Field Update: Jan. 28, 2011

The refueling vessel is sitting offshore, but there is a problem with the ice pier. A ridge of ice is protruding like a ledge out from the front edge of the pier and the vessels can’t get close enough to dock without potential damage to either the ship or the pier. It’s a conundrum that needs a fast resolution.

What can be done? Divers have gone into the water to examine the situation and they report that the ice ledge is thick and broad and extends almost the entire length of the pier. The primary option is to drill into the ice with an auger and set explosive charges along the edge – hopefully this will solve the problem without damaging the pier, but it’s a risky proposition. The decision is made to go ahead and the blasting notice is circulated by email to the entire McMurdo community. All of the fuel lines that have been carefully laid out across the bridge onto the pier will have to be moved to allow the auger drill to be driven onto the pier to do the drilling and the explosives will be lowered into the holes and synchronized to achieve the objective of breaking off the ledge and making the pier ready for the ship. The news spreads and people start to gather – there’s nothing like a good explosion to bring people together – and plenty of people are here to watch.

The clock ticks down to 17:30 (5:30 PM) and then on cue, the detonation!

A roar goes up from the crowd as the ice goes up in the air and then settles.

The initial indications are good – the ice ledge has broken off the front edge of the pier and the ship can now be moved into place to unload the fuel that it is carrying to resupply McMurdo Station. After the fuel is off-loaded, then it will be time for the cargo ship to arrive with everything else needed for the winter-over team and for the start of next summer’s season.

The ship operations are around the clock events that require a lot of people, so crews have been arriving from NZ for the past few weeks to be responsible for these tasks. It’s made the McMurdo population grow again, even with the departure of many of the science teams.

So, the excitement over, it’s back to waiting for the next step in the seasonal process of resupplying the U.S. base in Antarctica – the ship will move to the dock and get ready to unload. More to come….

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