11/15/19 – 11/16/19 First Brief, and Training
My first in-brief was this morning at a building called The Chalet. Initially, I wasn’t sure what direction to go since I’m still pretty unfamiliar with the area here. I asked someone while walking around and was pointed in the right direction. I arrived about 10 minutes early. When I walked through the door, all lights were off, and no one was present. For a moment the thoughts crossed my mind: “Crap what if I’m late for my first brief? Is this the right building?” I had no way to check. I decided to stay put for a minute since this was definitely the building the guy described to me. A couple minutes later, a woman walked through the door. I asked if the in-brief is in fact this morning. She said yes and that people generally don’t show up until the last minute. That was a big relief. In the next few minutes, the room filled with officials from the NSF and McMurdo station, as well as participants from all kinds of grants & events who were on my C-17 flight yesterday. The time came for the brief to start, and we all took our seats. The officials were in front, beside a multitude of various countries flags hanging on golden stands. We went around the room, standing individually to introduce ourselves. We had to cite who we were, where we are from, what we are doing and what grant/event we are with. After everyone’s turn had been taken, we were given an introduction to the officials in front as points of contact.
I attended a light vehicle safety lecture, as well as a health safety and fire training lecture. All 3 were mashed into one session in the main galley room. Light vehicle lecture is a prerequisite to getting light vehicle operation training, which allows me to check out and drive the modified Ford F250s on and off base. The lecture covered things like speed limit on base, use of the MIDAS parking brake, and chalking your tires when parked. The speed limits are pretty slow in McMurdo; 5mph on base, 25mph off base. The fire lecture was pretty straight forward, explaining evacuation drills and some history behind the firehouse and MacOps. Health safety is huge in McMurdo. There are nearly 1000 people from all over the US packed into base this summer. The combination of close proximity to so many people, and everyone eating from the same place is a disease risk. Even though not required, everyone washes their hands at the stations in front of the galley before eating. People that don’t wash their hands before are shunned. Every year new participants get the McMurdo Crud – usually a virus causing flu-and-cold-like symptoms that usually goes away after a few days on its own. Ever since McMurdo installed hand washing stations and began a more strict heath policy, the number of cases of the crud has been cut in half. There is a medical facility on base where you can get treatment for basic ailments like colds or scrapes/cuts. For more serious illnesses, people are airlifted off the continent to New Zealand.
Later in the afternoon, I attended an environmental field brief. It actually turned out to be more interesting than I expected. I was surprised at how much thought has been put into preserving the Antarctic environment. Everything from sorting your trash in McMurdos different recycling bins, to watching your step to avoid disturbing microbes & lichens while in the field. For example: By measuring CO2 concentrations near the ground, scientists have determined that the disturbance of soil by footsteps are enough to kill off delicate microbe populations in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. With over 150 species total, every region of Antarctica has its own unique microbe populations. Only two species being common to the entire continent. For scientists to accurately study these demographics, it’s important to not interact with the environment as much as possible.
After all the lecture, I walked back to Phase II of the laboratory building and setup my hardware for the PCWS datalogger. The hardware today consisted of my laptop, the datalogger, an Atmel ICE AVR programmer / debugger, and a power supply. Normally I would have an oscilloscope ready for decoding serial/RS232 messages, but it’s still in shipment from Wisconsin. I didn’t really need today it as I can still serial data out to my laptop though a converter and read information in a terminal. Today I worked on the Iridium modem software. After some discussion with Lee about knowing when exactly the correct time is to transmit data, I learned that asking our NAL Iridium Satellite Modem for a satellites RSSI (Relative Signal Strength Index) is the easiest way to give que for transmission code. If the RSSI is high enough, a satellite is in view overhead and should be able to receive the data we send. After writing and successfully integrating this new piece of code into my NAL library, Lee and I went off for dinner at the galley with the National Geography group.
The next day, I attended Antarctic Field Survival training, led by our instructor Mitch. During this training, we covered topics such as frostbite prevention & treatment, risk management, and use of survival kits. Mitch started off by talking about the goals of this lecture: to prepare us for possible survival situations, and how to assess them. We first started off by going around the room and stating a risky/hazardous Antarctic situation. Then the person next to you would counter that statement with a safe alternative. When it was my turn, I said “Getting lost in a blizzard while hiking”. The next person then responded with “Stay on marked flags and watch the weather forecasts before you leave”. The instructor wrote each hazard on the board. After going around the room, we were shown an organized way to view these statements in a risk management chart. Once we finished the lecture section of the training, we gathered in the cargo area adjacent to the classroom. Mitch introduced us to survival bags, which contain enough food and fuel for three days of survival in the Antarctic. They also contain a stove, a tent, a sleeping kit, and a magazine. First, Mitch demonstrated how to use stoves, which are small bunson-burner-like apparatus that can burn a variety of fuels. He also demonstrated how to disassemble them, clean them, and exchange nozzles for different fuel types. Next, we broke up into groups of 2-3 and practiced what we had just learned for ourselves. Stoves are pretty simple to use. They have a small tripod that slides around a circular plate for support, and the plate holds a reservoir for burning fuels. Once a fuel canister is attached and a flow valve is turned, fuel flows from a nozzle near the top of the burner. Once a small amount of fuel leaks out onto the plate, the idea is to turn the nozzle off, light the fuel on fire and let it burn out. Once it’s burned out, turn the valve back on, and light it once more. The stove should now sustain a flame that can be used for heating or cooking. We then moved on to survival tent setups. He showed us what an already-setup tent looks like, and then again split us into groups to practice setup. Mitch then showed us two techniques to secure tent stakes to terrain. I found one method pretty interesting. It involves drilling two holes in the ice in a V-formation, dropping the string or rope down one hole, then using the drill to guide the string back out the other. The string or rope can then be tied together, using the ice as the securing point. Training was now complete, and Lee and I walked back to Crary to continue our work in the lab.
I’m now back in my dorm typing this up, with Bonanza playing in the background. I’ve been really into watching old western TV shows lately. Just before I left for the ice, I bought a 2TB SanDisk Solid State Drive and packed it full of movies, TV shows, and music from my old Western Digital Hard Drive. My awesome cousin Grant Koehler wrote me a script which automatically converted my Spotify playlist into YouTube video downloads before I left. Since there is no internet access at the dorms, and syncing Spotify and Netflix is blocked on the only WiFi network at Crary, what’s on my drive is all the entertainment I’ll have for this trip. It should be plenty.