Friday, September 25, 2009

Crack Spackling

One of the AFD duties is... crack spackling
Tidal movements, wind, waves, glacial movements, etc. make the 6'-12' thick sea ice shift and crack. We take our 3500 gallon tanker out and dump loads of freshwater onto the ice to fill in cracks that run across roads.
Today we also assisted in building the Ice Runway. In September, when the sea ice is thick and stable, Fleet Ops spends weeks scraping and leveling out a 10,000' runway for LC-130s. C-17s, and smaller planes. The surface of polar snow gets wind-blown into sastrugi- waves similar to the ripples on a sanddune, but on a larger scale, which have to be knocked down with heavy equipment. The Ice Runway provides a close, convenient landing spot right next to the station until the ice starts to melt in Nov/Dec.
Today it was nice- about 20 below and calm. We ran water out through a couple 2 1/2s to fill in three 3' wide crevasses that the dozer had pushed soft snow into. Once we shut down the lines we have to walk them out and roll them immediately or theyll freeze solid.
Working outside in turnout gear at 20 or 30 below in calm weather is surprisingly comfortable; it feels like Maine except that you have to watch each other's cheeks for frostbite and it's difficult to keep fingers warm unless you draw them out of the fingers of your glove and make a fist. They have some really good iron/salt chemical hand warmers here, but your fingers still freeze after a while. One of our guys got some frostnip on his cheek a week ago and its still healing. And if you go for a hike on a windy day, even if you're dressed in ECW (extreme cold weather gear), you really understand quickly what frail little animals humans are. I've had the same feeling trying to hold myself still against the force of fast, deep water, or when a wave tumbles me off my surfboard and holds me under for an uncomfortably long time. Wrapped up in a lethal force like that you start to wonder how long you could hold out if you had to, before giving up. Then you come up for air or wander into a warm comfy building and wonder how on Earth did Steven Callahan, Shackleton, and Mawson do it? Daily life in America, with its MVAs and crime, is probably a lot more dangerous than life here in McMurdo. But here most of those little distractions and competitions of hectic modern city life get stripped away and you get to be close to nature and think a little about your humble place in the grand scheme of things.

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