27/3/2016: The planets and weather systems aligned on Tuesday
for the Boeing 575 flight from Christchurch to make its return journey to
Pegasus Airfield, on which we got some mail and I received some parts to make
progress with various jobs, which has been great.
We almost forgot about Easter again until we received an invite to an Easter party
last night at the McMurdo Fuels Barn. This consisted of hunting for "Antarctic
Easter Eggs" (decorated beer cans) then drinking them as quickly as possible. Aside
from these rare breaks from reality, all of Easter is just another work day for us.
We past the equinox on Tuesday, meaning we now have more hours of sundown than
the sun is above the horizon. The good side of this is that there's some fantastic
sunrise and sunsets to be seen when it's not too cloudy.
Anthony Powell used his underwater camera to take this photo of the sea water intake
pipe (supported by the gantry pictured above). The wheel looking thing with the bent post
is the bottom support for the NIWA tide gauge
which is currently still not operational since a passing iceberg appears to have
bent the support tube. I'm not sure how they're going to get it out to fix it,
last time that happened they had some divers on site one summer to sort it out.
The Leighs Construction guys leave in under two weeks. Their many long work days
have put them ahead of schedule with most of the major work on the new container
lab dock (above) and warm porch completed. They're now focusing on many of the
smaller detailed jobs, such as fitting flashing to the edges of panelling.
Leighs have also finished using the crane they sent down on the container ship in
January. The trouble is that the next ship is due next January, which is a lot of
time to have an expensive machine sitting idle. They're considering sending it
back on one of the coming US Air Force C17 flights.
Hagglunds tracked vehicles cold parked outside for the winter.
White Island now looking very pink due to the red sky of the sunset at 8PM on
Having a professional photographer on station is a massive bonus when it comes
to gathering interesting photos. Anthony Powell's photos are significantly
better than my meagre efforts. This one and the four below from him. This is
the TAE Hut in the foreground of a sunset during the week.
The full moon this week created some great photo opportunities for Anthony
Powell, including this shot of the moon above the Americans' new ARM
facility. No, I don't know what it stands for, or what it does. Something
to do with atmospheric research.
Quad-copter view of Scott Base during the equinox evening on Tuesday. The bright
patch of light in the centre is from the light tower which illuminates the vehicle
hitching rail area in the hours of darkness.
I'm not sure where Anthony Powell took this photo from, but it's Mt Erebus with
a reflection in some calm sea water that hasn't yet refrozen.
20/3/2016: A week of weather delays continues to hamper the
NZ Air Force Boeing 757 flight from Christchurch. However, the weather has been
surprisingly good this week, with days of no wind and no cloud; but potential fog
at the Pegasus ice runway has caused continued delays and even a 'return to NZ'
when the aircraft reached its 4-hour PSR (point of safe return). The aircraft
does not have sufficient fuel to fly all the way to Antarctica and back to NZ
without being refuelled at Pegasus, so when reaching the PSR, pilots call ahead
to check that weather conditions are suitable for landing. If it's looking
anything except perfect, they abort the flight and return to Christchurch.
However, the criteria for what's safe for landing seems to be incredibly tight.
If it can't land in perfect blue sky conditions, no wind and no visible fog we
could see at the runway, when can it land? The weather we had this week was
about as good as it ever gets here. I can't help wondering if their criteria
for landing conditions is now set as next to impossible due to the inquiry that
resulted from the NZ Air Force B757 with Minister McCully on board in October 2013.
where the plane had to make a forced landing due to sudden thick fog developing
at Pegasus Airfield, resulted in an inquiry which essentially said that the weather
conditions in Antarctica are very changeable. And perhaps they now have some
unrealistic conditions set for landing. As part of the 'joint logistics pool'
between the New Zealand and American Antarctic programmes, the NZ Air Force
schedule a number of flights to the icy continent. It would seem that the flights
are scheduled, even though it's now impossible for them to actually deliver
this B757 flight due to landing criteria that can never be met.
Anyway, on this flight there is a garage door contractor from Scott Base
home to NZ, and most of the others leaving are 20-something personnel from the NZ
Defence Force who have been working at McMurdo for the last month or two. The
contribution of this labour component is another part of this joint logistics
Aside from these flight dilemmas, it's been a fairly fun week with a bit of live
Irish music at McMurdo Station on St Patrick's Day, and Scott Base hosted an Irish
themed party last night. My job as the bartender for the night was fast paced but
The sea ice in front of Scott Base has mostly reformed this week. The calm winds
allowed ice to grow on the surface of the still ocean water, which now has 1-2cm
of ice. Unless we get some stormy weather soon, the ice will stay and quickly get
thicker. It won't be long until it has grown thick enough to walk on again.
Karl and Katrina had their cameras out during one a windless evening to take photos
of penguins, seals and whales by the Scott Base coastline.
The sea water intake gantry is an ideal place to look down the coastline at ocean
Waste heat from the generators are used for heating air and water at Scott Base,
but when the generators are producing more heat than can be used, these doors in
the side of the building open to automatically vent excess heat from the heating
loop, otherwise the generators would over heat. It seems incredibly wasteful to
burn upwards of a thousand litres of diesel per day to generate power and vent
this heat when the wind farm isn't producing enough energy, but unfortunately
there isn't anything set up to store waste heat so that it can be used when it's
With the equinox (12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of darkness) here in the next
day or two, there are some fantastic sunsets to be seen. This photo taken
by professional photographer, Anthony Powell, using his quad-copter mounted
From Vonny, another sunset photo looking across the open sea water and ice
13/3/2016: It's been not nearly as eventful this week as it
was last week, hence I'm struggling to think of what's been remotely interesting
over the last six days. And the answer is: not that much. I've been spending a
fair bit of time recently dealing with a company called Garmin; we use their GPS
and RADAR products in the tracked vehicles - Hagglunds and Pisten Bully snow-cats.
After purchasing some new units, it appears that Garmin have dropped support for
latitudes below 60 degrees south, we're at 77 degrees (the south pole is 90
degrees), so are having problems with GPS maps. We use Garmin marine models,
and I suppose they figure that no-one would ever want to take their boat very far
south. So this now poses an issue for everyone using Garmin products in
Antarctica, and anyone owning a boat and a sense of adventure.
At least there was one significant highlight for the week though. As they said in
The Blues Brothers, "We're gettin' the band back together!" I'm pressuring
a number of Americans into forming a band, and from our first practice session
during the week it's been so far, so good. Two of them have been my former band
mates from the past five years, so it's been fun to play some of the old songs we
used to do again.
This photo, taken by Andy the water engineer, is what's whipping the whale science
community into a frenzy. I think the story also made it into the media. Andy took
some jumping whale photos this week and sent them in to identify the unusual looking
whales, and apparently they're known as beaked whales and it's unusual for them to
be this far south, or something. I have as much interest in whales, jumping or not,
than most people have in things I find interesting, such as radio transmitters and
antennas. Needless to say, I have many photos of radio things, significantly fewer
photos of whales.
Station photographer, Anthony Powell, has been taking some great time lapse videos
of sunsets and ice floating in the water. He's also been using his remote controlled
quad-copter to take some interesting aerial shots of things, such as this one,
looking directly down at Scott Base.
I grabbed this photo of a row of older Hagglunds during a job outside. These older
petrol powered models have mainly been superceded by the modern re-built diesel
powered machines, which are more efficient, more reliable, quieter and more
comfortable to travel in. They're looking to sell some of these older models as
they buy the rebuilt replacements at around NZ$350,000 each.
5/3/2016: The big highlight of the week for everyone was the
sea ice break out at lunchtime on Monday. It had been looking reasonably solid until
sudden large cracks began developing in the ice, and in the short space of an hour
or two, the typical view of frozen ocean out the window was transformed into open
ocean with whales and penguins just out the back door.
The other interesting event of the week was the visit from the Australians from
Davis Station. Normally they have a two week boat trip directly from their
station to Hobart, Australia. But due to
problems with their ship,
the US Air Force transported the 35 Australians 2800km from Davis to McMurdo
Station where they stayed overnight before the Australian Air Force flew them back
home. They seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to have dinner with us at Scott
Base, and in true Aussie style, weren't afraid to give the bar a bit of a nudge
that night either.
Let's start with a series of sea ice breakout progression photos. The series
of large cracks suddenly appeared at mid-day on Monday.
Cracks becoming much bigger over the space of half an hour.
They made a dash to the sea water intake gantry to lift it out of the water
using the cable winch on the D4 dozer. When the ice broke out this time two
years ago, they didn't winch it clear of the water and a passing iceberg caused
Karl on the front deck enjoying the rapidly changing scenery.
Large ice sheets quickly began to split apart and head out of McMurdo Sound on
the outgoing tide, assisted by the wind.
A few last scrappy chunks of ice floating away.
And finally open ocean. A number of killer whales appeared soon afterwards,
probably hoping for an easy snack of seals and penguins fleeing from the
We're still seeing regular bits of ice float past the window, some of them
littered with penguins and seals.
Fortunately the sea water intake gantry survived this time, winching it away
of the harm of large icebergs saved a repeat of the 2014 gantry mangling
incident. The gantry also holds the nitrogen bubbler tube for the
NIWA tide gauge.
During the gantry lifting, the plastic tube was damaged due to being
encased in ice, so the tide gauge is currently waiting on some repair work
before it's operational again.
The 35 Australians from Davis Station were invited to have dinner with us
on Tuesday night. So for a few hours our quiet population of 20 people
increased to 55 while they enjoyed the company of Scott Base that evening.
The Leighs construction crew have been making the most of the increasingly
less nice days to get the outside work done. Most of the refrigeration
panelling work on the Field Centre expansions is now complete.
Because the construction crew are leaving in a little over a month, they're
putting in a huge number of hours each week to meet the deadline of the 8th
of April. Windy weather this week has slowed the work of lifting on exterior
panels with the crane, so when the opportunity of a windless day appears,
they're often working to 10PM as in the photo above.
Cladding for the warm porch is now complete and installation of the doors is
The sun setting around 10:30PM and the mist rising off the now open ocean
makes for some spectacular evening viewing.