Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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.

LC-130 arrival at PIG main camp

PIG main camp is impressive in its size. The photo below shows most of the bigger structures, which includes a large galley tent, and several tents for the helicopter operation, a medical tent, a comms tent, and a few others. Now all that was left was to wait for the helicopters to arrive. The plan was for two helicopters to be flown to PIG main in LC-130 aircraft. They would then be re-assembled and used to fly a hot water drill to the Pine Island ice shelf. We would then drill a hole through the shelf to make measurements underneath it. The main quantity of interest is the amount of melting under the ice shelf, because it determines its stability and fate.
PIG main camp
But all that was not to be. After all the planning, all the staging, and all this work, the transport of the helicopters was delayed by another day, a storm moved in, and the deadline passed, by which NSF thought that it was too risky and too late in the season to still fly helicopters so far out onto the ice sheet. Saturday morning we were told that the season was over.

Drifting snow
Most of our hot water drilling equipment had not been in use for the past two years, so we decided to fire it all up to make sure it still runs. The benefit was a nice hot tub in the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Communal hot tub

An LC-130 (here on a take-off attempt) came and got most of the people out. But we managed to secure some Twin Otter support, to put out a network of seismic and GPS stations.
The flight to the ice shelf was spectacular. PIG is one of the fastest flowing glaciers in Antarctica (about 4 km/year). The fast flowing part is separated from the slower moving ice by a shear zone, where the ice is jumbled up into huge towers of ice that looks like it's been put through a grinder.
The shear zone
The shear zone is a distinct, several kilometers wide, zone, that extends all the way to the ocen (in the far distance in the picture below)
Pine Island Glacier shear zone
We enjoyed two days of phenomenal weather during which we installed five on-ice stations that will now collect GPS and seismic data for the next year. This involved a lot of skillful flying, expertly done by our Kenn Borek crew.
Sun bathing on a Twin Otter
GPS and seismic station on PIG ice shelf
Twin Otter with seismic and GPS station
Now we're back in McMurdo, waiting to go home. We are already full of ideas on what to do better next year to avoid another month of sitting and waiting. Stay tuned...