Ice Stories: Dispatches From Polar Scientists » Mark Krasberg Mon, 15 Nov 2010 20:40:36 +0000 en hourly 1 The Pegasus Wreck Mon, 11 Jan 2010 23:02:32 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE, ANTARCTICA– What was that dark spot near the Pegasus ice runway?

When we left McMurdo it was a fairly overcast day. We returned to Pegasus Field (the same airstrip on which we arrived on the C-17) and boarded a C-130 Hercules to fly to the pole.

Three C-130’s side-by-side at the airfield. They are the only heavy-lift aircraft equipped with skis in the world and they are operated by the New York Air National Guard.

The C-130 as we boarded the plane.

Soon after we took off I saw something in the snow from the window and I took a photograph of it. When I zoomed in on the photo I discovered that it was a crashed plane!

“The Pegasus” wreck (in upper left part of the photo) from the air.

It turns out that what I had photographed was “The Pegasus.” “The Pegasus” was a C-121 Lockheed Constellation aircraft which crashed on Oct 8, 1970 in horrendous weather. None of the 80 people on board were injured. The plane had passed the “PSR” (“Point of Safe Return”). Many of the planes which fly from New Zealand to McMurdo do not have enough fuel to get back to New Zealand if they cannot land at McMurdo, so a decision gets made mid-flight whether or not it is safe to proceed to McMurdo. Because the weather in McMurdo is so changeable, “boomerangs” back to New Zealand are quite common. I have actually boomeranged twice in my six trips to Antarctica. In fact, once we must have come close to passing the “PSR” because we ended up having to land in Dunedin (on the southern tip of New Zealand), since we did not have enough fuel to safely get back to the more northern Christchurch airport.

And that’s how the ice runway being used at McMurdo is called “Pegasus”, named in honor of this crashed plane.

A close-up of the Pegasus wreck. Photo courtesy of sandwichgirl.

Another view of the wreck. Photo courtesy of sandwichgirl.

For more on the plane and its story, click here.

As we flew onward, I took a photograph of a GPS. It is roughly a 3-hour flight, and as you can see, we were indeed headed southwards.

The weather at the South Pole was great. Having just arrived, here I am (in the middle) with colleagues, some who are leaving and others who are arriving.

Soon after I arrived, I took this photograph of a spectacular sundog (caused by ice crystals in the air). You can see part of the “parhelion” (the horizontal line), which was particularly bright on this day.

As you can tell, it can be an adventure getting to the pole. For me, everything went on schedule, and it still took a week! Now it’s been several days since I arrived, and the weather in McMurdo has been pretty bad of late. A C-17 boomeranged from Christchurch to McMurdo a couple of days ago, and additional attempts yesterday and today have had to be canceled due to weather. The flights from McMurdo to the South Pole have also had to be canceled due to weather – they have been trying hard to get a flight to pole because there is a person here who got sick and they need to do an emergency medical evacuation but they have so far been unable to. It looks like a plane just took off again headed this way, so I hope the folks waiting to leave will get out of here tonight. Currently IceCube has close to 10 people trying to fly to Antarctica from New Zealand, and close to 10 people trying to get to New Zealand from either McMurdo or the South Pole.

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Pressure Ridges Fri, 08 Jan 2010 00:24:48 +0000 Mark Krasberg MCMURDO STATION, ANTARCTICA– Today I visited the (New Zealand) Scott Base. The New Zealand base is next to some spectacular pressure ridges, which are caused by tides where the sea ice meets the land – the ice literally buckles and rises upwards. While I was there I was invited to walk around this spectacular sight. (You have to be invited by a member of the New Zealand base.)

Members of the New Zealand base use flags to map out a safe route. The ice was starting to get soft and they were about to close down trips, but luckily the paths were still open.

Where the sea ice meets the land, the ice buckles and rises upwards under tidal forces, forming these pressure ridges.

Pressure ridges with Mount Erebus in the background.

Another view of the pressure ridges.

During the trip we encountered a Weddell seal lying close to the path. It was cute.

That’s me posing with the Weddell seal.

In the background, you can see a new feature on the Antarctic landscape: Scott Base has built three windmills for power.
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Climbing Castle Rock Mon, 04 Jan 2010 23:51:55 +0000 Mark Krasberg MCMURDO STATION, ANTARCTICA– Today we flew to McMurdo station. This is the first time in six years that my flight to McMurdo has gone ahead on schedule – weather delays are common when flying to Antarctica.

Nathan Whitehorn, a coworker of mine, and I flew down on a US military heavy cargo aircraft called a C-17 “Globemaster”.

The C-17 “Globemaster.”

The spacious interior of the C-17. It’s large enough to hold four Black Hawk helicopters.

The views from the plane as we flew over the mountainous interior and icepacks are always spectacular.

The mountainous interior of the continent.

An aerial view of the sea ice.

It is always pretty awe-inspiring when you get off the plane and one of the first things you see is Mount Erebus with its volcanic plume.

Arriving at McMurdo. In the background is Mount Erebus.

After we arrived in McMurdo, the first thing we did was get checked out safety-wise to climb Castle Rock. Every time I go to McMurdo I have wanted to hike this famous spot, and this year I finally got my chance. We were able to get checked out, and the weather was good.

It is a 4-mile hike to Castle Rock across the ice.

Castle Rock with Mount Erebus in the background.

Castle Rock (with a warming hut in the foreground).

You actually climb Castle Rock with the help of some prepositioned ropes.

Me climbing up Castle Rock.

Nathan climbing.

The view from the summit is amazing.

Nathan climbing back down.

Another one of Nathan climbing back down.

The path back towards McMurdo.

The two of us after we had climbed the Rock.

It was a really fun day. We returned from climbing Castle Rock at 1:15am (at this time of year, it never gets dark).

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Back to Pole Fri, 18 Dec 2009 23:48:50 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE, ANTARCTICA– I am on my way to the South Pole for the 6th time. This year IceCube is hoping to deploy 18 strings. (We are sending down enough equipment to deploy 20). At the end of last season we had deployed a total of 59 strings, and we have two years of construction left.

As we took off from Madison I took this photograph of the University of Wisconsin campus and Lake Mendota – we had a big snow storm earlier in the week which actually closed down the university for the first time in decades.

On the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney I flew down on the new Airbus A380, a double-decker plane that can hold lots and lots of people. Many of my colleagues have already flown down on this plane, and at least one of them said the plane was airborne for an hour before she realized that it had taken off. I particularly liked the tailcam where you could watch the plane takeoff on the monitor in front of your seat.

The Airbus A380.

Sydney (from the tailcam) from just before we landed.

I also took this movie of the tailcam feed as the plane took off – I am not sure I believe my coworker that she didn’t notice the plane taking off, but it was a neat flight.

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Interview with Todd Carmichael Fri, 06 Mar 2009 21:03:07 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– In November 2008, adventurer Todd Carmichael set out to become the first American to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole solo and unassisted. The South Pole was 600 nautical miles away. Just several miles into the journey, his ski bindings broke. He continued on foot. Shelby Handlin and I interviewed him in South Pole medical on December 23, 2008.

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Altocumulus Standing Lenticular Clouds Fri, 16 Jan 2009 22:59:19 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– On December 16, I flew to the South Pole. To get to the pole, we fly on specially outfitted LC-130 Hercules cargo planes which are operated by the New York Air National Guard. These planes have skis on them so they can land on the ice runway at the South Pole.

Getting on the LC-130.

In addition to carrying people back and forth these planes also carry equipment, food and fuel for the South Pole Station (and waste the other way). Over 200 LC-130 flights are made to the pole each year, and a plane will typically have approximately 2,000 pounds of fuel syphoned off from it after it lands – this is what the South Pole generators run on, and they need several hundred thousand pounds of fuel to make it through the winter.

A 15,000 lb IceCube surface-to-DOM cable aboard our LC-130.

Flying with me was a 15,000 lb IceCube Surface-to-DOM cable. We need one of these for each of our deployments/strings (we are hoping to do at least 14 deployments this season). IceCube is a pretty massive project, and requires many cargo flights of fuel and equipment in order to succeed.

During the flight to the pole over the Transantarctic Mountains, I saw some really neat cloud formations. They are called “altocumulus standing lenticular clouds.” I was told that they are fairly common in mountainous areas. I thought they were pretty spectacular!

Altocumulus standing lenticular clouds over the Transantarctic Mountains.

Altocumulus standing lenticular clouds often form on the lee side of mountain ranges as moisture condenses at the crest of a standing wave in air currents.
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Pressure Ridges Mon, 12 Jan 2009 22:16:09 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– Before I left McMurdo, I got a tour of the pressure ridges near Scott Base (the New Zealand station very close to McMurdo). The pressure ridges are formed by tidal forces — there is a thick sheet of sea ice which meets the land, and tidal forces cause the ice to buckle. Members of the New Zealand base use flags to map out a safe route, and we were allowed to walk around these marvelous ice formations one evening. Our guide was Peggy Malloy. The trip was a lot of fun!

Aerial view of McMurdo Station (US – brown buildings) and Scott Base (NZ – green buildings).

View of Scott Base from the pressure ridges.

Pressure ridges.

Flags to map out a safe route through the pressure ridges.

Another photo of these marvelous ice formations.

Me and my guide, Peggy Malloy.
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Going Camping in Antarctica Wed, 31 Dec 2008 20:14:43 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– On December 12/13, I did the Antarctic survival training course, also called “Happy Camper.” This course is a prerequisite for going off-base on unguided tours. Eight of us were driven to the foot of Mt. Erebus. It was a beautiful windless 37F evening.

Mt. Erebus and its volcanic plume blowing to the right.

Above Mt. Erebus was the sun with incredible sun dogs and a halo around it. This spectacle is caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere, and the north and south poles may be the best places in the world to see this effect.

Our instructor, Nick, said that we were in an excellent area for cutting up snow blocks for building structures (you use a saw). Some of my fellow campers tried to build an igloo (a major technological challenge, and they almost succeeded, but they gave up around 1:00 AM).

My fellow campers and their igloo.

Some built a duplex, and I built an ice cave but ended up sleeping in a Scott tent.

An ice duplex.

My ice cave.

Scott tents are famous for their durability in storms.

The next day we were debriefed on how the night went (the low was a balmy 24F, so we were all pretty comfortable during the night), and we then completed the course (the survival training course is good for five years of traveling in remote parts of Antarctica). Overall the course was a lot of fun, and very interesting!

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Going Under the Ice! Tue, 30 Dec 2008 18:13:47 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– The day I arrived at McMurdo I ran into Ron Hipschman and John Weller. They told me they were going to go to the “Penguin Ranch” the next day, and I got permission to go with them. I was very lucky!

The trip was a roughly one hour ride over the sea ice in a dual-tracked vehicle called a MATTRAX.

Mount Erebus from the sea ice.

John Weller, our guide Peggy Malloy, Ron Hipschman and the MATTRAX.

During the trip we could see a few icebergs which were trapped in the sea ice.

What they do at the Penguin Ranch is study emperor penguins. They take a small number of emperor penguins from the coast and put them in a fenced in area on the sea ice. A couple of holes are cut in the ice for the penguins, and the penguins are then able to go swimming any time they want to (they catch their own food). The penguins apparently go diving around once an hour. There are no holes in the ice nearby, so the penguins always come back to the Penguin Ranch when they are done swimming.

Penguin Ranch.

The very beautiful emperor penguins.

A penguin at the start of a dive…

… and jumping back on top of the ice.

The best part of the Penguin Ranch was the observation tube. You can climb down in a narrow tube about 15 feet under the ice and look out some windows. The colors under the ice are amazing, as you can see! It was incredible to be under the ice and also to watch the penguins swimming.

Emperors swimming.

Thanks John and Ron and Peggy for a great day!

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Made it to Antarctica Fri, 26 Dec 2008 22:04:01 +0000 Mark Krasberg SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– En route to Antarctica, I spent three days in Christchurch. The weather was nice – a few of the IceCubers played croquet next to the Botanical gardens.

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens, New Zealand.

The Croquet Club, Christchurch.

On Dec 9 we were scheduled to take a South African Hercules to McMurdo but ended up flying on the massive C17 “Globemaster” instead. The C17 was going to make an aidrop to “AGAP” after it dropped us off in McMurdo. You can see that the air-drop cargo was all ready to go (there is a parachute on top of each piece of cargo).

The C-17 ready for Airdrop.

During the flight I saw a lot of pack ice, and also got a nice photograph of the Antarctic coastline. We landed at Willy field (a runway on the sea ice). It was a nice day and you could see Mount Erebus in the distance (an active volcano).

Pack ice from the air.

The Antarctic coastline.

The C-17 ‘Globemaster.’

After being debriefed and getting our room assignments I took the Terrabus over to Scott Base (the New Zealand station). From there I could see the pressure ridges, and also the Happy Camper (Antarctic survival training) folks in the distance.

Having landed at McMurdo Station with Mt. Erebus in the background.

Scott Base pressure ridges, Terrabus and Happy Camper at foot of Mt. Erebus.

I knew that Mary Miller and Lisa Strong from the Exploratorium were standing there next to the two Scott Tents. The Happy Camper school was taking place at the foot of Mount Erebus. In the photo above, you can see the Terrabus between the pressure ridges and the Happy Camper school.

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