Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Weather Balloons at McMurdo

The building I work in is a hubbub of activity.  McMurdo Operations is here making sure that every person with USAP out in the field is safely accounted for.  MacCenter is here tracking every flight on helicopter and plane made in Antarctica with USAP. Raven Ops is down the hall organizing all the LC-130 flights and crews across the continent and up to Christchurch. And MacWeather is here predicting all the weather for all these flight.  In the weather office is Austin, the weather observer.  She was telling me a bit about what she does to observe the weather and then  I got to go with her to Launch a weather balloon! 

MacWeather  launchs balloons two times a day at 11am and 11pm,  365 days a year.   Before I could even upload these pictures to my computer, the data from my balloon had already come back.  My balloon and risen to a height of 72,752 feet and it's ascension rate was 311.6 meters per minute.   The balloons will fly for about two hours and then come down. The weather forecasters here use these balloons and the data they collect to accurately write the forecasts that come out every four hours throughout the day. 

This is the radiosonde.  The part on the very end registers humidity and next to it registers the temperature and it's all tracked by GPS.   
The balloon before it's been inflated. She has to keep them in a warmer so that the latex isn't brittle. 

There it goes! 

Here it is, fully inflated! You'll notice it's floating a bit. That's the measure of when to stop filling it. As soon as it lifts the weight off the table.

Now we have to call air traffic control to make sure that we can launch a balloon into the sky. 

The balloon, once it is released will raise to a height of 70,000 to 80,000 feet and will expand to a diameter of 13 feet in the stratosphere.  

 Outside we have to wait for a calm moment so we can release the balloon. 

We took some time to pose with the blue skies. 

When the wind finally calms down you unroll a bit of the twine that attaches the sonde to the balloon. 

Next just wait for the right moment! 

And, release! 


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Polar Star, The Coast Guard Ice Breaker

The Polar Star arrived in town the other day. It’s the first of the four  ships that will dock at out pier this season. The Ice Breaker the Polar Star comes in first to break up the ice.  Next will the research vessel the Nathaniel B. Palmer. That will be followed by out cargo vessel, the Ocean Giant for our vessel offload and on load (a massive operation). Finally the Maersk Perry will come through to deliver fuel.

None of this can happen, however, if the Polar Star didn’t come in and break up the ice.  For about 12 hours a day the Polar Star is in IceOps-meaning it’s breaking ice.  It took about 3+ days to break open the channel to McMurdo-a distance of about 20 miles.   

Hopefully when she docks at our pier we’ll get a tour onboard!

I’ve attached a link to the video of the Polar Star in Iceops. (I think I use the wrong pronoun for the ship-sorry).

I’ve also attached a link to the webcams at MCM.  One of them is for the Ice Pier so as these ships come in you can look at them. Enjoy!

I've also included some of the photos I took last year when the Polar Star was around when we got to see and tour her.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tucker Glacier, A Boondoggle.

My job this year is in the Aviations Operations department I help organize the flights in terms of people and cargo.  Occasionally we have extra space on the flights and can send McMurdo Personal  to help do work out in the field. We call these "boondoggles."   I was lucky enough to get to go out to Tucker Glacier to pack up the camp gear that the scientists had put together for the plane to bring back. 
Because I work in Aviations Operations I know the pilots and crew so Henry, our pilot, put some extra effort in to make it a good flight.    He took us out to the ice edge to go whale and penguin sighting. It was so incredible to see the Penguins swimming through the water and running across the icebergs. When they're swimming you can see the trails of bubbles coming off behind them.    And while I didn't se one get eaten I doubt they could get away from the whales that cruise around the icebergs waiting for one of them to jump in.  It was remarkable to see the whales from up top because while I know they are huge, to see them from the air and see the full length of their bodies was really stunning. 

Henry also cruised us through a forest of icebergs that were frozen in the sea ice.   He slowed down and was weaving in and out of them as we flew through.  The icicles dripping off them were immense and a bit frightening.   

My favorite part, however, was when he flew us up and over the top of Erebus Volcano. An active volcano about 20 minutes away from here.   As we started flying up and over, Henry called me up to the front of the plane and pointed out the Volcano.  I was pumped to get a picture of it from the air.  About 5 minutes later, we were right next to it.  I was blown away. You could smell the sulfur and see right down into the mouth of the it.   Speechless.

On they way there and back we had to take stop at Mario Zuchelli Station to refuel and while we couldn't actually go onto the station it was, in itself, a pretty memorable experience.  We pull up to this tiny tank and there’s an Italian with a cigarette and a gold earing pumping the gas and gesturing wildly to his friends while talking in Italian. (they, of course, speak English fluently).  While the stop there was short, it was still neat to see a small bit of the operations of another station. On the way out of Mario we flew over the station and then got to fly past the Korean station too. 

My face was exhausted from smiling all day long.  Not only did Henry go out of his way to show me an incredible day, but we were cruising past mountains and glaciers in Antarctica.  Enough to make anybody have an incredible day.   

I am so fortunate to live and work here and this trip was a great reminder to be thankful for the opportunities I've been given. 

That's my fuelie friend Gaeylyn pulling the hose back after fueling our Twin Otter for our trip out to Tucker. 

There she is. Erebus Volcano as seen from the windows of Twin Otter BBV. 

Having been next to frozen ice for so long, it was neat to see the open ocean. 

Cruising past an iceberg. 

The inside of the plane before we filled it up.  KBA is a Canadian company so I figured the hat was a perfect addition to the photo. 

The cargo that was staged for us to bring back. 

Tucker Glacier and surrounding area. 

The first load of cargo. 

The mildly frightening icicles on an iceberg. 

Crusing through the icebergs. 

That forest of icebergs in the distance was the one we flew through. 

The Korean Station, Jang Bogo.

Pretty Pretty Ice.

A glacier flowing out onto the ocean. 

The Italian Station, Mario Zuchelli 

Ice shelf! 

I ejoyed the contrast between the ice shelf which can be 100s of meters thick and the sea ice which, as you can see, is must more unstable. 

Home sweet home.