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December 8-10, 2013

Packing and Cleaning

by Andrew Klein

Andrew's head

Well, B-518 has reached that time of our field season again. We have finished with our sampling and now all that remains is to pack up our samples and supplies and clean our offices, labs and rooms. This year we have a few days to complete the myriad of small tasks we have to complete before we fly out probably on Tuesday the 11th. I always feel melancholy about these days just prior to leaving Antarctica. The Ross Sea Region is one of my favorite places on earth with the snow, mountains and ocean and I am always saddened to leave. On the other hand, I suspect my dog Onyx will be happy to see me, and I am sure that the other three members of the team will be happy to see their spouses and children.

Probably the most important item on our todo list is to make sure that all our sample boxes have been correctly placed into the science sample cargo database and are correctly labeled for shipment back to College Station and Corpus Christi, Texas. In one of the ways our project tries to minimize its “footprint” on logistics, we ship all our samples back on the vessel that will come in to resupply the station in February. Our samples will be transferred onto the ship, some stored frozen at -20°C, some stored just above freezing at +4C and some stored as DNF (do not freeze). The ship will carry all the samples to Port Hueneme, California, where the samples will be transferred to trucks which will continue carrying the samples to Texas sometime in April.

It turns out that our group is the first science group to put our samples into the system, called SMOCA Fortunately, we have been using the system for years and Steve makes sure that we prepare our boxes as we fill them so at the end of the season it is really easy to finish up.

The second thing our group has to do is to return our lab equipment to Crary Lab supply and our field equipment to the kind folks at the Berg Field Center (BFC), our radios to the communications folks and a few other minor things we had to return. With the exception of two items lost by yours truly, our group successfully returned all our gear. It was a B-518 group effort.

We also had to put all the items our project maintains into our overwinter box which is a rather large triwall cardboard box. Each year at the beginning of the season, we remove stuff from the box – at the end of the season we reverse the process. Filling the overwinter box is one of those bittersweet tasks, it marks the end of our season, but simultaneously, provides the promise of return.

Steve Packing Boxes
Steve packing bottles for use the next time we work at McMurdo

Andrew in Box
Andrew and Steve pack our overwinter box. It reminds me of a phrase in Cool Hand Luke - "One in the Box"

In the last few days on “the Ice” we also said good-bye to old and new friends. Fortunately, the annual Crary Lab party was held on Monday the 9th so we could attend. Loads of people showed up and there was live music and nerdy fun – such as making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. A good time was had by all.

Crary Lab TshirtThe Crary Lab Tshirt - several of the B-518 Group bought one

N2 ice cream
Making ice cream with liquid nitrogen

close up of n2 ice cream
A close up view..the flavors were great!

Crary Lab Party
Scientists and staff enjoy the party

Mary with ice cream
Mary enjoyed her ice cream!

A few Friends
Some of the many people we know at McMurdo: Amy Pashov, Nik Sinkola and Kathy Welch. We first meet Kathy in 1999 and Nick in 2000. Amy's husband Stefan appeared in Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World.

We also took the time to visit with the whole Environmental Team (Kevin Pettway, Laura Elliott and Cory Chan). They are part of the Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) division and they support USAP with a whole host of environmentally-related activities. This year they have done everything from doing drinking water quality testing at McMurdo and South Pole as well as the scattered field camps to remediating former scientific sites. We hope our work helps these folks out a little. They are a pretty cool group to work with! They also do an excellent job with environmental education. There lectures are heard by every person passing through McMurdo each year. This year they did an especially bang-up job on informing people about the larger picture of environmental stewardship in Antarctica and how each person’s individual actions influence the program’s environmental footprint. Kudos to the whole team; we missed sharing a lab with you this season !

Terry and Martin had to do a bit more diving in support of some of the other science projects and I supported them with some dive tending. While they got to visit the wonderful underwater world, I had to view it through the divehole.

Over the ice
Hanging out in the Jetty Dive Hut waiting for the divers...

the door
Looking out the dive hut door...a world of white awaits

Everyone also must clean their room prior to leaving...and the room has to pass inspection. On our way to Antarctica we met Katie Leum in the LAX airport. Katie worked in Crary Lab for a couple of years and is working for housing this season. We also met Katie as she was coming in the dorms to inspect the rooms of those leaving on the 11th - including those of us in B-518...so we asked her to rank us. Well we all passed, but here is her take on the cleanliness of B-518,

"I have to say Klein and Sweet take 1st place with a room so clean I couldn’t find any faults to mention. Mary came in with the second cleanest. She was in the running for a tie for first place, but I found part of a cashew on the floor by the fridge. (Don’t worry… I threw it away.) And Terry comes in last place because his room smells like foot."

Well, finally Monday night arrived and the B-518 group had to our “bag drag” at 8 pm in which we hauled all our bags up the hill to building 140 where they are palletized for flight.

We also learned that we would have a 6:45 transport to Pegasus on Tuesday morning. This is a good thing as we were told to expect an 8 hour C-130 flight back to Christchurch…with a stop for fuel in Dunedin…so the earlier we leave the earlier we get in.

Our C-130 flight was quite full with over 30 passengers. Each team member also was given their flight priority number. Depending on weather and winds aloft, it might not be possible to take every passenger so you want a low number. The priorities for B-518 were: Andrew (3), Terry (5), Steve (27) and Mary (29). It looked like it might be a long night of waiting for a couple of folks before they knew if they would make the flight...

Since I had the lowest number, I was feeling pretty confident that I would make the flight so headed to the Coffee House for one last hurrah.

Coffee House SignThe McMurdo Coffee House Sign

Even the bread shows just how much people love Antarctica!

Antarctic Bread
Antarctic Bread

The people and the place will be missed!