Posts from Antarctica: The Season in Numbers

Greetings from McMurdo once again! After many delays and a lot of worry about whether we’d have time to complete our science goals, we have returned with lots of great data and plans for future work. If the weather holds, I’ll leave for Christchurch tomorrow on my way back home. I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks I’ll be able to write a few more blog posts about the science we did, but for now I thought I’d give you a quick summary of the season in numbers.

The TARSAN field team at Cavity Camp

11: Number of members of our TARSAN field team

In the photo above, from left to right: Doug Fox (science writer), Christian Wild (post-doc with Erin at Oregon State), me, Erin Pettit (lead PI, Oregon State), Ted Scambos (University of Colorado Boulder), Martin Truffer (University of Alaska Fairbanks), Cece Mortenson (field guide), Atsu Muto (Temple University), Dale Pomraning (University of Alaska Fairbanks), Bruce Wallin (University of Colorado Boulder), and Blair Fyffe (field guide).

Erin super excited to be getting on an LC-130 bound for WAIS Divide

20: Number of days I waited for delayed planes

I waited 13 days in McMurdo beyond our scheduled departure date (and my team members arrived a week earlier, so they waited about 20 days) and 7 days at the field camp at WAIS Divide (some of our team members managed to slide right through without a long layover at WAIS Divide). My fingers are crossed that I won’t add additional days to that number while waiting to leave for Christchurch!

A beautiful night at Cavity Camp

3: Number of camp locations

The entire team started at Cavity Camp on the eastern ice shelf of Thwaites Glacier. After about 2.5 weeks there, six of us flew to the Dotson Ice Shelf, while the remaining members traversed a few kilometers to camp over a basal channel carved into the underside of the ice shelf.

Dale (background) and Martin (foreground) drilling at Cavity Camp

2: Number of holes drilled through the Thwaites Ice Shelf

Although we had originally hoped to drill on both Thwaites and Dotson, logistical challenges limited the drilling to Thwaites. Martin and Dale drilled holes through 300 meters of ice at Cavity Camp and 249 meters at Channel Camp. Ted and Bruce installed instruments in the ocean beneath and on a tower above the holes, which will continue to transmit data back to us.

Erin, Martin, Bruce, and Ted installing ocean instruments in the first borehole

1: Number of squids we saw on the borehole camera

I don’t have a picture to share, but there was indeed a squid that checked out the camera, shot ink at it, and swam away.

A really spectacular view of the Thwaites Glacier calving front

80: Number of minutes on the plane between Thwaites and Dotson

Our pilot, Troy, took us along the calving front of Thwaites Glacier and up the Crosson Ice Shelf, giving us some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen.

Atsu lowering explosives into a borehole for active seismic data collection

64: Number of active seismic data points Atsu and I collected

We measured seismic reflections at 37 sites on Thwaites and 27 on Dotson. Each site took about an hour and a half, give or take.

Me working on sewing up the cook tent during the storm

8: Approximate number of feet of ripped tent we had to sew back together during a storm

When the rain fly on our cook tent ripped during a storm, we spent about three hours working as a team to sew it back together in winds gusting to 40 knots.

Christian making a phase-sensitive radar measurement

63: Number of repeat phase-sensitive radar measurements Christian made

He measured 46 sites on Thwaites and 17 on Dotson. He had to visit each site twice and measure precisely in the same location to get an estimate of ice-thickness change.

Christian with a permanent phase-sensitive radar installation on Dotson (Mt. Murphy in the background)

4: Number of long-term phase-sensitive radar installations

We left two phase-sensitive radars on Thwaites and two on Dotson to send data back that will tell us a lot about ice flow and basal melt rates.

Erin setting off for the day, towing her radar setup

270: Approximate number of kilometers Erin walked while dragging the radar behind her.

The radar has to be moved slowly and steadily across the ice-shelf surface, so Erin got plenty of exercise this season. I pitched in and did 14 km one day, and I can tell you that dragging that radar system is no joke!

Cece during a long day on the snowmobile

9: Number of ways Christian can whistle

These are the kinds of things you think about during a long day on a snowmobile.

Digging out snow blocks to build wind walls

6,408,795: Approximate number of shovelfuls of snow we moved during the season

Okay, that number might not be very accurate. But polar fieldwork really is mostly just shoveling.



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4 Responses to Posts from Antarctica: The Season in Numbers

  1. Bonnie Carol says:

    I LOVED this report from the (ice) field. Please include me in further reports! Go Karen!! Love Bonnie Carol

  2. Nancy Franck says:

    Thanks for the creative way you gave us information that is mostly unfathomable to we layfolks! STay safe!
    Nancy Franck

  3. Eric Elliott says:

    This is AWESOME! I heard the BBC report from Thwaites this morning and was wondering if you were involved. And then I saw this! I love it. Well done!

  4. Mark Wilson says:

    Fantastic post, Karen! What an adventure.

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