Posts Tagged ‘Antarctica’


Arrival at Rothera

November 8, 2010

Jenn writes:

So after working for Ted for fourteen years and nagging him relentlessly to take me to Antarctica I finally arrived at Rothera Station yesterday evening.  Seeing pictures in no way can compare to seeing it in person, and I was absolutely blown away by the scenery when I got off the plane. I was also quite excited to get off the plane because the heater on the plane we took from Punta Arenas was broken, so it was much warmer outside then it was on the plane ride.  I could actually feel my feet thawing out as we descended in elevation.

Weddell seals lounge in the water near Rothera Station

After we settled in our rooms we had to rush off to Saturday night dinner, which is an event at Rothera. They ask you to dress a little nicer, clean up a bit, they put nice table cloths down, and your meal is served to you.  The food was very good, and they had a vegetarian meal for me, which I was very thankful for after spending almost a week in Punta Arenas.  It’s very meaty there.

Sunday I went on a walk around the island with a few other people who are new to Rothera.  The scenery was again, amazing, and there were Weddell Seals all along the walk, however no penguins, which my daughter will be very disappointed about.  She really wants me to return home with a picture of a penguin. It’s still early in the trip so hopefully I can do that for her.

Tomorrow I will go to snow school, which I’m sure some of my co-workers at NSIDC will have a hard time envisioning me doing.  Hopefully it will teach me some valuable things because, quite honestly, I’m not sure Ted or Martin have any confidence that I’ll be able to save them if the situation arises–I can’t really blame them though.

Also a note to our NSIDC co-workers, Ted and I are getting along surprising well, although Martin might think otherwise, we are actually still speaking civilly to one another.  Anyone who has ever listened to a conversation between Ted and I will understand how sometimes we can speak to each other with a bit of an edge.  So far so good, but we haven’t been out in the field yet.


A Ride on the NASA IceBridge DC8

November 4, 2010

Ted writes:

Jenn and Martin are here in Punta Arenas. All is well, and we did the clothing issue right after they flew here on Tuesday. Jennifer is now known as “Polar Jenn” (see photo).

There is another group here in town, working on the NASA IceBridge project. IceBridge is a research program that measures the large ice sheets using several highly instrumented aircraft. NSIDC is the data management center for IceBridge, and I am working with a couple of people at NSIDC to augment the archived data with some derived products – taking two measurements, or three, and calculating a new parameter. The aircraft they use here is a DC-8, a large old jetliner that NASA has used for years on many projects. It can carry up to 40 people, in addition to the dozens of instruments, so Martin (who is on the IceBridge User Working Group for NSIDC) and I decided to request a flight on board. We got our chance Thursday.

The flight plan was simple: a round trip to the South Pole. The concept is to use a very accurate laser altimeter (actually two) to survey an area where many satellite data tracks converge near the pole. This will allow a careful calibration of all the data (mostly ICESat -1 data).  On the map, the route looked a bit like a golf tee with a golf ball on top, but very stretched out. At 9am we were lifting off the runway, bound for the South Pole at 40,000 feet and 12 hours round-trip.

The feel aboard the IceBridge DC8 is somewhere between a commercial flight and a shuttle mission. Everyone is relaxed and chatty, joking around, but there is an undercurrent of technical precision. We all wear headphones when seated to communicate with the pilots. Shortly after take-off, they announced they were ready to “execute maneuvers.” I looked at Martin quizzically. What maneuvers? The huge plane then began to pitch up and down like a car on a hilly road, followed by some snappy wing rolls. Those big planes we fly in every day? they are a -lot- more nimble than we ever let them be in the airline world.

Inside, it is surprisingly large: most of the seats are removed, and the remaining 40 seats are all business class size, scattered around the plane. Most of them are in pairs right in front of large electronics stations for the instruments. The sensors are poking out of about seven holes in the aircraft, and there’s a big pod, like a blister, on the bottom of the plane that holds a special ice-penetrating radar. We have two lasers, three cameras, something like 12 GPS, an infrared heat-sensor, and a coffee maker. I’m pretty sure the panic starts when the coffee maker breaks down.

It was a long, rather peaceful day, chatting with the instrument teams, getting ideas for the data products and the archiving work that NSIDC has to do, snacking, and watching the largest mass of ice on earth roll beneath us.


Last day on the ice

March 1, 2010

Note from LARISSA team: our sympathies and best wishes to the people of Conception and Santiago, Chile, and the other damaged areas. The Earth can be mighty and implacable, as well as beautiful. Humanity alone knows compassion, and this is our strength

Terry writes:

Our first evening back on the Nathaniel B Palmer was quiet, calm, and starlit. Orion was setting, head down, in a cloudless southern sky. We were in Andvord Bay on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, planning the last few possible installations for the cruise. All of them required helicopter flights over the ridge to the Peninsula’s east side. We could only hope that the weather would be clear enough on both sides to allow that, which so far during the cruise had only happened once, and never while our glaciology group was on the ship.

Terry climbed ten feet up the tower to install the replacement camera.

The next morning, Sunday February 21, Ted woke me at 6:15 with the news that we had clear skies around the ship. Erin and Martin’s trip to Foyn Point to install a seismometer was on. Then he said I should get ready to replace the AMIGOS camera at Scar Inlet later that morning as well–even though that was not planned at all. Erin and Martin took off in Barry James’s helicopter around 7:45 while Ronald provided me with some tips on how to test the camera after installation, and how to set up pointing for pictures. But by 8:15 Erin was back on the ship telling us they had turned around due to low clouds on the east side. They were going to try again in an hour or so. This gave me extra time to consolidate the clothing, tools, and climbing equipment I’d need to perform the replacement. They did indeed leave again on Barry’s helo around 10:45, and by 12:30 I had wolfed down a quick lunch, had my replacement camera, my computer, and the rest of my gear loaded onto Chris Dean’s helo. I climbed into the front passenger seat and got strapped in. This would be the third helo flight of my life, but my first one in the forward seat. The feeling up front was somewhere between space capsule and soap bubble.

We lifted off the pad in bright sunshine, the blue waters of the fjord peppered with house-sized icebergs calved from the surrounding glaciers. We flew southeast above Bagshawe Glacier, passing a huge black wall of smooth vertical rock wall laced with an intricate network of snowy cracks. Below us lay a blue-white quilt of ice and snow with a patchwork of seracs (standing ice blocks) and their intervening crevasses. The helo approached the summit of the brilliant Bruce Plateau which at first loomed above us as an insurmountable hurdle (picture), but then flattened into a sloping plane as we came closer. A quick look behind showed an ominous sea of fog approaching our tiny orange ship from the northwest. I feared we’d be racing a closing weather window: the helos had already lost one such race, and the pilot and two explorers had camped on a rocky beach for three days as a result.

We stopped first at Foyn Point to pick up Erin, who would serve as mountaineer at our next stop at Scar Inlet. Just as we landed at Scar Inlet, we received word from the NB Palmer that the fog was only a few miles from the ship. Chris responded that we would leave in about an hour.

We were worried about the crevasse risk, given our experiences on the day we left the AMIGOS site.  Since then the Scar Inlet AMIGOS had been reporting afternoon temperatures as high as 6 degrees Celsius (about 43 degrees Fahrenheit). Warm temperatures can soften and weaken the snow pack covering hidden crevasses, such as the ones we found during the deployment. So immediately upon stepping out of her seat, Erin anchored her rope to the helo skid and then probed with her ice axe outside my door. The top 12 inches or so seemed fairly resistant to probing, so she then instructed me to step out of my seat and to clip into the prussic (a sliding loop of smaller gauge rope) she had rigged for me on her rope. After stumbling for a moment with the prussic, I gingerly stepped into each of her leading footprints until we reached the tower. The whole thing was as close to a space-walk as you can get, I think, on this side of space anyway.

Amazingly, we managed to test the replacement camera, climb ten feet up the tower, and install it, in a little over an hour. The tower moved a bit with both of us hanging on it, but we were chosen to perform this task because we were the lightest-weight team members.

Our return flight went northwesterly, straight back to the ship in Andvord Bay and directly over the outlets of several glaciers that flow east into the Larsen B Embayment. I pulled out a 30 meter resolution Landsat satellite image map from my computer case so I could identify and call out each glacier as we flew over it:  Flask, Stubb, Starbuck, Rachel, Pequod, Melville, Mapple, and Crane. I found it was relatively easy to match up individual ground features seen out my window with the corresponding features from the image map: a distinctive line of peaks here, a tributary glacier flowing in there, etc. The weather was still very clear where we were, although I did notice some fog obscuring the sides of Crane Glacier where I was hoping to see the “trim line” that marks the previous level of ice before the dramatic drawdown of the glacier that has occurred since 2002. I was so busy looking for the trim line on Crane that I completely missed noticing the calving front that was clearly visible from the our left side seats as revealed by Erin’s photos. Oh well, maybe next time.

Later that evening Ronald and I were able to confirm that images from the Scar Inlet AMIGOS were indeed being received and that the camera seemed to be working perfectly. And although we needed to adjust the camera positions (which we can do remotely), it turns out that just by chance one of the views appears to be looking directly up Flask Glacier, which is one that we’ll probably keep.

We did it. We used every resource in the program to do it, but we did it: three AMIGOS, and two GPS, sitting on some of the most dynamic, vulnerable ice on Earth.  Now we’re sailing north towards Punta Arenas, packed up, and wondering what’s next.


Palmer to Palmer

February 24, 2010

Ted writes:

The LARISSA Glaciology Team made its way back to the RV Nathaniel B. Palmer, in two unusual leaps.

After getting picked up from Scar Inlet, we landed in Rothera Station, in the southern end of the Peninsula. We knew that if we wanted to get anything further done, we needed to get back aboard the ship. We had installed everything we had brought on Flask Glacier and Scar Inlet. We still needed to fix the SCAR inlet Web cam, and install a seismic listening station for glacier calving, and the ridge-top high-resolution AMIGOS camera. And time was running out: it was now February 17, and the Palmer would head north no later than the 26th.

The team saw these crabeater seals during a boat ride near Rothera Station.

As usual, the staff at Rothera were amazingly generous, taking us on an evening boat tour of some nearby islands while we waited for good weather for the next step. The boat ride was spectacular. Every shoal and beach teemed with wildlife.

The next day was February 18, my birthday. Not a birthday present in sight, but I thought if we could get back to the ship, well, I’d take it as a sign from The Big Guy that I was doing okay by him (or her). That morning, the Twin Otter pilot gave us some cause for hope. His plan was to fly us to Palmer Station, the U.S. base, and have us wait there for a helo pick-up from the ship. The only trick was the runway at Palmer, set on a small ice cap behind the base. The ice has been badly eroded by the warming climate in recent years. It has rarely been used since 1990, and in fact the only landing in years was a medical evacuation in 2009. I was thinking how ironic it would be if I were the first casualty of Antarctic global warming.

We flew between the bases (song: “The Blue Danube“) over the icebound landscape. Though every glance out the window was a masterpiece of landscape art, we at this point were able to read or nap as the dramatic sculpted architecture of the continent rolled beneath us.

And then we saw the “runway.” It was the most rutted, cracked-up, slush-pit of a glacier I’d ever seen. It was sloped, with the end of it as steep as a ski run, leading straight to a boulder field. The line of runway marker flags looked like some kind of practical joke. Even more humorous, the flags were numbered, in descending order, like a countdown in some movie thriller, “Four-hundred meters to self-destruct.”

A crowd from the station had gathered, taking bets no doubt on whether or not we would survive. But they picked the wrong pilot to mess with. Richie circled once, and then slapped the plane down on the uppermost third of the bobsled run—I mean runway—and then threw the prop into reverse (Amazing fact: on a taxi-way, Twin Otters can actually back up under their own power). We bounced to a stop, not quite crossing the “6” on the doom countdown.

The Palmer people (total population 38) were really welcoming. But I was shocked when Ronald pointed out a “Happy Birthday” banner in the galley. As it happened, February 18 was also the birthday for the Palmer Station chef, Staci, and the back-up chef, Diane, had gone all out for a celebration dinner and cake. All I had to do was shout “and Ted!” at the right moment in the birthday song. We had a fun night at the Palmer bar and hot tub.

The team caught a ride from Palmer Station back to the the N.B. Palmer aboard the research vessel Lawrence M. Gould.

At Palmer Station, we noticed a large orange ship parked in front of the base. This was the RV Lawrence M. Gould, the other major U.S. polar research vessel, used mostly for oceanography around the continent. We learned that the ship was basically on stand-by for an entire month with little to do. We hatched a plan.

We pulled away from the pier on the afternoon of February 20th, with a thousand pounds of gear strapped to the deck of our new water-taxi, the Gould. Officially, the Gould was out to replenish its water tanks (it desalinates the sea-water) and pick up some devices for sediment studies from the Palmer. But for the five us, it was one fine ride.

This was my third birthday in Antarctica. So I guess I’m 3 in Antarctica years. Looking at the photo on our way out of Palmer, Martin informed me that Antarctica years seem to be a bit more taxing than even dog years. But as the two ships met up, at sunset in a coastal fjord, it seemed as if things were proceeding nicely for this toddler.


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.


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.


Rothera tour and Palmer visit

January 29, 2010

Ted writes:

The group took a tour of the island that Rothera lies on, which is rich with polar marine wildlife. As we described in December, Rothera is a medium-large base with generally about a hundred people there. The key is that it has both a good gravel runway and a pier for ships, making it a logistical hub for the region.

Our science liason with BAS, Tamsin Gray, offered to lead us on the trail to the north, along the rock and pebble beach there. It was a living nature park; penguins, sea birds, and several kinds of seals.  Adelies like to dance, Tamsin explained, fur seals are grouchy, and Weddell and Crabeater seals seem to be smug and puppy-like.

The ship, the N.B. Palmer was on its way to Rothera, to drop off our gear after our pull-out from the ice core camp, fuel up,  and drop off Martin Truffer, the missing member of the ice team. Our plan for deploying the AMIGOS and other sensors will be done by more Twin Otter flights, allowing the ship to move to the east side and spend much of that time working southward toward the Larsen B,  where were supposed to have been all along. It’s been quite a trip so far.

By noon, we could see the ship in the distance, and by 1:30 it was approaching the quay at Rothera, with most of its crew and staff standing on the deck waving. We held a planning meeting for the science, and a planning meeting for the Rotherites and Palmerainians. The idea was to give Palmer a taste of shore life, especially a taste at the tiny pub in Rothera’s main building. It was very successful.

Erin’s bike was on the ship, so she went for an evening bike ride before saying goodbye to it for a while. The Palmer departed at midnight with a happy glow surrounding it.


48 hours on the ice

January 28, 2010

The LARISSA team flew to Site Beta, Ellen Mosely-Thompson's ice core camp, to install an AMIGOS station.

Ted writes: The day after our first attempt to get in to the Peninsula ridge crest, we awoke to a near perfect morning, a clear and bracing breeze blowing across Barilari Bay (Chocolate bar is claimed, it is pronounced bari-LAR-i, in other words, Italian style). The promising weather brought early wake up calls and some fast preparations to the whole crew. By 6 a.m. the ship was wide awake and moving ahead with helo ops. We mapped out a very full day, to take advantage of the weather. We would install our first AMIGOS at Site Beta, the ice core camp of Dr. Ellen Mosely-Thompson, where we surveyed in December. Then we planned a reconnaissance flight of the next three sites on the glaciers feeding the Larsen Ice Shelf. After that, we would try to install the GPS site on one of them (Leppard). We had a brief delay, though, because the weather at the ice core site still had not cleared by 7 a.m. It was surprising, because we could see such a good sky above them. By 8 a.m., though, the camp manager, Thai Verzone, gave us a better than even chance of getting in. We took it.

The grease ice, or very thin frazil ice, in Barilari Bay, gives the water a shiny luster.

The climb off the ship was a rush; it always is. Usually a song pops into my head on take-off (like ‘Back in the USSR’ by the Beatles), but this time it was a poem: High Flight, by John G. Magee. And our day matched the words: clouds and sky and swooping, flowing, frozen terrain, things you have not dreamed of. The sun glinted off the water. A freezing slurry of ice crystals forming on the surface gave it a surreal appearance. We charged upward, needing altitude to reach the ice camp, through a glacier we called The Gateway. (Yes, I’m a professional glaciologist. No, I don’t know its name. There are 160,000 of them. Some of the names have slipped by.) It was covered with cracks and crevasses, written there by the churning and grinding forces that move the ice. At the top, one last, broad semicircular crack, a bergschrund, marked the start of the ridge plateau.

The helicopter flew over this glacier on the way up Site Beta.

On the narrow ridge of the Antarctic Peninsula, we felt like we had left Earth behind and arrived on an ice planet. Within about ten minutes, we could begin to see a scattering of specks on the snow so small: a working science town of six, 150 miles from the nearest permanent base. Dr Ellen Mosely-Thompson, the pixie-like director of the Byrd Polar Research, and Thai Verzone, cheery and linebacker-sized, greeted us as we landed. I hugged Ellen, and felt as if I nearly broke her. Then Thai hugged me and I knew what that felt like.

Ellen has been pursuing climate records of Antarctica for a good while now, and she is dead set on getting the past few thousand years’ record from this site. The Peninsula is warming rapidly because of global climate change. How does this cycle of human-caused climate change differ from those warmings and coolings of past millennia? She hopes the answer lies here.

Researchers discuss how to un-stick the ice core drill, inside the dome tent.

Two large tents dominate the camp: the dome, where the drilling happens, and the cook tent, where the eating happens. In Antarctica, the two require almost equal amounts of time, with sleeping coming in third sometimes.

Erin and I walked over for a look inside the dome. Inside were Ellen’s colleagues, Victor Zagorodnov and Vladimir Mikhalenko, two Russian  and Ukrainian scientist-engineers who know ice coring the way Stradivarius knew violins. As we stepped in, a strong smell of ethanol assailed us. They are using the fluid to keep the cold, deep core hole open against the tendency of ice to flow. The core was temporarily stuck, at 380 meters, and it was impressive to hear Victor and Vladimir discuss ideas for clearing it. Remember, we are in the middle of nowhere.

Ellen Mosely-Thompson, Erin Pettit, and Thai Verzone

“We could make a tubing for antifreeze by stripping the insulation off an extension cord, Vladimir.”

“Yes, Victor, and then perhaps the bailer could be re-configured to deliver the antifreeze with a weight and nail that would puncture it just above the drill head.”

In fact, the whole team was working the issue. Benjamin Vincencio is a Peruvian scientist who has worked with the Thompsons for many years, and Roberto Fillippi is an Italian graduate student on his first trip to the ice.

Adjoining the dome tent, sunk into the snow, is the accumulated 380 meters of time in a bottle, the ice cores that record nearly every detail of the areas past climate.

We heard a helicopter approach again. Ronald and Terry had arrived to build the AMIGOS system. But stepping outside, we saw that the weather was declining. Terry and Ronald got right to work on the tower, thinking that we were going to get this in just under the wire. In fact, the wire had already swept past, with the ship and the ridge-top coming under increasing cloud and wind. Not terrible, but cloudy and frosty, with an ice fog and temperatures of about 10 degrees F.

We realized we would have to spend the night. The weather at Site Beta has been notoriously bad since December, when we were stuck in our tents waiting for pick-up. It could be ten days before a weather window that included the ship and the ridge-top site occurred again. Was the ship going to be pinned in Barilari Bay for ten days, waiting to fly us out? That would be a huge amount of resources to tie up. Not to mention boring the heck out of 44 of the worlds best polar scientists.

Ellen Mosely-Thompson provided tents and sleeping bags for the visitors.

We had minimal gear, just the survival bags that NSF issues anyone going into the field. But one of the keys to building a great survival bag is that you don’t want people using it unless the alternative is not surviving. So the gear is pretty light and simple. Fortunately, the camp had spare tents and gear. In fact, it was the bundled-up camp that Erin and I had worked from in December. By afternoon, Erin and Thai had set up a new suburb of Beta City, three tents and sleeping bags inside, for the four of us. Martin had stayed on the ship to organize the aborted follow-on installations.

We had a fun afternoon, snow falling, puttering away on the AMIGOS tower, snacking, chatting with the drill team. Dinner was a very international thing: Russian jokes, American jokes, Peruvian jokes, Girls on Ice jokes, and Swiss jokes (don’t tell Martin).

When not in the dome tent drilling ice cores, Ellen Mosely-Thompson's team spends much of its time in the cook tent.

But we were concerned about what we were going to do. Another day passed, and the weather was still bad. The helo pilots managed to fit in one flight, bringing up the main contractor from the ship for a look around; but it lasted just twenty minutes, in weather that was near impossible. Later, another pull-out was scheduled, but conditions were terrible: at one point, we saw the underside of the helicopter passing overhead, but it couldn’t land. We could stay for an extended time, there was plenty of food and fuel, but we would be unable to work on anything, and we would be holding up the ship.

We came up with a plan for a pull-out of ice core by Twin Otter (an aircraft  a two-engine delivery truck with wings) based in Rothera, a British base about 150 miles to the south. Could we go to Rothera and free up the ship to sail north to biological sites and use the T/O to do our installation work from Rothera?  We began making calls (on Iridium) and emails (on digital Iridiums).

The next day brought beautiful conditions to Site Beta, a rare day indeed. But the ship was totally socked in. No final word yet on our Twin Otter plan, but a Twin Otter was already on the way, to take ice cores to the Rothera freezer.

Terry Haran smiles after "body surfing" the Bruce Plateau.

Erin and Terry did a last re-survey, to ensure we had good GPS topography data of the region. Erin drove, and Terry rode along to hold the GPS upright. But in blue-sky, sunny, dry snow conditions, any outing is a joy ride. “I body surfed the Bruce Plateau!” Terry said.

We asked for space on board and in exchange for five boxes of time coming out, there was enough room for us. We flew. On laughter-silvered wings.

Ronald Ross, Erin Pettit, Ted Scambos, and Terry Haran squeezed into a Twin Otter for a flight from Site Beta to Rothera Station.


Barilari: A flight over the west coast

January 22, 2010

This map shows the location of Ted and Martin's goal near Barilari Bay.

Ted writes:

The LARISSA glaciology team flew again today. This time Martin Truffer and I looked at the possibility of a flight up over the ridge of the Peninsula to our target sites on the east side. Bad weather (clouds, and blowing snow at low levels) has hampered our attempts to get to any of the regions near the Larsen B embayment.

The Palmer has moved south, to a fjord called Barilari Bay, just across from the Site Beta ice core drilling location, which the LARISSA glaciology team surveyed in December. This is a very scenic area, even prettier to my eye because the bay is smaller and ringed by glaciers that flow down right into the water. It is clear that this area had a small ice shelf itself at some time in the fairly recent past, perhaps a few centuries ago. Our marine geology group will look into that possibility while we wait for good weather.

By the way, free bar of chocolate to the first one at NSIDC or in the reading public that can tell us all the correct pronunciation of Barilari. Right now, most of us are going with an Aussie inflection, rhyming with “Hillary,” but we also have a “Barry-Larry” dialect, and a rather odd quasi-euro version, “ba-rEE la-REE.”

We took off at 9:48 this morning, and headed north to peer into the glacier troughs for some kind of path with thinner clouds overhead and less mist and blowing snow below. En route, our pilot (Barry James) wisely steered around a magnificent spire of rock looming like our own Matterhorn over the bay.

“It doesn’t look at all like the Matterhorn,” mutters Martin Truffer. And with his Swiss accent, who can argue with him?

We climbed the most promising trough in the ice, but as the ice rose towards the Antarctic Peninsula ridge-crest, the fog and clouds seemed to meet — no go for the east side today.  We turned to go back to the Palmer, and as we approached we had an excellent view of this ice-rimmed bay, and a look at just how tiny our floating village (the Palmer) is at the Antarctic scale.

Erin and Terry were there to greet us after our thirty-minute flight. Spirits are still high, and we expect a better break on the weather tomorrow.


The Storm

December 21, 2009

The LARISSA IPR Team is now flying north over the Southern Ocean, towards the Straits of Magellan, and home. This is the second part of Ted’s update:

Ted writes:

It began with a haziness, an odd light, at midnight on the fourth day. There’s an old saying about the color of the sky at sunrise and sunset. But what if sunset happens at midnight, and it’s also sunrise, at the same time? An ice fog blew across the camp, flocking everything with feathery or bristly crystals. Rothera told us by radiophone to prepare for the worst.

To our surprise, the next morning was still fair enough to try to finish the last of the survey. Rob and I suited up, and managed to drive about 20 km of data before our batteries ran out. We turned back just in time. By 2 p.m. the wind had risen to 30 knots, and we were shouting over it to tie things down, close things tight, get supplies and gear where we needed it for a long wait. We dove into the tents at 3 p.m., and then the weather really broke. By 4 p.m. the wind was howling at 45 knots, snow was screaming past the plastic windows of the tents, and huge plumes of drift streamed away from each tent, as if each were the head of a comet streaking across the sky.

That night was one of the most thrilling of our lives: the sounds, the power of the storm, feeling the might of it through the thin fabric wall of the tent. There was an entire spectrum of sounds. The lower level of blowing snow was a hissing, sandy undertone against the tent; then the tympany of the tent fabric, like a crescendo in a symphony that would not end. But there was more: there were times when the wind seemed to thunder into the very ground beneath us, as though God was hammering away at the camp with stupendous boxing gloves. There were times when the hissing would be interrupted by a clattering, as nearby dunes of snow blew to pieces and scattered agains the tent walls. At one point, there was a sound like rainfall against the tent: a truly terrifying thought for an Antarctic field party. We surrounded ourselves with books, snacks, and a death-defying humor, radioing each other the tents to ‘check in’: ‘Hey, you ok? We were thinking of tunneling over for dinner.’

If you’re wondering, we peed in bottles. As for anything else, well, we waited.

Rob arrives for breakfast

On the following morning, Rob and I decided to go over to Erin’s tent, despite the storm, and have a ‘proper breakfast, dammit’. We suited up, tightly, tied the boots on, and pushed on the fabric tunnel door of the tent. It was buried. To get out, we had to kick our way out, or shove against it like a football player.  The wind (we were later told) had reached a maximum of about 60 knots.

Having kicked a path clear in the door, I crawled out through the short tunnel doorway and looked up. Instantly I was gagged by snow, blinded as well, and staggered by the force of the wind. Erin’s tent was a hazy outline flickering between gusts, barely visible but just 30 feet away. The camp flags were flapping at an impossible staccato pace no rock star drummer could ever match.

I stood (I was not going to crawl), took a step, and immediately stumbled.  Crawling might not be such a bad idea. There were new ridges and ditches everywhere, the camp landscaping was completely redone by the blowing snow. Each tent had its own crater forming around it, and the snow ridges on either side were 2 feet tall. Boxes had disappeared. The main sled had disappeared. There were flagpoles that had snapped in the wind.  There was no horizon, no contrast, just vague shapes, like a tent or a box, emerging from a grey-white shrieking haziness.

Rob and I staggered over to Erin’s door. It too was buried, but the shovels were still there by the door where we had staged them prior to hunkering down. For the next 12 hours we sat in the tent, cheery, not exactly warm but at least with food and a stove, and computers to look at. Slowly, in the storm, the data was processed, and a report was written on the region.  We found the site we needed. And in a gap in the wind of 8 hours the following day, we were pulled out (at the last possible hour to make our flight north).

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