Headed South

By Ken Golden · November 18, 2010 ·
Sitting on our shipping crates just before sending them off to Antarctica.

After months of preparation, we’re finally on a plane headed south. Our routing takes us southwest from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles on Monday, November 15, and then across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney, Australia, all on Delta.

The Utah Math-pedition team in the airport in Sydney, Australia, on the way to Antarctica.

The flying time from LA to Sydney is about 14 hours! I am writing this somewhere over the South Pacific on that long flight. Once we land in Sydney we’ll catch an Air New Zealand flight headed east to Auckland, New Zealand. Finally, it’s south again to Christchurch, where we’ll be for a couple days to get all our Antarctic clothing — or to get “kitted out” as they say down there. Can you find all these cities on a map, and figure out which time zones they’re in? I’m not sure what time it is any more!

The plan is then to take an Australian A319 Airbus on Friday, November 19 from Christchurch to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, one of the main US bases on the continent. Normally we would take a US Air Force C-17 cargo jet, but on this day the flight down will be on a nice passenger jet instead, properly outfitted to operate in this extreme environment. We hope our flight leaves that day, since the weather in Antarctica can get pretty rough and there are frequent delays, even in the Austral springtime. Once we land in McMurdo, we’ll be transported the short distance over to Scott Base, the main New Zealand outpost in Antarctica. Do you know who Scott was, and why he was famous?

Sitting on our shipping crates just before sending them off to Antarctica.

At Scott Base we should meet up with the three crates containing hundreds of pounds of experimental equipment we shipped down there back on October 21. From Scott Base we’ll travel by Snowcat for 15 or 20 km across the icy expanses to our field camp out on the sea ice. We’ll be living and working in trailers and tents which have been set up on the frozen Ross Sea.

One of our crates being loading onto the truck to start its long journey. K131 is the number of our expedition

The sea ice there will probably be about 2 meters thick. We’ll first go through a day or so of field safety training. There are many potential dangers present in this frozen environment. For example, the sea water itself is right around its freezing point of -1.8 degrees C, and if you fall in without special protection, you may survive for only a few minutes. The weather can get extremely cold, and if you get caught out away from camp in a storm, you need to know how to protect yourself and your colleagues. One way is to build a snow cave, like what some seals live in during parts of the year. Of course, you don’t want to get eaten by the top predators like killer whales or leopard seals, or kidnapped by roving gangs of emperor penguins (just kidding!). We’ll learn how to avoid these dangers and stay safe out in the field with this training. After that, we’ll begin our experiments.

In my next blog I’ll tell you a little about the critical role of sea ice in Earth’s climate system, and how our experiments and mathematical models can help predict how the polar sea ice packs might respond to our changing climate.

About the author

I am a Professor of Mathematics and Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Utah. I first started studying sea ice at NASA when I was in high school. Then I did research on radar propagation in sea ice, viewed as a composite material of pure ice with brine and air inclusions, at the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL) while I was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. My early studies of sea ice led to a career as a mathematician specializing in theoretical models of the effective properties of composite materials. I’ve traveled to Antarctica five times – my first time in college, and five times to the Arctic. All my previous trips south have been on US or Australian icebreakers studying sea ice in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. I am excited that I will finally have the chance this time to set foot on the frozen continent itself.
To see more of Ken’s adventures in Antarctica, see the Photo Blog.
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