Sunday, January 13, 2008
I arrived in Antarctica on Friday, January 4th. My advisor, Mark Moldwin, and I have come here to repair and re-deploy a magnetometer that is based at the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAISD). We successfully fixed the electronics box, and have been ready to go to WAISD to redeploy it since last Friday, Jan 11. Since then the weather at WAISD has been bad enough that every flight since then has been cancelled. Mark has commitments he must return to back in the U.S., and we are running out of time to get out to WAISD and get back to McMurdo, before then flying up to Christchurch, New Zealand, and on to Los Angeles.
At this point, we are just hoping to get a day or two worth of time at WAISD to re-connect the electronics box to the power, GPS, Iridium and sensor cables. If we don’t have time to raise all the elements of the magnetometer site, another trip down in a year may be required. We’re hoping it won’t come to that, not because I wouldn’t love to come down here again, but because of the extra cost of an additional trip just to dig out and raise the magnetometer site.
Here at McMurdo, the largest research station on the continent, life is similar to living at a typical university. There is a population of around 1000 people during these summer months, which drops down to about 200 during the southern winter. The sun, of course, never sets here. It just goes round and round in the sky, ranging from ~30 degrees above the horizon and due north at local noon, to about 10 degrees above the horizon and due south at midnight. I had my “Snowcraft Training” course, which involved learning to make a Kinsey (snow-cave), snow-block walls, setting up Scott Tents, using a high frequency (HF) radio to communicate with receivers up to 1000 miles away (we actually got to talk to people at the South Pole, just from our camp site!), and of course spending a night out on the ice shelf.
Mark and I have done several short hikes around “town”. It really is beautiful terrain when the weather is good. There isn’t all that much wildlife right around the station; I haven’t seen any penguins yet. Though an adelie penguin delayed our landing by being out on the ice runway when were supposed to be landing. We had to circle a couple of times while the airfield staff chased it away. I have seen probably 100 weddell seals from a distance, lying out on the ice shelf near melt pool and cracks in the ice. And there is the occasional skua scavenger bird (resembles a brown seagull) hoping to steal food from the people here in town.
It’s the height of summer down here, so the temperature hovers around 30 F, though it’s in the teens or single digits when you factor in windchill. The wind really does make all the difference here. The extreme cold weather gear (ECW) given us by the U.S. Antarctic Program is great though!