A successful completion of the field season at Taylor Glacier

I am writing this as I sit on the flight back to the US. Six of our team are still in McMurdo, organizing the shipment of our science cargo, re-cutting and repacking ice core samples in the walk-in freezer and cleaning and returning field gear.

This has been an extremely challenging and at the same time a very successful field season for us. The challenges were varied, but the success was always due to the same factor: the team, which was a truly amazing group of people. Everyone gave 100%, worked very long hours when necessary and supported each other completely.

To recap some of the difficulties, we started by losing 2 field team members long before the season began, a product of the federal budget sequestration. We then faced uncertainty in whether our season would proceed at all, a result of the government shutdown. In the end, the shutdown delayed us by slightly over a week, pushing the season further into the window of warmest weather (bad for ice drilling). The combination of some warm days and sharing the Blue Ice Drill with Sarah Aciego’s team pushed us into a complex schedule of shifts, where there were 3 different working schedules within our team, making team bonding and communication quite tricky.

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Taylor Glacier looks magical on a rare windless evening

Taylor Glacier is a stunningly beautiful place, but it can also be very harsh. We expect it to be windy; however, this season we saw probably twice as much wind as ever before, both in the number of the windy days and in their intensity. Winds above 20 mph were the norm. Several storms brought gusts of over 50 mph. Throw in some relatively minor but re-occurring mechanical issues, and you have people working 12 hrs a day in 30 – 40 mph winds.

Michael enveloped in a blowing cloud of ice chips as he empties them out from the drill barrel

Michael enveloped in a blowing cloud of ice chips as he empties them out from the drill barrel

Jayred and Michael drilling in 40 mph wind. Notice the snow blowing off the ridges and down tributary glaciers

Jayred and Michael drilling in 40 mph wind. Notice the snow blowing off the ridges and down tributary glaciers

The sampling results, in the end, are quite impressive. Almost 900 m in total drilled by the Blue Ice Drill. 7 large-volume ancient air samples collected for studies of carbon-14 in methane during the last deglaciation. 4 complete procedural test samples on the large melter system. 56 m of large-diameter ice core taken from below 6 meter depth and “planted” into shallow boreholes near the surface to study near-surface production of carbon-14 by cosmic rays. Approximately 180 boreholes drilled to collect samples from 4m or deeper using our smaller ice coring system, the Sidewinder. 75 m of ice sticks cut with chainsaws from ≈ 1 m depth for continuous analyses of trace chemistry and methane concentration. Over 200 ice samples analyzed for methane concentration on our field GC system.

Ben happily loading the last core of the season into the large ice melter

Ben happily loading the last core of the season into the large ice melter

A special thanks is in order to our camp manager, Chandra Llewellyn. She made the camp a fun and welcoming place to be with her constant cheer, patched up our cuts and bruises, kept us going with her amazing cooking and organized a myriad different aspects of camp life, ranging from keeping gear from blowing away in storms to coordinating our helicopter support.

-Vas

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Cores down boreholes

Well, here it is, the end of the season. After long days of hard work, we’ve finally made it. Daniel already left for McMurdo to get a jump start on sorting and cutting the ice samples to send back to the states, while the rest of us packed up the science and camp gear. The current plan is to have the science and drill crew leave on Monday (weather permitting) with a team of Carpenters & BFCers arriving to help Chan break down the final bits of camp and prepare an over-winter storage depot with the gear to be used in the following season.

In the meantime, on our last evening on the glacier, we decided to have a little bit of fun. Putting on our of tyvek suits – we went out to the drill site to throw some cores back down boreholes

Mission Accomplished!

Mission Accomplished

Now now, I know what you’re thinking – THAT’S CRAZY? WHY WOULD YOU THROW CORES BACK IN BOREHOLES THAT YOU SPENT SO MUCH EFFORT TO DRILL!!!1!11

Photo by Ben Hmiel

You’ve got to be kidding me…

Well allow me to explain. First off, we’re not throwing any useful cores back down the boreholes. All of the BID cores collected for the large volume 14CH4 extractions were taken from 10-15m depth. This is done to avoid any fractures in the upper ice that are caused by diurnal temperature variations as well as to have a consistent level of cosmic ray exposure in order to better constrain the in-situ cosmogenic 14C. That means that every 15m borehole had ~10m of ice that had to be removed to access the ice we wanted to sample from. We also drilled a few 20m reconnaissance holes earlier in the season to locate the layers of ice we wanted to sample. With all these extra cores littering the clean ice zone, why not throw them back down.

TG2013 - Heads down Boreholes Oh I guess I forgot to mention that when ~75lbs of Ice falls down a hole 15-20m it makes this really awesome sound from the impact – “Shooooomp” as air rushes back out of the hole. The way the sound echoes & resonates in the ice is very unique, especially when you throw the core and then put your head right over the borehole. I won’t be able to upload a video of us throwing cores dow until we’re back in the states with a reliable internet connection, but it made for a really fun way to celebrate our last day on the ice.

Photo by Ben Hmiel

I’m jus chillin

Cheers!
-Ben

Christmas Greetings from Taylor Glacier

Merry Christmas everyone!  Our camp has shrunk significantly now that most of I-184, Avery and Josh have left our camp.  We’re down to a crew of seven, as opposed to the 13 we once had on the glacier.  Our spirits are still high despite being exceptionally tired, dirty and smelly.  We’ve been out of Raro for days, but at least there are still oreos and peanut better left.

Work has been progressing steadily out here.  Since the last update, some jobs have shifted.  Jayred & Michael are now operating the BID while I have joined Vas on the melter shift.  The rest of the team is enrolled in labor camp – (Digging trenches as well as operating the Jiffy & Sidewinder drills).  I kid about the term labor camp, but that has been how we’ve referred to the shift since the sampling work to be done is indeed pretty physical.

Christmas sure was a unique experience here.  We were originally not planning on taking Christmas off, as our calendar had put Sundays as our day off. However, one of our team fell ill with a stomach bug (Don’t worry, he’s since made full recovery) so Vas made the call to have Christmas off.  Other than sleeping in (some of us for over 12 hours) we made the best of our Christmas out here.  I took a hike over to the meltwater channel about a mile away from camp.

From the middle of the channel looking upglacier

From the middle of the channel looking upglacier

This is a natural feature in the glacier where during the summer a small river forms that carries sediment and rocks downglacier.  Unfortunately, due to the melting, this area is not useful for the gases we are sampling for, however it does look pretty rad.

The water was barely flowing when I went.  I wonder what it would be like on a hotter day

The water was barely flowing when I went. I wonder what it would be like on a hotter day

I returned from the hike to find the endurance tent overflowing with Christmas cheer.  Chan was hard at work on making one heck of a Christmas dinner.  It was on par with Thanksgiving with its magical quality.  Avery even managed to call our iridium phone right as dinner was starting.  We were all sad she wasn’t there to join us, but it was nice to hear from her!  On our helo flights preceding Christmas, we received a large present from the hardworking bakers at the galley back in town full of delicious breads, cookies and some chocolate fudge.

Following dinner, we had a white elephant gift exchange.  Each of us brought a present from home and wrapped it.  We took turns drawing numbers and in order got to choose which present we wanted – one of the wrapped ones in the middle or even one of the ones already opened by someone else.  That’s right, we got to steal gifts from each other.  Many of us had never done a white elephant exchange so this was a fun way to spread holiday cheer among everyone.

Chandra wearing the silly glasses I brought

Chandra wearing the silly glasses I brought

Thomas & Daniel checking out the T-Rex with a present strapped to its back

Thomas & Daniel checking out the T-Rex with a present strapped to its back

Me acting as an Oregon beaver with my gift

Me acting as an Oregon beaver with my gift

The day after Christmas, we had a bit of a milestone to celebrate.  The extraction run that day was the final needed for a complete set of samples from the Oldest Dryas – Bølling CH4 transition.  We had them measured by Thomas on the GC and all had CH4 concentration values within the expected range.  This means that provided all goes well in sample processing, we will have a complete set of samples to publish!  All the reason to uncork the champagne and have a glass in the trench.

TG2013 - Cheers!

-Ben

Hi there it’s me Melvin.

It's me Melvin

It’s me Melvin

Yes you read that right, it’s M-e-l-v-i-n and this is totally not Michael at all. For those of you who don’t know me, my full name is Melvin the Melter and I’m not a living person. I’m actually an inanimate object (or a system comprised of many inanimate objects to be exact) invented by Vas who specializes in extracting 14CH4 from ice cores. I’m the second most experienced team member here after Vas – I’ve had five Greenland seasons and this is my third Antarctic season. I understand that many of you might be skeptical of the existence of an inanimate scientific 14CH4 extraction system that is capable of having sentient thoughts and able to write a blog post on its own. Many of you now might started to think “hmm I wonder who might be behind this… it’s definitely not Michael for sure though. It’s probably Ben or Avery.” For all intents and purposes of this post, don’t worry too much about it.

Maybe we don’t need you any longer Christo.

Maybe we don’t need you any longer Christo.

As I mentioned before, I was designed to extract 14CH4 from ice cores. The need to retrieve and analyze 14CH4 from past atmospheres comes from an underlying scientific question of how the global methane budget reacted to climate change in the past. We know (from ice core records) that in the past there were several episodes of incredibly fast global temperature rise coinciding with sharp rise of atmospheric CH4. However, dataset of past CH4 concentration by itself cannot tell us the source of CH4 emission. One way to estimate the CH4 sources during past climate change is by analyzing the carbon isotope of the ancient CH4 that are trapped in ice core bubbles. 14C of CH4 is especially good at distinguishing between past “modern” (e.g. wetlands, termites, ruminants) and fossil (e.g. clathrates, permafrost, thermokarst lakes) emission.

To extract enough 14C of CH4 necessary for AMS measurement (e.g. one data point in Vas’ figure), I need about 1000kg of ice. This means about 30m worth of 9.5 inch diameter Blue Ice Drill (BID) cores. The BID by the way is a one of a kind ice core drill system that was initially designed specifically to produce ice cores with the ideal geometry so that they can be packed inside me as efficiently as possible (and for the entire drill system to fit inside a 212 helicopter). Even with the unusually large (by ice core standard) diameter cores from the BID, it still takes three days for my mere mortal minions colleagues to drill, load, melt and extract enough air from the cores to make just one sample.

Josh and Ben start working very early in the morning

Josh and Ben start working very early in the morning

For the past two weeks or so, everyday at 12:30am my two minions distinguished driller colleagues Josh and Ben would start using the BID to pre-drill my two sample holes to 10m and six of I-184’s holes. This season, our team (I-159) has to share the BID with another group (I-184) and because of that the BID is run continuously on two working shifts. The first group of drillers (Josh and Ben) had to pre-drill all the holes during the cold period at “night” because the BID was having troubles drilling a brand new hole when it’s sunny and warm out there (by Antarctic standards of course).

I don’t like black carbon slush, but chainsaw is pretty necessary. I wish we have lightsabers next season.

I don’t like black carbon slush, but chainsaw is pretty necessary. I wish we have lightsabers next season.

The drill team usually starts producing cores for me at 1:00pm; this means that my second set of minions  the core processing team (Vas and Michael) would usually start working around 2:00pm to allow the ice cores to relax. Vas would usually chainsaw the end of each ice cores so that they can be stacked nicely inside me. Michael would then scrape off about 1mm of cores from the chainsawed surface because chainsaw produces snow slush with black carbon in it. I only accept clean ice cores with the finest quality. It’s only fair because at the end I gave them extracted ancient air with very low 14CH4 blank. After the ice cores are loaded, the remaining modern air is pumped out via a series of air pumps. Unlike the previous couple of seasons, this season the ice core loading step is done in the afternoon; because of this, we’re experiencing a little bit more melting – which means we lost a tiny amount of the sample. However, all is good though because Vas and Michael built a makeshift shade wall out of plywood to minimize the melting.

The ice cores are loaded via 4 to 1 pulley system hanging off a trebuchet

The ice cores are loaded via 4 to 1 pulley system hanging off a trebuchet

The final part of the procedure is my favorite. The ice cores inside the tank are melted via propane burner. To accomplish this task, I had a set of six very powerful propane torches in circle that burns about 3 million Btu’s worth of propane per extraction. At this step, usually Michael has to run around me and squirt some spray bottles around the tank body so it doesn’t overheat. If the aluminum in the tank overheats, it can degass more CH4 and CO, which increases the overall blank of the system. After the melting step is done, the ancient air that is now released in my headspace is recirculated through a bubbler system. This step is necessary so that the ancient CH4 gas can equilibrate with the melted water from ice cores that is free of dissolved CH4. Finally the sample air is transferred to a 35 L steel tank from Essex cryogenics (we simply called them “Essex tanks”) and is ready to be shipped back for measurement.

-Melvin the Melter

-definitely not Michael

Updates from the PI

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been on Taylor Glacier for almost a full month and our field season is more than halfway done. Time flies when you’re staying busy!

Sarah Aciego’s team left for their upglacier drilling site two days ago and the camp has been a lot quieter. Josh and Jayred were supposed to fly with the Blue Ice Drill to the upglacier site yesterday, to join Sarah for drilling two more holes in the younger ice exposed on that part of the glacier. The drill made it, Josh and Jayred did not, as the weather went down just as the helo made its first trip (carrying the drill). As far as we can tell looking around from our site, it should be much better today.

We are finally all working on the same schedule (night shift), which is a big relief. The complex staggered shifts we were running for the last couple of weeks (to accomplish drilling for both teams while still maximizing the coldest night drilling hours) made communication tricky and took away the opportunity to hang out together as a team at the end of the day.

The entire team has been working very hard. 12-hr days have been the norm for most of us, partly because some tasks (like the big ice melter extractions) require that much time, and partly because of various complications (high winds, minor equipment problems). Chandra’s great food and good cheer have helped a ton to keep us all going strong.

Considering the sequester-caused cutbacks in our field team and delays associated with the government shutdown, we are doing pretty well as far as our science goals for this season. Assuming things go reasonably smoothly from here, we would collect 7 out of 8 planned large melter samples, and most or all of the small-drill samples. We have also already collected all the high priority samples from the continuous chainsaw transects. Go team!

All the best from Taylor Glacier,

Vas

PS – We miss you Avery!

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Friis Hills in the night sun at 3 am.

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Michael using spray bottles to keep the walls of the ice melter cool at the beginning of the ice melting step

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Vas enjoying the ice wonderland at the glacier’s edge

Photo by Vas Petrenko

Avery trenching a couple of days before her departure

Photo by Vas Petrenko

“Happy Birthday” sign for Chandra that we carved out of ice

Week 3 on Taylor Glacier

The time has come for me to finally say goodbye to the group of people that have been my family for the past month.  Yesterday (Wednesday), the AStar came to pick me up in order to take me back to Mactown to start my long journey back to Rochester. I teared up as we took off the ground and I waved goodbye to those beneath me.  I did not realize how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to those who were strangers to me not too long ago.  Spending time with people 24/7 makes a bond that is indescribable.  It was because of this team that this trip will be an unforgettable experience, an escape from reality to a world of science that is impossible to imagine without having experienced it yourself.  Despite being the youngest, I never felt the difference in age. We were all there for a common goal which brought us together and drove us to work that much harder.  Leaving half way through the season was probably the most difficult part of this trip because knowing that everyone else will continue on does not give much closure. We took a family portrait before I headed out though, which was great.

I-159 Family

I-159 Family

These past three weeks in the field have flown by. Every day was a new challenge and learning experience.  There was not a single day that went by that I was not testing my ability to persevere through long days of work.  Most of my time was spent with a chainsaw or drill (the sidewinder, jiffy, or Blue Ice Drill).  Vas had described some of the things that I would be doing in the field, but each day was nothing like I could have imagined.

Daniel and I using the Jiffy drill

Daniel and I using the Jiffy drill

For the first week that I was in the field, I spent my days with Daniel, learning how to do small ice core sampling in order to do a reconnaissance of the desired sampling area to ensure that we would be taking larger samples from the correct locations. Once this was done we moved on to what Michael loved to call “Labor Camp” while everyone else was away at “Nerd Camp”-running the GC and the melter.  Basically, the next couple of weeks were spent constructing two trenches, a 30m and a 40m trench. In order to do this, the outline of the trench was created by chain sawing the area, then using a breaker bar to smash the ice on the inside and then having the ice shoveled out. The desired samples were taken from a 6cm wide line that ran down the center of the trench.  In order to remove the samples, a wedge shaped ice block was created using the chainsaw.   Despite the labor intensive work, I loved every moment of it.  The time flew by.

Small sample collecting

Small sample collecting

The Sidewinder

The Sidewinder

For about four days during these couple of weeks, I was sent over to be the assistant on the Blue Ice Drill.  I worked with Josh in order to get some of the larger ice cores that would be melted on site.  We had a couple electronical issues during my shifts, which were a bit frustrating and took a lot of patience to get through, but now the drill is running smoothly. Unfortunately, I was a klutz and tripped over the V-threads on our mess tent. I ended up smashing my knee on the ice, so I found it too painful to keep kneeling and moving around for the Blue Ice Drill. Ben thankfully took over my position there, and I switched back to helping out Daniel.

One thing that was very interesting about this adventure was the diet of chocolate bars, bumper bars, and numerous cookies that were the best during snack time.  Along with Raro-a sugary powder mix- that seemed to have magical powers while we were at work. The one thing that I will not miss is the undesirable temperatures for all meals; breakfast with hot steaming cereal, cold lunch meals-with some frozen turkey, and dinner meals that become extremely cold in a matter of minutes. Do not get me wrong, we were very well fed, thanks to Chandra, and we ate way better than I could have ever imagined but the temperatures of each meal were sometimes disheartening.

Other than the warmth while sleeping, working through the night was really enjoyable because for about five hours the sun would disappear behind the mountains, so that the glacier would be in the shade. This provided a great temperature for collecting samples and for drilling since we didn’t have to worry about melting. The weather had been much more manageable for these past couple of weeks than during the first week that we were there.  Other than a small snow storm, which is uncommon for the Dry Valleys- the weather was pretty much consistent. There were also a couple extremely warm days where we were down to our base layers, which were quite amazing but not the best for getting work done.

The night of the snow storm

The night of the snow storm

As the last week of my journey approached, I was determined to see as much of Taylor Glacier as possible in my free time. After work, Daniel thankfully took the time and energy to fulfill my desires to see and do as much as time allowed. He took me to see the preserved penguin and seal that were located about ten minutes away from camp. It is absolutely phenomenal to see how the cold helps to keep animals so well preserved. Despite Taylor Glacier being a good distance from the oceans, a penguin and seal somehow ended up where they currently remain today. Also, after our snow storm we hiked up-glacier to where there is a trough with a steep slope in order to go sledding. Sledding is absolutely amazing when the ice is covered with a small layer of snow. Another highlight of my last week was the chainsaw sculpting that we attempted, which was quite interesting.

Chainsaw Sculpting

Chainsaw Sculpting

Preserved Penguin

Preserved Penguin

Preserved Seal

Preserved Seal

Every time that I looked around me I was always in awe at the world that surrounded me. It is hard to believe that this is over. I have pushed myself more than I could have imagined and am grateful for this amazing opportunity that I have experienced.  Hopefully, the rest of the team that I left behind will finish all their science goals and make it home safely. They have made great progress so far, despite a couple of issues along the way, and are on their way to a successful season.  Sorry for rambling so much, but so much has happened in the past couple weeks that I will never be able to capture it fully in a simple blog post.

View from the AStar of our camp

View from the AStar of our camp

Farewell Taylor Glacier,

Avery

Week 2 on Taylor Glacier

Hey everybody, we’ve been having a great time here on the glacier.  Being Sunday, it’s our much needed day off.  Some members of the team have gone on a Skidoo ride to check out the sights up glacier, while myself and Michael stuck around to catch up on sleep and relax, as we haven’t had much time to do so since being here.  Both teams are busy.

The first thing to mention is the severe unpredictability of Antarctic weather, which at our site is more dependent on wind than anything else.  In the beginning of the week, we had a 3 day stretch with consistent winds of 30-40mph, gusting as high as 50mph.  Getting work done is rather difficult in that environment, since we need to take care that everything around camp is severely strapped down or else it will blow down the glacier!  Walking to the worksite felt like gliding with the wind at our back, while walking back to camp was nearly impossible to accomplish without falling over on the slippery Ice.

Luckily, the winds calmed down mid-week for calmer working conditions.  Josh & Jayred were able to master the Blue Ice Drill by the end of the week to the point of being able to work independently in two separate shifts, each with a drill helper.  This will make our work more efficient being able to run the drill at all time as we are sharing it with I-184 for the next few weeks (They have a blog too, check it out: giglinthefield.wordpress.com) Thomas trained me on the field ice core methane extraction system that we are using to understand the age of the various Ice layers.

TG2013 - GCMichael and Vas have finished setting up the large volume 14CH4 extraction system and have essentially completed their procedural tests.

TG2013 - Melvin the melter TG2013 - Melter internal connectionsOnce the stratigraphy of the ice layers is fully understood, they’ll be ready to start extraction of 14CH4 samples.  Daniel and Avery dug a 30m trench with electric chainsaws along the main glacier transect to extract samples for continuous chemistry analysis.

TG2013 - TrenchScientifically we’re making progress, although perhaps a bit behind our original timeframe due to unpredicted stratigraphy from our reconnaissance samples.

This past Thursday, we had a Thanksgiving celebration with both teams all in one endurance tent.  Our science implementer Jessie Jenkins cooked us a Turkey in McMurdo and flew it out via helicopter with some of our cargo earlier in the day.  A great time was shared by everyone!

Thanksgiving dinnerOur camp manager Chandra even made me a menorah to celebrate Chanukah simultaneously!

MenorahTowards the end of the week the winds really calmed down to the point that it got too warm.  Our thermometer in the kitchen was reading 40-45F, although the thermometer was likely reading an elevated value from solar heating.  The surface of the glacier began melting slightly from the sun causing the surface to become extremely slick.  Walking without stabilizers or crampons became nearly impossible, though that was a fair trade off for shedding several layers.  By midday it eventually got so hot that the drill got too warm to operate.  Unfortunately this put our work on hold until the night shift.  Hopefully the wind picks up (slightly) so that the drill can operate around the clock.

Driller Mike Jayred catching a midday nap

Driller Mike Jayred catching a midday nap

Until then, greetings from the sunny glacier!

-Ben

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!

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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.

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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).

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

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And “31 Lima” also an AStar

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“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).

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“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.

Michael

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!

~Ben