Tuesday, October 11, 2005
posted 10/11/2005 10:00:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

First full day on the ice!

Learning to anchor tents on bare iceAn emperor penguin in the distance

Wow, today has been totally amazing!

Last night after I made my post here I was chatting in the hall with Gina (one of the other fuelies) and she told me that there was a rumor that I was going to be promoted from being the Fuels General Assistant to a Fuels Operator. What was apparently happening was that Don, who went down to the ice as a fuelie, had a crane and knew how to drive several bits of heavy machinery. As it turns out, there's a desperate need for heavy vehicle operators, so Don was going to turn into a heavy vehicle operator, which would leave a hole in the fuels crew unless somebody could become a fuels operator. That somebody turned out to be me!

This morning after breakfast, I walked up to the fuels barn for the first time and ended up chatting with Scott about the situation - turns out the rumor was true! The promotion is really good for a couple reasons; the main one being a significant pay raise, but also the added perks of being a fuels operator over a general assistant. I'll be able to get outside more, have a chance at getting rotated down to the South Pole for a bit, get higher priority with room assignments and the like, and did I mention that my pay almost doubled? Quite nice!

So, after a quick visit to the fuels barn, I was off for sea ice training. First we had about an hour of classroom time having the basics of sea ice explained (this page has a written version of what we learned in the course - very neat!,) learning about what kinds of forces cause cracks in the ice, where cracks are most likely and how to spot them, and about the different types of sea ice cracks. After the classroom session was over, we donned our ECW gear and loaded into a Haaglund (the orange vehicle in the picture) to go out to the ice. This was my first time riding in a Haaglund, and it was pretty interesting. The units we have are a bit on the old side, and the heaters are a bit temperamental, so it wasn't heated at all. The ride was a bit bumpy as you'd expect from a tracked vehicle, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some people would have you think.

We stopped about 15-20 minutes out at a patch of bare ice and learned how to anchor a tent when you're out on open ice in case you're out traveling and get caught in a storm. The technique we learned is called a V-Thread anchor (also known as an Abalakov anchor,) where you take an ice screw and drill two holes that meet at the bottom (shaped like a V pointing into the ice) and feed your guyline through the hole to anchor the tent to the ice.

After making a bunch of anchors, we piled back into the Haaglund and went for a bit longer drive out towards the Erebus Ice Tongue. An ice tongue is where a glacier runs off the edge of land and out into the sea, forming a big chunk of ice sticking out into the water. We were heading out towards the ice tongue because among other things, it causes pressure features in the ice, which we were out to learn about. We got to a point where the instructors had planned to close off the road and divert it around some particularly large pressure ridges and 'rounders.' Rounders are comparatively rare and are caused when sea ice is under pressure and flexes downwards, forming shallow rounded troughs. Rounders can actually force the surface of the ice below sea level, so if they develop a hole they will fill up with water, which might or might not freeze.

So, we got out of the haaglund to look at the cracks and place some black wands (bamboo sticks with color coded flags on the end) to mark the road as closed. While we were investigating these cracks someone spotted a penguin in the distance! The penguin saw us as well, and was curious, so he started walking directly towards our group as we took pictures of him. Unfortunately, my memory card was nearly full, so I only got one picture from a distance, but other students got some really good closeups of the penguin (and me with the penguin!) that I'll get copies of and post on here later. As the penguin got closer, we all got down on our knees to be less intimidating and he came even closer! As we the penguin was waddling up and we were watching, a snowmobile came down the road - it turned out to be a nice coincidence that it was one of the main penguin researchers from McMurdo. As we were all talking, the penguin actually walked around and through our group of people, which was a really neat experience.

Eventually, we left to go scout out a new route for the road around the pressure features and find some cracks to investigate. We found some 'working cracks' in the ice and started to profile (measure different properties) them. To look at the cracks, we shoveled out trenches in the snow perpendicularly to the crack to expose the bare ice, then used an ice drill to penetrate the ice sheet down to the liquid water below. Then, we dropped a nifty little tape measure device down the hole to gauge the thickness of the ice. The ice we were measuring was more than 3 meters thick, and we measured the different steps along the working crack to it's thinnest point, where it was still over a meter thick - plenty strong to drive over in most vehicles. Even though we were looking at cracks in the ice, there was no liquid water visible anywhere - when it gets exposed in this kind of weather it doesn't take very long to refreeze, forming a thinner band through the ice sheet.

So, after we had profiled a couple cracks, we set about setting wands along our new section of the road, which was a lot of fun. Three of us walked and ran behind the Haaglund to place the wands - one person would mark where to make the holes, one would drill them, and one would set the wand in the new hole. So, we repeated that process dozens of times and eventually had a new section of road to divert people around the bad ice!

Eventually, we made it back to McMurdo, where I had dinner and then attended a lecture on traveling around outside of the base. There are a few established hike/ski trails around the base here that we can go out on if the conditions are good and if you have attended this lecture. The lecture was pretty much stuff that I already knew about cold weather travel, plus an overview of the trails around here that I had only heard about and seen on a few maps in passing. Good information, and now I can go out hiking (as if I've got any free time :) )!

Once the lecture was over, I went back to my room to find that two roommates arrived on the flight today (which we actually saw landing from several miles out on sea ice,) so we visited for a bit. They both seem like pretty good guys, but they were tired from the trip down so I left and started emailing people and working on this ridiculously long journal post!

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