This web page's content and links are no longer actively maintained. It is available for reference purposes only. NASA Official: Robert A. Bindschadler

Blogs

Dec 2011Dec-Mar 2010Mar-Apr 2008Jan-Feb 2008Dec 2007

February 1, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

Home, Sweet Home: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Pine Island Bay

A view from over one of our GPS sites to the Pine Island Bay. The fast moving ice shelf is to the far right, beyond the band of heavy crevassing moving diagonally across the frame. A 2 kilometer strip of blue ocean separates the ice shelf from a more distant massive floating iceberg that calved from the ice shelf last October. Our weather station was placed on the surface just to the left of the picture.
(Photo by G. Dossin)
High- Resolution Image 1477x1108 pixels, 480KB

Returning home was a bit of an ordeal. McMurdo receives a steady stream of new folks coming from distant corners of the world. Bugs and viruses aren’t invited, but crash the party nonetheless subjecting the confined population to a ever bubbling viral stew. The “McMurdo crud” is infamous and more than a nuisance to those who fall prey to its general malaise. Good personal hygiene is encouraged and I can claim to a pretty successful record of avoiding the crud. I had to score this trip through McMurdo to the viruses, however. I got nailed. Thus, the quick return of equipment, the brief reconnections with the many McMurdo folks who helped our project prepare, and the repacking for the trip home were accomplished using a head whose sinuses were full and whose nose ran continuously.

But travel I did: whisked away from McMurdo on a delayed C-17 flight that plopped us into Christchurch at 3:30 am to experience our first sunless night in 6 weeks. The long shower felt sooooo good. A longer sleep was more important than breakfast and another therapeutic shower preceded repacking to prepare for commercial flights home. First to Aukland, then Los Angeles and finally Washington Dulles. Crossing the International Date Line made it appear the flight was quick, but my body said otherwise. It took me about a week to recover from whatever bugs had hit me in McMurdo.

With all that behind me, it was important to update the rest of our science team on what had transpired and where our project stood. We will convene at New York University later this month, but so many things were now different from when we left for The Ice. Our team was stretched from Switzerland to the US west coast, but we all joined in on a teleconference. The biggest concerns for us are whether we will be supported with helicopters next season (as we requested and is now even more necessary) and if so, whether we will be ready for the work we need to do. There was some desire to delay, but in the end we agreed that we had to make sure we were ready.

I was reminded by this conversation what I like so much about this group. At the end of the day, the urgency of the science we are addressing, the recognition that we are attempting measurements that have never been made before at a place that has never (until last month) been visited before with a support system that must meet its own new challenges means this is very, very hard work. At times the work may seem impossible, but no amount of delay will ever fully prepare us. We must step up and meet these challenges. This team has incredible skills and intellect and will find a way to succeed. We believe in the need to do what we are poised to do and we do what it takes to accomplish the work. How could I not enjoy working with such a group? We are writing new chapters of science. What a thrill!


January 17, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

A Field Season\'s Final Thoughts: on the Herc flying back to McMurdo Station

Bob on the ice

Here I am standing on the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf with the Twin Otter aircraft that landed there in the background. This remains the only landing ever on this ice shelf and confirmed that an uncrevassed area large enough for a safe landing was possible.
High- Resolution Image 500x335 pixels, 140KB

Today the weather cleared at both WAIS-Divide and McMurdo and, much to the delight of people at McMurdo waiting to go to WAIS camp and of people at WAIS waiting to go to McMurdo, a Herc managed to make the trip. Coming from McMurdo were a group of inspectors who needed to check out the construction of the ice coring facility, a few replacement camp people, and Charlie Bentley, a much renowned glaciologist whose first season in West Antarctica was 50, that’s right 50, years ago during the International Geophysical Year. Going to McMurdo were our group and a few others who had been stranded at WAIS many days longer than we.

This flight marks the end of my field season. We have a few tasks to do in McMurdo: returning keys and equipment to various suppliers; and a formal out-brief where we express our opinions about the support we’ve received. However, the steps are very routine. I will be rushing through them because if I complete them quickly enough, I will be able to get a seat on the flight to Christchurch, New Zealand tomorrow evening. It’s a flight I’m GOING to make. If airline connections area good, I should be home to see my wife about 30 hours after leaving Antarctica.

I leave you with a final picture, now that I’m able to send them again. It is me standing on the PIG ice shelf. This was one of our objectives we met. Unfortunately, we were not able to set up our camp there, but we placed our instruments in valuable locations and have learned a great deal about the area that will feed directly into our planning for next season’s work.

I’ve written about the challenges we’ve faced (and overcome), the frustrations of weather and logistics (and dealt with) the science we’ve done (and why), and even some of the emotions of working together here. What my mind turns to now, as it often does at the end of a field season (even this short one), is the privilege I feel to have the opportunity to work here.

I can’t think of a better place to do earth science research. Each season I have engaged in has instilled in me a sense of wonder for the natural world, an appreciation for the opportunity to work here and undying gratitude for the many, many people who work to make my research possible.

Antarctica is a magnificent continent. Its majestic beauty is beyond description, its scale is unimaginable, and its intensity like no other place I’ve been. I’ve flown for miles and miles over seemingly unending emptiness, but I know that beneath me lay dynamic features so huge that the eye cannot take them in. I’ve seen large mountains in the distance only to realize that they are over 100 miles away, making them far larger than they seem when I view them through eyes trained to expect smaller, closer objects.

Nature speaks more loudly in Antarctica than anywhere else I’ve experienced. Her storms force humans to submit to her weather. You come to be grateful for the windows of miler weather when you can do your research because when she roars, you must wait. She rules we are, and will probably always be, only visitors.

I work in a relatively small field of research. There are maybe two dozen people in the US and maybe three times that worldwide who do the type of work that I do and half of them don’t include field work in their research portfolio. It is rewarding research for many reasons. We few get to work in an exceptional environment and still discover surprising things about a part of our planet. I can think of nothing so exciting about science as making new discoveries. The new urgency of my research brought by the rapid acceleration of changes we observe add pressure, but also an increased sense of importance to what I’m doing in Antarctica.

Finally, there is a very strong sense of gratitude for all the support that surrounds field science like mine. From the field camp workers who will do what ever you ask of them, to the McMurdo support of 1000 plus, to the citizens that support the work with their tax dollars, I never leave the field without being reminded that I do not work alone.

We who are privileged to experience this fantastic place and do this exciting work should never forget who we work for. It is for the purpose of making your lives better that I do the work I do. I hope you have enjoyed being a virtual part of this field season. It is because I feel strongly that you deserve to see and read what I’m doing and know that your lives are in my mind that I have taken the time to blog during this trip. For me, one reward has been to discover through reflection and writing my own thoughts and emotions of Antarctic field work and to have a record of it. For you I hope the rewards have been equal to mine, or even greater.

From here, I return to my office and laboratory, to begin analyzing the data from this season and planning the next season’s work. David and I will meet with our other co-investigators at the end of February. Not long after that, I will be discussing with NSF the field support we will need for the next season. If Discovery wishes, I will continue to report on our progress.

Until we “meet” again.


January 14, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

Fury: WAIS-Divide

I’m prepared to leave Antarctica now. But today I was reminded that Antarctica makes the rules down here and the fact is that Antarctica is not ready to let go of me yet.

The morning sun was high and shone brightly from a crisp blue sky. I could practically see the Herc landing on the snow runway at the edge of camp even though it wasn’t scheduled to arrive until mid-afternoon. Not much to catch up on—I only had a few minutes of last minute packing to do and for that I was waiting until notified that the Herc had actually left McMurdo. It’s a common superstition with Antarctic field hands I know that taking your tent down before the plane is in sight is bad luck.

Much to my surprise, just before lunch, Elizabeth, the camp supervisor came into the galley and announced that Skier 61 (the name of today’s Herc mission to WAIS-Divide) was cancelled. Cancelled?! She said the forecast was for increasing winds and decreasing visibility beginning in the next two hours. It’s sometimes hard to believe these forecasts; in season’s past, they have been wrong at least as often as right. Well maybe the forecast models are getting better because almost on cue, the winds began to build. By 3:30pm, when the Herc had been scheduled to arrive, visibility was “nil/nil”, meaning no horizon was visible and there was no surface definition. When this happens in calm conditions, it is called a “white out”. This time the reason is blowing snow. Snow is blowing through camp in horizontal sheets, nearly hiding all buildings, vehicles and cargo in a thick haze of white. The only sounds are the howling wind and the sharp cracking of the flags on the many bamboo poles that mark where items are located.

Inside, the cook is playing music as he usually does (he has about ten million songs on his laptop) and there are some conversations at the tables, but the outside sounds penetrate the soft walls and occasionally drown out the music. To be sure, the galley is warmer than outside, but the wind sucks heat from everything and even cranking up the stove doesn’t prevent the inside temperature from being colder than it has been the past week.

Most of the people in camp are involved in the ice-core drilling project based here and they are still working three shifts a day. For those of us just waiting for the Herc, many diversions are available—Cribbage and Scrabble are among the most popular. The drilling and core processing crews come and go. There are many laptops open and people share their pictures and music. Many still keep an ear to the outside sounds and the wind; the slapping flags tell us the weather is not changing.

After dinner, Elizabeth shares with us the forecast that winds will intensify, gusting to 40 knots through the night lasting to at least 5 am. “Be careful”, is her message. Many people still sleep in tents at the other edge of camp. There is usually some object (a flag, tent or building) every 30 feet to prevent people becoming disoriented. Walking outside requires more than casual attention. You focus more on where you are going and each step you take. New drifts can grow quickly and stumbling into them is not uncommon. It’s not dangerous as long as you remember where you are.

The movie playing in the Rec hut doesn’t interest me and I decide to go to bed before 10 pm. I take half a sleeping pill to encourage a deeper sleep. I have to shovel a small drift away to get into the Jamesway hut I’m sleeping in. The stove is working but the interior is still cold. The other door has been blown open and a drift is growing inside the hut. I shovel that snow back outside. The door frame has twisted so the door latch doesn’t hold. I shove the fire extinguisher and an unused heater against the door to hold it. I breathe a long sigh of welcome relief as I slide into my sleeping bag and pull it up over my head. I will be very warm soon. I’m glad that as storms go, this is pretty mild. Storms with winds of 100 knots, even 200 knots are not unusual during winter. I wonder, but not too long, how they must feel and sound. 40 knot gusts are nothing.


January 13, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

Sweeeet!: PIG GPS Site #2 75°28.8mS/98°49.0mW

At Last!! Today was all a good field day can possibly be. A Twin Otter was able to make it to WAIS-Divide in the afternoon, took us to our second and final site to deploy a wintering over GPS, a gorgeous blue sky, NO WIND, and just to spice up the spot, monstrously large crevasses nearby. Two of our team were supposed to be heading back to McMurdo this same day, but the flight was cancelled, so all four of us were able to work on this together. We were all familiar with all the jobs needed to set this GPS up, so we worked efficiently, without the need for supervision. The conversation ran pretty free over many topics with a lot of kidding and laughing. We all enjoyed what we were doing, who we were doing it with and where we were doing it. It was absolutely great!

For all the frustrations of this season, we ended this day with a wonderful sense of accomplishment. The Twin Otter crew allowed us the luxury of a few final minutes to get “team pictures” at the site before we left. We didn’t return to WAIS camp until midnight, but we were still pumped up and stayed up for another couple of hours feeding our faces and talking about how beautiful the day was.

Having finished this work, we all can now queue up for the next Herc for McMurdo. That’ll be nice because we can return together and not let the different paths we take next tear apart our team before we leave here. Each field season I have here, I rediscover the depth of the bond that is generated by the shared experience of working together in an environment that presents a variety of challenges that must be overcome. As with past teams, we will be life-long friends.

Another common experience for me is that when the season ends, it often ends in a flurry of activity. This may be true again. In anticipation of that Herc arriving today (the weather is good now, but forecast to “go down” by the time the Herc is scheduled to leave McMurdo), we have to get our personal gear together relatively quickly. And once we reach McMurdo, David and I wall have to keep hopping to return all our camp equipment, radios, skidoo parts, etc. before showing up for tomorrow’s flight off The Ice to New Zealand. Then another quick overnight before the commercial flight home. The transition can be quite jarring.

Part of me wants to sit back and savor our accomplishments. We’ve responded to the massive disappointment of having landed on the ice shelf only to be told we couldn’t return there. We’ve deployed our instrumentation as close to the ice shelf as is safe considering its bounding crevasse fields and we will be able to “watch” it in three spots through the winter and until we return next year with the data that we be transmitted back from our instruments. We talked about it last night and everyone is proud of how we met the numerous challenges that we faced the past few weeks.


January 12, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

CNX: WAIS Divide

There is a white, dry-erase board just inside the galley door where the current information on flights is posted. Each evening, McMurdo usually passes out the flight schedule for the following day. A flight to WAIS usually is included, but early the next morning the dreaded “CNX” is added to the board. That’s the code for a cancelled flight and it has happened almost daily this past week. Both for Hercs bringing camp supplies out and returning some people whose work out here is done, and for Twin Otters, the airplane we still need to deploy our GPS stations. First our weather was poor, then McMurdo received a windy, heavy snowfall that shut down the runway there.

The only flight that arrived this week was a Twin Otter that had been at South Pole. Our camp is actually closer to South Pole (700 miles) than McMurdo (1000 miles), but the decision to send the Pole Otter here was dictated by weather, more than distance. We were glad to receive it. The three members of my team were still out at a remote camp and waiting to be picked up. Their work installing the automatic weather station was finished a day earlier and it operating normally. They were far from uncomfortable. While WAIS was being hit with 20 knot winds, drifting snow and wind chills around -30C, they were in the sunshine with light winds and temperatures near or even ABOVE freezing. They saw their situation differently, however, claiming that because their two bottles of wine were now empty, it was time to be pulled out.

I was able to make dual-use of the pull-out flight by loading the Otter at WAIS with the equipment for a GPS station, borrowing a field hand from the camp staff and being let off at our installation site before the Otter left to pick up the three others at their camp. While that was going on, Ben, my super strong field hand, and I began setting up the GPS station. It seems silly—the GPS unit itself weighs all of 3 pounds, but the power system required to get the GPS to operate through the long, cold, dark Antarctic winter weighs about 1000 pounds. Most of that is batteries, ten big heavy ones, but the system also includes two solar panels to recharge batteries during the summer, and two wind generators to help the batteries get through the dark winter. Add steel guy lines designed to hold it all together in 150 mph winds, and there is a lot of work to install the system.

I had prefabricated a lot of the pieces to minimize the installation time, but it still took two hours—the final 30 minutes after the Otter had returned with the three other happy campers. The pilot was getting very antsy during those final 30 minutes because the report from WAIS was that the weather was getting worse. It improved just enough during our two-hour flight home that we had no trouble landing at WAIS.

That was Thursday, today is Sunday and nothing of note has happened in between. We had hoped to have that Otter for 6 more hours to install our second, and last, GPS, but it was called back to McMurdo the very next morning. There was a person here that hurt her shoulder and the medic wanted her to get an X-ray as soon as possible. She had already waited four days as “CNX” appeared on the flight board day after day.

The last two days another Twin Otter, this time coming from Patriot Hills (only 350 miles away), has been CNX’d. After yesterday’s cancellation, I held a small team meeting to see how people felt about calling a halt to our season. Galen, our mountaineer will return to McMurdo on the next Herc, his expertise is not needed any more; Cliff, our embedded cameraman, will do likewise, he has other stories to cover in Antarctica; but David and I remain determined to get the second GPS installed on at least a tributary of the PIG. We’ll stay here until we are forced to leave. We’ve come too far not to leave the GPS where we can get some valuable information on ice motion of the glacier. I’ve had to start adjusting my schedule back home.


January 7, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

Making the Best of Things: WAIS Divide

I’m still smarting from the emotional crash of having actually landed on the ice shelf and, at least in my mind’s eye, seen the full field party come together there for our scientific program during a brief period of good weather, only to be told the Otters would not land there again (this season) Assuaging the pain is the knowledge that at least now we have a field team deployed to a site adjacent to the ice shelf where the snow is softer, the winds apparently milder (and the view spectacular).

The three of them are putting up the automatic weather station. They left two days ago and, so far, their progress has been rapid. They expected to finish the job last night and hoped to stay to ensure that the data recording and transmission were working properly. Antarctic research certainly has gone “high-tech”. I still remember the days of needing to take “sun shots” to determine our location, navigation was done with compass and distances were measured by steel tape. Hey, that wasn’t so long ago (i.e., I’m not THAT old!); I’m talking about 1982, my first Antarctic season.

Modern electronics are fantastic for science, especially in places like Antarctica, where the field seasons are relatively short. Now the push is to make ever-more- capable electronic instruments last through the dark, frigid Antarctic winter. Power consumption of many new instruments is so low that “wintering over” is feasible. We are one group trying out a combination of 10 deep-cycle batteries, two large solar panels and two wind generators, to maintain sufficient power through the winter for our weather station, but others are using it for other instruments operating, like GPS units. Our installation will be particularly useful, because we include two web cams that will take a daily picture that we not only add to the weather information, but will allow us to see if the snow or wind or ice are making life difficult for the instruments and power components.

I stayed back at WAIS Divide because a fourth person would make our camp heavy enough that an extra flight would have been necessary to get us deployed. I also felt that there were other ways I could be more useful to the project by either staying here with the rest of our field gear or, if possibly productive, returning to McMurdo to discuss the decisions that curtailed our field work.

What I was able to contribute was a new use for the two winter-over GPS units we have here. They are still just sitting idle on the cargo line and an unused scientific instrument is a terrible thing (at least to a scientist). The PIG ice shelf is fed by the very fast Pine Island Glacier and this glacier has a number of tributaries that feed it. These tributaries flow at speeds that gradually decrease upstream improving the chances for finding a crevasse-free spot. One tributary lies within 20 miles of the weather station site and the next closest is only 40 miles farther. My plan is to be flown upstream along these tributaries from their junctions with the main flow of the glacier, where crevasses are rampant, until a crevasse-free area allows the Otter to try a landing. If it can land, I will be left with the GPS equipment and a lucky WAIS-Divide staff person to set up the instruments while the Otter hops over to the weather station camp. There they will pick up those three folks and then return to me. Once we are done, we will all return to WAIS-Divide.

And so it goes. Plans change and change again. Field work is like that. You come with intended objectives, but weather, conditions, or any of a myriad of events force adjustment to the original plan. It takes so much effort, time and money to get here that you try to maximize what you can accomplish. Good Antarctic field scientists never accept just giving up and going home without squeezing every possible productive use of the equipment and time we have here.


January 4, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

Oh No!: WAIS Divide 79°23mS/111°12mW

I couldn’t believe my ears. The pilot’s voice coming through my headset started with “Bob, we have some bad news”…never a good introduction. Their message was that our landing site was too hard and too rough and too short. This translated into limiting take-off weights. So although they would be able to get us onto the ice shelf with our camping gear and scientific equipment, it would be very hard to pull us out without taking far too many loads.

They asked what I wanted to do? It’s a hard question to be hit with an hour after the elation of a successful landing. I felt like the entire program we were finally going to be able to do had just been gutted. The second Twin Otter supporting us was already full of our first cargo load and was at the ice shelf. They were looking for an alternate spot and having no luck. Could I advise them where to look? No. I only knew of one spot like the one we had just visited. They had seen a nice spot off the ice shelf. Was that OK? No. The whole point was to measure water properties and speed of the ice shelf; the ice nearby had no water beneath and was not dynamically “interesting”, at least not with the urgency of the PIG.

Meetings between me and the pilots of both airplanes and a teleconference with science program managers in McMurdo were already arranged by the time we landed back at WAIS—Divide. Based on what I was being told couldn’t be done, a near-immediate redesign of my program were being requested. It was not a pleasant moment. I do pride myself as anticipating possible problems before they occur, but this was at a scope beyond what I had prepared. Part of the problem was that we had actually landed on the ice shelf. I felt we had finally overcome that long-standing hurdle and I was racing along thinking how great the next week was going to be as we began to actually make measurements that would help us understand the ocean and ice interaction; understanding that was urgently needed.

It had been snatched away by this unfortunate decision and it would gut my program. The more I pushed to understand what the logistic limitations were, the narrower they became. Before long, I heard from McMurdo the unequivocal decision “you will not land on the ice shelf again this season”.

I met with the rest of our field team, presented the situation and we discussed what could be salvaged. So much required us to be on the ice shelf. The very measurement of water depth was most critical and didn’t require much equipment, but flying regulations that prohibit people, explosives and detonators from ever flying together would require three landings. The GPS instruments now seemed useless, as well. The only item that could be useful off the ice shelf was the automatic weather station. We examined imagery to find the best candidate locations and are hoping to build and deploy the station at lone of these sites starting tomorrow.

Tonight I am an emotional wreck. The range of emotions hit some enormous highs along with some abysmally low lows. The only solace I find is to remind myself that we are at the edge of the logistic envelope and for that reason we designed this season to be more reconnaissance than science. We are getting answers to long-standing questions— even if we don’t like those answers.


January 3, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

Success: Pig Ice Shelf 75°06mS/100°06mW

On the ice shelf at last!!. We made it! A place no one has ever been, a place many colleagues thought we could never land, a place where we believe drastic changes in the ice sheet are being triggered. A place I have been dreaming of getting to through more than two years of planning. I thought of all these things as I jumped out of the plane onto the snow surface.

Whoa, my feet didn’t sink into snow at all. The surface was really, really hard. That’s why the landing had been a little rough. It will make for safer travel. Bridges across crevasses will be firmer, able to hold more weight.

But my excitement is getting me ahead of the story. Our reconnaissance flight was tacked onto the end of the final put-in flight for the group studying the neighboring Thwaites Glacier. After that we had to add fuel from palettes of fuel drums the Air National Guard had parachuted to the surface just the day before. Most of the palettes came to rest at odd angles. Giant sized divots in the snow told us rough landings were common. But it was the fuel we needed and we got to it quickly. Our mission was still 100 nautical miles away.

That final leg of our journey became very scenic as we neared the PIG ice shelf. A multitude of crevasse fields beneath us told of rapidly moving ice. We could even see blue water beyond the shore peppered with thin sea ice and a few larger, thick tabular icebergs. This was a very active place where the ice sheet raced to the Antarctic coast and reentered the world’s ocean.

The PIG shelf began to appear on the horizon. First as bright areas of crevasses, miles across, but too distant to see individual cracks in the ice. As they came into sharper focus the two mountaineers and I were awestruck by their size, their number and their beauty. I had examined them in satellite images for years, but even intensive study never prepares me for their immense scale when they are right out my window. These monsters were 50 feet across and more than a mile long. Holes in snow bridges let us look straight down into the icy voids, often with draperies of snow hanging tens of feet into the blackness.

Crevasses and crevasse fields were the main story as we approached the waypoints defining the area I was sure was crevasse-free. I began to see features out my window that I recognized from the images I knew so well. And then, there it was!!! The "sweet spot" of the ice shelf. NO crevasses! We began a careful aerial reconnaissance that took us back and forth across the "sweet spot"; first at 1500 feet altitude, then 1000 feet, finally a very slow pass at 500 feet. Looking at different angles, every set of eyes in the plane was straining to see even the slightest hint of hidden crevasses.

We all agreed there were none to be seen so the next step was to "ski drag". This is when the airplane flies along the surface, using its own weight to press downward on the snow, but flying fast enough to remain airborne. It can be rough, and it was here, but not too that we bounced around in the rear of the plane. The pilot then circled around to look for bridges that may have collapsed along the drag line. There weren’t any, but the tracks were so slight, that he wanted to repeat the procedure with more pressure. Rough again, but no danger spotted. We circled to land.

This was exciting. This was when the thoughts of all that had led to this moment raced through my mind. There was a lot of emotion mixed with the excitement. A Twin Otter can stop very quickly and in less than 400 feet and a couple of seconds, we came to rest on the ice shelf. It WAS possible!

There wasn’t much to do on the ground. We helped the pilots mark their runway with black garbage bags we filled with snow. This will help them see the runway is poorer lighting conditions. With a shovel in hand, I couldn’t resist digging a little deeper. I discovered a hard layer of solid ice about an inch below the hard crust. Below that, there were more icy layers with snow the consistency of sugar between. Based on my years of experience with different types of Antarctic snow, this place is windy, it can snow a lot and it can get quite warm. A deeper snow pit will be very interesting.


January 2, 2008

by Dr. Robert A. Bindschadler

On Top of West Antarctica: WAIS Divide 79°23mS/111°12mW

Yesterday came the call we’ve wanted since arriving in McMurdo. We were manifested to fly to the WAIS-Divide camp in West Antarctica. This is our jumping off point for the PIG Shelf and a major step in the right direction. Flights from McMurdo can come at all hours, so we felt lucky that our check-in time was 9:00 am for a 10:00 am departure. We eagerly packed and came prepared to get weighed the evening before the flight. We didn’t break the scale, so I guess we haven’t been overeating too often.

The night before always is tense. It is the last time to make sure I’ve made all our preparations. I went over lists in my mind more than I slept. When morning came there wasn’t much more I could think of that needed doing. A last good shower after breakfast and we were off. A shuttle van of sorts (many vehicles in McMurdo are customized for the special snow, then volcanic gravel conditions) took us to the airstrip. This is not the one we used when we arrived, but a different one groomed for the skis that the Hercules uses to land on.

Delays were minimal and not long after 10:30, we were strapped in and heading down the runway. Then we slowed, turned and headed down the runway again. Then we slowed again and headed down the runway even faster. This back-and-forth continued for 10 takeoff runs before we finally were able to get airborne. I’m not sure what the problem was, because our load did not look excessively heavy and I’ve never had more than one aborted takeoff here. We all were glad to be in the air as we settled in to books, naps or munching on our rather meager box lunch of snacks.

Three and one-half noisy hours later, we descended to the snow strip and made a smooth landing at WAIS-Divide. This camp is where a 3500-meter long ice core is being drilled to recover valuable paleoclimatic records. It is an unbelievably complex operation and located near the summit of the West Antarctic ice sheet. We were given a tour of the drilling facility. Tomorrow they take their first "real science" core. Everyone is excited.

We’re excited, too. The weather forecast for our area is for gradual improvement. Before dinner we located all 9,000 pounds of our cargo. We’ll talk to the Twin Otter pilots tomorrow and then begin to separate our gear into individual flight loads of about 1900 pounds each. By the time we’re done, we will have lifted every pound of the 9,000 a couple of times. I’m getting tired just thinking of it. It’s been a long day. I’ll try to send this tomorrow, but the bandwidth from here is too small to include a picture. Time for bed.