Friday, 23 December 2011

Photos from Byrd camp

As promised, a selection of photos from my time at Byrd camp.



A white-out on my first morning at Byrd. Note the clear skies above.



Byrd camp from the small hill beside it.



One of the tractors of the Pine Island Glacier camp traverse setting off to drive in a straight line for ten days at 6mph.



Pippa: the fledgling skidoo driver.



The old Byrd ice core drill rig.



My favourite meal, especially the duck!



One of the snow mounds on the hill behind Byrd camp.



The view from my tent.



Mount Sidley, one of the volcanic nunataks in West Antarctica: on the way to one of the seismic sites.



The beautiful Basler (the plane, not the person).



The seismic site at ST09 before we started digging...



Digging in progress!



Waiting for the plane home from site ST09.



Oops, we landed at the wrong camp. We spent the night at WAIS divide as the weather was too bad to land at Byrd camp.



Three planes at Byrd! The Twin Otter, the Basler, and a Hercules which was passing through.



The galley at Byrd camp.



My tent and gear, all packed up to head home.



The Polenet team: Rachel, Mark, Jeremy, Doug, Eric and Dave.



A pilot's-eye view on my Hercules flight back to McMurdo. My seat was just behind the pilot, but they only made me sit down when we were 1000 feet off the ground so I got to see all the action on the approach to McMurdo.



McMurdo from Observation Hill.



The cross, dedicated to Scott's team, on Observation Hill.



Observation Hill after the snowstorm which blew through hours before I was due to leave.



A very picturesque runway!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Summertime in Christchurch

It is finally time to leave the southern hemisphere, so this will be my last post, apart from one to put up a few more photos (thanks to Duncan for an excellent job while I was in the deep field, and apologies for the lack ever since).

Yesterday was the usual Pippa-day-off. My bike was delivered to my hotel at 9:30am, and it came with a superb map which included suggested cycle routes, so I headed off for a lap of Christchurch.

I followed the Avon River out towards the coast, and made a sharp turn to the left before it headed into the sea, in the direction of Bottle Lake Forest. This was on a separate map on the back, and careful inspection revealed that the two segments of map possibly joined up, so I merrily cycled off the top of the main map and luckily picked up some signs to the forest.

There followed a fun 2 hours of mountain biking on some flowing singletrack through pine-planted sand dunes - a cross between Culbin and Portugal. It was just the right standard for the keen-but-incompetent rider, without too many rocks or roots to send you tumbling into the bushes. I carried out several 'honourable dismounts' (on steep uphills) and had a few 'lucky escapes' (on steep downhills) with only one ungraceful disaster due to a massive hole hidden beneath grass on an otherwise flat riverbank. The bike and I both survived relatively unscathed.

I'd been cycling for 3 1/2 hours as I hit the north beach, so jumped in the sea for half an hour - this constituted a break! I then carried onto Sumner Beach and rewarded myself with an ice cream in preparation for 'the hill'. I knew the road down from Evans Pass was closed, but I was hoping to be able to cycle to the top for a view down into Lyttleton. Sadly the road was closed from halfway up the hill, so I never made the top :-(

I had to put that ice cream to good use, so I headed back to the coast and picked up the Heathcote River, following this inland for about 10km before shooting back across town to my hotel for a 5pm collection. Altogether I estimated that I cycled between 85 and 90km in around 6 hours, with stops for swimming and ice cream: a typical 'rest day'!!

Christchurch is a beautiful city, but is clearly struggling after the earthquake, and will continue to do so for many years. Large blocks of masonry still lie where they hit the ground in the city centre, and throughout the suburbs there are twisted bridges, pavement ripped apart, and whole streets destined for demolition. This did not dampen my enjoyment of a lovely laid back city with its friendly people, and urge anyone to visit and help the city move forward.

Oh, but remember to put suncream on more than your face (the only skin I exposed in Antarctica), I now have rather pink arms. Oops.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Narrow escape

I've made it to New Zealand...just.

I headed out for a last walk around the hills outside McMurdo on Sunday afternoon before settling down to pack my bags. But by the time I had to take my bags up to cargo on Sunday evening there seemed to be a blizzard raging outside, how did that happen?!?

We were due to fly out at some horrible hour on Monday morning, and I sat pressing refresh on the computer for the next few hours to see whether the inbound flight would take off from Christchurch. Around 9pm it decided to chance it, so then it was off to bed for a few hours before heading to the Pegasus ice runway at 1:30am on Monday morning.

As we drew up to the runway it was a beautiful post-blizzard morning, and we were greeted with the beautiful sight of a C-17 cruising in to land. After a lot of forklift truck action we all trooped onto this massive cargo plane and soon after take-off there were dozing bodies draped all over the floor - much better than having all those wretched seats in the way!

I have one more day of fun before I fly home from Christchurch, so have hired a mountain bike for the day, with the intention of getting up a big hill and getting to the sea - I don't actually have a map, but it can't be hard...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

I salute you, people of Byrd

Antarctica is a beautiful continent, but what has made my time here special is the people I have shared it with. Here is a run down of the wonderful people at Byrd camp (photos to follow, am currently being a technical idiot):

Kaija is this year's camp manager, and calmly keeps everything under control. Still manages to look like a model from a shampoo advert in the middle of the ice sheet.

Tony is the deputy camp manager, a big guy with a big friendly smile, but we are more wary of him as he is rumoured to be a former CIA agent...

As far as I'm concerned the chefs are next on the list: Rob, ably supported by his elves, Nathalie and Betsy. They somehow managed to serve up restaurant-quality meals day after day, and provide a constant supply of baked treats and occasionally even salad! Despite an 'east coast' exterior, Rob has a heart of gold and will rustle up treats at all hours of the day if you've just come in from the cold.

Ruthanne is the nurse, often to be seen knitting away - I luckily didn't have cause to visit her, but perhaps she treats people by providing extra hats and scarves?

Chrissie is our weather watcher, and joint-midget of the camp (I am not the other one!!). She is getting married this spring having met her fiance whilst over-wintering at the South Pole a few years ago - good thing that relationship worked out or it could have been a tricky winter!

I think Monte may also have been a weather observer, but he seemed most at home rebuilding the toilets and pee-holes around the camp. Eternally cheerful, with possibly the deepest voice on the camp.

Keith and Paul are the important men who keep all the machines running. Paul kindly fixed our skidoo - the key snapped off - by hot-wiring the engine and pointing out we never needed the key in the first place. Keith is a gentle giant, seen driving enormous machines around camp and fighting a losing battle to keep all the snow from drifting. He spends the rest of his time looking after forests in Idaho - a peaceful soul.

The real people that keep everything running are the GAs, general assistants. A steady supply trickles in and out from McMurdo - Tricia, Julia, Dave - but Abby is there for the whole season and despite her gentle exterior, can be seen digging snow, driving skidoos, fixing machines, and digging more snow at all hours. On days when we didn't fly I reported to Abby with a shovel and a smile and we spent some fun hours out on the ice.

Aside from the camp staff a couple of other science teams passed through, there were the all-important pilots - to be kept happy at all times - and of course the Polenet team.

GPS kids are Dave (deputy beard-grower and possibly in charge), Jeremy (head beard-grower and launcher of elastic band missiles across the tent), and Eric (fastest beard-grower, with a wicked southern accent, we had to get him to repeat 'my mother's sweet potato pie' several times). Mark-the-mountaineer also hung out in the GPS tent, and after challenging him over the pointlessness of high altitude mountaineering, I had to back down after I googled him and realised he is probably tougher than me and knows what he is talking about...

Seismic kids are Doug (evil-looking beard, possibly in charge of seismic activities), Paul (odd beard is a different colour to head hair, new kid on the block but fast adapting to Antarctic humour, good at reversing on a skidoo...), Brian(hater of all things Texan, although his accent gives him away as a native of that state, highly entertaining when fuelled by alcohol), and Rachel (head midget of the camp at 4'10, but admirably fights back and keeps the boys in their place).

Thank you all of you for a lot of fun!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

bye bye Byrd

Well, I'm safely back in McMurdo, despite the best attempts of the airplanes of Antarctica.

After breaking the golden rule on Wednesday evening, and NOT getting on a plane that landed at Byrd, I was pleased to see clear blue skies as I crawled out of my tent on Thursday morning. Time to squeeze a day of work before heading back to McMurdo.

I headed out on the Twin Otter to install the GPS site at Toney Mountain - yippee, finally, my first GPS install. We stopped off at fuel cache I-189 to fill up. This is not, as you might be picturing, a gas station in the middle of the ice sheet, but a collection of fuel drums buried in the ice, marked by a few flags. After spending half an hour digging up several empty drums we were glad to finally find some full ones!

We headed onto Toney Mountain, but as we took off there were some strange noises, and some juddering. A glance out the left windows revealed that one of the propellers did not seem to be rotating. Hmm, that doesn't seem right. Eric had the headset on and was listening in to the pilots' conversation, and soon relayed the information that we had engine failure and were heading bck to Byrd. The pilots seemed to be pretty calm about the situation so we could get on with being upset at not getting to Toney Mountain rather than worrying about the fact that we were now in a 'single' Otter!

Landing back at Byrd was very smooth, but then the main problem arose: you cannot taxi a Twin Otter in a straight line when only one engine is working! So we zig-zagged along the skiway, looking now like a drunk Otter, occasionally pulling a full circle to line us up again and 'slingshot' in the right direction.

They fixed the problem pretty quickly, but there was no time to head back out, so I contented myself with offering my services to the camp staff, and spent an enjoyable afternoon putting up christmas decorations and shovelling snow (my new training regime - great core workout).

My flight for McMurdo was due in at 10pm, but late in the day we heard we were due an 8pm flight too, so I altered my plans to jump on this one. However, 20 minutes later we heard that this plane was heading back to McMurdo due to fire on board! Maybe I was cursed due to not getting on Wednesday's plane? But all was fine, soon after 10pm the plane was announced over the radio as being 25 miles out, so I said my goodbyes and jumped on a snowmobile out to the skiway.

The flight was mainly a cargo flight, and I was the only passenger, so got to sit in the cockpit the whole way back to McMurdo. I think this beats Duncan's upgrade on his latest transatlantic flight?!?

Photos to follow...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Should I stay or should I go?

I'm having a small dilemma: There's a saying in Byrd, "If a plane lands, get on it". I'm due to fly out of Byrd on Friday (we potentially have flights scheduled for both Thursday and Friday), and I have to be on a flight out of McMurdo on Monday in order to catch my flight home from Christchurch, but there is a flight due out of Byrd this evening
(Wednesday) which I could get on if I want...

Given the recent reliability of flights heading in the right direction at the right time (the guy sitting opposite me got delayed 11 days flying out of Byrd last year), it would be sensible to take heed of the writing on the (toilet) wall. However, I have yet to get to a GPS site - I've only been to seismic sites so far - so if we have a good forecast for tomorrow I am thinking I will take a chance and try to squeeze in one more day.

What do you think?! A decision has to be made within the next hour. I wonder what my next post will say...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sleepover

Monday was a productive day - we headed out to a couple of the seismic sites to dig them out and bring them home because they have collected all the data that is required to determine the earth structure in that region.

Digging rule #1:
Dig a pit larger (wider) than the instrument you are trying to remove, otherwise you end up 5 feet down in a parallel-sided hole swearing because your shovel is too long to lever any more snow out and you can't get any leverage on the instrument you're trying to pull up. Oh, and you can't get out.


On the way back we got to fly right next to Mount Sidley and Mount Waesche, two volcanoes out towards the coast, which was really exciting - I got lots of blurry photos out of the window of the plane and a couple of really good ones. I use data from Mount Waesche in my modelling, so it was especially exciting to see it close up.

As we headed into Byrd something seemed a little wrong. Usually you can make out the sastrugi on the ground because we don't fly very high, but as we approached we could only see uniform white in all directions. Suddenly a couple of the runway flags appeared 10m below us to the left, with no sign of the flags on the right side of the runway. There was a loud noise as the pilot changed his mind about landing, and we climbed back up. Bother. The guys we'd left behind at Byrd were out waiting to greet us, and said they heard us, but never saw us!


So we headed onto the camp at WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) divide, which is about 200km away, and is a similar size to Byrd. It's called WAIS divide because it sits right on the apex of the ice sheet; the point at which ice has to decide whether to flow towards the Ross Sea or the Weddell Sea. They were very welcoming - we'd arrived just in time for dinner, and got put up in a big heated tent overnight.

Every time we fly we carry survival equipment - enough to house 2 people per tent, and food and fuel for several days. So plan B, if we couldn't land at WAIS, was to land anywhere we could and wait until the weather cleared. Luckily it was good at WAIS - the pilots don't like camping out!

This morning was still foggy, although we did get to see a 'sun dog'; a ring around the horizon parallel with the sun caused by reflection through ice crystals. We also got a tour of the WAIS coring project.

An ice core is being drilled at the divide; they've got down to 3331m below the surface, and are about 130m from the bed. They are currently carrying out all sorts of measurements to calculate how far they are from the bed: they have to stop drilling before they hit the bed because if there is meltwater at the base of the ice they are not allowed to contaminate it with the fluid used to keep the borehole open - the ice is under great pressure at depth, and would soon close due to ice deformation if not held open by the pressurized fluid. The borehole itself is about 7 inches across at the surface.

The main aim of the project is to derive information from the ice core
itself: the thickness of annual ice layers, the age of ice at each depth, the chemical content of the ice at each depth, and hence climatic conditions at the time corresponding to that depth etc. However, they are tantalizingly close to reaching the base of the ice. If they were allowed to sample the bed we could potentially determine the last time ice in this area completely melted, leaving just open ocean (the bed is below sea level). How frustrating! However, this is one of the scientific goals of the BAS (British Antarctic Survey) project over at Lake Ellsworth - due to drill next year - so we will have to wait a little longer for answers...

Our holiday at WAIS divide was soon over. A break in the weather around lunchtime enabled us to scramble back to Byrd. It was good to be re-united with the rest of the Polenet team, and a replacement Twin Otter also made it in this afternoon. So once again we are all praying for a good forecast tomorrow.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Slow Sunday

Sunday is a slow day in Antarctica. Typically is it a 'no fly' day; our pilots had agreed to fly if it was good weather, but the visibility was poor again this morning, so I had to find some amusement.


I killed some of the time out by having a lie in, then rattled round the GPS tent until we all got tent-fever and headed out for a game of frisbee-and-aerobie (at the same time). The use of a white frisbee was not ideal, but it was a lot of fun, and we only hit the (active) snow-plough once.


After lunch we all settled down to watch 'Cry of the Penguins'. How have I never heard of this film? Early 70's (going by the clothing) film with John Hurt being sent to Antarctica to count penguins. There is some fantastic footage (perhaps not the standard procedure for catching penguins theses days?), some great clothing and dancing, and a lovely ironic humour to it. The american contingent were highly amused by 1970's London in the first half!

After that I used up some of my excess energy digging snow for water, then once I'd filled all the buckets headed up the hill for some more snow action. After a quick penguin impression for Rachel (will try to get the video from her), I invented a new sport: snow rolling. Well, perhaps it isn't new, but certainly entertaining. The rules are simple: roll down the longest/steepest hill of snow that you can find. I managed a 9-rotation roll which left me pretty dizzy.

Upon my return I was accused of going insane. I do hope we fly tomorrow...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A surprisingly good day

Saturday consisted of that most frustrating of reasons not to fly: bad weather forecast. In reality, it started out lovely, got a little foggy, and ended the day in the sunshine again. However, we were grounded.


I decided some drastic exercise was needed (food is still amazing, this evening was very very good roast duck with port wine reduction), so I headed out for a walk. I set out for the 'hill', but a pylon beyond tent city caught my eye, so I headed out there first. Excitingly (a) it turned out to be the old drill rig from the ice core that was drilled here, the data from which I use in my work, and (b) there is a geocache there - look up Byrd Surface Camp on the geocaching website. Nice, ticked off one of the hardest ones first!

I headed onwards to the hill, where there are a series of lumps, bumps, holes and snow cliffs created when they extracted the camp equipment at the end of the winter (the camp is completely pulled down at the end of each season, but all the equipment is stored in the snow over winter). I spent a fun half hour jump off all the cliffs and generally running around having fun. Best of all I found a pippa-high 'fin' of snow which I managed to climb on top of and balance; I'll upload the video when I get back to real internet.

It was still only 9:30am at this point, so I offered my services to the camp staff for the rest of the day, and spent and enjoyable few hours digging flags and cargo straps out of the snow where they'd been left behind. Word got around and the chef gave me extras for my services :-)


We made use of the sunny evening by practising building a GPS install:
metal frame, upon which is mounted solar panels, wind turbines, and a box full of batteries, which then all have to be wired together with the GPS circuit board. All ready for some good weather now...they're flying out a replacement twin otter on Monday so hopefully there'll be more action next week.

The day ended with the aforementioned duck, an evening of merry socialising, and an impromptu recital of fiddle (not me) and guitar music. All good fun, but I hope we get more 'proper' work done soon.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ten reasons not to fly

Fate is conspiring against us again, and after our busy day yesterday there was no flying today, due to a combination of poor weather, a broken tail on the twin otter, and the internet crashing at McMurdo.

The forecast is ok-ish for tomorrow; not great at Byrd, but good near the coast, so if we can get out of here then we could have a good day. I thought I'd compile a quick list of ten reasons not to fly (all true):

1. You have not arrived at Byrd camp.
2. Your plane has not arrived at Byrd camp (we fly here on big planes, but work using little planes, so this is not as silly as it sounds).
3. The weather is bad.
4. The weather forecast is bad (independent from the above statement, and just as limiting).
5. The internet crashes so you don't manage to send out your flight requests.
6. You have broken a bit of your plane.
7. Some of your equipment is still in a warehouse in McMurdo.
8. You are not a GPS/seismic specialist - these guys get priority over us manual slaves since a lot of the work is pretty technical.
9. You are too heavy - the planes have a cargo limit, so my power-to-weight ratio serves me well in this category.
10. It is Sunday.


Additional McMurdo issues:
11. The runway has melted.
12. The road to the runway has melted.
13. There are penguins on the runway.
14. Everyone else is trying to get out of there!

I think next time I will sail to Antarctica and walk to all the sites.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Ups and downs

Good news: I finally made it out to a site today. Sadly the forecast was bad for the GPS sites, so it was just to a seismic site. We did fly on my new favourite plane though: the beautiful Basler.

We headed to Siple Dome, which is an established field camp (well, there are 2 people there), then the seismic station is about a mile away, which meant it was time for a skidoo ride. We were three people, so I got the job of sitting on the sledge being pulled behind, and making sure that we didn't lose any of our kit (or me!).

The site was nice and simple, and the weather sunny and still: perfect Antarctic weather. The box wasn't too buried, so we didn't have to dig too deep, then I took on the role of photographer and documented the state of all the instruments, and the upgrades that we made.


Upon our return to Byrd one of the boys was zipping round on a skidoo trying to dry the engine out after it got packed with snow during the storm the other day. It needed to run for another twenty minutes or so, so we changed over and I got to drive my first skidoo. This is very, very fun. I was comically rubbish to start with, jumping off the gas as soon as I started moving, thus resembling a noisy rabbit hopping around the camp. But as I headed out to the open snow beyond I started to get braver, and spent a fantastic 10 minutes riding over the 'waves' of snow drifts which had built up beside tent city. Given the forecast, I may be out playing again in the next few days...

The twin otter also headed out to a seismic site today, but decided to stop off at one of the GPS sites on the way back and hit some bad sastrugi as it landed. The plane bounced around a bit, and the tail got a bit of a bashing, and we just heard that the engineer thinks it'll need to head back to McMurdo to be fixed. Nooooooo!

In addition, we have fog forecast for Byrd tomorrow (but good weather at the coastal sites, which is where we really need to get to), so we have our fingers crossed that the pilots are in a jolly mood tomorrow and agree to give it a go.

On a final positive note, we have finished another demon jigsaw, accompanied by 80's rock night in the GPS tent, and our beer order is due in on a Herc at 1:40am tonight.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Two birds at Byrd!

The Basler flew in from McMurdo today, and we also had a Herc pass through which brought in some more of our cargo, so things are looking up. Even the weather is looking hopeful...

Despite the reasonable forecast yesterday it was blowing pretty hard this morning, so the visibility was too bad to head out with the twin otter first thing in the morning. It was another day running between tents, but I have made good progress with a fiendish jigsaw, and fortunately the weather cleared by the evening, so the other planes made it in.

The other excitement was the departure of the Pine Island Glacier traverse team. They are travelling overland to install the PIG camp, which will be the launchpad for a load of work on Pine Island glacier and the ice shelf.
The traverse consists of six people in four vehicles dragging a long train of equipment, proceeding at 6 mph in a straight line for 10 days! Luckily the cabs of the vehicles are heated, but apparently people have been known to fall asleep for an hour. Fortunately it's just flat snow for several hundred kilometres in all directions.

Plans have been hatched for tomorrow, and it looks like everyone will get to fly now that we have two planes, so it is time to go and snuggle up in my tent. Fingers crossed for some action tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Twin otter in Byrd!!

Yay! We have a twin otter!!! The weather properly cleared up to beautiful sunshine this afternoon (still a bit breezy, but it seems to have run out of snow to blow at us for a while) and they landed in time for supper (korean bbq pork, vietnamese hotpot beef, and coconut panna cotta with raspberry, ginger and mint sauce). The crew are called Terry, Chris and Pete. None of us were paying attention and Mark (our mountaineer) thought the pilot was called Eric, but Eric (one of our GPS guys) thought he was called Mark, so I asked Terry (head of Polenet) and it turns out he's called Terry. Ha ha ha!

They started off with a pretty strict weight limit, citing a heavy plane, and all our team went a bit pale, but after some smooth talking, and swapping a few Antarctic stories, the weight limit is creeping up. So now we are waiting to call South Carolina at 11pm for the weather report, and a plan for tomorrow will start bouncing around. We are still limited in where we can get to, but with a good forecast there is plenty we can do.

If I get to fly then it'll be a 7am briefing, flying by 8am, so it is time to be organised. Eric has calculated that I am equal to about two of the big batteries that we install at the GPS sites, so I am a pretty economical person to take - fingers crossed. Wherever we go, it will probably involve a lot of snow-digging...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Condition 1

It was pretty windy last night, and indeed when I stuck my head out of the tent this morning I could only vaguely make out the outhouse 30m away. Interesting. The night was nice an warm in my layers of sleeping bag and fleece liner - even dressing in the morning wasn't cold, and my water hadn't frozen. I'd made very sure that my tent zip was completely closed before I went to bed, because even a tiny hole will let in a lot of spindrift!


I stepped out into my porch - over-deepened* into the snow so I can stand up - turned around, and closed the inner tent before opening the fly and letting in the outside world. Outhouse still visible, so I started shuffling over. If you lose sight of where you're heading you should stop and wait for the visibility clear. Luckily this didn't happen, and the start of the line of bigger tents came into view as I reached the outhouse, so I handrailed along to the galley. This was a fairly tricky process because metre-high drifts caught you unaware in the flat light...

At the morning meeting, we were told it was condition 1 (can't see beyond the next tent 10m away), and camp staff should stand down from outside duties. There followed a group sretching session, several card games and a large jigsaw group sprung up. The hard-working Polenet team is continuing the optimistic task of determining the logistics of visiting all our sites. Here's what we're up against:


We have a Twin otter (small plane, limited flying distance, slower, lower cargo limit, can refuel at any fuel cache) and a Basler (larger, flies further, faster, higher cargo limit, can only refuel at the Pine Island Glacier camp).
Problem 1: neither plane has made it to Byrd yet.
Problem 2: The PIG camp is not installed yet, so we can't get to the far sites, which require a large cargo and hence the Basler (plus refuelling).
Problem 3: We don't have some of the cargo needed for the site visits.
Problem 4: We need to factor in stocking the fuel caches.
Problem 5: given current plane/fuel/cargo limitations once we add up the weight of the required cargo we are already over the flying weight limit...that's before counting any people.


So things are a little frustrating, heading outside is a major expedition, but it's actually very sunny here (above the 5m-high level of swirling spindrift which makes you feel like you're walking on running water), and the company is good fun - if you make it to these field camps you tend to be a pretty jolly/quirky/interesting person! And it's 100 times better than McMurdo.

*apparently last year someone dug 3m down from inside their tent porch to create an underground bar, capable of holding 8 people!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Greetings from Byrd

Our plane did a few laps of the ice runway to scare us this morning, but then roared into the air. Noisy but uneventful flight with another smooth landing (C-130 in case you ask). After we landed at Byrd I was intrigued to see them open the back flap while we were still taxi-ing, but the reason became apparent: they just release all the cargo out the back and leave it in the middle of the runway! Saves a lot of lifting.


I've gone from a world in black and white, to a world in white. Squeaky snow here, lots of snow drifts due to a series of storms, but you don't sink in which makes it not too hard work. Another storm due tonight..

Pretty cold, but dry cold, and many layers of clothing keep you toasty warm. The galley and 'work' tents are heated. We live in 'tent city', I've moved into tent E4. Nice and snug, but bright yellow - hopefully I'll be so tired I'll be straight to sleep.

Still waiting for our twin otters (planes that we'll use to fly to the GPS sites), so a little more waiting, but it's much more peaceful here, and no dust - feeling better already. Better food too, speaking of which...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

No news is good news

Things have definitely brightened up here in McMurdo. I decided not to post yesterday as I didn't actually do anything. Well, I read the proofs of my paper which is about to be published, but then fell asleep the whole afternoon. I think this was related to recovering from my cold rather than reading the paper because I woke up full of energy for the first time in a week.

Sunday has been good. Food has been excellent, with some of the highlights including fresh omelettes, a smoothie (not sure where that appeared from), grapefruit (twice), raspberry tart, edemame beans, roast beef with horseradish sauce, fresh salad with cranberry vinaigrette, and dark chocolate torte. And yes, I did sample all of these delights.


There was a craft fair this afternoon, which reflected the eccentricity of some of the people that live and work here, and then I headed out for a walk. Observation Hill had been taunting me all week as I shuffled around town feeling groggy. With my new-found energy I took a lovely walk up the hill, shot some high-quality video footage, and then ran down the scree as fast as I could. I'm feeling much more like a Pippa now :-)


Now, about that video. Duncan asked what you can see from Observation Hill, so it seemed easiest to film a panorama. Bear in mind that I am not the best photographer at the best of times, and it was a little windy, then hopefully you'll forgive the excessive amount of over-exposed snow which you have to endure in this 2-minute video. Unfortunately, you will have to watch it twice though, cos in the bit where I talk about hut point and the seals I was pointing the camera at the sky. However, you can see hut point just prior to the extended sky shot, so do go back and have a look!


I finished off the evening with a film (Running on Empty, highly recommended, although I'll warn you it did make me cry. Several times), and hopefully a last drink in the coffee bar before we fly. Estimated departure: 9am Monday morning.


Thanks for all the comments - it's great to hear from people back home. I'll be trying to keep the blog running from Byrd: I'll send the text out to Duncan and hopefully he'll post it up. You won't have to endure any more videos until I return to McMurdo...



video

Friday, 2 December 2011

Cabin fever

No news is bad news.

Thursday: mechanical cancel, apparently the C-130's (aeroplanes) are pretty unreliable, so I'm happy to wait for one that works.
Friday: we are listed as a back-up flight, spend the whole day watching a screen and pressing 'refresh' to see if we get the go-ahead. We don't.
Saturday: The current runway is about to become the sea again, so we have to wait until they get the new one up and running.
Sunday: no fly day.
Monday: potential escape.

They don't have the twin otter (smaller plane, with skis) in Byrd yet, so I'm not missing any work, but it would be nice be there to nest into my tent. Also, since I know I won't fly Saturday or Sunday, at least I can do something other than wait in front of a computer. All suggestions to avoid insanity on a postcard, please.

On a lighter note, two adelie penguins were apparently kicking around the ice runway today, which I'm taking as a good luck sign. And at least we don't have the problem that the Brits had at Rothera the other day: runway blocked by an iceberg!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

pigeons and fish


Ah, yes, I'm still here. But we're definitely on the 20:30 flight tonight though. Hopefully it will take off this time, and not boomerang (return to McMurdo). If we don't make it out I may find some skis and set out on foot. McMurdo is no longer a pretty snow-covered village:








To keep myself sane I thought I'd try yoga. I fear I may have got this confused with meditation at some point, as I was hoping we'd just lie on the floor humming for an hour. It turns out to be a sneakily strenuous activity - sneaky because you never actually move very fast, strenuous because I seemed to be tied in a knot and standing on one leg most of the time.


I didn't take any photos, but thought I'd pinch a few from the web to give you a flavour of what I was supposed to be doing. I am most proud of having managed both a right and left bind. However, I was mildly terrified that if I toppled over I wouldn't be able to untangle my arms in time to prevent a broken nose. Luckily this did not happen.






I think my poorest effort was the sleeping pigeon - mine more resembled an uncomfortably dozing chicken. The flexibility genes mysteriously went to my brother, so I am expecting a demonstration of a rather more relaxed pigeon at Christmas please Robin.




Today's excitement was a trip down to the aquarium where they have a 'touch tank'. We opted not to touch any of the spiky ones (I tried this whilst on holiday in Greece aged 8 and it didn't go well), but did prod all the squishy ones, desite the neon yellow one looking like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Ok, time to pack. Again.












Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Allergic to McMurdo

The fact that I'm posting is part good news and part bad news.


The bad news is that I'm still in McMurdo. There are now 7 of us waiting to get to Byrd Camp, ready to jump on a plane at the drop of a hat. I got as far stripping my bed and heading out the door yesterday before we were told that bad weather inland meant that they weren't flying. Some of the boys made it as far as the ice runway - really gutting. I've now also been leapfrogged as two more experienced people flew in from Christchurch, so they get priority and I will be on the second flight out, whenever that is...


The good news is that I've not been incarcerated! I've been feeling really rubbish the last 24 hours, and with the possiblity of a flight at any time I was holding off heading to medical in case they decided I was properly ill and quarantined me (although this would obviously be the sensible thing to do...). I passed the decision on this morning by asking one of our PIs (principal investigators) what to do, and he sent me straight off to medical. Oh ok. I looked as perky as possible and tried not to sneeze everywhere, and was rewarded with the news that it's just a cold, made worse by a mild allergy to McMurdo dust. Phew. So I have a selection of exciting pills to take, and I'm still good to fly at any time.


The second good news is that flights are now coming in from Christchurch, and this means fresh fruit and vegetables!! There were even limes at lunch, so I gobbled several down segments in the hope that this will speed up my recovery.


As ever, I hope not to be posting tomorrow...

Monday, 28 November 2011

What am I doing here?!

It has been politely requested that I might want to actually explain to people what I am doing here, other than eating a lot and playing in the snow...



I'm down here working with scientists from the POLENET project. Our aim is to collect GPS and seismic data from both Greenland and Antarctica. There is some information, and podcasts from last year, here: http://www.polenet.org/


In my normal life I run computer models which attempt to reconstruct the extent of the Antarctic ice sheet over the last 20,000 years - the time since the last ice age. The Antarctic ice sheet was bigger 20,000 years ago, and since this time ~3.6 x 10^18 kg of ice has melted; enough to raise sea level by ~10m. The removal of this mass of ice from Antarctica causes the land underneath the ice to rebound upwards, like a set of scales. However, the Earth actually behaves like a viscous fluid, therefore the rebound is not instantaneous, but continues to the present-day, even though most of the ice melting took place several thousand years ago. The GPS receivers that we are deploying will sit on rocky outcrops and measure this rate of rebound - the picture opposite is the GPS receiver here at McMurdo.


Meanwhile, the seismometers record the passing of seismic waves. These are released whenever there is an earthquake anywhere around the world; the waves travel through the interior of the Earth, and the time taken for the waves to reach our seismometers in Antarctica tells us about the structure of the Earth beneath; it's density, elasticity and viscosity. This information allows us to predict how the solid Earth will respond to changes in ice mass, i.e. the rate of postglacial rebound.


It gets a little tricky at this point. The rate of rebound measured by the GPS receivers is actually a combination of two processes: rebound due to past ice mass changes, and rebound due to present-day ice melting. Any mismatch between my model predictions (of rebound due to past ice melting) and the GPS observations may therefore be attributed to current melting.

The particular GPS receivers that I'll be installing will be around Pine Island Glacier (PIG) - this is thought to be the fastest-melting glacier in Antarctica so our measurements will provide an important insight into precisely how fast it is melting, and hence how much it is contributing to sea-level rise.


Flights are still all over the place, with another two cancelled this morning, but we are still firmly on the departure board, so have our fingers crossed that we will escape today...


On a lighter note here is a link to the start of the Turkey Trot:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k-MNP-WraM&NR=1

I am in my usual camouflage black.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Happy Anniversary

Not only have I deserted Duncan for a month, but I am missing our second wedding anniversary. Luckily, it is surprisingly simple to call home from Antarctica, so I was able to surprise him with a phone call this morning. For his part, he sent through a special Antarctic crossword, which I think I've completed. A couple of clues are a little obscure unless you know me very well!







On a less exciting note, our first flight to Byrd Camp, which was supposed to fly last Wednesday and was rescheduled to today, got cancelled 15 minutes before they were due to leave. It's pretty frustrating because we now have good weather here, and I can hear helicopters buzzing all over the place, but apparently it's pretty windy at Byrd. We all have our fingers crossed that they'll get a couple of flights out there tomorrow.





We are still scheduled to 'bag drag' at 19:15 tonight, which involves taking all our hold luggage up to cargo. After this we'll just be left with hand luggage to survive for however long it takes. In the meantime, I thought I'd list my current top ten pieces of Antarctic kit:

1. Jenny's smartwool trousers - super comfortable, perfect temperature for McMurdo, and almost trendy.

2. Montane Windproof trousers - since it's not too cold here, just a windproof layer will keep you pretty warm if you head out for a walk. A last minute addition to my bag which have been used a lot.

3. My red/orange 'romper suit' top - bought for £10 in the middle of the night at 10-Mila this year, mainly to demonstrate my complete lack of fashion sense, turns out to be the perfect mid-layer.

4. Scott Base beanie - a lovely little merino hat which has added to the confusion about my nationality (Scott Base is the New Zealand base over the hill). Just right for McMurdo temperatures.

5. Rachel's down jacket - my 'big red' parka is a little overkill for the current 'warm' weather, but this down jacket is perfect to dash between buildings. Sadly now stowed in cargo for Byrd...

6. lip balm - carried everywhere

7. nalgene water bottle - personalised with a smartwool sticker

8. sunglasses - I have finally ditched my £2 pair bought at Boots in the early '90s

9. camera - a careful balance is required to avoid looking too much like a tourist

10. yak traks - actually found some to fit my size 4 trainers, and they've kept me upright on the black ice so far...

I suspect the list will look somewhat different once we move out to Byrd, and some 'proper' weather!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The waiting game

We're supposed to fly to Byrd tomorrow, and have already been bumped to Tuesday, but there is a pretty big backlog as nothing has flown for about five days, so it is time to play the waiting game. I've been cramming my days to keep me occupied. So here are a few photos from the last few days:


Some of yesterday's race route (the road down on the bottom/right). I didn't realise the hill was that long...













A well-earned Thanksgiving Dinner. I *nearly* managed to eat all of it.










The result of eating too much at Thanksgiving Dinner (don't tell Dave I've posted this photo).









A stirring walk was needed after eating so much, so our group of scientists headed out to Scott's Hut, just half a mile away.






Today I headed out for a longer walk with Dave: a lap of Observation Hill, and then a quick sprint up to the summit to finish. Amazing views, freezing cold in the wind, and toasty warm in the sun when you're out of the wind. Dave completed the walk in trainers and a light jacket, completely oblivious to the weather - reminded me of Robin!!