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December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!!

Treats from Home!!

With enough JET A, Santa can even deliver presents to the field camps of Antarctica!

Every season we load up Santa and his Elves for deliveries around McMurdo.  On this year's itinerary were the camps at Black Island, Lake Hoare, F6, Marble Point, and Cape Royds.  A highlight of the trip was a brief visit to Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, built in 1908.  We said hello to the penguins too.

Merry Christmas!!

Presents waiting to be delivered to the field camps

Santa uses turbine-power to get around Antarctica

Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds

Lunch Tongues for Christmas Dinner!!  A favorite since 1908...

December 22, 2012

A digression: the Tunnel Creek Avalanche in the NYT

I just saw this article in the New York Times:


It is a dramatic multi-media documentary on last year's Tunnel Creek avalanche outside Stevens Pass, WA.
I'm still not sure how to feel about such a detailed and dramatic retelling of a community's tragedy.  Follow the link with caution, it is a heartwrenching story.

December 18, 2012


Mt Erebus from McMurdo Sound on a rare clear day.
Mount Erebus is the southern most volcano in the world.  It dominates the skyline from the sea ice of McMurdo Sound.  The plume rising from the crater serves as a great weather indicator revealing atmospheric moisture and upper-level winds.

The summit of Erebus is almost 12,500' high, but due to the persistently low pressure here near the pole the physiological altitude can reach over 14,000'.  It is a tough place to do research.  This high elevation also makes helicopter operations tricky by reducing power margins and available payload.

Volcanos are Really Cool, so its no wonder there's a bunch of science going on up there.

Read more about the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory here.

Read more about the ice cave mapping rover, YETI, here.

YETI is currently at the McMurdo Heliport waiting for good weather to be slung up onto the peak.

Char and Thomas are ready to fly down to thicker air!

The lava lake is down there somewhere.

Science is getting done today on the crater rim.

The YETI rover waiting patiently for better weather before going to work on Erebus.

December 17, 2012

Fly, Fix, Repeat

7PH is waiting for some TLC from the mechanics before going back out into the cold.

Two Bell 212 Transmissions = One Million Dollars

212 main rotor blade

212 swashplate assembly

December 16, 2012

The Beacon Valley

The Beacon Valley is one of the more spectacular places we fly.  Imagine Monument Valley then fill the lowlands with ice and you're getting close.  Nothing short of awe inspiring.

Field camp in the Beacon - there's really old ice under all those rocks!
The science in the Beacon revolves around ancient glacier ice buried and preserved under layers of rock.  Not discovered until the 1990s, the ice offers clues about paleo-climate and atmospheric changes over the eons.  The ice in the Beacon has been dated to 2-4 million years old.

Dr. Dave Marchant of Boston University heads up this research, read more about his team here.

Finger Mountain - a classic landmark of this part of the continent.

Near University Peak.

Setting up a precision GPS station on the summit of University Peak in the Beacon

Getting ready to head out - notice the sling load just off the nose of the heli, and all the blowing snow descending from the ridge tops.  The beacon can be notoriously rough flying, but this trip we didn't get beaten up too badly.

December 9, 2012

Long Duration Balloon Launch

LDB - the long duration balloon project.

Apparently, rockets are expensive.  Balloons are cheap, even if you have to travel to Antarctica to launch them.  The LDB program launches astro-physics experiments into near-space and uses the circumpolar atmospheric circulation to set them orbiting the continent.  The payloads go way up, collect their data for a couple of weeks, and after a few laps around the continent land via parachute.  (Don't call it a crash, please...)  Sounds like rocket science, right?  Yep, its a NASA program and cheaper than rockets.

This photo was taken with a telephoto just outside the launch site's 3km safety circle.  The payload is barely visible hanging from the crane on the left.  For scale, the two big buildings on the right are about four stories tall.  I just happened to be out for a skate ski the morning of the launch!

November 17, 2012

A masterpiece...

SUNDAY!  A day of rest...and the only rest-day in the week.

Its not a Rocket Doughnut, but I guess it will have to do.  (Oh, and its custard filled too!!)

So on Sundays, besides eating doughnuts, I usually go out for a skate, a kite-ski, or a run.  Promise...

November 14, 2012

Convoy Range Scenics

Just a couple of pics on the way back to McMurdo from Allan Hills.  Near Mt. Razorback in the Convoy Range.

November 1, 2012

The best coffee in Antarctica - Lake Hoare

Lake Hoare Field Camp is the hub of American operations in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.  The flight from McMurdo to the valleys is a bit of a milk-run for us, so we spend a fair amount of time in and out of this camp.  We bring them fresh fruit and veggies and the camp staff brew up proper Pacific Northwest coffee for the heli crews.  HOORAY!

This camp was Becky's home during the austral summer of 2009-10 when she last worked for the USAP.

October 29, 2012

Byrd Glacier

Flying to the Byrd Glacier is a special trip for us.  We're heading so far south from McMurdo Station that we fly as team of two aircraft for backup.  We also add the second auxiliary fuel tank to each helicopter giving us extra range.  Still, the Byrd is so remote that we have to refuel from a cache on the way there and back.  

The Byrd Glacier is about 15 miles wide and drains a vast area of the ice sheet making it one of the faster moving glaciers in Antarctica.  We're flying south to monitor, repair, and retrieve data from a series of GPS stations that are tracking the movement of the glacier.

If you click on the location tag at the bottom of any of these posts it will take you to a google map.  Check it out!

To the left, the Ross Ice Shelf.  To the right, the Transantarctic Mountains.  Headed south.

Matt, the dutiful HeloTech, pumps gas while Paul shows off his Ultimate Fighting skills for Ryan.

Darwin Glacier fuel Cache, our pals flying Twin Otter ski planes put the fuel in at the beginning of the season.

Cutting snow blocks with a chainsaw.  Yay Power Tools!  

A Very Big Glacier

The antarctic is pretty hard on battery powered electronics.   Note the angle of the solar panel.

October 26, 2012

Fossil hunting in the Allan Hills

A flight to the Allan Hills in search of Glossopteris.

Today we're supporting a paleo-geology group that is studying fossils of the dominant plant of the southern hemisphere in the Permian period (almost 300 million years ago).  Fossils of the fern Glossopteris can be found throughout southern South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica.  The plant was used as early evidence for continental drift.  Petrified wood abounds in the Allan Hills.

Flying across the great flat white...

A fossilized stump in the foreground.

Just what we were looking for.

October 24, 2012

Lake Fryxell Camp

A few pics from a flight to the Lake Fryxell research camp.  Each season we fly carpenters, techs and others in the the Dry Valleys to repair and prepare the camps to receive scientists for the season.

Rigging a sling load of propane.

Refueling at Marble Point

October 18, 2012

Welcome to Helo Ops

Time to get to work.  Flying around managing passengers, cargo and sling loads is what HeloTechs do.

A busy morning in the passenger terminal.  This is the SAR team weighing in for a training exercise.

Every season we train with the SAR team to perform hover step-out landings for emergency operations. Jonny (one of the HeloTechs) acts as a spotter while Jack brings the 212 into a step-out site.

A delicate operation.  Taking the blades off one of the A-Stars and bringing it in for maintenance.

October 8, 2012

Home in MacTown

Home sweet home amongst the scientific-industrial complex.

Mainstreet McMurdo, Mt. Discovery in the distance.

Dressed for an early season hike.

McMurdo Station, home for about 1000 people.  Observation Hill is the little peak.

Roll-Cage Mary keeping a watchful eye on all the inhabitants.

Sunset can last hours this time of the year.  Soon we'll have 24 hour daylight.

September 30, 2012

Migration - Back to the Ice

I'm heading south yet again for another season in Antarctica.  This will be season six and my fifth working as a loadmaster, they call us HeloTechs, on the helicopters flying out of McMurdo Station.

Sunrise as we leave green Christchurch New Zealand.

This year we're flying on the Australian Antarctic Program's Airbus instead of the C-17 cargo plane.

It is a luxury to have windows!  Here we're making landfall on the Antarctic continent.

On the ground on the ice runway.   That's frozen ocean we're standing on!

Onto the big-wheeled people mover and into town and home for the next 18 weeks...