Saturday, December 03, 2016

McMurdo Season 6 - Day 63

Current Weather - 23F Mostly Sunny Winds NE 10-20

So life is back to normal in McMurdo after my little side trip to South Pole.  Although not great for work, the extra few days at Pole were very enjoyable to get a better feel for the station.  Today I have some airfield photos for all of you.  Specifically Pegasus airfield, which will close permanently by the end of this week.  If I remember correctly Pegasus was constructed in the late '90's and has been the primary wheeled aircraft runway for many years.  However because the glacier that it is built on is moving north continuously the airfield has become downwind of Black Island, which gets it's name because of the lack of snowfall that accumulates there.  And because there is not a nice covering of snow on the dark volcanic rock, the winds pickup that dark dust and cover the ice shelf which then creates melt pools in the same place that we are trying to land aircraft.  Not good.

So, there is a new wheeled aircraft runway that has been built called Phoenix and when the jet aircraft come back at the end of the season they will begin operating out of the new airfield.

So, here is a day in the lift of Paula at Pegasus.

About 14 or so miles south of McMurdo is the location of Pegasus.  This allows for a nice vantage point to view Mt. Erebus.  McMurdo is next to one of those little black bumps at the bottom of the photo.

And here is the Lt's office at Pegasus.  One of two Renegade's, which are Ford F-550's with a track package added to them, and essentially a really big fire extinguisher mounted to the back.  For those of you firefighters out there, you won't find a pump anywhere on this thing (ok a power steering pump).  The fire package is two pressure vessels; one foam and one dry chemical; and then 4 high pressure air cylinders.  If you need to us agent you pressurize the system and the air pressure expels the product from the tanks.

And then there is the crew.  During C-17 flight operations, we bring 8 firefighters from town out to work the flight.  This is in addition to the 8 firefighters that are at Willy Field, and the 4 firefighters in town.  So, most of the people in this photo are actually working on their day off.  Pegasus flights get pretty old pretty quick when you are working most of your days off.

A good view of the ramp at Pegasus.  Here you can see the awaiting Ivan the Terra Bus as well as a Bassler DC-3 that is parked on the ramp.  The Bassler is great little aircraft for Antarctica due to it's extended range and medium cargo/passenger carrying capacity.

And then there is the monster, the C-17.  In the upcoming photos please use the people as a reference of scale to give you an ideas of how big this thing is.

Here are two more firefighting vehicles.  These are firefighting sleds, and there are three of them stationed at Pegasus.  Two of them are pulled by Tuckers which is the orange tracked vehicle on the right, and one is pulled by a Caterpillar Challeger which is on the left.  A little different than what most people think of when they think of a fire truck.

And here the flood gates have opened.  Another 100 people in McMurdo to slow down my internet and eat my freshies.  Sorry, I mean another 100 people to help science.

And again notice the size of the people to the the size of the wheels on the bus.

Now that all of the passengers are off of the C-17 cargo can go about offload and back loading the aircraft.

Heading onto the aircraft, these are the airline seat pallets that some people get to ride in.  This is a small passenger configuration, many times there are 20 rows of these seats.

Everyone else get to ride in the jump seats along the sides of the aircraft.  This view is looking back at the ramp.

Here you can see the interior body of the aircraft.  Again, note the size of the firefighter standing inside.

Looking at from front to back with the ramp closed.

And the last part of the tour is of the cockpit.  Firefighter regularly get to tour the planes while they are on the ground to familiarize themselves with the airframe and the controls in case they have to access the plane in an emergency.

So, enough about Pegasus.  The other night on the walk home from work I saw that there were some interesting clouds floating around the Royal Society Range, so I decided to go outside the dorm and grab some photos.

And while I was standing there, I heard a LC-130 in the distance.  And I got lucky and it was a southbound flight from Christchurch that was headed to Willy and decided to do a low pass, buzzing McMurdo.  And I was standing there with the zoom lens on the camera for once.  Finally a really nice shot.

That is all for now.  More to come soon.  And we are about 50% done with the season.  Amazing how quick the first half goes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

South Pole, I am still here.

Current Weather - 30F, Windchill -53F, Winds 7 knots, Barometer 690mb

As I write this it is Saturday evening about 10pm.  I was scheduled to be at the South Pole from Monday until Wednesday.  Well weather happens, so I ended up arriving at Pole on Wednesday, and scheduled to return to McMurdo on Friday.  Did I mention that it is Saturday?  So our flight was canceled on Friday and Saturday due to a storm in McMurdo.  And they don’t fly on Sunday, so my 3 day trip to Pole is now 6 days and maybe more.  No complaints, not from me, my boss on the other hand might not be as happy.

So here are a bunch of random photos from the South Pole and I will explain some as I go.

This is a photo of the ceremonial South Pole marker.  It has flags from all of the original Antarctic Treaty countries around it, and it is situated nicely centered in front of the station.

Here is the marker representing the actual geographical South Pole.  It is maybe a quarter mile or less from the other marker; however this marker is moved regularly to stay at the exact pole even though the ice shelf is moving about 30 feet each year.

And a close up of the very nicely made marker.

And most importantly my hero shot at the South Pole!

And here are some views of the skiway at Pole.  Here is an LC-130 coming in the taxiway to park.

And here they are parked and are offloading cargo onto a sled.  Once the cargo is offloaded then the plane will offload any excess fuel that is not needed to get back to McMurdo, which will help supply the station for a year.

And taking off on skis.

And lastly a good fly by shot.

The last aircraft photo won’t look like much to most people, but this is a C-17 flying over the South Pole.  The C-17 cannot land at Pole due to the fact that it doesn’t have skis.  However in case of an emergency during the winter months, the C-17 does a practice airdrop mission over Pole in the summer season to prepare for an emergency drop in the winter time.  Sorry, I don’t have any good photos of the actual drop, but it was still amazing to see a C-17 here.

In this photo we are riding in a Scout, a track snow grooming type vehicle, to ARO which is in the Clear Sector and NOAA runs experiments here on the air.

This is ARO.  There are numerous sectors around Pole such as Clean Air, Dark, etc.  And all are named for the science going on in the area.  I will try to explain more in a later post.  At ARO we got a quick tour about what they do (more to come later) and during the tour, the explained that the air on the windward side of this building is the cleanest air on the plant.  And the really cool part is that I got to hold a specimen vial out the window and I now have a sealed sample of the cleanest air on the plant.

Looking back from ARO this is a photo of the elevated station.  It is called the elevated station because the station is built on columns that allow the station to be raised occasionally to keep it about the snow accumulation.

This is what a fire truck looks like at the South Pole.

Here is the Communication Center for the station.  During the summer months the fire department staffs the center and provides 911 coverage, local VHF radio coverage, as well as HF communications with McMurdo and any aircraft in the area.

These are the arches. Both are completely buried in the snow except for this end. The one on the left is extremely long and houses cargo; a heated building inside the arch; and unheated food storage, and then lastly the fuel bladders for the station.  The arch on the right houses the heavy equipment shop and several building trades shops, again in a heated building inside the arch.

This shot is of the back of the elevated station and I am standing in the same location as my photo of the arches, I just rotated to the left.  I liked the steam from the power plant generators in the sunshine.

And a better view of the backside of the station.  He you can clearly see the elevated feature of the station.  These wings mostly are dormitory housing.

The chrome looking cylinder on the right side of the station is called the beer can.  It is the staircase that connects the elevated station to the tunnels under the snow that go to the power plant and the arches.

And a nice front profile view of the station.

And here is what it looks like looking out the window.  Miles and mile of ice, in every direction, including downward.

And here is the entrance to the station leading up from the skiway.  Aka the opposite side from the arches.

And this is just the really cool ornament at the top of one of the flag poles.
So, that is all I have for photos to share now.  I have allot more photos, but only a limited time on the internet.  So I will add to the story at a later date.
Stay warm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

South Pole Station!!!

Current Weather -26F clear and winds at 14 knots.  Barometer is 695.0mb

I made it to the South Pole!  I am here for three days to review some hot work welding areas.  Yesterday's flight was good, and I have not done to bad with the massive elevation change.  My body is acclimated to 7600' normally at home, but I have been at sea level for 7 weeks, so all of that is gone.  And I went from 0' to 10,000' elevation in 3 hours.  Checkout the Barometer reading and if that doesn't mean anything to you Google what it is normally where you are, or ask Tom Hynson. 

Yesterday was a good tour of all of the main station and the shops.  Today I will be going out to some of the remote science buildings to check them out.  Also, as an added bonus, today is the C-17 airdrop at the Pole.  So I get to watch a C-17 doing low approaches and dropping cargo out.

I don't have time for photos today, so I will post them when I get back to McMurdo.  The internet here is from a satellite and we only have limited time each day while the satellite is in view.

That is all for now.  I just wanted to mention one more time I am at the South Pole!!!!!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

The good and bad and good again.

Current weather conditions McMurdo: 18F, Mostly Cloudy, and light winds
                                            South Pole: -35F Partly Cloudy, and light winds

So I am going to start with the bad actually.  And this happened about 3 weeks ago now, but I haven't had much time to write as of late.  We had a fatal snowmobile accident about 30 miles outside of McMurdo.  Dr. Gordon Hamilton from the University of Maine was operating a snowmobile in an area called the Shear Zone on the Ross Ice Shelf and when he plunged into a 100' deep crevasse.   Neither Paula or I knew the Dr, but it is tough for the program to have such a tragic accident and so close by.

On to brighter subjects.  We had a visitor this week.  Secretary of State John Kerry came to visit us here in McMurdo.  Which is a really big deal for the USAP.  He is the highest ranking US official ever to visit Antarctica.  And he was treated to the same realities that all of us our.  The visit was scheduled from Thursday to Saturday and of course weather canceled his flight south on Thursday.  So when he got to Pegasus on Friday, they transported him to Willy Field to jump onto a LC-130 for his trip to Pole.  The group got all settled in, the props were fired up and then the flight was canceled to Pole for weather.  So instead he was whisked around the Dry Valleys to see all of the cool stuff by helicopter.

This was a major undertaking for the community and the program.  I had next to nothing to do with the visit compared to many other people and departments, but I did get to play along in the hoopla.  Who would of know 30 years ago that when I started this firefighting career that I would be meet with a special agent for the Diplomatic Security Services as a fire officer.  Which was basically talking about the structure that the Secretary would be staying in and discussing the risks of fire and our response.

The other cool project that I was assigned was to determine how many people can occupy the Galley where the Secretary would be making remarks to the community.  From there it became how would we setup theater seating in the Galley to maximize the the available space for people, and then it became our job to break down the Galley and setup the seating as well maintain the exit paths and control the entrance point.  And did I mention that we were allotted 15 minutes to break down from dinner meal time to full theater seating.  My job was to coordinate the setup using volunteers from town, determine on the fly the occupancy of the room and monitor the exit paths.  We had a great turnout of volunteers and we cleared an entire 4500 square foot room of tables and chairs and setup a seating arrangement in 22 minutes.  It was amazing.  The group knocked it out of the park.

Then the Secretary came and spoke to the town and was very interesting and showed his interest in the environment and thanked everyone for there work in the science community.  I assumed that he would talk for 15 minutes or so and move on, but he talked to everyone for about 40 minutes and then took questions.  A very cool event!  And I am glad that it is over.  Here are some photos of the event.

Anyone recognize one of the door guards.

So if you have made it this far you get to hear the really good.  At least the really good for me!  Note that I included the current conditions for Pole up above.  If the flights all go well at 18:00 on Monday I am headed to the South Pole for 3 days for work.  It has taken 10 years, but it looks like I might finally make it to Pole.  And not just for a 15 minute visit.  I am going down as the Fire Prevention Officer to investigate and make recommendations on locations for Hot Work on Station.  Hot work is any type of welding, grinding, soldering, etc.  There has been quiet a bit of debate from different groups on the place and procedure.  I have the ability to look at the issue with the perspective of the fire department and from the view of a weldor.  It should be interesting.

Hopefully the next time I write I will have South Pole photos to share.

Take care and I will chat again soon.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

McMurdo Season 6 - Day 31

Current Weather 12F Sunny and Calm

Today's installment is photos of a Pressure Ridge trip that I went on last week.  The trip leader was Paula, but you won't see her in any of these photos because she was leading the hike and checking for safe conditions and any new surface cracks.  I on the other hand was chosen to be the tail, and making sure that the number of people that we started with, was the number that we ended with.

So the Pressure Ridges, what are they?  Well it is the ice in front of Scott Base where the annual sea ice (10 feet thick) is getting squeezed between Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf (100's of feet thick).  The ice shelf is moving north and it crunches the sea ice.  This area has many cracks in the ice and it is a good area to find seals very early in the season.  This sea ice edge is 30 or 40 miles north of McMurdo right now, but the seals travel south coming up in these cracks from time to time trying to get away from the ice edge and from predators.  Once they find a safe area they stay near by and have their pups.

We get to go walking around this area early in the season before the real melt begins.  So it is an interesting area because of the ice formations, and we get to be up close with the seals and seal pups.

Enjoy lots of photos, and less blathering.

I really liked this formation. It is splitting from the compression upward with a view of Castle Rock and Mount Erebus in the background.

Beth, I tried to get the seals to move so that they would be in the proper lighting, but they wouldn't listen.  I will try to go on another trip at a different time of the day to get some better lighting.

Look I didn't loose anyone.

You can see in the background Scott Base.

Here you can get some perspective of the scale of the ice features.

And don't fall in the crack.

I really liked the silhouette shadows in this photo.

That is the first good wildlife of the season for me.  Thanks for checking it out.