Jay (brian1789) wrote,

Autumn arrives, again

The season here has discernably changed... when we arrived at the start of 2013, it was late spring, we left for University Valley in midsummer (temps often at or slightly above freezing), and there's a sense of change into autumn. Just as autumn on Devon Island (N75) starts around the first week in August, here (S77) it feels different in early February. Temperatures have fallen (single digits to mid-teens), lots of overcast, windy, and the clouds at 1am now are beginning to have sunset tinges of orange and pink. And McMurdo is preparing for winter... two ships arriving over the next week, bringing most of next year's supplies. And most scientists are leaving now, followed in a couple of weeks by most of the staff.

After Tuesday-early-morning's last classroom remote-drill-operation, our team is scattering. Two members left yesterday, one today, two more tomorrow, and I'll be the last to go, on Friday (hopefully). We've been packing, cleaning, hauling field gear back to the BFC and unused canned goods back to the food dispensary. Packaging and labeling samples, for shipment and so we can remember where these came from, six weeks from now when they arrive at work. And today is the three-quarter mark on this trip, for me, so I'm most of the way along.

Here are a few photos, from last week's field deployment (since there was no net connection from there)...

University Valley is on the mainland of Antarctica (McMurdo is on Ross Island), about 100 miles away from MCM. To get there, ourselves, field gear and equipment have to be flown by helicopter. Here's myself and Bolek and some drill boxes, inside a Bell 212.

At University Valley, we tested the drill automation software, but also conducted a remote-commanded test that included the drill, a sample transfer arm (left of the drill) and mockup instruments (foil boxes on table layout, with inlet ports modeled on the actual instruments).

Here's our 2013 basecamp, as seen from a few hundred meters down the valley. University Valley is closed at one end with a small glacier... I wonder if it had waterfalls in warmer times.

One persistent issue we discovered was a form of choking in which cuttings and ice would form mud briefly, then refreeze and make a plug. Several times we nearly got the drill stuck when we began to retract and the built-up plug caught on something. The solution was to retract frequently so the top scraper would clear the plugs. I'm looking at one of these.

Tent, sweet tent... ? Mine is the snow-covered small yellow tent in the center background. It would sometimes go below zero (F) inside during sleeping hours, and I'd wake with an ice mantle around the edges of the opening in my mummy bag.

University Valley is a sort of tributary off of the larger (and lower) Beacon Valley, here looking from the end of UV outward. The views were absolutely stunning, even in weather... I never tired of leaving my tent and just looking around at all of it.

Aeolian processes carved some of the sandstone bedrock into weird shapes, halfway down the valley near the ice-covered pool. I called this one "the hitchhiker".

After the drill tests near camp, we moved the Icebreaker drill to a different location, into a bowl-shaped depression that had not been explored below the surface. No shelter, so we put on our parkas and covered our faces, sitting in the wind. I'm on the left, wearing the orange "mustached" balaclava. We discovered that the depression down to 1m was mostly a mix of ice and dust, grey grainy stuff with few pebbles or rocks.

A view inside the work tent... we had two large tents with small heaters. My space was under the hanging cards (thanks to those of you who authored some! It lifted my spirits when I opened them).

Finally, our kitchen/dining tent... a two-burner camp stove, no oven, no sink or running water. We would put seven people around the table... most meals were made with boiling water (but no draining) or a skillet.
Tags: antarctica, drill, mars analogs, university valley

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