On the Up and Up

The wind chill makes this a better day for the ice and a less appealing day for us to be outside. Although not too cold at -32 C including the wind. For scale those are helicopters in the right hand corner of the image.

One of the challenges of arriving at Winfly is that the station is just getting ready for science.  Winfly is a series of five or six flights that come in during a weather window right before the last hurrah of winter.  One of the great challenges is that we arrive at the same time as everyone else and all the people that make our science possible are going through the same rigorous training schedule that we are, and in many cases learning new jobs.  At this extreme edge of the earth our research would not be possible without their support which means that things sometimes move a bit slower than hoped.  Today was a big turning point in this regard.  Not only did we fulfill most of our last training courses but we also got all of the gear we shipped down and many of the items on station that were sent on our behalf.  We’ve been waiting for this since we arrived and it means we can get setup to actually do science, thanks to the wonderful people here getting caught to up with their training and then making out science a priority.

The other challenge that we have is the sea ice.  The sea ice is a bit over 1m (3ft) thick and will be thickening for the next month to three.  With thickening we also get less movement of the sea ice and cracks in the sea ice are a major factor to track.  Because of this the sea ice is not yet ‘open.’

This is the transition. Both sea ice and fast ice look the same, especially in flat light days like today.

The main link between land and the ocean is called the transition.  It is the transition from the fast ice (the ice that is frozen to the land – i.e. made ‘fast’ to it in sailing vernacular) and the sea ice which floats on the ocean and moves up and down with swell and tidal action.  The tides here are small (a 0.5 m (1.5 ft) is a big tide here) and swell are rare but even this small constant moving means there is always a crack that could be an issue for those traveling over it.  Making this as safe as possible the transition is constantly reinforced and checked for this connection between sea and fast ice. We have hopes that it will be ready for our dive check out on Monday but it is warm today which is a bad thing.  It is a balmy -19 C with predicted -16 C as the high for the day. At the moment I want COLD weather for better (thicker, stronger) sea ice.  The wind is trying to help by bringing the wind chill down to -30 which is more in line with my hopes.

This experiment in the Florida Keys ran for three years before being destroyed by Hurricane Isaac last week. The ice here in Antarctica protects the water from the hurricane force winds that are relatively common so experiments that were put up in the 60s and 70s are still in place even though we get winds up and over 100mph.

Better sea ice is imperative as one of our dive sites is in a place that can have cracks due to a shallow shoal that causes more cracks than other places.  However the largest crack (the ‘big john’ crack) is currently un-crossable is baring any research to the north and thankfully our research is south.  We monitor these cracks every day that we are on the ice and the vehicles that we use can comfortably cross a crack just over 2 ft but sea ice cracks are like many things in the Antarctic – there is the ability to do something safely or it is not done.  Constant Vigilance is the only correct approach.

The other news from the day is that we found out today that a project that both Rory and I helped with in the Florida Keys took the brunt of Hurricane Isaac.  This ended three years of manipulative research in one fatal (to the science) swing.  It was a great few years of research and somewhat fitting that as we sit in the coldest, windiest place on earth a storm destroys a wonderful tropic reef experiment.


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