Sunday, 30 November 2008

Celebrations’ at McMurdo

FBL arrives at McMurdo

There are strange things done in the midnight sun; by the men who graft for BAS.
It was with glee that they did see; Foxtrot Bravo Lima inward bound in time for tea.

NSFs patients were rewarded as the British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter arrived in McMurdo. Just as the aircraft touched down a two day national holiday was declared to celebrate this important occasion or it could of just have been it was thanks giving! Prior to the arrival of the VP-FBL the BAS team in McMurdo have been preparing the equipment for a fast install and a concise test flying period before departing to Pole for acclimatisation. The various training courses that are required before field deployment were completed; drugs prescribed and fat reserves were built up for the -35°C and below temperatures.

McMurdo is not unfamiliar to British polar explorers with both Scott and Shackleton based out of McMurdo Sounds for Antarctic adventures, so it was interest that the AGAP team visited their historic huts. Inside the huts it was like the explorers had just left expecting to return, provisions were neatly stacked upon shelves and in boxes ready for the following season. Some of the items were familiar though the brands and colours were somewhat different, but the good stuff has stood the test of time. Interestingly many of the boxes had sponsors names on them; there was even a Shell one!

With FBL onsite the work is progressing in earnest in order to complete the survey.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Ground level surveying

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Preparation continued in earnest with the surveying of the runways at Williams Field. As with everything McMurdian, bureaucracy reigned for 2 days as we searched out those who could give permission and those who would be able to actually install the system onto their vehicle and carry out the survey. Finally after an endless quest we tracked down Marty well at least a Marty unfortunately the wrong one the correct one was in an all day meeting. The Quest continued into the second day and Marty was located and Jason the Challenger driver of the vehicle that is used to groom the runway was contacted. Early in the morning a survey GPS was attached onto the groomer and the first surveying (ground) of the AGAP season was undertaken. For over a day the GPS collected data as the Williams Field runways were accurately surveyed, this data will be used to compare against and calibrate the aircraft sensors.
Runway Survey
Mean while back in Rothera the British Antarctic Survey Otters arrive and were worked on around the clock to allow them to be ready to continue onwards to McMurdo for the survey Otter and AGAP for the utility Otter. We will come back to the progress of these red Twin Otters in the next few days.
Rothera Station - A faint outline of a Twin Otter can be just be made out
As Thanksgiving approached on the McMurdo base the BAS survey team did a shift in the kitchens in the preparation for coming banquette. Turkeys were stuffed, potatoes were sorted according to size so they would bake correctly, yogurt made and the other festive trims not entirely familiar to the British helpers were prepared. Anticipation is growing here at McMurdo as people wait for the Thanksgiving meal and some well earned rest, but on the BAS side we are anticipating working in order to get ready for test flying and departure to the Pole and the acclimatisation camp. To support the departure of the survey team to the acclimatisation camp, logistics and the shipping of the survey spares and base stations is been organized over the next few days.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Caves, huts and castles

With the anticipated arrival of the Twin Otter next week the team have started to unpack the boxes and test various field equipment and science equipment that will be installed onto the aircraft. The aircraft cabin heater system that we had developed in house at BAS performed well during initial testing on the sea ice at William Field, though some initial repair work had to be carried out to remedy the damage sustained in transportation. Also we set up a weather fax that will allow our pilots to make calls on the survey lines that can be flown that day to avoid areas of bad weather thus maximising our ability to go survey flying.
Installation of weather fax
Our gravity specialist has spent the last week carrying out test on the gravimeter and checking its correct operations before it is installed into the aircraft.
Gravimeter been setup and tested
Likewise our radar expert has been creating the configuration files required to get the best out the system when we will be flying over the Dome A region. As well as testing the equipment the underlying logistics for the program has also continued including flight planning, onward shipping of spares and the NSF logistics that enables this project to progress.

Sunday a rest day at the base in McMurdo allowed us time to do one of the trails that have been created around McMurdo. The one we chose to do was the Castle Rock loop trail which sets off from McMurdo and heads up towards Arrival Heights before heading off across the glacier towards Castle Rock. The walking was not too strenuous but been able to see miles out in front through such clear air makes things appear closer than they are so you get the impression that it is taking longer than it should to walk the distance. So after about an hour and half trudging across the glacier we reached the base of Castle Rock, unfortunately the rock is closed for climbing so we were unable to climb to the top to admire the view. The views from the ridge were quite spectacular looking down onto the frozen Ross sea, though it was a bit overcast so Mount Erebus was obscured from view, I guess we will hopefully make it back round the loop on a clear day and see Erebus as it is meant to be the best location to view it from. We continued down the glacier towards the ice shelf with the clouds chasing us, from there it was a long hike along the ice road toward the base. All in all it was a good walk taking about 3 hours 40 minutes.
Castle Rock
The previous weekend we visited the historical hut at Cape Evans, this was interesting to see all the historical food, tools and items the likes of Scott and Shackleton used on their Antarctic Expeditions. There was box after box of Fry’s coco they drank some but some was used to cut up icebergs to allow the ships to escape the sea ice. The coco been dark heated up and melted through the ice eventual cutting the iceberg it to bits. Along with the coco was seal meat and penguins eggs they collected to eat, these day because of the Antarctic treaty we no longer eat the local populous but the food prepared in the kitchens by the chefs. Hanging on the wall of the hut was Oates bicycle in need of much repair, cannot imagine riding on a bike there in the early 1900s today though with all the machinery there are some hard compacted ice roads which you see the odd cyclist on. The hut used sea weed as insulation so after the short walk up to the cross commemorating the people lost on the early expeditions it was quite warm and welcoming inside.
Hut at Cape Evans
Provisions in hut
On the way back we stopped at the ice caves formed in the ice tongue from Erebus. After negotiating the ice bridge that passed the melt water pool we slide down the ice slide into the cave. Once inside the cave the light was diffused to a blue light and the temperature was icy cold. As there was a mix of sea water ice and fresh water ice, ice crystals grew on the walls forming amazing structures and patterns.
Ice cave blue light
Team spirits are high and with anticipated arrival of FBL the survey aircraft from Rothera where it has just flown into; there is excitement in the air and an eagerness to get the science equipment installed and the show on the road. The team even had time to partake in the traditional skirt party held at Scott Base.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Survey preparation

With the cargo arriving early in our first full week we started to prepare the various systems for survey. The gravimeter was setup in the lab and various test carried out to confirm the correct operation and performance of the meter. Similarly GPS base stations were installed in the lab to check their functionality as they will be used as the ground based station for the differential GPS processing. PASIN the ice penetrating radar that BAS uses for survey was unpacked and built, so the configuration files could be tried out and configured to suite the ice conditions of the survey. As well as the testing of the equipment batteries are charged and tested for use on the remote base station that will be deployed.

Base and field training continued with driver training so we can drive the trucks around the base, these in American terms are small trucks but if on our Rothera base would be classed as quite a sizable vehicle. Environmental training was also carried out and covered on how to keep the Antarctic environment clean, it included what to do with the rubbish, what to do in the case of oil/fuel spills etc.

Four of our collaborators from LDEO arrived early in the week, this include my boss one of BAS’s members of staff on secondment for the period of the survey/project. Over the next week more of their team will arrive, were as the BAS team is small the USA LDEO team is large in comparison, to give a scale of the size/style of the two approaches the camps when fully staffed with scientists and supports staff; the USA AGAP-South will have some 50+ people at the camp and the UK-Australian AGAP-North will peak at 10 people. Where as the Americans will live in a large tented town style camp the Brits and the Ausies will live in the more traditional and romantic Scott tents. But been on the McMurdo base is comfortable with good food; plenty of expertise and resources, and plenty of activities so the two approaches though different succeed. Also an added bonus there are so many top scientist arround sometimes you get chance to give a hand, one night last week we got to go on the sea ice and help test the under water GPS for an automonous sumbarine that scientists are using this season.
Helping testing underwater GPS

With so many historical Antarctic sites near McMurdo it is nice in the evening to go for a walk up Observation Hill or along to Discovery Hut. Monday we were able to have a guided tour around the hut which was good as numbers are very strictly limited so as to protect the site for the future, but we had found a guide the bases dentist so she gave us our very own personal tour of the hut. With all the old seal meat and artefacts lying around the air smelt a bit smokey and old. Along with the frozen chunks and carcasses of seal meat there were boxes from Scott’s 1910 Antarctic Expedition, tins of Fry’s cocoa, special cabin biscuits, Colmans whole wheat meal, Hunters famed oatmeal etc. An interesting trip all told.

Discovery Hut McMurdo

Yesterday we set up the magnetic base stations near where we will be flying from to measure the temporal magnetic field which will be used in the magnetic processing.
Setting up of mag base station at Williams Field

The following week should see the arrival of both Borek Twin Otter for the LDEO team and FBL the BAS Twin Otter. Once they arrive equipment will be installed and a few test flights performed before heading in to the interior of Antarctica.

Monday, 10 November 2008

McMurdo Antarctica – the first few days

After the short ride from Pegasus airfield to the McMurdo base we were ushered inside building 155 the main communal building on the base. Here we were given introductory talks on safety and base familiarisation, after that there was a more specific presentation for the science projects. Then we had just enough time to grab our bed linen, rescue our bags and find our rooms.
The following day (Thursday) was spent getting familiarised with the base with base tours, lab familiarisation and settling in to our lab space to begin some work.
McMurdo - (Click to get a better view)
Friday and Saturday was spent doing snow school (aka happy camper), this was great fun as the vast majority of the time was spent out in the snow towards Williams field just beyond Scott Base the New Zealand base. During the day we learnt to build various types of shelters in the snow including a quincy which basically means burying all the bags and packing snow over them before extracting them and then tunnelling in to the void left by the bags. We also made snow trenches which many of us slept in overnight, though -11°C outside it sort of warmed up inside the snow trench once inside a sleeping bag. As well as the building of snow shelters and wind breaks from snow blocks we cooked our own dinner for the night a delightful choice of dried meals.

The following day on the Saturday we broke camp and prepared cargo lines ready for collection. The rest of the morning was spent doing various scenarios including white out searches and emergency situations. We then returned to base to watch a few educational films. In the evening after dinner we had chance to watch some of the films from the Banff mountain film festival which was quite a good watch.

The coming week will involve getting our cargo in order for install and onward shipping to South Pole.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Travelling South For The Winter

After some final packing, organizing and training including advanced first aid training at the British Antarctic Survey(BAS) Girton Conference and media training from some of the BBCs radio producers/presenters and writers it was time to head south.
Video Media Training - Hadrians Wall Northumberia UK
BAS Cambridge saw everyone meet just before 4pm (GMT) on the Saturday 1st November to travel down to Heathrow to catch the plane to Christchurch one of the Eastern gateways to Antarctica. We arrived in plenty time as the weather turned to rain. 9:30pm we boarded the first flight for the leg to Singapore which took about 12 hours, from there was a short stop over while the aircraft refueled for the leg to Sydney Australia and another 10 hours of sitting.
Sydney Airport while on route
Finally a short flight of 2 ½ hours from Sydney to reach Christchurch in New Zealand. A total journey time of 35 hours with stops plus a 13 hour time difference (4pm Saturday 1st Nov – 4pm Monday 3rd Nov), so one well confused body clock. Not so confused as not to have dinner at Dux Lux a very nice bar restaurant we found last time we traveled via Christchurch below is one of the many artworks we discovered around Christchurch (with our Principle scientist posing he is Italian so I guess it figures!)
Art installation near Dux Lux Christchurch New Zealand
Tuesday was spent getting over the jet lag and visiting the NSF offices at the airport to get inoculated against the southern hemisphere flue. Also we were kitted out with clothing for the flight down to Antarctica.
One of the gang of 4 kitting out in USAP - ECW (Extreme Cold Weather
Wednesday morning at 5.20am we caught a shuttle bus from our hotel up to the Raytheon/NSF offices near the airport. We changed into our Antarctic clothing and boarded the USAP C17 for the 5 and a bit hour flight to McMurdo. The weather was fine so the plane got in at its first attempt.
C17 Arriving at Pegasus Airfield McMurdo Station Antarctica