Posts Tagged ‘AMIGOS station’

h1

Rothera to Flask Glacier

November 6, 2012

The weather brief at 0745 indicated good conditions over Larsen B sites, but deteriorating conditions at Rothera. We were assigned helper John Eager and chief pilot Alan Meredith. Alan said we needed to return by 1700. Did rush job to get dressed, load all equipment (so we could work at any of the five sites) and make three lunches for Malcy, John, and me. In my haste, I left the Canon camera in the Old Bransfield dressing room.

While I was making sandwiches in the kitchen at 0855, a PA announcement asked if anyone had seen Terry. I called Ops and said I was almost done. I rushed outside just as Clem pulled up on a Gator to drive me to the Twin Otter. The wind was already rising and the clouds were moving in. I hopped into the plane, with Malcy in the co-pilot’s seat, John behind him, and me behind John. Malcy told me we were going just to Flask not Scar Inlet nor anywhere else. We took off at 0910.

After 20 minutes, we had clearing to the west and clouds to the east. Another 20 minutes and it was all clouds. Then over the divide east of Larsen C, we had clouds to the west and clear skies to east all the way to Upper Leppard Glacier and Flask Glacier, whose fjord we entered at the AMIGOS-3 location, which I spotted out the window.

I undid my seat belt, stuck my head in the cockpit, and told Alan we were at AMIGOS-3 not cGPS FLSK. Apparently Andy had given him the wrong coordinates. I told him (which of course involves yelling to be heard above the roar of the engines) that we needed to go farther upstream which we did.

After a few minutes we spotted a solar panel installation, made a touch and go pass, and then landed. I remarked that the bottom of the panel was well above the snow, so it didn’t need to be raised. We unloaded all our equipment, I took some photos, and we started digging and immediately encountered an ice layer. We managed to get through the ice and exposed the top of a metal box.

It didn’t look like the top of the gray Hardig enclosure I was expecting. Malcy asked what was in the box, and I joked that maybe it contained whiskey. Then I noticed that the weather sensor was missing and must have blown off, and then that the antenna was mounted with the solar panel instead of separately, and then that the panel was too small, and then I said, “This is the wrong GPS system.”

Malcolm Airey standing next to what should have been cGPS FLSK but was actually a GPS that Daniel Farinotti needs to inspect and collect data from.

Malcolm Airey standing next to what should have been cGPS FLSK but was actually a GPS that Daniel Farinotti needs to inspect and collect data from.

I’m not sure it was the most embarrassing moment in my life, but it ranks right up there with pooping in my pants during class in the second grade. My coworkers were a bit peeved to have spent half an hour vandalizing someone else’s GPS, but they seemed to have taken it in stride. God (or maybe just Google) only knows what they said behind my back. So we piled ourselves and our equipment back into the plane and I provided Alan with the correct coordinates. He said it was another 2.9 miles up the fjord so off we went.

A few minutes later we located the correct site, made another touch and go pass, and landed at about 1115 Rothera Time (RT), about one hour after our first landing. Again we unloaded everything and I took some pictures. The bottom of the solar panel was 50 centimeters above the snow surface, which, if we’d had more time, would have indicated that we needed to raise the panel.

Alan had told us we needed to leave in three hours, and since I knew I had to replace the electronics at this site, I decided we would not raise the panel. We started digging, and again struck some ice, enough that Malcy need an ice axe to get through it, particularly a layer directly under the panel. We quickly reached the top of the enclosure less than a meter below the snow surface. After another 20 minutes, we had cleared a shovel width around the enclosure down to a depth about two inches below the bottom of the lid.

I took photos, and we undid the latches and raised the lid at 1217 RT. I took photos of the electronics inside. I could see the leftmost two LEDs were off, the next two were flashing, and the rightmost two were lit steady which I believe indicated that the system was still recording data, but just not able to send it back to Boulder. Continuing the detailed instructions I’d received from Seth White of UNAVCO, I powered down the receiver, and then turned off the three power circuit breakers. I asked the other three team members to swap out the WXT520 weather station while I swapped out the Iridium modem and the Trimble GPS receiver.

Correct cGPS FLSK unit that we repaired and upgraded.

Once we had completed all the equipment swaps, I took more photos, powered up the circuit breakers, and then made the first call to Seth at 1345 RT. He told me to latch up the box, he would run some tests, and to call him back in 10 minutes. When I called him back, he said that FLSK had answered the phone, but he couldn’t connect, so he had me unlatch and reopen the box, and start inspecting the wiring. I also told him I could only see one green LED lit. After a minute or two talking to him, I noticed that I hadn’t reconnected pin 2 on the timer circuit after disconnecting it in order to reroute the pin 1 and pin 3 connections. I reconnected pin 2, and Seth was then able to disconnect. I told him I could still only see one green LED, which puzzled him until I realized I was still wearing my sunglasses. I took them off, and then saw the same pattern I saw when I first opened the box. He said everything now looked good to him, so we closed up the box again and loaded up the plane.

Large open crevasses near the Flask Glacier grounding line about half way between AMIGOS-3 and AMIGOS-4.

Large open crevasses near the Flask Glacier grounding line about half way between AMIGOS-3 and AMIGOS-4.

I asked Alan if we’d have time to fly over Scar Inlet to see inspect the crevasse situation, and he said we did. I asked Malcy if I could sit in the co-pilots seat this trip, and we took off at 1430 RT. We again made a pass over AMIGOS-3 and I took some photos, one of which actually came out (barely). We flew over the heavily crevassed region of Flask Glacier downstream of AMIGOS-3, and found AMIGOS-4 on Scar Inlet about five minutes later at about 1445 RT. We made a pass around the station and this time I got better photos. Alan said that the crevasses around the station precluded landing nearby, but he didn’t see any problems landing off a kilometer or so to the east as Steve King had done last year with Ted Scambos.

I then gave Alan the cGPS LPRD coordinates (easier to do with the headset on). I didn’t get any photos but I could easily see that the snow level is up to the bottom of the solar panels, so we’ll need to raise them, probably by just extending the existing splints. And we should have time to do this since I don’t have to swap out any electronics, just upgrade the firmware and the configuration. We then left at about 1500 Rothera time or so.

Weather in Rothera was considerably worse than we had left. We landed at 1620 Rothera time under a 500-1000 foot ceiling into a northerly 25-30 knot wind and moderate snow. Andy B acknowledged a minor share of culpability for the cGPS error, and said that he had since rechecked all of our other four locations that he had given the pilots and they all looked good. Took lots of appropriate but gentle ribbing at dinner about my error earlier in the day. Turns out that the mistaken GPS was one of the units that Daniel needs to visit to collect data, so the fact that we uncovered it was not a wasted effort.

Was too nervous about the presidential elections to head to the bar and spent the evening downloading exit poll results. Most of the polls were still open when I went to bed around 2200 RT and there weren’t many real results available yet. Note that with the end of daylight savings in the states, MST is now four hours behind Rothera time, which in turn is three hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

Advertisements
h1

Cape Disappointment, Antarctica

November 16, 2011

Ted writes:

We have been to the Cape of Disappointment. And we have prevailed.

As is often the case here, the oddest of circumstances led to an opportunity. It wasn’t the way we drew it up on the blackboard, but it worked. Constantly in the back of my mind is this sense of foreboding about this site. It’s the name. It’s like it whispers to me. “You’ll face defeat. My name is Cape Disappointment.”

Tuesday morning, we learned two things: weather at the Cape had been spectacular on Monday, much better than had been forecast, and the weather was a bit marginal for Tuesday. By mid-morning, further satellite pictures had scrubbed our flight for the day.

Or so we thought. Another group working in the area gave it a try at a glacier valley about 25 miles southwest of the Cape, and got in. After a couple of visits to their instruments, they realized that they could use some spare components that they did not have.

I was sitting at my desk, typing. Handheld radios are everywhere in Rothera, so one hears snippets of conversations all over the place.  I am not paying much attention to this background noise, when I notice they are talking about me. No, not a paranoid suspicion (this time), they really were.

“Well if we could get Ted Scambos up to the control tower we might be able to resolve this quickly.”  The verbal equivalent of the Batman signal flashing in the sky! I ran up the control tower stairs two at a time, and burst into the room at the top, breathless but at the same time trying to be nonchalant.

“I’m Ted Scambos,” I said, casually, ‘What’s up?’  A pause.  “Hilmar has forgotten a couple of items, can you fetch them from his office and the hangar?”  Cracks in the Batman light appeared.  “Okay.”

“You know you’re going out to Cape Disappointment to deliver them, right?” Batman light reformed. “And you’ll need to round up your gear. Tamsin and Malcolm are on their way from the skiway to help you install that camera.” Batman light burned brightly now.

It was late in the day, though. We didn’t take off until about 3:15 pm. And I learned that the weather was now not so great at the Cape, and we would be out there until quite late in the evening. We loaded the plane in record time. I  thought.  “This is not the plan I had in mind, it’s too rushed, we’re too distracted, the weather is going to be an added challenge. “But we were in the plane looking down the runway. There was only one thing to do: Close your eyes and floor it. “Here we go.”

It took us until 5:30 pm to get to the area of the Cape. And, the weather: the other Twin Otter with Hilmar Gudmundsson had landed earlier, when the weather was acceptable. They set out a line of flags in the snow. Cape Disappointment is no airstrip. The ice cap (see pictures from last blog) is quite lumpy. And now a layer of heavy clouds had moved in, cutting off the light and making everything flat: no contrast, like a white-out.

But Doug, our pilot, plopped the plane down like a ski jumper sticking the landing at the Olympics, and skidded to a stop. We taxied up to the other Otter. The other pilot, Steve, explained, “The weather has been declining all day. When we landed at 2, it was great.” We learned that the stuff we brought out won’t even be of use. It was the right stuff, but it was now a bit too cloudy and murky to try any more new landing sites for the day.

By now the clouds were fairly heavy over us, and a light snow had begun. But we set out with the gear on the sleds for the rock outcrop. A hill of ice obstructed our view, and I couldn’t even tell if we’d be able to see Scar Inlet Shelf from here.

We spotted the outcrop just a few hundred yards away as we rounded an icy knoll, and dragged the sleds with the gear over to it. The rock was shattered from freeze-thaw, so we couldn’t use the rock-bolts; but Malcolm had made wire baskets that we filled with rocks to attach the guy wires too. It went like clockwork. Everything fitted, we had parts for everything, the batteries were charged, and we moved in a very efficient sequence. Step by step.

The tower went up. Got secured. Solar panels bolted on. Sensor boom mounted. Main camera mounted. Camera direction looked good. Baskets filled with rocks. Guy wires tightened. I got out the laptop to poke around the inside of the mind of AMIGOS6. And it wouldn’t boot up. The battery was dead, or too cold. I warmed it up for 20 minutes against my stomach, but it still wouldn’t boot up the computer.  Wow. Now we had some gambling going on. It is now snowing and about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold and dark, and 9:45 pm with hours to go. OK. We have to gamble that it is all good.

The plane was loaded, but the weather was marginal. There was sort of a fuzzy horizon, one could sort of see the ice shelf a distance away, but it was more like being inside a light bulb. Diffuse. We taxied to the end of the flag line, and Doug was thinking hard, looking around, going through possibilities, contingencies. We could see the eight flags, yes. But it looked like they were painted on a featureless grey screen, just poles in space. We knew there was a drop-off in front out there somewhere. And a cliff, and mountains to the west.  But Twin Otters are amazing, short take-off, tough as nails, and climb like an elevator. Light snow begins to accumulate on the windscreen. Doug ponders.

Close your eyes and floor it.

Cape Disappointment AMIGOS-6 is working perfectly. All the pictures are pointing right where we hoped they would, and the weather station, GPS, and solar sensor have sent data hourly. The Nikon is showing scenes from the front of the shelf, and already it’s clear that there has been some evolution in the past few weeks/months, relative to satellite images. A total success.

BAS and everyone that’s here have been outstanding. Everyone has a good attitude and are fun people to work with to boot. I can’t say enough about this base: its style and its efficiency in putting deep field projects into difficult places. Thank you all very much. (All photographs courtesy Ted Scambos)

h1

Photo blog from the Cape Framnes GPS site

November 14, 2011

Ted writes:

On Friday, I took a quick tour of several sites near the Larsen C and B area with a British Antarctic Survey (BAS)-supported team including pilot Doug Cochran, general assistant Malcolm Airey, Frazier (sightseeing weather forecaster). The main goal of the trip was to repair a precision GPS station. The station measures rock uplift in the Larsen B region as a way of modeling both the past and present ice loss. For a change of pace, let me tell the story as picture captions. (All photos are courtesy Ted Scambos).

tents and airplanes on the antarctic ice sheet

Yankee Camp basks in the sunshine of northern Larsen C Ice Shelf. This is CIRES Director Koni Steffen and graduate student Dan McGrath's base for their radar surveys, which range out to 100 kilometers from this site. The Brits gave it the name, tongue in cheek. The funny thing is, Dan is the only American-born person there. We have stopped to drop off two fuel drums for the surveys. Dan and Tom (a BAS general assistant) are out surveying.

Chilean glaciologist Dr. Gino Casassa prepares coffee for a visitor inside the main tent at Yankee Camp. Koni brought two (yes, two) Nespresso machines to Camp Yankee. One is an emergency back-up, says Koni. A Pepperidge Farm Chessman butter cookie was also offered (and munched). The net value of that single cookie, delivered here on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, is probably on the order of $2. Thanks.

konrad steffen and gino casassa

Gino and Koni Steffen enjoy a very pleasant day on the Larsen C Ice Shelf.

cracking ice shelf

Large cracks line the northeastern edge of the Larsen C Ice Shelf. These are quite typical of ice shelves, and not an indication of change or warming by themselves. We are en route to Cape Framnes. In the distance there is a large shore lead of open water, then sea ice at the horizon.

cape framnes, antarctica

This photo looks north across the Larsen B Embayment, to an area of open water and sea ice that was once covered by thick shelf ice. Jason Peninsula is an ice-covered ridge of land with small flat rocky outcrops. The CAPF GPS station is located at the far side of the brownish half-moon-outcrop area. Note the bluish patches of wind-swept ablating ice on the flanks of the ice sheet. The sea to the right of the outcrop showed us that the wind was quite high, with whitecaps blowing off the tops of the waves.

airplane on ice

Malcolm Airey unloads gear in a stiff wind, preparing for a short ski run down a hill to the Cape Framnes outcrop, while Ted watches idly. Doug Cochran landed the plane on a shallow uphill slope, that flattened just at the end of the landing run. Winds gusted to twenty to thirty knots during our stop. Later, for take off, Doug turned the plane around and took it back over the slope break, downhill and downwind. With the wind at our back, we were doing 70 to 80 miles per hour over the surface before lifting off, heading rapidly for the outcrop we had just climbed away from. Finally the wings gathered air underneath them and lifted us away. It rivaled the Palmer Station landing of last year.

GPS station

The Cape Framnes GPS station had an electronics problem and required several new components.

With winds gusting to 25 knots, Malcolm strung an orange tarp to try to shield us from the chilly blast. It was partially effective. A bit like hiding beneath a summer dress during a hurricane.

Malcom and Ted repair the GPS system. It was a success.

Ted scambos in antarctica

"What do you mean, I have to drag the sled back??"

cape disappointment, antarctica

After a thrilling take off, we next flew to Cape Disappointment for a recon of the planned last AMIGOS site. Cape Dis extends eastward from the Larsen B coast, essentially marking the boundary between the disintegrated portion of the Larsen B (behind the cape in this view) and Scar Inlet. Our favored site for the AMIGOS is the left-hand cliff in the image. Between the foreground Cape peninsula and the mountain ridge is the Crane Glacier embayment, formerly the outflow of Crane Glacier, but now covered by sea ice. At the far left, behind Cape Dis, is Exasperation Inlet, and the small rocky knoll across the Inlet is Delusion Point. Somebody was really having a bad day.

cape disappointment site

This cliff is where we hope to set up the AMIGOS tower. I've marked the preferred site with a red dot, just above a break in slope that will give the camera an excellent view. The pilot thought a landing very near the outcrop was feasible.

h1

A short weather window for station repair

November 10, 2011
antarctic peninsula, moutnains, glaciers, and clouds

The mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula peek through the clouds. Photo courtesy Ted Scambos.

Ted writes:

As mentioned, this year’s expedition is all about repairing existing stations and setting up one new one; yesterday we completed the first of these repair missions. The site in question is arguably at the eye of the storm for ice shelf break-up, near the center of the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf, a remnant of the Larsen B ice shelf that disintegrated in 2002. Since the 2002 break-up, this shelf has calved at least three major icebergs, developed several huge cracks, and has sped up, as the obstruction of the Larsen B ice shelf plate was removed. Behind it, dammed up by the Scar shelf, lie two very large glaciers, Flask and Leppard.  The idea for this part of the LARISSA venture is to set up a series of stations to record the events leading up to the next break-up. If it happens, the Scar Inlet site is going to be a very exciting place. Briefly.

The weather window to do the work yesterday was rather short. An intense storm gathered offshore of Rothera, with contour lines of pressure resembling a large dirty fingerprint on the map. Already as we were taking off, the wind coming off the ocean was brisk, and from the ground I could see dark chunky clouds skulking around the nearby ridges, spoiling for a fight.

But from up above, as always, it was spectacular. It is the undersides of clouds that are fearsome. The upper sides are glorious, and in Antarctica you have a sun-splashed pallet of azure blue, wispy and sculptured white, ethereal cyan, and impossibly sharp black-brown, as sky, cloud, windswept or fractured ice, and rock form an ever-changing composition. A moonscape dressed in lace.The Antarctic Peninsula will someday be a world park of some kind, I am sure of it. It is breathtaking, and beautiful, and dynamic, and solemn all at once.

We flew past both the Larsen C and Larsen B ice shelves. Koni Steffen (a.k.a. Fearless Leader, and both words apply fully), graduate student Dan McGrath, and Chilean scientist Gino Casassa are now camped on the Larsen C, surveying the ice there at an earlier stage of response to climate change (the Larsen C is south of the Larsen B, and slightly cooler).

The Larsen B is closer to the point of destruction, and you can tell just by looking at it. I mentioned the huge cracks already, and there are massive crevasse trains where the large glaciers emerge from the mountains. But it’s more than that: the entire central shelf is a fine network of narrow fissures and slots, and in warm summers the entire area is covered with shallow melt ponds. The last intense melt season was 2006. If that season happened now, with the additional cracks and faster flow, I think we would see a disintegration.

Our pilot, Doug Cochran, flew several circles around our station; it was surrounded by these narrow spiderweb cracks. Last year, with less snow and more early melting, it was impossible to land here. Exposed cracks were everywhere. This year, the crevasses were still covered by icy spring snow. Eventually we gambled on one path, right along a flag line that we had installed when we first put in the station, in early 2010. It worked. Malcolm Airey,a BAS general field hand, and an expert climber and outdoorsman and I skied 300 yards to the site, roped and loaded with “jingly-janglies” (the UK slang for climbing gear: they say this phrase with complete British seriousness). We replaced the weather station and the main processing box including a much better communications system for getting the data off in a hurry, and we were done: 90 minutes.

True to forecast, the storm broke upon Rothera just as we were landing. Within minutes, we had 50-knot winds and clouds of blowing snow everywhere. Dragging our gear back the short distance to the base was far more arduous than the real work on Scar Inlet. This evening, the wind is howling, ice-choked waves are crashing against the coast, and the building is shaking (60-knot gusts, I’m told).

But we’re in the pub, enjoying the events of the day.  And fearing the walk back to the dorm building.

h1

One last look

November 24, 2010

Ted writes:

On Saturday, weather again looked to be clearing over the area of our lost “Site Beta” AMIGOS station, as well as over the Larsen C, so I joined a flight that was planned for another group (Dan McGrath and ‘Puma’, a Chilean graduate student) to get an overflight of our last unvisited site. The flight included the chief pilot for BAS/Rothera, Alan Meredith, and several BAS staff hands, Ben Tibbetts and Ian, to assist with the main objective, raising a Larsen C AWS station managed by Dr. Koni Steffen (also of the University of Colorado) higher to keep it from suffering the same fate as Site Beta. The difference is that the Site 108 AWS received about 2 feet of snow since last year. Site Beta received 30.

As we left Rothera behind us, we could see clearing ahead, and soon we were flying over the crest of the Peninsula. But below us the situation still was not good. Long streamers of blowing snow trailed off the surface, and from every rocky ridge. As we turned, I could see that the snow was moving about half the speed of the plane–and the plane was moving at 120 kts. Alan turned to me and said, “I’m sorry Ted, it’s just not going to happen.” I had to agree. We were still 20 miles from the site, and already there were low clouds building in addition to the snow streamers.

The plane turned east, and landed a short while later, in surprisingly calm air on the eastern side. “That turbulence we passed through on the way down,” (it was just a bit of bumpiness) “was the shear layer in the air. The high winds are above us now.” We spent the afternoon refurbishing a full weather station, raising it 3 meters higher so that it will survive at least 3-4 more years.

The team headed north on Sunday, November 21, arriving in PA around 6 pm. We’re now en route home, just in time for Thanksgiving, with several repaired stations and a plan to return next year.

The LARISSA AMIGOS Team of 2010/2011 wishes to thank AGUNSA, NSF, and especially BAS in Rothera for the excellent support we received, and for pitching in to help when needed.

h1

Flask Glacier and Scar Inlet

February 18, 2010

Ted writes:

The LARISSA Glaciology team continued to get things done in the Larsen B embayment over the past week, but at this time of year the region has a very frustrating weather pattern.  Snow, fog, mist, and even drizzle can shroud the area for a solid week.

The majestic Melville Coast emerges from a thinning haze.

After several days of heavy snow at the Flask AMIGOS site, we awoke to a gradually clearing mist on February 13, and prepared to move fast. Terry Haran and Ronald Ross returned briefly to the previous site at the crest of the ice cap, to re-connect a sensor that failed during our last hour of installation there. Meanwhile I, Martin Truffer, and  Erin Pettit, moved to a second glacier, the wide but relatively smooth Leppard Glacier, to install a continuous-monitoring GPS system.

By flight time the weather was excellent: clear, sunny, and dry with light winds. The flights went perfectly, and within one hour we had the teams at the two sites and making progress. But through it all, to our east, we could see a grey formless shape, a hazy pancake of fog lurking over the shelf. We worked like an assembly line on the Leppard Glacier GPS station, the team barely needed to speak as we worked: this tool here; that method works best for this, here’s this idea to avoid the problem last time, but the fog rose like some inexorable hand, slithering up the glacial valley. How long would it be this time? How long would we be stuck? Worse, we were now a split team again. Terry and Ronald could not rejoin us at the next site, the Scar Inlet Shelf, the lower site, in the center of the fog.

The Scar Inlet is the last vestige of the Larsen B ice shelf—less than 20 percent of a shelf that in the 1980s rivaled the size of Connecticut. Scar Inlet is the southernmost bay of the shelf, and therefore in a slightly cooler climate that the areas that broke up earlier. Its potential for collapse in the next few years, should warming continue even a little, is the driving motivation for our work. Can we get instruments on it ahead of time, and track both the processes of break-up, and the response of the glaciers? In 2002, both of these were stunning: a massive shattering disintegration of a thousand square miles of shelf ice, 700 feet thick, in the space of just a few weeks, followed immediately by a surge of all the glaciers flowing into the affected area, to as much as six times their speed prior to the event. Only the Scar Inlet ice remained; only the Scar Inlet glaciers were un-affected. Scar Inlet stands at the front line of climate change in Antarctica.

As we hunkered down in our tents on Leppard Glacier on the night of February 13, fog and darkness shrank the world to just two dome tents.  Scar Inlet seemed beyond our grasp, a prisoner of a colder, damper summer than most.

February 14 was our lucky day. The fog retreated back down the valley, and the airplane was there within 90 minutes of our weather call. Terry and Ronald were dropped off at the new site first and we joined them by early afternoon. It was by no means a full retreat of the mist, but there were enough ragged holes in the blanket covering Scar Inlet that the pilots managed to get the flights in. The AMIGOS tower was already underway, like a mechanical Frankenstein, slowly coming to life.  As they left, the lead pilot shook his head: “I’m worried about this fog. You guys are going to be here for weeks.”

As I said, Scar Inlet is on the verge of collapse, rent with shallowly buried crevasses, because melt in summer removes nearly all the winter snowfall. But we had no idea just how precarious the situation was. As part of building camp, Terry dug a pit, to “accumulate food wastes,” shall we say, and nearly lost the shovel down a narrow crack about 50 feet from the tents. We took it seriously. Erin put on skis and her harness, and with Martin watching, she probed the area around camp. We found one part of the crevasse that might be wide enough to pose a hazard, and marked it. Overall, the camp seemed safe. Traversing with the radar that evening, we probed on skis for 6 kilometers (4 miles) to the north, and found no more weak areas. Needless to say, we dug a different pit.

Erin probes the ice fracture outside of camp.

February 15 was cool, dismal, even dank, as the fog and clouds closed in again. At this low altitude, just barely above sea level, the air felt heavy and wet. We had seen nothing beyond the runway flags, except occasionally the lowest parts of hazy rocks in the distance. For the most part, we were once again floating in an infinite grey ball, with no horizon. But we worked continuously to get the AMIGOS station in, and by 9 p.m., we had raised the tower and secured it, digging three deep pits and a central large pit for the anchors and the tower base.

The next day, we sensed a change. The mist was thinning. The sun was still obscured, but too bright to look at. We saw shadows for the first time in days. Not quite flying conditions, but close. We radioed a report on the trend to the pilots at Rothera Station, and then took off quickly for a second radar survey.

About a mile out of camp, it happened. Behind us as we skied, the fog began to thin to nothingness, and a stupendous landscape emerged. Martin was the first to notice it, as he knelt to adjust the radar system. It was as if we had been standing in a national park, a world heritage site, that had been hidden behind curtains. The satellite images could never do this justice: Leppard and Flask glaciers flowed down toward us, past a giant rampart of rocky peaks to merge at our feet into a vast plate of ice. In the harnesses, we were giddy: we stopped, snapping pictures, laughing and joking. Our camp seemed like a few fallen toys on the snow at the foot of the range and glaciers. I’m sorry: I just could not get it all to fit into the camera. The majesty of the place was beyond recording.

Ted and Martin Truffer ski across Scar Inlet.

But February 16 was to be a roller-coaster day. As we skied back to camp, looking forward to a return to Rothera, we noticed something odd about the AMIGOS tower in the distance. There was a large black lump clinging to the side of it. Skiing closer, we could see that Terry was near the top of the tower. Something was wrong.

As we got to camp, we learned that the camera on the AMIGOS had failed sometime after we hauled the tower upright. Fixing it would require hours, and even that was not certain; and the planes would arrive within 45 minutes, and they could not wait.

Wow. To have all this to look at, and all the events that might indicate an impending breakup, and no eyes on the AMIGOS. Ronald informed us that there was no way he could fix it out here, and so dejectedly, we removed the camera from the system.

The planes arrived. The distraction of the broken camera, and our long ski back from the radar traverse meant that we were completely unprepared for them. Camp was still scattered and unpacked. But the pilots pitched in, (I want to say: outstanding pilots, Richie Cameron and Dave Edenborough, both in flying and in supporting the science work), and began to help us pack the two aircraft.

That is when the second stunning event happened. We had been at the camp for three days, stomping around everywhere, and had skied for kilometers, finding just one narrow crack. But as one of the pilots dragged some heavy cases across the snow, we heard a shout – and turned to see him waist deep in a 2-foot-wide crevasse. The chasm was nearly black at the bottom, at least 20 feet; it was a “dead” crevasse, formed upstream, and the sides were coated with icicles and frozen rivulets of water from previous summers. The pilot was shaken, unhurt, but the shock of it drew us down even further. Martin probed a safer route, and the mountaineers and I did the rest of the packing, on skis for safety.

The song that came to mind on takeoff: “Whipping Post” by Eric Clapton. But as we flew, and talked things over, a new resolve came to us. We could fix the camera with a quick helo flight and appropriate precautions. And crevasses comes with the territory of exploring active places on ice, places that are changing as climate changes.  With one more week on the ship, we might, just might, be able to put in another station or two, on some of the most interesting ice terrain on Earth

Erin found some food in her pack, crackers ground nearly into gravel, chocolate, and some cheese. It would have been trash by any ordinary standard, but by this point Terry and I were in full ‘field mode’: this was food, and we were hungry.

Terry and Ted enjoy a much-needed snack.

By the time we landed, the song had switched to “Fanfare for the Common Man.” That is how to fly over the Peninsula landscape.  We are now waiting for a flight from the British base to rejoin our colleagues aboard the Palmer.

h1

A taste of success

February 11, 2010

Ted writes (via Iridium modem):

On Saturday, a long-awaited spell of clear weather threw the LARISSA Glaciology Team into fast action. Three of the five stations we hope to put in this are now up and running. Our highest-priority site, Flask Glacier, which flows into the last remaining part of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, is now fully instrumented.

Clear weather over Flask Glacier allowed the team to fly to several sites to set up AMIGOS stations.

The weather was spectacular for nearly three days, beginning on Saturday. With our first flight, our pilots, Richie Cameron and Dave, brought out the GPS system, a continuously operating precision GPS designed to record any subtle changes in the ice flow, even ones at a tiny scale, occurring on a daily or monthly basis. The GPS will also provide a detailed record of any general acceleration if the ice shelf thins and breaks apart.

Every time the plane engines rev, and the plane starts to move, a song just jumps out of my head, like a second heartbeat; Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones for the first flight; Ode to Joy later that day; Ring of Fire by Mr. Johnny Cash on the way back from the ice core camp.

Setting up the Flask GPS took us about 4 hours, and in a second flight, we moved down-glacier to the Flask AMIGOS site. AMIGOS is a heavily instrumented science station, sort of a super weather station with measurements of the ice added in. Terry and Ronald began to assemble the station even before the tents were set up, and had the basic framework laid out by evening. All five of us then set the lower Flask camp, still basically a mountaineering setup with backpack tents and few luxuries. But with five of us now in the cook tent, there was a camaraderie that made up for some of the tough conditions. For dinners lately, we’ve had chili, pan-grilled steak, tofu thai curry, and tonight, with luck and a bit of imagination, jambalaya.

A day trip on Sunday back to the Ice Core Camp got the AMIGOS station there stood up and operational (we had it running, but not erected, for about a week), and on Monday we finished the Lower Flask AMIGOS, the most sophisticated yet. It contains a full-precision GPS (from the GRS-1 board built by TopCon Inc.), a steerable camera system, a full weather station, a sun and reflectivity sensor, and a thermistor string extending 12 meters into the snow. We worked 13 hours that day, until darkness came.. Darkness and night have begun to return here.

As we worked on Monday evening, the fog and snow returned. Tuesday we managed to survey several short radar lines, but fog and poor lighting conditions made it risky to explore too far; the camp is surrounded by huge crevasses. Wednesday we returned to our waiting-for-sunshine mode, that is, looking over the data, sorting the food, reading books, walking short distances for exercise, quoting old movie lines and other trivia games, and just generally hanging around, until the next break.

And with the end of southern summer coming on, we need that break soon. One last push to go.

%d bloggers like this: