We were able to get to McMurdo Station in Antarctica pretty quickly: we left the States on December 10, added a day crossing the International Date Line, rested a day in New Zealand, then caught the next flight to "The Ice", getting here on Friday the 14th. Since then, we have been collecting and packing our cargo. McMurdo is rather small and very well organized, but equipment is scattered: snowmobiles are one place, tents and sleds another; radios in the electronics shack…you get the idea. It's up to us to bring it all together at the cargo building, box it, weigh it and turn in slips of paper so others can take it away, still others pile it onto palettes and still others take it to the airstrip where it waits for a plane going the right station. It sounds very complicated and apparently is because our one rookie field team member has had to ask a million questions to understand what’s going on. I'm used to it - this is my 15th season in the past 25 years. Most of our preparations will be complete after we pack food tomorrow and our automatic weather station Thursday. Then it's a full day of training for crevassed rescue (which I hope we won't need!) followed by waiting for the next plane going our way.
We are going to a very distant ice shelf at the end of the Pine Island Glacier 1,400 miles (2,253 km) from here (75.1° S, 100° W). It is where the ice is thinning rapidly and the ice speed is accelerating. The rates of change are astonishingly fast. We think the cause is warmer water getting underneath the floating ice shelf, reducing the resistance to seaward flow of the grounded ice sheet. This year we are only hoping to demonstrate that it is possible to land on this very crevassed ice shelf and to leave an automatic weather station with webcams and some GPS trackers. If successful, we plan to return next year with a more ambitious program to melt a hole through the ice, release some ocean instruments that will measure the water properties and "helo-hop" across the ice shelf to measure the shape of the ice and the water beneath. This is very exciting work. No one has ever set foot, I mean boot, on this ice shelf before.
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Postcards from the Field: Pine Island Glacier