Thursday, December 20, 2007

December 20, 2007
WAIS Divide camp Antarctica

Time: 10 am
Latitude: 79° 28.10’ S
Longitude: 112° 3.56’ W
Elevation: 1820 m (5919’)
Temperature: -12 °C ( 10 °F)
Wind speed: 30 km/h (19 mp/h) gusts to 41.6km/h (26mp/h)
Wind Chill: ~ -10° C (-17 °F)
Visibility: 300 m (900 ‘)
Clouds: clear –100’ visibility at WAIS Divide
Wind direction: SW
Relative Humidity: 92%
Barometric Pressure: rising
Precipitation: Blowing snow, basically whiteout conditions.

Another day in the middle of a good Antarctic storm. No flights in or out today. The pilots are excellent but even they can not land if they can not see the surface. So, more around camp chores, frequent warm-up breaks, and lots of chatting about the good ole days when you could actually work outdoors in West Antarctica. Recently someone researched old records and found that in 1914, when Robert Scott and his crew died on their return from their trek to the South Pole, it was also a particularly stormy season. I do not know about 1914 but it is a lot stormier here now than it was when I was at this almost identical location in 2000.

I have met a lot of the folks here in camp and I have found three others from Maine. The chef John, and a couple that work here as carpenters. Certainly there are lots of other folks here from all over the country, and the world. Most of them are also very outdoorsy (as you might expect) though most of us have never met before we share a lot of similar stories of adventures from around the world. There is a magazine rack in the galley and not surprisingly the magazines are all skiing, climbing, kayaking, bicycling, and adventure travel. Actually there is the odd movie and entertainment magazines here but largely here just for kicks.

After lunch the conditions degraded to condition 1. Around here the weather/visibility conditions are rated condition 3 for a perfect easy clear day, to condition 1 which is low to zero visibility and blowing snow so we stay indoors and no unnecessary travel. I did not bring my towel and tooth brush into the recreation Jamesway (a type of long half-done type shelter) this morning where we have showers and sinks (I did brush my teeth earlier this morning in my tent though so no worries there). So, I thought that I would just take my time and walk the flag line out to my tent and get my stuff. We post 8-foot bamboo poles with red or green flags, about 20 feet apart, along lines to help us get from one place to another here in a storm. I started to walk the flag line and could only see two flags ahead of me. I walked step by step carefully since the drifting snow cause mounds that you can step off and trip. After abut 15minutes I got to the outhouse that is the central point in our tent city where everyone is sleeping. The flags are only 20 feet apart but the tents are 50 feet a part. Once I got to the last flag I could only see one tent in the direction that I thought I had to go. Once I got to that tent I could not see the next tent. As I remembered, my tent is about three tents past that. At that point it would have been very very silly to continue so I turned around and started walking back along the flag line to the galley. It is so loud out there that you can not hear anything but the constant flap of the flags and the wind. At the same time it is incredible to be in a storm with so much power. A 50 mp/h wind can almost sweep you off you feet and couple that with no visibility and the fact that it would only take 10 minutes to walk off course and lose your bearings in these whiteouts (a bad thing in West Antarctica). I was mesmerized by the blowing snow and wind and just content to stand out in the full intensity of this condition 1 storm. Not a place I would be without outdoor training and without all the facilities and people here but still absolutely mesmerizing. Six foot drifts form in minutes and the entire landscape changes rapidly. One of the reasons we are drilling the ice core here is because of the high accumulation rate, about 25 cm (12 inches) a year, but this is a little wild.

Last night was a little crazy and only Karen slept in her tent. She is the night cook so she left for her tent at noon yesterday and slept through most of the storm that stranded the rest of us in the gallery and the Jamesway shelter. It was so bad that even in large groups we could not navigate from flag to flag to try and find our tents. Since there are no sleeping bags here of blankets in the galley we huddled in your jackets all night. Actually it was that cold as we have two heaters in the galley. Most of us only slept a few winks so morning could not come fast enough. Overall there was no real danger in the storm even though we were stuck in the galley as we have radio contact with McMurdo, plenty of food and water (melted snow), lots of fuel for generators, and each other for companionship and safety. About 9am I took a radio and ventured out to tent city and found that the tents were all up except for one. I ventured into my tent and it was no worse for wear. Last night you could not see from tent to tent and this morning I could see three tents ahead so it was much safer to travel outside. After lunch I think that most of us might need a nap and then back to the drill dome to keep at our jobs. Since all flights are still cancelled it leaves four guys from Penn State working on geophysics stranded here and our three core handler colleagues stranded in McMurdo. With flight schedules and weather it will probably be after Christmas until one group leaves and the rest of our group are here.

As you might have noticed I have added the menu each day to the top list of weather measurements. There is always plenty of delicious food here and no one goes away hungry. Each day the leftovers are also stored and available for snacks as well as plenty of candy bars, muffins, tea, coffee, cold drinks mixes, and lots of chocolate in bars and cookies. The menu varies each day and there are multiple optional entrees each meal. I will list at least the meal that I eat.

Hopefully we are in for some nicer weather and I will get my 3-d quadrat constructed today. Everyone is safe and all is well.

Note: The density of water is 1.0 gram/mL. The density of ice is 0.92 grams/mL (this is why ice floats on top of water; ice is less dense than water). The density of snow varies quite a bit but in general the density of snow is about 30% of water. Therefore, 80 centimeters of snow per year translates into about 24 centimeters (12 inches) of ice per year.

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