Ice Stories: Dispatches From Polar Scientists » Lucas Beem Mon, 15 Nov 2010 20:40:36 +0000 en hourly 1 Detonation Wed, 03 Feb 2010 23:13:12 +0000 Lucas Beem WHILLANS ICE STREAM, ANTARCTICA– This video shows the detonation of our excess explosives, used for seismic surveys of the base of the glacier. Our scientific objectives justify the risks of transporting the explosives to our field site. But the risk is not justified to carry them back. As a result, once our scientific objectives have been completed we dispose of any excess through detonation.

A detonation on the ice sheet

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Measuring a Glacier’s Motion Sat, 30 Jan 2010 21:50:32 +0000 Lucas Beem WHILLANS ICE STREAM, ANTARCTICA– There are two basic projects that we are working on through our field work in Antarctica. One is looking at changes in the ice surface motion through time. To do this we make three types of GPS measurement: 1) continuous stations which measures a position every 10 to 30 seconds; 2) repeated measurements of poles stuck in the ice surface. 3) Kinematic lines (GPS is affixed to a snowmobile and we drive it around). The last technique does not give us velocity information, but the topography of the ice sheet.

See us installing a new GPS station in the video below. We previously assembled the tower, which contains solar panels and wind turbines, to charge the batteries. The batteries and the GPS hardware are in the gray cases. We use towers to keep the solar panels from being buried by accumulation and drifting snow. Note the old station in the foreground and how close it is to the snow surface. This video is played back at 15x speed.

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We always have a handheld GPS on while we’re driving our snowmobiles, just in case we get lost or conditions change and we can’t see. This way we can know where we have gone and were safety lies. I compiled all of our GPS tracks and made this map.

This map our snowmobile tracks.

We have ten GPS station around the ice sheet, plus a few other locations of interest (seismic instrumentation or flag pole to re-measure) which we visited at least once each during our field season. I drove over 400 km during our 4 week field season.

Here we measure a flag pole to see how much it has moved since we measured it last (the year previous, in this case). Some times the flags were frozen into the ice and we couldn’t get them out. As a result we measure a location next to the flag and make careful notes about how far away our antenna is.

A snowmobile outfitted with a kinematic set up: simply a GPS antenna strapped to the side. We’re not moving in this picture, but are we record positions whenever we drive around.

We can use this kinematic set up to measure surface elevation and if we have multiple measurements, as in the image below, we can see changes in the ice surface topography.

In this image four kinematics GPS profiles are shown and the elevation differences between the two time periods are different. We can see that the surface of the glacier is changing rapidly. The reason for these changes are that highly pressurized water is creating a cavity below the glacier which floats the ice up. These cavities can also drain allowing the surface to deflate.
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Setting Up Camp Sat, 09 Jan 2010 00:44:14 +0000 Lucas Beem WHILLANS ICE STREAM, ANTARCTICA– The first order of business was to set up camp. First we collected all our gear at our chosen site and pitched our cook tent. This is the multi-colored, slug-shaped monster, where we spent much time eating and socializing at the beginning and end of each day. You’ll see this in a time lapse movie. One image every minute.

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In this next video, also a time lapse of one image per minute, we set up our personal tents, where we each would sleep.

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Field Deployment Fri, 08 Jan 2010 21:36:34 +0000 Lucas Beem WHILLANS ICE STREAM, WEST ANTARCTICA– We landed at our field site after a three hour flight from McMurdo Station. We arrived on what is called a Basler. This plane is a modified DC-3 and was built in the the 1950s. Climbing out of the plane we were in a white flat expanse. We were lucky: the weather was ideal, sunny and calm winds. After unloading our gear, two snowmobiles, three drums of fuel and survival gear (tents, food and clothing), it was time for the plane to leave.

Part of the safety protocol is to have the field party pitch one tent before the plane can leave. This is in case something happens, weather or injury, there can be a haven out of the elements. In certain scenarios, it might just be the difference between life in death.

As you’ll see, we pitched our tent much too close to the plane and we were bowled over by the force of the propellers. Moments later the plane disappeared into a cloud of snow. Silence and we were alone.

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On the Menu Mon, 04 Jan 2010 23:39:34 +0000 Lucas Beem MCMURDO STATION, ANTARCTICA– One of the necessary steps once arriving in McMurdo is going to the Food Room and collect all the food you will be bringing with you to the field. Unfortunately, this was one of the periods where I didn’t have my camera. Picture a rustic market with four rows of shelves made of warn dimensional lumber, rounded by years of restocking. It’s dim and a few florescent lights show the way. To help us is Peggy, a seasoned Antarctic veteran with years of scientific support in McMurdo. She offered much needed guidance in terms of volumes of particular items. Overall, we choose the right amount of food, with on exception: way too much butter.

Below is a table of all the dried food we brought with us. We had an additional frozen food, butter, bacon, sausage, etc, which is not included in the table. But this offers insights into our daily lives in the field.

Our pantry set up in the field in our main tent.

Here’s a menu for most of our meals. We were in the field until February 2. I forgot to record the menu for the last few days, but it continued in a similar trend.

Friday Jan 8

Lunch: Cabin bread and tuna
Dinner: Assorted freeze dried meals

Jan 9
Breakfast: Oatmeal with dried fruit
Dinner:Chili relleno w/ mozzarella quesadilla, corn and refried beans

Jan 10

Breakfast: Oatmeal with frozen Maine wild Blueberries
Lunch: corn and refried bean burritos with cheddar cheese
Dinner: coconut milk, vegetable, corn and tofu stir-fry with Thai peanut chicken

Jan 11
Breakfast sandwich English muffin with Canadian bacon and provolone cheese
Pea soup, dried carrots and bagels
Quinoa, three bean salad and curried tofu

Jan 12
Oatmeal with frozen strawberries
Bagel sandwiches with sun-dried tomatoes hummus and fried ham
Potatoes, boiled vegetables and chicken with mustard sauce

Jan 13
Onion and potato hash-browns with bacon and sautéed onion on English muffin
Lunch in the Field
Rotini with sun-dried tomato, mozzarella, spinach and chorizo tomato sauce

Jan 14
7 grain hot meal with dried cranberries
Bacon and English muffins
Pepperoni pizza, pepperoni and mushroom pizza and pepperoni and olive pizza

Jan 15
Oatmeal with frozen blackberries
Lunch in field
Spring rolls, oyster mushroom, carrot and green pepper quinoa with peppered chicken and asparagus

Jan 16
Oatmeal with dried cranberries
Roast beef on bagels
Chirozo, ground beef green chili and refried beans with mozzarella burritos

Jan 17
Bacon on toast
Lunch in field
Falafel, three bean salad, macaroni with pesto, TVP and mushroom sauce

Jan 18
Hot 7 grain meal with frozen strawberries
Enchilada, beef and bean burrito sweet Italian sausage in vegetarian chili

Jan 19
Bacon on English muffin and/or bagel w/ cream cheese
Lunch in Field
Tortellini (cheese and tofu) in coconut thai sauce w/ green beans

Jan 20
Oatmeal with frozen strawberries
Polish (El Slawek’s) Potatoes, hash brown and Canadian bacon (late lunch)
Apple and blueberry cobbler (freeze dried)

Jan 21
Lunch in the field
Angel hair w/ tomato sauce and sweet Italian sausage

Jan 22
Couscous w/ raisons and walnuts
Bacon and English muffin and/or bagels
Beef and bean burritos with fajita vegetables

Jan 23
Oatmeal w/ almonds, peaches and apricots
Bagels with cream cheese
Asian rice(coconut and curry sauce) with chicken and cauliflower, broccoli carrot mixed

Jan 24
Oatmeal w/ fruit (apples and raspberries)
Bagels cream cheese
Roast Beef, hash browns (black olives and jalapeno), corn, peas and carrots

Jan 25
Oatmeal with mixed dried fruits
English muffins and bagels
Pork tenderloin, asparagus and carrots and quinoa

Jan 26
Hash browns with cheese
English muffins and bagels
Pizza (beef pizza, tuna pizza, Hawaiian pizza)

Jan 27
Hot dogs on English muffins
Hot dogs and pepperoni on English muffins
Burritos (pre-made frozen), chili relleno

Jan 28
Oatmeal with caned peaches and canned strawberries
English muffins with cream cheese, jelly and/or pepperoni

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An Auspicious Start Mon, 14 Dec 2009 22:46:49 +0000 Lucas Beem SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA– The adventure begins with shuttle ride to SFO (San Francisco International Airport). Already the interest and excitement for the work being done in the Antarctic has helped me along the way.

I have almost too much baggage to carry. Two backpacks a giant pelican case and a large tripod bag. Backpack on the front, backpack on the back, a wheeled case pulled by one hand and the tripod bag in the other. I could carry no more.

Waiting in line at ticketing, overloaded, a helpful agent of the airline came over to assist me. He recognized the pelican case as media equipment immediately, I can only image how many bags he must see.

After admitting that I’m not a professional photographer, although, I suppose it is an easy mistake to make. I began to explain what I was doing: Traveling to Antarctica to engage in scientific research; the need for outreach, I am funded through taxpayer money, and the efforts of the Exploratorium. Immediately, the questions began and his interested was revealed.

As he helped me get my tickets and check my bags, he waved nearly $150 USD worth of baggage fees because he appreciated what I was doing and excited to see what I am up to. I wish I had gotten his name, if you’re reading this, supportive Qantas Agent, thanks so much, you are a true gentleman.

Currently, I am drinking a glass of wine and eating pizza, my flight boards in about 1.5 hours and I figure, a full belly and a little night cap will make the first portion of the 14 hour flight quickly slip by.

San Francisco International Airport.
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