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November 27, 2003

Pilots and Pallets

My cousin requested more info on the "cute pilots" and one of the "cute pilots" complained that there wasn't a closer shot of them on the web. So here we go.

The hottie pilots.

In their snazzy flight suits.

[Dave, Brian in background.]

And washing dishes.

[Dave surprised.]

[Brian grumpy.]

They look unhappy, but really they're not.



It was all about love in the Jamesway. Well, sort of. We managed to be polite for the first three or so days, and then all hell broke loose. Come to think of it, those three or so days were the days we were all working hard and the pilots kept to themselves, coming in only for their morning tea and dinner. Those were the good ol' days. Or maybe the boring ones. After that, it was all about hiding frisbees and bright orange mugs, accusing me of weighing 310 lbs (a gross understatement, I swear), making and losing bets (I lost), and badgering the pilots into bringing us a bucket of peanuts and other goodies for our flight. Where are our peanuts! Sarah and I would exclaim. This service sucks! Bringing the bucket of peanuts to us was Leslie, the camp manager's, idea, but we still noted the improvement in service. Shawn (Twin Otter mechanic) claims Air Canada's motto is "We're not happy till you're not happy" (which works much better in Shawn's TV-announcer voice), and the Twin Otter folks are obviously operating by a different standard. Well.... we'll leave it at that.

Shawn also came up with the following slogans for UNAVCO:
When you think of GPS, think of UNAVCO.
UNAVCO, polar GPS support, and we do other things, too. (That one was a joint effort between Shawn, Brian, and I.)
(Shawn: UNAVCO, more than just GPS.
Me: No, we just do GPS.
Shawn: UNAVCO, just GPS.)
UNAVCO, where 40% of our employees know how to read.

Unfortunately, there was more love in the cockpit than in the Jamesway.

[Brian and Dave hold hands.]

I want some of that.

Posted by beth at 3:14 PM | Comments (4)

November 24, 2003


It was a dark day in McMurdo.

Well, part of it was.

[Photo compliments of Nelia, taken through dark film.]

The part where the sun was mostly obscured by the moon.

[Bill checks out the sky.]

The eclipse began at 11:06 AM on Monday, November 24, 2003 local (our) time, and peaked at 12:08, which is about when the photo above was taken. Lunch here is from 11-1, quite convenient for eclipse viewing. More interesting than viewing the eclipse was viewing the viewers. More amusing, anyway. Who are these strange people?

[Outside McMurdo General Hospital. Photo compliments of Nelia.]

[Photo compliments of Nelia.]

[The door to the galley.]

Posted by beth at 5:47 PM | Comments (4)

November 23, 2003

Day Off

Jen signed me up for the Cape Evans ski. On Sunday, the day off, Rec (Recreation) was hosting a ski to Cape Evans, or from Cape Evans, or something. I didn't think about it--I just figured it sounded like something nice to do, and Jen signed me up, so I'd go.

Then we started to think about it. 16 miles. Each way. Was it a round trip? No. Will we ski there or back? Depends on the winds, supposedly. How will we get there or back? What happens if the weather sucks? Have to wait and find out.

Turns out, it was beautiful.


We met at 11 AM and were driven out to Cape Evans in deltas (big vehicles with really big wheels). One delta came back to town, and one was to stay until 3:30, at which point it would drive back to town and pick up the stragglers along the way. I skiied with Jen and Deborah. Incidentally, we were the first to be picked up.

[Jen and Craig snooze on the way out.]



But we weren't out there to race, or even to try to make it all the way back to town on skis. We were out there to be out there. To chat, to enjoy being out in the Antarctic. I mean, HELLO. It's our day off and we're three women skiing in the Antarctic in the sunshine (and a light wind) talking about Pisten Bullies and accasionally acknowleging the distant seal basking on the ice.

[Jen and Deborah.]

Not a bad way to spend a day off.

Posted by beth at 1:26 PM | Comments (3)

November 21, 2003

Siple Dome

Siple Dome! I survived my first field project down here.

[View from the Hurc window on the way out.]

The project: Help install 21 GPS and 7 seismic instruments on and around ice streams draining the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Explanantion: A glacier is a slowly moving stream of ice. An ice sheet is a very, very large glacier, or a sheet of ice more descriptively, which covers a broad area and spreads out rather than just flowing down a valley. An ice stream is a channel of ice within an ice sheet which flows much faster than surrounding ice--for example, it might move 800 m per year as opposed to 6 m per year. I should really have a map to show you this phenomenon--it's pretty neat, and quite impressive. The streams are kilometers across, much larger than your average liquid stream. The idea behind the project is to measure motions of the ice stream. Specifically, the ice streams move in spurts, not always at a constant rate. Sometimes the base sticks and flow is slow, and sometimes patches of the base slips. This is called stick-slip behavior, and it's not well understood with ice streams. The seismographs are used to locate the area of slip to better understand what causes this.

[Instrument set-up on snow and ice.]

How we did it: Siple Dome, baby! The summary: We flew out to Siple Dome, a 'dome' (hill) of near-stagnant ice surrounded by ice streams, on Tuesday, November 11. We had hoped to get out sooner, but flights had been delayed. You may think a dome of ice surrounded ice streams would be quite a sight to see, and it is in it's own way, but the features occur on such large scales that you're really offered no geographical context. Here's the view from my tent:

[Or maybe that's the view at one of the sites. Or one of the other sites. Or another.]

Flat and white.

Like on Erebus, we slept in individual tents and came together to eat and hang out in a more established, heated structure--a Jamesway, created (if I understand right) for U.S. troops in the Korean War.

[Flattering first-thing-in-the-morning tent shot of me.]

[Installing next to the Twin Otter.]

We used Siple Dome only as a base, and flew by Twin Otter to the rest of our sites. For the sites which only had GPS, the plane stayed with us while we stuck posts into the snow and plugged in cables. For the sites which had GPS and seismic instruments, the plane dropped us off and came back a few (2.5-3.5) hours later to pick us up. The most impressive sensation I experienced while out there was being left by the Otter the first time, out it goes in a trail of blowing snow and in a very short time the plane disappears, swallowed into too-far-away-to-be-seenness, and there we are--four of us, a pile of gear, and nothing else but snow and sky in all directions. It's enough to make you terrified, or ecstatic. I was the latter.

The installations at the seismic sites were such that three of us were done well before the fourth, and those of us waiting would have nothing to do but try to stay warm. Tactics included: Going for walks (following skidoo tracks out to one of the sites), basking in the sun (with full extreme cold weather issue on, of course), drinking cold water or hot chocolate, eating soup or chocolate bars, playing games like the hand-slapping game (not worth explaining--I thought I had a picture, but I don't), running around randomly, rolling in the snow (summersaults or log rolls), and making snow angels. The latter three were mostly just me. To pass time, we also played a game to learn the radio alphabet (alpha bravo charlie delta echo etc.) in which we gave each other words to spell with the radio equivalents (e.g. beth as beta echo tango hotel). And, there was the little dance that accompanied the sighting of the returning Otter. That may have been just me doing that one, as well.

[Don lounges. Note my back-print in front of him.]

[Ian and Sarah chill out.]

[Twin Otter glam shot.]

Back in the Jamesway, we took turns cooking dinner and washing dishes, and drank a lot of tea.

There were ten of us total at camp:
Leslie, the camp manager

[Leslie in the Jamesway. Photo compliments of Sarah.]
Al, heavy equipment operator, who would groom the runway every day

Don (Penn State), Bob (NASA), Sarah (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute),
Ian (JPL), and myself

[Order: me, Ian, Sarah, Don, Bob]
Brian (Twin Otter captain), Dave (co-pilot), and Shawn (mechanic)

[Hotties pilots. Check out the fly flight suits. I don't think they thought they were nearly as snazzy as I did, though. The flights suits, that is.]

[Shawn being a goof-ball. It's his way of instilling confidence in his passengers while monkeying with the nose of the plane.]

The Twin Otter guys drank the most tea of all. We're men, we fly planes, we're hard core, we drink tea. It was cute. Not that there's anything wrong with men drinking tea.

The weather was excellent. We were lucky enough to have clear skies and sunshine the whole time, and temperatures around -12 C. De-luxe. Like the tropics, after working on Erebus last year. Most of the days were calm as well. The wind cruised right along at a few of the sites, but nothing some Windstopper fleece couldn't stand up against.

Frisbee! Sarah and Shawn (not pictured) and I threw around for a good while. Perfect for it--warm (relatively), calm, sunny, nice surface to run on as far as snow and ice go.

And, Sarah and Ian dug a backlit ice pit, meaning they dug a box pit in the ground and then dug out the snow on the other side of one of the walls so that sun would come through. Climb in, cover the top with cardboard, and enjoy the layers.

[Sarah gets comfy in the Otter on the way home.]

The coolest thing that happened was that I got a care package from some friends back in McMurdo containing these wings which remind me how nice it is to go and return. It pays to have friends in the metal shop.

Posted by beth at 9:55 PM | Comments (4)

November 11, 2003

Off to the Field

What? I haven't told you about my trip to Cape Evans or Halloween or how it was amazingly warm the other day or about my trip to Cape Royds to see the penguins or about any of the other fun and interesting happenings here down south. And, now I'm heading out in the field to a place called Siple Dome, where I won't have internet access. I'll bring my computer, though, and maybe I'll have time to catch up on few things.

The project that I'm leaving on has to do with measuring the flow rate of ice streams that drain the West Antarctic ice sheet. We'll sleep in tents, live in what's called a Jamesway, and fly to each of our sites in a prop plane called a twin otter. More details after I've lived them.

With luck, I'll be back in a week, or two at most. But, of course, it depends on the weather.

Ms. Shipp's class: Thanks so much for the questions and comments! I'll answer questions soon, and will post some pictures of the volcano for you. And, I'll be able to tell you guys about some glaciers--slow-moving rivers of ice. Maybe Ms. Shipp can show you some pictures! If not, I will.

Hope all readers and loved ones of readers etc. are well.

Off for adventure!

Posted by beth at 2:45 PM | Comments (1)

November 7, 2003

Snow Craft II

Once upon a time,

on a lovely day,

just past Scott Base,

we learned to fall

and to catch ourselves.

[Erebus on left.]

Okay, so the premise was this:
Those of us folks who may be spending time on steep and/or crevassed terrain, glaciers and such, attend a Snow Craft II course in which we learn techniques for travelling on the steep slopes (how to walk up and down a hill), self-arrest (how to catch oneself with an ice axe should one start a rapid and uncontrolled decent), and rope travel and crevasse rescue techniques. The most fun is falling down. No, it's catching yourself (you face the snow, dig your ice axe in, stick your butt out (the best of this best part), and kick kick kick your toes into the snow). No, it's falling (on a rope) into the crevasse-simulator (a 30-ft-deep trench dug into the snow). No, it's running around doing the airplane to keep warm. No, maybe it was walking along roped to 4 other people periodically calling "falling!" and running in a random direction to make the others brace against the 'fall', everyone face down in the snow. Okay, the very best part was yelling "Are you okay?" "___, are you okay?" "I'm okay!" "He/she's okay!" It's a little game I miss from Bloomington. (Jacqui? Tom? You out there?)

I get paid for this.

Posted by beth at 6:20 PM | Comments (2)

November 5, 2003


It's cold! It's cold cold cold! The weather's been great, and now that Bjorn is supposed to be coming in, it's getting nasty. Cold. I tested out some GPS equipment outside today, and it was as much a test of my clothing as it was of the GPS. Can I stay warm? Most importantly, I tried out my new Windstopper balaklava. I looked like an alien, but was warm. Sweet.

I don't have any pictures of me being cold. What I do have is a picture of Jen (Thing 1) and Melanie (Thing 2) and me at Halloween. More to come.

Posted by beth at 2:14 PM | Comments (2)