posted 12/31/2005 07:30:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
It is a long weekend!
Today, I slept in again (but not as late,) had brunch with some friends, then ended up going on a hike with them out to Castle Rock. Had a good time, we did an out-and-back from McMurdo out to the top of Castle Rock and back. Neat views, nearly perfect weather, good times! Kish brought a little backpacking guitar with him, and since Sky was also along, we had 2/3s of one of McMurdo's best bands (Ja Chant) with us on top of the rock! Sky and Kish threw a little impromptu concert that was really neat, then it got a little breezy and therefore cold, so we headed back to McMurdo and dinner! At the coffee house right now getting a little caffeine in my system, then will be off to celebrate new years shortly!
|Castle Rock is on the right, Erebus in the background. You can see silhouettes of a couple people on top of Castle rock for perspective||Dave and Sky climbing up Castle Rock. Nice little scramble to the top!|
Q:What kind of wildlife do you have down there?
-Joyce E (through mom)
A:Not much animal life at all other than people down here. Just a lot of volcanic rock and ice. The most common animal here is the skua (not positive, but I believe we have South Polar Skuas specifically.) Skuas are a lot like big, bold, aggressive seagulls. Most people down here don't like skuas very much, but I personally think they're pretty impressive animals. That said, I haven't been divebombed by one yet. They like to steal people's food by flying right at a persons head, which usually scares the person into dropping their food onto the ground, where the skua will then grab it and fly away. Other times, they just cut to the chase and swoop right down onto what you're carrying to grab it and take it away. I've had a skua steal a frisbee and fly with it for a little bit until it realized that the frisbee wasn't food.
We also have Weddell Seals and Leopard Seals, which I suppose are interesting animals, but really from what I can tell they're just big furry balls of fat that occasionally pop out of cracks in the ice to lay nearly motionless on the ice.
There are occasionally penguins around, but they're not too common. We've got two varieties in this neck of the woods; the more common Adelie, and the relatively rare Emperor Penguin. I've never seen an Adelie, but was lucky enough to see an Emperor up close and personal on my first week down here. There are plenty people who have been down here for several seasons and never seen an Emperor penguin, so I was really lucky to run across that one on sea ice training last October.
Finally, there's stuff that lives only in the water. We've got some fish, a lot of single cell thingies, killer whales, and other swimmy animals. I've not seen any of these so far, and really don't know exactly what's there so I can't comment much on them. For pretty much the entire time I've been here in McMurdo, the water has had a thick crust of ice on top, but with the warmer weather and the icebreaker in town, there will soon be a lot more water visible, so I'm hoping to see some new wildlife!
posted 12/29/2005 06:16:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
There's a boat...on the runway!?
Think I might have gotten things setup for a three day weekend, which is a precious rarity down here - we usually only get three two day weekends per season. Basically chalked up a bunch of overtime over the last couple weeks, so given that tomorrow will probably be a slow day I'm taking it off as a comp day. On top of that, it's new years weekend, so Saturday is the beginning of the third two day weekend for us fuelies. Only question is whether I'll spend (part of) Saturday running Scharen or maybe the fuel pits as there will be generators running and planes flying, they have to get fuel from somewhere! Not sure what I'll do with all that free time, but will surely come up with something!
More writing and pictures are on the way, but the galley will be closing in 20 minutes and I haven't grabbed any dinner yet.
posted 12/27/2005 07:22:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Wading in the Ross Sea
After lunch however, we had a bit more interesting task. The hose that runs out to Willy field starts off on solid ground on a hill, then runs down to the transition zone between the ground and the ice. A lot of the ice at the transition has started melting and being generally turned to slush by moving tides, dirt, pressure from the ice. The problem here is that if we just leave things as they are, the hose would end up in the water and would later freeze into place when things cool off again over the next month or two. A hose frozen in ice is a very nasty problem to deal with, so it's something that we generally try to avoid. So, to prevent the hose from dipping too far into the water, we went over there with waders, some string, and an innertube to fix the problem. The water wasn't quite as cold as I would have guessed, but it's definitely not warm! The bottom was a bit slick too (it is ice afterall,) so you have to be really careful about slipping around or going in too deep. Managed to get the innertube squeezed under the hose and tied into place without incident, and had a good time getting it done!
posted 12/26/2005 09:50:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Back to work
Christmas day was a real bummer - with the exception of the excellent dinner. A synergy of lots of work, not so much sleep, feeling a little sick, missing friends/family/darkness, a friend from KY passing away, and some other junk that doesn't belong here was to blame. But, there's nothing I can do about any of that stuff, so there's no point in writing more about it. Dinner was excellent, we had green stuff that didn't come from a can... And real ice cream!
Monday so far has been a bit better than Sunday was. Started working about 5:45am when I met up with David at the heliport so I could show him how to open it up. Glad to be handing that task over to someone else, I really don't like getting up that early and tend to get sucked into working as late as everyone else instead of getting off an hour earlier. Opening up went pretty smoothly with the exception of one handfull of ice cold fuel without a glove on (first time for everything I guess,) but it was merely ice cold and therefore my hand is intact.
Had a relatively leisurely breakfast after opening the heliport, and noticed that my name was on the mail list! Got to work and sat through an hour long safety meeting on MSDS sheets and how they could prevent accidents, or at least minimize their impact. Wouldn't have been that bad if the guy was halfway competent and could say "I don't know" instead of stumbling his way around making up a definition for vapor pressure that was rather incorrect. Reminded me a lot of high school, fortunately I managed not to call his bluff on that one. Just couldn't resist one question that succinctly turned the safety guy's main anecdote (about how MSDS sheets could save the day) on it's head shortly after that, but fortunately our instructor was among those in the room who didn't seem to catch it. Guess I'd take this safety guy a little more seriously if he wasn't into skydiving.
After the safety meeting, I was assigned the task of working on pumping snowmelt out of the containments at our bulk tank farm along with David. Had a good time with that one, and managed to get a few other little work tasks done while waiting for the pump to do it's thing. Also had a little time to think about Life, the universe, and everything, and realized that there's more than just the (bonus) money that's keeping me from leaving McMurdo early. I really do like working here. Guess it's easy to overdo things and get burned out. The things that have been bugging me really aren't things that would go away for long if I were to leave (except for the constant sunlight,) which was a pretty refreshing thought despite how dark it sounds. Got to feeling a lot better by the time my lunch break rolled around. Then, I had a chance to swing by the mail room to pick up that package with some neat Christmas treats!
After lunch, a few of us went out to the Willy hose to cut out a section that had 'blistered' and replace it with a short jumper of new hose. The hose we use is constructed with a few different layers, so if there's ever a fault in one of the inner ones, it tends to not make it through the outer ones without first stretching them and making a bulge that looks like a blister. Fortunately, that doesn't happen too often. In fact, it happens infrequently enough that nobody who was available to fix it had ever done this before. We did manage to get through the process without incident though, and had a good time doing it. Of course, we didn't quite manage to pull it off flawlessly - we forgot to bring a crucial part and had to run back to McMurdo to grab it. It's nice to have problems like blisters in hose that you can find, then go out and do something about.
posted 12/24/2005 02:35:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Christmas eve update
Thursday the first C-17 in a month or two came in, Jody and I ended up driving out to Pegasus to refuel it. Unfortunately, nobody told either of us that the road from McMurdo out to Pegasus had been closed to regular vehicle traffic... Boy am I glad that truck has four wheel drive and big snow tires! Most of the way out, I had the speedo at about 35-40 miles per hour, but was probably moving more in the neighborhood of 20, and was continually on the edge of getting stuck even at that. Basically it was one 10 mile long snowbogging adventure, and fortunatley one without getting stuck either way. On the way back as we were approaching a delta from the rear, the delta driver gave us a call on the radio that went something like "Fuelies on the Pegasus road - Looks like you've got your thing going, let me know what to do so I don't get in the way and slow you guys down!" We responded on the radio above the sound of a revving engine to have the delta pull off to the side. Managed to pass him without having to slow down or go off the road, which surely would have gotten us stuck instantly. Apparently that one prompted a bit of laughter back at fuels control. Good times.
Friday we finished with reeling up the ice runway hose and had fleet ops pull out a culvert pipe we had used for making a bridge over it, so now there's nothing left of the ice runway except for a bit of dirty ice from the LC-130s exhaust and dirt that was tracked out from town. Even all of that dirty snow is now covered up with snow, so you can't even see anything out there. Hopefully there will soon be water where the runway was, can't wait to see that.
Our fuelie Christmas party got started around 3pm Friday evening after we got off work early for the holidays. Had a good time at that, played some fun games, ate some good food, and of course plenty fun conversation. At one point the toaster oven we were using to cook little pizza things with got a bit smokey, so I grabbed my gloves, and started carrying it to the door so the smoke alarm (and automatic fire suppression system) wouldn't go off. On the way out, Scott had a brilliant idea and we ended up cooking on Doc's work table underneath an exhaust hood. Nothing like industrial cooking! The heavy shop was putting on their giant Christmas party Friday evening as well, so after a few hours at the fuels barn, we migrated over to Seth and Bodie's room for a bit, then over to the heavy shop. That get together was a lot bigger and louder (typical of the heavy shop I guess,) but still fun nevertheless.
This morning I had to get up and take Scharen out to fuel the generators at Pegasus and Willy Fields, as well as add a new valve onto our fueling system at Pegasus. Things went pretty smoothly, but due to our warm weather lately the roads were a bit squishy so I had to go pretty slow. Not sure what this evening will bring, but I'm at the coffee shop right now and might just spend the rest of the evening over here.
posted 12/21/2005 08:56:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Work wise, things didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped, but they weren't really that bad either. It turned out that one of the reels was damaged apparently in the drive down to the ice, so we weren't able to use it and will have to do a little logistical juggling to get it switched out. The main problem is that the loaders that are in town right now don't have the super wide tires for driving on the ice, so we'll have to get the whole trailer pulled back to solid ground to do the swap. The sled thing that David and I built worked exactly as designed, so that was cool. I've never tried reeling in hose the old way (tying buckets and hose to a sled as best as possible,) but the people who saw the sled and have done it the old way said that it's a huge improvement. Volunteered to work part of Saturday (which I would otherwise have off work for Christmas) and drive Scharen out to the runways to keep their generator buildings fueled. Hopefully I'll not have to open the heliport so I can sleep in a bit and head out for a nice drive.
Somehow managed to drop the duty pager somewhere out on the ice, which is apparently a very bad thing as it sounds like there aren't any spare pagers on station. Will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the ramifications of that one are. Might end up spending all day tomorrow roaming around with a metal detector while someone else is sitting at a phone paging over and over ;) Wish someone would have told me beforehand how rare those things are down here, I hadn't really thought about it and assumed that it was just another old $15 thing that we had a bazillion of (judging by some of the people who carry them and probably don't need to.)
Heard through the grapevine that the second LDB payload is pretty much trashed, so a lot of scientists who were involved in that project will be heading home soon. Big bummer for them.
Spent my evening after work chilling out and doing number puzzles (highly unusual behavior, but it was captivating for some reason, thanks mom!) then watching a NOVA documentary on a first ascent of Vinson Massif. Neat stuff, too bad it's so far away from here. Really looking forward to getting to New Zealand when my contract here is up to go backpacking and maybe climb some mountains too. I'd really like to see some stars as well, next sunset here isn't until 1:38am. February 20th 2006.
posted 12/20/2005 12:53:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
This morning things went well and we successfully completed the pigging operation. Ended up having to strap the line out to ice runway because it had drifted in over the weekend, but that went super smoothly. I ended up driving the Pisten Bully doing the strapping, but unfortunately it was our bully that has a passenger compartment on the back instead of the cool loaner one we had with a flat bed and an articulated boom... Things went well either way and we got done with the strapping at about the same time that the pigging crew was ready to do their thing - good timing! Wasn't directly involved in the pigging operation unfortunately, ended up getting things together for rolling up the hose and taking care of some smallish tasks around town. After lunch we started staging stuff for rolling up the hose tomorrow, basically gathering together a bunch of tools and parts, loading them into various vehicles. We somehow managed to forget about loading these electric motor/gearbox units onto the reel bases before we drug the bases out onto the ice. That turned out to be a little bit of a pain since we had to load the power units one at a time onto banana sleds and drag them out to the trailer by hand and then load them - also by hand. Heavy, awkward work.
Did get to see a Weddell Seal at fairly close range, which was interesting. The seals barely move when they're on land, so they're kind of boring to watch - just big lumps of fat with a fur coating basically. The second LDB launch happened yesterday evening, which I also missed. Did get to see the balloon from town as it drifted skyward, kind of neat. The balloon launch had a bit of a problem though, so the team was forced to send the 'self destruct' command to the balloon and drop the payload from about 80,000 feet up and 80 miles from town, with a parachute, but nobody seems to know whether the payload will be relaunchable yet. Big bummer for the science team that was behind the launch obviously. There's a neat page about CREAM over here including a link to a live map of where the balloon is. No plans for tonight other than to get more sleep than I have in the last few days...
posted 12/18/2005 09:33:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
The beat goes on
|A Skua waiting for some food to steal:||The LDB launch I missed (the red and white rectangles are helium trailers - same size as your usual semi truck trailer - being pulled by stretch D8s:|
All that said, life is pretty good really - just need to blow off a little steam and make sure I don't make it sound like life in McMurdo is perfect.
While this place is stark, it's definitely beautiful. The ice and atmosphere here make the views incredibly dynamic - looking off in the same direction seldom looks the same. We have a front row seat to a unique, huge, active volcano. In the other direction is a large frozen sound that will soon be breaking up and (hopefully) turning into open water complete with whales, penguins, and an oil tanker. On the far side of the sound is the Royal Society Range - 13,000 feet tall with several glaciers running down it all the way into the sea. Around town there are incredible science projects going on, and all the interesting folks it takes to make them work. In case you haven't noticed here, I'm a bit of a gearhead, so all the unique machines and tools that we get to work with are a real treat too.
Contrary to what the first paragraph might have you believe, the last few days down here have been pretty nice really. Saturday after working (see the post on strapping,) I visited with some friends for a bit, then watched the "Annual McMurdo Women's Soiree," which is a neat performance that a bunch of the women on station get together every year - as the name implies. It was a neat show, especially cool since several of the performers are people I work with everyday. There were skits, movies, dancing, live music, and art all rolled into one big show. Sunday (today) has been a bit more laid back, but still nice. Got to sleep in and go to brunch as usual on Sundays, did all my laundry, then spent much of the rest of the day playing ping pong with a bunch of friends. We had intended to go out and take advantage of the frisbee golf course, but the wind was a bit stiff and cold so that plan dissolved pretty quickly. Ezra, one of the galley crew, found out that the recreation department has a few more goals that haven't been put in yet. We're planning on playing the current course then figuring out locations to install the new goals, but I guess that'll have to wait for another day.
This next week should be interesting in a bunch of different ways. For the first time since I've been working here, I've got a little bit of a different job than the usual "fuels town crew." I'll be waking up around 5am (instead of the usual 6:15am, but I do get to leave work at 4:30 - an hour earlier than usual) to go get the heliport fueling system ready for the day's business. Basically that entails measuring how much fuel is in the heliport tanks, setting the valves to fuel choppers from the appropriate tank, taking fuel samples, logging fuel quantities used, checking the fuel filters, and making sure all the equipment is in good shape. Heliport duty goes hand in hand with the duty pager, so if anything fuel related goes awry after our operating hours, I'm the guy that gets paged to deal with it. Fortunately (since I'm not a morning person,) this will only last for a week.
Also, we'll be pigging the Ice Runway fuel line on Tuesday, then rolling it up as soon after that as possible. Pigging line is an interesting, exciting, and rather dangerous procedure for flushing fuel from flexible fuel hose. We have about a mile of flexible hose running from town out to where the ice runway was, which is full of about 8,000 gallons of jet fuel (basically the same thing as kerosene or diesel fuel.) Before we can roll that hose up for storage until next season, we have to get just about every drop of that fuel out, but it's more complex than just hooking up a big shop vac to one end and sucking it all out. In simple terms, what we do is put a dense foam rubber bullet (the pig) in one end of the hose, then hook up a massive air compressor to the hose behind that. The other end of the hose is piped into one of our bulk fuel tanks. We turn on the compressor and push a bunch of air in - at over 150psi - which shoots the pig through the hose and squeezes all that fuel back into the bulk tank. So, instead of having a mile of hose full of fuel, we just have a mile of hose full of rather high pressure air, much easier to get rid of. With all that air, we're estimating that it's still going to take about 20 minutes to drain the hose through a 2" vent at either end of the line. That's a LOT of air - and a bit noisy too! Pigging is a fairly standard procedure in the normal petrochemical world, but down here it's a totally different animal since we're using flexible hose instead of steel pipe, and instead of pushing the pig with a different kind of fuel, we're just using compressed air. Plus, this is Antarctica, things don't work as planned here. During the pigging process, the hose can literally thrash around in the air as the pig rockets through it, which isn't something you want to be close to. There's also the possibility that something could break, releasing an explosion of pressurized air, fuel, and whatever else happens to be in the area. Of course, since all that bad stuff could happen, we take a lot of precautions. When the line is pressurized, nobody gets anywhere near it. The person running the compressor is the closest to the scene, but they're far enough away that we need to use binoculars to watch the pressure gauges.
Reeling up the hose is a fairly straightforward process, we basically break the long hose apart into shorter sections (still on the order of 1,800 feet each,) put caps on the end of those, then reel them up onto those giant orange reels that I was unrolling when we put down the Willy hose a couple weeks ago.
So, I guess that's all I can think of to post for now. Will definitely post pictures and such when I can get them!
posted 12/17/2005 04:37:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Strapping the Willy hose
Also been working on lots of other fuels stuff. We had our last two flights arrive at the ice runway late last night and leave this morning. The runway and roads in the area are getting covered over with melt pools, which are basically puddles on the surface of the sea ice. The ice itself is still pretty strong, it holds up C130s, but it is a bit spooky to know that you're driving on a layer of ice above a bunch of very cold water and then hit a puddle. I've also done a little more woodworking stuff, some fuel transfers, and other random tasks lately. The station is getting geared up for Christmas, complete with decorations on the telephone poles and garland inside buildings. Looking forward to having an extra day off! That's all for now.
posted 12/15/2005 09:41:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Weirdest conversations down here
"It's not like a paramecium. Not nearly as mild. It goes after things."
Crazy mix of scientists, roughnecks, and everyone in between down here.
Will write more on what I've been up to at work and post pictures too, but need to get going so I guess that's all for now!
posted 12/12/2005 06:37:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Did end up working out at Willy Field most of today (driving Scharen around fueling up the runway buildings and generator,) but unfortunately the LDB launch was cancelled again. The plan is for them to keep trying pretty much every day until they get ideal weather for the launch. Should be able to see the balloon from McMurdo since it's something like 800 feet tall, but I'd still like to see the launch from relatively closeup.
So, that's about all the news that's worth writing about here, so I'll finish with a couple pictures from the last few days:
|Muddy road in McMurdo - I live in "Mammoth Mountain Inn" - the building with the blue sign||Dan's amazing recovery (and costume!) after riding down the stairs in our cyclocross race|
posted 12/11/2005 10:26:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
posted 12/10/2005 09:16:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
posted 12/09/2005 10:47:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
I'm still alive!
The bulldozer picture is a "Stretch D8," which is an big, old (old as in 1950s) bulldozer that's one of the main heavy movers we use down here. It's the second strongest (I think) bulldozer we have (next to the much more modern d8r,) but it has a massive amount of traction and can still pull very hard. The stretches are much like regular D8s that were custom made for the Antarctic program by cutting them apart in the middle and stretching them out (like a limo,) then extending the axles out to accomodate much wider tracks. These modifications were made to allow the dozer's weight to be spread over a much larger area - allowing it to drive over softer surfaces like snow. These machines are really old and tired, but the guys in the heavy shop treat them like their children and keep them running, which is a good thing as some things we do down here (like moving runway buildings) lean very heavily on our little stretch fleet (I think we have 3 that are running, maybe 4.)
The buildings are part of the LDB (Long Duration Balloon) launch facility down here, and were incidentally pulled to their current location near Willy Field using -you guessed it- Stretch d8s. Hopefully there will be a balloon launch sometime with the next few days and I'll be able to get pictures and an explanation posted. Long Duration Balloons are really nifty, and very very big. From memory, the balloons are something like 800 feet tall, 400 feet wide, and can stay afloat for about a month!
This Sunday I'll be competing in the third annual McMurdo cyclocross race, which should be a lot of fun. It's a 2 mile race around town over our very loose, sandy, gravel roads. The bikes are all nearly identical and haven't been available to the public here yet (the same ones I got to work on a couple weeks ago,) so we're all going to be starting on pretty level ground gear wise. Anyways, that's all for now, hopefully will get some more stuff posted here this weekend.
posted 12/04/2005 01:33:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Things that go VROOM!
stuff. i'd read somewhere one of the first expeditions there in the
1920s or 1930s left behind a big 4 wheel vehicle. too big to bring
back so they buried it. heard about that story?
how come no comments on the site d00d?
A:Thanks! I don't use the usual blogger comment system basically because I want this site to be kid friendly so that teachers can use it in middle schools and similar places. Since I've been down here, blogger has added comment moderation, but I haven't had a chance to look at how that works and whether it would be a good system for me to use on this site. Our net connection is very very slow (it takes me at least 10 minutes to upload each of the pictures you see here, usually longer,) and I stay pretty busy so the site will probably stay as it is at least until I get back to the states.
I think I do have an idea of what that big 4 wheel vehicle you're mentioning was. In Scott's last expedition on the Terra Nova (1910-1912), they took some modified farm tractors that were going to be used for hauling sledges. Those tractors didn't do too well - they had lots of mechanical failures, one fell through the ice, and they didn't handle the cold and snow very well in general. As far as I know, those tractors were some of the first vehicles used on the continent.
But, Scott's farm tractors probably aren't what you're referring to, but rather "Byrd's Big Bertha", which was a giant vehicle something like an overland aircraft carrier built in the late 30s. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of information floating around on the 'net about it, but if you do a search for "Antarctic Snow Cruiser" or "Byrd big bertha," you'll run across some info on it. The vehicle was huge - over 55 feet long, nearly 20 feet wide, weighed 30 tons, drove 2 miles per gallon (diesel,) 10 foot diameter tires, etc. It carried a special Beechcraft Staggerwing airplane on top, and had living quarters on the inside. The snow cruiser was a bit of a failure - one of the main factors was that the giant goodyear tires were too slick and pushed up little ridges of snow in front of the front wheels, which eventually would get the vehicle stuck until they dug out the wheels. The cruiser was eventually abandoned in Little America around the beginning of world war two. Nobody is sure where the cruiser is now, it was last seen in 1962 when a group went out to explore Little America and excavated the snow cruiser's garage there. Later in that decade, a big chunk of the ice shelf split off and drifted north, but nobody is sure which chunk of the split the cruiser was on.
Byrd's Big Bertha:
And, some more modern vehicles in use down here:
|A Challenger bulldozer. Challengers aren't as strong as our custom stretched D8 Dozers (I'll get some pictures of one of those later - super cool bulldozers,) but with their rubber treads they can drive smooth and fast, and still pull pretty hard.||An older Nodwell converted for use as a runway fire truck.|
posted 12/03/2005 06:05:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Today was a day full of lots of small projects; started out with improving our "spinner" for rolling 6" hose onto the big reels (thing holding up the hose in the foreground below,) then using it to reel a few hundred feet hose onto one of those giant orange reels, then worked on putting up some (dumb) signs to remind people that they need to pay attention to their nozzle when fueling vehicles (reactionary thing prompted by somebody being dumb and spilling about 20 gallons of diesel fuel the other day since they weren't paying attention,) shoveled a fair amount of snow, emptied out some 2-cycle oil jugs that we had accumulated, and all kinds of smaller tasks. Here are some pictures:
Top-Left:Brian and I rolling up a bunch of hose in the fuels barn.
Top-Right:Standing on Scharen
Bottom-Left:Doc working on the Pegasus sled in a storm
Bottom-Right:LC-130 taking off from Ice Runway.