Field Update: Nov. 12, 2010

The helicopter schedule was posted at about 20:30 last night and we learned we would be flying on Helicopter 08H, a Bell 212 with lots of space for cargo and passengers (or PAX, as they are known here in Antarctica). We had to be at the Helo Pad by 11:45 in order to be flying at about 12:45, so we had time to run a few final errands, write the last minute email messages, run over to the Galley for a quick lunch, grab our ECW and walk out the back door of Crary Laboratory downhill to the Helo waiting room.

We weren’t the only group traveling today, and as chance had it, we knew one of the other travelers, Jean Pennycook, who works with the ANDRILL Science Management Office creating curriculum resources for a NOAA project on environmental literacy. Jean is the creator of an education and outreach project called “Penguin Science” and works here in Antarctica with Dr. David Ainley and others studying Adelie and Emperor penguins at Cape Royds and Cape Crozier. Jean is also the mother of a member of our ANDRILL Coulman High team, Graham Roberts, so it was good to see her and we wished her a good trip out in the field before her helo departed.

We picked out our helmets, tagged our carry-on baggage and weighed both the bags and ourselves wearing our ECW to get a final weight for both cargo and passengers for the flight. The Heli-Tech gathered all of the gear that would go on the helicopter flight with us and he drove a small all-wheel vehicle out to the pad pulling a wagon and loaded the cargo onboard before the passengers were invited out to the pad to board. With all of the cargo that we were bringing out to Coulman High, it was a tight fit for the four of us and so we climbed in one at a time to strap ourselves into the seat belts facing the rear of the helicopter. There was just enough space for us to sit side by side, wearing all of our ECW gear and with our helmets on, so we helped each other to get situated in the limited space available. Once seated, I realized that my boots were jammed up against the solar panels that we were bringing for the GPS installations and I couldn’t move them at all. It would be a fairly uncomfortable in this position, but I recognized that a bit of discomfort was the price for getting out into the field with all of our gear.

It was the first helicopter ride for Dar, so we were determined to give him a window seat and Claude wanted to take pictures of the ice shelf from the air, so he was going to get the other window seat, leaving the middle seats for Richard and myself (image below courtesy of Dr. Claude Laird, CReSIS).

We took off from McMurdo and flew off along Ross Island heading northeast along the island and across the ice shelf toward our destination of Coulman High. The flight was fairly smooth but it was difficult to keep our cameras from shaking as we vibrated along with the aircraft while leaning toward the sides to see what we could see out through the two side windows. We flew over the ice, getting views of Black Island and White Island off to the left (towards Dar), and a great view of Ross Island, including Mount Erebus, Mount Terror and Cape Crozier to the right (towards Claude).

Within 40 to 45 minutes we were descending to land and had arrived at CH. We all got out of the helicopter and started to transport our cargo off to the side to facilitate the aircraft’s departure back to McMurdo. Remembering all of the procedures for working around a helicopter, and aware both of the rotors swirling over our heads and the tail rotor to the rear, we worked with the Heli-Tech to move all of the cargo a safe distance away and return for more until everything was on the ground away from potential updrafts. The rotors started to turn faster and the ambient noise increased in pitch as snow was lifted off the ground and blown around by the force of the air pushed down by the spinning blades. We stayed low, wondering if the cargo was secure enough to stay on the ground and watched the helicopter lift into the air and veer off away from us as it slowly gained altitude and speed. We turned from watching the helo depart and looked around us at our new home for the next weeks and months. The weather was crisp but sunny and we could see Mount Terror gleaming in the distance to the west of our location.

The camp was set up and operating – great progress from the lines of containers that we had left behind after traversing only a week before!!

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