Digging Holes on the Ross Ice Shelf

DSC01235Last weekend I had the opportunity to go on a boondoggle out onto the sea ice in a Twin Otter plane. Boondoggles are contractor working morale trips that supervisors reward their employees with during their work days. When scientists need help out on the field digging out fuel caches and weather towers or counting penguins, they enlist a contractor to come along. I got picked to go on one but since most boondoggles are during the day, I had to stay up during my night time to help out a maintenance crew dig out a solar panel by the Tall Tower, one of their main instrumental weather towers. At around 115 feet, it stands somewhere out on the Ross Ice Shelf relaying weather information back and forth between the multiple smaller other weather towers back to Willy Field and McMurdo.

DSC01265DSC01268I started work at 8:30 PM and had an average day at Willy Field cooking for everyone that works on the ice runway. I got off at 6:30 AM and had to report to the shuttle drop off by 8 AM with a lunch and all my ECW’s (Extra Cold Weather gear). I gathered everything and jumped on the shuttle, meeting up with everyone that I was going to work with along the way. There were 8 of us. 4 riggers that climbed the tower to make sure all the DSC01267wires were tensioned correctly so the tower doesn’t get blown away, 2 maintenance crew that made sure all the supporting instruments were working correctly, and 2 boondogglers that I was a part of. I mainly worked with the maintenance crew digging out the solar panel, battery packs, and instruments that powered the Tower.

DSC01284DSC01281The last time they had dug out this particular device was 5 years before. Ideally, each year would’ve piled a foot and a half of snow on top of the solar panel. By the end of it all, it was almost twice as deep as previously believed. Not only did we have to dig a 12 foot hole (Pictured Top Left) into the ice shelf, we had to dig an equally deep trench that was about 20 feet long (Pictured Bottom Left, only 1/4 done) and an ice tunnel to dig out a wire buried in the DSC01248ice that connected the tower to the solar panel. It was excruciating work, especially considering I was usually asleep hours before that. It took 9 hours of hard digging with very little break to finish in time. I ended up back on Willy Field at around 5:30 PM, just in time to see a lonely Emperor Penguin aimlessly waddling around! Ha. Awesome. I loved being out in the middle of no where with this crew that got to do this every day to maintain the various towers around the shelf. After we got done they told me that was the biggest project they had planned for the year and I’d be put back on the boondoggle list because of how hard this one was.

Regardless, I got out in a plane on the shelf. I actually got sunburned and on my way back on Willy Field I saw an Emperor Penguin, in which I aptly named Steve. All in all a productive, yet tiring, day.

***An update on me. I had a phone interview with the South Pole last week to winter over there. According to my status after my physical qualification with the psych doctor in early January, they’ll be sending me to the geographical South Pole for a face-to-face interview. We’ll see how that goes. Even if I don’t get it, I’ll have been to the southern-most point on earth. Otherwise, I may go back up to Alaska to keep saving my money or I may get back into college for another year or so. Who knows? Any advice would always be appreciated. Also, I’m finding a lot of ways to keep busy at McMurdo through volunteer work and other great activities this place has for the average guy like me. There’s almost too many things, as my original plan was to learn the ukulele better while I was down here and that hasn’t panned out yet. Oh well. For now, here’s more pictures!

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