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WE MADE IT TO THE ICE!

The caps lock might appear to be overkill, but it does not express how stoked we all are to finally be in McMurdo! As a first timer, I think I might have pulled a muscle from smiling so hard.

It started with a 4:30am wakeup to get to the Antarctic Terminal, get outfitted, and get our bags checked. We flew on a military plane called a C-17, which was a cool experience in and of itself. I got to visit the cockpit to meet the pilots and ask questions – and enjoy the views! Turns out military planes have a lot fewer passenger windows..

Good weather in McMurdo meant we didn’t have to ‘boomerang’. That’s the term for when storms prohibit a safe landing, so the plane turns around and heads back to Christchurch. That’s no small thing when you’re carrying 126 passengers on a 6 hour flight to Antarctica. Luckily we had a beautiful, clear day.

Stepping off the plane is a surreal experience. You keep your earplugs on, to protect from plane noise while you disembark. Between that, your Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, and sunglasses you certainly feel sensory deprivation. But simultaneously, it is a complete sensory overload. Bright skies, bright ice, people milling around, the whirr of the engines, Mount Erebus in the distance, the cold air in your nose, the nice airforce man asking me to please keep moving and stop taking pictures. It was incredible.

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Now we’re getting down to business with science, plus a little more training. While Icefin is being rebuilt and tested, I’ve been getting RogueSeis ready. I’m making use of the walk-in freezer, the irony of which is not lost on me on a continent covered in ice, to do a test installation of a prototype of the box we’ll put our seismometer in. It’s basically a plastic box with a spike mounted on the bottom, that I made quickly today in the science shop, which we will freeze into ice using a drill and some water. Next step will be to ensure that we can safely extract the entire box using hot water. It’s pretty cool to be down here with all of the support and facilities, so we’re able to work through ideas quickly and get to testing them out.

If all goes well, we’ll have the little fellow up and running in a couple of days!

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Last Days in Christchurch

With the bad weather in Antarctica, our group ended up spending 2 weeks in Christchurch. That’s a little longer than our anticipated 36 hour layover on the way to the ice..

The delays can be frustrating, with so much uncertainty about when you’re travelling, the swapping hotels, the lost days from our field season. We tried to use the time as well as we could: working on Icefin plans, creating detailed to-do lists to shorten our robot assembly once we arrived, downloading updated imagery of the sea ice, or, in my case, working on my thesis.

In between all that, though, we certainly found some time to enjoy all the great stuff that Christchurch has to offer! We took a day off to go surfing in Sumner Beach, fully clad in wetsuits and booties.

Quake City, a museum about the 2010/2011 Darfield and Canterbury earthquakes was a powerful glimpse into the experience of and recovery from these impactful events.

And on the last night before flying out, I headed for a run through the Botanical Gardens. Once last chance to soak up some greenery before flying to a continent without so much as a shrubbery.

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Still Waiting for Good Weather in MCM

Due to continued storms rolling through McMurdo, we’re still sitting pretty in Christchurch. It’s a frustrating time, knowing that the delayed fly out means we will have less time on the ice to complete our work. The upside is that we have a little longer in the land of functioning internet, making it easier to do other work. Yesterday I finally got the Raspberry Shake and Boom configured and tested, ensuring it can operate in offline mode and continue recording data when unattended on the sea ice. This is possible due to the excellent support from Raspberry Shake engineers and the help of Icefin engineer, Chad Ramey. Below you can see some example waveforms, showing the three slow and three fast test signals. That’s a fancy way to say I banged my fist on the table it was sitting on.

Testing the Raspberry Shake

The next step will be to finish building the hardware. Lead Icefin engineer, Matt Meister, has been helping draw up the design for a custom deployment package. We’ll be installing the geophone and infrasound sensors along with the Raspberry Shake board and Raspberry Pi computer in a box that’s frozen into the ice in a small depression. With strategically placed heaters near the circuitry, we’re hoping to keep the computers from freezing and the geophone spike below 0 degrees C. The batteries will be housed in a separate, larger box that doesn’t need to be frozen in place. While we’re hoping this kit works, we’re also curious to find the shortcomings with this design so we can iterate and optimize it over time.

Meanwhile, the group has been trying to make the most of our time in the city. In between long hours scamming wifi from coffee shops and hunched over our laptops in hotel lobbies, we got together for high tea at the Crowne Plaza. They let us enjoy the fancy sandwiches and scones, despite the fact that we’re all living out of layover bags that were originally intended to keep us in clean clothes for about 3 days.

 

Tea is the best cure for field work panic, right?

With the prospect of a group meeting from the laundromat tomorrow, here’s hoping we make it to the ice soon!

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Killing Time in CHCH

As we enter week two of weather delays in McMurdo, United States Antarctic Program (USAP) participants in Christchurch are eagerly anticipating the first flights to the ice. After arriving on Thursday, and between rounds of musical hotels, we’ve prepped our gear and taken all training that can be accomplished from New Zealand. This includes learning about internet security, cold weather safety, and environmental protection.

 

Yesterday was another no-fly day. Devastated by the news (or not), Matt, Frances, and I consoled ourselves by driving out to Arthur’s Pass National Park to do some hiking! Enjoying the greenery, we headed towards Avalanche Peak for spectacular views of ice and rock. Plenty more of those views in store for us, swapping Ralston Peak for Mt. Erebus.

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Matt Naps
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Panorama from near the summit

In honour of Canadian Thanksgiving [which no one knew about], we ended the day with a great meal at our hotel and team movie night.

Today we shift to working on science and engineering planning, making sure we are absolutely as prepared as possible when we get to McMurdo. Our group is unique in that we have to simultaneously prioritize operations goals for robot performance and science goals for ice-ocean research. This can involve a lot of translating between nerd languages: engineering and science. At least there’s no shortage of coffee to fuel these marathon team meetings..