Antarctic Expedition Launches to Measure Changes in the Ice Sheet

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Kelly Brunt received’t be dwelling for the vacations, nor will she be ringing within the New Yr at a wonderful social gathering or watching Ryan Seacrest schmooze B-list celebrities on TV. As a substitute, between December 21 and January 11, she’ll be main a four-person expedition across the South Pole, sleeping in a small tent mounted on a plastic sled that’s pulled by a snowcat. However that does not imply she will not have fun—it’s going to simply be a demure affair, together with her crew, a comfy fleece, and a rigorously ready cup of her favourite gourmand espresso.

“We’re being anal concerning the sort of espresso and the pour over,” says Brunt, a local weather scientist at NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We convey down our personal filters and we’ll purchase entire beans earlier than we arrive.”

Brunt is making her tenth journey to Antarctica since 2000. She’s celebrated Christmas and New Yr’s 5 occasions there, in addition to 5 Thanksgivings and eight birthdays. As a glaciologist, she’s labored on the US essential base at McMurdo Station, camped on huge floating icebergs within the Ross Sea, and in 2009, and spent three months with the Australian Antarctic Program on the Amery Ice Shelf.

And this yr, Brunt is main the ground-based staff on NASA’s ICESAT2, which is finding out modifications within the Antarctic ice sheet and the way they contribute to international sea degree modifications.

The expedition will cross 500 miles of crunchy, chunky ice on the backside of the planet. The large ice cap that covers the South Pole is greater than 10,000 ft in elevation, so the staff must acclimate for a number of days on the Amundsen-Scott base earlier than heading out into the “deep area,” which is Antarctic-speak for anyplace past the consolation of a everlasting station. Sure, it will likely be chilly, starting from -20 to -40 levels Fahrenheit (plus wind chill), however the crew has a mixture of utmost polar gear issued by the Nationwide Science Basis, in addition to private favorites from dwelling. For Kelly, it is a fortunate brown fleece that accompanies her on each polar journey.

Kelly Brunt

Over two weeks, the crew will take turns sleeping and dealing—taking exact measurements of the ice sheet thickness and evaluating it to satellite-based measurements to ensure the 2 agree all the way down to the centimeter scale. On the identical time, a NASA plane will likely be flying over the bottom crew, utilizing a laser altimeter to triple test the info. Afterward, the pilots get to land at McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole base for a sizzling meal, whereas Brunt and her crew trudge on to the subsequent floor station.

Whereas December is the vacation season within the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a time of intense work for the 1,200 or so American scientists and assist personnel on the frozen continent. That’s as a result of December falls in the course of the austral summer season, a time when the Antarctic solar not often units under the horizon (it begins in November and lasts till late February). It’s additionally calm sufficient to truly transfer about with out getting knocked down by fierce winds that howl throughout winter months.

Sure, it means they will not be dwelling for the vacations. However they’re used to it. On Christmas Day, Brunt and her colleagues will most likely carry out a modest day of labor. “I don’t miss the commercialization of Christmas,” Brunt says. “I don’t know the way we’ll have fun, however it’s laborious to do nothing on the sector. We are going to simply make an acknowledgement and have fun the place we’re with out being sentimental that we aren’t with household.”

Brunt and her colleagues started their journey in late November, flying from varied factors across the US to Christchurch, New Zealand. From there, they boarded a C-17 transport aircraft for a five-hour flight to McMurdo Station, a city of about 1,100 folks on Ross Island, Antarctica. The subsequent leg was a three-hour flight to the South Pole by way of a ski-equipped C-130.

And there, ready for the crew on the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, was their dwelling for the subsequent two weeks: two PistenBully snowcats pulling specifically designed sleds. The sleds are manufactured from a plastic with a density construction that considerably reduces the coefficient of friction, so 10,000 kilos will tow like 1,000. The sleds will likely be towing important stuff, like gasoline—however they may also carry absolutely set-up tents, so the researchers haven’t got to ascertain camp every single day.

The journey is not only a laborious one; it is doubtlessly harmful, too. The crew will doubtless keep away from the cracks and crevasses which might be typically discovered across the edges of the Antarctic continent—this time, their job is to measure the thickest level of the Antarctic ice sheet. It’s additionally much less windy on the South Pole than different locations, in line with Forrest McCarthy, a mountaineer and security information assigned to the ICESAT2 staff. However there are nonetheless loads of tools hazards. “When you consider fuels within the chilly temperature, the gasoline we use is at minus 40 levels and will result in instantaneous frostbite,” McCarthy says. “In case you spill it on your self you can be in a foul approach.” Any accident will likely be days away from medical assist or evacuation. Meaning he’s acquired to maintain everybody attentive, targeted on their work, and in a position to get alongside when issues get robust.

“Group dynamics is de facto necessary,” says McCarthy, who works as a fishing and mountain information in Wyoming and Alaska throughout the remainder of the yr. McCarthy is a self-described Grinch, however he clearly will get together with Brunt, who he is labored with since 2000. “When folks get alongside, you find yourself being extra productive. She’s acquired an excellent humorousness and extremely competent. That’s one cause I signed up for the mission.”

On Christmas, McCarthy will name his spouse again dwelling on a satphone—however he does not miss being dwelling. Every year, he feels the magnetic draw of the Antarctica’s stark magnificence. “I really like Antarctica and the tradition of exploration and science,” McCarthy says. “It is without doubt one of the final nice wildernesses on Earth.” Though even the globe’s most distant places can use a little bit of consolation. Alongside together with his security gear, additional garments and meals, McCarthy packed an Italian moka specific pot to make everybody a vacation latte.

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