Notes from the Flight Deck

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I know that you all think we’re in the deep field, but surprise! We’re still at McMurdo! The one thing to remember about Antarctica is that the weather is fickle. While it’s been clear skies at McMurdo, that says nothing about the weather anywhere else on the continent. Luckily, the foremost priority of the United States Antarctic Program is the safety of its participants, which means we only fly when the weather is good along the entire flight route. So, as the title of this post suggests, we’re still waiting “on deck” to fly out to Shackleton camp. For us, this means that we just go about our normal lives at McMurdo, while making sure to check the flight boards to see when we are scheduled to leave. Hopefully, we’ll be flying to Shackleton at some point tomorrow, December 5th. In case I didn’t mention before, Shackleton is the established field camp in the central Transantarctic Mountains that we’ll be using as a jumping off camp to get to our first field site, Roberts Massif.

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you a better taste of what our “normal” lives at McMurdo look like! Each day is different, but here’s a typical day from last week, when we were finishing up our training and packing:

7:00 am: Wake-up and wander to the Galley for breakfast. Make sure to be there by 7:30, when they stop serving! Of course, remember to fill up on eggs and drink a few cups of coffee, as there’s a busy day ahead.

8:00 am: One of many various training sessions – last week we completed a McMurdo Orientation training (where do we dispose of our trash? where do we go if we are sick?), Antarctic Field Safety Training (how to survive when the weather gets nasty), environmental training (How do we report and properly clean up a spill when refueling snowmobiles?), the outdoor safety lecture (allows us to go for a hike or ski around McMurdo), snowmobile training (how to drive and fix a snowmobile), and crevasse rescue training (crevasses are holes in the ice—how do you rescue a team member if they fall in? And how do we travel safely on the glacier so that this doesn’t happen in the first place?).

Phew, that was a lot of training! But all of it necessary to keep us and the environment safe while we’re in the field. And the staff at McMurdo have a way of making all these sessions hands on and interesting!

12:00 pm: Lunchtime in the Galley! Again, make sure to stock up on calories and caffeine for the heavy hauling ahead in the afternoon.

1:00 pm: Cargo time! As I said in my last post, we have around 4000 lbs of gear to bring into the field. Antarctica is a harsh continent, so we need heavy-duty tents and LOTS of food to keep warm. We also need solar panels (for energy), sampling equipment (for science!), snowmobiles (2—for travel), sleeping equipment, cooking equipment, radios and satellite phones (for checking in with McMurdo each morning so they know we are safe) and many books and scientific papers (to keep our minds busy in the evenings). This gear doesn’t magically appear at our field site. We need to pack it all onto shipping pallets, weigh them, and label them. Then it can be put on our plane and shipped to the field site with us.

4:00 pm: Go for a hike or run up one of the trails that take you above the town of McMurdo. Getting to the top of Observation Hill or Arrival Heights gives you spectacular views of town, the sea ice, and the surrounding mountains. Both of these hikes are a nice way to get outside to get some exercise. Necessary after a long day of work! (see recreational photos at the top of this post)

5:00 pm: Dinner in the Galley! You know what I’m going to say here about calorie intake…

6:00 pm: Time to get some other work done, which means something different for everyone in our group. Chris, our mountaineer, has been planning the technical aspects of our trip. Maggie has been mapping moraines for her PhD thesis. Gordon has been working on scientific proposals. Greg has been writing scientific papers. Allie has been posting to this blog!

10:00 pm: Jeez, that day was busy. Aren’t you exhausted?! I am. Time for bed!

Photos of life in McMurdo:

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Fingers crossed that we’ll get to Shackleton tomorrow. We’re all ready to get in the field and start doing some science!

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