond our camp boxes at one end, and the radio wires at the other. As for the scenery, we could be anywhere on Earth–anywhere with deep snow on the ground. We’ve seen the sun just a few times, as a glowing pale ball behind thick clouds.

Worse yet, the radar system, the one bit of science gear we fit in on the first flight, the one that performed so well at Site Beta, is having problems. We’ve done a couple of surveys, but can’t measure the depth of the ice here just yet.

We’re truly living through the movie “Ground-Hog Day.” Every day is the same, but we keep trying small adjustments to make it a tiny bit better. Then we wake up the next morning, and it starts all over again.

Our food has been pretty good. Last night we had Thai red curry on tuna with brown rice, tonight red beans and rice with some canned stew, but the gloom of doing next to nothing for four days is starting to eat away at our optimism, and we have a lot left to do. We’re now so well-prepared that we could do it in record time, but we still need some kind of break in this weather. On the radio, we hear that the ship is also struggling with ice and low clouds.

As for Ronald and Terry, the rest of our team, well, they are just whooping it up in Rothera, I suppose, partying their brains out, feasting on cooked food, and showering at will (the nerve). They’re probably even eating fresh fruit.

From left: Martin Truffer, Erin Pettit, and Ted Scambos kill time in the tent while waiting for a break in the weather.

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