Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lake Fryxell and Lake Bonney

Out to Lake Fryxell to continue work in the dry valley science camps.

Installing the 200W panels.

Just down from the tower.

The inverters, chargers and batteries.

 Then off to Lake Bonney, one of my favorite places in the world.  Five years ago I was here for two weeks with a microbiologist.  Just the two of us were here and when she would do her science after we'd collected samples, I'd go exploring.  Needless to say, it was great to be back and see all the wonderful sights. 

Lake Bonney.
Beautiful lake ice.
The Hues Glacier.

 Up above the camp are beautiful wind-sculpted rocks known as ventifacts.  There are endless shapes to be seen.  And over the years I've seen eagles, salmon, mosters and more.  It feels very much like Mars.

The panels at Lake Bonney.

Sunset at Bonney.
 All too soon it is time to head back down the valley with a quick stopover at F6.

And then back to McMurdo.

On the way back to McMurdo.

Crossing McMurdo Sound.

New Harbor and Lake Hoare

The camp at New Harbor
The summer season has begun, and there is science to be had, samples to be taken, and thankfully for me, computers, cameras and ipods to be charged by sun and wind.  Across McMurdo Sound and into the Dry Valleys we went a week ago to set up the renewable energy before the scientists get there.  The camps have various combinations of wind and solar power and we went to the camps to check and hook up the batteries, reinstall the solar panels, check the chargers and inverters, attach the small wind turbine blades and then verify everything is working properly.

Where the scientists live, eat and sleep.
The generator shack next to the solar panels and "wind-bird."

 After our few hour stay at New Harbor it was time to go to Lake Hoare, perhaps the largest of all the Dry Valley camps.  One morning while I was reading a National Geographic, I had a sudden feeling that I was IN a National Geographic.  It naturally made me smile as I have always loved those magazines that were stacked on our cellar stairs for so many years.  Such treasures they are!   

The camp at Lake Hoare.
A science Jamesway.

The camp at the lower right.  Not a bad place to spend a summer.

The inverters and chargers.
Batteries for the camp.

And if we're lucky and things are working, there might be a little time to go for a hike!

Next to the Canada Glacier above Lake Hoare.

Lake Hoare is an amazing place.  Nestled into the side of a mountain, a huge glacier 100 meters away, on a lake, with solar power, radio communication, even a phone that works off a radio.  Sort of like a Mars research station.  I loved it.  Was only allotted one night so sadly we returned to McMurdo the following morning. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cape Crozier

Looking North out to the Ross Sea past the hut at Cape Crozier.
I went out to Cape Crozier, where there is a science hut for a few folks that spend the season studying the Adelie and Emperor penguin colonies that are out there.  The trip out to Cape Crozier took about 45 minutes in a Bell 212 helicopter and on the way it was very interesting to imagine three of Scott's men making the treck in winter, 100 years ago over the course of a few weeks.  It was fascinating to look down at the crevasses and ice features imagining I could see three small figures hauling sledges of equipment, almost losing their lives many times over all for the sake of scientific discovery via the goal of obtaining a few penguin embryos.  Their story is told by one of the members, Apsley Cherry-Gerrard in his book, The Worst Journey in the World.  (I am reading it now).

When we got to the cape, on the far eastern side of Ross Island, we had stunning views and could see open water below the huge ice cliffs farther to the north east.  We checked the solar panels.  Nine of the ten seemed to survive the harsh winter unscathed, but one's outer glass had shattered.  Hopefully we'll go out again to replace this panel.  We checked the batteries, found that they were still fully charged, as frozen batteries hold their charge very well if they are fully charged.  And then I climbed the short tower nearby that had a little wind generator on it.  This one was very similar to the one that we had on our boat Crazy Horse so it was quite fun to get my hands on another.  Fortunately or unfortunately there was no wind which made for very pleasant outside work conditions, but I was unable to hear one of my favorite sounds - the spinning up of the generator.  I think I would have laughed out loud if I had heard that noise with so many fond and excited memories of getting power from the wind.  
The shattered solar panel.
Happy to still be able to do some tower climbing!
The wind bird, as we call them.

It was very cool to be out at the hut.  Power from solar panels and a wind generator, communications through various VHF repeaters, and a stunning view must make for a very interesting summer for a few scientists.  
The Cape Crozier science hut.
Like astronauts on the moon.
...or Mars.
Where the frozen ice shelf meets the frozen sea.
The frozen southern ocean...calling out to me.
 More familiar faces keep pouring into the station.  During September there were about 500 people here.  We're now up to around 800 and in Dec. we're scheduled to hit around 1100.  The galley is very busy now and can be quite loud.  I miss the friendly atmosphere of September when there were fewer people around, but I'm certainly glad it is a little warmer, that I don't have to check out a radio or find a partner if I want to run outside, and that the helicopters are now flying again. 

This upcoming week, I'll head into the Dry Valleys (one of my favorite places in the world) to open up these science camps... That's the news from down south!   Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Summer time has arrived as have hundreds of summer workers for the summer season of mid October to mid February.  The galley is now quite crowded and the granola, grape-nuts and yogurt go faster, but it also means more friendly faces are back in town, with still more to come in the next few weeks.  

The sun has still been setting but it only has until the 16th or so and then it will be above the horizon continually until around February 20th.  It makes the evening twilight that much more special.  Twilight has always been my favorite time of the day, and when it lasts a long time yet won't last through the month, it is something to not take for granted.  So the other night, just before bed, I went over to the solar shop to switch out some batteries that were charging, I decided to hike up Observation Hill.  It was windy and past my bedtime, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get up there to see the twilight and look over the ice, the Royal Society Mountains, McMurdo and New Zealand's Scott Base.  So up I went. 
Twilight, almost like seeing it from space.

The side of Ob Hill, the Sea Ice Runway in the background.

The cross was erected 100 years ago in memory of Scott's party that perished on the return from the South Pole.

The glorious moon high above Mac Town.
I paid the price and was exhausted the rest of the week, but it is now Sunday afternoon - trying to do a quick recovery on my one day off a week.  I spent the week preparing MFPS units. (Mobile Field Power Stations).  Each yellow box has two 30 Ah, 12 Volt batteries, a battery charger and an inverter for AC power.

Getting ready for the influx of scientists!
 Then I worked on Fish Hut #5 getting it ready for another group.  This module will be dragged out to their spot on the sea ice, if the sea ice is cooperating.  It is unusually thin now and cracks have threatened scientists usual research locations.  We will see. 
Fish Hut #5 now electrically ready for the Weddell Seal scientists.
 We also got the South Pole Visitor Center solar array out and tested.  Now it is hanging out soaking in the sun and hopefully people are noticing it and wondering why we don't have solar arrays everywhere on the station!
The South Pole Visitor Center array, batts, inverter and charger.
And I played what may have been the first Antarctic game of Pickle Ball!  For those who do not know, Pickle Ball was one of my favorite gym games...after floor hockey, of course.  Floor hockey not being allowed, one has to do what one can.  So I got permission, painted lines on the floor (green, of course) after work and had the carpenters make some posts, and finally got out my net, paddles and plastic balls.  It was wonderful to play after close to 15 years without a game.  It is perfect for McMurdo and hopefully I'll get a good group of racquet sport enthusiasts to join in with me.  

My sign language class is going very well.  It is great to be signing each week and generating some excited new signers!  Soon it will be ASL class on Tuesday nights, Pickle Ball on Wednesdays and I'm starting an indoor soccer group on Thursdays!  The summer will be busy, but hopefully lots of fun.

 It is wonderful to have regular flights to the station because it means we get fresh fruit again.  How wonderful to have a banana, an apple or an orange!  I also found out the snow mobile mechanic that that works in the same shop has been a space shuttle technician for 11 years!  Well, that's the week behind!  The week ahead has more prep and maybe a trip out to a science camp!

Some interesting links:
The Antarctic newspaper:
The McMurdo webcam: