Tuesday, December 23, 2014

13. Put-In: Insertion to the Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land

Excerpt from Chapter 13
Put-In on Chester snowfield Ford Ranges, Antarctica. 
Photo © B. Luyendyk

[Scene: A ski-equipped Hercules flies the Team to the fieldwork area eight hundred miles from McMurdo. Reconnaissance determined that a snowfield between the Chester and Fosdick Mountains is a good landing zone. No aircraft have landed there before. The pilots conduct a Ski Drag procedure before landing to detect hidden crevasses.]


We approached the surface. The whiteness of snow was close at hand reflected on the underside of the wings. Light from the few portholes increased, brightened the cargo hold. We were about to do a Ski Drag, a high-speed skim along the snow to locate crevasses in our landing path. A BUMP and a strong jolt said we contacted the surface. Deep sounds of BAM, KER BAM, BOOM, BAM, BOOM, BOOM, BAM followed - like inside a giant kettledrum. The Hercules collided with wind carved ridges on the snow surface, sastrugi. Between BOOMS and BAMS the plane shook, creaked, rattled, squeaked and groaned, twisted in all directions from repeated violent collisions. What’s happening? Are we crashing? My eyes open I could not focus. I saw double, couldn’t keep my head pointed in any one direction. After about a minute the pilot applied power, the engines moaned, collisions stopped, we were airborne again.

Across the interior of the cargo hold a crewman looked pale and frightened. Our Team did not speak or look at each other. My heart raced. Geezus. Damn. Was that normal? We climbed, banked and began a circle to allow the crew to look down at the track of the Ski Drag for crevasses that’d been blasted open.

It must have looked OK because we lined up for an approach to repeat a Ski Drag off to the side of the first one. We descended to do it again.
The pilot explained the procedure to us the day before.
“We need two Ski Drags five hundred yards apart to see if crevasses open up on either track, if not, we land in the lane between the drags,” Ed said. He said this matter of fact. I think I saw a faint smile on his face. Did he have the idea this would be fun?

What if we find crevasses? Then what? He dropped the Herc down to the surface and we did the second Ski Drag. BAM, BOOM, BOOM, BAM, KER BAM, just like the first, skimmed for about a mile, took off to make another circle to view the result. No hazards seen the pilots took us in for a third approach. This time we knew we would be landing. I assumed the crew could tell if the drags had damaged our landing skis. I let go of that thought.

We touched the snow in the lane between the Ski Drags and again endured violent bangs and shakes before we slowed at the southern slopes of the Fosdick Mountains. The plane halted. I felt relief. Christine reached over to me on her right and gave me a big wet kiss on my left cheek. She thanked me. At the time I wondered…what for?


Saturday, November 8, 2014

DoD, IPCC, GOP – all spell out trouble

Iceberg in Ross Sea, Antarctica seen from bridge of 
icebreaker N.B. Palmer. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Over the last two weeks significant news has occurred on the Climate Change front. First was the report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on the security threat posed by Climate Change, second was the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and last was the takeover of the U.S. Senate by the Republican party (GOP).

The DoD report analyses the U.S. military’s place in combating and adapting to climate change. The U.S. has over 7000 bases around the globe all of which need to deal with Climate Change. Defense Secretary Hagel, who as senator once signed a resolution labeling Climate Change as more or less baloney, has come around. “… we will integrate Climate Change considerations into our planning, operations and training,” he told an audience recently.

The IPCC report follows on its last one in 2007 (AR4). (For a brief note on what, who the IPCC is go here IPCC .)

What has changed since the AR4 is that the situation has worsened and the time to address Climate Change has shortened.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

11. Antarctic Snow School, German style

Excerpt from Chapter 11. 
GANOVEX VII team practices crevasse rescue at 
Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. 
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk 

[Scene. Bruce and Christine are part of a German Antarctic expedition. Before departure for the Antarctic the GANOVEX expedition trained for snow and ice safety at Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand.]

“Tomorrow they’re goin’ to fly us up to the peaks to practice crevasse rescues.” Chris said she had heard their plan. Early next morning helicopters took us up to a broad snowfield perched in the highest peaks of the park. It was summer in New Zealand but sunny winter up there. The experience to fly up the faces of the cliffs to the peaks can’t be imagined – the vertical relief must have been near a mile. The pale blue glacial waters of Lake Pukaki lay below us as we ascended above the tree line, flew by the gray rock above and below – a magical elevator ride where at the top floor we landed in a brilliant white snow plateau settled between black sawtooth peaks under a clear deep blue sky.

Bradley was our instructor, a middle-aged man like me, Kiwi, soft-spoken, grayed, weathered. He pointed to a snow canyon at the base of a peak about 500 yards away from our group. “That snow scoop over there is more than fifteen stories deep, has a nice vertical cliff edge - we’ll practice crevasse rescues there,” he said. We walked across the snow over to the canyon - a deep chasm in the snow carved by incessant winds that rebounded off the peak next to it. The scoop, a couple of hundred yards across, semi-circled the peak, as a part moat - I could see its walls left and right of where I stood. They extended down for almost two hundred feet. My stomach turned over. I looked at Chris as to say “Holy shit. Is he kidding?” but I didn’t, because he wasn’t.

Bradley explained. “Three people will tie-in on a rope, walk in a line towards the edge. The lead person jumps off the cliff and the other two drop to the snow, arrest the fall, then pull the man out with a Z-Pulley1 rescue setup. Monty and I will show you how to rig it.”

We had done this in McMurdo Survival School a couple of years ago, but not over a canyon, nothing like this. I looked around at my classmates. Most had experience, not all of them looked in top physical shape. We had a few former East Germans with us, no Antarctic expeditions on their résumé.

My turn, I tied–in at the lead of the rope, two burly Germans tied-in behind me about fifty and a hundred feet back. Had they done this before? I walked to the edge, didn’t look down and jumped off. I fell, hit the snow wall, and bounced. The rope stretched. I jerked to a stop about forty feet down. The Germans caught my fall. I looked up to see Bradley at the cliff edge - pieces of snow I had knocked loose fell past me. I gave thumbs up, acted like I was cool. He acknowledged then helped the two guys on the rope above me rig the Z-Pulley. I waited at the end of the rope. Then I felt heave stop, heave stop, and repeat. They dragged me up to the edge. I was pulled over the lip and out. I thought, that was fun, but did I need to have the crap scared out of me?

 1 A Z-Drag or Z-Pulley is an arrangement of lines and pulleys commonly used in rescue situations. The basic arrangement provides a theoretical mechanical advantage of three. The name comes from the fact that the arrangement of lines is roughly Z shaped. Besides the mechanical advantage to pulling, it also uses only part of the total length of the rope for the block and tackle arrangement. (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Antarctica, Sea Level and Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara sits atop a marine terrace bounded by sea cliffs 40 to 50 feet high.
Santa Barbara  Airport is in the background. Photo © UCSB Photo Services.
In prior posts (June 9; May 20) I presented some of the factors of predicted global sea level rise and Antarctica’s role in it. If a reader were to accept the sea level rise projections of the IPCC and other scientific authorities, they might ask, “What will be the impact on me and my family, and what can be done about this?”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

12. Flight to Marie Byrd Land

Excerpt from chapter 12

Luyendyk takes photos from ramp of Hercules in Marie Byrd Land
Luyendyk taking photos from ramp of Hercules in flight over
northern Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. 
Photo © Steve Tucker

[Scene. Bruce and Team are on a reconnaissance flight – Recce – to the Fosdick Mountains in Marie Byrd Land. In a few days they will be dropped off here. On this flight barrels of fuel will be dropped by parachute ahead of time. They will take photographs to select camp locations and routes of safe travel.]

December 6, 1989
The next day we took off to the east. Three hours later our mountains came into sight. The pilot dropped the Hercules in altitude and decreased its speed. He lined up with the Chester snowfield and started the pass for the airdrop. Four 55-gallon drums of fuel sat strapped together on an aluminum palette – gas for our snowmobiles. The palette lay on rollers that ran along the length of the deck in the plane’s hold. Parachutes were rigged onto the barrels.

Three crewmen in harnesses approached the rear of the hold and hooked themselves to safety straps attached to the plane. One of them let down the tailgate ramp, parallel to the deck of the plane. This opened the rear - bright sky and mountains came into view. The sound level inside changed from the hum of the engines to the rush of the air passing by the open rear of the Herc at almost 200 miles an hour. I became alert, in awe.

The crew hooked the ripcord of the parachutes to the deck and pushed the bundle of barrels towards the rear almost to the edge of the tailgate ramp. They turned to look at a bank of signal lights inside the plane, red, yellow, green with the yellow one lit up. The green light came on and the crew slid the barrels out of the plane. In an instant I saw three parachutes burst open, then they disappeared.  Our team looked at each other with big grins and thumbs up; …how great was that?  

Just when I thought this was the coolest thing I’d seen in a long while, a crewman approached me and shouted into my earplugs, “Captain says you can go out on the tail ramp to take photos”. Wow! I unbuckled, got up and made my way towards the back. I looked at the wide-open rear of the plane and the blue-white empty air outside. It appeared like a gigantic TV screen in a dark room. A couple of crew stood by the opening silhouetted in the light. I felt hesitation - it came then went.

 They slipped me into a harness. I clipped into the safety line and sat down on the tailgate at the edge of the plane and the air that rushed by. Is this a good idea? The violence of the air that sped by and the peace of the blue sky and white snow, seemed dream-like. I was tempted to inch close to the edge and dangle my feet, get a photo of my boots in mid air. It frightened me that I had this thought. I knew I would be ripped out of the plane if I did that. So, with caution and exhilaration I prepared to shoot photos of the ground to develop and study later in McMurdo.

I looked over the edge and saw the shadow of our Herc slide over the snow, ice and rock only a couple of hundred feet below us. I began to snap away, at pace with my rapid heartbeat.

Fields of blue ice lay along the base of the ranges. How would we travel across these, be safe? I saw immense and deep snow pits, large enough to hold a two-story house, on the upwind sides of cliffs. Could we go down into these and get out? I saw fields of crevasses, not open, but covered in snow bridges. They lay in wait for us.

We will travel on the surface through the crevasse fields, not fly over them. They will be hard to see, hidden. How could we find them, not fall in not be killed? I was struck by this realization. My gut seized.