28 November, 2001
Nov 28th- A Second Trip to the Plateau!
Yesterday I told you that I was going to go somewhere cold today. Well, I faced my fears and returned to the polar plateau! After my first trip up there, where we worked in temperatures of -60 F with the wind chill, the team decided to start taking tents with them to put over the seismic stations. Cutting down on the wind is a huge factor in staying warm.
Three of our team members left this week to go work on another project in West Antarctica. Other members who are going to Tamcamp for two weeks are fighting colds and are in need of rest. I decided to try the plateau again as long as we brought a tent with us.
The last time I went to the plateau, we were servicing an already installed station. Today we had to actually install one. Our flight was about an hour and a half long. The pilots (the same two as last time, Scott and Erin) tried to find a safe place to land five times before they had to go two and half miles away from our original destination to find a spot. The reason it is so difficult to land is because of the sastrugi. Sastrugi are formed by winds blowing snow into wave-like formations. These can be five to six feet high and are very hard. The Twin Otter has to try to avoid the larger sastrugi because it can damage the skis on the plane. From the window of the plane the sastrugi don't look that high, but on the ground they are ominous.
After we landed and unloaded our equipment, Jesse and I began digging a hole for the installation box. The snow we were digging into was so hard. It took us a long time to make a deep enough hole to place the box into. This box holds the seismometer, batteries, DAS and GPS clock. We placed the box in the hole so as to minimize the vibrations that the wind causes. We want the seismometer to record movements within the earth, not wind rattling the box!
Next we put up a tent around the installation box. The type of tent we used is called a Scott tent. You'll see in the pictures that it is quite tall. While Jesse and I worked on this, Luo was busy getting the solar panels ready. Once the tent was up and Luo was finished, we had to secure the solar panel towers with guy wires. Each wire is secured into the ground with a metal anchor called a dead man. The dead man is pounded into the hard snow at an angle. There are three guy wires per tower. These are an absolute necessity because of the wind.
By this time my fingers were frozen, despite the two layers of gloves and four hand warmers I had on. I had to pull my fingers out of the finger part of the gloves and curl them around the hand warmers, keeping my hands in the gloves the whole time. It is very painful when fingers get too cold! Because my hands were useless at this point, I had the job of holding the solar panel towers steady while Jesse and Luo got the guy wires just right. This was when my body really got cold. Up until this point it was only my fingers that were the problem, because I had been working hard shoveling. Now that I was standing still, I felt the wind going right through me.
When this task was finally done, we all went into the tent to work on the installation box. The tent was definitely a haven from the wind, but still cold. I had lots of warm drinks, but simply couldn't warm up. I did manage to warm my fingers up, but then my toes started to go. When the installation box was complete, we had an hour and a half to wait for the plane to come back for us. We stayed in the tent and simply waited.
The sound of the plane landing was a joyous moment! We packed up the tent, grabbed our equipment and boarded the plane. Unfortunately we were not done. We had to go back to the site that I went to a few weeks ago to check on the station. The plane stayed with us for this quick time, and I got to stay on the plane with the pilots. The 25 degrees F of the plane was better than -10 F with wind. At last Jesse and Luo returned to the plane, and we were off.
Even though I was cold, I was glad to have gone up there again. This time I kept my camera in the inside pocket of my jacket. It didn't freeze!! So, I was able to get the pictures that I hadn't the last time. I was happy for this.
Today was the last plateau installation from McMurdo. The Tamcamp members will get to do the rest from their camp. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go to that beautiful and unforgiving place. I am even gladder that I will only go there again in my mind!
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