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Thursday, October 25, 2007: Drilling and Pulling
No, today was not about dentistry! But we started out drilling (sea ice, that is) and ended up pulling (food, for our field camp). It was another windy day, so Nick and I were not that warm when we started out to meet Tom the driller on the sea ice. Rob Robbins also went with us, to try and ease things along with the Fleet Operations office, since one of the drill locations was unfortunately in the middle of the road out to the runway, and they are responsible for the road. But everything went smoothly, and since we were in the track vehicle road, which requires less maintenance than the wheeled vehicle road, Fleet Ops were flexible enough to let us drill at the dive site. I’ll point out that we did not intentionally place our site in the road, but that the road moved to over one of our long term sites! Because the roads are on sea ice here, they are regraded every year, sometimes in new locations, and the location they selected for this years road went right over one of our sites!

Tom finishing up with drilling a dive hole.


And what about the pulling? When a group is going out to a field camp, where they will have to cook for themselves instead of having the wonderful galley staff to feed them three hot meals every day, they have to do what is called a food pull to select all the things they’ll need and package it up for transport by helicopter. Mindy spent all day, and I helped her in the afternoon, in the food room, presided over by Peggy, a warmly wonderful and very capable woman. During the summer in Colorado, Peggy selects and purchases all the food that all the field teams will need during the entire season. I don’t know what the total amounts are, but just for our group of 6, going out for 11 days, that was 444 lbs of food, including 132 chocolate bars! Maybe we will all come back looking like Weddell seals!
Hopefully after eating 444 lbs of food in 11 days we will
not look as rotund as this contented Weddell seal!

You can get almost anything in the food room. Peggy has even written a cook book to help us plan good, easy meals. We’re being democratic, each of us will be cooking dinner a couple of nights, and Mindy had us go through the 6 page list of available food items (in very small print) and check off what we wanted. Then she compiled it all and started pulling things off the shelves and packing them in boxes, and weighing each box and marking it clearly on the outside. Since we are going by helicopter to our field camp in New Harbor, everything we take needs to be weighed so the pilots know how heavy the load is, and where the weight is distributed. We also have to separate out the “DNF” or Do Not Freeze items – anything liquid, in a sealed container that will burst if the contents freeze, which will happen if they are left outside for even a pretty short time. The other classifications are “CF” for Can Freeze, and of course, Keep Frozen. The strangest thing we got was 9 packages of yeast for Marcus. He found a bread maker in Skua Central (see 5 October journal) and evidently plans to keep us in fresh bread the entire time. Never mind that we don’t know if the bread maker works…nor do we know if Marcus knows how to make bread…
Nick looking casual next to our massive food pull, all nicely boxed up.
Wait, is that one of our precious chocolate bars in his pocket?

The last thing that I did today was attempt to set up yet another camera and strobe combination for tomorrow’s dive. I have flooded 2 strobes (or the same strobe twice), and the connector for Rob’s strobe, and tried taking images with the HID video lights, and tried synching the digital camera on a long shutter speed with the film camera taking strobe pictures. Only the film camera worked, but it does not have our scaling lasers attached to it, so we can’t tell the sizes of animals in those pictures, which is part of the data we need. So we did some internet research and found an excellent web site that detailed the cord wiring from a Nikonos strobe, and Marcus was convinced it would synchronize with our digital camera. We hooked it all together and it appears good – and it only took 3 zip ties – so we will attempt that tomorrow. Wish us luck!
This is the kind of picture we would LIKE to be getting out of our
underwater digital cameras, instead of ones that are all black.

I’ll bid you goodnight with one other story from yesterday. We turned back from our efforts to mark safe routes to two of our far-away sites because weather conditions were worsening. As I made the final turn into town, I noticed blowing snow coming across the hood of the Tucker – but snow is odd in Antarctica – this is a desert after all. A few seconds later I smelled burning antifreeze. It wasn’t snow, it was steam! I stopped and checked all the gauges – everything seemed normal – then turned off the engine and jumped out – and we were spewing red propylene glycol all over the snow. We quickly got out a spill kit to soak up the spill and began shoveling contaminated snow into garbage bags – we had left a trail of red drops for 10 m behind us. My investigation under the hood revealed a lot of red stuff everywhere, but no single obvious cause. Susan, who is the Sea Ice expert and was with us to help us measure cracks and decide on crossing safety, called the Vehicle Maintenance Facility on the radio and they immediately sent a mechanic out to help us. We reported the spill (any release of a hazardous substance to the Antarctic environment needs to be reported and dealt with by trained folks) and they came right down and we turned over our two bags of contaminated snow to them. And then we called the taxi service and they came and gave us a ride home. 4 hours later we had our vehicle back, all fixed. All of this amazing help, from Carl who had volunteered to work with us on his day off and ended up shoveling red snow, to the mechanics and waste specialists and taxi drivers and Susan’s expertise, are part of the incredible system down here that lets us focus on science and engineering. But we’re always aware of how lucky we are to have so much support. Thank you to everyone who is helping us, both here and at home!
Susan, Mindy and Eternal Tuck(er) on our ill-fated attempt to find a
safe route to Turtle Rock. We'll try again on a nicer day!

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.