October 19th 2016: After an uneventful journey from Boston to Christchurch (CHC) with a 6 hour layover in Auckland (allowing for a quick visit to the city), we spent the morning of the 19th at the US Antarctic Program (USAP) Clothing Distribution Centre (CDC) next to the Christchurch International Airport, trying on our ECW (extreme weather gear), including the iconic Big Red Canada goose down parka (see our blog from last season). It was a beautiful spring day, so we took advantage of a free afternoon to walk from our hotel to the city center that still very much bares the scars of the catastrophic earthquake that hit the area in 2011. We visited the Canterbury museum (with the Antarctic Gallery and a retrospective on 75 years of Air New Zealand) and strolled through the botanical garden. For our last lunch and dinner not being served in the McMurdo galley for the next 7 weeks, we chose two of our favorite restaurants in Christchurch (“Fiddlesticks” and “Cook N with Gas”) that serve local dishes (the New Zealand lamb and Akaroan Salmon were delicious).
October 20th 2016: The day started with a 5am wake up call to get on a 5:45am shuttle back to the CDC, early enough to see one last sunrise (sun will be up 24/7 once we get down to McMurdo). Allyson, for the second year in a row, was “forgotten” (not listed on the shuttle manifest) so had to take a cab to the CDC – luckily, she did have a seat on our ice flight! After putting on ECW gear (you are not getting on the plane without it) and one last coffee, we were reminded of our responsibilities as stewards of the pristine Antarctic continent and to abide by the rules and regulations of the Antarctic Conservation Act (ACA).
Last year, our Southbound and Northbound flights were on two “typical” military planes, a C-17 and a C-130, respectively. Today, the Kiwi Air Force will fly us down to the Pegasus runway on the Ross Ice Shelf in a more comfortable (and definitely more quiet) Boeing 757-200 (with beverage service). However, nothing about traveling to Antarctica is straightforward: shortly after boarding the aircraft, we were notified by the pilot of a weather delay; so we got back off the plane. The next weather update brought good news so were given the green light for our flight due South. Taking off does not necessarily guarantee that we’ll make it to the ice. Flights frequently have to “boomerang” back to CHC. Weather conditions on the ice can change rapidly and if fog/wind/ice/snow prevent a safe landing, our flight would turn back. In fact, when checking luggage, one of our bags is designated our “boomerang bag”: if we were to return midflight to CHC, we would get access to that bag (containing clothes and toiletries for a few days) while the remainder of our checked gear would remain on the plane for up to 72 hours. Luckily, there were no further delays and after a 4 hour and 15 minute flight (roughly half the time it would take in a C-130), we touched down in Antarctica. Another advantage of flying in the 757-200 are the windows: once we hit the continent, we were treated to magnificent views of mountains and glaciers on Victoria Land, discovered by Captain James Clark Ross in January 1841 and named after the UK’s Queen Victoria. As we were getting closer to our final destination 20 km from Ross Island, we flew over pack ice and saw the edge of the seasonal sea-ice, which extends much farther north this season than it did last year (See Ice maps below).
Quickly after landing, we were transported by “Shuttle Bob” in his Delta to the NSF Chalet in McMurdo where we received our science in-brief, keys to our dorm rooms, and an overview of the various trainings we need to complete before venturing out on the ice. Although we made it to McMurdo without any trouble, our luggage was delayed after the Delta transporting it lost power and steering. Luckily, no one was injured (our friend Dan was on board).
The next couple of days will be spent in training (skidoo, light vehicle, sea ice safety, Antarctic survival skills, risk management, etc.) and setting up our lab. Our goal is to be fully operational by early next week.