11/28/19 Willie Field APS Dig

Happy Thanksgiving! For the first time since I’ve arrived here, I’ve taken a day off. I don’t exactly have regular hours – I‘ve been working around 8 to 14 hours per day depending on what time I wake up and leave Crary. It’s midnight as I’m writing this at the lab. I spent most of yesterday watching movies and doing laundry. Laundry machine use, detergent and dryer sheets are all free. I went on a nonstop Bonanza marathon and laid low most of the day. At the end of the day, I topped it off with a glass of Laphroaig Triple Wood, a fancy bottle of single malt scotch I bought back in Christchurch. It’s basically like drinking liquid smokey wood.

Today, I started my day off pretty normally with no expectations of doing anything but coding and troubleshooting in the lab. I’ve been focused on getting SPI reception code written for the PCWS datalogger lately. Once I can talk to the ADS1258’s and retrieve their data samples on command, the rest of this code will be a piece of cake. By the time I showed up at Crary around 11am, Lee had already taken off for a second Tall Tower visit with the National Geographic film crew. They probably had him walking back and forth between the plane and the tower 50 times again. Back at the lab, Scott and Mark were gearing up to pull their APS weather station at Willie Field. I’ve been interested in their project, so when Scott asked if I’d like to join them to help dig, I had no objections. Plus, it feels great to get outside for a bit. We checked out an Amtrak F-350, loaded it with tools, and set out for Willie Field. On arrival, we met up with Thomas Nylen, a technician from UNAVCO, and began digging for the APS’s power supply buried below 4 feet of snow. There were thirty, 72lb, 12V lead-acid car batteries total to dig out. Yikes. Although a lot of work, we really lucked out on the weather again. Today was 25 degrees with no wind and sunny skies. I had brought my heavy jacket, coon hat, ski gloves and ECW boots, but most of it ended up being left in the truck. I was digging in a sweatshirt, hiking boots, and my light Sitka gloves no problem.

The snow in Antarctica is the kind of crispy, medium weight, compacted snow you see in the middle of January in Wisconsin winters. Even though it wasn’t the heaviest lifting – digging a 6ft wide, 5ft long and 4ft deep hole was a heck of a workout. Around noon the New Zealand Antarctica University of Auckland students showed up to check out the APS, AWS and PCWS towers. They were led by Dr. Adrian McDonald, and a field guide. They brought shovels and were happy to help us dig out 2 of the 3 towers as we worked on the power supplies. Around 3 o clock, we all gathered around Mark. He gave a 30-minute presentation on his APS system at this particular site as well as the history behind it. 

Around 7 o clock, we were starting to get hungry. The New Zealand group had left, and we still had digging to do. The galley doesn’t serve after 7pm, so pizza was on the menu. Scott and I then drove the Amtrak back to base. On arriving, I ran up to the galley and ordered a couple pizzas: meat lovers and veggie. The pizzas would be ready in about 20 minutes. I ran back down to Crary and unloaded some more batteries and tower sections with Scott. By this time, our pizzas were now ready. We drove the Amtraks back to the galley, I ran in and picked them up, and we set back off for Willie field. The pizza smelled super good on the way there. Pizza in McMurdo is not bad. I’d say it’s comparable to Dominos but with lighter toppings and less greasy sauce.

Thomas from UNAVCO eating delivery pizza on the ice

Arriving back to Willie, we popped the tailgate down and chowed. It had been a long day in the field, so getting some hot food felt great. As we were eating, Scott pointed out that Minna Bluff was starting to get foggy. This usually means that winds are approaching, and it’s time to start thinking about packing up. We finished up our food and went back to digging. Mark and I both worked tirelessly on digging on the last of the 3 towers, rocking it back and forth to break it free from the frozen snow before finally lifting it out. We were now finished with the digging, and our focus now shifted to cleaning up. The winds were now getting close. Losing sight of Black Island meant that we had about a half hour to 45 minutes to leave. We cut the rest of the tower guidewires anchored beneath the snow, packed the bamboo flags signaling where the system is located, grabbed our tools, loaded up the freed tower sections, and drove back to base. About 10 minutes after we got to base, the winds picked up and visibility went way down. Just in time! We celebrated our successful dig by grabbing some drinks at Gallaghers, and then I made my way back to Crary where I am now. 

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