Friday, November 19, 2010

Bitter Sweet Brimstone

We've tried twice now to get to our most northern helicopter supported field site, known as Brimstone Peak. Unforutnately, because it is so far north, it is difficult to know what site conditions will be without actually flying out there. So far, we've given it two shots, and both times we've had to turn back. This is the bitter part of the equation. Look above, and you'll see the sweet factor. Paul has flown us both times, and both flights we've been lucky enough to see some incredible features on the return flight back. That deep, vibrant blue is a chunk of submerged iceberg. I honestly do not think I have ever seen such a color occur naturally. I was a giddy fool when I saw this berg. There's a close up of it below. Seriously??? Unbelievable.All of these photos are from our first attempt at reaching Brimstone. The weather forecast said it was clear, but we soon found out that the site was completely socked it. It was quite a surreal thing actually, I've never seen Antarctic weather like it before. The sky was gray, almost purple, and there were pockets on the horizon where it looked like it was raining. I think this strange lighting helped to make all of the views so stunning. Below are just a handful of photos from that night.
Above, one of the trippy "rainstorms" on the horizon. Wow.
The water adds so much dimension to the views. It's such an deep blue, the reflections are unreal.


I've literally got dozens of photos like the one above. The helicopters we fly can't go over water, but we got to fly back along the sea ice edge because of where we had to turn around when the weather went bad. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I will not soon forget it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Flying in style

I've come down to Antarctica many times now, and it has always been on an Air Force plane. However, the United States Antarctic Program has started a contract with Australia to fly commercial Airbus passenger flights to Antarctica, and I was lucky enough to take one. The above photo shows me stepping foot on the ice for the first time this season, with the Airbus in the background. While flying in first class was awesome in itself because of the posh seating (yes, I am fully reclined in my seat!), the real treat was having two huge windows to look out of the entire time. With the Air Force planes, you have a teeny little round window the size of a grapefruit, and you can't look out of it while landing, so having a giant window to peer out of during the entire flight is an incredible luxury. I saw views of the continent that I have never seen before. Huge, broad expanses of the mountains (because we were flying so high), incredible sea ice formations, features to the north outside of our normal work region, the Italian base (I couldn't actually see the base, but we flew right by the location), basically all the way from the coast along the spine of the mountains to the U.S. base on Ross Island. The photo at left is just one of many from the flight. It shows a section of the Transantarctic Mountains and the frozen Ross Sea in front. The wind-blown snow on the dark blue ice made for a surreal image, and was an effect that I have never seen quite so spectacularly. I was giddy the entire time. Awesome experience.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

first helo flight of the season

***OK, don't pay attention to dates. I hate that blogger doesn't keep things in order (they don't keep the first entry at the top so you can read through in a logical order) so I fudge the dates to make them show up correct.***
Last Friday we went on a night flight to a place called Mt. Coates in the Dry Valleys. They call this area the Dry Valleys because it remains relatively ice free throughout the year -a rare occurrence in Antarctica. We were doing some minor upgrades to the existing site, and also performing what is called a tie. When we installed the POLENET system, we installed a new antenna in a new location, however, there was a system installed prior to our POLENET site. While this older site is no longer running, we can link the data from our new site to this old site by collecting data from the old antenna. This is called a tie, because you are "tie-ing" the old data to the new data, giving you a better record of how the rock is moving. The above photo shows me working on the old antenna, originally set up by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Not a bad day at the office! Because we wanted to collect at least 2 hours of data to get a good tie, we ended up having some time to look around. Mt. Coates is one of my favorite sites in Antarctica, because the surrounding landscape is like a giant playground. There are huge cliffs, beautiful valleys, peaks, glaciers, gnarled wind sculpted rock formations perfect for jumping around and playing on. It takes your breath away. Below is a photo of me doing a yoga pose on top of one of the rock formations. Myself and two friends of mine have a contest going to take yoga photos in front of impressive landscapes around the world. I'd say this backdrop qualifies for some seriously high marks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

POLENET season 2 work

This year has been a bit different than last year, which was the first season of POLENET. Last year we spent most of our time installing new sites. This year we've been spending time installing new sites, but also servicing sites installed last year. This photo is from a new install this year at Deverall Isnald, and shows what a complete site setup should look like. I’m standing very professionally next to the frame that holds 4 solar panels (blue panels in front), wind generators (black wind mills on top), an iridium antenna (thin stick on top), and a met pack (white thing on top, collects temperature and wind data). In the background off to the right is the GPS antenna (gray mushroom). So I say this is what a site 'should' look like, because we’ve been finding some 'surprises' at the sites we are re-visiting this year, as you can see below in the photo from a location called Lonewolf Nunatak (standing in the photo is Joe, from UNAVCO). First off, we chose the stations to re-visit because we knew that they were down. We communicate with the stations through the iridium, and can get state of health info. So if we get bad state of health data, or if we can’t talk to the station at all, we know something is up and that we need to make a visit. We expected mostly electronic problems, but obviously that hasn't been the case. Definitely unexpected. Basically, the wind is too strong, and is ripping the front half of the frames off. This pulls the cables from the box, smashes the solar panels, and usually kills the wind generators as well. The picture to the left shows the fatal wounds to the solar panels, after we’ve flipped the broken frame front over. We think the culprits are the couplings used to hold the frame tubes together, which are cast aluminum. The picture below shows an 5/8" steel anchor bolt from Lonewolf, used to anchor the frame to the rock. The wind completely snapped it in half. Antarctica is no joke. The wind here is strong. Lonewolf is a particularly legendary site for wind, but since we've found a second downed frame, it's clear we are going to have to make some adjustments. We've temporarily fixed the problem, at least we hope, by adding braces to the joints that have been failing, but for next year, we will likely need to switch to steel couplings, and possibly re-think the solar panel configuration for particularly windy sites (the four solar panels basically act like a sail, catching wind and significantly increasing the strain on the frame).

jaw dropping scenery

While I think people shots are always the favorite, I’ve got to put in some scenery shots. I wish I could do this place justice through photographs alone, but it really is a total body experience. The mountains, the air, the ice, they never lose their ability to take my breath away. This is a photo of the Transantarctic Mountains, about 100 km south of McMurdo, the U.S. base. It gives me the urge to reach out and run my finger along the spine of the ridge, like it’s a little pet lizard landscape or something, just sunning there in the snow.

Do you see all that color?!?! People ask me if Antarctica is all white, they ask me if I miss color. I try and explain how on the contrary, there is every color imaginable. The light plays off the snow and ice, reflecting all the different subtleties in the spectrum, intensifying contrasts. It’s incredible. Even in the sky. This photo isn’t doctored at all. I didn’t even want to crop it. Granted there is some darkening around the edges from the camera adjusting to the brightness of shooting straight at the sun, but what you are looking at is pretty much what I saw in the sky, only with the brights a bit brighter and the darks a bit darker. So much color pops out. Reds, purples, greens, pinks. I left this photo in full resolution, so you can click on the image and see it in its entirety. I just think it’s shockingly gorgeous. Every little facet. It’s like a game, looking through and seeing all the different plays on shapes, color, depth. Mmmm. I love it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

He's back!!!! If some of you remember, we had a plane crash last year. Is was in a Basler on the way to a site called Mount Paterson. Well, they fixed him, and he's back! This is a photo of that exact plane, after more than 6 months of work, including two months of a dedicated crew camping in West Antarctica at the crash site to get the plane fly-able back to Canada. As you can see, he's quite happy (or maybe it's a she?!?) The plan is to try again this year, and take this exact same aircraft back to Mount Paterson again. Hopefully everything goes great this time around...

This photo is from Deverall Island, the southernmost island in the world in fact! We just finished the site today. It was beautiful weather, pretty close to freezing, maybe mid 20's. I wish I could explain what it feels like to be out there. The air is so clean and fierce, and everywhere you look there is incredible scenery. It's such a high. You can't help but be happy. In this photo, Eric and I are sitting by the GPS monument just after installation. Our little mushroom child. We drill into the bedrock, and install the white 'monument' base, before putting on the GPS antenna, which is the mushroom-looking thing (technically, the mushroom looking thing is just a cover to keep out snow, and the actuall antenna is underneath this cover, but you get the point). Behind us you can see the Transantarctic Mountains.

Made it!

I made it! We got in about 1 week ago. This is a photo from right after we landed. I'm standing with Adrienne, who worked with Terry (my current advisor) for her undergrad, and who is now at Columbia. This was about 10 am in the morning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2008-2009 Antarctica Field Season

Time for another field season in Antarctica! Getting a slow start this time around. So far, we've been stuck in New Zealand for 5 days. Although stuck isn't really the right word because it's so beautiful here, and I hardly feel stuck. The above photo was taken after I went running this afternoon. This park is right across the street from our hotel, and Eric ran into me here and took this photo. Sadly, this is the only photo I have to show for my time here in New Zealand. Because we weren't expecting these continued delays, I left the only camera I brought at the CDC (clothing distribution center, where we get all our cold weather gear). Still, this is a pretty good synopsis of my time the past 5 days. I've been eating, sleeping, running, and working on a final exam for my exploration geophysics class. I've also been buying entirely too much stuff, but the exchange rate is amazing!!! .51 to the U.S. dollar. So basically you can take 50% off everything you buy. It's a dangerous rationalization to make, I can attest to that personally. Alright, so anyways, hopefully we will get down to the ice soon. Until then, I'll be doing more of the same in this photo.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Back in McMurdo...

It’s weird to be back in a group of 1000+ again after being in the intimate and quiet environment of a camp. Here is a picture of the C-130 Hercules aircraft, or Herc, that took us from Patriot Hills back to McMurdo. (I’m posing with some toy horses that my sister and brother-in-law sent to me-you guys rock!). We also arrived at Patriot Hills in a Herc. Hercs are the largest aircrafts with retractable ski-wheels (you can see them in the photo) and they are frequently used in Antarctica because they can carry so much weight but are still capable of short takeoffs and landings. It’s something incredible to see them land up close. When we landed at Patriot Hills, we did what is called a combat offload (although I’m supposed to say that they “drifted” the cargo because combat offload sounds too reckless or something). Basically we chucked a bunch of giant pallets of cargo, each about 3 meters cubed, out the back of the Herc just after the landing. I actually had no idea it was going to happen. We landed, and then all of the sudden the back of the plane opens up and all of the pallets start to tumble out onto the ice. The pallets are nested in these sort of grooves on the floor of the plane, so when you load and off-load they hook in and slide along the grooves, like how a roller coaster car slides along a track. Normally it’s a slow process, but to see it happen while moving, with these giant pallets just sort of gently crashing out onto the ice is shocking. My mouth dropped open and stayed open the entire time. It was fantastic.

Incredible Person

I met some really incredible people at Patriot Hills, and one of them was Marc De Keyser. Marc works in comms (communications- works the radios, sends/receives info about flights, weather, etc.) at Patriot Hills. This year he WON the marathon there. People from all over the world pay big bucks to come to Antarctica and run that marathon, and Marc, someone who works at the camp, won it. The top photo is a close up of Marc at the marathon. He is such an awe-inspiring person and runner. Winning the marathon in itself is incredible, but get this: next season he’s going to run from 80º to pole, running half a degree a day. That’s 31 miles a day for 20 days. 31 MILES A DAY FOR 20 DAYS!!!! IN ANTARCTICA! And not just Antarctica like coastal Antarctica, we’re talking Antarctica like 80º to the South Pole Antarctica, like get frostbite and lose fingers and chunks of your face Antarctica. He’s incredible. Got to be one of the top 5 most amazing people I have ever met in my life. He’s very humble, and was shy when I almost blew my top at hearing his stories. You can’t help but be amazed by him. The bottom photo shows Marc finishing the marathon. The guy in the wheelchair on the right did the marathon as well. I’m sure another incredible person. Unfortunately he wasn’t there when we arrived so I never got the opportunity to meet him. There are some genuinely impressive people in this world.