16 February 2009

Flying the Gauntlet

I made it back to Columbus around 1 AM Monday morning...here are the details between leaving McMurdo and getting back...

Wednesday 2/11
Transport to Pegasus airfield was set for 2:30, and we left a little after that since some schlub was late.  Didn't really matter, since we just sat at the airfield for awhile.  The plane was there (having arrived from Christchurch shortly before we got there), and they had to unload and then load cargo.  he primary cargo was a helicopter.  It was fun watching them load this into the plane.  It was cold (15 F or so) and windy, and for some reason I stayed outside for the 90 minutes or so we waited.  They have a small passenger terminal, and the transport vehicle (Ivan the Terra Bus) was also there, but I am a little picky about my seat on the plane, so I stayed outside.  Here are some pictures from that:

It paid off, because I jumped the gun on loading the plane, as I saw a crew member in front of the plane radio the woman that was in charge of the passenger transport to the airfield, and her start to motion for people to board.  I was the fourth one on the plane, and got the exact seat I wanted, last row of center seats on the aisle.  On the C-17, there are seats along the side of the plane, similar to the C-130 (but more comfortable), and a bank of airline seats in the middle.  Many people like the side seats for having a little more space and power outlets for laptops.  I like the middle airline seats, they are comfortable, there's storage space underneath seats, and I like facing forward.  Plus, with the back row, there is storage space underneath the seat in front of you and underneath you.  The flight was just over 5 hours.  As soon as the seat belt light was off, I lost the big white bunny boots and wind pants, and rode comfortably in street clothes.  Really the only issue was that I was stuck next to a "polie" for the flight back.  A polie is someone stationed at South Pole.  Normally this is not an issue, but this year (I think) they started sending these people straight thru - a morning flight from South Pole to Pegasus, then out to Christchurch that afternoon.  There are water restrictions at South Pole - two showers a week, and I'm not sure about laundry, but I'm guessing they have rules on that as well.  The guy next to me stank like a sack of rotting garbage.  You'd think they'd at least truck these people to McMurdo for a shower.  Somehow I managed to not get sick from that.  

Upon arriving at Christchurch, they trucked us to the international terminal to go through immigration and customs.  We got in the same time as another flight...the polies must have been a ghastly sight and smell for the people off of that flight.  After that, it was a short walk through the misty air to the CDC.  The humidity felt great.  In two ways, the CDC experience was much easier than last time.  First, they don't inventory clothing anymore, you just dump everything in the center of the room.  I had everything already separated, so this was really quick.  I picked up my stored bag, and went to the shuttle.  Last time, they had shuttles assigned, so I had to wait an hour for the other people to show up.  This time, they just loaded up the shuttles and left.  I got back to the hotel (Holiday Inn City Centre, same as inbound) just before 1 AM.  The only place I could find open to eat was KFC, so I had that, then went back to the room to unpack and go to sleep.

Thursday 2/12
This day was a washout - 60 F, and rain all day.  I saw this coming from looking at the forecasts the week before leaving McMurdo.  I wasn't surprised - just like last time, bad weather followed me north.  I slept until about 10:30 AM, went for a run at the hotel gym, showered, and took off.  I made arrangements for a bike ride and advice on getting to the cricket and rugby matches at the info center at Cathedral Square.  After that, I had lunch at Subway, went to buy the rugby ticket, then took the bus to a mall, Westfield Riccarton.  Westfield must be a huge mall conglomerate - they have malls in the U.S. as well.  It was okay - maybe 100 stores on one level.  I got food from Wendy's - not the Wendy's chain I adore here in the U.S., but the same ice cream / hot dog chain that I had at a mall in Hobart a few years back.  This one didn't have donuts, but the shake and hot dog were good.  Similar to Dubai, the mall had a grocery store in it, so I got some fruit and soda there.  I took the bus back around 4:30 PM, and after watching some TV, went to bed early since I was really tired for some reason.  

Friday 2/13

Another crappy weather day - at least it didn't rain much (just some light rain early AM), but it was low 50's F, cloudy, and very windy.  I had a late breakfast, then walked around some shops before my city bike tour.  I did this last time, and decided to do it again on this trip.  A tour guide takes the participants around to the city sights on bikes, along bike lanes, bike paths, and trails.  It was pretty much the same route as last time with slight deviations.  It was a different tour guide (the one last time runs the whole deal and just had a baby), this time being a young gentleman who was a college student.  His parents were American - having emigrated to New Zealand during the Navy's Operation Deep Freeze.  There were two other participants, a middle aged woman and an older man, both from England.  The former kept putting her helmet on backwards, and the latter kept falling off of his bike.  Here are some pictures from that:

After the bike tour, I stopped by the room briefly before taking the bus out to QEII park, where the cricket match was being held.  I got their a little late, but still early in the match.  This was really fun.  I've been acquiring some knowledge of cricket over the past two years or so, just enough to have an idea what is going on.  This was a match between two of the state league teams, Canterbury (the region Christchurch is located in) versus Wellington.  There weren't a lot of people there, probably because of the crap weather.  The seating area, save for a small corporate area, was all on a grass ridge surrounding the oval.  What surprised me was the access the fans have to the players.  Between bowls, fans would get signatures (autographs) from the fielders along the boundaries.  At half time, they allowed people onto the field (just not the area around the wickets), where bowlers and fielders were warming up.  I had a late lunch / early dinner of chips and beer (440 ml for NZ $2!).  Here are some pictures from the game and half time:

I had to wait for the bus forever to get back to the city, and by the time I got back, most restaurants had quit serving dinner.  I had a quick dinner at Burger King (having the mini donuts I liked from my last visit), then went to a bar for a few drinks before retiring for the night.  

Saturday 2/14
The plan for this day was to take the bus out to Lyttelton harbour, then go to the rugby match early evening.  Before and during the bus ride, it was raining.  This bus went by the gondola, which I did last visit, when it rained the entire time and I couldn't see squat from up there.  In a way it felt fitting that all of the tourists going there had the same experience.  Lyttelton is  small town that makes up Christchurch's sea port.  I walked around a few blocks, then had a lunch of (meat) pie and ginger beer overlooking the harbor.  After that I went the Timeball station.  This was really interesting.  It is in a small building that looks like a castle, perched on a hill overlooking the harbor:

The timeball was used in the late 1800's and early 1900's, dropped each day at 1 PM to allow captains to accurately set their chronometers.  They still drop the ball most days at 1 PM, but GPS has long replaced chronometers and astronomical measuring techniques.  Luckily, I happened to stumble up there just before 1 PM, so I got to see them drop the ball.  Besides being a great view from up there, they offered a lot of history and knowledge about seafaring and time-keeping methods of the past.  

After this, I took the bus back to the city, and then went to the room for a little while before going to the rugby match.  

The stadium was about a 20 minute walk from my hotel.  It cleared up on the way back to the city from Lyttelton, so it was a nice, cool walk.  I got to the stadium plenty early, to get my free souvenir and to check out the stadium.  This was a matchup between the Canterbury Crusaders and the Waikato Chiefs, part of the Super 14 competition.  This league has teams in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.  Canterbury is a powerhouse in this league, having won seven titles in thirteen years, including last season.  It was the opening weekend of the season for the teams.  The stadium is undergoing a renovation.  One entire side of the stadium was closed and under construction.  The other three sections looked brand new or extensively renovated.  I got there early enough to get my free foam sword, and to watch part of the match between the two development teams.  After that, there were performances by the dance team and the NZ Army band, and the mascots, which were horsemen.

The game was alright, the Crusaders won, sending the fans home happy.  I didn't understand the rules very well, but could follow what was generally going on.  

I don't like rugby as much as American football or Australian rules football.  It is slow save for a few exciting moments during the game.  It doesn't have the constant motion and high-scoring of Aussie rules, nor the action of American football.  And don't give me any of that no-pads crap...similar to Aussie rules, there are nowhere near the head-on and lined-up collisions like there are in American football.  But these guys are tough, and great athletes.  The Chiefs stayed at my hotel Friday and Saturday nights, and these guys are fit and strong.  

The fans did not seem all that enthused.  There is tremendous support for the team in the community, but it really didn't show at the game.  There were many open seats upstairs and in the side sections, which seems strange for the defending champions' first game the next season (there was no ceremony, or even mention of that, during the match).  Overall the fans were not that loud, which is not necessarily a knock, and doesn't mean that they don't care (e.g. some Canadian hockey fans).  Another negative was that there were no team songs.  But at least they had cheerleaders.  

After the game I went back to the hotel, then to the Holy Grail, a sports bar, for dinner.  This place is enormous, with a giant projection screen television airing rugby matches.  A section was set aside for the Crusaders to have their post-match dinner later.  After dinner I went back to the hotel to pack.  

Sunday 2/15
I had a big breakfast buffet at the hotel, thenI did some last minute shopping, checked my email, and met Melissa at the Dux de Lux for lunch.  She had toured most of the south island over the 8 days since leaving McMurdo.  We exchanged New Zealand travel experiences before returning to our respective accommodations to check out and catch airport shuttles.  I left for the airport at 1:30 PM local time (7:30 PM Saturday U.S. EST).  I checked in at the Qantas desk, walked up to the observation deck to watch planes and enjoy the warm sunshine, before going to the departure gate.  There I met up with Melissa again, and also Natalie, an Ohio State graduate student who works in the same building as me with another group.  I've known her since arriving at OSU, and was part of the small group that I would swim with last year.  She was at WAIS Divide camp since November, then spent two weeks in New Zealand.  It was nice being on the same flights as her.  The flight to Auckland left at 4:00 PM, just over an hour.  In Auckland we walked to the international terminal (even warmer there, probably mid-70's F) and had dinner at the food court.  The flight to Los Angeles was packed on the 747-400, mainly due to a returning cruise ship.  I was lucky to get an aisle exit row seat on that.  It had the advantages of unlimited leg room and not having to get up for anyone else.  The disadvantages were the lack of a seat pocket and the hordes of geriatric cruise ship goers that waited in front of and next to me for the lavatory after each meal.  Overall, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages for me, considering that I am tall and don't sleep on planes much anyways (maybe an hour on this one).  Upon arrival in Los Angeles, I got through immigration X-tremely quickly, then changed clothes while waiting for my bags.  Both bags then arrived quickly, I said goodbye to Melissa, then went through customs (again very fast) after switching out some clothes between bags.  I just had to walk upstairs and through another security gauntlet before getting to the American Airlines terminal.  I had lunch at BK with Natalie before our next flights (she had one to Dallas about 45 minutes before mine).  Mine was late and they had to switch planes, but we both made the connecting flight to Columbus, getting in around midnight.  I got to my apartment around 1 AM, getting takeout at Wendy's on the way back.  

Life is getting back to normal for me.  That is it for this blog, hope you enjoyed it. 

10 February 2009


I should be leaving soon...my transport to the airfield is at 2:30 PM (an hour from now).  There are some low clouds moving in, but it looks like it should be okay for the flight - it is already on the way.  It's almost an hour out to the airfield, then it'll probably be at least an hour wait there while they unload the plane and get us on.  Then a 5 hour flight back to Christchurch.  With customs, returning clothing to the CDC, and a shuttle to the hotel, it will probably be midnight-ish before I'm back and settled for the night.  I have three days in Christchurch...tomorrow looks like a washout, so I will get my plans together for the following two days, and maybe go to a mall or something.  Friday I'd like to get to a cricket match, then a rugby match on Saturday.  Then I leave for the U.S. Sunday afternoon, getting back late Sunday night.  The same route on the way back - CHC to AKL to LAX to DFW to CMH.  

I'm not sure what kind of internet access I'll have in New Zealand.  I'll try to check in on here, but a total recap may wait until next week.  

09 February 2009

Build Ford Rock and Up, Up, and Away

My time here at McMurdo is winding down.  It's currently early Tuesday morning, and I should be leaving Wednesday afternoon.  I'm currently doing laundry so I have a full compliment of clean clothes for the rest of the trip.  Later today (after sleeping) I have to clean my room, as I have a room inspection at 3:oo PM.  Rooms need to be cleaned to specifications before leaving.  If one is an employee of Raytheon or a contractor, bonuses can be revoked.  With grantees, some kind of repercussion comes as the PI is notified.  Whatever, I generally enjoy cleaning so I have no problem working on that tomorrow, the room doesn't need that much attention anyways.  Then at 8:30 PM, I have to "bag drag."  This involves taking my checked luggage, carry-on luggage, and ECW gear (basically everything) up to the MCC (movement control center) to have it weighed for the flight.  I'll have to turn in my checked luggage so it can be palletized in preparation for the flight the next day.  It just requires some careful packing of the carry on luggage.  Luckily I will be on a C-17 for the trip back, instead of the C-130.  I was on a C-17 both ways back in 2006, and it is luxurious compared to the C-130, plus three hours less travel time.  There are 70 people listed on the manifest, which is much lower than the 116 and 125 that went on the last two flights.  I am one of the few NSF people on the manifest, most are employees clearing out for the season.  Most of the other science people have already left.  The station closes for the summer season on February 23rd.  It has been feeling like winter the past several days.  Temperatures have been struggling to get to 20 F, the wind has picked up, and it's getting darker at "night."

On to the subjects of this post.  First, my trip to Ford Rock last Saturday.  One of the forecasters, Trish, has been trying to set me up on the trip with the met. techs to this AWS site.  This is not a Wisconsin AWS site, rather this is one of the sites run by SPAWAR, the group that handles the weather forecasting and other logistical operations here.  They are in some way affiliated with the Navy.  It's not competition or anything, the AWS's are in different location and have different uses.  All of the data is shared, and all of it archived on the AMRC's website.  Anyways, we had a nice morning for the hour or so ride out there in a truck with tracked wheels.  For those of you familiar with the area (a few of you), it's just past Castle Rock up the peninsula.  It was quite blustery and cold up there.  The two techs had to swap out a temperature sensor, so they worked on that while me and one of the observers also along for the ride took pictures of each other and the scenery.  It was high enough and away from other terrain features so that we could see the open water to the north, and the mountains along McMurdo Sound.  To the south, it's snow and ice as far as one can see, blending into the sky.  It's also a closer picture to Mt. Erebus.  Here are some pictures from that morning: to the east, the open water to the north, back towards McMurdo, and me in front of Mt. Erebus:

The time out there was under an hour, then we rode back to McMurdo.  Another nice junket out of town for a few hours.  

Then on Sunday, I went with the observer on duty (Carol) to launch a weather balloon.  These are launched everywhere at 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC every day.  At McMurdo we are on NZDT, which is UTC+13, so 1 PM and 1 AM (actually a little earlier, the data should be in about that time).  They moved the location of the launch, and we had to drive over there.  Here are some pictures from the setup and launch of the balloon:  

Sunday was my birthday, so I got to launch a weather balloon on my birthday!  Here is the skew-t of the sounding:

Additionally, the launch area is down by the ice pier, so I got good shots of the winter resupply ship, M/V American Tern, and the icebreaker Oden leaving port to clear the channel.  The ships left earlier today.  

07 February 2009

Along With Shelley (AWS) and Melissa

I finally got out into the field on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with the folks that run the automatic weather station (AWS) project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  In 2006, I was here in December, and totally missed seeing their group here, since they came in January 2007.  When I arrived, there were four of them here working on that project.  Matt is the PI of much of the work they do there, and I've known him since soon after I started graduate school (although not before, when I had classes in the same building).  Shelley currently works there...she was a year ahead of me in the UW AOS program, although I did not know her well until I got into this Antarctic stuff.  John is a professor at the University of Colorado, and has been involved in Antarctic research for many years.  One of his students, Melissa, was along as well, and I had met her at the Antarctic meteorology meeting last year in Madison.  Matt left the first weekend I was here, and John later that week.  Shelley and Melissa were also out to WAIS Divide during my first full week here.  They said they would try to get me out somewhere with them this week.  

Last Monday, they tried to get me on the flight with them to service Sabrina and Lettau AWS sites.  These are on the southern end of the ice shelf, and would have been really cool to go to.  However, the flight people never got the email from Shelley, and for reasons I'm not sure of, they wouldn't let me go along.  Bummer.  At least the girls tried for me.  But they still had to service two local stations at Williams and Pegasus airfields, which were short truck drives away.  On Wednesday evening all three of us went out to Pegasus North AWS.  The drive there was almost an hour, even though it's only a few miles from McMurdo (this is the same airfield that I arrived at).  The main work there was to swap out the antenna.  I can't remember if there was anything else, I was having fun playing in the snow.  It didn't take too long, then we headed back into town.  Here are a few photos from that excursion, with the sky, Melissa (ground) and Shelley (tower), and me:

The plan for Thursday was for me to go to Williams Field with Melissa while Shelley stayed back and worked on packing things up (they were leaving on Friday).  Thursday morning, a return visit to Pegasus North was added to the itinerary, to change the electronics box.  We went to Williams Field first that morning.  Melissa was driving the truck, and upon arrival, pulled the truck just past the flags that line the snow/ice road.  The leading front tire got buried in some soft snow, and after only a few revs, it was stuck.  We had no shovel along, and it was pretty deep.  We waited for a vehicle to pass by (weather observers ironically), and they radioed for assistance for us.  One of the big tractors they use to groom the runways came by.  She was really helpful and dragged the truck out.  Overall not a big deal, probably something that happens fairly frequently.  At the site, we installed a new aerovane and acoustic depth gauge.  However, the new antenna was forgotten in the lab, so we made a return trip to Williams Field early that afternoon after lunch.  Between that, we went back to Pegasus.  There was a sharp difference in weather between the two sites, only a few miles apart.  Williams Field was sunny and dry, whereas Pegasus was more exposed to the McMurdo Sound and was cool, dark, and windy.  Here are pictures from Williams Field: looking out towards Pegasus, Melissa up on the tower, and my photo ops from each site that day:

On Friday, Shelley and Melissa were supposed to leave.  However, the flight was cancelled Thursday evening due to mechanical issues.  In its place they scheduled a LC-130 flight going north to Christchurch, for a medevac.  Roughly 30 of the 116 on the original C-17 manifest were put on the LC-130 flight.  Shelley was on it, but Melissa was not.  So Shelley left Friday morning, and Melissa and I went back to Pegasus again to try to fix some wiring inside the electronics box, I think to the wind speed sensor.  It was cold and blustery, at least compared to the lollipop weather we had been having.  That went pretty quick, and we were easily back for dinner.  Here's a picture Melissa took of me there:

It's really quite an operation to handle everything from the construction of all of these instruments and the associated equipment, shipping it here, dealing with the hassles of getting to these sites (LOTS of flight delays), and taking care of or mitigating any unforeseen issues that come up along the way.  I'm not sure I could handle what they did, especially Shelley and Melissa, who have been here since New Years.  It was a lot of fun getting to go along with them...I never get to do anything this "hands on" in my work.  I hope I was of some help, and glad I didn't sabotage their efforts with my clumsiness!

Melissa is still here, as the flight today was cancelled due to X-treme turbulence south of New Zealand.  We'll see if it goes tomorrow...I always have some insight on the pending flight decisions, being in the forecast office most of the day.  If things keep getting pushed back, my return might be as well!  Next post will be about another excursion I had with some of the met techs here to Ford Rock.  

05 February 2009

Discovery Hut and Ob Hill Loop

It's hard to believe I've been here for two weeks now.  It's been a good stay overall.  I've gotten around the laptop issues at the weather office.  Last night my ethernet connection mysteriously worked, and still does, at the forecast office with a different cable.  I'm going to try that cable in my room tonight.  My sinuses are finally getting back to normal...I think it is the X-tremely dry air here that sets them off.  Last night the wind shifted to northwesterly (really for the first time this trip), which brings in much moister air, as there is open water not too far north of here.  Much to my dismay I got a new roommate last Monday night...after the previous one moved out last week Friday I assumed with this place clearing out that I would not get another one.  However there are a lot of "transit" passengers through McMurdo these days, with the outlying camps closing down.  He seems like a nice guy, and might be out of here on Friday.  The big cargo ship American Tern arrived in port on Tuesday morning, with winter supplies.  There are a lot of Navy cargo handlers at the base these days working on that.  While the ship is in port, the station store has drastically reduced hours, alcohol sales there are halted, and the bars are closed.  

Here are some pictures and descriptions of two short excursions I went on last week.  Last Wednesday night I took a tour of the Discovery Hut, which is maybe a mile from McMurdo on Hut Point.  This structure was built in 1901 by Scott’s Discovery expedition, and used later by Scott’s Terra Nova expedition, and two of Shackleton’s expeditions.  The Americans dug it out in the late 1950’s when they built McMurdo.  It was originally built in Australia.  Over the years it has been pillaged, and now is locked and only opened for tours like the one I went on.  Even with the age and vandalism, it is extremely well preserved.  The first sight (and smell) when one walks inside is a rotting seal, left over from one of the expeditions.  With the perennially cold temperatures, it is somewhat preserved, although it was a bit “thawed”, to put it nicely, when I was in there, as it had been above freezing for several days in January.  This building was mainly used for storage and rendezvous, especially with the later expeditions, so it is mainly filled with supplies.  Here are some pictures from inside:

Then, last Friday night (actually Saturday morning, it was around 2 AM), I did the Ob Hill loop trail.  There are several trails around the base, and like Hut Point, this is one I never did last time for some reason.  It goes around Observation Hill, which I climbed last time, and is only a couple miles long.  It is quite blustery on the southward-facing portion on the first half of the trail.  But after I rounded the peninsula point, I was sheltered and it was much more comfortable.  It’s a great view southward of White Island, Black Island, Minna Bluff, and the associated cloud formations.  The trail ends on the road between McMurdo and Scott Base, so I just walked back to McMurdo, watching the night crews at work.  Here are some pictures from that:


On the next post I will have some pictures of my field trips to automatic weather stations at Pegasus and Williams airfields.