Posted by: sioglac | Dec 20, 2011

The Weather on Whillans

Yesterday (December 19th here), Lucas and I were moving two GPS sites, so I had lots of time to think while I dug out anchors buried chest deep in snow. I got thinking about the weather because I realized it was the first time I felt cold since arrive on the ice. I’ll note here that I likely felt cold because moving gps stations requires excessive shoveling to work up a serious sweat followed by handling metal that’s been sitting in Antarctica for the past year. The combination obviously will result in feeling cold.

ANYWAY, I thought about how it was the first time I felt cold and realized I haven’t told you about the weather in these parts yet. With so much time, I came up with a pretty good analogy I think. Weather on the Whillans Ice Stream is unique in that we are far from the open ocean (so no major storm systems) and at low altitude (so not bitterly cold). In other words, I thought, the weather here is a lot like home in San Diego: mild and consistent. 10s and 20s (degrees F) with light winds. In the sun, it feels warm. In the shade, it feels a bit cool, but still comfortable.

No sooner do I think this and the wind picks up. And everything deteriorates. I fell asleep to a 15-20 mph wind and wake up today to a 20-25 mph wind. The snow hadn’t started to lift off the ground, so we went out to our respective field sites. Today, Lucas and I were using GPS to ground truth (i.e. verify the accuracy of) surface elevation data collected from space by the Cryosat-2 satellite. Visibility was fine for our work, but if it the wind picked up anymore, the day would end on account of the weather gods.

Since I had jinxed everything the day before with my thoughts comparing Antarctica to San Diego, the wind picked up. And stayed up. We were back in camp by 1 PM finishing about 40% of the day’s work. And the wind never died down. Gusts were up to 35 knots (~40mph, still low by Antarctic standards). Visibility down to 100 meters at times. Bad for science, but incredible for me. My first Antarctic storm!

After tidying up camp in the blustery weather, I took lots of pictures and some movies of wind whipping our bathroom tent around. We had to tidy up camp because drifts accumulated waist high. Anything small would be lost under piles of snow or blown away. Also because we had lots of time and were stuck in a tent, we decided to have a double feature tonight. We watched Heat before dinner and The Running Man after dinner. We also started to combine different food products to entertain ourselves: hot cocoa and coffee to make mochas, dates wrapped in pepperoni, pepperoni wrapped in dates, oatmeal topped with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The last one being really mindblowingly delicious.

The half day off was nice, but I hope it’s back to work tomorrow. We have lots to do before our next half day off on Christmas day…

Another random story from today: One of Ernest Shackleton’s books was sitting on a chair in the mess tent. We flipped through it to look at pictures and find one of some of his crew sitting in front of a tent in the 1910s. The exact same style of Scott tent we have set up about 30 feet away from where we were sitting. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.


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