McMurdo station, Antarctica: 2015-16 Erebus field season

McMurdo station, Antarctica: 2015-16 Erebus field season

The Volcanofiles have had a long break between fieldwork posts, and there are a few more days to come before I get into the field, so this season’s blog posts will start with today’s non-scientific update on our trip thus far, and some photos from Ross Island, where we are based.

It’s exciting to be back on Ross Island after four years. A few things are different this time around. Instead of working on gas emissions from Erebus lava lake, we are collecting gas samples in the ice caves. Last time, with G-081, (who will also be heading up in January this season) I was in a group of about twelve. Now, I’m part of a much smaller group (event number G-411) – just me, my supervisor, and a mountaineer to help us in the field. This means I’m much more involved in planning our fieldwork, and realising just how much effort goes into supporting Antarctic science.

Since arriving, we’ve had meetings and training to cover several topics, including communications, field safety, working at altitude, and our environmental responsibilities. I’ll go into more detail on the Antarctic Specially Protected Area, or ASPA, and environmental concerns around the ice caves, in a later post.

We completed our food pull today with the help of field centre staff here, so that we have supplies both for the acclimatisation camp at Fang glacier, and for Lower Erebus Hut, or LEH. We also went through the camping and caving equipment that we are borrowing for the trip. For those who didn’t follow our previous trips to Erebus, we spend a couple of nights at an intermediate altitude, in order to help us acclimatise to the lower oxygen availability. Fang is a tent camp, with no buildings, so people from here at McMurdo have to go and set it up every season before science events like ours start coming through. LEH has two huts – one where we cook and work, and a ‘garage hut’ with tools and storage. We can set up our own tents when we arrive.

Now we’re hoping for good weather on Monday, so that Fang camp can be put in. Apparently this was due to happen last week, but weather conditions have intervened. Once Fang is in, we can head up – in the meantime, the carpenters will be opening up Lower Erebus Hut. As you’ve probably gathered, there are a lot of people working hard to make the research down here happen.

Tomorrow, we are planning some crevasse rescue training to prepare for our work in the ice caves. This is weather dependent, of course – as I write this I can see the islands of the Ross Archipelago to the south appearing and disappearing due to what I think is snow! An update on our training will follow, but in the meantime, here are a few photos from our trip so far.

We travelled from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the USA, where I started a postdoctoral research position in August, to Christchurch, New Zealand, where we were issued clothing and waited for our flight south.

Clothing issue in Christchurch: The parka is called a 'Big Red' and identifies us quite clearly as being with the US Antarctic Program. Although other boots are available, I asked for the blue boots as I've used them before (in fact, I haven't used them since arriving in McMurdo). My favourite item is the wind pants, which are both comfortable and excellent against the wind.

Clothing issue in Christchurch. Wind pants are my favourite items: both comfortable and excellent wind protection.

After an early morning start the next day, we got on a C-17 at Christchurch airport, and spent a few hours getting to Ross Island.

Sea ice from C-17 window

Sea ice viewed from from C-17 airplane window
(Christchurch – Ross Island flight 16 November 2015)

One difference from my previous seasons is that we landed out at Pegasus air field, an hour’s drive from McMurdo on ‘Ivan the Terrabus’, as opposed to the sea ice runway that we used in the past, which was much closer to McMurdo.

Disembarking the C-17 at Pegasus airfield. Those in red parkas are US Antarctic program participants; those in orange and black parkas are from Antarctica New Zealand, who share our flights

Disembarking the C-17 at Pegasus airfield. Those in red parkas are US Antarctic program participants; those in orange and black parkas are from Antarctica New Zealand, who share our flights.

Unfortunately, I was so disoriented on getting off the plane that I’m not actually sure which direction Erebus is in relative to anything else in these photos!

Ivan the Terrabus takes us back to McMurdo station (and drops the Kiwis off at Scott Base en route).

Ivan the Terrabus takes us back to McMurdo station (and drops the Kiwis off at Scott Base en route).

McMurdo is as built up as ever. We sleep in dorm buildings, work in the Crary lab where we have lab and office space, go to the ‘galley’ for meals, with visits to places like the Science Support Centre for training, or the Berg Field Centre for our field gear. We spend most of our time indoors – but if you remember to look up (provided the visibility is not too bad) it still looks like Antarctica.

Looking south from McMurdo towards the continent.

Looking south from McMurdo

When the weather is good, it’s easy enough to take a walk out of town. Last night I visited Scott Base, which was a chance to meet some fellow Kiwis.

IMGP0081

Scott Base viewed from the road to McMurdo. The interesting ice formations behind the base are the pressure ridges formed at the boundary between the sea and shelf ice.

The main reason for the walk, though, was to get outside and find some nice views…

South from Scott Base - pressure ridges in the foreground, where sea ice and shelf ice meet; probably White Island in the background.

South from Scott Base – pressure ridges in the foreground; probably White Island in the background.

…including a first look at Erebus.

Erebus from Scott Base road

Erebus from Scott Base road

If you squint, you may be able to see the summit cone and a tiny plume coming out of it…but in any case, please keep an eye on the blog. We hope to be reporting from up there in a week or so.

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