By Lora Koenig
Greenbelt (MD, US), 3 January — On December 28 in Antarctica (which corresponds to Dec. 27 back here in the States), the team completed the traverse and arrived back at Byrd Camp with a warm welcome from the camp residents. In 18 days they had traveled 500 kilometers (310 miles), drilled eight ice cores, dug six 2-meter (6.56-ft) snow pits and set up and broken down six camps sites. And, I am guessing here, but I am sure they heaved over 20,000 shovels of snow and lifted over two tons per person while moving the science equipment, food and gear around. Ludo shoveled the most, digging the snowpits, and Randy lifted the most, hauling the ice core drill up and down while pulling each ice core to the surface. Most importantly, the team completed all planned science activities and returned safely.
The team arrived Byrd Camp at 10 AM and immediately started packing their gear in order to catch a flight out the next day. Yes, more lifting. It was going to be a very quick turnaround but the rule in Antarctica is, if a plane is on the ground, get on it! The team, along with the camp staff, had the pallet of gear built by the evening and got to enjoy a big meal from the Byrd Camp chefs. They found out early on the 29th that they would not be getting a plane that day — there had been a medical emergency somewhere else in Antarctica and the plane had been diverted there to help. No one is ever frustrated in situations like these; everyone just hopes for the best for whoever was in the incident and waits patiently for the next plane.
The next plane to McMurdo was scheduled for Jan. 2, 2012 (New Year’s Day in the States). This gave the team plenty of time to rest their arms and backs and recover from all their hard work, and gave the weather a chance to allow the Twin Otter at Byrd to retrieve the cached ice cores and empty fuel barrels at the camp site. The cores were collected and taken to WAIS Divide Camp, where they will stay in a freezer (a giant dug-out snow cave) until mid-January, when they will fly to McMurdo on a cold-deck LC-130 flight (a flight with the heater turned off). Once in McMurdo, the ice cores will wait in a freezer until the resupply ship reaches the station in February. Then they will be loaded into the ship’s freezer and sailed to Port Hueneme, California. At this point, they will be put in a freezer truck and driven to the lab in Provo, Utah, at Bringham Young University. The ice cores have a long journey ahead!
The team rang in 2012 at Byrd Camp, which only about 35 other people can claim they did, and on Jan. 2 they left for McMurdo, arriving very late that same day. I talked with the team briefly on the phone when they were in McMurdo, but they were very busy. There was a flight out at 2 AM on Jan. 4 that they were scheduled to leave on. They were all busy cleaning and returning gear, packing and shipping the science equipment back to the States and getting ready to leave Antarctica for Christchurch, New Zealand. I expect to hear if the team has arrived in Christchurch later today or tomorrow. If all is on schedule, the team is just leaving Antarctica and flying over the Ross Sea. Christchurch has been experiencing a swarm of earthquakes over the past few days but there has been no damage that would delay the team’s return. Once the team is settled in a location with good internet connectivity we will start posting their blog posts and images from the traverse, so stay tuned!