Week One on Taylor Glacier

It has been almost a week since we all have arrived at Taylor Glacier. We have been extremely busy, working 12 or more hour days, splitting up into groups in an attempt at getting all our science equipment and living space organized and ready for the season. Things have been made quite difficult due to the extremely strong winds that we have been receiving. Walking around on the ice was the hardest part of the day while we were trying to fight the 30-40mph winds with gusts even higher than that. This was unfortunately one way to get me used to the extreme climate rather quickly.  Fighting through the weather has been a challenge, but we are making progress despite it.

Photo by Avery Palardy The first day was a lot of camp set up and organization; moving all the cargo boxes that were dropped off throughout the day to their proper locations, unpacking, and setting up the most important things first. Even though I have never really done anything like this before, I was able to pick up quickly what needed to get done and lent an extra pair of hands to the movement.  Once this was all said and done, the camp looked like home…except way more exceptional, beautiful and out in the middle of nowhere. Okay, maybe it is completely different from home, but it definitely has a homey air to it and is rather cozy at times.

Photo by Avery PalardyAfter the basic setup was done, everyone split up into their necessary groups, in order to get the science equipment ready that they would be using for the season. This is still the stage that we are in currently.  Ben and Thomas have been busy hooking up the methane extraction line (the equipment we will be using on site in order to measure the methane concentrations of samples in a short period of time), and testing some samples that Daniel and I have acquired using the Sidewinder (small ice core drill).

Thomas hard at work: Photo by Avery PalardyThese samples will be used in order to double check that we will be sampling from the correct location during the season. Vas and Michael are in the process of putting together the melter, which is the piece of equipment that Vas designed and built in order to melt the larger ice cores on site to extract their ancient gas from them for easier transport and future analyzing.  The one difficulty in setting up the melter is that an important piece has to be inserted by dangling someone upside down, so we all got a laugh out of Vas being held by the legs by Daniel and Jayred.

Photo by Avery PalardyThe drillers, Josh and Jayred, have been trying to figure out the Blue Ice Drill, which is our deep ice core drill. Jared has had a little bit of experience with the drill before, but not a ton so they have been working through the kinks with that. Today (Monday) they successfully drilled their first couple of cores for Sarah Aciego’s team, which means we will almost be in the full swing of things very soon.

Photo by Avery PalardyEven though we have been very busy setting everything up and making sure that nothing broke on its journey over here we have had plenty of time to bond as a team and are all getting quite close and comfortable with each other which is very exciting.  Every morning the view of the area around me reminds me of how lucky I am to have this opportunity to do field research in such an amazing, unique place.

This is an aerial view of Taylor Glacier, our lovely home.

Photo by Avery Palardy-Avery


Rev up the HYPEcopter!


The Kiwi AStar Helicopter “IDE” is slinging our cargo (Thomas’ GC system to be exact) to Taylor Glacier

Hi all, just quick updates on our field season. Initially all of us were scheduled to leave McMurdo on Monday Nov 18th; unfortunately we were delayed because Helo-ops got a job to fly a bunch of DV’s (distinguished visitors) to the Dry Valleys. As a result, only Vas, Chandra (our camp manager), the carpenters and several BFC (Berg Field Center) employees managed to fly out on Monday. Most of us here were stuck in McMurdo until further notice. However, the helo flight schedule for Wed Nov 20th just came out last night and I’m happy to announce that all of us, the I-159 team are listed for field deployment.


That’s all the logistics update I have, now let’s talk about one of the coolest invention of mankind – helicopters. They’re big, they’re loud and they’re very very awesome. When they’re flying near you they create winds that are strong enough to blow away unsecured cargo up to 50 lbs. Their blades also make a very loud voice – almost to the point where you can almost feel both yourself and the ground shaking. All the helicopter operations in McMurdo station is run by Phi, Inc – a helicopter services company who won an NSF/USAP contract bid back in 1996. Other than supporting USAP, Phi also provided a lot of services for UN humanitarian effort – so they’re a pretty awesome company all around. Phi provided four helicopters to support the Antarctic Program, two Bell 212 Twin Huey which are generally called “the 212” around here and two Eurocopter AS350 which are generally called “the AStar.”

The easiest way to tell a difference between a 212 and an Astar is that 212 helicopter has two blades while AStar has three. The 212 is bigger and stronger compared to the AStar, it can basically lift more than twice the amount of weight. On the other hand, the AStar has faster cruise speed than the 212 and almost twice the range (e.g. maximum distance between take off and refueling). From a passenger’s perspective, the AStar is infinitely better than the 212 because of one thing: it has more windows. If someone is lucky enough (like Vas during the recce flight), he/she might ends up in the front seat of an AStar which has almost 180o view due to the curved glass windows. The view from the backseat of an AStar is also not bad since there are windows both around your shoulder level and also at the feet level (so you can see what’s below).


Introducing the USAP helicopter fleet. This is “36 Hotel” the AStar.


And “31 Lima” also an AStar


“ZK-IDE” is also an AStar, however she’s owned & run by the New Zealand government instead of USAP. They’re lending us a helicopter because one of the USAP 212 is currently down and is sitting sadly inside the helo hangar.

The 212 on the other hand has at most 20”x30” windows (for the passenger area), which are tinted and usually full of scratches. Moreover, the passenger area in the 212 is the same as the internal cargo area; therefore most of the time we will sit on the passenger seat with a bunch of cargo literally about 10 inches from our faces, especially if they decided to really pack the helicopter. Unfortunately, all of us are scheduled to be on 36-Julie – which is a 212 helicopter. Considering how lucky we are to begin with, in the grand scheme of things I think it doesn’t matter at all. In a couple of hours we’ll have the opportunity to ride a helicopter around the Dry Valleys – certainly and by far the best place on Earth to have a helicopter sightseeing tour (unless Isla Nublar in Costa Rica really exists).


“36-Juliet” is the helicopter that’s gonna fly us out. Notice the bulkier body and lack of windows compared to the AStars.

In conclusion, we’re flying out in a couple of hours and helicopters are cool.


Happy Camper

Hey Everybody,

Plans to move our project along are progressing well down here.  Everybody is slowly but surely trudging through all of our required trainings before getting out into the field.  This includes various things from the operation of snowmachines trucks and generators, to how to handle environmental and waste issues.  I’m quite amazed how much time all of these trainings take, as well as how difficult it is to schedule them all.  Being the new folks on the rock, Avery & I were required to attend an overnight snow school (aka. “Happy Camper”) session from 9am Wed. to 3pm Thurs.  This training in MANDATORY for anyone heading out into the field in Antarctica, even myself despite my past season up at summit.  The rest of the group was able to get by with a 3 hour recap presentation having completed their happy camper session in years prior.

The class all met together in a classroom above the Science Support Center – the building that houses all of the automotive, power and electrical equipment used in the field.  We met our instructors from FSTP (Field Safety and Training Program) Ned and Jen as well as introduced ourselves.  There were 13 of us in total, including the entirety of Sarah Aciego’s group (I-184) who will be sharing camp with us on the glacier for the first part of the season.  Others included a group of German researchers from ‘Wegner Polar Institute’, the local artist in residence as well as a teacher from Polartrec.

The course started with a discussion or risk & hazard management as well as cold weather injuries (hypothermia & frostbite).  The session included some pretty gruesome photos of frostbite obtainted during a happy camper class back in October 2012.  With the knowledge of how not to freeze our butts off, the class packed all of our ECW, food, stoves & sleep kits for the ~half hour drive out to the campsite.

Photo by Avery Pallardy

The delta

Photo by Avery Pallardy

Once at the site, we ate our bag lunches and talked about how to use an MSR whisperlite – the stoves provided in all of the emergency survival bags.  It was good to practice using the stoves, but paying attention was difficult due to the breathtaking scenery.

Photo by Avery Pallardy

That’s Mt. Erebus behind Avery – an active volcano over 12,000 ft tall.

We headed back inside for a quick lecture on how to get ready for slep in cold weather camping.  Pro Tip: Stick your socks & gloves inside of your shirt overnight if you want them to dry out.  Also, try to prepare your sleep setup before you’re actually tired – going to bed in the cold takes much more prep than just falling atop my mattress as I do back home.

Photo by Ben Hmiel

With most of the classroom instruction completed, we headed outside to learn proper technique for assembling tents.  We set up two Scott tents as well as several mountain tents.  With the tents set up, we next build a wall of snow bricks to act as a wind shield for protecting the smaller mountain tents from the hypothetical wind we might encounter in the field.  In reality, the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful – a balmy -10C with little to no wind.

Photo by Avery Pallardy

Chillin on the snow wall

With the instruction nearly finished around 6pm, Ned & Jen headed back to their heated shelter and said adieu to us for the night as we boiled water for hot cocoa & dehy meals.  The rest of the night was ours to hang out before going to bed.  Several people decided to dig trenches for themselves to sleep in, while the a group of the german researchers decided to build an igloo.  I fell asleep in my scott tent before they finished, but apparently after 5 hours of dedicated work, three of them built a mighty impressive home for the night:

Photo by Ben Hmiel

Photo by Avery Pallardy

The finished Igloo

6am came early the next morning, as we ate our oatmeal and broke down camp.  Tents always come down much faster than they go up.  Ned and Jen came back to pick us up and we discussed how the night went for everyone.  I was surprised to learn how warm the igloo was, at least when three people were filling it with their body heat.  Some of the folks sleeping in the ditch had a really rough night, never really getting warm or being covered from snow that they inevitably tracked in when getting settled.

Photo by Ben Hmiel

Igloos make for a good home in the snow

Photo by Ben Hmiel

While Jynne’s ditch looks cozy here, she had miserable night attempting to sleep in it

We rounded out the morning with a discussion of emergency survival bags as well as basic operation of HF & VHF radios.  We gave south pole a call on the HF radio and asked what the temperature was.  -38 the operator said, but then cut us off because it seemed like there were more important things to do at pole rather than talk to a bunch of happy campers.

After lunch came the most well-known part of happy camper: the buckethead scenario.  I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to take any photos of it, but for those interested, Werner Herzog features the activity prominently in his film about Antarctica (It’s on Netflix last I checked!).  Several photos from other blogs can also be found with a quick Google Image Search. A scene was set up where one person in our group “got lost” returning from the outhouse in a whiteout and we had to conduct a rescue operation.  Ned and Jen boarded up the windows and instructed us to find our missing team member using any materials at our hands, with the stipulation that if we went outside of the room we were required to wear a white bucket on our head and forbidden from speaking, simulating the realistic conditions of a whiteout.  We used a climbing rope and sent out three people at a time, one with the rope tied around them, one holing the rope taught at the door and a third to travel between the ends of the rope looking for our missing camper.  The furthest person on the rope gradually swept across the snow field, but according to our instructors this made for a hilarious scene.  Again, I wish I had my camera.  Our group failed miserably and never managed to find our missing member after more than an hour.  Our biggest problem was the lack of any leadership in our search party, as we were very sloppy and disorganized.  Luckily, she was just hanging out in the other building next door, but we learned lots about the subjective hazards associated with a search an rescue operation.

That little exercise brought our happy camper session to a close.  All that was left to do was clean up for the next group, ride back to town and watch a quick helicopter safety video before graduating.  I really enjoyed my happy camper experience, as it was just like another lovely day at Summit, while Avery was glad she didn’t freeze to death in the whole ordeal.  While we were away, everyone else was working had at preparing cargo and pushing our group closer to getting in the field.  As it stands, we’re shooting for a put-in over Monday and Tuesday of next week, but first we get to enjoy a day off in McMurdo.  I wonder what this town is like when everyone isn’t busily at work.  It sure is a sunny Saturday night!


Recce helicopter flight to Taylor Glacier

Yesterday Daniel (Baggenstos), myself and the leader of our put-in carpenter crew went on a helicopter flight to Taylor Glacier to mark out the work site. Flying over McMurdo sound, we were surprised to see open water only about 30 miles out of McMurdo, as it is still quite early in the season


Open water in McMurdo sound, with Mt Erebus in the background

It was a beautiful day out on the glacier — sunny and a 20-knot downglacier wind, which is about the weather we expect in November. We were very happy to see that the bamboo stakes left by us 2 years ago that marked distances in our main sampling transect were still in place, and the markings on the stakes were still readable.


View of Taylor Glacier from the helicopter

We marked off a 65 x 25 m area as a clean zone where most of the ice core drilling will take place. We also marked a 40 x 40 m area where the helicopters can start placing some over cargo (flown in slings underneath the helicopter) before we arrive.


At the sampling site

On the way back, the helicopter stopped at Marble Point, which is a cargo and refueling hub for Dry Valleys camps. We were able to do a quick walk around our project’s cargo stationed there to make sure that all of our boxes were accounted for. We’re progressing well with getting through all the (many!) required trainings and collecting our support gear, and are on track to start moving our team to the glacier on Monday.


Maybe delays aren’t such a bad thing

Well let’s just say it has been a very eventful past two days for our team. Yesterday (Monday) at 4:45am we all received a call alerting us that our flight to McMurdo would be delayed 24 hours.  We were required to check out of our hotel and transfer to a new one, “The Elms”, at 10 am.  When we arrived at the hotel, Vas called a meeting for Michael, Thomas and Jared in order to discuss ideas on our camps set up. He wanted to confer with the two others who have been before to Taylor Glacier. Since there was nothing else planned for the rest of the day, I decided to tag along on Sarah and Carli’s  (the two grad students on Sarah Aciego’s team) plans for the day. We pitched in to rent a car, so we could have a chance to see more of the country side. Shockingly, it was extremely cheap to rent the car-GPS included- it was only about 60 U.S dollars.  Our desired destination was Akarao which is a small town located southeast of Christchurch, about an hour and a half drive. As soon as we left Christchurch, we were driving along winding roads through the mountains.  There were pastures on pastures of sheep along the way.  The scenery was incredible, with the largest diversity of plants that I have ever seen in a given area.

TG2013 - Sheep

View approaching Akarao

View approaching Akarao

Akarao is located along the harbor that is in the distance.  Once we arrived in the town, we stopped at a local cheese shop to try some free samples, and then headed on into town to grab some lunch.  We ate at a small café called the Harbar, which was very suiting because it had an outdoor porch that was perched along side the harbor.

TG2013 - Harbor

The most exciting part of this adventure was after our lunch, where we decided to trek up one of the mountains along a designated hiking trail to get a better view of the surrounding area. It was not the most difficult hike, but it definitely had its challenges. In the end, when we reached the top I quickly forgot the tiredness that I had acquired along the way. The view was breath taking.

TG2013 - Peak of Akarao

TG2013 - Tree Crop Farm

At the end of our hike, we headed back into town. I really enjoyed getting to bond with the other women that will be at our site. While I was gallivanting around New Zealand, the rest of our team was relaxing and catching up on work at the hotel. I was really glad that I got the chance to see the country side-even if it was only for a day.

After that lovely carefree day, the moment we have all been waiting for has arrived! We have made it to McMurdo Station. I set my alarm for 5:00 am in hopes that we would not get that dreaded call about a flight delay.  When my alarm went off on schedule, I anxiously packed my bags preparing for the long day ahead of me.  We all checked out of the hotel and loaded our entire luggage into airport bound shuttles.  I weighed my bags to double check that they were under 150lbs, but I am pretty sure I was the only one who was concerned about that since I packed a lot more generous than the rest of my team. After passing off our checked baggage to the airport crew we all gathered for a briefing-which would be the first of many along this journey.  Finally reality started to hit me, I was headed to Antarctica for the first time. I was expecting myself to be nervous, but I was full of excitement and nothing more.  Our flight would be aboard a C-17, which I had been told would be one of the loudest rides of my life. As we went through security, they handed out earplugs in preparation for the noise. I had no clue what to expect at all. This was not the type of luxurious plane that we all typically travel on to our holiday destinations. This was a bit more rugged. The seats were along the wall, with no cushioning, and the cargo/crates that were traveling along with us were in the center-blocking our view from the other wall. There were only two ways to see where we were going-out the door windows or out by the cockpit. I was sitting next to Vas for the trip, while Ben and Michael were together. The seating did not really matter because once we started flying, it was way too loud to hold a casual conversation. It was a five hour flight, and then we finally made it to Antarctica. As we approached McMurdo, I was able to see out of the window and see the vast expanse of snow and ice covered mountains that lay below. This was the second time in 24 hours that I was left speechless.

TG2013 - View from Plane

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally landed and were able to get off the plane. My first steps onto the continent will never be forgotten. It was a sight to see, all of the newcomers in their “Big Reds”, star struck, snapping as many photos as possible in the next few minutes.

TG2013 - C-17

After a short ride, we all arrived at McMurdo where we again had a short briefing of how things work around town. Hearing about all of the trainings that needed to be done, along with all of the things that needed to be done before we go to the field started to get very overwhelming. Everything was so new to me and there was no time to take a breather to catch my balance before I was informed of the list of things to do. Vas called a quick team meeting in order for us to all meet Jessy and Chandra, and to catch up on what they have been doing these past few days at McMurdo. Once this was all settled, I was able to go to my room which was very much like my room back at school. Everything here is set up in a dormitory style, where everyone has at least one roommate. I luckily am rooming with Chandra, so she can help guide me a little bit along the way while I am here at McMurdo.

We all met for dinner a few hours ago, and I got accustomed to the dining situation. It is all you can eat, with many different options. It is by far way better than the food that is served back at school, so there are no complaints from me! It was also some of the first vegetables and fruit that I have had since the beginning of this long journey, which was much appreciated.  Finishing dinner in a timely manner, we all headed to the most exciting training, the recreational one! This way we now are able to traverse all of the trails and use any of the sporting equipment that we want, as long as we follow the safety guidelines and bundle up wherever we go.

Ben, Michael, and I took advantage of this the instant that we were finished and decided to hike up one nearby hill to get a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The slippery snow covered slopes were a bit more difficult to hike than your average rocky hill. After a couple slips and 45 minutes later, we finally reached the peak. This was what we saw…TG2013 - Hike

TG2013 - McMurdo

What goes up must come down…so after some amazing picture taking we started our descent, which involved more sledding then walking down the hill. Ben’s favorite way to descend down the steepest parts was to slide down on his butt, which was quite comical. After a mere 15 minutes, we made it to the bottom, snow covered and beaming. This was a great way to mark the end of an emotional filled day. I will definitely sleep well tonight, and I am sure everyone else will too, but it will not last very long since our first meeting will be at 7:30am tomorrow.



Greetings from Christchurch, NZ

The majority of our exhausting journey has been completed – all that’s left is our flight to the bottom of the world! The four of us left Rochester around noon on Rochester, arriving in Christchurch after after spending about 36 hours in airports and 4 separate planes. Vas Avery & I flew from Rochester to Philadelphia to Los Angeles to Sydney to Christchurch, while Michael was routed through Chicago LA & Auckland instead (probably a glitch of the shutdown forcing all ticketing to be last minute). Regardless, we’ve all made it and were pretty exhausted on arrival. Both McMurdo station and Christchurch are in the GMT +12 time zone, 18 hours ahead of Rochester. Due to this change of time zones  all of us did not really get much of a chance to experience Friday Nov. 8th.

After getting our much needed sleep in proper beds, we headed over to the USAP Clothing Distribution center (CDC).

Photo by Ben Hmiel

The USAP Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch

After aigning in and agreeing to all USAP policies, we handed over our computers to be screened in order to connect to the internet on the USAP network. While the techs there processed our computers, we sorted through our issued equipment to make sure that everything fit. Half of the gear I was given was too large, so I had ro return the for smaller sizes. I have no doubt that this gear will keep me warm, but I’m glad I brought some of my own, since some of these clothes appear to be older than I am. They smelled clean, but who knows if they really are. I guess I find out on the Ice!

After checking our gear, we sorted out the gear we were issued into several bags. Strict regulations are in place for the gear we need to wear or bring onboard the flight. The posters below were posted all over the CDC.

Photo by Ben Hmiel

Required clothing for an Ice flight to Antarctica

I understand why it’s necessary to have the gear on the plane with us, since we’re going to step out of the plane right onto the harsh weather of Antarctica. I’m probably not going to wear all of it, since I’d likely sweat myself dry during the 5-6 hour flight. Lucklily we’re allowed to hand carry some of it in our carryon bag.

We were also advised to pack a “boomerang bag” of any essential medicine, toiletries and clothing we would need if we had to spend more days in New Zealand. Piloting a successful flight is highly dependent on weather which can change abruply. As we learned in greenland back in May, planes traveling to the polar regions often “boomerang” back to their destination. All we can do is hope for the best weather.

We are required to report to the CDC at 6am tomorrow for our flight. I’m off to go any enjoy one last bit of christchurch before heading down to the ice. With the palm trees, home design and shorts & Tshirt weather this place really feels like Florida.

Next time you’ll hear from us will be from Antarctica.


After DQ’ing, USAP ASC OAEs will deploy from the CDC in Chch (cheech) on a C-17, arriving on the Ice around 1400, dressed in ECW and then ride Ivan to MCM.


That’s a direct quote from the USAP Travel Participant guide,. In plain English, I’m happy to announce that despite the setback from government shutdown, our group is still going to Antarctica. We will depart from Rochester to Christchurch on November the 7th – so about a week delay compared to our initial plan. We’re also pretty happy that our project did not get any significant cuts such as cut in deploying personnel so all four of us (Vas, Ben, Avery and myself) from Rochester will still go to Antarctica. We should consider ourselves really lucky because according to the NSF’s press release last week, there were 13 planned deployments (i.e. scientific projects) around McMurdo that have been completely deferred and 15 more were still being evaluated. One of the biggest projects that is cancelled this season due to government shutdown is the WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) Divide field camp. The WAIS deep coring project has yielded many many great publications in the last couple of years and their dataset have been indispensable to the paleoclimate community. It is really sad to see that they got their field season cancelled this year.

–Quick youtube video about the WAIS project —

Logistics wise, we already shipped all of our science cargo to Port Hueneme CA – the main hub for all USAP cargo in USA before they are shipped to Christchurch, New Zealand and then McMurdo Station, Antarctica. All that remains is last minute packing for our personal stuff. Thankfully, the USAP will provide us with the standard ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear including the “Big Red” Canada Goose expedition parka and bunny/mountaineering boots. Our lab also has some stock of cold weather fleeces, gloves, jackets that we bought for the Greenland field season – so we’re also mostly set on those. The total flight time between Rochester NY and Christchurch NZ will be in the ballpark of 24 hrs+ so everyone will need to think a way to cope with this. Since I’m mostly finished packing my personal clothing gear and cameras, for the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about more ways to improve my comfort during those long flights. Protip: even though you’re not allowed to carry any kind of liquid on airplanes, teabags are allowed and hot water is always free.

Organizing my personal gear for the field season

Organizing my personal gear for the field season

Don't forget the vitamins!

Don’t forget the vitamins!