Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sea Ice Science

Recently I went out on the sea ice with a group of scientists to help them perform some tests on the breaking strength of sea ice. In this photo our camp is a small dot in the middle and we are about 400m from the edge of the sea ice. What the group does, is using a huge chainsaw (as seen below) cut out a block (not the one he is cutting there but the final product is the next photo) of ice 15ft by 30ft and isolate it so that it is floating free from the rest of the surrounding ice.
Then a small inflatable plate and a bunch of little monitors(I have no idea what other word to use) are put into the ice along with video cameras. The cutting, clearing of ice, and getting the machines hooked up can take somewhere are 4 to 7 hours depending on weather and if everything is working correctly. Eventually the small plate is inflated and the ice will break in two. That takes about 6 seconds at the most. As exciting as this sounds, it wasn't that exciting(I think I was hoping for an explosion and then two icebergs to float to the surface rolling over and over threatening to drown everyone in the wash) but according to the scientists the data they collected that day was the best of the season and my helping out was useful.

For me the real exciting part of the day was when the penguins showed up. From what appeared to be out of nowhere, we would be working and then these little guys(Adelie penguins) would show up just to check us out. As seen in the photo below, they were super curious and would get within just a few feet of you. Throughout the day about 20 of them camp into our camp, would check us out for a little while and then get bored and head off somewhere else.

The Adelie are super fun but eventually an Emperor penguin ended up waddling over. The Emperors are probably three times as big as the Adelies and probably about 80lbs. This one was by itself and seemed a little reluctant to come quite as close but still within about 15 ft. In all I probably watched penguins for about three hours of an 18 hour work day. The weather was beautiful, science was getting done, I helped out where I could, and was once again blown away by these amazing little animals in their natural habitat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


From south pole I took a couple three hour flights to two different automated geophysical observatory (AGO) sites. Yes the entire flight looked like the photo above except when the windows would frost over and you couldn't see anything. The AGOs are located at a minimum of 300 miles away from Pole on the Eastern Antarctica Plateau. I was located at 85 degrees south latitude and 45 degrees longitude at an elevation of about 6200ft for about a week. The photo below is of AGO2 but of the four that are functional, there used to be six but two have gotten buried by drifting snow, you probably couldn't tell any difference, they look the same. There is a small building that holds all the electronic gear and the a couple of wind generators to keep the place running in the winter when solar power doesn't work. We set up a couple of tents for the week but other otherwise that is about it. My job out there is to find old caches of food, gear, or fuel laying around out there from when the air force installed the facility and then dig it up. I also helped raise the hut up which was being buried by snow drifts. It took us two days to do it but as you can kind of see it is now several feet above the snow.
The last photo is of me at AGO3, located at about 10,000ft. To work at this site we had to just do a day trip because it is quite a pain in the butt for the small airplanes to fly that far away with a ton of gear. We made it a quick trip rather than no trip at all. As you can see this hut is a little lower then the other one. My job at this site was to dig things up while the scientists fixed the machines. As you can see by how pink my face is I have been outside all day getting sun burnt. The working temp was -35 so I just shoveled until I needed food or water and then would keep shoveling. At those temps I get very cold very quickly if I am not doing something. The good thing is that when I returned to McMurdo a few days later and it was 30F it felt like it was the middle of the summer.I really liked working at the AGO sites. There is nothing out there but I stayed busy helping the scientists and digging things up. It was by far the most remote I have ever been in my life and it felt like I was finally in Antarctica. When the plane flew away there was nothing as far as the eye could see, just a horizon line that is hard to tell what is land and what is sky. Pretty cool to think that the closest thing was a three hour flight away.