Field Update: Dec. 13, 2010

Well, I’m back in McMurdo but the view out on the sea ice has changed in the few days I’ve been away. The sea ice runway has been moved and all of the LC-130 airplanes are gone. This happens every year in December once the sea ice begins to melt a bit and the surface becomes uneven. The planes all move over to William’s Field or to Pegasus on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

You can still see some of the remnants of the runway and related markings on the ice, but there are definitely wet areas where the surface of the ice has gotten slushy and potholes have been melted into the ice. It’s close to the time that vehicle traffic from the McMurdo transition out onto the ice will be halted to prevent vehicles from falling through the sea ice. We’re not quite there yet, but I’m sure the drivers are being a lot more selective about their routes at this point.

It’s a sign of the changing season, with full summer now underway that the ice is melting along the shoreline and water is running freely in ditches and culverts along the side of some of the roads in town. The rest of the sleds and trailers will be moved off the ice soon. Then the icebreaker Odin will cut a channel through the ice to the dock sometime in early January.

It looks empty now, when only a week ago there was lots of activity.

The view of the Royal Society Range is the same, but it feels different.

The ice appears darker due to the water and the melting ice at the surface.

The ice almost looks like water in the right light, but it’s a few meters thick.

It’s when you get toward shore that it really changes and the ice becomes mixed with sediment and tire tracks are visible in the slush on the surface.

Change is upon us and we’ll have to change in turn to adapt to these new conditions. The flights will arrive further away and the buses will have to drive out to meet them to deliver the passengers heading north and ferry the new arrivals to the base. The research on the sea ice to the northwest will slow down and soon stop, as it becomes difficult for people to drive out to those locations, but some will still go by helicopter. The melting of the sea ice and the move of the runway indicates that we’re more than halfway through the field season. Time will be passing quicker now as we focus on what remains to be done. Field parties are returning to McMurdo, packing up their cargo and departing for home. There will be a rush to get back to New Zealand or to the United States before the holidays approach, but we’re in for the long haul and the end of our work in early February. There’s still plenty of time to finish everything we’re hoping to do this season.

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