Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Devastation in Christchurch

I woke up this morning to headlines of tragedy in New Zealand as yet another massive quake struck downtown Christchurch this morning.  The irony is that my last post was featuring the beauty of the town and its architecture only to see the pictures of it laying in ruin now.

 My heart pours out to the people of Christchurch and prayers for those lost or still missing.  Quite a number of US Antarctic Program participants are there right now as the this is the peak of their flow off the ice back home or abroad as the leave.  A personal prayer goes out to them especially hoping we haven't lost any of our own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Back to summer, at least for a couple days

After enjoying a nice dark night for a change I was rudely awoken by the sun this morning.  That thing is persistent.  So I rose to try to figure out what to do today.  I soon discovered sweating was going to be in the agenda.  It was in the mid-20's C or 70's F today--much warmer than I am used to.  I walked about town.  Took in the sights I enjoyed on my way down here early last month.  After walking I decided a nice run would be in store--in shorts and a short sleeve shirt nonetheless--no more runs bundled like Kenny from South Park.

It was great to get out, enjoy the sights, the smells, the sounds.  The layout of the city is very pedestrian friendly and easy to get about.  So I did just that.  Down to the Cathedral Square--which by the way is where the priests that work in McMurdo are from.  They rotate about once a month during the summer and have had a presence there since the US Navy began there operations in 1955.

 One unique note about the Cathedral is that during the Austral Winter, it houses the Erebus Chalice. In 1841, Sir James Clark Ross, aboard the HMS Erebus, led an expedition to what is now the Ross Sea. On board the ship was Lieutenant Edward Joseph Bird, who carried a silver and gilt William IV style communion chalice. Bird attained the rank of admiral, and when he died the chalice was passed through his family as an heirloom. In 1987 the Bird family, commemorating the 75th anniversary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated 1911 expedition to the South Pole, had the chalice engraved and dedicated, and offered it for use at the Chapel of the Snows. The chalice was first used in services in the chapel on Christmas Day, 1987. At the beginning of the Antarctic summer the chalice is presented in a ceremony to the McMurdo chaplain, for transport back to the Chapel of the Snows. 

Side note, back to Antarctica, I went to a few services there, after one I was looking at the case with the Chalice (it's behind glass inside the chapel) and the Father said "Want a better look? Let me take it out for you! Get a picture with it too!" So I did!  A really neat artifact and piece of history rarely seen off the continent.

So anyways, back to New Zealand...the gardens were still in full bloom, birds everywhere, cicadas calling to each other in the heat of the day--a standard summer afternoon.  Along the Avon River people rode along in punting boats, which are flat bottom boats guided along like the gondoliers of Venice.

Staring contest....GO!

Punting along the Avon
 As I wandered back from having a pint and some fish for dinner, I heard bag pipes.  As I got closer I realized they were in the park next to my hotel.  They were gathering and practicing for an upcoming event.  Men, women, young and old all played and practiced into the evening air. It was a great surprise before heading off to check out the cityscape by night.

A tribute to R.F. Scott and all the men and women of the Antarctic program along the river front.

Modern Art Museum curves at sunset

Cathedral Square by night

So with that, I am signing off for this travelogue.  There will be more I promise, but for now I need to repack my gear and go to bed in preparation for GOING HOME tomorrow (and back to Winter where I left it)!!!

The sweet smell of freedom

Greetings from Christchurch, New Zealand!  Made it in late last night local time (around 11pm).  After the madness of the previous night, it was pretty much hurry up and wait mode Monday. 
Probably one of the cooler and most uncommon passport stamps in my collection
After checking out, dropping off / returning all my gear in and around the station, we hopped on "Ivan" (below) and proceeded out to Pegasus to await our chariot.

After about 45 minutes, the long awaited C-17 flew into view, circled to land and arrived with a fresh load of winter personnel and pick us up.  It landed, used most of the 10,000' runway to get stopped and taxied right up to where we were waiting.  Engines still running we were cleared on once all the folks being delivered and picked up were out of the plane. 

400,000 lbs of metal on ice moving at 140 knots trying to stop.

Slowed down to taxi speed....made it.
So as soon as everyone was on, we closed up and taxied out, off we went in about a 30 minute turn.  Very efficient process I might add.  The planned flight was about 5 hours to get back.  True to word, it was and we landed around 9:30pm local.  We flew across West Antarctica on the way home, the last peaks of Victoria Land waving goodbye as we passed over them at 32,000'.   About 4 hrs later we were treated to something new for everyone departing--a sunset over the South Pacific--and on into the night we flew.
Victoria Land, West Antarctica

100 of my stinky fellow passengers
We landed and then had to go about clearing customs and wait for our bags.  The immediate shock were the smells and the heat.  Smells I took for granted overwhelmed what I thought was a stuffy nose--simple smells like grass, trees, farms, etc.  You forget there is nothing to smell in Antarctica and the influx of warmer air, humidity and the local flora was amazing.  Also, granted it was around 15C out (roughly 60F) but that was about 60-70 degrees warmer than earlier--enough to shock the system a bit.  After an hour or so we cleared, collected our gear and hiked over to the CDC or clothing distribution center where the US Antarctic Program office issued all our gear out of last month.  The process was much easier as we threw all our junk into a mountain of stinking winter wear.  There is a nice blend of sweat, jet fuel and penguin dung in the air. Glad I don't have to sort through that.

Today I am relaxing.  Walking around the Botanical Gardens to continue enjoying the smells and lovely weather.  Its in the 60's and sunny--a lovely summer day and near end to my journey home.  Now off to Boise it is tomorrow.  Well tomorrow and the next day as it is around a 26 hr adventure.  Can't wait, wish I could just click my heels 3 times....

Talk to everyone soon.  Hope all is well and can't wait to share the stories. Cheers!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Byrd is the word...or brrrrrrrrrrrrrd is the word..

It's a day before the final fly day of the Summer.  Sunday.  The day of rest.  The one day people look forward to here to take a break from the other 6 days of high paced work.  However it is the end of the season.  The winter approaches.  One project has been lingering on the "to-do" list but Mother Nature has been disagreeable.  It is the Byrd Glacier. 

The Byrd Glacier on the East antarctic Ice Sheet and it's outlet glacier along the Trans-Antarctic Mountains
The project is studying the dynamics of the Byrd Glacier's outlet to the Ross Ice Shelf and comparing it to similar flows in Greenland.  The project is inferring data to help with Global Climate change models as does the work in Greenland.  So the wise man would take advantage of all the days you can get weather permitting to work before the season ends.  Since the data will be lost (it is recorded locally, not transmitted due to power limitations) if it is not collected the race was on to take advantage of a 12 hr window we had to get in and collect about 22 recording sites off the glacial stream and winterize 5 that we're being left behind.  By being "lost" I mean being eaten by the glacier.  This flow is relatively fast in glacial terms, about 900m a year or 2-3 meters a day.  The ice stream, as you will see is a fluid, and rolls, tumbles and flows through a 12 mile wide pass.  If not found today, the recorders would not be found.  Data lost, project lost, money lost. 

The outlet glacier and the recording stations
Flow rates in meters / yr based on old data, the glacier has accelerated in recent years, hence the study
So as we say, Off I went to help save the day....or at least help fly down the 180 miles trip and back, try to help where I could, dig out fuel caches, take pictures and hopefully learn something in the meanwhile.  There's not much to see all the way down as we flew across the Ross Ice Shelf which is an expanse of white as far as you can see for hundreds of miles.  Soon enough the Trans-Antarctic Mountains popped into view and with that ice below us began to transform, but first time to find a gas station.  Off to Cape Selbourne to dig up and exhaust the remaining 4 drums of JP-8, and into the the -20 below air..brrrrrrrrr. 

The south edge of the Byrd outlet a top Cape Selbourne en route to get some gas.

 So we got our fuel and headed across to our waypoints to begin the search for the recorders.  The original fixes were marked in early December so in theory they should have moved around 150-200m by now.  The work was fairly easy initially as we plucked sites up, repaired and helped winterize others that were in safe spots along the flow.

At 300' these don't look too bad.  Wait until you get lower and realize. We soon did.

Project lead scientist Gordon Hamilton and a mountaineer begin to prep one of the permanent sites for winter.

Removing one of the easier sites along the end of the end of the outlet

Up stream and more toward the center of the flow, the shattered earth below began to deform and change.

Flying up the North ridge of the stream we went to one of 2 permanent sites that recorded a "baseline" fix location to reference.

While the science folks worked, I went for a quick hike for a little better vantage point over the surrounding area.

The local sandstone and granite till layered the ridge line.  Piles of quartz, small silver deposits and schist were everywhere.

Landing on the saddle along the ridge.  Jack our senior helicopter pilot looks over the work.

High atop the work site. Another good day at work!

Back down we flew to find a missing receiver.

View looking south from about 500' beginning a search pattern for a lost recorder site. 

At about 100' looking down another 250' into the twisted earth below.  Caves were everywhere.

More mangled ice.

Deciding where to land?  We did.

Transiting to the other reference recorder at the head of the ice stream. We're ending up at the top left ridge line.

Looking at the landing site, on the cliff edge 4000' straight down the granite wall.

At the LZ along the cliff edge. The recorder is up on the edge.

Watch that step...

Looking back at the saddle we landed on.

The ridge line is covered with 1000' layer of basalt on top of the under laying granite. That's the light dark transition along the sidewall.

Work complete, now through the pass flying back to get some gas for the trek home.

Near the Roadend Nunatak fuel cache, we overfly the Hatherton Glacier.  The 2 dark lines are called a median sill. Each one represents a separate ice stream with a different source and this is their confluence.

Almost done...our two ship stops for a break and some gas.
So our work was done.  Mission complete. Summer science is over.  Off you go now. I am doing just that.  I ran back, cleaned my room for an inspection, packed my bags and dragged them up the hill to check  them in the night before my flight, had a glass of wine with a couple friends to say safe travels to and crashed in bed for the last time this season, pending my C-17 makes it here.  I hope I didn't just curse myself.  What could possibly go wrong?