Saturday, January 5, 2013

Marooned in "Mac-town"

Smoke form Mt Erebus (photo from USGS)
Two people from our team left on Friday, to be replaced with two new arrivals.  It's a miracle they were able to leave at all since the landing strip at McMurdo is apparently a pile of slush right now. 

The temperature there yesterday hit 40F (for comparison, the temperature at pole is a balmy -13F).  This is a problem because, as I previously described, the runway is on the Ross Ice shelf in the middle of the sea.  The ice is still plenty thick (several hundred of meters), so planes can still land on their skis.  But it's big a problem for taking off because the slushy snow provides too much friction to get up to speed.  This warm weather has been exacerbated by ash from Mt Erebus, a nearby active volcano, that has blown over the ice.  That ash absorbs sunlight more efficiently than the bare reflective snow, heating the ice even more rapidly.
Map showing the problem: the airfield is right next to a Volcano
The polar-program typically flies one flight per day each way between Christchurch and McMurdo, and each flight holds 10-15 people beyond the crew.  There are apparently 135 scientists waiting in McMurdo right now to fly north.  I miss Abby and Liam a lot, and if I could, I would take the next flight out of here I would (despite my work and others' work here being really cool).  But I would simply get stuck in the mess in McMurdo anyway.  So here's hoping the weather and ash situation improves quickly before I leave in two weeks.

To add insult to injury, one of the freight ships is docked there now and their policy is to stop selling alcohol during that time because the sailors are too rowdy!  (This is why we can't have nice things!)  So those 135 scientists who are done with their work are sitting around in one of the world's smallest towns with nothing to do and nothing to drink.

As for that flight that came in yesterday, the only reason they flew at all was to bring Senatorial aides in for a 3-hour day trip (the actual Senators had to stay in DC as penance for not playing nice with each other).  But all these problems delayed their flight such that they arrived during dinner.  So the aids only had time to eat and take hero pictures at the south-pole, leaving no time to visit our experiments and hear what cool things we're doing with their tax-dollars.  What a mess…

1 comment:

  1. Living in DC as we do, I wish we could send all the Senatorial aides down there for a bit...