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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!