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November 13th, 2013

Meetings and Training

by Mary Tilton

Tilton Head Shot

I was awake at 6 a.m. this morning for breakfast, followed by meetings and training. Firstly, we had an in-brief for a few of the new grantees; just some information we need while we’re here such as who to contact for things we may need. Afterwards, we had Antarctic field safety training, which lasted half the day.  The others stayed in this for the entire time but I had to leave early to participate in the Sea Ice Training course. The Sea Ice Training course is an all-day course that’s mandatory for anyone doing field work on the sea ice. One of the best things about these courses is that even if you don’t need to take it, there are people on base who want to take them for fun, so you get a great mix of people who have all kinds of jobs here. There were a few stewards, someone from MacOps (MacMurdo Operations), and a doctor in the Sea Ice Training course.  

The first part of Sea Ice Training was a short lecture about the different sea ice-related phenomena that occur in Antarctica, how to determine whether ice is safe to drive on, and how to recognize a crack in the ice, among many other things. The second part of the training was going out on the sea ice for half a day to put our skills to the test. We rode in a Hägglund off base with some shovels, drills, and other equipment to a wide-open span of sea ice. Our first task was to hand-drill two one-foot deep holes in the ice at 45°angles that meet at the bottom in a V shape. Then, we had to feed the end of a cord through one of the holes and bring it up through the other side. These holes are to serve as tent stakes/anchors if you find yourself camping on the ice.

Hand-drilling our tent anchors

Our next field lessons were how to recognize a crack and how to determine whether ice is safe to drive on. We were driven out to an area of the ice with a crack near the road. We dug the snow out of the different levels of the crack and then drilled holes in each level until we reached water. Once the holes were all drilled, we used a special tape measure to determine how thick the ice is at each hole and then how far apart each hole is (the crack width). These calculations helped to determine what the profile of the crack looked like and ultimately whether it is safe for certain vehicles to drive on. Amazing that you only need the ice to be 13 cm thick to drive a snowmobile safely over a crack 51 cm wide!!


Drilling holes to determine ice thickness

The last part of our lesson was an excursion to an area where seawater continually came up through a crack in the ice and it froze that way. There was some beautiful coloring in the water: the most amazing light blue frozen under a blanket of white. We were able to see a different view of the sea ice and Mt. Erebus with all of its icy ridges. How remarkable that the world’s southernmost active volcano is encased in blue ice at its base!

Walking toward the ice crack

Blue ice with Mt. Erebus in background

After a long day of being out on the ice, we ventured back to the station to go about our business. I was finally able to get some school work done—no easy feat, even though I’m only taking one course. Nineteen hours ahead is a strange timezone to work from when you have so many awesome things to do here! I can see why people want to spend as much time as they can here. It’s such a great community and there’s so much to do! Tomorrow: dry valleys and the GPS.