Monday, November 3, 2014

Not a desk job, Part 2

It's still relatively early in the season at McMurdo; We're getting close to full population and science is quickly ramping up into full swing, and most of us on the support side are in our busiest time of the year.  The last week has seen an awful lot of driving out onto the sea ice, working on things that are at the other end of that long-distance wireless shot we had to troubleshoot in my last update.

You can see the pressure ridges that build up where the permanent ice shelf is slammed up against the shore.  Each of those ridges is almost 30 feet tall.

Depending on how busy things are, you can sometimes borrow a van to drive out to the sea ice runways, where we have a lot of equipment to install.  Or if you can hitch a ride with someone who's heading out there anyway, you can play tourist and enjoy the views.

Best to follow at quite a distance.  Snow kicked up onto the front of a vehicle quickly turns to ice, and isn't fun to try and scrape off every ten minutes.

Just follow the flag line and you'll probably be okay.

Driving these big-wheel vans and trucks, even on groomed snow roads, is extremely sketchy.  Or at least, it feels that way.  The vehicles like to follow existing ruts and tracks, and in some places where the snow is deep you can get that sticky feeling of even these fat tires starting to bog down into the softer snow.  Smooth inputs and steady throttle can keep you out of the worst of it.

Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of driving across the sea ice will get you to Willy Field, a temporary collection of huts that makes up the majority of our air operations during the active summer months. 

After the buildings are towed into place and get power and heat, we're usually the first people into them to get the networking equipment installed.  Many times, no one has been into them yet to see what sort of chaos being towed around on the ice has caused.

Those blinky boxes on the wall are all I care about.  The stuff scattered about is someone else's problem.

Found in one of the huts.  I'm really glad my job doesn't require these any more.

Even getting into the buildings is problematic.  Most of them don't have stairs yet, so you're making do with kicking steps into any snow piles that happen to be close.

A co-worker pulling himself up into one of the huts.

Out closer to the ski-way, more stuff is being unloaded from the massive Kress tractor-trailers to complete the odd little town.

As this is a groomed snow-field, rather than bare ice (such as the much farther out Pegasus field), it's limited to ski-equipped aircraft such as Twin Otters and LC-130s.  At the time of these photos, they were just finishing prepping the area for the planes to arrive next week.

If you take a shuttle out you're limited by their schedule for how much time you can spend working out there.  But occasionally you'll get a vehicle from the shuttle fleet, or borrow one from another department, so you can drive around a bit more and get more done.  Of course . . . this means that it's your own driving skill that's going to stop you from getting stuck.

Or not.

In my defense, I wasn't driving.  I was doing my best to stifle my back-seat-driver instincts, and sat there quietly saying nothing while I'm my head I'm screaming "Why the hell are you aiming for the obviously softer snow?!  No no no stay away from those deep ruts . . . no no HEY STOP SLOWING DOWN YOU NEED THE MOMENTUM TO CARRY YOU THROUGH . . . okay you've lost the speed but don't just floor it you'll just dig yourself in NO HEY STOP IT . . . dammit." 

I humored my co-worker for an hour as we tried to dig our way out (even though it was immediately clear it was hopeless, the truck's rear diff was buried in the snow), but eventually they were forced to make the radio-call-of-shame, and then we had the view-of-shame as one of the massive Case tractors came to pull us out.

Thanks guy!
Putting in gear at Willy Field isn't our only location out on the ice that we have equipment at.  A half-mile or so away from Willy is the LDB (Long Duration Balloon) facility, where they assemble and launch high-altitude balloons that can circle the continent for weeks or even months at a time.

Oooooo science is shiny!

As flashy as this science is, my aspect of it is fairly similar no matter where I am.  Blinky boxes, connected via many wires to other blinky boxes.

Just for fun, that thing on the wall to the right is a thermometer.  Many of the buildings aren't heated (or aren't heated yet), and this is where I get to work for hours at a time.

Think about this the next time you complain about your office being too cold.

There's nothing quite like plugging in a few hundred network cables with numb fingers!

1 comment:

Fabrizio said...

Amazing, simply amazing. I'm trying to think about how it could be to be there, doing a normal job such as maintaining IT infrastructure but... thereI know it's not your first time in Antarctica, but does the fact of being there, of being so far away from any large town, any McDonald's, heck, any tree still amazes you? I guess I'd simply think about it over and over for days.

Thanks for this incredible blog