Field Update: Jan. 1, 2011

Well, it’s New Year’s Day in McMurdo – a time for out with the old, in with the new. We moved the ANDRILL Coulman High camp yesterday from Site #3 to Site #4, which is close to Site #1. We’ve had a long string of poor weather days and no helicopter flights – we’ve only gotten one helicopter out to camp in the past two weeks, since December 16th when Bob Zook and the SCINI team went out to begin diving operations with the remotely operated vehicle through the ice shelf (260 m-thick).

On December 29th Daren Blythe and Nathan (Nate) Bowker (ANDRILL SMO, UNL) and Bob Greschke (IRIS/PASSCAL) flew to camp to start setting up for the seismic experiment, while Tamsin Falconer, Dar Gibson and Graham Roberts flew back to Scott Base and McMurdo Station. Tamsin flew to Christchurch on December 31st after passing on her role as Camp Manager to Daren Blythe. She’s done a great job all season and kept us all on target with respect to the schedule while focusing on health and safety.

I’ve been in McMurdo for the past two weeks enjoying the holiday season with concerts by local musicians and feasts prepared by the Food Services staff, which have both been phenomenal. I walked down to the Discovery Hut as a New Year’s resolution and saw the changes since I had made this trek in early October. The orca now has a rider – Santa heading south!!

And open water is now rushing down the hillside in long drainage ditches.

Another sign of the times is the construction of the ice pier for cargo loading & unloading late in January – it looks much different than it did in October.

There’s now a thick blanket of sediment on top of the ice and a bridge to link the pier to the rest of Ross Island. The resupply ship is coming soon.

Looking across towards Ob Hill you can see the McMurdo dormitories, where the majority of the population lives, as well as the path to the summit, where about 30 people raced to the top on Christmas Day. Nate Bowker won the race for the ANDRILL team and set a new record for the ascent.

A bit further out on the Hut Point Peninsula from the ice pier is Discovery Hut, built in 1902 by Robert Falcon Scott’s party, and still preserved.

The tip of the Peninsula offers fantastic views of Southern McMurdo Sound towards Cape Evans and Cape Royds, southwest across the ice to the ocean.

And south to Mount Discovery, which is partially obscured by clouds today.

The sea ice in McMurdo Sound has degraded further since last week – melt pools are visible everywhere and all signs of the sea ice runway are gone. A line of low clouds stretches across Black Island and fog hangs over the ice shelf further to the north towards the ANDRILL camp. Not good for flying.

The flights coming from Christchurch are delayed and the warm conditions over the past week have made the white ice runway soft and prone to damage, so flights are being shifted to the “night-time” to align them with the coldest time of the day in the early morning after midnight.

The move to ANDRILL Coulman High Site #4 was accomplished seamlessly yesterday and the melting of a new hole has already begun to deploy a hydrophone to the seafloor for the seismic experiment. SCINI has had a stunning series of dives under the ice shelf over the past two weeks and may be able to get one more dive at this new site before the team returns to McMurdo. If the dive can be completed tonight before the helicopter is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, or if the helicopter is delayed, then we may see a close-up view of another area under the ice shelf – more to come. I haven’t covered SCINI in the blogs over the past two weeks, but things have gone very well during these tests, and this vehicle has proved that it can operate through a deep ice hole and conduct science under the ice shelf.

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