Monday, December 29, 2014

The SuperGroom Team Gets to SuperTIGER, COSI Launch, and Other McMurdo Happenings: December 27-30, 2014

There hasn't been too much happening with those of us on the recovery team left in McMurdo the past few days. Sunday, three Twin Otter flights from Thomas Hills landed at the SuperTIGER site and the SuperGroom Team set up camp. They've started digging out the instrument and grooming the ski-way. It only took 694 days, but SuperTIGER finally got some company out on the ice.

The rest of us will be joining them in a few days, once the skiway for the Basler has been groomed. We've been officially approved for our most recent modified plan, which involves the rest of the recovery team (Tiger Tail) going through the South Pole on the way to SuperTIGER, and the entire recovery team going through the Pole on the way back. We still don't know when exactly we'll head down to the Pole or which plane we'll take to get there, but we're at the point where it's just figuring out flights and not worrying about too many other things.

COSI had a successful launch yesterday. They sat out on the launch pad waiting for the winds to be right for a long enough time that I fell asleep and missed the opportunity to watch the launch live from the Scott Base hill, but I did get to see it on the webcam.

Dana has been working out at LDB helping pack up ANITA stuff, and Sean and I have been hanging around in McMurdo. The weather has been relatively nice, so I've been doing a lot of hiking, and have walked down to Hut Point to check for penguins every day. There haven't been any that I've seen, although apparently there was one at LDB a few days ago.

Otherwise, we're just waiting. Hopefully we'll be on our way before too long!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

(Skua) Christmas and Boxing Day: December 25-26, 2014

Friday night at the VMF Christmas Party I was talking to Jeff and Nathaniel, our friends who work on SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, a radar experiment with locations around the world) and we came up with the idea of a Skua Secret Santa/Skua White Elephant gift exchange/Skua Christmas. Skua is McMurdo's way of recycling still-useable but unwanted items, mostly things that have been left behind by people leaving town. Every dorm has a Skua bin where people can leave things (and where some of the best Skua finds have happened), and there's also a central Skua building that's full of things that have been left behind. Skua's mostly used for clothing (there are lots of random shirts and shoes) but there's a lot of random stuff as well.

Christmas Morning I went up to Skua Central to see what random stuff I could find. Jeff was also there Skua shopping (or Skua-diving, depending how you look at it). I hadn't been in Skua Central before, so I was surprised how many old pairs of boots there were. There was a whole side of the building dedicated to clothes (Jeff found his whole Christmas outfit there), a wall of boots, and another side that had bookshelves with old books and DVDs, and a few shelves of electronics and other stuff.
The Skua wall of Boots
I filled up a box with a centerpiece for our Christmas dinner table--fake flowers in a blender, surrounded by tinsel--and an assortment of gifts. I got a puzzle (in a ziploc bag, labelled "#3", no indication of what it was or whether all the pieces were there), a broken calculator, a can of black hair dye, a deck of 44 cards, a badminton shuttlecock, a stuffed football, and a set of 3 3-1/2 inch floppy disks helpfully labelled "photos".
Skua Electronics!
After lunch, I went over to Central Skua again with Sean and looked through their books while he found his presents. There wasn't anything that looked good. I then grabbed some tape so we could wrap the presents and wrapped mine up with notebook paper.

Our dinner reservation was at 7pm (you have to sign up for a time for holiday meals because there aren't enough seats for everyone to eat at once), but by the time we walked over at around 6:40 the line to get in to the galley was already very long. I ran into Dana in line, and he gave me a couple of cards from the Wash U Physics department that he'd gotten as part of a package that had come in on Christmas Eve (there were apparently 9 pallets of packages delivered on the Herc flight from Christchurch on Wednesday night that were then available for pickup on Christmas morning). It was good to get some mail, and it worked out great that the cards actually arrived on Christmas Day.

Once we got in to the galley, I filled my plate up with the delicious food that they had (I can't remember all that I grabbed, but it was all delicious). At one point I got in what I thought was the line for Prime Rib, but turned out to be the line for Crab Legs, so I wasted about 5 minutes there (it's a harsh continent).
My Iron from Nathaniel
We had dinner and dessert, and then went out to get our Skua Christmas presents. I got a ball of yarn from Sean, a towel and a hat from Jeff, and an Iron (with a card) from Nathaniel. Sean found some pretty exciting gifts, including a pirate hat for Jeff and a Tyvek jumpsuit for Nathaniel. Someone at the table next to ours offered some sharpie markers to mark up Nathaniel's suit, and after dinner he went around trying to get as many people to sign it as he could.

Jeff, Nathaniel, and Sean after Skua Christmas.
Friday was also a holiday here, so nothing was open and most people weren't doing much of anything. The weather both Thursday and Friday was very windy, so I didn't go on a hike like I had planned to do.  Sean got a call from Thomas, and it sounds like things are going well at the Thomas Hills camp. Apparently the Twin Otter that will take them to SuperTIGER should be there tomorrow. Sean also got a list of things that the SuperGroom team realized they needed, so tomorrow we'll go around and pick those up. Otherwise, there isn't too much else going on. We'll hopefully be leaving here around Monday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The SuperGroom Team Goes to Thomas Hills! And the McMurdo kitchen: December 22-24, 2014

Monday, after I updated the blog, the container that we'll be sharing with EBEX (who still have stuff left over from their recovery last year) was moved over next to the SuperTIGER shipping containers behind the Science Support Center (SSC). Sean, Thomas, and I re-arranged things between the containers, so most of the stuff that we have down here that we'll ship back is in the shared container, the container that will be staying here for CSBF storage has all the stuff that stays on the ice, and our other container was empty, so that we can fill it up with the recovered SuperTIGER instrument.

While we were packing, James came by and told us that the SuperGroom Team (James, the camp supervisor; Lyra, the mountaineer; Dave, the mechanic; and Thomas, from the SuperTIGER science team) flight out to Thomas Hills was not the backup mission for Tuesday but the primary mission for Wednesday. This was good news, since it meant that the SuperGroom Team might get out before the 2-day no-fly break for Christmas.

Tuesday morning, I woke up and had breakfast with Thomas and a few other scientists that were waiting for flights out, mostly to WAIS Divide, where the SuperGroom Team and Tiger Tails (Sean, Dana, and I) were supposed to go in some of the previous iterations of the plan. After breakfast, Thomas had some errands to run just in case the Thomas Hills SuperGroom Team flight went out on Wednesday. We had all planned to volunteer in the kitchen, so we basically just walked in and talked to them. There was stuff to do right away, so I got to work. My first task was peeling and chopping the ends off of 40kg of carrots that had just arrived the night before from New Zealand. While I was about a third of the way through, Sean showed up and was given 70kg of fresh potatoes to slice. We talked with people that worked in the kitchen for a while while we worked. After finishing the carrots, I cleaned 7 boxes of bell peppers. Just after I started, Thomas came by to help and was put to work in the bakery making cookies and biscotti. By the time I finished all 7 boxes of peppers, it was lunch time, and since I'd been working for 4 hours in the kitchen I was sent home and given a cool hat to thank me for my help.

The really cool hat I got for volunteering in the kitchen.

In the afternoon I worked in our cubicle for a while, and then met up with Thomas and Sean for dinner. Thomas had to Bag Drag at 7pm, so he went and did that while Sean and I went to the store. It was Sean's birthday, so we hung out in my dorm for a while Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning COSI had another potential launch opportunity, but they ended up having to cancel because of wind. I had breakfast with Thomas and then got the Tiger Tail iridium satellite phone and SuperTIGER team pager from him. I went back to my room for a little bit before going up to the Movement Control Center (MCC) where the SuperGroom team was meeting to be driven to the airport. There, I said goodbye to the SuperGroom team and took possession of the official Tiger Tail mascot: a stuffed tiger tail on a suction cup that Ryan, our science implementer, had given James. The SuperGroom team has a matching set of Tiger ears. I got to the MCC just before James, and the SuperGroom team was quickly shuffled out the door because the Air National Guard wanted to move up the flight.

For some reason, Thomas insisted that we take a photo of me with the Tiger Tail instead of a group photo of the SuperGroom team before they left.

The SuperGroom flight to Thomas Hills was originally scheduled for 10am,  but they ended up taking off at 9:15. They got to Thomas Hills around 1:15pm, and the Herc left there at 2 for the South Pole, where it refueled and came back to McMurdo. The SuperGroom team will stay at Thomas Hills until a Kenn Borek Air de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter flies up from the South Pole and takes them to SuperTIGER site. Thomas Hills is a camp that currently is home to four members of the G-297 science team, led by Trevor Williams, who has been tweeting updates and photos.

The Tiger Tails will then follow the SuperGroom team to the SuperTIGER site, once a skiway for the Basler (a modified DC-3 airframe) has been groomed. The Tiger Tails will be flying through the South Pole on the way down, and on the way back we'll either go through WAIS Divide or the Pole.

Back in McMurdo, I worked out of the cubicle for most of the day. After lunch, I called home and talked to my extended family, and then Sean and I went to the McMurdo General Hospital. The South Pole is at 9,300 ft (2835 meters) elevation, but the effective elevation because of the air pressure is often higher. Medical in McMurdo has a supply of Diamox, a drug that prevents Acute Mountain Sickness, so we wanted to get a supply before we went down to the Pole just in case.

After dinner, Sean went to a movie night at the coffee house, and I went over to the McMurdo Christmas party in the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF). It was pretty fun, and a kind of surreal mix of traditional christmas--photos with Santa in his "sleigh" (a Piston Bully), photos with the Grinch for those who wanted them, the McMurdo community choir singing christmas songs--and a dance party (this is probably the only part I've ever been at where Christmas songs have been followed immediately by Chumbawumba).

The Tiger Tails aren't on the scheduled Saturday flight to the South Pole, but we'll probably leave sometime early next week, "weather and logistics permitting".

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Penguin Sighting!! and our third weekend in McMurdo: December 19-22, 2014

Friday morning there was a launch opportunity for COSI. I walked out to the hill above Scott Base once I thought inflation was starting. After about an hour and a half of standing around in the cold without seeing any glimpse of an inflating balloon, I decided to go back to McMurdo to wait for inflation to actually begin. When I got back I found out that the launch had been scrubbed because of wind. 

After lunch on Thursday, we got a tip that there was a penguin down by the ice pier between McMurdo and Hut Point. Thomas and I wandered down about halfway and saw the penguin taking  nap while Sean got a haircut. Once Sean was done, we all walked back down and the penguin was still lying there. We walked out to Hut Point and looked at the seals that were lying around nearby. On our way back, it looked like the penguin was gone, but then we saw it walking towards land. It walked over onto the dirt area by the pier, and then eventually walked more or less parallel with the road, so we kept walking alongside it. Eventually I got out ahead of it and it walked within about 10 feet of me. 

Saturday I worked in our cubicle in building 175 most of the day. There wasn't too much else going on. After dinner, we had a logistics meeting with James, from the groom team, and Ryan, our science implementer, and talked about the plan going forward. I'm sure it will change 16 or 17 more times before we go out, but as of right now (Monday) the groom team (the Super Groom Team, as we've been calling them) going to Thomas Hills is a backup mission for the LC-130 tomorrow. If they're not able to get out then, it might not be until early next week. The rest of us (Tiger Tail, our new nickname is) will leave once the skiway at the SuperTIGER site is ready. So we'll definitely be in McMurdo for Christmas, and then we'll have to see.

Sunday was cold and windy and overcast, so nothing too much happened. Sean got our two shipping containers organized, and Monday morning we went over and looked through it all. One of the containers we've been using is going to stay here at the LDB facility, and we're going to use our other container and part of a container that has EBEX stuff in it to ship everything back. Tomorrow we'll go through and put our stuff in the EBEX container and try to re-organize things so it all fits.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pegasus Crash Site Tour and ANITA Launch: December 16-18, 2014

Tuesday was another quiet day in McMurdo. There was some talk of attempting another ANITA launch, but the weather wasn't good enough for them to even try. I spent most of the day working in our extra cubicle. There's a congressional delegation in town that was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday but it got delayed because of weather.

Wednesday I also spent most of the day in the cubicle. In the evening, though, I got to go on a trip out to the Pegasus crash site. On October 8, 1970, a Lockheed Martin C-121 Constellation called Pegasus crashed while flying in to McMurdo. Most of the plane is still there, abandoned, and the recreation department has been organizing trips out to the crash site. We met in town around 6pm, and even though 10 people were signed up, only four of us and the guide showed up. I was the only SuperTIGER person on my trip; Thomas went Thursday morning and Sean is scheduled to go on Friday. We got into a van for the hour-long trip out to the crash site, which is about a mile past Pegasus Field, the airfield where we landed after getting to McMurdo two weeks ago. Unlike two years ago, though, the ski aircraft are all being flown out of Willy Field, so right now Pegasus isn't being used except as a divert field for incoming planes and a weather observation station. The road past Willy Field had a lot of drifted snow on it and the trip had to go pretty slow.

When we got to the wreck, we couldn't see any of the surrounding area because of the weather. It actually made going around and climbing on the plane a lot cooler. It was strange to think about the plane sitting out there for all these years, and also amazing to realize that in the plane crash there were no deaths and just a few minor injuries.

We brought a couple of shovels from McMurdo, and ended up spending most of the time digging out the UNITED STATES NAVY lettering painted on the side. It looks like the inside of the plane is filled up with snow and ice.

After about 45 minutes at the plane, we went back to McMurdo. I met up with Sean and Thomas and we went to the galley for a snack (really a late dinner for me). On our way in, Sean and I accidentally photobombed some astronauts. The Congressional delegation came in a little after us and had their dinner too. I ended up showing a member of the U.S. House of Representatives where they keep the bowls for Frosty Boy, so that was pretty exciting. Thursday they spent out in the McMurdo Dry valleys, and tomorrow they're going to the pole. 

I got up early Thursday morning to see how the 6th ANITA launch attempt was going. I ended up going back to sleep a couple of times while I waited, but eventually, around 9:30, I saw that inflation of the balloon had begun. Once inflation starts, the launch is normally about an hour away, so I got dressed and walked out to the hill above Scott Base to watch the launch. It was pretty cool.
ANITA just after the balloon is released
The ANITA balloon over the LDB site

ANITA in flight

After that, I went back to town and had lunch. I worked on a couple of things in the cubicle before Thomas showed up with the Iridium satellite phone we'll be using in the field. Once I finished up what I was working on, I went down to Crary Lab, where they have an antenna set up so that you can communicate with the satellites and test your satellite phone from the comfort of a heated room. Thomas came by a little bit after I got there and we tested the phone out, making sure we could make calls. We also got a computer from the Crary tech folks that is able to use the phone as a satellite modem, so we should be able to use that computer to send updates via email in the field (although the modem is excruciatingly slow, even compared to McMurdo internet). Before we go into the field I'll be sure to post where we'll be trying to update.

Friday morning they may launch COSI early, so I'll have more on that tomorrow if it happens.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Another quiet weekend, and four more ANITA launch attempts: December 12-15, 2014

Thursday night, after we got everything into Science Cargo and had dinner, we went over to Scott Base for the store and America night at the bar. Thomas and I walked over, and then I took the shuttle back with Sean. The weather was nice, so the walk didn't seem as long, and by the end I actually was almost too hot. The area in the front near where the store used to be has been redone, and there's now a fancy conference room with a great view next to the new store location.

Since everything but our personal gear/clothes is in the cargo system, there isn't too much else for us to do besides wait around to go to the field. The plan as it stands right now is still in flux, but it sounds like it will be a while yet before we're able to leave.

ANITA has been trying to launch the last few days. There was another unsuccessful launch attempt on Friday, and again on Saturday, and again on Sunday. Sunday's looked promising enough that I spent the afternoon watching the webcam, ready to head out to the hill above Scott Base to watch the launch, instead of doing anything else. Monday we went out to LDB for some errands and lunch (and also because on Saturday and Sunday there was an Emperor Penguin sighting!). There was no sign of any penguins today, but we did get to see ANITA's 5th launch attempt. They rolled out onto the launch pad and were basically ready to go when the weather changed and it got windy, so they had to come back inside. The weather the next few days doesn't look too promising, but we'll see.

There's not much else exciting happening down here--the big excitement this next week will be the CODEL, or Congressional Delegation, of 10 representatives (and staff, and other officials coming with). Weather permitting, they'll get here tomorrow and tour the South Pole and McMurdo later this week.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Container Lake, Pressure Ridges, and Science Cargo: December 10-11, 2014

Wednesday morning, our first order of business after breakfast was to go to the Science Support Center (SSC) and make sure that the generator we planned to bring to the field and the electric saw we’ll need to use would work well together. The first step was to get the saw out of our container, which is where we ran into a slight issue: the puddle in front of the container was now much deeper than Tuesday, had only a thin layer of ice across the top, and had frozen the container latch shut.
A lot of water
We went up to the BFC and borrowed a pair of shovels and a maddock. Back at the container, we started to dig a trench downhill to drain the water from the small lake in front of the container. After about a half hour of digging, we had a trench dug and water flowing, but we still needed to push water from the puddle into the trench to get it going. We kept pushing water down the trench for a while, and we moved what looked like a lot of water. This started to attract attention.

Thomas and Sean work on our trench. It worked well.
Dale Rivers, the head of heavy equipment, showed up looking for the broken water pipe or place that was leaking water and just found us trying to drain our puddle. I thought we had done a pretty good job, but he called in a bulldozer and backhoe and soon enough, most of the snow nearby was gone and we had a deeper drainage trench taking the water away from the container. 
For some reason, the heavy equipment worked better than our shovels.

After two hours, we were finally able to get the saw and test it. It worked fine, so we took it up to Science Cargo and checked it in.

We then went out to LDB for lunch and a couple of errands. Back in town, we stopped by Crary supply to see if we could get some work gloves for the field, and also sorted more of our equipment in our container. When we went inside for a break and to make a list of all the equipment we hadn’t yet acquired/packed, I saw that there was a pressure ridge tour that night that only had a couple of people signed up. Sean and Thomas weren’t too interested, so I signed up. After we went over the list of everything new we’d thought of, we went over to meet with Lyra from the groom team and go over the plan as it stood then (it has changed since, of course).

By then it was almost 6, so I went and got ready for the Pressure Ridge tour while Thomas and Sean had dinner. I was a little surprised not to see anyone else waiting for the pressure ridges, but the group turned out to be just me and the guide, Hasmin. We drove over to Scott Base, and then spent about two hours walking around the Pressure Ridges. This is the area where the land, annual sea ice, and permanent glacial ice from the Ross Ice Shelf all meet and push against each other, pushing the ice up into the air where the wind blows it into really cool shapes and formations. It’s also a spot where seals like to hang out, so we ended up getting pretty close to a few different seals. I took about 900 photos, but I put the best up in an album here.

Thursday we got to work finally packing everything up for the field and getting it ready to be checked in at the Science Cargo building. We also picked up the last of the things we’ll need from the BFC, and then packed most of our tools and stuff in one large box. Other things that we’ll need, like 2x4s for making a frame for the Cherenkov boxes, and foam to put between detectors after we’ve removed them from the stack, has to go separately, but by 2:30pm we had everything checked in and ready to go. We then went over to the office and talked with James and Lyra from the groom team.

The first of three Herc flights to the Thomas Hills camp got off on Wednesday and left the equipment it needed to for the geology group that will be camping there. The second flight was delayed today because of a mechanical issue. The hope is to get as much of our weight on the second flight whenever it does go out, which would allow us to potentially all fly together on the third Herc flight (and skip the need for people to go through the WAIS Divide Field Camp). Whether that’s possible or not is up in the air; in any event, it sounds like the earliest that third flight would happen is Wednesday, so we’ll definitely have a few more days in McMurdo (and probably a few changes to the plan) before we leave.

Thursday was also the first launch attempt for ANITA, but it was scrubbed for some reason. I assume Dana will tell us more at dinner. Regardless, they’re going to try to launch again tomorrow, so we’ll try to see the launch if possible.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Another day of errands, and our 2-year launch anniversary: December 9, 2014

I woke up Tuesday morning and immediately checked the CSBF website and COSI Facebook page to see how things were going. I could see COSI on the launch vehicle but not yet rolled out to the launch pad, so I figured I had plenty of time before they would launch and went off to breakfast. After breakfast, I found out that the upper atmosphere winds weren't right for a launch, so things were called off, with a potential opportunity coming on Thursday.

In McMurdo, Thomas and I went through the recovery tools and sorted out ones we likely won't end up using and started weighing the various bags that we'll be taking to the field. We carried these over to our containers once we had finished, and then went once again to the BFC to look at the tool selection they have there. After grabbing another box of stuff from the BFC, we found Sean and caught the shuttle out to LDB for lunch and a couple of errands. When we got to LDB the smell of cooking meat (burger day. It's a harsh continent.) told us we had made the correct choice. Today was also the two-year anniversary of the SuperTIGER launch, so it was cool to be out at the LDB facility today (even though we actually launched miles away).

We eventually went back into town and got back to work with the tools. The past couple of days have been warm here (almost above freezing), so a lot of snow has been melting. This has turned most of the roads in McMurdo into mud puddles, and left us with a half-inch deep puddle in front of our shipping containers. Thomas and I stopped by building 175 to talk to James about the plan for getting everything in the field, and then we went to the Science Support Center (SSC) to talk about the generator we'll be bringing into the field. We'll have a solar power system that James thinks should be more than enough to power the camp, but the power tools we'll bring with will need a generator. We checked out a more powerful (and lighter) generator than the one we had requested, and tomorrow we'll go back to test it to make sure it can power the tools we need it to without problems. We then went and talked to Scott Battion again to try to find the list of tools that we got from the BFC last year. After that, we took a break before dinner, and that's about it. I'm really tired today for some reason, so I'll probably go to sleep early tonight.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A quiet few days: December 6-8, 2014.

The last few days here haven't been too exciting--we've mostly been hanging around McMurdo. We ended up postponing our pressure ridge tour to sometime later this week or early next week, but I'll definitely put photos up of that once I do. We had our outdoor safety lecture on Saturday morning, so I'm finally able to (officially) start hiking around and going out on the trails around McMurdo. The Observation Hill Loop is pretty much the same as last time, and I'll probably start doing it regularly again if the weather is nice. Sunday the weather wasn't so great, but I still went out to Hut Point and saw some seals.
Discovery Hut Restoration
Hut Point is a bit different this year since there's an ongoing restoration of Discovery Hut. If you head out during the workday, like I did today, a few people from Scott Base are out there working. The hut looks a lot less cool with a couple containers and a bunch of equipment next to it.

Sunday night we went to the weekly science lecture in the galley. It was given by Ralph Harvey of ANSMET, who was on our flight down from Christchurch. They're going out into the field to hunt meteorites soon.

Erebus looked cool today.
Today, we went and did our Crary Lab walk-through, where we went over the safety precautions and everything we'll need to use Crary, even though we likely won't be around there very much. After that I went up to the Science Cargo office with Thomas to double-check the answer to a question he had about shipping our equipment home, and then Sean, Thomas, and I went out to the LDB site. We got to see a very cloudy view of Erebus and had a delicious chili lunch (Sean and Thomas also had smoked salmon. It's a harsh continent.). We rode back into McMurdo with two of the station chaplains, who had been out getting a tour of the LDB facility.

Hut Point and some other people that were there today
Once back in McMurdo, we did an inventory of the tools and other equipment that are sitting in the two shipping containers that we have. We set aside and recorded all the equipment that we plan to take out into the field, and then started thinking of things that we needed but did not have. We went back to the BFC to look at their snow shovels, but left with just a scale (since we'll need to weigh things in the field), since Thomas is going to pull the list of equipment they got from the BFC last year.

After that I went for a hike along the Hut Point Ridge/Arrival Heights trail. I stopped at Hut Point and watched the seals that were there for a little bit, and then went up the hill. I got a little bit above halfway before my path was blocked by a Skua. Since I was apparently not so close that the skua was reacting to me, I knew I was fine, but I couldn't go closer until it moved. I got a lot of very good close-up shots of the skua while I waited about 15 minutes for it to get out of my way. Eventually, it did, and I climbed the rest of the way up the hill. At the top, I was greeted by a view of McMurdo Sound, still almost entirely covered in sea ice. I walked along the ridge, and most of the way back into town (I got a ride down the hill from a couple of guys in a pickup that were working on top of the hill).
Skua, just hanging around.


McMurdo Sound

McMurdo Station
It looks like there will be a launch opportunity for COSI and the superpressure balloon tomorrow morning. They're going to be picked up by The Boss around 3am, and then potentially launch closer to 10. We're probably going to go out to Willy Field (as close as they'll let people be outside and watch) and take a look. I've been told to expect a new roommate tomorrow (my previous one left Saturday morning), so I'm glad I took the time over the weekend to re-arrange my room the way I had it two years ago.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Briefings, more briefings, and a trip to LDB: December 4 and 5, 2014

Thursday morning I grabbed a quick breakfast before heading over to the NSF Chalet for our Science in-briefing. After that talk was done, Sean, Thomas, and I went over to the Crary Lab IT center to get our computers set up and configured for the McMurdo wifi network. After that, we had some time to kill, so while Sean went to grab a pillow for his dorm room, Thomas and I went around McMurdo for a bit.

We stopped by building 175, where we've been allocated two cubicles, but the person we were supposed to see to find out which cubicles they are wasn't around. We then went to drop in on Ryan, our NSF contact, but he was on a phone call. Then we went to the Berg Field Center (BFC) and talked to them for a bit about getting our equipment that we'll need in the field. We went back to Crary and talked to Scott Battion, the LDB camp manager and a 2013 SuperTIGER recovery team member. While we were talking to Scott, we ran into James, who will be the camp manager/supervisor for the groom team and our recovery camp. Thomas and I then spent about an hour and a half getting coffee with James and Lyra, a mountaineer who will also be going with us into the field. We went over the plan for recovery and a lot of other options about flights and logistics.

By then, it was time for lunch, so Thomas and I were about to head out to find Sean when Sean showed up. We had lunch with Sean and Dana, and then it was time for our Antarctic Field Safety course. This was basically a refresher course from Happy Camper school, and we went over risk management, how to recognize frostbite and hypothermia, what to do if you fall in icy water, and then practiced lighting stoves and setting up tents inside. 
Once that training was over I took a walk around McMurdo, then met back up with everyone for dinner. Thomas and I walked over to Scott Base for America Night, and got to talking for a while with Peter, my roommate. Eventually, I caught the last shuttle back to McMurdo while Thomas walked back.


Today I woke up and had breakfast with Dana and Sean. At 8am I went to the Crary Library for more orientation lectures. First, Thomas, Sean, and I got the Light Vehicle Safety lecture, so once we get a walk-around/check out with actual vehicles we’ll be able to drive here if we need to. After that, we were supposed to have a waste briefing, but the person who was going to talk to us never showed up. Instead, we started the Fire Safety briefing early.

After that, we went over to the Science Support Center (SSC), which is where our field safety training had been the day before (and where Happy Camper school started for me two years ago), and talked to our NSF Contact, Ryan, about flight options for getting the groom team and ourselves out to the SuperTIGER site. It now sounds like the groom team won’t head out until late next week at the earliest. Then it was time for snowmobile training, where we got a quick intro to maintaining and checking out the type of snowmobile we’ll have with us out in the field. 

By sleep kit in the BFC
We then went to the BFC to pick up our sleep kits. We each were issued a sleeping bag, fleece liner, foam and air pads, and a tent to use once we go out into the field. I also picked up a thermos. We checked our stuff our and then went and put it all in the SuperTIGER container between the SSC and BFC.
The SuperTIGER containers

We caught the shuttle van out to LDB (a new feature this year, with vans leaving McMurdo every hour) and had lunch in the LDB galley. The entire LDB camp has been moved two miles farther from McMurdo on the ice shelf, so it was weird to see familiar landmarks in the distance but not quite at the same angle. At lunch, we talked again with Scott Battion and I talked a bit with Barth from BLAST, who is back this year with SPIDER, a Cosmic Microwave Background experiment. We went and looked through the two payload buildings after lunch.

The LDB Galley
ANITA Hang Test

The building that EBEX was in two years ago is inhabited this year by SPIDER, and Natalie and Steve, two of the BLAST graduate students, are back this year as well. We talked with them for a long while about their experiment, their recovery plans, our recovery plans, and how the system that points their experiment works. 

The SPIDER Experiment
SPIDER has a dinosaur and a penguin mascot
The building that we were in two years ago now is being used by the ANITA team. ANITA itself was out on The Boss for its official hang test when we showed up, so the building was pretty empty. Dana and Paul weren’t around, so we didn’t stay too long there.
COSI and their "Pig Barn"
Past our payload building is a temporary building put up this year that houses the superpressure balloon, a new type of balloon that CSBF is testing again this year, and COSI, the experiment that will fly on it. We introduced ourselves to the COSI team and talked with them for a while. The box with the superpressure balloon is so big that it takes up most of the space, with only a little bit in front for the experiment to sit on. COSI was outside doing some compatibility tests. If COSI has launched by the time that we get back to McMurdo from the SuperTIGER recovery, then we might end up using that building to pack everything up in.

Maintaining the new LDB site
Today was a good Erebus-viewing day

After that, we came back to town, and have some down time now before dinner. Tomorrow we signed up to go on a tour of the pressure ridges, so that should be a good hike and chance to take photos.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Arrival in McMurdo: December 3, 2014

Wednesday morning, I woke up at 5am for the flight down to the ice. I re-packed what I had used in Christchurch (and, in the process, packed my passport into a checked bag, which led to a frantic ten minutes at the CDC later), and checked out of the hotel. Thomas, Sean, and I waited around for the shuttle to the CDC while the sun came up for the last time for us for a long while.

Once we got to the CDC, we found out that the cafe at the Antarctic Centre was closed, so we would either have to walk to the McDonalds a kilometer away or go without. I was glad that I bought extra snacks the day before. We then put on all the required ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear for our flight down to the ice. This included our boots (because of recovery, I got the Baffin boots instead of the Bunny boots), wind pants, parka, gloves, hat, and sunglasses. Most of us ended up shuffling things around between our bags to make sure that our checked bags were under the 75 pound limit while our carry-on was under the 15 pound limit. 
All the gear I was issued at the CDC.
Then, we each grabbed a cart and wheeled our luggage around to check-in. Since we were flying on the Kiwi Herc (a C130 Hercules flown by the Royal New Zealand Airforce), this was all done by New Zealand military personnel (last time, it was the US military). They weighed all of our checked bags, and then each person with their cold weather gear and their carry-on luggage. From there, we had some downtime before we got to watch another series of videos about the US Antarctic program, environmental policies, and other important information.

Once the videos were done, we went through security and got onto the bus to the aircraft. We drove out onto the tarmac and parked near the plane. After we waited about 15 minutes, the loadmaster for our flight came on and gave us the safety briefing, before we filed out of the bus and onto the plane. Thomas, Sean, and I were the first on the plane, so we ended up near the front on the far side from the door. While I had slightly more leg room than my trip on the LC-130 back from McMurdo last time, there still was not much room on our very crowded flight.

The Kiwi Herc on the tarmac

The Kiwi Herc is generally faster than the American LC-130s, and we got down to McMurdo in just 7 hours. The flight was pretty uneventful, but boring.

The Kiwi Herc at Pegasus
We landed out at Pegasus, the furthest of the airfields at McMurdo, around 4:30pm. Waiting for us was our old friend Ivan the Terra Bus, ready to drive us into McMurdo. I’d forgotten how much Ivan bounces up and down when driving on the snow roads, and some of the people on our flight that are making their first trip down to McMurdo were not expecting it. On the way back, we passed Willy Field, where the LDB site was formerly located, and could see the new LDB site off in the distance. LDB was moved about two miles farther back onto the ice shelf, and Willy Field is now being used as an airfield for the fixed wing fleet. 
Mt. Erebus is as imposing as ever. I'd forgotten how much it dominates the landscape out on the ice shelf.

Ivan dropped us off at the NSF Chalet, where we had our orientation briefing and got our room assignments. We also met up with Ryan, our NSF point of contact, and Dave Sullivan, from CSBF. From there, we went over to housing to get our bed linens, and then on to the dorms. Sean and I are in  203a, the same dorm as two years ago, but I’m on the first floor rather than the second. Thomas is in the dorm that he stayed in his second trip down two years ago. We were kind of surprised to be put here, since we won’t be in McMurdo too long, and normally these dorms aren’t used for temporary housing.

Our old friend, Ivan
We still had about 45 minutes before our bags would be ready to be picked up at the MCC (Movement Control Center), so we went over to the galley in 155 for dinner. On our way in, we ran into Paul, our SuperTIGER engineer here for ANITA, and once inside we saw Dana, the fourth member of our recovery team. We caught up with them and had dinner. Frosty Boy was working, so it was a good day. Then it was time to go pick up our bags.

I brought my bags back to my dorm and then unpacked. After a while, I went over to the Coffee House with Sean and Thomas. Since the last time I was here, the Coffee House went from being a BYOB Wine Bar to a Wine Bar that actually sells wine. While we were here, we ran into Paul, and ended up talking with him and a couple of people from ANITA. After that, it was time to sleep, although Thomas and I made a slight detour to sample the 24-hour pizza.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Clothing Issue and Christchurch: December 2, 2014

So I know I promised Christchurch photos yesterday, but those will have to wait another day (and hopefully be accompanied by some initial Antarctica photos).

I was woken up by a group of tourists either arriving or leaving the hotel at 4am, and again by an argument in Korean outside my door* at 6:30 and 7 and 7:30am. Around 8 I went down to have breakfast with Thomas and Sean. Sean had arrived late last night, but had a chance to go downtown in Sydney during his layover.

*Thomas insists it was outside his door; in either event, it was loud enough that we both heard way too much of it.

At 9am, we got into a shuttle to head to the Clothing Distribution Centre (CDC), where we would be issued our gear. We sat through a series of videos for our orientation to the US Antarctic Program before we got a chance to switch out the gear we'd been issued with other gear. To streamline things, the CDC keeps records of the gear everyone needed on previous trips to Antarctica, which meant that Thomas and Sean had only a few things they needed to change. Since I wasn't previously slated to do recovery, I had to get a lot more stuff, including an extra Carhart jacket and overalls. I'll post a photo later of the full inventory of gear that I was issued.

After clothing issue, we waited around for a while for a shuttle back to the hotel. Initially, we were planning to get lunch at a small walk-up restaurant built out of a shipping container near our hotel, named Pedro's House of Lamb (because Pedro's House of Lamb sounded really delicious). Once we realized that the only thing on the menu was a NZ$35 Lamb Shoulder (even though it sounded really delicious), we decided to walk down to a food truck next to where Thomas and I had gone the night before. We had lunch there, then walked back to the hotel, where we split up. Thomas had some last-minute shopping to do, and Sean wanted to take a nap, so I went out into Christchurch on my own.

I walked through a nearby park to the Botanical Gardens. It was a nice, sunny day, so I ended up wandering around the park and gardens for about an hour and a half (I took a lot of pictures of flowers and stuff). Eventually, I walked past the Canterbury Museum and walked back into downtown. I walked all the way around the cathedral, which was severely damaged by the 2011 earthquake. Then I walked back to the hotel, stopping at the gas station across the way to pick up some snacks for the plane ride tomorrow.

Back at the hotel, I finished up packing everything for tomorrow. One bag will be checked all the way through; the other, my "boomerang" bag, will be available if our plane gets delayed or turned around in the air for some reason.

I met Sean and Thomas around 6 for dinner at the Brewer's Arms, the restaurant that two years ago we went to the night before flying down to the ice. Once again, I had the kangaroo meat (and pork and steak and lamb), served/cooked on a hot stone in front of me. The meat was very good, and the side of garlic butter made everything taste a lot better. We had a drink or two after dinner and then went back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we're supposed to be picked up at 6am for a 6:30 check-in for our flight to the ice. Hopefully, the next blog update will be from the ice (with the long-promised photos!).

Monday, December 1, 2014

4 planes, 45 hours, and the longest commercial flight: November 29-December 1, 2014

My trip to Antarctica started at 5am on Saturday, November 29, 2014. I woke up early at my parents' house in Minnesota, and said goodbye to them at the airport before boarding my first plane of the day before sunrise. I made it back to St. Louis without any problems, and went home to finish up packing (and re-shuffling things between suitcases). I had lunch with a few friends and then a got a ride to the St. Louis airport, where my trip officially started.

There wasn't much exciting about my flight from St. Louis to Dallas (except for the check-in agent asking me if New Zealand was part of Australia). I got to Dallas on time, and decided to head to the terminal with the best BBQ place for dinner. I got a call from Thomas more or less immediately after getting there, and he soon met up with me for some brisket. We continued on to the international terminal, charging our devices up before the flight.

The flight from Dallas to Sydney is apparently the longest non-stop commercial flight currently available. It was scheduled to take 16 hours and 50 minutes, but the flight crew assured us it would be more like 16 hours and 30 minutes. It was my first time on an Airbus A380, which seemed much bigger in person. I ended up in a window seat, but the middle seat was empty so I was able to spread out. The most noteworthy thing that happened on the flight was that I actually managed to fall asleep on a plane for several hours.

Our layover in Sydney started well enough, with Thomas and I finding our gate area to be a quiet place with a good wifi connection. That didn't last long. Soon, crowds of people on other flights crowded the wifi network, and the loud boarding interruptions were pre-empting one another constantly.

Thomas got an upgrade to business class for our flight to Christchurch, so he got a seat with a lot of leg room and a real meal. Meanwhile, I was 5 rows in front of the back of the plane. This meant that Thomas ended up waiting a long time for me to get through immigration and customs, since I waited about 35 minutes in line while he had no wait at all.

After taking a shuttle to our hotel (and briefly meeting some other McMurdo-bound scientists), we took the opportunity to freshen up before heading out in Christchurch. We walked from our hotel into the city centre and back before having dinner (well, those of us that flew economy class needed something to eat) and drinks at a bar near the hotel. It was good to see a lot of new construction and the finished products of some ongoing construction projects I had seen two years ago. The recovery from the earthquake is still very much ongoing, though, and it looks like it will be several years before everything is back close to how it was.

I'll post some photos tomorrow, but I'm too tired to do that right now. We're getting picked up at 9am tomorrow for clothing issue and orientation, so I'll also have photos of that. Tomorrow we'll also (hopefully) meet up with Sean, who's scheduled to arrive in Christchurch a little before midnight tonight local time.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Getting Ready For Recovery, Round 2

Hey everyone,

This is Ryan again. I’m taking the blog back from JohnE, because I’m heading back to the ice for recovery this year, and also because JohnE moved to Barcelona.

The Story So Far:

On December 9, 2012, the SuperTIGER experiment was  launched on a NASA Long-Duration Balloon from Williams Field, Antarctica. It flew for over 55 days—a NASA heavy-lift balloon record—and came down on February 2, 2013, at 82°14’40.2”S, 81°54’42.0”W. During flight, it collected millions of cosmic-ray events. The flight ended too late in the season for any attempt at recovery.

During the 2013-2014 Austral Summer Season, a team of four went to Antarctica to attempt to recover the SuperTIGER payload. Due to various logistical and weather-related reasons (detailed in previous blog entries by JohnE), we did not get the payload back, but did get a flight over the payload and some sense of the conditions on the ground.

The Plan

While everything in Antarctica is “weather and logistics permitting”, the plan for recovery goes something like this:

The SuperTIGER science recovery team, made up of people who worked on the SuperTIGER experiment, will deploy to Antarctica in early December. We’ll spend about 10 days in McMurdo getting our equipment, doing required trainings, and otherwise preparing for the field.

In the meantime, a “groom team” will fly out to the SuperTIGER site and land as close as it is possible/safe to do so. They’ll establish a camp there, and, using ground-penetrating radar to avoid crevasses, find a safe route to the payload. Once there, they’ll move the camp closer to the payload and begin grooming a skiway nearby for convenient airplane landings.

The SuperTIGER science team will then deploy to the SuperTIGER site via the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide Field Camp. We’ll spend a night or two at WAIS and then fly in to the new skiway at the SuperTIGER site.

Some of the groom team will then leave on the plane that brought us in, while the rest stay behind and stay with us at the SuperTIGER site. We’ll then spend ten days or so disassembling the payload (and maintaining the skiway). 

Once disassembled, we’ll bring the pieces of the SuperTIGER payload back to WAIS Divide over the course of a few flights. Over a few days at WAIS, we’ll put everything on pallets for easy shipping back to McMurdo.

Back in McMurdo, we’ll unpack everything from pallets and re-pack in into a shipping container, which will be shipped back on the northbound cargo vessel leaving in late January. 

The Team

The SuperTIGER team this year is made up of collaboration members who all spent time in Antarctica in the 2012-2013 season. Thomas and Sean from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will be flying down at the same time I do. Thomas has previous Antarctic recovery experience with the BESS-Polar II recovery, which was very similar to the planned SuperTIGER recovery, and also was on the team that went down last year. Sean was part of the planned recovery team two years ago, and stayed in McMurdo into February 2013 just in case we got a flight out to the payload. Dana, our senior mechanical technician from Wash U, will join us in McMurdo, where he’s been for the last several weeks. Dana (and Paul, our head engineer on SuperTIGER) is working on ANITA, a balloon-borne neutrino experiment that will launch from the LDB facility sometime in the next few weeks. Once ANITA is ready for launch, Dana will jump over to start working on the SuperTIGER recovery.

I’ll have more in a day or so when I get to Christchurch.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Tale of Two Poles, and back to the US.

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog, the last few weeks have gone by in a blur. I am now safely back in my office at Washington University and the balmy conditions of St. Louis (19F/-8C).

Our time at the South Pole, although enjoyable and wonderfully unique was ultimately fruitless given our aim of recovering the SuperTIGER payload. However, before I discuss that, I did promise a brief explanation of my earlier cryptic point about there being two South Pole markers.

Generally the photos you see of the South Pole marker are of the nice "barber shop" pole with the shiny ball on top. This pole is actually the "ceremonial" South Pole, which is not at the exact location of the geographic South Pole. Why is that you ask? Well, the polar ice sheet actually moves (or slides if you will) at a rate of about 10 meters (32') per year, so the ceremonial South Pole (which is not relocated by anyone) is actually a few hundred feet away from 90 degrees south!

It does however look snazzy.

Fear not however, the true geographic South Pole is actually re-positioned every year on January 1st. This pole is a much simpler looking item, consisting of a simple metal pole with a marker on top that is a unique design for that given year. For 2014, the marker was designed as a sun-dial, although apparently it was shifted by someone who didn't know any better and was then 5 hours off from New Zealand time (the time on which the Amundsen-Scott station runs). This really should not present a major problem when you can just walk around the pole and into the correct time zone however :)

"So we arrived and were able to plant our flat at the geographical South Pole" - Roald Amundsen (the master of understatement)
Every way is North.
Did I run around the world several times? Yes, yes I did.

Now, onto the business of the recovery that never happened.

At 930am on 1/22/14, a three man team consisting of Thomas Hams, Scott Battaion and Bill McCormick flew to the SuperTIGER payload location on a Twin-Otter aircraft. The weather conditions were generally favorable and conditions at the site were clear. However, due to large "sastrugi" ( around the payload the pilot was unable to land!

The payload was indeed spotted, but all that could be done was for photographs to be taken. So we know the payload is there, just waiting once more for us to come get it. Already plans are being discussed for another recovery attempt next season, this time hopefully we will not be hampered by a government shut-down allowing us to get to the payload much earlier.

An aircraft will have to land several miles away from the payload where the terrain is more favorable, and a groom team will ski-doo their way over to the instrument to begin preparing a ski-way again. Once more an intrepid group of SuperTIGER scientists will have to fly in and begin the careful work of deconstructing the payload for transport back to the United States. Until then, we analyze the haul of data from our 2012 flight and wait.

Overall, while disappointed, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to travel to such a unique and beautiful place as Antarctica. My fear of losing fingers and toes never materialized, and I managed to stand at the bottom of the world. I fully expect that next year the SuperTIGER team will have succeeded in recovering our precious experiment, eager to rebuild and re-fly to pursue our goal of unraveling the origins of Galactic Cosmic Rays (you didn't think I did this because I love the cold right?).

Monday, January 20, 2014

How did I get here?

It has been over a week since the team landed at the South Pole. We have settled into a routine of eating, sleeping and waiting for our flights to the payload. Weather, as always, is an issue. I wanted to briefly recap how we got here, and what we found when we arrived.

The journey from McMurdo to here was very uneventful and dare I say it pleasant. We flew on an LC-130 flight from Pegasus airfield (about an hours ride from McMurdo station) which took about 3 hours total. These Pole flights are generally not as full as the inter-continental flights, leaving lots of leg space and room to walk about if needs be.

Disembarking the plane at the skiway at the South Pole was certainly a colder experience than when we first arrived on the continent this season. Stepping into -25C with a windchill of -30C was certainly more like the Antarctic experience I recalled last year when landing in McMurdo in late October.

However, we were soon told that it was reasonably warm at the pole that day, and generally the temperature during the summer here is nearly always around -30C (~ -20F) with a windchill around -40C (~ -38F). Regardless, I was well motivated to move rapidly indoors, only pausing to snap a quick pic of our ride here.

Grant and John Mitchell in action pose.
The view was also something vastly different. The South Pole is on the Antarctic plateau, which is a featureless floor of white as far as the eye can see. No mountains or smoking volcanoes to break the horizon, only the Amundsen-Scott research station, a few outlying buildings and lots of cargo crates.

Once inside the station, we were brought to the galley where we watched an orientation video to accustom us to the life at the Pole. The sensation here is much different to McMurdo. While "MacTown" has the feeling of a mining town in the summer, Amundsen-Scott has the feeling of a space-station or a submarine. All the combination of steel stairways, long corridors with metal pipes and wires and thin windows looking onto a lunar surface give it that science-fiction feel.

The galley: Where I will spend about 80% of my time.
The population of the station is about 137 at our arrival, and we all have individual rooms which is a nice change from the shared dorms of McMurdo. The rooms are small and mine didn't have a window, but I am happy to have a little place to call my own. I have a suspicion prisoners may express the same sentiment when first shown to their cells however :).

My room, A-219.
To conserve water at this remote station we are allowed two, two-minute showers per week along with one use of the washing machines for laundry. The bathrooms for our "berth" (dorm area) are cleaned by the occupants of that berth. On the inside of your room door is a day, that is the day you are a "house-mouse", in charge of cleaning the bathroom. Myself and Thomas have Thursdays, and to be honest, it's one of the more satisfying things you can do on the station! You get into a rhythm of cleaning and actually see the sparkling results in the end. That is one of the only certainties you can claim on this continent (provided you do a good job of course).

Otherwise, I spend my time eating, reading, partaking in whatever recreational activities are going on and staring stoically out the window at the plateau. The internet is provided by passing satellites and so is only available for specific windows per day, naturally it is not extremely speedy so uploading pictures (and writing blogs) can be hit or miss.

However, soon I will upload my next posting: A Tale of Two Poles.