01 February 2009

Life on the ice: Part II

Note: Picture upload isn't working, so I'll wait on posting those.


I am here under auspices of the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) project. AMPS is a real-time computer model used by the U.S. Antarctic Program in support of their flight, ship, and field operations. It uses the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model for its computations, which is a popular choice for regional applications in the meteorology community. The version used in AMPS has been optimized for polar conditions by some of the other folks in my advisors research group, both past and present.

My purpose here is to work with the forecasters to find out how well AMPS has performed this field season. This is the first season that WRF is used within the AMPS framework, so we are especially interested in what the forecasters have seen. I follow the model forecasts (they come out twice a day) along with the satellite imagery and other observations to gauge how the model is doing for various weather situations. Then I discuss those situations with the forecasters, and often that jogs their memories about a similar situation with the model earlier in the season. I also take any suggestions as far as any additional products they would like to see produced for the operational forecasts, but those will be redirected to the folks that handle the actual production of the model runs (NCAR in Boulder). I am also keeping up with my normal work from back home while I am here, as the work specific to here does not take up all of my time.

I get a lot out of just discussing the weather with the forecasters. Most of them are seasoned forecasters in the Antarctic and have a lot of knowledge of and experience with the weather patterns and other features local to this area. They are much better at interpreting how certain weather pattern will develop, and how to interpret satellite imagery, than I am. In my work I easily get out of the mindset of following the day-to-day weather, so it’s a good jolt of practical application for me. There are four forecasters here right now, and three of them work four 12 hour shifts on, then two days off. One of them works 8-9 hours every day as the briefing forecasters – preparing most of the briefs for the morning flights. Several other forecasters work remotely in Charleston, SC. In addition, there are several weather observers who work at the airfields and at the weather office, handling observations and launching weather balloons. One forecaster and one observer will stay for the winter. Most if not all of the forecasters and observers are ex-military or currently in the reserves, and have served all over the world (Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Bahrain, Korea, among other places).

The computer issues that have been dogging me...I arrived late Thursday 1/22, and everything was fine on Friday. On Saturday, I woke up and could not connect to the wired internet from my room. I thought it was the network, so I waited until after my happy camper refresher to try again. Still no luck, so I contacted the IT guys here. After a bunch of troubleshooting, we narrowed down the problem to the ethernet card in my laptop. Now, normally this would not be a huge deal, but a) the office I am working in does not have wireless access, neither does my room, and b) no one has a USB ethernet adapter. So, the techs gave me an old (I mean old, I nicknamed it "box of rocks") laptop that I can use for network connection. Unfortunately, it cannot run the Java required for our model forecasts (at least not well, I don't feel like dragging it through extensive updates), so I sit at the UW AMRC computer for that. Kind of annoying, especially having to shuttle data back and forth. But at least I have a work-around in place. The broken ethernet card could have been a result of a couple things...back in December we had a bad ice storm in Columbus, and I fell down with my laptop strapped on my shoulder, and dinged it up pretty bad. However, the wired ethernet did work during the time period up until I left. It may have been loose and then eventually broke with the jostling on the plane. Static electricity is another possible cause - it's a big problem with electronics, more so at South Pole, but it is extremely dry here as well.


There are a wide range of activities to keep oneself occupied outside of work. I have been trying to do some running while I am here, although sinus problems have cut into that a bit. There is a building with several treadmills and other cardio machines in it. There is a building with weights and also a bowling alley, but that building has been closed most of the season due to structural issues. There are two bars, one smoking and one non-smoking. Several of the higher-ups in the operations side were in from Charleston last week, and there was a party with brats and burgers at the smoking bar. Being in there was a bit of a shock, as I’m used to the public smoking ban back home. The recreation department always has activities going on, such as the tour of the Discovery Hut that I went on last week (more on that in the next post). There are several trails around the outskirts of the base that are open weather permitting. Last visit I did the Ob Hill hike…last Friday evening I walked the trail around Ob Hill.

New Zealand’s Scott Base is only a few miles down the road, and yesterday I went to visit their station store. The also have an “American Night” at their bar on Thursday nights. There is a church here (Chapel of the Snows), and I went to their Protestant service this morning. On the weather end of things, I’m hoping I can help launch a weather balloon again sometime this week. I had to attend two meetings, both the first Saturday I was here. The first was for recreational travel, which was just a brief video. The second was a refresher course of “happy camper school”, which I first took back in 2006. It was about three hours, and all indoors. I barely remembered anything. I learned that I can’t tie knots, and overall, I would probably be borderline useless in a survival situation.

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