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?

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