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Leigh writes from McMurdo:
Lather rinse repeat. Lather rinse repeat. repeat. repeat.
We are now all safely in McMurdo after 2 weeks at Mt. Moulton. John, Andrei and I arrived at 3:30am after spending 3 beautiful days at the base of Mt. Moulton, organazing our gear and waiting for our LC-130 plane to arrive. We were hardly in dire straits, but were down to our last shred of chocolate, had exhausted our recollections of Seinfeld jokes, and were going in circles with our discussions of religion and politics. Needless to say, we were glad to see our friends from the US Air National Guard in Albany.
We had a busy day organizing our cargo for the Allan Hills since we leave early tomorrow morning. Gear had to be fixed, cleaned and exchanged and then weighed, measured and packed. Apparently we broke the record for the fastest turnover of gear.
Despite the niceties that McMurdo has to offer (hot water, cozy beds, good
food), we are all eager to get back to the field to finish up our science objectives.
Blue writes from McMurdo:
After gathering all our gear in McMurdo, our four person field team boarded an Air National Guard LC-130 aircraft on January 13. The 1,400 km flight to the base of Mt. Moulton took just under four hours. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by another six person field team led by Nelia Dunbar of New Mexico Tech. Dunbar’s group had just spent five weeks at the summit of Mt. Moulton collecting ice and rock samples, which should help them interpret the horizontal ice core they collected in 1999.
Our meeting with Dunbar’s group was not a chance encounter. It was a carefully planned attempt to conserve logistics, and it would have worked out splendidly if the weather had cooperated. Unfortunately, the Twin Otter (small aircraft with dual turbo props) that had just transported Dunbar’s group from the summit of Mt. Moulton could not transport our group back up to the summit, because low clouds had moved into the region. Low clouds make it dangerous to fly in mountainous terrain, especially while landing. In addition, the LC-130 that was supposed to take Dunbar’s group back to McMurdo for a much needed break from the harsh environment, was also unable to fly because of its heavy load and soft snow conditions. So all nineteen of us (including the four of us, the six people in Dunbar’s party, the three person crew from the Twin Otter, and the six person crew from the LC-130) spent the night together in what we later learned was the biggest field camp in West Antarctica. Despite the fact that none of us were where we wanted to be, we did manage to put together a very nice barbecue before heading to our tents for the evening.
The situation improved slightly the following day as Dunbar’s crew was able to fly out on the LC-130. Unfortunately for us, the low clouds forced us to wait another day before heading to the summit. We finally made it to the summit on the 15th of January, and found that the Dunbar team had left us a very tidy camp, so we went straight to work. Andrei busied himself setting up our electrical and communication equipment, which consisted of four solar panels, one battery, several VHF radios, and an Iridium phone. Leigh went to work setting up the GPS base station, which was also powered with a solar panel and battery. John set up his ice penetrating radar system, which was designed to detect the ice thickness (up to 1 km) and map the subglacial bedrock topography. I spent my time putting together a second ice penetrating radar system, which was designed to detect isochronal layers that we will use to estimate snow accumulation rates.
We began conducting radar surveys the following day. Leigh and Andrei helped John with his radar unit. Andrei drove the snowmobile, John manned the radar control box, and Leigh kept the whole system in a straight line. It appeared that Leigh had the hardest job, because she was constantly running behind the snowmobile. I may have had the easiest job, because the shallow radar unit was quite small and easy to use, so I was able to drive the snowmobile and run the radar control box at the same time.
We continued our work at Mt. Moulton for the next 8 days. Leigh and I conducted GPS surveys to determine the surface topography and measure ice velocities, John tested his Electronator (an electrical device used to measure the conductivity of the ice), and Andrei studied the volcanic tephra layers that outcrop on the blue ice surface.
Overall, the site was a good one. The temperature was consistently around -15 to -20° C. The wind was generally calm, and when it did blow, it was almost always from the North. The sky was generally overcast, though we did see blue skies on several occasions. The view from camp was outstanding, because we could see Mt. Berlin (an active volcano) towering above us to the West (~20 km away), and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet stretching out below us to the South.
On January 24, we packed up our gear and waited for the Twin Otter to arrive and move us to the base camp where we would wait for the LC-130 that would take us back to McMurdo. Sure enough the Twin Otter arrived in the morning. Unfortunately, the LC-130 schedule had been altered, and our group was forced to split up. I took the opportunity to fly to McMurdo on the Twin Otter, so I could work out the logistical plans for our next mission at the Allan Hills. Leigh, Andrei, and John were forced to wait for the LC-130. I am currently still waiting for my coworkers, but they are scheduled to arrive in a few hours.