We made it! Britney, Catherine, and I have been taking in Antarctica for three days now, and we’ve packed in what feels like a month’s worth of work since we arrived. Training starts the minute you get off of the C-17, and is heavily peppered in daily for the first week you’re here. However, the training here is anything but boring. So far we’ve learned about field survival on the sea ice and ice shelf around the base, set up the 20ft x 8ft x 6ft tents we’ll be working and living in out on the shelf known as Arctic Ovens, and have been briefed on the Antarctic Treaty protecting the land and wildlife down here (i.e. what to do if the notoriously curious penguins want to come hang out).Still to come is training on snow mobile and piston bully operation, and additional classes to participate in recreational exploration on off days.
When we’re not learning how to survive in this incredible environment, we’re gearing up for our upcoming ventures out onto the ice shelf to deploy both SCINI and Icefin, our two submersible vehicles. This involves gathering all the materials we’ll need to take out 30-50 km onto the ice, testing all our equipment, as well as logistic planning with both a cooperating science team and the crew running the hot water drill that will give our submersibles access to the ice-ocean interface through over 100 meters of ice.
Today we conducted a test run with SCINI through “the jetty”, which is a hole in the sea ice near McMurdo that is kept open so that the water beneath the ice can be accessed. The sea ice is only around 2 meters thick, and melts away each year over the summer, which makes it a safe testing ground before we send it through the deep holes on the ice shelf in a few weeks.
For most of these first few days we’ve had to carry out our operations in what’s known as Condition 2 weather here in Antarctica. The base has a three level system to categorize the weather. Condition 3 is normal, or ‘good’, conditions. Although condition 3 includes all weather such that the visibility is 1/4 of a mile or more, and a wind chill temperature above -75 degrees Fahrenheit. For most of the past 48 hours we’ve been in Condition 2, which includes visibilities between 100 feet and a quarter mile, and windchill temperatures between -75 and -100 degrees Farenheit. While we haven’t reached Condition 1, which includes anything worse than condition two and virtually shuts down all operations on base, it still makes outside activities somewhat challenging.
There do exist some luxuries in McMurdo, so after long work days and Condition 2 weather, Gallagher’s pub is always a choice retreat for some end of the day R&R.