Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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Falkland Islands

November 28, 2011

Ted writes:

The white sand beaches seem incongruous with the sub-polar climate, more appropriate for a tropical setting. The sign is a warning about possible landmines from the 1982 conflict.

After a very successful field season at the British Antarctic Survey’s base in Rothera (thanks again to the group there), we flew to the main re-supply post for the UK’s Antarctic work: the Falkland Islands. We landed at the Mt. Pleasant airfield, a military base built after the Falklands conflict in 1982. The base is mostly khaki and dun green, being military, but in fact the entire island is about the same color, covered in grasses and low shrubs across thousands of square miles. I regret to report that the Falklands appear to have been invaded again, this time by sheep, and the Falklanders are seriously outnumbered. There are approximately 800 sheep for every person.

Windswept. Desolate. Rocky. Stormy. These words seem too small to encompass the Falklands landscape. Shattered boulders from the cliffs seem to flow in streams off the hilltops—a type of formation I’ve never seen before (called stone runs, according to Wikipedia). And it is a very empty land. Nearly all 3,000 of the inhabitants live in Port Stanley, a hamlet overlooking a small bay.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Port Stanley is the number of shipwrecks. There are at least eight wrecked ships scattered around the bay, in various states of disintegration. The story seems to be the same for many of them. Some great and proud ship rounds Cape Horn in a fierce storm, and becomes severely damaged. The vessel limps into Port Stanley, which is very well protected, but the town and the mariners realize that repairs are nearly impossible here. There are no trees. Shipping the needed items from the north is deemed too expensive, and so the ship is anchored in the port as a warehouse. Then one day another terrific storm springs up, and the ship is ripped from its moorings, wrecked within the harbor, and left as a derelict. The mast of the largest ship in the world as of 1845 sits in a city park. That is all that is left of it.

We arrived on Thanksgiving Day, and aimed for the best restaurant in town. It was a spectacular evening, as we realized that we had seven nations represented, one person each: US, Switzerland, UK, Iceland, Poland, Germany, and Chile. It was a perfect way to end the expedition, at a great UN meeting, an international Thanksgiving feast. (Photos courtesy Ted Scambos)

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Antarctica for one, please.

November 2, 2011

Ted writes:

I’m beginning to feel like some kind of migrating bird. For the past three years, like clockwork, as the calendar passes Halloween and heads into the leafless days of November, I find myself boarding planes and flying south. Once again, I’m at South America’s jumping off point for Antarctica, Punta Arenas, Chile. Usually I have someone from our team with me, like the redoubtable Terry Haran, or the indomitable Rob Bauer, or the highly toutable Jenn Bohlander, but this year it’s just me. Me, and some top-drawer assistants at the British Antarctic Survey base, Rothera (I have yet to meet them).

I’ve heard Punta’s climate described as windy sunshine, and it’s a description that sticks. I’ve been here 4 or 5 of the calendar months, and the only question one seems to ask about the weather is, “How windy is it now?”  The answer ranges from “Kinda,” to “Holy vacuum cleaner, Batman!” A bad hair day here means actually having your hair blown off. There is an occasional spritz of stinging rain, but for the most part it is intense sunshine, scudding low clouds, haggard-looking llamas and, well, wind.

The goal this year for the LARISSA Glaciology project is to repair and upgrade two of the installed measurement stations (a GPS station on a rocky cape, and our AMIGOS compadres sitting on the Scar Inlet shelf, a remnant we suspect will someday disintegrate like the Larsen B Ice Shelf did nearly ten years ago. We don’t plan to visit the other AMIGOS, on Flask Glacier, although it now sits up to its mechanical neck in snow. (Later, we will return for it, too.) The most important part of this year’s visit is to install a new system, with a much better camera, on a cliff overlooking the Scar Inlet shelf. The camera will provide a series of images showing how the ice front and surface change during a summer, and hopefully some details of the processes during a break-up. All the gear is already waiting down in Rothera.  If we can manage this installation, it could be a fantastic record of one of the big open questions in glaciology: how does an ice shelf disintegrate? But we have to get it set up out there first. I suppose I should mention the name of the cliff is Cape Disappointment. Not a good omen. Stay tuned.

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Santiago Jimmy

November 1, 2010

Ted writes:

I’m en route to Punta Arenas, to begin the second LARISSA glaciology field season. Our goal is to retrieve a snowbound weather and physics observation station. The plan is to hitch a ride on the British Dash-7 airliner to Rothera, meet a U.S. aircraft there, and fly out to the notorious Site Beta (home of the 60 mph blizzards, ice fogs, and foot-per-day snowfalls). Then find the station using a kind of metal detector, and start digging. Simple. Except the station is thirty feet tall.

We need to put as much cargo weight as possible on the first Dash-7 flight south, so I’m carrying four massive bags of gear by myself two days ahead of Jennifer and Martin. When I got to Santiago, I was supposed to meet Jimmy, the Chilean representative for the company the US (and British) Antarctic program works with.

My schedule as booked was absolutely awful. I departed on Saturday afternoon, flew all night to Santiago, but then the earliest flight available to Punta Arenas was not until 1 am on Monday. The only apparent option was to spend 18 hours at the airport; and because the layover was more than 12 hours, I was told, the bags would need to be re-checked — doubling the excess baggage charges. And back-to-back red-eye flights. Are they trying to kill me? But the Internet showed no seats available, none, before the 1am LAN flight to PA.

My first clue about who I was dealing with comes as I walked off the plane. Jimmy was standing in the jet way holding a sign that says “Theodore”. We walked about 200 yards before I saw the next greeter waiting for their client. Jimmy is about 5 foot 4, a little portly, wearing a nice suit and a red tie. We bolted through the first phases: Jimmy walked fast and worked fast. We stepped to the front at Passport Control, then rocketed the four black cases through customs inspection. It was like traveling with Obi-Wan Kenobi—a wave on the hand and we were past the guard; a quick joke with an army officer, and we stepped around another checkpoint; a nod to the inspector, and we moved to the front of the line at security. “These are not the bags you’re looking for.”

Jimmy appeared to know about sixty percent of humanity. His hand was out, shaking, his eyes flashed a smile, he was waving at people who were waving back throughout the airport. Women offered their children to him, and kissed his cheek; he was joking, chatting, promising and being promised, working nearly everyone we passed.

Santiago’s airport is a huge long vaulted building and it was packed with people. A national holiday comes on Monday, and this is a country with a lot to celebrate (the rescue of the miners, the surging economy, and the rapid recovery from the earthquake of last February). Lines of travelers woundnd hundreds of yards, like a giant caterpillar with suitcases. But we were running on Jimmy power now. As we stepped into the tail of the baggage caterpillar, a kiosk opened up next to us, and we simply turned, and were first in line. The man is not just connected, but connected and lucky.

But still I had underestimated him.  I was standing there with my four huge bags, tired, a bit grungy from the first flight. Jimmy was trying to work out something, something amazing, and in the chatter of Spanish between Johnny and the attendant I thought I heard them discussing the possibility of an extra flight.

Jimmy was now in peak form, holding a polite but intense conversation with the manager, the chief attendant, and the attendant at the new window. They were looking at me. I tried to straighten up. They look at the bags. I brushed the scuff marks off. I smiled. More conversation in rapid Spanish. I was just hoping I don’t have to give up one of my sons at this point.

Jimmy turned to me, winking. “You’re on that research ship that is sailing tomorrow morning, right?”(Ah.) “Yesss (-ish).”  This is critical science gear for the ship? Yes! Well, it would be, if it were going on the ship–it was last year, for sure. Simple present-tense/past-tense swap.

I’m now on the plane for Punta, with 247 lbs of “critical research vessel science gear” stowed in the baggage compartment, leaving a full 14 hours early and happy as released Chilean miner. I believe I’ll be kissing Jimmy, too, next time.

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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.

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Happy New Year

January 1, 2010

Rob Bauer has returned to Boulder, while Ted, Terry, and Ronald Ross are preparing for the main LARISSA cruise, which starts around January 1st.

Ted writes:
Things are going well in Punta Arenas. Ronald and Terry are setting up an electronics lab area to test the AMIGOS systems prior to deployment. I’ve got the GPS boards just about figured out, but we still need to integrate them into the AMIGOS stations. These are new single-board, highly miniaturized full GPS systems from TopCon (GRS-1 boards) that offer dual-channel centimeter-level precision in the size of a small calculator (and energy use of one as well).

The helicopter pilots seem like they’re ready to fly us where we need to go, but the ice conditions may be challenging.  The sea ice is starting off quite heavy this year on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula (western Weddell Sea), and the embayments that we wish to visit are still clogged with fast ice.

Our camping and science gear takes up about two-thirds of a semi truck trailer (a mil-van in sea cargo parlance). The other third is oceanography equipment for another scientist, Bruce Huber of Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO).

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Rothera Station, Antarctica

December 8, 2009

Rob writes:

We have arrived at Rothera Station! Erin, Ted and I had a great flight south from Punta Arenas, Chile to Rothera Station, arriving Sunday afternoon. The team jumped right in to organizing our equipment for the flight to the survey site. Monday brought more cargo work and a shakedown cruise of the radar systems. It was a long day, but everyone had a great time.

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Punta Arenas, Chile

December 3, 2009

Rob writes:

We arrived in Punta Arenas last night around 10 p.m. local time. Carola, a representative from the support group, AGUNSA, met us at the airport and arranged transportation to a local hotel. It was good to finally take a break from traveling. We had about 28 hours of airports and airplanes since leaving Denver, and we were ready for a little sleep.

Ted and Magellan

Ted Scambos rubs the toe of a figure on the Magellan Statue, for good luck

This morning we walked through town on our way to the AGUNSA warehouse at the seaport. We made sure to pay homage to the statue of Ferdinand Magellan. For good luck in Antarctica, you must rub the brass toe of one of the figures on the Magellan statue. If you travel through Christchurch, New Zealand, you have to go find the statue of the famous polar explorer Roald Amundsen and rub his nose. That statue of Amundsen has what is possibly the shiniest nose of any you’ll see!

Further on, at the warehouse, the equipment manager, Octavio, outfitted us for the wilds of the Antarctic Peninsula. Many thanks, Octavio!

After gathering various odds and ends, we strolled down the pier for a spur of the moment visit to the British Research vessel RRS James Cook, one of the newest research ships on the sea. Built in Norway, the James Cook operates worldwide, from the tropics to the edge of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, enabling cutting edge multidisciplinary research. The Chief Officer, Richard, showed us around the very modern vessel, pointing out the research facilities and the impressive engineering spaces.

Later this afternoon, we’ll be out gathering last minute equipment for the field (a pair of field glasses or binoculars and some treats from the local market).

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