The Final Countdown

…….or 11 flights down and 1 week to go!

We have had a busy week and a half.  We flew a few times last week before the weather shut us down again, and then things wrapped for Thanksgiving weekend (things closed on Friday night instead of Saturday night).  But we hit the ground running Monday morning! We were able to get three flights completed by Tues night.  But mechanical issues continue to plague us.  The plane is having engine and propeller issues and so our flight last night and today were cancelled. But the weather is good, and the mechanics are working on the plane.  We hope to start resuming flights tonight.  And we are hoping to get several more in this week.  Our last flight opportunity is during the day on Friday, and then we start packing up Friday night.

On the LC-130 for Monday’s day flight over the Ross Ice Shelf.

Our team is separated into 2 shifts so we can fly both day and night (I am on the day shift).  When one flight is in the air, the rest of the team in the tent are checking the data from the previous flight.  Each person has a specific task, either on the plane or on the ground.

Kirsty Tinto is the PI.  She leads the operations here: determining what lines on the ice shelf we are going to flying, meeting with the operations people to check on weather conditions, keeping the whole team on track and doing what we need to be doing, and doing a million other things that keep us able to do our jobs.

Kirsty’s book of flight plans and Thoreau Elementary’s 5th grade class frog, traveling with us on the plane.


On the plane, we always fly with a flight operator and the gravimeter operators.

Chris is one of the flight operators and oversees the ICEPOD instruments during a flight.  He also helps run the computers and software that keeps everything running in the tent.
Two of our gravimeter operators, Grant and Martin, busy working during a flight.

The tent team includes the archivist (my job), and the QC-ers: the people checking the quality of the data coming in so we know if the instruments on the plane are working or need to be fixed before we do the following flight.   And, occasionally, when flight before didn’t go, and we are all caught up on the QC-ing and archiving, the rest of the team gets to go out on the flight as well!

From left to right: Chris working on the computer servers, Isabel qc-ing dice, sir, and mag data, Maya qc-ing PNT and Lidar data, and Alec and Martin qc-ing the gravity data.

My job, as archivist, requires me to go to the plane at the end of a flight to carry off the full data disks (in an orange case) and bring clean ones on (in a black case) for the flight operator.  My job at the tent is to take the data, make sure it is all there, copy it all (we make 3 copies of everything), decide on segments to check, and give them to the QC-ers, and, at the end, bring all the QC logs back into a summary and make sure everything has been done.  We get several Terabytes of data per flight so this is all a fairly long process.  I also make sure we have a set of clean flight disks and operator logs ready for the next flight.

My archiving area.   The orange case contains data from the plane.  I have two computers and work over at the servers and cloners to the left as well.  

My typical day shift starts with a cross over meeting with the night shift at the galley early in the morning.  My days goes something like this

4:30 am :  Cross-over meeting at the galley to discuss what happened on night shift, what needs to be done, and the plans for the day (and breakfast!)

6:00 am:  Shuttle to Willy field

6:45 am:  Settle in at the rac-tent at Willy field.  The fliers prepare for their flight and the rest of us start our data work on the data from the night flight.

~12 lunch at Willy field galley

5:30 pm cross-over at tent with night shift

6:00 pm shuttle back to McMurdo

6:45 pm Dinner at McMurdo Galley

8:30 SLEEP!


Sometimes our days and times get shifted. Flights sometimes get scheduled for an hour later in the morning.  Sometimes we get up to a 4-hr delay or a cancelled flight.  But, If the flight went the night before, we still need to go archive and QC, even if a new flight is not going out yet.

So, we all remain flexible, get up when we need to, and be prepared to go whenever a new time is posted.

It can be really busy, but it is a lot of fun too.   The people I work with are great, and we all love what we are doing.  The days fly by here.

I have only 1 week to go, before I leave McMurdo.  Our last flight is scheduled for the day on Friday.  So fingers crossed for a few more flights.

The view of the Ross Ice Shelf from the plane on Monday.