GOLF 4-3-9 Antarctica Expedition 2008
Report -- Thursday 23 October 2008 -- What's Coming Up?

Antarctica overview map

Let us give you a quick heads-up on our upcoming adventure and when you can expect postings from us over the next two months or so.

We are officially "ready to go" but there is still lots to do before we really can leave. Weíve been thoroughly checked by doctors and dentists and the medical folks have decared us "physically qualified" (PQíd) which is a relief! All the sweat on the treadmill in the hospitalís heart unit, the "vampire-encounters" at the blood lab etc. were not in vain!

We are expecting our tickets in the mail from Raytheon in Denver. It is a very long way to fly to Christchurch in New Zealand (NZ): Laurie will start in Orono Maine on Oct. 22nd and Hubert on the 23rd from San Diego. We will meet in the evening at Los Angeles International Airport for a 13 hour flight to Auckland (New Zealand). We wonít get there until the morning of October 25. Figure that one out! (Hint: beware of the tricky date line problem; but no worry mates about the lost day - weíll get it back on our way home). From Auckland (on the North Island of NZ) there will be a short flight to Christchurch on the South Island. By the time we get to Christchurch, it will be afternoon, on a hopefully nice spring day! Not only did we lose a day, we also jumped a couple of seasons, from our northern hemisphere brisk fall weather to the southern hemisphere balmy spring. This is all on the way to a beautiful but really really cold summer in the Antarctic.

There will be lots to do when we get to Christchurch. Our main task will be to get all our extreme cold weather (ECW) gear. Without the 70 lbs worth of long underwear, boots, hats, gloves and big red jackets, they wonít even let us on the plane to McMurdo (MCM) on Ross Island. The plane ride is very tight quarters and we are only allowed to bring a few small bags (one of which is full of ECW gear), so we will leave behind some of regular clothes, like Hubertís trademark Hawaii shirts. He is planning on sneaking his sandals on board though, because you never know when your favorite footwear will come in handy. Laurie is thinking about taking her blue summer dress; it might be just the thing for a photo-op with an Emperor penguin on the ice! (What would YOU wear?)

Blowup 3D map of the McMurdo area with study sites

We also have to make sure we donít bring viruses (computer or otherwise) to McMurdo. So we have to get flu shots in Christchurch (what fun!). Last year there was a major flu outbreak in McMurdo and the docs do not want that to happen again! We also have to have our computers scanned for "nasties" to keep the network in McMurdo healthy as well. We already took a course on Cyber-Health (or was it security?) This is very important because MCM has a satellite internet connection to the rest of the world and if it gets clogged up because of a computer virus, no one will have access to their e-mail, news, home computers and other things we need down there. To keep computer viruses off the MCM network, the cyber geeks wonít let us connect to their network without making sure they are "clean". If we canít get on the network, we wonít be able stay in touch with you.

Our flight to MCM is scheduled for October 27 but you never know when you get out of Christchurch. To catch the flight, you have to get up really really early (like 4am), get all suited up in your fancy cold weather gear (in the Christchurch springtime Ė which ainít cold!) and hang around the airport for clearance to board the plane. Often, after hours and hours of hopeful cups of coffee, the flight is cancelled and you are told to try again the next day. The weather has to be clear to land on the ice because there are no instruments, so if there is a chance of cloudy weather, the flight gets cancelled. Worse, sometimes the plane flies all the way down there (between five and eight hours, depending on the plane) only to turn around and fly back because of clouds. Right now there are 300 passengers who have been stuck in Christchurch for more than a week because the planes could not land on the ice. We are curious to see how long it will take us to get there, but we are hopeful because it gets easier as the season advances. Early October is still pretty unstable weather. Letís keep our fingers crossed.

We are not exactly sure where we are going to land in MCM. Up until now, McMUrdo had three airports: on the Ice Runway at MCM, Williams Field and Pegasus Field. The Ice Runway is on the seasonal ice just to the west of the island. It is the most convenient airport and it can be used by ski planes and by wheeled big jets. It usually closes around Christmas time, because the ice gets too soft for the heavy jet airplanes to land. The ice actually melts entirely by the end of the summer. When the Ice Runway closes, the C130ís, which have skis, use Williams Field. The heavy wheeled planes (C-17 Globemaster III) use Pegasus Field. Williams Field is just to the East of Ross island on the permanent ice, not so far away where we will live, but Pegasus is a long way, about an hour drive in the Terra Bus). Scott Borg from the Office of Polar Programs wrote recently that for cost-cutting reasons we may not have an ice runway this year, and we all will be trucked back and forth to and from Pegasus field Ė welcome to Ivan the Terra Bus!

Once we are get to McMurdo, we will start our long Antarctic day. The sun will be up for all of the Ī1,500 hours we will be on the ice, and we will experience darkness only indoors and possibly in the Mt. Erebus Ice caves that we might visit. The long (calendar-) days will come in handy because there will be lots to do. The first thing will be to connect up our (virus free!) computers and send you a quick update how our journeys went and what we found when we got there. Then we will have to hustle, retrieve our cargo, pack our field equipment, start assembling our experiments and begin setting up the lab for processing samples.

During our field season, we will have two major field camps, one in the Dry Valleys (a beautiful little valley called Taylor Valley) and one on top of the southernmost active volcano, Mt Erebus. We will also do some daytrips from MCM on the sea-ice and to the Royal Society Range. See the map above for these locations and here is the planned schedule:

November 5-12 in Taylor Valley

We will join the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) group and drill two holes into five meter thick ice of Lake Fryxell and Lake Hoare. There, we will deploy a couple of moorings to hang our samples from, so they can be exposed to the lake water. We want to see what will grow on our "bait". We will also hike and fly to a number of places (with helicopters) around Taylor Valley where we put out additional bait (that is, experiments), at the bottom of some glaciers, and in seasonal creeks near some ancient lava flows. The Dry Valleys are incredible places: the glaciers come in from all sides, but there is so little snow that they literally dry up before they get to the bottom. They never join into a big ice field and there is bare rock with a few ice covered lakes at the bottom. These lakes are maintained by water flowing in from the glaciers. The lakes donít have any outflow, though. The water escapes by evaporation from the ice covered top.

December 5-12 on Mt. Erebus

We will first camp out on Fang Glacier which is a little more than half way to the top. We have to get used to the altitude because altitude sickness is no fun! After we are acclimatized, we can move up higher to the summit. There we will work in a hydrothermal vent field called Tramway Ridge, and we will visit some ice caves. Beautiful place up there. It is an active volcano, with an churning lava lake. If you go up to the crater rim, you might be unlucky and get hit by a volcanic bomb. A few years ago we went up there and Hubert made a Panoramic Shot from Mt. Erebus that you can download from the ERDA database from this website. It is awkward to print (rather large format), but if you can, it makes an amazing poster (three feet tall and 15 feet wide).

During these two trips we will not have internet access. But we promise to report on our adventures when we come back to MCM. When we are not in the field, we work in the lab. We will also make some shorter trips on the sea-ice. We want to explore to plan for some marine moorings and dives we hope to do in coming years. We will also hop over to the Royal Society Range (not really, we will go by helicopter!) for a one-day deployment trip.

We hope to arrive in McMurdo on October 28 and post an update. So check this website late in October again for news of our adventure!

Hubert Staudigel (Hotel Sierra) and Laurie Connell (Lima Charlie a.k.a. Loco Coco) from McMurdo Station
23 October, 2008

GOLF 4-3-9 Antarctica Expedition