Posted by: sioglac | Dec 18, 2011

Dispatches from the Great Ice Barrier

I just really wanted to refer to the Ross Ice Shelf as the Great Ice Barrier, as it’s a way cooler name. (Historical note: the Ross Ice Shelf’s was called that during the “Heroic” age of Antarctic exploration since it prevented the boats from traveling any further.) ANYWAY, it’s been awhile. So I guess I should start from the beginning..

Our transport to the airfield back on December 7th was at 6:45 AM. We were landed on Whillans by 10:30AM-ish and since then it’s been pretty much nonstop work. The first day and a half were camp set up. 6 sleep tents (two scott tents, four mountain tents), 2 work tents (the science tent is 16 feet by 8 feet, the food tent is 20 feet by 8 feet), two airplanes worth of cargo to organize, meals to cook, etc.

Our third (and final) plane couldn’t land during our first two days in the field due to weather conditions (windy with low clouds, so bad visibility from the air) and by that point, we really had to start our previously mentioned traverse Subglacial Lake Whillans to pick up the hot water drill and get started with science. The problem was that we only had four snowmobiles. The last four were packed on the third plane. So four of us (Huw, Rory, Lucas, and myself) headed off on two snowmobiles for the 110 kilometer (~70 mile) drive upstream. Not the most comfortable situation. But it had to happen.

And from that moment, Lucas and my science started. Every day since then has been driving around the ice stream downloading data from GPS units, tearing down and setting up GPS installations, and generally making sure the current systems can last another Antarctic winter. We also spent a day at Lake Whillans driving the paths that two different satellites fly over the area to verify the measurements they are making from hundreds of miles above in space. 190 kilometers (~120 miles) on a snowmobile was quite the experience…

In terms of non-science stuff, I am still in awe every time a tent door opens. The Transantarctic Mountains tower over us from one side and the other direction is bright white ice as far as the eye can see. I’m going to try to upload a picture, but it will be very low resolution and probably won’t work because the connection is so slow. If it works, it’s of our mini-camp at Subglacial Lake Whillans. Not a bad place to do research. (UPDATE: Okay no picture for now. The internet keeps choking on it :/)

Camp life to this point has been a bit scattered. The four of us who traversed to Lake Whillans spent two days at our half-setup grounding zone camp followed by two days “roughing it” at the Lake (cooking on small, backpacking stoves, living out of our scott tents), and 4 nights at I181’s camp (AKA with Paul Winberry’s field team). Lots of moving around. Needless to say I’m happy to stay in one place for at least a week! I was also surprised at how long it took me to get in “field mode”, or in other words, work-coffee-eat-coffee-work-work-eat-work-sleep repeat. I didn’t really hit a groove until that 190 kilometer drive around Lake Whillans. Ironically, that was the day I lost a $3000 piece of equipment (which I found the next day right where I left it… 12 miles from camp).

Food (which everyone asks about always) has been pretty incredible even with the constant motion. We take turns cooking. I cooked a green curry with chicken that was disappointingly bland. In my defense, cooking for 8 isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Angie and Martin made buttery, cheesy instant mashed potatoes, which rocked my world. Lucas wins for most imaginative cook, turning frozen bean and cheese enchiladas left over from last year’s field season into an awesome lunch of bean and corn enchilada soup and followed that up with chicken cordon bleu for dinner, replacing the “bleu” with cheddar and the ham with pepperoni. He followed that up tonight with possibly the first Antarctica Double Down in history. If you don’t know what that is, I’m sure Google can help you out.

In term so of entertainment, I finished A Farewell to Arms last night and am moving on to some Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions), which got high marks from Huw, to whom I loaned it during our time at SLW and I181 when he forgot to bring any books. Silly Huw. We also watched Episodes 5 and 6 of Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and a handful of episodes of the Big Bang Theory. Doesn’t the nightlife in Antarctica seem crazy??

Sorry for the long, text-ful post… Been a busy 9 days it seems. And now I have a ton of data to entertain me for the next year too!

Hopefully I’ll be back at this regularly now… The blogging, I mean. But the field work too.



  1. I know I’ve already told you of Felicity Aston, the woman looking to become the first woman to cross Antarctica alone, but there was an article in the AP today about her progress. She left from the Great Ice Barrier on Nov. 25th headed towards the South Pole. She mentioned in the article that she had visitors the other day, and I had fun imagining that they were members of the WISSARD team. To you, she was a strange ice nymph. To her, you were a quixotic but welcome sight.

    Then I tried to get better at geography and realized that a visit from you would mean she might be a bit off course. YOU NEVER KNOW.

    Enjoy the musings of Mr. Kilgore Trout!

  2. […] and start re-reading posts from last year. While I do pat myself for the posts I did write (found this one open on my computer when I woke up), I missed so much that we did last year. I’ll do my best […]

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