Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Garwood Interupted

I'm back in McMurdo after a week out in the Garwood Valley. Kelly, Jay, and Lily are still out in camp, finishing up the last of our work there, but I needed to come into station to meet the rest of the Cold Dirt team, who are scheduled to arrive in McMurdo tomorrow.

The field season has been going great, despite some unseasonably cold and wet weather. We battled snow several days last week--trying to keep the tents dry (no easy thing when you've got a cook stove burning in the tent) and trying to keep the snow out of our samples.

video

Since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let is snow...

Snow is a problem for ice and water sampling because it has a very particular chemical and isotopic composition. One of our goals this season was to learn whether there is ancient Garwood River ice hidden in the ground ice deposits in the valley. Finding river ice (sometimes called aufeis) hidden with all this glacier ice would be a big find, since the river ice chemical and isotopic composition could tell us something about what temperature and relative humidity were like in the Dry Valleys during the last ice age (finding paleo-climate records in this part of the world can be surprisingly tricky, so this would be a neat discovery!). Of course, if snow gets into our samples, then we'd learn that ancient river ice in the Garwood looks just like modern snow...which would mean we'd have to throw away our contaminated samples. Still, it sure is pretty!

When the weather cooperated, though, we raced about collecting ice and soil samples, and refurbishing the time lapse video stations that Jay Dickson has been operating. The cameras have been working great, and are producing video that I'll post here soon. Of course, the camera systems require electricity to run, so we've been hauling big car batteries around the valley. The batteries are charged by solar panels. Here's a video of Kelly hauling a battery across the Garwood River. I promise, I put down the camera to help her once she got ashore!

video

Wanted: 1 pack mule. Must like the cold. 

That same snow is keeping the rest of the Cold Dirt team stuck in Christchurch, but I'll introduce them as soon as they're on the ice!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How to Pack for Antarctica

If the weather holds, we should be on our way to Garwood Valley tomorrow! Of course, before any big trip, you've got to pack the car. Or, in this case, pack the helicopter (a Bell 212, for those aviation nuts out there).

So, what goes into a ~2-3 week camping trip to the Dry Valleys? We've got tents for living and working in, stoves to cook food and keep warm, sleeping bags, tools, a generator to run our computers and to charge our radios, a satellite phone for safety, and lots of food (243 pounds of dried/canned food and 97 pounds of frozen food). What's on the menu? Stir-fry, curry, chili, steak night (halibut and beef),  and "Thanksgiving" for dinners; PB&J for lunch (along with beef jerky and trail mix), and lots of oatmeal, coffee, and cocoa for breakfast. It all adds up to almost 2,000 pounds of gear.


Pack your bags! From left to right: Kelly, Lily, Jay, Joe.

Here's a sampling of the manifest:

Backpack, Mens
3
Backpack, Womens
1
Barrel, 55 gallon,  for greywater and/or urine
1
Battery, AA
8
Battery, AAA
8
Broom, Whisk
2
Bungee Cord
4
Burlap Bag
10
Cargo Strap
2
Cargo/Duffle Bag
6
Chair, Camp, canvas type
4
Coffee Grinder
1
Coffee Maker, Espresso, stove top
1
Crowbar, 12"
1
Cutting Board, Sm, 8"x8", for kitchen box
1
Dustpan
1
Ensolite Pad, 1/2"x28"x84"
4
Extension Cord, 50 ft
2
Fire Blanket
1
Fire Extinguisher, 2.5 LB
2
First aid kit, Individual/Personal
4
First aid kit, Mountain Medic
1
Food Cooler, 10-15 gal.
3
Funnel, Female, Urinary
1
Funnel, Screw-in type for 55 gal. Drum - greyh20/pee
grey water and general use
1
Garbage Bag, 32gal., clear, 125/bx
1
GPS, Garmin, 76
2
Grater, cheese
1
Hammer, Geologist, Rock
1
Hammer, Sledge, 2-3 LB
2
Hammer, Sledge, 6-10 LB w/ long handle
1
Hand warmer
10
Helmet
2
Human waste bucket, 5gallon w/ gamma lid
3
Jerry can of MOGAS, 5 gal
2
Jerry can of PREMIX, 5 gal
1
Kitchen Box Supplement, one extra person
2
Kitchen Box, 4-Person
1
Ladder, 6'
1
Matches, Strike-On-Box, 250/bx
2
Mirror, for kitchen box
1
MOUNTAIN DOME TENT
4
Paper Towel, per package
10
Paracord, aka P-cord, standard
100
Pick, Rock
2
Pile Liner
4
Pillow, Camp
4
Pot, 24 QT, Stockpot
1
Power Strip
2
Propane, 40 LB tank
2
Purrell, waterless soap
4
Rock Bag, Large ~ 14"x18"
100
Rock Bag, Medium ~ 10"x17"
100
Rock Bag, Small ~ 6"x11"
50
Rock Box
10
Seat, Toilet, Screws into Human Waste Bucket
1
Shovel, Short Round
2
Signal Mirror
1
SIPRE Kit
1
SLEEPING BAG, UNDER 6' TALL
4
Spout, Flex
1
Stove, Coleman, Propane w/ regulator (NEEDS HOSE)
2
Survey Tape, Fiberglass, 100M / 300'
2
Survival Bag, Local, 2 person
2
Table, Allulite - short fat - 29"x48"
1
Tape, Duct
6
Tape, Electrical
2
Tarp, Nylon, large, approx. 8'x12'
2
Tent, Endurance, 8'x21'
1
Thermarest
4
Thermos, 1 QT Nissan (includes camo)
4
Toilet Paper, per roll
8
Tool Kit  (standard)
1
Trowel, Garden (soil sampling)
2
Urine bottle, 32 oz.
8
Urine container, 5 gal
1
Water Bottle Warmer
4
Water Bottle, 1 QT, Nalgene
4
Water Cooler, 5 gal
1
Water Filter, Katadyn System
1
Wet Wipes, tubs
4
Wrench Set, Combo, Metric
1
Wrench Set, Combo, Standard
1


As you can imagine, it's quite a bit different than Robert Falcon Scott's packing list when he led the Terra Nova expedition to the pole. You can see his packing list here. We're bringing fewer Siberian ponies. Actually, no ponies of any kind.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Where's Antarctica?!

It's Sunday morning, here at McMurdo--a day for sleeping in a little, checking and re-checking gear, and maybe going for a stroll around Ob' Hill before station wakes up for a mid-day brunch. 

Imagine my surprise, when I awoke this morning and headed towards the Crary Laboratory: McMurdo Sound is socked in with thick fog.


Dude, where's my continent?

Normally, I should be able to look out my lab window and see the Dry Valleys and the Royal Society Range soaring up from above the Ross Sea. This morning, it's just thick, billowy white out there. Part of the Crary Laboratory building is in the foreground.  

My guess is that the warm weather we've been having here at McMurdo (high temperature today: +4˚C or 39˚F) has led really humid air developing during the day (lots of snow and ice to melt). When temperatures drop at "night" (when the sun is low in the sky--but still above the horizon) to temperatures below freezing, all this moisture condenses out and forms the thick fog banks that can cut McMurdo off from the rest of the Ross Sea region. 

It's lovely, if a little mysterious, on a Sunday morning. But fog like this on a working day means no helo flights and no planes coming or going from Christchurch. I hope it clears up before Wednesday: we're hoping to fly across the sound on 12/12/12, and don't want to land at Camp Brigadoon.

UPDATE: 13:30


That's better. Mount Discovery is back, peeking out above the fog, along with the Kukri Hills (the low hills to the right).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sweet home McMurdo -- And Happy Campers

The weather in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been beautiful all week. The problem is, it's been snowing in McMurdo, which means our plane could not safely land. New Zealand is a nice place to be stranded, but after three days of waiting for the weather to clear, the advance team was ready to go.

And here we are! After a loud, bumpy, long flight south in an old-fashioned C130 cargo plane, we arrived last night. 

Here's what the scene looks like at McMurdo. (The McMurdo webcam is also a pretty good way to check out the weather on station--we kept a close eye on the camera from New Zealand to see when the weather would clear. 

Right now we need to prepare to get into the field and to make up for those lost days in New Zealand. Our new Antarcticans (Lily and Kelly) are off at Happy Camper school, the nickname we give to Antarctic Survival training. 


Happy Campers walk down a flag-line trail on the Ross Ice Shelf. Photo courtesy Ludovic Bruker.

Antarctica can be a dangerous place, so snow school teaches new Antarcticans how to prepare themselves for extreme cold weather. The two-day course is taught mostly outside. 


Happy Campers take shelter behind a wall made out of snow blocks (quarry your own!) and listen to a field safety instructor. A yellow, pyramid-shaped Scott Tent is in the background, next to a pyramid-shaped snow cave. Cozy. Image courtesy Chris Linder, WHOI.

Campers learn how to make the most of their extreme cold weather clothes; how to assemble the various tents they might be living in; how to prepare emergency snow shelters; and how to use the radios that are the main way we communicate with McMurdo station when we're in the field. 


It isn't much, but a snow trench makes for a good spot to sleep out of the wind in the event of emergency. Photo courtesy Eli Duke. 

Campers also learn how to use emergency stoves to cook survival rations (yummy), and how to diagnose and treat cold injuries like frostbite. Most of the time, people who get frostbite don't even notice it, which is why it's important for our team to keep an eye on each other (particularly, each others' noses, which can freeze in a strong wind). 

The most memorable moment for many people is during the whiteout drill. When the snow blows in to McMurdo (like it did the last few days, keeping us from flying in), a whiteout can make it impossible to see more than a few inches in front of your face. The bucket-head drill simulates a whiteout. Campers have to search for a friend who's gone missing in the snow. 


Can you see him? I can't even see my luxurious moustache! Image from Kenneth Sims, UWY

Meanwhile, Jay and I (safely without buckets on our heads) are packing up camp gear and getting logistics ready for our move to the field. More about what you pack for lunch (and breakfast and dinner) in Antarctica in an upcoming post.