Showing posts with label AntarcticSun. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AntarcticSun. Show all posts

Sunday, January 28, 2001

Bottom of the food chain

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Every meal. Every break. Every glass, plate, fork, knife, spoon, pot, pan, sandwich, juice container…. Every time a dining room attendant (DA) turns around at McMurdo, there’s more to do.

But too often to diners on station they’re just the blue-clad bodies moving a rack of glasses right in front of you or the faces at the dishroom window.

Most of the time, the DAs are smiling, and that’s a tribute to their resilience. "It’s the most difficult job on station, and they probably work harder than anybody else," said Jan Jasperson, the winterover food service supervisor, who said that if he could do anything for them, it would
be getting DAs paid more than the $350 a week they earn.

The DAs play a role in every part of the galley operation, except one. "We don’t cook food," said lead DA Ginger Alferos.

The DAs clean and restock dishes, prep food and salads, make sandwiches and flight lunches, make sure the food lines are stocked, and clean the whole place when the meals are done.

"I do different jobs: deli, floating, pot room, dishroom, it all depends on your mood," said DA Amanda Dow.

The pot room is really where the legends of DA-dom are made. While sitting in on their "family meal," at a strange time like 9:30 a.m. for lunch, the stories come out. Many of them involve the cramped rectangular space called the pot room.

The din in there can be deafening. With big, metal pots and pans resounding while they are moved through stainless steel sinks, the shift starts out loud. Add the music, the singing along and the joketelling and it’s a big party, albeit crusty food in abundant attendance.

In the background is a periodic rumble of the disposal, a giant one, almost the size of a five-gallon bucket. And, as one story goes, a DA once dumped a big pot of mashed potatoes into it instead of scraping the pot into food waste first. As if it were karmic retribution, the disposal exploded, spraying ground-up food everywhere and covering the operator’s face with a big white cloud of potato glop.

It seems gross. It is gross. But then the DAs think it’s funny, which gives insight into how they survive.

"The people make it fun," Dow said. Some of their on-the-job entertainment comes from people who pass through the galley. The DAs keep tallies, like how many people lick their fingers before touching serving utensils. At times they’ll take surveys, asking questions through the dishroom
windows as people stack their plates. It’s a good way to keep their minds active while working a mindless job.

Their presence is appreciated. "There’s no way we could do what we do without them," Jasperson said. In the rest of the world, Jasperson said, the jobs akin to the DAs are held by high school students. But in their lives back home, these DAs are food-service workers, teachers, outdoor guides and other professionals, including a nurse and a geologist.

It can be a good leg up for future jobs in the U.S. Antarctic Program, though. DAs can prove their ability to endure hardship and show their skills with the community.

"They’re our front-line defense," Jasperson said, explaining that the DAs are the first to hear feedback from the community and take the most heat for problems in the galley.

They put up with it because they want to get to Antarctica and they stay because they’re here. There is some appreciation from the community, the DAs say, but there’s no such thing as too much. The folks in the galley, though, know the value of the grunt work.

"We love our DAs," Jasperson said.

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Preserving the huts: Protecting the heritage

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Almost exactly 99 years ago, construction began on the first building on Ross Island: Robert Scott’s Discovery Hut. Now, researchers and fundraisers are stepping up the effort to preserve and restore the historic huts in the Ross Sea area.

Ross Island’s three huts – Scott’s on Hut Point and Cape Evans and Ernest Shackleton's on Cape Royds – are the primary targets for preservation, though there are over 30 historic sites in the region, including memorial crosses and supply depots left by the early Antarctic explorers.

"We have the responsibility for the practical management of Heroic Age sites in the Ross Sea area," said Nigel Watson, executive director of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, a New Zealand-based, non-profit organization.

To date, the AHT has hired conservators to come to the Antarctic to slow or halt the decline of metals, woods and fibers at historic sites. The trust also maintains a collection of artifacts in Christchurch, which are being worked on and will eventually, Watson said, be returned to their original locations.

But the trust’s work so far has only slowed the rate of decay of rare historic artifacts. "We really haven’t halted the decline," Watson said. "As you look through the huts you can see the decay. Don’t take it for granted, because one day it might not be there," he said, noting that one of the two buildings at Cape Adare is no longer standing.

Watson said the trust is now looking at different approaches to maintaining each historic hut site, ranging from a possible full restoration of the Discovery Hut to its original condition, to preserving a hut at Cape Evans or Cape Royds in something close to its current condition, though treating the materials to prevent future decay.

This could cost several million dollars, Watson said. The AHT relies on donations from the public for its operating budget. The money must fund responsible care for the huts, Watson said.

To that end, the conservation effort is backed up by scientific research. Bob Blanchette of the University of Minnesota, and Roberta Farrell of the University of Waikato in New Zealand are conducting a joint effort, funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, to study the decay and deterioration of wood in the historic huts.

The main source of damage to the wood is erosion. High winds sandblast the outer walls of the huts. This is visible, Blanchette said, particularly on the beams supporting the verandah of the Discovery Hut.

There is also chemical deterioration. The high salt content of the snow in the area, due both to the nearby seawater and to gas emissions from Mount Erebus, weakens the wood fiber.

Further, Blanchette said, fungi within the huts are attacking the materials that are sheltered from the storms to which the outer walls are subjected. In addition, there seems to be a soil fungus attacking the wood foundations. It is not clear, Blanchette said, how this fungus arrived at the historic sites or how it retained its ability to attack wood in a wood-less environment.

"The fungi that we’re finding are very unusual and appear to be unique to the Antarctic," he said.

Part of the research is also looking at the impact of visitors to the hut, who introduce dirt, heat and moisture into closed-up buildings. Blanchette’s group has installed temperature and humidity monitors in the huts, and is trying to keep close track of the length of time visitors spend in the huts.

Blanchette and Watson are optimistic. Watson noted that the centenaries of the construction of each hut are coming up within the next decade. That provides a unique historical angle on fundraising, he said, which may have very positive results for the huts’ preservation.

Blanchette also believes that research and conservation can work hand in hand to restore and protect the huts before they disappear.

"It’s not too late," Blanchette said.

Sunday, December 24, 2000

Warm bodies, warm hearts: A day with McMurdo's GAs

Published in the Antarctic Sun

It’s early morning. Most folks are struggling to get to work with coffee in hand. But several brighteyed, low-paid men and women are bouncing off the walls in the GA shack next to the carpenters’ shop at McMurdo.

Led by former general assistant Sally Lyon, this season’s operations GAs are ready to work. Lyon doles out the day’s tasks.

"Heather, you’ll go to waste. Lynn, you’ll go to the galley, but it’s just for the morning," Lyon says. She also sends two GAs in a Spryte to replenish the Penguin Ranch fuel supply. The remaining two head out to Williams Field to re-flag a route on the ice shelf.

These operations GAs are not the only ones in town. But the work of several other GA's assigned is with designated departments in town, such as facilities maintenance and fuels department, is bit more specialized.

The nine operation GAs are the ones out shoveling snow, moving boxes, entering data and generally helping out all around McMurdo Station.

It doesn’t take a lot of training to be a GA, though they do go to happy camper and sea ice schools early in the season. But it does take a certain type of person.

Lyon picks her crew carefully from a pool of applicants that by far outnumbers the number of positions available. They're all seeking a job with adventure. "The variety is what attracts most people," Lyon said.

Most of the people she picks, Lyon said, are flexible and have a sense of humor as well as
a broad range of life experiences. This year’s GAs include a former Peace Corps volunteer,
a former tour director with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and a person
who worked with delinquent youth.

But there is one characteristic that pervades all else in the application process, Lyon said: "Somehow they’ve made it clear that they will do anything to get here."

This means Lyons doesn't have to sell the job; she even tries to discourage applicants. She starts an interview by telling them about the worst parts of the job. If they still sound positive, she tells them the good parts.

As the season progresses, work varies a bit, but not always enough. Sometimes GAs end up doing the same thing for several days. Though from the beginning they were told that this would almost certainly happen, it is still sometimes difficult.

When the job does change every day, on the other hand, there’s different challenge. "You don’t see the big picture," said GA Lynn Keating. A day-long task for a GA may be part of a month’s worth of effort for everyone else; having a sense of closure about a project is rare.

Lyons tries to mix up the tasks among the group a bit, to keep them interested in what’s going on, and to keep them learning about how the station operates. "My goal is that they’re as excited to work on January 20 as October 20," Lyon said.

She reminds them to be aware of where they are and how amazing it is. "When you’re shoveling, don’t forget to look up," Lyon said.

In addition to becoming well-rounded in operations, being a GA is a good way to make a good impression on people who will be hiring for next season. "It’s a great springboard," Lyon said.

All of last year’s McMurdo GAs came back for another season, whether for winter at Palmer or in town this season. Many more ex-GAs work all over town and throughout the Antarctic program.

"Everywhere you go, there’s former GAs," said GA Heather Reider.

From those former GAs and the quality of work of each year’s crew, the word is spreading
that GA labor is valuable, Lyon said. "People are starting to recognize that there’s an incredible amount of talent in this group," Lyon said.

Lyon’s combination of practicality and motivation works out well for her and for the GAs. Most of them are active most days, and they are able to work without much supervision. "They exceed my expectations," Lyon said.

And even outside of work the GAs stick together as a team. "A roomful of strangers become the best of friends in four months," Lyon said. In the morning, they trade jokes and stories,
as well as tips and thoughts about previous work or that day’s upcoming projects. At lunch, they rally around each other, asking, "How’s your day going?" and exchanging reports of how life and work are in different departments.

The bottom line for most of the GAs is that they’re here on the Ice and experiencing a range of ways to work and live. "If you’re going to work your butt off for not very much money, why not do it here?" Lyon said.

Sunday, November 26, 2000

Pinpoint precision: Geographic locators are accurate to within tenths of an inch

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Several scientists in the U.S. Antarctic Program use specific measurements and locations on the surface of the Earth as key elements in their research. They watch many processes, including
the movement of glaciers, growth or shrink rates of ice sheets and rock layers and the melting of patches of snow in the Dry Valleys.

These researchers use the Global Positioning System, originally created for combat use by the U.S. Defense Department, to locate themselves and their study areas very specifically. At McMurdo Station each summer are GPS experts who provide equipment and training for about 20 science groups on the continent.

“We’re supporting grantees who are using GPS for their field research,” said project leader Bjorn Johns, of the University NAVSTAR Consortium (UNAVCO), a group of 100 academic institutions, including the National Science Foundation, promoting the use of high-accuracy GPS for scientific research.

Many people on the Ice and in the U.S. have their own handheld GPS units, which cost around $200. “It’s become a national utility,” Johns said.

Commercial handhelds provide accuracy to within about fifteen feet of an actual location, Johns said. By contrast, the equipment Johns and his colleague Chuck Kurnik issue are accurate to within tenths of an inch, cost around $15,000 and involve a plattersize antenna and laptop computer-size receiving box.

GPS is based on a group of satellites orbiting Earth and several ground stations monitoring them. The satellites broadcast their position in space and the exact time from an on-board atomic
clock. By receiving the signals from several satellites, a GPS unit on the ground can calculate its location.

But that can be difficult at high latitudes because the satellites don’t pass directly overhead, which would give the best possible readings. “They’re all low on the horizon in the polar regions,” Johns said.

All of the positions calculated are relative to other, fixed, known locations. To be precise, measurements need to be compared very carefully with the exact trajectories of the satellites at the time of the reading.

“That typically means collecting and post-processing data,” Johns said. That process can take a couple of days, he said. Some groups need Johns and Kurnik to do GPS portion of their work, while other researchers need technical assistance or data-processing help.

Johns and Kurnik also install both permanent and temporary stationary GPS stations to monitor ongoing geologic processes and to improve accuracy of nearby readings.

This season, they put a station on Mount Erebus to watch how underground activity changes the volcano’s surface. “If there’s any inflation or deflation of the volcano relative to McMurdo we’ll see that,” Johns said. If anything significant happened on Erebus, or anywhere else with a permanent GPS monitoring station, the data would be valuable for scientists.

“When an event occurs, you’ve captured it, with pre- and post-event data,” Johns said.

Another important element is fixing the exact antenna position to the ground. If a measurement is accurate within fractions of an inch, a human error in antenna placement for observation could
appear to be a large fluctuation in surface movement.

To provide a stable platform, Johns and Kurnik sink a metal rod into the rock or ice and affix a leveling platform to the rod. The antenna screws onto the platform.

Each reading, then, is taken from the same location relative to the rod. If a location change is measured, it means the rod has moved, and therefore the rock or ice surrounding the rod has moved.

This type of measurement is possible around the world using base stations and satellite readings anywhere on the surface of the Earth. But Johns said Antarctica is where GPS gets used most heavily. He and Kurnik may support five science projects during the rest of the year, and more than 20 during the summer field season on the Ice.

The GPS work helps influence future research, Johns said. This season at Icestream C, a group wanted to drill an ice core in an area where the glacier isn’t moving very quickly. Because of GPS
surveying last year, they knew where one was.

GPS is also used to map the atmosphere. Since GPS uses radio waves, which behave differently as atmospheric conditions change, GPS readings at known locations can show variations in
the ionosphere and troposphere through changes in radio waves along different paths.

Johns and Kurnik don’t directly interact with the atmospheric mapping projects, which are not based in Antarctica, but help people use GPS in all kinds of ways. “Everyone has something they want measured,” Johns said.

Swedish Polar Ambassador visits Ross Island

Published in the Antarctic Sun

The New Zealand Antarctic Program played host to the Swedish polar ambassador, Eva Kettis, last week.

She had been in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, for a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and was invited to be a guest at Scott Base.

After several days on weather hold in Christchurch, Kettis arrived on the Ice for her second visit. Her first visit was to a site on the Antarctic Peninsula where a hut was built by an early Swedish Antarctic explorer, Otto Nordenskjold, in 1901.

Sweden, which signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1984, maintains two small summer-only camps in Queen Maud Land and cooperates with Finland and Norway in areas of logistics and operations.

“We have subscribed totally to the Antarctic Treaty goals,” Kettis said.

While she is the ambassador for both polar regions, Kettis said she concentrates most of her
effort on the Arctic. “That’s perhaps nearer to our heart,” Kettis said.

She works with the Arctic Council, a group that includes the eight countries that border the Arctic and several groups of Arctic indigenous people. “That is quite unusual for intergovernmental cooperation,” Kettis said.

The political issues, she said, are very different in the north and south polar regions. For example, since the Arctic is largely ocean, no country can make territorial claims. Research,
on the other hand, is similar in the two areas.

“The science has a clear bipolar aspect,” Kettis said. “I think it has not only polar aspects but global aspects.”

On her trip to the Ice, she visited Ross Island’s historic huts, various field camp locations around the Ross Sea and in the Dry Valleys, and visited McMurdo, where she was particularly
impressed by the mawsonii in the old aquarium.

“I never thought I would see a big toothfish,” Kettis said.

As well, she toured Scott Base and liked what she saw. “They are very well equipped and it
works very well,” Kettis said.

She was unable to leave on schedule because of the weather, which frustrated her a bit, but Kettis said she was glad to be able to see this part of “this huge and beautiful continent.”

Sunday, November 19, 2000

Mind is in Maine

Published in the Antarctic Sun

On the windowsill above Ted Dettmar’s desk sits a picture of him taken five years ago. He looks every bit an old-time Down-East farmer of Maine. His ballcap is pulled down over unruly hair, his long red beard hanging over a canvas jacket. His feet are sunk deep into a pair of rubber Wellington gumboots, and he sits atop a piece of farm machinery that has seen better days.

In the picture, Dettmar has one horse reined in very tightly and the other let all the way loose. That’s how he handles his world, letting things go along their own way and then taking charge at specific moments that make all the difference.

Dettmar, 36, grew up in suburban Arlington, Virginia, the youngest of six children in a military family. His family lived all over the world while they were growing up and have all settled near the home their parents retired to, the one in which Dettmar grew up.

It’s Ted who is now wandering the globe, with this picture and a very specific goal.

“I want to live as close to the land as possible,” Dettmar said, “to get to know every tree, every bush, the soil types, the rock types.”

Here in Antarctica, that may seem a very easy dream: No trees, no bushes, no soil. And there’s not all that much rock, either. But he’s talking about New England, and a vividly simple life on a

Dettmar knows it’s a long way from the Ice, where everything is imported by cargo plane or container ship from the rest of the world, where the landscape can and will kill.

“The irony is not lost on me,” he said.

Now known as one of McMurdo’s eminent historians of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, Dettmar didn’t know much about Antarctica until just a few years ago.

The first thing he read about the Ice was Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s book, The Worst Journey in the World.

“That’s the typical first book,” Dettmar said. Just as he finished that, he came across another book.

“Somebody handed me a copy of Endurance and it had the crew list,” he said. One of the names on that list was Thomas Crean, a name he recognized as having been part of Scott’s Terra Nova
expedition from 1910 to 1913.

“I found out there were these guys who were just indestructible, just made of stone,” Dettmar said. They just kept coming back to Antarctica on expeditions.

When he got to McMurdo as a GA in 1994, he took a tour of the Discovery hut, given by someone who didn’t know what he was talking about.

“The tour guide was abysmal. The guy knew nothing,” Dettmar said. A history major in college, Dettmar bristled.

“People deserve to know more. These are interesting stories,” Dettmar said. “I thought, ‘We need people who can bring these places alive.’ I said, ‘That’s going to be me.’”

After working in waste management and now for the Field Safety Training Program, Dettmar now shares with people not only the history but also the practical lessons learned by polar explorers.

Even so, he doesn’t claim to be following in the footsteps of early explorers like Scott and Amundsen.

“There’s no comparison,” Dettmar said. "Amundsen’s story is the story of what people can accomplish," he said, likening it to the construction of the George Washington Bridge over the
Hudson River.

“Scott’s and Shackleton’s stories are the story of what humans can endure,” he said. “Everything they did was a close call.”

That’s not how Dettmar likes to do things, though some might disagree.

“I do not consider myself to be adventurous in the least,” he said.

He has been doing search-and-rescue since his junior year in college, recovering light aircraft crashed in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, and lived for five winters in the Harvard Cabin in Huntington Ravine on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

With that experience, Dettmar got out into the deep field quite a bit as a GA, and was a rare first-year selection for the secondary SAR team. He’s been on the primary SAR team since his second year.

Now he’s the lead field safety instructor, in training his coworkers to do their jobs as best they can. He still takes the lead in sea ice training, which is his specialty, and keeps watch while
the rest of the instructors teach and learn and do.

“I think I can do it as long as I’ve got people underneath me who are more qualified than I am,” Dettmar said.

As much as the job, he really likes being here and being part of history.

When he leaves for the last time, he said, he expects he’ll be bawling. “I’m always ready to come back down here.”

Diving for science

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Most scientists in the U.S. Antarctic Program study things on or above the ground. Some even explore the sky or faraway galaxies. But a select few regularly descend into Antarctic waters to collect material and information for their research.

On average, 20 divers make 600 dives a year in McMurdo Sound, the Dry Valleys, near Palmer Station and based from the program’s two research vessels, said scientific diving coordinator Rob Robbins.

The highest number of dives recorded in any one year was 908 in 1984, Robbins said. The average dive lasts 40 minutes, though some have gone longer than 90 minutes. The water in McMurdo Sound is 28.5 F (-2C), and near Palmer it’s only slightly warmer, at
30 F (-1C).

This summer season, six research groups, five based at McMurdo and one at Palmer, will include16 divers. The GLOBEC survey of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, based on the Laurence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessels, will have two groups diving in March.

Less commonly, Robbins will dive to support specific projects that don’t have their own divers.

“Most groups bring down whatever dive labor they require,” Robbins said.

Scientists dive for many reasons, including photographing marine life, collecting specimens for lab work and maintaining underwater equipment.

“The facilities here are fabulous for diving,” said John Heine, the U.S. Antarctic Program’s advisor for research diving. “The diving conditions are really great. The support from Rob is really what makes it happen.”

One reason to dive in McMurdo Sound is that the low water temperature attracts deepsea wildlife to shallow water with little light filtering through the sea ice.

“The sound is fairly interesting,” Robbins said. “You see animals in the sound you would normally see in deep water, but at diveable depths.”

The depth at which wildlife are observable is important, because diving deeper than 130 feet and for extended periods is not allowed for scientific research. Deep diving is more complex and dangerous, even in warmer waters. In Antarctica, the margin of error is slimmer, so divers take more precautions.

“ We don’t allow decompression diving,” Robbins said.

That’s when a diver needs to pause on the way back up to the surface to adjust to the difference
in pressure.

McMurdo Station has a recompression chamber, originally installed in 1984 to comply with federal safety regulations for construction diving. After the construction finished, Robbins
said, station management decided to keep the chamber in case of dive accidents.

Since then, nine people have needed treatment. Four were aviators who had decompression
problems after accidents in which their airplanes depressurized at altitude. The other five patients were divers.

“Every one was a complete resolution,” Robbins said.

Robbins runs the recompression chamber with a volunteer crew of six, as well as a doctor
and a medical technician from the medical department on station.

Palmer Station has no chamber, though there is one at the nearby British base, Rothera, as well as in Punta Arenas, Chile.

Robbins works hard, though, to avoid accidents, and gives each dive group a firstaid kit and an oxygen kit.

“ We provide a lot of safety equipment,” he said.

He also ensures that science divers know how to move around underwater while wearing a dry suit, which keeps them warmer than a wetsuit would.

“It’s really the dry suit that’s different from most diving,” Robbins said.

A dry suit traps a lot more air than a standard buoyancy control device. Therefore, as
the divers change depth, their buoyancy changes rapidly.

Each season, each diver has to do a refresher or orientation dive to qualify for Antarctic diving, because some of the things are different here. For example, most underice diving courses teach divers to use tethers.

But here, the water is so clear, Robbins said, that they don’t need tethers if they appropriately
mark the holes.

“Here the visibility’s good. When visibility drops we use the tethers,” Robbins said.

There are two ways to breathe under water. If divers use scuba tanks, at least two divers must be in the water, to help each other in the event of an accident.

When a diver is breathing from a surface supply of air, the system not only permits twoway
communication between the diver and someone on the surface, but a rescuer can follow the air hose from the surface to a diver in distress. So a standby diver is still present, suited up and ready to swim, but is on the surface.

With only one diver using air at a time, they can take turns diving and being the standby diver for each other, accomplishing more in one outing.

“ You can do a lot more work,” Robbins said.

Also with surface supply, a diver is more comfortable in the water, Robbins said.

“It’s quite a bit warmer,” he said. “Your face is covered.”

Robbins said he would like to be doing more commercial construction diving, but he’s pretty happy with the science support end of things as well.

“This is a lot more scenic,” he said. “I’ve potentially got the best job in the program.”

Solar flare shuts down continental communications

Published in the Antarctic Sun

MacOps bills itself as the Voice of Antarctica. The radio operators there talk to people all over the continent and elsewhere around the world on high-frequency and very high-frequency radios.

Thursday, just before lunch, the continent got a sore throat.

All the HF radios went quiet, broadcasting white noise instead of voices from all over.

“It was pretty eerie,” said Paula Elliott of MacRelay, which also monitors all radio frequencies.

A solar flare had sent a mass of charged particles out from the sun into the Earth’s atmosphere. Those charged particles had disrupted the ionosphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that
reflects HF radio waves, preventing transmission of HF waves around the globe.

The radiation, the fourth largest storm of its type since 1976, caused some rearrangement
of communications and transport schedules on the continent.

“Camps were unable to check in,” Elliott said. “People were technically overdue for their
check-ins, though we knew why.”

If camps miss their check-ins under normal circumstances, rescue missions are launched. This
time, though, radio operators waited and worked around the situation.

They had lost contact with South Pole Station, Byrd Surface Camp, Siple Dome, Byrd Glacier, as well as the Olympus Range and Lake Vida, which are in VHF “dead spots” in the Dry Valleys.

Communications with the Pole were possible on the Internet during the Pole’s satellite window. The people at Vida had to climb a hill to hit a VHF repeater.

“We didn’t expect it to be as big as it was,” said MacOps coordinator Shelly DeNike.

The camp at Icestream C was put in during the communications blackout.

Normally, an airplane can’t leave a camp put-in until the camp radios MacOps on HF. This time, though, the camp was only able to talk to the plane on the ground. The solar flare’s energy prevented them from talking farther away.

Other than that small glitch, everything was fine.

“We’ve been pretty much prepared for this to happen,” DeNike said.

The larger field camps have emergency beacons they can set off if all else fails, just like if an aircraft crashes or a boat is in distress at sea. Had anything truly disastrous happened, they could have activated the beacon.

After two days without contact from Byrd Surface Camp, an airplane went out of its way to fly over it to make contact. Pilots helped by contacting camps along their flight routes.

“When they would fly in the vicinity of field camps they would call them,” DeNike

Camp managers knew this might be a problem. Before going into the field, they had been briefed that HF problems might occur in this year of high solar activity.

In terms of air traffic control, everything also went smoothly with what air traffic manager Dusty Barrett called “a little bit of creative scheduling.”

Before planes left McMurdo, controllers gave pilots instructions for flying both to and from the Pole; normally they clear flights for only one direction at a time. MacCenter, the hub of air traffic control at McMurdo was only able to talk to the planes while they were within line-of-sight.

In a contingency set up last year, they had two controllers in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The controllers in McMurdo talked over the phone to Christchurch, which relayed messages over a satellite communication link to the planes.

“Once the HF went down we had to be a little bit creative,” Barrett said.

They also used Iridium satellite phones, Barrett said. Pilots continued to use HF, sending their position reports “in the blind,” without knowing if they were received, in the hope that MacCenter could hear them.

“Sometimes you can receive but you can’t transmit,” Barrett said.

This is the second full blackout since Winfly, but there have been partial blackouts where only lower frequencies were cut off.

This type of event has happened in the past, but only for 24 to 48 hours, Elliott said. This time it was Saturday evening before things came back, a shutdown of nearly 60 hours.

“We’ve seen a lot more activity than we had last year,” Elliott said.

It may have to do with a peak in the 11-year cycle of solar activity. Sometimes these effects from flares are predictable, and this time there was some warning. But the loss of HF communications was rapid.

“It happened right away,” DeNike said.

Things are back to normal now, Elliott said, but it could happen again anytime, and without a lot of warning.

“They hit without much notice,” she said.

Exploring the plateau

Published in the Antarctic Sun

The U.S. segment of the International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition left Thursday for Byrd Surface Camp to begin this season’s traverse of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

The project is a multi-national effort in which the U.S. component this year involves 10 research institutions and five areas of study: meteorology, surface glaciology, geophysics, remote sensing and ice coring.

“It’s five coordinated disciplines,” said Paul Mayewski, coordinator of the U.S. traverse group.

Last year was the first of this four-year project that will end at the Pole in 2003. The information the team collected last year is already helping improve scientists’ understanding of the world’s climate.

The data is specific to the region of West Antarctica where the traverse will occur, but it shows effects of regional and even global weather and climate systems.

“What we’re looking for isn’t just an understanding of Antarctica,” Mayewski said.

By looking at snow layers in Antarctica ice sheets revealing the last 200 to 500 years of the Earth’s climatic history, ITASE groups across the continent have already learned about the
relationship of certain Antarctic weather patterns to large-scale climate phenomena like El Niño.

“We already have seen some very interesting results,” Mayewski said.

The team is also comparing the results from their work in the Antarctic to similar work in the North Atlantic, another powerful element in the engine of Earth’s weather. While small changes are localized, Mayewski said, larger alterations are visible in ice cores from both ends of the globe.

This field season, the traverse team will cover 1,200 kilometers in a triangular path starting and ending at Byrd Surface Camp. During the drive, they will use downward-looking radar to map the strata in the ice beneath the route. They will also have a shorter range crevasse detector radar unit operating to keep the vehicles and researchers safe out on the plateau.

At roughly 100-kilometer intervals, they will stop for a few days to drill a 200-meter ice core. The core itself and the hole it leaves show the chemical and physical properties of the layers of

They will identify specific layers in the cores that can be cross-referenced to the radar data, allowing them to follow snow layers for hundreds of miles.

“It’s almost like a three-dimensional ice core,” Mayewski said.

The data they get from the cores and from the radar shows indicators of the extent of the sea ice, activity of marine life and duration of polar stratospheric clouds in recent centuries, Mayewski said.

This year the team will be able to haul more equipment and better shelters, because they have a Challenger instead of one of the two Tucker Sno-Cats they used last year. The other Sno-Cat will
continue the journey this season.

As the project progresses, Mayewski said, the setup and takedown at either end of the traverse will become more streamlined, as vehicles and supplies are left to spend the winter on the plateau.

“We should be able to go in with a very small amount of C-130 support,” Mayewski said. This is a big efficiency advantage, he said, as compared with individual field camps.

“There are 10 institutions that can potentially be served by two to three flights in and two to three flights out,” Mayewski said, adding that fuel airdrops will also be part of the support of
the field traverses. This year they expect to use seven flights in and four flights out.

To choose its exact route, the team uses satellite photos to avoid crevassed areas and other potentially problematic sites. But they also confirm satellite pictures by reporting on surface conditions and comparing that information to the pictures taken from space.

In addition to their own work and contributions to wider projects like the International Geosphere and Biosphere Project, one of this year’s shallow cores is at a possible deep-core site like the one at Siple Dome.

“This is a return of the 1960s style of science in this region, with 21st century technology,” Mayewski said.

Sunday, November 12, 2000

What's in a name? The seventh continent bears the names of heroic explorers and heavy equipment operators alike

Published in the Antarctic Sun

When explorers first set eyes on Antarctica, “Terra Incognita” wasn’t just an unknown land,
it was an unnamed land, too.

They soon took care of that, naming prominent geographic features after themselves, their ships and those who gave them financial backing.

In 1841 Capt. James Clark Ross named the Ross Ice Shelf in his own honor; he named mounts Erebus and Terror for his ships. Capt. Robert Scott, 60 years later, named Cape Armitage for his second-in-command and Minna Bluff for the wife of Sir Clements Markham, one of Scott’s primary sponsors.

But Antarctica is a big place. There are still a lot of points, bluffs, peaks, glaciers, nunataks and other formations that need labeling. Since 1947, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and its Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names have handled that task.

To decide on designations names are first categorized as personal or non-personal.

The latter include commemoration of events (for instance, Jubilee Peak), ships (Glacier Bight), Antarctic-related organizations (USARP Mountains) and descriptions of features (Turtle Rock).

People’s names are, of course, also used.

They are assigned based on the level of a person’s contribution to Antarctic research or history, and on the type of geographic feature.

First-order features are large, such as regions of land, large glaciers, ice shelves and large
mountain ranges. They are named after leaders of major expeditions, towering figures in Antarctic history and donors to Antarctic research.

Second-order features include peninsulas, significant mountains, prominent coastal features and islands. They are named for people who have played significant but lesser roles.

Third-order features include nunataks, cliffs, rocks and anchorages. They are named for people who have supported Antarctic endeavors.

Various people in the U.S. Antarctic Program have been immortalized on the Ice, from top dogs at the National Science Foundation to long-term program employees (see sidebar). NSF director Rita Colwell was once an Antarctic field researcher; a mountain now bears her name. NSF representative Dave Bresnahan and his boss Erick Chiang both have mountains named for them.

Chuck Gallagher served in the U.S. Naval Support Force, Antarctica and then worked for Antarctic Support Associates before dying at McMurdo Station on May 1, 1997. A ridge bears his name.

In alphabetical order, here are some Antarctic geographic features named after some members
of the U.S. Antarctic Program who will be on the continent this season. Their accomplishments are listed in brief. For a complete list and searchable database, visit the U.S. Geological Survey’s Antarctic names web site at

Ainley Peak is named for David Ainley, penguin and skua researcher.
Alcorta Rocks is a nunatak named for Jesse Alcorta, hazardous waste specialist
and cryogenic technician.
DeVries Glacier is named for Art DeVries, long-time biologist at McMurdo Station.
Guthridge Nunataks are named after Guy Guthridge, director of polar information
services for the NSF and chair of the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names.
Joyce Peak is named for Karen Joyce, who has worked in computer science support for 10 years.
Kennedy Ridge is a ridge named for Nadene Kennedy, NSF’s polar coordination specialist.
Kottmeier Mesa is named after Steve Kottmeier, who’s been a scientist and administrator with the program since 1988.
Krall Crags is a pair of summits named for Sarah Krall, who has worked in the program for over 10 years.
Kyle Hills is a group of hills on Ross Island named for Phil Kyle, who has studied Mount Erebus for 28 years.
Lettau Peak is named for Bernhard Lettau, ocean and climate sciences program manager at the Office of Polar Programs.
Mount Bresnahan is named for Dave Bresnahan, current NSF representative at McMurdo Station.
Mount Chiang is a mountain named after Erick Chiang, manager of operations for polar programs.
Mount Melton is a peak named for Terry Melton, who has worked as an engineer and manager at Palmer and McMurdo stations since 1981.
Palais Glacier is a glacier named after Julie Palais, field researcher in Antarctica and NSF polar glaciology program manager. Palais Bluff also bears her name.
Robbins Hill is named for Rob Robbins, science diving coordinator and 22-year program veteran.
Scanniello Peak is a peak named after Jeff Scanniello, surveyor at McMurdo and South Pole stations.
Uberuaga Island gets its name from Jules Uberuaga, long-time equipment operator.

A long journey for three little planes

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Nine people and three small planes recently arrived at McMurdo Station after a journey of over 11,000 miles (17,700 km) from Canada to spend four months flying in the Antarctic.

Each year, three de Havilland Twin Otter airplanes owned and operated by Kenn Borek Air travel from the company’s base in Calgary, Alberta, through North and South America and across Antarctica to support the U.S. and Italian programs on the Ice.

This year the planes left Calgary on Oct. 23 and flew to Boise, Idaho, where two were inspected before continuing on to Houston, Texas, where they spent the night before flying to Grand Cayman Island for the second night of the journey. The trip affords them a luxury they don’t have in Antarctica.

“Every night we go out for dinner and relax,” said Kenn Borek’s chief Antarctic pilot Sean Loutitt.

Leaving Grand Cayman, they flew the three planes over Panama and on past the Equator to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Though government procedures in that area of the world can be difficult to deal with, three similarly-painted planes get friendly attention.

“They’re pretty smooth for us,” Loutitt said, though he noted that Ecuadorian officials inspect the planes carefully with drug dogs.

After a night in Ecuador, they leave the next morning for Arica, Chile, just over the border from Peru.

“We don’t land in Peru,” Loutitt said. “It’s hard to get landing permits.”

But they do just fine in Chile, with help from a few locals, including an air traffic controller who assists with paperwork.

“We seem to have built a good network of friends in Chile,” Loutitt said.

After a night in Arica, they normally fly halfway down the length of Chile to Puerto Montt.

This year the pilots were in a bit of a hurry to make it to McMurdo as soon as possible to start work. They continued to Punta Arenas, an extra 800 miles (1,200 km).

In Punta Arenas, they changed into their cold-weather clothes. They learned the weather was bad at Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey base on Adelaide Island, their next stop.

After a day’s layover, strong headwinds made what is normally a six-hour flight take eight hours. The winds, Loutitt said, included a 50 mph (80 kph) direct headwind, and crosswind gusts of over 80 mph (129 kph).

The gravel runway at Rothera is normally covered with snow in October, but this year it was not. Instead of just changing landing gear from wheels to skis on the snow-covered gravel runway, they had to shuttle planes one by one to a glacier runway for the conversion.

“Nine of us were working on this for 12 hours,” Loutitt said.

After Rothera, the usual flight path calls for the planes to refuel at Patriot Hills before continuing to the South Pole. This year, though, two of the three went directly to the Pole, while one
stopped at Patriot Hills to refuel and check the fuel cache the U.S. Antarctic Program maintains there.

All three made it to the Pole that day, Nov. 1, but then the weather came in.

“The next morning we woke up and couldn’t even see the airplanes,” Loutitt said.

Two days later the fliers were able to make it to McMurdo to begin the season’s work, which will include flying over 100 hours per month, supporting deep-field camps and aerial surveying
projects. One plane continued north to the Italian station at Terra Nova Bay.

At the end of the season, the planes will fly back to Canada again to work during the boreal summer before coming back down again next year.

“It’s a trek,” Loutitt said. “It’s actually kind of fun.”

Sunday, November 5, 2000

Cracking up: Sea ice under stress

Published in the Antarctic Sun

It’s strong enough to land planes on, too thick for a small drill to get through and cracks under pressure.

Sea ice is vital to the early-season research based at McMurdo Station.

Scientists base themselves on the frozen ocean to study the marine world. And when it breaks up and blows north, it leaves a spectacular expanse of open water.

David Cole and John Dempsey have forged a partnership out of the study of fracture of sea ice. Their work has involved lab work and field research in Alaska and now Antarctica.

Cole, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab, and Dempsey, from Clarkson University, are studying how ice behaves when under stress, in the breaking process.

Their project has faced some difficulty this year. The sea ice is thicker than usual, which is hard on their equipment.

They were expecting to find some ice as thin as 36 inches, and have equipment that can cut ice up to 84 inches, though very slowly. The thinnest they’ve found is 45 inches, with most of the ice 55 to 60 inches thick.

The amount of time required to cut through this thickness of ice is more than the team has.

“Because of ice thickness we can’t do the research we proposed,” Dempsey said. “We probably need a Ditch Witch,” a trenching machine for cutting through the ice faster.

Right now it takes too long to cut blocks the size they need. The biggest piece they’ve been able to study was three meters square. They would like to be studying deformation and fracture of blocks of sea ice up to 30 meters on a side, 100 times larger than they can get.

“The underlying theme of our research is to look at scale,” Dempsey said. Without large blocks of ice to study, they can’t get the data they would like.

Cole’s part of the study happens first. He wants to know how ice deforms when under stress. His work stops when the ice actually cracks, but the information he gathers helps Dempsey watch the right area of a floe when they do crack it.

“It starts with the microstructure,” Cole said.

The way ice crystals form and align themselves as the ocean freezes makes a difference in how the ice will crack, even months later. When there is a small current, ice crystals line up in one general direction.

That, in turn, makes the ice relatively weak in one direction, so it tends to crack for long distances in straight lines, Cole said.

“The properties are different depending on the direction,” Cole said. “It’s not just a homogeneous material.”

Some things are very different in the field from in the lab. For example, brine drains out of the ice when it’s brought into the lab, which changes the characteristics of the ice.

They have a camp about three miles (five km) from the ice edge, on fast ice. Their cutting area is a short distance away, but on much thinner, floating ice.

Cole and Dempsey and their two students mark out an area in which they want to work. They cut a block free of the ice sheet and then cut a starter crack, into which they insert a balloon-like loading device.

This “flat jack” has a computer-controlled inflation valve, which lets the team vary the pressure in the crack. The computer is set to stress the block of ice until they are ready to break it.

“We don’t want to accidentally break it,” Cole said.

As the ice deforms, they monitor it for stresses and tensions, as well as how it deforms in response to the pressure on the crack. Some of these processes, Cole said, vary with the size of the piece of ice, while others do not.

Eventually, though, they are ready to break the floe.

Ice breaking

“Ice fracture is a very complicated process,” Dempsey said.

They have learned that at the tip of a crack that is about to break further, a series of micro-cracks form. They have equipment listening for the noise of those tiny cracks, to warn them before the block actually breaks.

Cole always looks carefully at the structure of the ice as well as these micro-cracks, to estimate where the block will break.

“It’s nice to have nature verify your direction,” Cole said. But he’s never sure if he’ll be right until the chunk of ice opens up entirely,

“Until you come down and try to do some tests you don’t know,” Dempsey said. “There are so many different types of ice.”

The ice thickness affects the breakup, but the more significant factor is the nature of the ice itself, which depends on how old the ice is, how it formed, local landforms and other environmental factors.

“We’re getting different ice wherever we move,” Dempsey said.

The models Dempsey and Cole have made about the behavior of ice under tension are based on smaller, more homogeneous sections of ice. They are checking to see how well those models predict the behavior of the ice they find in McMurdo Sound, and in larger sections.

They’ve wrapped up for this season, but are ready to come back and keep working, perhaps with better equipment and ice conditions.

“We have two field seasons,” Cole said.

Sunday, October 29, 2000

Playhouse yields to communications building

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Construction crews this week tore down the McMurdo Station playhouse, also known as
Building 64, with a little help from the wind in Thursday’s storm.

Built in 1958, it was one of the original station buildings. It was the same age as the gym, the bowling alley/ceramics room and cargo building 73. The Mechanical Equipment Center, building 58, was also built that year.

The metal Quonset hut known as the Playhouse was used for many things during its life.

It was used as a steel shop during the construction of the Crary Lab, a warehouse for the station store, winter storage for heavy equipment, and a home to the general field assistants in the 1980s, McMurdo operations manager Bill Haals said.

He also remembers when the building was shortened by about 15 feet, resulting in an informal name change for Building 64.

“It was called ‘Building 63 and fifteen-sixteenths,’” Haals said.

The playhouse was also used as a temporary heavy shop in 1982-83 after fire destroyed the regular heavy shop.

“It’s been used for a lot of different things,” said McMurdo construction coordinator Woody Haywood.

Now, however, the area will be used to build a communications center, consolidating Internet, telephone and satellite operations. Those facilities are now spread throughout town.

“We’re creating a new building that will be the hub of communications at McMurdo,” Haywood said.

Construction on the new building will begin during the winter. Until then, the workers will clear the site and prepare it for new construction.

The workers, Haywood said, haven’t found any material of historical significance, though he said they might when they tear up the floor later in the season. He said the crew would help preserve anything they find.

“When we do find some of that old stuff we just throw it in the bars so people can look at it,” Haywood said.

The workers are on the South Pole construction crew, working while they’re in town, before heading to the Pole. When they go, Haywood said, McMurdo construction workers will complete the project.

Waste not wanted

Published in the Antarctic Sun

McMurdo Station is the largest human settlement on the continent of Antarctica. More than
1,000 people will call it home this summer.

It’s an around-the-clock operation that generates sewage 24 hours a day. That waste is piped into the ocean less than 200 feet from the shoreline.

Two researchers are studying the impact the sewage outflow has on the McMurdo Sound ecosystem and on the quality of drinking water at the station.

John Lisle and Jim Smith are examining samples of ocean-floor sediment, the seawater, Weddell seal feces and McMurdo’s drinking water for evidence of human bacteria and viruses.

The first two are primary sources for a baseline indicator of how much pollution the sewage is introducing into the slow-moving ocean off McMurdo Station.

Seal feces help show the degree to which human bacteria have become part of the ecosystem, possibly causing disease in the seal population.

The drinking water studies are the first to test for viruses in McMurdo’s fresh water supply. The station’s water is regularly tested for bacteria and other contaminants, including lead.

The three major indicators the pair are looking at are fecal coliform bacteria, a common indicator of water quality used in judging safety of beaches and shellfish, clostridium perfringens, a bacterium associated with human sewage, and human enterovirus, which is found in human

Seal exposure
Lisle and Smith will compare the genetic material in bacteria in sewage and in similar bacteria in seal feces to see if the human bacteria are exchanging genetic information with bacteria in seals.

“Nobody knows if seals normally have clostridia,” Lisle said. He said they are also trying to find some seals that would not have been exposed to human waste, to give them a baseline level of clostridium bacteria in seal feces.

They hope to learn whether human diseases are being transmitted to the seals.

Two teams of researchers studying Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound are helping the pair by collecting samples of seal feces.

Outfall sampling
Science support diver Rob Robbins is collecting samples of water and the ocean floor around the sewage outfall.

Previous work has shown clostridia in sediment layers containing fecal coliform, and defined the physical extent of the pollution from the sewage outfall.

One of the problems was the concentration of waste in a location where the water doesn’t do much to dilute it.

“There aren’t very high current speeds here , ’’Smith said.

The end of the pipe, Robbins said, is 180 feet offshore in an area where the bottom is 60 feet deep. The pipe is raised four feet off the sea floor.

Since the new Crary aquarium was built five years ago, it flushes 250 gallons of cold seawater through the system each minute, Robbins said.

It used to be that the pile would grow over the course of a season to the height of the pipe. Now, Robbins said, with the increased flow from the aquarium in Crary, the waste has spread more thinly over a large area.

“Now it’s this huge field of effluent. It’s mostly poop out there,” Robbins said.

“Most of the pieces are about as big as your fingernail.”

Robbins talked about the spiny sea urchins that like to try to camouflage themselves with debris from the ocean floor.

Normally, they use other animals or bits of coral or other normal sea-floor debris. Near the outfall, though, Robbins said, “You see them with pretty interesting things.”

“I like diving at the outfall,” Robbins said. “You see things you’d never see anywhere else.”

Drinking water quality
The sewage plume extends beyond the intake for McMurdo’s water supply, but this has not been a problem in the past.

“The drinking water quality’s always been fine,” Smith said. But they are testing the water in a new way.

“This is the first time that viruses have been looked at,” Lisle said.

Both are clear, though, about the outfall’s role in transmitting contagious disease on the station.

“You can’t get the Crud from the sewer,” Smith said.

The samples of drinking water will be sent to the University of Arizona for analysis of viral presence; the results will not be available until the scientists return home.

Sewage treatment
“With the Antarctic Treaty, all the treaty signers are held to various standards for pollution and waste,” Smith said.

Some Antarctic bases do treat their waste already, including an Australian base, Smith said. New Zealand is planning to build a sewage treatment plant at Scott Base. McMurdo’s current macerator system meets the treaty requirements.

“Doing sewage treatment down here is a real challenge,” Smith said. Other places, he said, use big lagoons or oxidation ponds.

“ You can’t have that here. It’d just freeze solid,” he said.

Blasting began last week for McMurdo’s new sewage treatment plant, which will be running in 2003, said NSF facilities manager Frank Brier. The sludge from the plant, Brier said, will be sent back to the U.S. for disposal. The water leaving the plant will be treated to kill viruses and bacteria to prevent further pollution of the ocean.

“What is discharged (from the plant) is not drinkable but it’s clean,” Brier said.

Sunday, October 22, 2000

Science roundup

Published in the Antarctic Sun

As summer returns to Antarctica, scientists and science support staff around the continent gear up for the prime research season. On the U.S. research vessels Laurence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer and at McMurdo, South Pole and Palmer stations, over 600 researchers will work on over 130 separate science projects. Here are some of the highlights of the upcoming science season:

The International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition will continue its journeys in East Antarctica, looking at shallow ice cores, showing climatic data from the past 200 years or so. (Corrected: West Antarctica.) Most global climatic data shows general trends of warming and cooling through Earth’s history, according to Bernie Lettau, the NSF science representative at
McMurdo Station. But climate also includes smaller areas. Global fluctuation is punctuated by more localized changes.
“There still have to be regional differences,” Lettau said. ITASE will continue to look at the actual data for the recent history of Antarctica.

The Support Office for Aerogeophysical Research will fly over the area of Lake Vostok and Russia’s Vostok Station to study the area more closely. The information will be used in preparations for further study of Lake Vostok.
“It’s so they can make some educated decisions about what to do,” said Crary Lab supervisor Robbie Score.

The Crud
John Lyle is studying the McMurdo Crud, the illness that can strike McMurdo residents each season. The viruses survive in the air as well as in the sewage outfall into McMurdo Sound. They are not native to the area, and so they affect the water quality and the wildlife around the station.
“What they’re trying to do is see how our viruses influence the indigenous populations,” Score said.

Sea ice
John Dempsey of Clarkson University is studying the structure of sea ice, including how it forms and how it breaks up. The group is based near the edge of the fast ice of McMurdo Sound.
“They’re cutting a floe out and they’re going to start a crack and put weights on either side,” Score said.

Decoding ice cores
A team at South Pole Station is looking at how atmospheric particles end up in icecore sediments. Interpreting ice cores, Lettau said, requires an understanding of how the layers form. The team, led by Doug Davis of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is specifically targeting sulfur chemistry because of the significance of sulfur deposits in ice.
“Sulfates in ice are a primary proxy for reconstructing the climatic history from the core,” Lettau said.

The Southern Ocean Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics study group will spend their first summer looking at krill as part of a summer-winter-summer set of cruises to look at the basic element of the Antarctic food chain.
“It is intended to look at the health of these various niches in the ocean ecosystem,” Lettau said. “What do krill eat when they’re under the ice in winter? Are they happy there?”

Scott Base
Antarctica New Zealand are supporting several projects this summer season, including a study of methods of preserving the historic huts on Hut Point, Cape Evans and Cape Royds. Also this season, Scott Base will see a series of interviews designed to compare people’s expectations
about Antarctica and their actual perceptions upon arrival, several ecological and environmental studies and a study of Adélie penguin populations at capes Crozier, Royds and Bird, which is one of several collaborative efforts between U.S. and New Zealand scientists. The equipment
used in the Cape Roberts drilling project, which was stored on Cape Roberts over the winter, will be returned to Scott Base this season.

Galley's gone... It’s now called the “dining facility.” More than the name has changed.

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Dining workers are experimenting on McMurdo Station residents. With the opening of the new dining facility in Building 155, food service staff have been trying out new configurations of equipment and different traffic flows.

The new space opened in mid-August, just before Winfly, and eaters and servers have both shared confusion at its use, said food services manager Lester Bracey.

“Initially we didn’t know what everything was supposed to do,” he said.

Some of the kiosks on which food is served can be rearranged, which allows for flexibility. The new structure, though, is designed to be less of a cafeteria line and more like a food court.

“It’s supposed to scatter people around,” Bracey said. “You’re just supposed to move in and out.”

With fewer bays, the kitchen staff can spend more time preparing food.

“They’re actually able to focus on a better-quality product for fewer slots,” Bracey said.

Not all of the food-serving areas are open yet. With new staff and a new facility, they’re
moving slowly to be sure things run smoothly, said Bracey. “Over Winfly we moved
things around a lot.”

But some things are not working out so well, such as the dish-return area.

“We’ve got a bit of a traffic jam,” he said.

However, people are responding to that by staggering their arrival times for meals and
leaving earlier to get to work on time.

There was no logjam when it came to construction.

Things went very well, said winter construction and maintenance manager Mike Kelly.

The first task was to open up the space. “The first month was almost completely
tearing things out,” Kelly said.

He said new features of the dining area include ventilation equipment that exchanges
the entire volume of the room 42 times each hour, skylights with motorized shades that can allow light in or seal it out, and radiant, under-floor heating, which uses the same glycol-
based waste-heat recovery system as the rest of the building.

The construction crew numbered anywhere between 15 and 25 people, Kelly said.

But even with all the demands of the job, Kelly said they only had to work one Sunday of overtime to finish the work on schedule.

Several people, Kelly said, were truly crucial to the success of the construction, which is the first major winter project completed on time in several years. Kelly credited electrician Dale Role, plumber Paul Rogers, metal-worker Fred Cunningham, and Ken Robinson and his crew of sheetrockers.

“We were lucky to get people who can do this quality of work,” he said.

Kelly also gave credit to Vince Scopa, who coordinated the project. Scopa, Kelly said, became known as a hard-driving boss, but one the crew wanted to work with.

“They jokingly called this (building) ‘Cellblock 155.’ But they all wanted to work in Cellblock 155,” Kelly said.

With 358 seats, the new facility holds 60 more seats than the old galley.

Some things have been left to be finished this summer season. For example, there will be clear glass blocks placed in the railings to better separate the sections of the dining space.

Sunday, February 6, 2000

Crevasse rescue on ice shelf

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Thursday night a New Zealander and three Americans had a brush with death. While walking between the road to Williams Field and the road to Silver City, on the Ross Ice Shelf near Scott Base, the group went off a flagged route, unknowingly entering a crevasse field.

The New Zealand woman fell through a slot, ending up 20 feet below the surface in a fairly narrow crevasse, said Ted Dettmar, of the search and rescue team, who was one of the first rescuers on the scene.

She was not complaining of any specific injuries, Dettmar said, so he and other members of the SAR team set up a rope to pull her up. Units responding were one of the fire department’s ambulances, both SAR team Hagglunds tracked vehicles, and two New Zealanders in their
tracked truck.

“We had everything we needed for a full-on crevasse rescue,” Dettmar said.

But because the crevasse was not very wide or deep, four rescuers were able to get a rope around the woman and pull her to the surface without much trouble.

“She was shaken, a little sore, and upset,” Dettmar said. Aside from being cold, she was uninjured.

The team escorted her to the ambulance, which took the patient and another member of her party back to McMurdo. The other two returned to town with the SAR team.

The following day, a team went out to examine the area, Dettmar said. They found a large crevasse field very close to existing flagged routes, including one slot several feet on from where the fall occurred, which was much wider and deeper.

The inspection also revealed foot tracks which did not belong to the group who suffered the accident, or to their rescuers. One set of tracks went over a crevasse over two feet wide, Dettmar said.

Dettmar stressed that the flagged routes are the only safe paths for foot or vehicle traffic on the ice shelf. “You get off the flags and you’re on your own,” he said, noting that there are crevasses on the flagged routes, too, but they are monitored and either filled or bridged to make safe crossings.

To perform the rescue Thursday night, Dettmar said, several people and vehicles had to drive into a very dangerous area. After the rescue, the team marked their paths with crossed black flags to indicate that they are not safe to travel on.

“Just because there are other footprints or vehicle tracks, off the flagged route, doesn’t mean it’s safe,” he said.

A frozen melting pot: The world comes together in Antarctica

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Antarctica is the second-smallest continent, home to over 100 research stations run by 29 countries. Here is a brief look at the activities of the other nations conducting research in Antarctica.

Argentina is operating 12 stations, six year-round, and six summer-only. Its program began in 1904, when a remote weather station was installed on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys. Argentina participates in a number of cooperative efforts with Antarctic Treaty members and consultative parties, including U.S. institutions.

Australia has four major bases in Antarctica. The Australian program started in 1947, with the first Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. The program involves about 400
people each year, including 250 researchers. Wintering teams number 15 to 20 per
Annual budget: $46 million

Belgium is not currently operating any permanent stations or bases. The country is a founding member of the Antarctic Treaty. Its scientific research program began in 1985, and has consisted of a series of three-year studies by university-based scientists.

Brazil operates one research station, Ferraz, on King George Island.

Bulgaria operates one research station, St. Kliment Ochridski, on Livingston Island. The first Bulgarian to visit the Antarctic went with the 13th Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1967-1969. Since then, several scientists have traveled to Antarctica with the British, Soviet and Spanish programs. An ice-core drilling project is in development, as are improvements to the base infrastructure.

Canada is not operating any bases. In 1993 the Canadian Antarctic Research Program began to expand Canadian polar studies to the southern hemisphere. Canada publishes a newsletter
on Antarctic research and maintains a database of individuals and organizations interested in Canadian Antarctic work. One goal of the Canadian program is to exchange foreign access to Canadian research sites in the Arctic for Canadian access to other countries’ sites in Antarctica.

Chile has 10 stations in Antarctica, four permanent and six summer-only. Chile participated in the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), but sent its first expedition to the Antarctic in 1916.

China runs two stations in the Antarctic. In January 1980 the first Chinese scientists traveled to Antarctica to visit Australia’s Casey Station. In February 1985 the first Chinese station, Great Wall Station, was established on King George Island in the South Shetlands. In winter, the two Chinese stations house 35 to 45 people combined, and up to 100 during the summer.

Ecuador, though a member of COMNAP, is not currently operating any permanent stations or bases.

Finland runs one summer-only station, Aboa in Queen Maud Land. At the site is a year-round automated weather station. Finland’s first large expedition was in 1989, involving scientists at Aboa and on the Aranda. Finland often cooperates with Norway and Sweden, as well as conducting long-term ozone research with Argentina.

France has four stations, including its shared station with Italy at Dome C. Researchers winter at two of the stations, Dumont d’Urville and Charcot in Adelie Land. Dumont d’Urville’s population
varies from about 26 in the winter to 80 in the summer.
Annual budget: $9 million, plus $15 million for administration.

Germany operates two stations. Neumayer Station has a winter population of 9 or 10, and a summer contingent of about 60. A cleanup of former East German Antarctic research stations is underway as part of the program’s environmental monitoring effort.

India has one Antarctic research station, Maitri, in Queen Maud Land. In 1981 the first Indian Antarctic Expedition began the program. It joined the Antarctic Treaty consultative nations in September 1983, just after the first Indians wintered on the Prince Astrid Ice Shelf.

Italy operates two stations, including its joint station with France, Concordia, at Dome C. It signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1981, and began Antarctic research in 1985. The main station at present, Terra Nova Bay station, can hold 70 people. Cooperation in logistics and science
between Italy, the U.S., and New Zealand has increased significantly.
Annual budget: $35 million

Japan operates four stations in Antarctica. Its first expedition was on board the Soya in 1956. Research programs have been done every year since then.
Annual budget: $35 million

Korea has one station, King Sejong, operating year-round on King George Island. Korea has been conducting Antarctic research since 1987. King Sejong’s population numbers about 15 in the winter and up to 60 in the summer.

The Netherlands is not currently operating any stations or bases. One of the major research policies is not constructing new research facilities, but instead using the infrastructure of other
nations in collaborative efforts. Sailors from the Dutch East India Company sighted several sub-Antarctic islands in the 16th century. The Netherlands has been engaged in scientific
researching since the mid-1960s, when three expeditions were developed in collaboration with Belgium. In 1990-1991, the Netherlands rented half of the Polish Arctowski Station, rather than build their own facilities. Projects involve collaboration with German, U.K., Australian, and New
Zealand researchers, among other nations.
Annual budget: $1.8 million

New Zealand runs one base, Scott Base, on Ross Island, which has been occupied since the International Geophysical Year. Scott Base has a peak summer population of 86, which drops to 10 in the winter. The program uses Arrival Heights for some research, as well as maintaining
eight research and emergency shelters in the Ross Sea and the Dry Valleys. Christchurch, New Zealand, is a major gateway to the Antarctic, where the U.S., New Zealand, and Italian research
programs have offices. The New Zealand program also supports the Antarctic Heritage Trust,
which protects and maintains the historic huts and sites of the Ross Sea area. New Zealand is heavily involved in collaborations, partnering in the six-nation Cape Roberts Project, as well as
other projects with the United States, Italy, France, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, China and Australia.
Annual budget: $8 million

Norway runs two stations, both in Queen Maud Land. Norway participates with Sweden and Finland in shared responsibility for Antarctic expeditions.
1996 annual budget: $6 million

Peru operates one station, Macchu Picchu, in the region of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Poland has one station, Arctowski, on King George Island. In 1976 Poland began research in the
Antarctic with five marine expeditions to the South Shetlands. The Arctowski station opened in
1977 and has operated continuously since then. The base houses 70 people in summer and 20 in winter. Collaborative projects join twelve Polish institutes and universities, as well as institutions in Belgium, Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Russia runs eight stations, three summer-only and five year-round, including Vostok, on the polar plateau. In 1956 the Soviet Union began research in Antarctica. The research was run primarily in institutes based in what became the Russian Republic. Russia succeeded the U.S.S.R. in the Antarctic Treaty system. The year-round stations together house 144 year-round personnel, while the summer season sees an increase of 162 people. The country has economic difficulties which has made Antarctic research difficult to maintain. International
collaboration has been part of the process by which Russia has maintained a high level of research while cutting costs significantly.
1995 annual budget: $10.5 million

South Africa operates two stations, the larger of which is SANAE IV in Queen Maud Land. There is also a year-round weather station on Gough Island. South African Antarctic research began in the International Geophysical Year. South Africa was an original signatory of the Antarctic Treaty.
Annual budget: $500,000

Spain has two stations, both in the South Shetland Islands. It also has an ice-strengthened vessel, the Hesperides. All three operate only in the summer; the stations can house 12 people each, while the ship can host 30 scientists, plus the crew.
Annual budget: $6 million

Sweden has two stations, both in Queen Maud Land. Sweden has long been involved in Arctic research. In the 1980s it extended its research to the Antarctic. Sweden, Finland and Norway have an agreement to share expedition costs and research benefits. Collaborative efforts are also under way with the British, the U.S., and other European Antarctic research organizations.

Ukraine operates one research station, Vernadsky, on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The United Kingdom has four stations in Antarctica. U.K. scientists have been active in Antarctic research for over 75 years. The British Antarctic Survey has been the primary Antarctic planning and coordination organization for the past 56 years. About 40 staff spend the winter at
the four stations combined. In the summer, field parties deploy primarily from Rothera, the largest base, which can house 120. The program has 180 scientists among its 420-person staff.
Recently research collaboration has increased, especially with Germany.
Annual budget: $42 million

The United States operates three year-round stations, a number of smaller field camps on a summer-only basis, and unattended year-round observatories.
1995 annual budget: $197 million

Uruguay has one station on the continent, Artigas, on King George Island. In 1776 the country first issued licenses for fishing in the southern seas. The first Antarctic research began in 1975, with the first expedition to the continent in 1984.

This information is condensed from material located at, the website of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs.

SOARing to new depths

Published in the Antarctic Sun

A small team of researchers is painting the white-on-white landscape of Antarctica in bright colors. The Support Office for Aerogeophysical Research, headed by Don Blankenship of the University of Texas at Austin, is looking at the continent in ways many scientists have only imagined.

SOAR is a consortium of researchers looking at how ice and rock interact in Antarctica. Their maps are in full color, showing different types of rocks and land formations, often over a mile under the ice sheet.

The researchers fly in a Twin Otter airplane over swaths of area larger than the state of Maine, to look at the ice-flow systems in key regions of the continent.

“We’re trying to figure out how geology influenced the formation of the ice sheets,” Blankenship said.

The airplane is crammed with electronics, so many that it takes two to three weeks to configure properly.

That’s after the plane’s structure was so radically modified that it required its own certification from Canada’s Ministry of Transport before Kenn Borek Air was allowed to fly it.

“The airplane was put together to do both geology and glaciology projects at once,” Blankenship said. In addition to the internal instrumentation, it has antennas hanging off the wings.

The electronics are all sophisticated sensors, measuring the plane’s height above the ice, using ice-penetrating radar to look at the rock beneath the ice, and also measuring the strength of the
gravity and magnetic pull of the rocks.

The gravity of the rocks, when separated from the influence of the Earth’s pull, shows how dense the rock is, giving clues to its composition. When that is combined with information about the
rock’s magnetic properties, the type of rock can be identified quite accurately.

Putting all this information together into a meaningful picture, Blankenship said, requires an additional layer of sophisticated equipment and calculation.

The airplane has several GPS units onboard, which measure the position of the plane to within four inches.

With that data, and the results from the instruments, Blankenship and his team create incredibly accurate maps of the ice and the surface beneath the ice sheets covering Antarctica.

“We’re good to within 10 centimeters,” Blankenship said.

They can find sediments, holes, changes in ice-sheet layering, and other phenomena. The SOAR team helps teams like ITASE choose routes for traverses, sites for ice-coring, and helps predict how what they find relates to other locations around the continent.

Their radar also lets them see significant layers in the ice sheet.

“It’s essentially virtual ice coring,” Blankenship said. The next actual deepcore site in West Antarctica will be chosen by the SOAR team, in collaboration with the ITASE researchers.

This season they made several excursions, one completing work they have been preparing for since 1992.

The plane and equipment flew routes over the transition from the Ross Sea to the Transantarctic Mountains, across the mountains to the Wilkes Basin and all the way to Aurora Highlands.

This cross-section of an area of the continent about which little is known geophysically was very important.

“We can get a really good handle on the evolution of the whole area,” Blankenship said.

The planning and organization resulted in use of several locations for this research and other work this season: McMurdo, Dome C, Mid C, Byrd and Siple Dome camps were all bases for SOAR flights.

For eight years the project has been underway to help explain why the Transantarctic Mountains are where they are. But once it’s all set, things move quickly.

“It took, what, 15 days to do,” Blankenship said. Good flying weather and few equipment difficulties were part of the success, as was increased computing power.

After a four-hour flight, the plane and equipment need about 90 minutes to refuel and recalibrate instruments. During that time, the researchers can take a provisional look at their data and get a sense of how reliable it is. Even just a few years ago, researchers needed more than five hours to do the same task.

“The quality of the data we get is really outstanding for the remoteness of the environment,” Blankenship said.

Sunday, January 30, 2000

Pinsetting for dollars

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Housed in the basement of McMurdo’s Building 63 are two bowling lanes, one of a few remaining manually-set alleys in the world. The exact number is difficult to know, because they are so small and so rare.

The lanes were the site of last week’s bowling tournament final match, won by the Freshies, with the help of the people behind the pins.

Several McMurdo residents are pinsetters in their spare time, earning minimum wage and tips from bowlers.

It’s a rough job, involving constant bending and lifting in a confined space, moving speedily so as not to delay the bowlers, and also avoiding the 10- to 16-pound balls which hurtle down the lanes.

There aren’t all that many pinsetters today. In earlier days of bowling, fallen pins were collected by hand and re-set in place individually, often by young people, called “pin boys.”

At the end of World War II, there was a shortage of willing pin boys. Technology offered another solution, automated pinsetters. These were often cheaper to run, since one or two people could service numerous lanes at once.

“It’s very rare to find people who manually set the pins anymore,” Jim Dressel, editor of Bowler’s Journal International, said in a phone interview.

The machines themselves are also of interest.

“They’re antiques and they’re very valuable,” said spokeswoman Jackie Twa of Brunswick, the corporation which made the pinsetting trays used at McMurdo’s lanes.

Despite the lack of replacement parts, “you could sell them for a lot of money and buy a new center,” Twa said.

Dressel was surprised to learn of the existence of McMurdo’s artifact.

He recalled that in the 1940s and 1950s there were a number of bowling alleys installed in military bases around the world.

But the automated setters used by most bowling centers nowadays were first introduced in 1945 by AML, Dressel said. Brunswick started making them in 1950, he said.

The manual pinsetters in Building 63 carry the following information on the manufacturer’s label: “Style B-10,Brunswick-Balke-Collender.” The machines are serial numbers 1023 and 1028.

The company changed its name from Brunswick-Balke-Collender to Brunswick Corporation on April 18, 1960, according to Linda Haschke, a marketing representative for Brunswick.