The Break in the Weather
For the past week, there has been a nasty low pressure system sitting off the coast of Ross Island. The weather around McMurdo has been Condition 2 or Condition 1 pretty much across the board. While it has been fairly cold with wind chill temperatures hitting -50C, the main problem has been the precipitation (snow) that came with the low pressure system. Any gust of wind faster than about 8 meters per second (~18 miles per hour) is liable to loft snow into the air. This blowing snow then severely decreases visibility which can send McMurdo and its environs into Condition 2/1 (visibility less than 1/4 mile / 100 ft, respectively). During the past week we’ve been hitting sustained winds of 40 mph regularly with gusts up to 65 mph! Due to the high winds and low visibility, no planes have been allowed to leave Christchurch. Lars, Mike, and Doug have been sitting in McMurdo with only half of the cargo for the past week. The other half of the cargo and Drew and Anondo have been sitting in Christchurch on perpetual standby waiting to get to the ice.
But the storm has finally broken! Yesterday was the first day we could see the Trans-Antarctic Mountains since we arrived on the ice. Drew, Anondo, and the cargo made it in as well!
The Ice Edge
With the break in the weather, we have finally been able to go out of town (travel is unsafe and severely restricted in Con 2 and Con 1). First on the list of priorities was finding a place to set up camp this year. Some severe storms in July broke up a lot of the sea ice in McMurdo sound and the ice looks a lot different than it did last year. The storms blew out large chunks of the ice and caused some severe cracks in the remaining ice. It is due to these cracks that we are unable to set up in the same spot we were last year. If we did go to the same spot, there is no guarantee the piece of ice in that spot wouldn’t float out to sea! Becoming a mobile field site would be very unpleasant.
In light of the current sea ice conditions and with the break in the weather, we went out in search of a new place to put our camp. We took our piston bully and the main mountaineer to go on a recon of the ice. After a few hours of looking at potential spots that will not become floating camps, we decided to figure out exactly how far away from the ice edge we are. The distance from edge to camp is important to us because we hypothesize that salt and other chemicals from sea water can get into the snow and sit on top of the ice. The presence of certain chemicals open to the air may have very important consequences for aerosol production and chemistry in the area.
After finding the ice edge (which is about 5 kilometers north of where our camp was last year!) we stopped to take some pictures. We also had two visitors come by to check out the group of humans on their ice!
Now that we have found a spot and the rest of our cargo made it to the continent, we are ready to drag everything out to the ice, set it up, and officially begin our field season! Wish us luck!