Field Update: Jan. 27, 2011

The fieldwork for this season is nearly completed and the team members are on their way back to McMurdo Station and Scott Base by tractor traverse across the Ross Ice Shelf towing all of the ANDRILL equipment with them.

This is the same process we went through at the beginning of the season, only in reverse. The return traverse is being accomplished by three USAP tractors (two Case-International Harvester Quadtracks and one Caterpillar Challenger 95), the two D-6 bulldozers, the Hagglund and the Pisten Bully – all towing something behind them. The weather continues to be overcast, so the helicopter that was scheduled for yesterday couldn’t fly. This meant that four people who might have flown back to town would instead ride along in the sleeping containers being pulled by the tractors over the ice. It’s only a 100-mile trip, but because of the low visibility it takes two days to finish. The arranging of the containers behind the tractors for appropriate towing configurations took place yesterday morning and then the traverse started on its journey home. Besides the three USAP tractor drivers, there are 10 ANDRILL participants who take turns to drive or ride. The season is nearly over. Once all of the containers and sledges are brought back to the base, the work of winterizing them for storage and placing them on snow berms out by Williams Field will occur, making them ready to survive the winter.

All of the supplies and equipment that we were issued for this season will then have to be cleaned, inventoried, and returned to the various work centers around McMurdo and Scott Base. This includes all of the sleep kits, the cooking pots and pans and utensils, and a hundred other things that we’ve used all season. We’re finishing about two weeks ahead of schedule, which is great for us and means that we didn’t need to use some of the contingency days that we had planned into the schedule to give us options. It will still take us another 10-12 days to accomplish all of the many end-of-season tasks, write reports, and thank everyone for their help to our project.

Arriving back in McMurdo or to Scott Base will be a big change from daily life out on the ice shelf for many of the ANDRILL team, but it starts the process of acclimatization that will continue as we move off the continent and back to New Zealand on our way home. Whereas the population of the camp was typically 8 to 16 people, McMurdo has a population of about 1,000 people, which seems very crowded at times. It will be interesting to see what it will be like when we get to Christchurch and have to think again about paying for food and watching the sun go down at night, both of which have not been part of our life for the past four months in Antarctica. For now, we’ll focus on the rest of the work to be done to make sure that we’re ready to go when the time comes. Everything has gone well for ANDRILL.

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