I know what you might be thinking, belly hooking? That’s an interesting title. But let me explain. When we belly hook, it is literally hooking a cable to the belly of a helicopter so that a load can be slung to another place. Typically there is a Helicopter attendant that does this, but on this particular day, the helicopter didn’t land to drop supplies so it was faster to have someone from the camp hook the load. And guess who volunteered first: me. So, mom don’t freak out, but here is a video of me belly hooking to a helicopter.
Archive for October 2011
This last Saturday I headed to McMurdo for a two day trip to help Hilary, another diver, with her check out dive. She was unable to dive when we were here before due to a barrow trauma she got from diving before making it to the ice. Barrow trauma occurs when air gets trapped and then is not able to escape on the assent. This causes the air to constrict and pull blood from the surrounding tissues to equalize the air space. It is very painful. Hilary’s was so bad that it caused all the teeth on that side of her jaw to go numb. It has been over a month since she had her barrow trauma and is finally able to dive again.
In order for her to do her dive, she had to fly back to McMurdo and I accompanied her so that I could also meet a potential adviser for graduate school (cross your fingers). The trip was more successful than I anticipated. Not only did I meed the person I ended to, but also to other potentials and was able to get the names with recommendations of other people not in Antarctica.
However, early this morning weather moved in and the helicopters were unable to fly us back to New Harbor. But it seems that things there are on hold due, again, to technical difficulties. Our hotsy has again broken and we are on pause for making dive holes. I did have a question for a picture of a Hotsy and to explain how it works.
We start making the hole by drilling a hole about 5 inches wide. Then the hotsy finger (the metal coiled thing) is lowered into the hole. This metal coil has a glycol mix in it that is heated by the hotsy (the big red box looking thing) There is a boiler that heats the glycol and a pump that circulates it through the hoses. The hot finger then heats the water, causing it to melt and, after a very long time, you end up with a dive hole. To prevent the dive hole from refreezing, we put a cookie on top of it. This keeps the ice from fully forming.
So after all our miss fortune with the Hotsy out at Cape Bernacchii, we finally got everything going thanks to our new friend Vito who works at the mechanical shop.
Hilary and I headed out to the Cape Bernacchii site after everything was dropped off and started melting the hole. We spend two days out there. It was really nice to get away from camp for a little while. Most of the time we are running from one task to the next with little free time and once we got to Bernacchii, it was like taking a vacation. The only thing we had to do was fuel the hotsy and generator.
Our hut was located out on a very flat, slippery piece of ice in the ice field. It was really fun almost ice skating around the area. It was impossible to walk so sliding or skating was the only option. There is also a lot of old ice in the area that was broken up last year and then refroze into place. The deep blue color is from the ice being pure water. Areas where there is white are brine channels where the salt is trapped. And if you look close enough, there were air bubbles trapped throughout the entire ice chunk.
While we were there, the weather picked up a bit. It went condition 1 (really really bad) in McMurdo, but across the channel it was just super windy. We mostly hung out inside our hut and read in front of the heater or took short naps. It was a pretty nice time. And after two days we were relieved of our duty and sent back to camp. It was nice to have a bit of a break, but it’s good to be back to work.
The next two days are going to be full of diving. Now that we have dive holes AND a working compressor, we will be diving every day collecting our samples. Send me warm thoughts cause it’s going to be a cold few days.
Well our team has been running into all sorts of problems this season. The first and most important is that our compressor is not working. No compressor, no air in our tanks, no diving. Hopefully that will be resolved by tomorrow.
In our wait for tank fills, we have been giving all we have to get all the holes we will need to dive melted. Everything was going fine until yesterday. To start off the morning, one of our team members forgot to turn the hotsy back on after fueling at 3:30am. This caused our hole to refreeze by the next fueling. Fortunately we were able reset the system and start the melting process again later in the afternoon.
We then turned our attention to opening Cape Bernacchi. The plan was for a small camp to be set up out there for my self and Hilary, another diver, to stay out there and monitor the hotsy and hole melting process. We took off for the Cape after dinner, figuring that we would be able to drill our hole and start the melting process in about an hour or so. Well after troubleshooting several little problems, we managed to get everything going. And then the burner on the hotsy wouldn’t turn on. Without the burner to head the hotsy, we couldn’t melt our hole. We fiddled around with it for a little while, but were ultimately defeated. We left the site for camp at 2 am. It was a 45 min snowmobile ride home and at 3 am I hit the cot. Hopefully we will have better luck today.
Wow so many things have changed since I have written last. Unfortunately since I wrote last, I have been living without internet. As we are the first group of the season to be living at this camp, we didn’t even have electricity until the second day. Talk about some cold nights. But it is amazing to think that we have high speed wireless internet in one of the most remote places in the world.
So the first day we got here we unpacked and then had helicopter flights dropping our gear and equipment all day. It was pretty spectacular watching the sling loads landing within feet of where we had asked the pilot to place them. The carpenters (Carps) came with us as well and helped to open camp. They got the generator (genny) working and also built our dive tent known as the Jane Way or RAC tent.
The next morning there was so much to do. Our Hotsy and small genny was delivered by helicopter in the morning. The Hotsy is a machine that heats glycol. The hot glycol is then pumped into a tightly coiled steel tube. This is then lowered into a small 4-5 inch hole in the ice and after a few days the hole is about 5 ft wide; big enough for a diver.
So the next two days were devoted to opening our first hole. Since the sea ice had broken up and moved out of the bay the previous year, the ice was relatively thin (8ft). This was the first time the ice had broken up in 12 years. So once the Hotsy is running and the hole is in the process of forming, there is fueling, every three hours. So for the first three days, every three hours, it was into your snow cloths and out to refuel the hotsy. And when you aren’t fueling, you are chipping ice from around the hole, trying to widen it.
We finally had our first hole done, and sent a diver down to make sure that the hole would be wide enough for two divers in case of emergency. Cecil was chosen to be our guinea pig because she is the smallest and is less likely to get caught. She was also going to grab a quick sample for our scientist here at the field camp.
While all of us were waiting at the top of the hole, we heard what sounded like a sonic beam travel through the ice. It echoed under our feet and you could almost hear the ice crack a little. We looked down the hole and could see Cecil at her safety stop just at the base of the ice. But she wasn’t alone. Swimming circles around here was a very fat, very plumb Waddell seal. We managed to get Cecil out of the water and just minutes after, there was a seal head poking its head out for a breath.
It was pretty awesome to see them up close. They are huge, at least four to five feet wide at the girth. And they have dark fur with little white and gray spots. They are typically seen hauled out of the water resting. It’s pretty rare to see them under the water. They are usually shy and skittish. I’m hoping that they stay around until I get to dive, cause I would love to see them in the water.
But diving will be on hold since our compressor to fill dive tanks is still not working. Yesterday we took the afternoon to hike up to Commonwealth Glacier. It’s the closest glacier to us. The hike took about an hour and a half to reach the base of the glacier. Its cliffs stood at over 100 feet tall. It was so beautiful. As we were walking past, you could hear it slowly cracking and moving forward nanometers at a time. We walked up around the edge of the glacier were it meets the mountain. There was a lot more ice exposed and a small frozen delta from the melt water off the glacier. In a few weeks it will be warm enough that it will start flowing. The melt water will flow directly to our Delta hole where we dive.
It’s pretty incredible to explore this valley. There is so much to see and learn about. I can’t wait to revisit the glacier once the snow has melted at the end of November.
Over the next few days, we will be working out at Cape Bernacchi where the only communication with the outside world will be a two way radio. We will be there for two days, camping on the ice and melting our hole out there. So until then.
McMurdo Base is located on a small volcanic island. Towering above the station is Mt. Erebus standing just under 13000 feet. And the best view of Mt. Erebus is from the top of Observation Hill (aka Ob Hill). So, as it never gets dark here now, my friend Daniel and I took off for the summit at 9pm.
Walking up the hill is very difficult this time of year as it is covered in snow and ice. To help us climb better, we used ice cleats that attach to the bottom of your shoes. Ob Hill stands 750ft above sea level and the climb is straight up the side. There are very few resting places. You don’t actually want to stop anyway, because as you get hot on your climb up and strip layers, once you stop all that build up sweat freezes. The name of the game is dress light, climb, and add layers once you summit.
At the summit, the view is amazing. You can see the hole of Antarctica mainland wrapping around Ross Island. You can also see the divide between the sea ice and the glacial ice. The difference between sea ice and glacial ice is how it was formed. Glacial ice forms when snow builds up and compresses. This usually takes several decades to centuries and is always fresh water. Sea ice forms when the ocean freezes. The water forms into its crystal structure, forcing out the salt. The salt is usually trapped in pockets throughout the ice layer. These pockets are called brine pockets.
Also at the summit of Ob Hill is a cross that was erected in 1913 in honor of Robert Scott and his three companions who perished in the pursuit of the South Pole. The team had reached the pole and was on their way back. Eleven miles away from shelter they made their last camp that would become their grave. During the night a fierce storm rolled in form the south and Scott and his team were trapped on the ice shelf. The storm lasted nine days and according to a journal left by Scott, the team died on the 7thday. Scott’s camp was discovered in at the end of the summer in 1913. The rescue team left Scott and his men entombed in their tent. Today their camp site has become part of the glacier and is estimated to be 75 feet below the surface and 35 miles closer to the ocean than it was in 1913. It is estimated that the part of the glacier containing the camp will break off the main glacier in about 275 years.
The climb up Ob hill took about 45 minutes. The climb down took less than 15. How may you ask, sliding. There is a wonderful hill, about half a mile long, covered with snow and ice. Instead of climbing down the rocks, Dan and I sledded on our butts down the slope. We used our elbows and snow cleats to help control our decent, which I may stay, doesn’t work well on ice. I had my camera on video and half way down the hill it froze into place and unfortunately no video was saved. But it was one of the most epic adventures of my Antarctic Trip.
As promised, here are the underwater diving photos from McMurdo Sound.