Friday, October 30, 2009

Weather forecast for Halloween looks pretty mild- neg 10 with a 10-20 knot wind. It would be downright warm without the wind...
However forecasts here are extremely unreliable

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunday Night Science Lecture

BBC was in the mess hall last Sunday night to tell us about their new 6-part documentary series 'Frozen Planet' and show some sneak-peak footage. NSF, the Discovery Channel, and the BBC are collaborating on this upcoming series. BBC is providing the talent in Antarctica and using the same kind of innovative filming technology and techniques used to produce the Planet Earth series.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Weddell seals link
Dive tended for the producer of an Antarctica underwater documentary today. It was an ice dive through a 4' wide hole drilled through 6' thick sea ice out by Arrival Heights. A Weddell seal popped up and watched the divers get ready, then returned every 5-10 min and hung out breathing in the warm dive hut air, only a couple feet from my boots.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

almost over the 5-week Crud (knock on wood)... time for more hiking soon

Friday, October 16, 2009

First Ice Runway Operation

Called in on my Kelly day yesterday for our shift's first Ice Runway operation of the season. Ice Runway takes about 5 minutes to reach from town, versus at least 30 min to get to Pegasus. B shift had attempted to take the rehabilitated Red 1 out the day before, but it has developed a cold-transmission-fluid issue. Apparently the transmission line leaks if the truck is moved without warming it up for a good long time first. Red 6 was also out of service because of its turbo power issue, which will be a 12 hr repair when VMF gets a chance.
Equipment eccentricites aside, it was a good day. Checked out Station 2, a double-wide next to the runway that the ARFF shift stays at. Its fully supplied with TV, Internet, board games, and a nice sunny reading nook for the evenings so I'm happy. Bathrooms are a cold walk away in another building though.
Our first Basler arrived, having made the trip in tandem with an Otter down through South America and across the South Pole. The Otter had problems and stopped at the Pole while the Basler went on. Polies are probably going out on Monday.
Today packages came in... MP3 and camera battery included!
Our Mainbody firefighters have been here about a week and are in the midst of the Academy. Like us they got a tour of the desalinization Water Plant. It's an interesting process, more simple than I expected. Two seawater pumps collect water from just outside town and pump it to the water plant. Then the water is stored in large tanks and heated up from 28 degrees to 36 degrees. This is the most energy-intensive part of the process and is done with waste heat from the Power Plant (this heat is also used to heat Crary Science Building and the dorms in the form of glycol pipes that run aboveground up the hill from the power plant). Once warm, the water goes through a 100 micron filter (100 microns is the width of a human hair) to remove algae. Next it's forced at high pressure through a setup of 32 3-4' long tubular osmosis filters which remove the salts. The filters are worth $15000 apeice and the system can process 40,000 gallons a day. After processing chlorine, soda ash, a calcium mix, and CO2 are added to the water to keep it clean and make it less corrosive to pipes. (Lots less hazmat concerns than at the water treatment plant back home). Desalinization makes the water so ultra-pure that before they figured out how much salt to add back in the water actually leached metal from the pipes and caused significant damage to the distribution system. Untreated ultra-pure water isnt good for people either; a scientist at Crary drank it for awhile and ended up getting medevaced with cramps and heart issues. Finally, two freshwater pumps pump the treated water up the hill into town and maintain a system pressure of at least 55 psi. As far as fire protection goes, we have 150,000 gals of freshwater stored at the plant, as well as 8 fire hydrants distributed through town. Water mains are small and the terrain is hilly; hydrant flow ranges from 290-700 gpm.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I am a Raytheon employee.
The views expressed in this blog are mine alone and not the Company’s.
I am not authorized to act as a Company spokesperson, and
that statements and views expressed are not sanctioned or approved by the Company.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Pegasus operation of spring!

Fun and exciting new challenges of yesterday's shift:

Cpt, myself and another firefighter took Scat (Ford pickup with very big wheels and a lift) and Red 6 (4 yr old Ford pickup with the misfortune to be fitted out with large tracks which it was never designed to handle) out to Pegasus airfield at 1000 to find out how the ARFF rigs weathered yesterdays storm. The ARFF complement for the day was to be Red 1 (Challenger), and Red 3 and Red 6 (Renegades). These trucks really need pics to do them justice, so I'll leave explanations for after I get a new camera battery...
There were still a lot of funny winds present on the way out. We drove over several miles of Mcmurdo Sound sea ice. The first foot or two of air above the road was clouded with streamers of snow blowing northwest in the ~30mph winds, but the air cleared halfway to Pegasus when we entered the lee of the distant White Island. Driving conditions were better than usual; apparently the wind had swept most of the soft drifts off the road and we didnt get bogged down as much as on previous trips.
We beat Red 6 out to the airfield, but moments after we arrived 6 called us back to assist them with "engine trouble". The sea ice road took on a surreal quality on the trip back. The sun was ahead of us, and in the extreme cold it was framed by the pinks and greens of high nacreous clouds. Pegasus is on clear, hard snow, out of the lee of White Island. Soon after we turned back, the island's lee became visible again as a two clearly demarcated walls of wind on either side of a several mile-wide section of calmer air with dark, still snow underneath it. We entered the wind shadow and weaved and shimmied through the drifts while 100' high snow-devils were born out of the eddies at the edges of the lee and raced onto the road before and behind us. To our right the ice shelf stretched south, bright with curling foglike tongues of airborne snow.
We reached Red 6 and were informed that it had made a 'loud bang, shuddered, and lost all forward motion'. With drive shaft intact, forward and reverse motion spontaneoulsy reestablished, and no fluids leaking, we decided to resume the drive out to Pegasus.
Once there I was assigned a check on Red 3, and promptly made the mistake of thinking the truck was all set because there was little drifting around it and the radiator was clear in front. After checking the rest of the truck I popped the hood and found that every last inch of the engine compartment, from axle to hood, was firmly packed with fine snow. Half an hour of digging and an hour of quality time with a Herme heater later, Red 3 started up and ran just fine. Drove her around on her Matt tracks (which maneuver nicely compared to the larger Grip Tracks on her cousin Red 6) so the water dripping from the engine compartment wouldnt freeze them up. She went well and is probably our most reliable ARFF rig. She carries a big box in back with 4 large nitrogen cylinders that flow agent to a preconnected 1 3/4" line, a booster reel, and a remotely controlled turret in front.
Cpt checked Red 1. It started (!!!) but when he opened the package there was a 6" deep pool of foam from a small leak that had been going for the 3 days that Pegasus was inacessible. The rig was also semi-buried by several feet of very hard drifted snow. Thus began a ballet of mechanics, plumbers, and firefighters shoveling and shuffling trucks, all rushing to beat the 1330 estimated arrival time for the day's C17...
Red 2 (the other Challenger) was brought out and made it all right. Red 3 thawed and ran. Red 6 made it to the airfield a little behind us, and after the mechanics looked at it they informed us that other than the transmission, brakes, steering pump, turbo system, low nitrogen cylinders, and a blown suspension airbag, then truck was good to go. We dug out Red 1 most of the way and she rolled the rest of the way. Cpt fixed the leak, but Red 2 was primary for the operation.
The wind died down a little in the afternoon, but I proceeded to bet that the plane would boomerang (ie circle and head back to Christchurch without landing). It landed in the ~25mph gusty crosswind. I now owe Lt D. one Tui beer. Landing, offload, takeoff without incident, other than a D-6 (?) dozer had taken the place of our mail on the flight...
That evening Red 1, Red 2, and Red 6 all made their way back to the island without incident (I think). After dinner we (the original crew of sufferers from Pegasus that morning) spent 3 or 4 lovely hours at the Vehicle Maintenance Facility in the back package of Red 1 chipping foam from around hoses, tubes, and wires and from difficult-to-access spaces beneath tanks and machinery on the floor. Red 1 does not smell very good when warm. Sometime around 0100 everyone turned in, all machinery having been returned to a semi-functional status.
Strangely, this was a pretty fun day, foam chipping and all. Not an unusual day; its pretty representative of how quickly equipment breaks down out here. Antarctic remains all that I hoped... now for three days off of reading, writing, and playing the market.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Condition 1 storm predicted for tonight/tomorrow with 70mph gusts!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sunday Science Lecture: Sea Ice Microbes

Last Sunday's science lecture was presented by Andrew Martin of the University of Tasmania, Australia. His group is conducting an in situ study of microbes in sea ice. One of the focuses of the study involved drilling ice cores, then flipping them and replacing them so that the microbes at the bottom of the cores were subjected to surface conditions of temperature extremes, variable salinity, and sunlight. 36 ice core sections were monitored for a period of 18 days during Winfly. In spite of increased nourishment available in the form of light, subsurface microbes failed to thrive on the surface due to light shock and temperature sensivity.

The team identified about 20 taxa of algae and 25 phylotypes of bacteria in Antarctic sea ice. Cores are taken from relatively thin sections of ice (3-6' thick). Apparently most of the Winfly research took place at a location remote from McMurdo, as local cores contained relatively few microbial specimens.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Crary tour

Went on my first guided tour of Crary Lab today. Crary is the main science building on base. It's named for Albert P. Crary (1911-1987), who was a great polar physicist and glaciologist and the first man to set foot on both Poles. He led extensive research and many scientific expeditions in Antarctica.

The building consists of 3 levels and provides lab facilities for biological, geological, astronomical, and atmospheric research, as well as a library and meeting rooms and an aquarium.

The tour was really excellent and touched on a variety of subjects. Myself and the new doc were the only ones who showed today, and when doc had to leave early it ended up as a private tour. Lots of interesting discussions on current science projects, including camera research on the low-light hunting habits of Weddell seals, local atmospheric monitoring, seismic stations that are part of the global earthquake detection system, work on Erebus (including a camera that records footage of the constantly venting/erupting crater), and an ice microbe study.

The Weddell seal group was there when we arrived but were running out in order to capture and retrieve footage from the 3rd of 5 seals they've equipped with monitoring devices during Winfly. A member of a Kiwi science team was in; theyre wrapping up a study involving drilling cores of sea ice and subjecting the microbes found at the bottom of the ice cores to varying temperatures while measuring their changing health and ability to produce and store nutrients. Interpretations hopefully to give insight into the possible effects of global warming and sea temperature changes. Also discussed a recent series of mysterious dog deaths on North Island NZ beaches. For what is it worth opinion in our little Antarctic outpost is that the dogs were killed by tetrodotoxin, a byproduct of a cyanobacterial algal bloom which was concentrated by carnivorous sea slugs, which washed up on the beach and were eaten by the dogs. Tetrodotoxin is an extremely potent neurotoxin (its the one found in pufferfish); the dogs died within minutes of ingesting the sea slugs.

This is a good excuse to post pictures of sea slugs (nudibranchs), which are my favorite ridiculously beautiful sea creatures. (altough the ones in Antarctica only come in white, and aren't poisonous- actually I was just holding one unfortunate enough to end up in Crary's aquarium)

Basler BT-67

So the word is we'll be seeing mostly C17s, C130s, and twin otters here. However in a couple weeks a Basler is supposed to fly in.

The Basler's a twin engine turboprop BT-67 (a converted DC3). It is suitable for short, rough, remote airstrips, has long range with a heavy payload, and is used for a variety of civilian and military applications. It carries a load of 5 tons, standard fuel load of 5000lbs (775 gals), is 68' long, and has a range of about 2000 miles. DC3s are rugged planes; some are still flying retrofitted on airframes used in WWII. Sayings attached to the DC3s: "the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3" ... "a collection of parts flying in loose formation."

Interesting story about a failed takeoff a couple years ago at a field camp near South Pole:

New York Times

World Briefing Antarctica
10 Survive Plane Crash

Published: December 22, 2007
A DC-3 aircraft chartered by the National Science Foundation crashed while taking off from a remote research site in West Antarctica. Although the plane was heavily damaged, none of the 10 people on board were injured, the agency said. The crash occurred near Mount Patterson, where researchers are deploying G.P.S. units and other sensors to obtain data on changes in Antarctic ice sheets. A foundation spokesman said the six passengers and four crew members were flown out on another aircraft. The site is about 550 miles from the main American research and logistical hub at McMurdo.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nacreous Cloud Pics

More on nacreous clouds and pics taken during Winfly by my trusty little Olympus, which has survived mild freezing 3 times now! (think you'll like this, dad)

As explained during a sunday science lecture by Dr Terry Deschler, atmospheric scientist, nacreous clouds are formed of very small particles like chlorine which refract light very effectively. The angle of refraction is very localized so the brilliant colors in the clouds are constantly changing minute to minute as air currents flow through. Many of these are lenticular clouds- formed by a standing wave of cold air rising up over mountainous terrain. Air must be very cold to form nacreous clouds, so they're generally only seen at very high altitudes over mountains during cold times of the year when there's low-angle sunlight.

The chlorine in the clouds is actually breaking down ozone as we watch- chlorine combines with 03 to form ClO and O2, then ClO interacts further with O3 to form Cl and O2. Thus the chlorine is recycled in the equation and oxygen is formed from the breakdown of ozone.

Atmospheric chlorine comes from natural reservoirs such as acid clouds in the atmosphere. (Interestingly high-flying fighter jets experience etching of glass and metal due to atmospheric acid, and many commercial airliners needed scarred windows replaced in the months after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo released sulfuric acid into the atmosphere). The breakdown of CFCs has added to Earth's natural reservoirs of atmospheric chlorine and resulted in the ozone hole in the Southern Hemisphere. There is actually more chlorine in the skies over equatorial latitudes, but the chemical processes which break down ozone occur at high latitude. Ozone is produced naturally by O2 interacting with the solar winds. Therefore banning of CFCs means eventually the excess chlorine will be naturally cycled out and the ozone layer should reseal, but this will take several generations.

In the meanwhile we enjoy a beautiful pheonomenon with disturbing implications behind it.

day 3 of 3 days in a row off... slept in late, read, got online, movie, workout, and karaoke.
Sposed to be a flight in tomorrow to take winterovers out, but theyre calling for another storm so it doesnt look good