Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dry Valleys Opening


To the valleys!  

The sun has just a few more times to dip behind the mountains, the summer is upon us, and scientists are gearing up to head to their sites to do their thing.  But, thankfully, science waits for renewable energy!  So off we go across the sound in a helicopter to the valleys to open 4 camps in some of the most spectacular spots on the continent...and I think in the world!

Below, the camps at Lake Hoare and Lake Fryxell.

Lake Bonney panels.
Our general routine: helicopter flight in the morning to the next camp in the sequence, turn on the diesel heater, chip ice from the lake to start melting water, check the state of the batteries, connect the batteries, pull the solar panels out of storage, mount them on their pole mounts, test the panels, wire in the panels, inspect a the wind turbine tower if there was one, climb the tower, inspect the turbine body and tail, reattach the blades, back down the tower, turn on and check the solar charge controller, turn on  and check the inverter, confirm the right voltage is going to the camp outlets, load the system with a space heater to see what the solar and wind are capable of covering, then check and record all the charging settings.  Then monitor the system to make sure all is working as it should.  That's the deal.  Some sites take longer than others, there's always more to learn about and investigate and parts of the system to tweak.  It's good work, sometimes cold work, but flying in the valleys is fantastic.  

The "wind bird" at Lake Fryxell and the inverter at F6.

Here's a link to a video of the blades going onto the body of the wind turbine from a new helmet cam!  To give you a visual taste of the tower work:  Working Aloft  

Just a bit of "good" ice near the shore.
While waiting Vito to finish the diesel generator work, I had a little time off and used it to lace up my hockey skates and take a lap around Lake Fryxell.  It was adventure skating if there is such a thing.  Big cracks, I had to watch out for to not twist an ankle, cold winds when opposing the direction of travel, sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth, sometimes snow.  But how wonderful to be skating on "the ice."

So we flew to and then opened: Lake Hoare, Lake Fryxell, Lake Bonney and F6, spending three nights in the valleys, forever grateful for the opportunity to go and work there.  Going to sleep each night in my -40 degree sleeping bag, I felt a little like being in a spaceship.  Some of the spots feel like a different planet.  And when there's a little time for a hike, I can't help but feel like I'm an astronaut exploring Mars without a space suit.  And then I think I can breath the air, swim in the seas, and just a matter of hours to the north in an airplane brings trees, animals, all the wilds of the world.  What a world we live in!

Now we are back in town and preparing in town energy supplies for scientists and looking forward to our next camp to set up.  I wasn't quite ready to come back to town but town is not so bad.  Lots of good people and tons of ping pong!  That's all for now!

Our ride: the Bell 212 underbelly.
Snow mobile tracks to infinity and beyond!
While doing a little of solar outfitting one of the local fish huts that live on the ice near McMurdo, we had a visitor.  At first the seal just poked his nose up out of the water as if checking to see if we had a friendly scent.  He did this many times, until we began to talk to him.  Then, as if our words smelled amicable, he came up to say hello and sat there floating in the dive/fish hole looking up at us with his big brown eyes.  Very cool.

If you're interested, check out the McMurdo Webcam link I just added to the right side of the blog under the LINKS section.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Back to the Ice...Again

And so after 80 hours on the road, in the air, sitting at airports and through safety and orientation briefings, I find myself back on the ice.  The strangest part of it all, and it kind of blows my mind, is that it’s all so familiar.  I see friends I haven’t seen in seven months but it feels like it was just yesterday that I was here.  Of course it was not and I remind myself of the wonderful experiences I had this summer in the northern hemisphere with friends and family, but it has struck me how normal it seems to be back here.  

            I cannot say it is ever easy to come back here.  Each season is different down here.  Each is an unknown entity.  Many times over the past three and a half days, I’ve wondered, “Am I doing the right thing?  Am I really going back?  Why am I going back?”  They are interesting questions that don’t have quick answers so it comes down to we’ll just have to wait and see.  I will miss all things of the North.  

            Overall the trip down here was relatively smooth.  It is amazing that in under four complete days I can go from my home in Massachusetts to McMurdo.  About 27 hours in the air over those three and a half days.  We crossed the equator and then the international date line and so I now reside in the future! 
            We’ve now had our re-orientation to the town and begin work tomorrow morning at 0730!  My co-worker Nick and I will pick up where we left off!  Once the helicopters and pilots do their check rides we’ll head out into the valleys to open up the camps there.  Tomorrow, I imagine we’ll charge some batteries, open up the solar shop and get settled.  Strange how regular it all seems.  Hopefully this regular turns out to be a really good thing this season. I'm not sure whether it should feel calming or frightening but it's how it is so I guess I'll just have to roll with it for now.