IceTrek Reconnaissance (Marambio Station): 5 February - 1 March
Please credit the National Snow and Ice Data Center for image or content use.
Winds continued to prevent the team from boarding the Irizar. Rob writes, "Visibility was down to about 100 meters in blowing snow. We were ready to go and "on deck" for about an hour, but conditions prevented the ship from landing. We'll try again during the next few days, but there is no expected break in the weather for the next five or so days. We think there might be a small window of opportunity to get us on the ship tomorrow, but the chances are pretty poor."
The team is despondent after continued waiting for a break in the weather. "We're still in Marambio, waiting out another major storm that began about 15 minutes before we were supposed to fly out to the Irizar. The Irizar is waiting for us 7 miles offshore, also pinned by the storm. Winds are currently 50 kts, -5c; visibility is not quite the distance I can throw a rock."
Last night, a heavy downpour struck Marambio Station. Ted Scambos writes, "Clouds moved in and a heavy rain began—like nothing I ever dreamed could happen in Antarctica. There may even have been a few thunderous rumbles as the front broke over around midnight. I imagined there could be drizzle or sleet, here, but this was a downpour of rain."
The heavy rain may delay the team's ability to board the Irizar. Plus, the rain may have other consequences for the team. Strong rain tends to pour heat onto ice; picture the crackling and fracturing of ice cubes when you pour tepid water over ice in a glass. The same warming happens when rain hits icebergs--including AMIGOSberg and A22A. The team now wonders about the changes the icebergs' surfaces will have undergone: Refrozen? Flooded? Slushy? Fractured? Such conditions not only make deploying the science stations more challenging; they can also make safety more difficult.
But for now, the team must wait it out.
Marambio Station personnel treated the team to a unique Antarctic experience. The Argentineans celebrated Día de la Antártida de Argentina (Argentine Antarctic Day). This was the day in 1902 that Argentina purchased the Orcadas Base from William Bruce, a famous Scottish Antarctic explorer. The Argentines have continuously occupied the Orcadas Base since that time, and have the longest continuous occupation and weather record south of 60 degrees S.
Ted describes the celebration: "At 8 a.m., we rallied at the main plaza near the runway, for a presentation of the flag and several good speeches. My understanding of Spanish is increasing, But what was most clear was their pride and their camaraderie."
The team still awaits the go-ahead to visit AMIGOSberg; they hope this will be within a week or so.
Snow, high winds, and limited visibility have confined the team to the station, with only brief forays into the chaos outside to take down the test cameras and equipment. Rob writes, "Earlier this morning, I ventured out to take down the target flags that we were using to site in the camera system. Visibility was about 30 meters, little wind and relatively warm. Having the station disappear into the mist as I followed the flag line and runway markers spiced up an otherwise pedestrian task."
The team still waits for a break in the weather and the flight schedule so they can visit the AMIGOSberg site.
The menacing weather continues to keep the team indoors and at Marambio Station. Ted writes, "There is a gigantic storm raging outside right now, winds must be about 70 kts, warm snow blowing...we are encased in ice so that most windows are just skylights right now. If you place your hand on the walls you can feel the bursts of pressure from outside."
Perhaps more momentous than the ongoing bad weather, however, is that Ted celebrated an important birthday, today! The team enjoyed a night of karaoke and Ted turned one year older in the company of both new and long-time friends.
All of his coworkers, here at NSIDC, wish Ted a Happy Birthday!
The weather in Marambio continues unabated and is preventing the team from flying. The break from reconnaissance missions is giving the team an opportunity to work on their gear, including such tasks as finding a way to keep the camera dome on the field camera from icing up. The team is also spending time organizing field camp food for the upcoming deployment to the iceberg.
The Internet connection has been unreliable over the past several days, so today the team is taking advantage of reestablished communication to update the U.S.-based team members and guide background research needed for planning the mission.
The team presented an overview of the IceTrek mission plan to Marambio Station personnel. The presentation included a science overview and a review of robot station development.
Pedro translated the U.S. team's presentation into Spanish for a large audience that packed the station conference room. Ted writes, "Sixty out of 105 people attended and they asked good questions at the end of the presentation." Once the presentation was over, the conversation and camaraderie continued over a dinner of Argentine beef and red wine.
Today is Sunday, and a day of relative rest for the team in Antarctica.
Rob writes, "This afternoon, we'll get some rope practice in the cargo warehouse. I've tied one of our climbing ropes to a roof beam and we'll use our gear to simulate climbing out of a crevasse. I practiced the other day and had quite a workout hauling up and down the rope. The weather has come in and our little island is surrounded by fog and mist. After two or three days of sunny, warm weather, this is quite a change."
The team also moved the AMIGOSberg station onto the loading dock and Ronald succeeded in remotely controlling the camera that the team hopes to deploy on the iceberg.
The team's current plan is to submit a request to place an automated tripod system on AMIGOSberg in the next several days. They'll use a pair of helicopters from Marambio and will stop for fuel at Matienzo Base, described in the 11 February entry, below. If weather prevents the team from a successful mission, the group will have a second chance to visit AMIGOSberg from the Irizar before she embarks from Marambio for Esperanza and Jubany station.
After Jubany, the Irizar will try to place the team on the iceberg A22A, the main target for the IceTrek expedition. At A22A, the team plans to place the full tower station with all the instruments—weather tower, cameras, radar, GPS, thermistor string, and flag line for detecting the flexing or bending of the iceberg, called "flexure."
The team took two flights, today.
The first was a reconnaissance flight over AMIGOSberg, where they hope to set up a small science station. Ted Scambos writes, "We took an early morning flight today over AMIGOSberg. It's only 9km by 12km, but its huge from the air. It looks much safer and has fewer flexure cracks than 'Chip,' which we visited last week for the radar systems tests [see 8 February entry for photos and details]."
Pedro Skvarca and Ted used this morning's flight as an opportunity to run a GPS profile along the present ice fronts of the Larsen B remnant ice shelf and the five main glaciers that fed the past ice shelf. The break-up of the Larsen B Ice Shelf broke up in 2002 was the largest retreat of an ice shelf in Antarctica in the last 30 years.
Ted continues, "The flight was nothing short of magnificent. Since we began early in the morning, the sun was very low and tinted a bit orange: the pictures are spectacular. They clearly show near-flood conditions on the remnant Larsen B, which is often a precursor to break-up. They also show the dramatic mass loss and thinning of Crane Glacier, the ongoing disintegration of Hektoria Glacier, and the flooding on the remnant Seal Nunataks ice shelf." He adds, "The cooperation and support from the Marambio staff continues to be excellent."
The second flight was to Matienzo Base.
Rob Bauer writes, "Matienzo Base is a small outpost on a rocky peninsula that used to be surrounded by thick ice. The flight path took us south, along the peninsula and over the Larsen ice shelf region. The base is located between the former Larsen A and B Iceshelves.
The purpose of the flight was to complete a GPS navigation line along the front of the many glaciers that empty into the sea, and to retrieve some meteorological data that Pedro had been collecting for the past year or so. He has a small automated station at the base and must periodically download the information onto a laptop computer.
We arrived in grand style, two Huey helicopters chattering over the base at low level. We did our quick job, and then the base comander led us on a tour of the small base. Only ten people stay at Matienzo during the Antarctic summer. The rest of the time the station is boarded up for the harsh winter. After the tour, we were treated to lunch with the base staff. After a toast to every one's well being and the success of the IceTrek mission, we boarded the helos and headed back "home" to Marambio Base. We arrived just as the fog was closing in."
Friday morning the team had an opportunity to fly a 2.5-hour reconnaissance mission in the DHC-6 Twin Otter over Vega Island and James Ross Island. Pedro enlisted the help of Aguila Squadron (Eagle Squadron) pilots who flew aircraft Tango 87 for photo passes over Vega Island.
The purpose of the mission was twofold. First, the team observed the conditions at many of Pedro's research sites. Second, the mission gave Ted and Rob the opportunity to familiarize themselves with ice conditions in the region. In particular, the team studied a small 3 by 5 km berg, or "Vegaberg," that may serve as a alternate destination should weather prevent the group from deploying the AMIGOSberg station.
The pilots flew two low altitude passes along Vegaberg to allow the team to look closely for crevassed regions. In the next few days, the team will have an opportunity to fly to Larsen A and Larsen B, including a fly-over of the AMIGOSberg.
The IceTrek team successfully tested some of their equipment on a small iceberg, called a tempanito in Spanish.
Ted Scambos and Rob Bauer write, "Fuerza Aerea Argentina (Argentine Air Force) Bell 212 helicopters transported us to the iceberg, or "Chip," as we're calling it. One helo transferred about 240 kg of cargo, and the other transported the field party. The pilots and glaciologists surveyed several bergs from the air before selecting one. Icebergs in the area have a broken surface, as though they have been flexed, with fractures spaced at 100 m to 500 m. The fractures also show varying levels of development, some deeply incising the berg with broad chasms and some fractures that are merely slits in the surface. For reasons of safety, we selected an iceberg with widely spaced 'slit' crevasses. The iceberg was only 1,000 m by 500 m in size.
This excursion gave us the opportunity to test and compare various radar systems that are used to measure ice thickness. We had a couple of hours to get our survey gear set up and do a radar profile across the iceberg. First, we roped up for safety. Then, Pedro and Juan Carlos set out flags, Ted and Rob put the radar sled together, and Jonathan and Ronald set up the ping radar.
We used two radar devices to measure the thickness, and one to investigate the upper tens of meters of the iceberg. One example of the data we took: the University of Colorado's RAMAC system measured the iceberg thickness at 312 m; the University of Wyoming Humphrey system measured the thickness at 300 m. We are still evaluating the data we took.
All of us are in high spirits after this successful foray, and we are still looking forward to our next efforts in the field, in particular our planned excursion to the larger 9 km by 12 km AMIGOSberg."
The following are MODIS satellite images, taken 48 hours ago. The top right image indicates where the team went, in relation to Marambio station. For a bigger-picture look at where the IceTrek team is working, please see our area details image.
The team spent much of the day drawing up plans for testing some of their equipment in the field. Tomorrow, the team plans to fly by helicopter to a small chip of ice near Marambio. There, they group will test the radars, take snow measurements, and examine the edge from a safe distance.
The team continues to keep a close eye on A22A, the primary target for the expedition, as well as AMIGOSberg, the smaller iceberg that is the target for a smaller deployment of science gear. The team has determined that if they fly to AMIGOSberg, rather than go by ship, it will be from a base called Matienzo. However, both A22A and AMIGOSberg remain on the Irizar icebreaker's list of excursions—more details to come on this facet of the expedition.
The team in Antarctica enjoyed temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, today, but forecasts indicated cold wet weather is on the way. Meanwhile, the Antarctic- and U.S.-based teams spent much of the day tracking down the necessary version of RAMAC Ground Vision software that they'll use to "see" through the ice once they land on Iceberg A22A.
Rob writes, "The Icebreaker Almirante Irizar has reached Orcadas Station, on South Orkney Island, and is making its way north to Ushuiah, Argentina. The ship will return for us on Feb 23 or 24, so we'll have a few weeks here at Marambio. We still plan to visit Snow Hill Island or a smaller piece of ice out in the bay to test our equipment and do a few recon flights (in a Twin Otter Aircraft and a Bell 212 helicopter) of the local area, and of the AMIGOSberg."
The team plans to use the next several days to sort their cargo and test all the camera and weather station components to ensure everything is working properly.
The team left Rio Gallegos and flew to Marambio, Antarctica, along with their equipment and gear.
Ted writes, "We've arrived in Marambio, and had a very good first day. All the gear has arrived, and we have been given an excellent office area to work in. We have some email and FTP access. The Argentines with whom we are staying are the most welcoming, friendly people you could ask for. I haven't walked by a single person, here, who hasn't said one of the many versions of '"hi" in Spanish. Marambio has the most beautiful setting of any Antarctic base I have ever seen--a rugged glacier-rock-ocean-ice symphony in Nature; stark, yet dynamic and dramatic. Seymour Island, ours, is a soft mesa of gravel and till, eroded into desert alluvial landforms, with no tree, shrub, or even blade of grass to break the mineral sculpture formed in the battle between rain, snow, and sediment. Fossils everywhere attest to an interesting past."
The team has named the "iceberglet," located at located at 65.6 S and 59.85 W, on which they are hoping to set up a small monitoring station. The name they've chosen: AMIGOSberg, for Automated Met-Ice-Geophysics Observing Station. The team continues to monitor AMIGOSberg, noting that the iceberg has apparently circled the front of the Larsen B Iceshelf a couple of times, and may be circling again.
More from Ted and Rob: "The Irizar is unstuck and on its way, but with a new schedule. We hope it will arrive around Feb 24, but we have several possible scenarios to work with. Weather will be getting bad here shortly (late tonight, they tell us), but afterward there will be a couple of recon flights over the Larsen B (Twin Otter) and Larsen A (helo). The first of these may cross the AMIGOSberg and we can see what the surface looks like. We are also planning a quick test of the 25-Mhz and 250-Mhz radar, on either Snow Hill Island just to the south, or on one of the many micro-bergs just off of Marambio ("micro " meaning 2km down to the size of an ice cube). It may be possible to reach AMIGOSberg from Marambio if it drifts very favorably, but the better chance is with the Irizar late in February. Same with A22A: we will get a good shot at it as the Irizar leaves the area, with us on board, towards Orcadas. We just need cooperative weather."