Posts Tagged ‘storm’

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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.

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Still waiting

November 16, 2010

Martin writes:

When I was thinking about the timing on this trip to the Peninsula, I imagined us sitting in the Rothera bar by this time, telling tall tales about the big snow pit we had dug. With every beer the pit would get a bit deeper, and the weather a bit nastier, but us Antarctic explorers prevailed, rescuing the AMIGOS and pushing the frontiers of science by another nanometer.

Instead we are still waiting to get off the ground. The daily routine is pretty repetitive. Ted gets up in the morning and looks out the window. “It looks a bit better today”. That means you can see the next building now. Full of hope for what this day will bring we drag ourselves to breakfast. Ted sometimes joins the morning weather briefing, where decisions about the day’s flights are made. I see him come into the breakfast room with the look of a rejected suitor, and no more questions need to be asked.

The rest of the day we spent in our office room catching up with things left unfinished before leaving on the trip south. Ted obsessively downloads weather forecast maps: “Look, there is a weather window of 2.3 hours on December 23. I’m sure we’ll make it.”

Jenn is trying to be productive and make the best of the situation. She regularly talks to school kids back home, so she decided to go around and figure out what various people do on base. She got us a guided tour to the marine lab yesterday, which was pretty cool. They have an aquarium with a variety of sea spiders, clams, sea stars, etc. Mostly they look at the impact of climate change, and how these guys react to warming water. They have nice laboratory facilities for dissecting, cooking or whatever else biologists subject their critters to. The most amazing thing though is that they have a regular year-round diving program, which comes with its special challenges in the icy water.

Yesterday we had a visitor. A lonely Emperor Penguin showed up. It’s the largest of the penguins, and they don’t usually make it to Rothera. Apparently they get one or two a year, so people are excited. Penguins are just always a lot of fun to watch.

A lone Emperor Penguin pays a visit to Rothera Station. Photo courtesy Martin Truffer.

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Storm at Rothera Station

November 12, 2010

Ted, Martin, and Jennifer are still stuck at Rothera Station, waiting out a strong storm. Once the weather clears, they will fly out to the field to work on the AMIGOS stations.

Wind and snow have kept flights grounded at Rothera Station for the past week. Photo courtesy Jennifer Bohlander

 

 

 

 

The sun dips down near the horizon at 11pm last night. Photo courtesy Jennifer Bohlander

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Jennifer at snow school: part 2

November 10, 2010

Jenn writes:

The reason I have time to write so much today is that there is a terrible storm at Rothera today: windy and snowing.  None of the research planes can fly, and since that’s what we need to get our work done, we just have to sit and wait.  I’m thankful I’m doing this waiting at the base however and not in a tent.

So continuing on with snow school.  After retrieving Mark, we had to go back down to the base to gather our gear for the overnight portion of our training.  We loaded up our stuff and went about four kilometers away from the base.  The four of us got on the back of two skidoos that would take us up to the campsite.  The skidoo I was on was also towing a sled with all our sleep gear, which is important to note because on the way up the slope the sled tipped and some of our stuff fell out and starting sliding down the slope.  Our poor instructor had to go chase after it because there were dangerous areas on the slope.  So we got up there and started to set up two tents that sleep two people.  The tents are large heavy tents, not the kind you would backpack with.  Anyway, at about this point I realize, “I’m going to have to sleep in a tent with one of these guys.”  Another thing to mention is there was no place to go to the bathroom up there, not even the bucket that I will have available when we get to our research site.  So I was thinking it’s a very good thing I packed my GoGirl for this overnight trip. However, when I came up with my brilliant GoGirl plan I never factored in a man sitting in the tent next to me.

At the site, the wind was blowing very hard in short gusts and sometimes it came from one direction and then the next time it came from another direction.  Our task was to put some tents up without any part of them blowing away.  After we got the tents up we went into the trailer they have set up to have a cup of tea. In the trailer, Ben taught us about lighting the stove and lantern that we would have in our tents.  Then wind was blowing so hard outside that something from our gear flew by and Ben had to go get it.  I was thinking this poor guy must be so exhausted. He had been teaching us non-stop since 9:00 this morning and it was about 7:30, and now he had to go out chasing our gear.  After our tea we learned how to use the radio. We practiced talking back to Rothera Station to let them know we were okay.  I felt like reporting back, “I need to pee Rothera, got a solution for that?”

After radio it’s on to the tents and here is where Ben tried to get past the awkward part that one of those guys had to share a tent with the girl.  Two of the men were already kind of chummy, so they defaulted to each other, and that left poor Mark with me–Mark who I pulled off the mountain. I can’t really imagine what this kid was thinking, but I was thinking, “I still have to pee.” We got in our tent and set up our sleeping stuff and our stove and all.  Then we boiled some water to make our food, which is called “man food.” They call it “man food” to distinguish it from “dog food,” a remnant from when people used to bring dogs down here.  The bag of “man food” I had was vegetable casserole and the package read, “Best if used before 08/2006.” Very excited to have dinner, but I still had to pee.

To make “man food” you boil water and add it to a bag, seal the bag, and wait a few minutes.  I have to admit it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. After dinner Mark said he was going out to go to the bathroom and I then had to tell this 23 year old boy that I have a bottle and a GoGirl and I’m going to take this opportunity to do the same.  He says “Okay, I’ll ask you if you are ready before I come back in.” Awkward! I was thankful to have the GoGirl though because the wind was still raging and I didn’t want to go outside and pull my pants down on this large flat expanse where we were camping–nowhere to hide!

Camping wasn’t too bad.  That lantern kept the tent warm and my sleep gear was pretty good.  In the morning it was cold and of course windy and I woke up pretty early and had to, you guessed it, pee again. So then I had to wait until Mark woke up, which seemed like an eternity, and wait for him to go outside again. Thankfully when we are in the field doing our work I have my own tent and can go whenever I want.

In the morning we packed up and started back to base.  This time not only did our gear flip going down the slope, but the skidoo flipped!  Before I knew it I did a flip in the air and landed facing the skidoo. The other guy on the back of the skidoo got his leg hit with the tow bar and he was in some pain.  I was just amazed by the acrobatic feat I retrieved from my past to help me avoid getting pinned under the skidoo.  Ben felt pretty bad about the whole thing, this poor guy, I can’t believe he has to go though this every time new inexperienced people come to the station. He has incredible patience, I would have lost it!

When we got back I found out that Ted, Martin, and I cannot be flown out to our site today.  This is not good news because the longer it takes for us to get out it potentially effects how long we will be here.  The planes are unable to fly in bad weather.  There is a very large storm going on today and it looks like we can’t fly until possibly Saturday!

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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.

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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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A quick update

December 16, 2009

Rob writes:

Erin, Ted and I are out of the field and are back at Rothera Station. The previous two days, we were basically tent bound, trying to stay out of the to 50 knot winds, blowing snow, and zero visibility.

Richie and Dave flew the Twin Otter to the field site during a brief break in the weather. With their help and assistance from two British Antarctic Survey members, Allen and Andy, the team managed to break camp and beat the weather.

A science update will follow shortly, outlining our results – stand by!

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