Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waiting for weather

Pretty soon, hopefully, we'll be out of email contact for several weeks. At the moment we are waiting in McMurdo for a flight to Wais Divide and then on to the PIG (Pine Island Glacier). Yesterday we tried. After a 3 hour flight, we circled for two more hours trying to land. But the weather just wouldn't clear. At 3 AM we were back after 8.5 hours in the air. Gruesome.

The scale of this undertaking is quite daunting. The distance from McMurdo to PIG is about 2,400 km. That's similar to the distance from Seattle to the Twin Cities, or Madrid to Oslo. The flight will actually carry us across the date line, but we will probably not adjust our time to stay synchronized with McMurdo. We have 24 hours of sunlight now, so it doesn't matter too much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The migration to the South

I feel like the Arctic Tern that migrates from the Arctic summer all the way to the Antarctic every year. Although the birds do it under their own power, while I got here through a long and complicated series of flights: Fairbanks - Seattle - Los Angeles - Sydney (in an Airbus A-380) - Christchurch (New Zealand). In Christchurch we get outfitted with cold weather gear and then on to McMurdo (Antarctica) via military transport with a C-17.

A high rise building in Christchurch is being demolished

Christchurch suffered a terrible sequence of earthquakes, the most damaging of which killed over 100 people about 2.5 years ago. Downtown Christchurch is still mostly inaccessible, and buildings that are structurally damaged are still being demolished, before new ones can go up. After all this time, lots of the damage is still obvious and it will take a long time until things are entirely back to normal. The city still experiences after shocks, but they have now gotten less powerful and people are hoping that the worst is over. Once in McMurdo, we go through a series of training, and then it's out to the field site. We are trying to get to Pine Island Glacier (known as PIG). The transport is by military C-130 Hercules airplanes. These are the only Herc's that operate on skis and can land way out on the Antarctic Ice Sheet. They are also the main way of supplying fuel to South Pole Station. Currently we are waiting for weather on the ice to improve, so we can get out and start drilling. We are planning to drill a hole through the PIG ice shelf and put instruments in the ocean underneath to quantify the amount of melting.

The C130 Herc airplane on wheel-skis on a sea ice runway

Dale is ready to drill, but we have to wait for better weather on the ice