On The Glacier!

We have now been on Taylor Glacier for a week. Our put-in to the glacier, like the rest of these expeditions, was a somewhat strange combination of the careful plan we made for it, and fairly sudden last-minute changes. The plan this season was to send Kathy (our camp coordinator) and Michael (who knew where all the structures were to be placed) in as our advance guard. On the same day, a 5-person construction crew (“carps”) as well as 2 field support personnel (“BFC”) would go in to start erecting the structures and setting up camp. On the second day, Sarah, Berni and Jayred would fly to the glacier to get ready for drilling at a downglacier location. On the third day, the rest of our team (Ed, Joe, Andy, Peter and me) would arrive. This staggered put-in would allow for much of the camp to be set up without over-crowding.

The clever plan was off to a good start. With good weather, helicopter operations (“helo ops”) were on schedule and our advance guard, carps and BFC folks were off to the glacier by early afternoon on the 1st day. That evening, we heard that a storm system may be moving in to the McMurdo area. The official forecast issued the following morning called for slightly higher winds and more clouds, but nothing too ominous. We decided to err on the side of caution, and asked helo ops if it was possible to get all of the team to the glacier that day rather than waiting for the 3rd day. Bad weather was on our side, as several field research sites around McMurdo already had poor visibility and helicopter cancellations. So helo ops had unexpected openings in the schedule and said yes to not only getting all of our team out to the glacier early, but also flying out more of our science cargo on a faster schedule. We scrambled to get ready, and off we went to Taylor Glacier, arriving at 9 pm. This turned out to be a very good decision, as bad weather indeed moved in to McMurdo, and helo ops were completely shut down for the following 2 days.

Terminus of Taylor Glacier as seen from the helicopter. Photo by Peter Neff.

Terminus of Taylor Glacier as seen from the helicopter. Photo by Peter Neff.

The glacier greeted us with high winds this year. When we arrived, it was blowing between 20 – 30 mph, and putting up a tent was a 4-person job. The winds picked up further in the next 2 days, mainly staying around 30 – 40 mph but gusting up to 50. While we have experienced such winds on Taylor Glacier several times before, this was the windiest put-in we had, making the process of setting up and organizing much slower. Everything had to be secured and anchored to the ice at all times. We’ve had crates as heavy as 400 lbs slide on the ice before, so we were taking no chances. Over the course of the first two days, the wind shredded two of the construction crew’s tents, forcing them to move into one of the larger tent structures we had erected for storage.

Moving science cargo out of the helicopter landing zone. A cloud of blowing snow can be seen upglacier. Photo by Vas Petrenko.

Moving science cargo out of the helicopter landing zone. A cloud of blowing snow can be seen upglacier. Photo by Vas Petrenko.

Unpacking the large-volume ice melter and gas extraction device. Photo by Peter Neff.

Unpacking the large-volume ice melter and gas extraction device. Photo by Peter Neff.

 

Despite the high winds, the camp came together nicely and the construction crew and field support folks returned to McMurdo once helo ops resumed flying. We’re feeling a bit tired from fighting the high winds at put-in, but excited to start on the science. We already have our first ice cores! These date to about 130 thousand years, which is the timing of the next-to-last global deglaciation. Stay tuned for more updates.

Getting up in the morning. Photo by Vas Petrenko.

Getting up in the morning. Photo by Vas Petrenko.

Vas

Advertisements

Taylor Glacier 2015-2016

It’s an exhausting four days of travel, going from home in New York through Los Angeles, Sydney and Christchurch all the way to Antarctica! Yet stepping off the C-17 military transport jet and onto the ice shelf at McMurdo Station instantly replaces fatigue with excitement for the adventure (and hard work) ahead.

The team has been a whirlwind of cargo hunting, sleep-kit packing, food pulling and safety training, interspersed with consuming (un)healthy amounts of food. In our one week in McMurdo, Michael, Sarah, Andy and others have located all science cargo and prepped it for helicopter flights out to Taylor Glacier.

TG newbies Joe, Bernie and myself (Peter) have spent some extra time familiarizing ourselves with aspects of camp life and safety before we head out to live on the glacier for the next few weeks. The three of us had an excellent Taylor Glacier simulation drilling v-threads in the ice and anchoring and setting up tents in high winds at Arrival Heights. After his first snow machine course Bernie was declared a natural and passed his Antarctic driver test with flying colors.

We have all been recreating a little to stay healthy and happy, with small groups of us walking up Observation Hill, walking over to Scott Base, and skiing parts of the Cape Armitage loop. Despite our best efforts, McMurdo bugs have left a few of us with colds but we are resting when we can.

The weather has been very cooperative so far, and early yesterday morning Michael headed out to camp with several carpenters to begin setting up structures for the season. A few hours later, Kathy followed with more hands from field support. Our driller Mike, along with Sarah and Bernie flew out just after lunch today. Now, after a last-minute change, Vas, Ed, Andy, Joe and I will be flying to camp this evening around 8pm.  The real Taylor Glacier season has begun!

Cheers.

Peter

The view to the west of McMurdo Station from the top of Observation Hill.

The view to the west of McMurdo Station from the top of Observation Hill. Photo by P. Neff.