1-11-12 Report from the PIG Science Team
Work on the Pine Island Glacier field project was significantly impacted by equipment failures on the overland traverse and multiple weather delays on the LC130 flights from McMurdo. These transportation delays ultimately caused the two A-Star helicopters to not be transported to the PIG support camp by the 7 January put-in cutoff stipulated by PHI, the helicopter contractors. This lead to a frustrating wait at McMurdo from 1 December to 2 January, then until 10 January at the PIG support camp for the 12 strong scientific party waiting to get to work at the PIG drill camp, 60km distant. A good part of our time at the support camp was spent organizing logistic support equipment and testing the hot water drill rig in preparation for an early start on site in the 2012/2013 field season. Once it became obvious that that the helicopter support was not happening this season, and that the bore holes and ocean instrumentation could not be deployed, we negotiated to get three days of Twin Otter time to deploy a set of five surface stations in a km-scale array between the PIG A and PIG B drill sites, that are advecting 4km seaward every year. Each station has a UNAVCO differential GPS system which will be used to look in detail at the lateral movement of the ice shelf, and by differencing the station positions, the straining of the ice shelf in response to basal melting, hydrostatic adjustment, and other forces acting on the shelf. Precision seismometer systems from PASCAL were collocated with the GPS stations with approximately 50m separation to measure seismic signatures associated with straining and crevassing events. The British Antarctic Survey P-RES radar was also deployed at each site to measure ice shelf depth and strata structure to cm resolution. Next season these stations will be reoccupied, allowing local annualized melt rates to be estimated. While the science team is disappointed to not have the ocean profilers, turbulent flux instruments and shelf thermal structure instrumentation in place, we are pleased to have the surface instrumentation in place and recording over the next year.
Deploying differential GPS and seismic stations at the Pine Island Glacier drill camp site in January 2012 using a Twin Otter.
An array of five differential GPS systems arranged in a 1km-scale diamond with one in the center will be used to measure the strain response of the floating ice shelf to melting and other forces over the next year. Co-located seismometers will measure fracture events associated with both surface and basal crevasse formation.
12-28-11 Headed to the PIG Camp
Things are moving quick now - we are scheduled to fly to the PIG support camp tomorrow (Friday), then start getting loads down to the drill camp on Monday using a hijacked Twin Otter while we wait for the helos to be ready a few days later. The schedule is tight, but we think this is going to happen.
12-23-11 Update from McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Well we are still in McMurdo Station waiting for the support camp to be established on the ice fields above the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, 1400 miles away. The good news is that the first C130 freight aircraft successfully landed on the glacial ice runway there this afternoon, after the crew from the overland traverse were able to groom the ice runway to knock down the large (3’ high) sastrugy lines that form from blown snow in high winds. The six support camp people on the overland traverse hauling 80000 lbs. of fuel and cargo by two massive Challenger tractors had mechanical problems and sled problems that slowed them down by a week, and left a 40000 lb. fuel bladder several hundred miles from PIG. This is NOT as easy place to get to!
A consequence of these aircraft and weather delays is that we have trimmed our on-site time on the PIG ice shelf down to about two weeks, and this still might not happen as there 7 other C130 flights that need to make it to PIG before we can start our science program. This includes two flights for the two disassembled A-Star helicopters that we will use for transportation between the support camp and the drill camp, and for seismic survey work across the ice shelf. While we are still hopeful that this will happen within this summer work season, it is possible that we will have to delay until next year.
While waiting at McMurdo we spend much of our time doing data analysis and writing on other data sets – you can get a lot of information on a 1 terabyte disk drive – so we get plenty of work done on our laptops. During the first week here we did the long list of training for working out on the ice with the many different pieces of equipment including snow machines and chainsaws, and had a couple of day-long sessions on ice crevasse rescue techniques, since most parts of the ice shelf have surface crevasses that we will be avoiding. By marrying recent 1m resolution satellite images with a detailed surface and ice base elevation survey performed by our collaborators from the British Antarctic Survey last season, we have chosen a 1km wide, 20m deep valley on the ice shelf for this season’s deployment, avoiding the heavier crevassing at the crests of these surface features. Now we just have to get there!
As we approach Christmas we have been lucky to attend music concerts, art shows and other events in the different facilities on station organized by the talented support folks here at McMurdo. They have all been fun and entertaining, and the live music was outstanding. While every few days we get wind and snow events, there are many days with lower winds when we walk the hilly snow and volcanic rock trails that lead up and out of McMurdo station and it’s 1000-strong population, so it is easy to find some solitude and enjoy the incredible scenery across McMurdo Sound looking south to the Royal Society Range, or toward Mount Erebus on the North side of the Island where you can usually see steam coming from it’s summit crater.
A planning meeting of the PIG group, selecting the drill site in the Crary Lab at McMurdo.
View from Welcome Heights back toward McMurdo Station and Observation Hill.
Snow school refresher on deadman anchors and ice screws. McMurdo in the background.
This will be my last entry in this season's blog. I had hoped to tell a different tale the past two months —one of successful science being done in a harsh, remote place by hardy individuals dedicated to getting information that had direct relevance to your lives and the lives of others you know and will never know.... read more
1-14-11 The Story Continued
Delayed flights seem to be the rule this season. Our flight to Christchurch was cancelled late Thursday night because of expected bad weather here. On the next try, there was a mechanical problem that required a part that had to be shipped to Christchurch, so I'm still in McMurdo.... read more
1-12-11 Done in a Flash
The optimists following this blog would have likely assumed that the absence of new postings this past week meant that we were finally in the field and that the work was finally underway. Those optimists would be half-right; we were at the PIG Main Camp this past week, but the work was not getting done.... read more
1-2-11 Probably Not My Last
Got up early again this morning, but to no avail. Nowadays as I leave my dorm, my head spins right to look onto the ice shelf for any sign of fog. It's become a habit now.... read more
12-31-11 False Start
That close. We were that close to leaving McMurdo yesterday; literally, a few feet from the airplane. The day started early, but with great promise.... read more
12-30-11 What a Drag
This may read a little rushed because, well, I'm rushing today. The stakeholders meeting Wednesday afternoon resulted in an accelerated timeline and we have been "hot-footing" it ever since... read more
I can't remember being able to write two good-news messages in a row this entire trip, so I hardly know how to react. On the heels of the successful Twin Otter recce, yesterday's Herc flight made it to PIG Main Camp. It was scheduled to depart later in the morning to avoid possible fog. As it turned out there was no fog, but then I had to worry that some other issue would confound the attempt... read more
12-27-11 In a Fog
McMurdo leapt back to life the morning after the 2-day Christmas weekend. It was a jarring transition from the solitude that had permeated the town to the rumble of vehicles churning up wisps of cindery dust as their operators resumed their various tasks. There was a revival of energy everywhere, including a recommitment to making substantial progress on PIG... read more
On the day I thought the mission would fail, it succeeded. I'm threatening to take on the role of "project pessimist"—hey, whatever works... read more
12-22-11 Headbangers, Surgery and Pow-Wows
Weather wins. How easy it is to forget that. And weather can change fast, really fast. Antarctica just isn't in a cooperative frame of mind these days... read more
12-19-11 Getting a Wish
Well, it is the holiday season and we are being forced to recognize it by accepting fewer Hercs and fewer crews to fly them for these two weeks (not to mention extending the no-fly Sundays to no-fly weekends both weeks). So maybe we should expect to have at least one wish granted that might bring us some holiday joy... read more
12-16-11 The Thick Brick Wall
It was just weird. The Herc mission to land the put-in team at PIG had become a daily mainstay of the schedule I saw on the TV monitor as I walked into breakfast every day for the past week. Sometimes the cancellation came before breakfast was finished, sometimes I was able to carry my hope with me as I left the cafeteria... read more
12-14-11 Mounting Problems
(Warning: this entry is not for the weak of heart.) Woe is me. A logistics scourge seems to have befallen our project. The past two days have been filled with nothing but bad news. The traverse from Byrd to PIG not only has continued to encounter soft snow, but the transmission on one tractor has failed, and a hydraulic line on another one has a leak that has stopped it literally in its tracks... read more
12-12-11 Slow Progress
Well, nearly a week has whizzed by. We have been quite busy, but it doesn't feel like there's been much real progress. Every day seems to come with its own set of new problems and developments. This includes cargo hunting (yes, it was still going on until recently—but it's DONE now), remembering some item or tool that would probably prove useful (then finding it and getting it) or thinking of some small thing to build and then getting the carpenters or machinists to understand what we want, (then waiting for the item, packing it and getting it into the cargo system.)... read more
12-6-11 Packing for Christmas
Stuff, stuff and more stuff. When you have to take everything with you to a remote place, you end up with a lot of stuff. When you add to that the equipment necessary to make the measurements we intend, the pile of stuff gets even bigger. That's what we've been doing that past few days: piling up stuff... read more
12-3-11 The Alternate Reality
McMurdo is one of those unique places on the planet where things are so different from anywhere else that it feels like an alternate reality. Perhaps the spookiest part of this uniqueness is that, regardless of how long I have been away (in this case, two years), once the transport from the ice runway rolls into town I get this creepy feeling that I never really left. I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels this way because one of the dorms is nicknamed Hotel California (as the 1977 Eagles' song goes: "you can check out, but you can never leave")... read more
12-1-11 Moving On South
I write this on the flight from Christchurch, New Zealand to The Ice. We are on an Air Force C-17, a monstrously large aircraft for transporting monstrously large amounts of cargo. In the old days, scientists and contractors travelling to the ice were treated much the same as cargo, but I'm pleased to have benefitted in recent expeditions from the Air Force's revelation that we are not quite the same. We used to be packed cheek to jowl in two rows of facing web seats, which forced us to literally rub elbows with our two neighbors and interleave knees with the people we faced across a nonexistent aisle. Most uncomfortable!... read more
11-29-11 Coming together
I realized as the moment approached to get in the car and head for the airport that I have been mentally drifting south over the past couple of days. Going over the list of what to pack, then packing, and then mentally running through what I packed, caused me to try to envision every situation I might encounter (at Pine Island, McMurdo Station and even in New Zealand) and what I wanted to be sure to have. "Where's my ear sweater?" "I need to find my down booties." Those were the kind of thoughts going through my head... read more
11-23-11 It's Showtime!
After years of waiting, our time has finally come. The years have not been empty. There have been hundreds of e-mails, scores of telephone conferences and a handful of face-to-face meetings to iron out the mountain of details required to support more than a dozen scientists' intent of unlocking critical mysteries within the light-less, frigid void beneath a thick floating plate of ice in one of the most remote regions on earth: the Pine Island Glacier... read more
1-11-12 and ... nothing
On January 3, after more than a month of waiting at McMurdo, we finally boarded a LC-130 plane, and we found ourselves on the way to Pine Island Glacier (PIG). We landed at PIG main camp on a beautiful afternoon...read more
12-22-11 Still in McMurdo
On December 1 we arrived at McMurdo station, the primary hub for US Antarctic Program activities. And now it's nearly Christmas, and we're still here. Our whole program is about a month late. We came here to drill through the ice shelf at Pine Island Glacier. This is one of most rapidly changing glaciers on the planet and it is a big one. Much of the changes can be blamed on warm ocean water that is getting under a floating ice shelf and is melting it from below. We are planning to drill through it and then measure that process directly... read more
11-30-11 It's too cold in Fairbanks, I'm heading south
We've had a chilly November in Fairbanks, breaking temperature records for several days in a row. So I wasn't too unhappy when the time came to leave for another field trip, this time to the South. First, a long flight led us to Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch was devastated by an earthquake last March. It is amazing to see the amount of damage. Downtown Christchurch is still mostly not accessible, and many buildings are torn down. A sad sight... read more