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Moving south, part 1: The lone stars

November 17, 2018

The Firn Aquifer team took a giant leap southward on November 12 to 13, flying through two places that share almost identical flags—Texas and Chile. In fact, the Chilean design (with a shrunken blue area on the upper left) came first, in 1817—and is known in Chile as La Estrella Solida, the lone star. The Texan flag was first used in 1839 by the early Republic of Texas, and then re-adopted by the state in 1933.

The Firn Aquifers team scrambled to get equipment ready and shipped following a late approval for the trip from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in mid-August. We had to rebuild two recovered weather stations to be re-used in the study, test and ship the ground-penetrating radar system, send the ice-core drill, generators, solar panels, food, field gear, and completely equip ourselves to measure the aquifer if we found one—about 1600 pounds of gear. Inevitably, some things were not ready in time to ship, so we had to carry large black footlockers full of instruments, wires, and data loggers. The team showed up at the Seattle and Denver airports with nine bags among four travelers, including six laptop computers (two computers were already shipped) with varying levels of polar invulnerability—one of them a truly monstrous Panasonic Toughbook that included enough steel to armor-plate a Humvee, should the need arise. This thing has its own gravitational field.

The critical items were seven large lithium batteries. As any STEM researcher who travels can tell you, moving lithium batteries is like moving people’s party affiliation—it does not happen easily, and often returns to its origins. Among the rules, lithium batteries cannot fly as cargo if the plane also carries passengers. On cargo-only flights the batteries must be specially packed as hazardous cargo. However, there are no cargo-only flights in Patagonia. After much debate and fretting by our Antarctic Support Contractors, Leidos, and realization of the truly incomprehensible rules for lithium batteries on an international journey, we realized that our best hope was to carry them on the plane in our personal bags. A risk. Although perfectly within the rules, one overcautious TSA person could end the radar aspects of the work. Thankfully, we had no issues, and one of our last concerns about gear and science readiness was solved. We arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile on the afternoon of November 13, and hit a favorite restaurant for a delicious local seafood dinner.

Over the next few days, we plan to get fitted for polar gear, check our cargo, and rest until we take off for Rothera, Antarctica. Stay tuned for more info!

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