It’s been a busy first week in McMurdo! While the returning folks can mostly just do refreshers, the newbies like myself have been immersed in quite a bit of training. We’ve learnt how to drive a PistenBully (like a little red snow tank) and did training on operation and minor repairs of a snow mobile.
Because our group will be working on sea ice all season, we also completed training in assessing sea ice safety. A big component is evaluating cracks in the ice to see if they are crossable for the machine we are driving. That involves drilling holes across the crack to check the thicknesses at different locations and then assessing distances between sufficiently thick pieces. It sounds sketchy, but it’s just part of ensuring that we have all the skills to keep ourselves safe in the field. In reality we will mostly be on flagged sea ice roads, and almost always on multi-year sea ice. That ice tends to be almost 2 meters thick (or more!) whereas the thickness required for a human to walk on ice is only 8 centimeters. We also learned to make V-threads by screwing two holes in the ice that intercept at the bottom to make a loop for anchoring ropes.
Other than training, we’ve been getting all of our instruments ready simultaneously with support operations to get our sites and gear prepped. Justin and Britney have been out drilling through the ice to take CTD (current, temperature, density) measurements. The amazing staff here at McMurdo have been getting our vehicles ready, as well as drilling the hole for our first site and installing a fish hut over it. Matt, Dan, and Chad have been working ceaselessly to assemble the robot and perform all the necessary tests. Although Icefin is designed to break down into suitcase-sized pieces for travel in hand carriage, it still has to be rigorously tested after travel, before bottling (where the electronics are sealed in an air-tight vessel), and after bottling. Next step is the full dress rehearsal in the test tanks here at Crary Science Lab.
McMurdo is a beautiful place to be staying. From town there are a number of trails that can be used for recreation, including Observation Hill and Hut Point. If you prefer to hang out inside, there is no shortage of classes to take part in: yoga, kick boxing, jiu jitsu, band practice, knitting, or learning a new language. The base has a library, saunas, a chapel, and 2 bars. With most McMurdo staff staying for at least the full austral summer (October to February), people are eager to make this a friendly and enjoyable place to live. And what with the unlimited ice cream and views of the Trans Antarctic Mountains, it certainly is.