3rd Antarctic Field Trials (AFT3), 2019-20

It’s been a long time since RAID last communicated, but we are back at work! After a hiatus in the 2018-19 season to do some upgrades and service to the modules while other projects used heavy science tractors, we are back at Minna Bluff for a third round of field tests.

We have a great team at RAID camp. The physical camp was put up after all the kit and cargo were traversed by tractor team from McMurdo Station in late November. Altogether, it takes five heavy tractors to move all of our camp and drilling equipment out to the test site, following a route monitored with ground-penetrating radar to check for potential crevasse hazards. After a safe 3-day journey, the McMurdo-based traverse and carpentry group did a magnificent job standing up a well-organized and weatherized camp, despite having to contend with significant wind and snow themselves! Now, with our camp fully functioning, our remaining permanent camp staff are led by Hailey, along with Joey, Martha, and Terry. So that we can focus on drilling operations, they take care of everything, including food, communications, cargo movement, waste management, air traffic control, snow maintenance, and power generation.

View of Minna Bluff camp from a helicopter, including the RAID drilling modules, yellow Ractent (upper right), smaller blue berthing and medical tents, sleeping tents, and cargo decks.

Here we have a community eating and office structure (the “Galley”), wash facilities, communications gear, a weather station, a helo pad, a snow pit that serves as an underground food freezer, a “snow mine” that we use to make water, an outdoor gas grill, generators, big bladders of diesel fuel, a couple of large tractors, a small skid-steer affectionately known as Martha, a snowmobile, outhouses, a wash-up, and a Tent City of sleeping tents out in the suburbs. We even have internet access, which is how we can post blogs!

A Ractent is our central community center in camp, simply referred to as The Galley. Food and people are the principal attractions.

The Galley is our everything community center. There is an office for central camp operations, liquid-fuel stoves (popular for warming feet), an impressively equipped kitchen, water tanks for melted snow, and lots of shelves stocked with snacks and personal gear. Tables are covered by red-and-white checkered vinyl tablecloths, given the whole place a classy Italian bistro look! Skylights make the whole place light and cheerful, possible, of course, with 24-hour sunlight.

The Galley is the place to be during meal time or any time.

Our RAID team includes a group of four drillers from Timberline Drilling, led by Chris along with Dave, Ray, and Thor. Shawntel and Don are experienced polar drilling technicians and mechanics. Jay from the US Ice Drilling Program in Madison is here to lend his engineering and drilling expertise. Jeff and I are the project leaders, offering advice and keeping the wheels turning. Now there are 12 of us in camp, working and living together with an energetic and positive buzz. The anticipation of upcoming holidays and future drilling success certainly help!

New arrivals to RAID camp unloading a Bell 412 helicopter.

Soon after I arrived, we had to say goodbye to several people who helped with camp setup and traversing. We also said a sad farewell to Owen, a hydraulic engineer from New Zealand who is a wizard with anything mechanical and electrical. Owen helped with initial setup of the RAID system and we were sorry to see him go.

Our maximum population at RAID camp, including camp staff, traverse staff, and the RAID crew. Top row, from left to right: Joey, Owen, Toby, Kirah, Martha, Thor, Ray, Dave, and Chris. Bottom row, from left to right: Tyler, John, Shawntel, Jay, Hailey, Jeff, me, Paul, and Terry.

For me, it’s wonderful to be back at Minna Bluff. I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of Antarctica and the Transantarctic Mountains, and this site really captures the idea of being in a remote Antarctic camp while still being only an hour helicopter flight from McMurdo. We are on a small, relatively flat piedmont glacier with 360° views of the expansive flat Ross ice shelf to the south, and the long dragon-like ridge of Minna Bluff and its dark volcanic rocks behind us. When the sky is clear, we have a magnificent view of Mt Discovery, a dormant stratovolcano, and can see the high mountains tapering away toward the distant southern horizon. It is a pristine, open and big space like nowhere else. I love being here.

Aerial view crossing over Minna Bluff by helo, with Mt Discovery (center) and the Transantarctic Mountains in the distance.

Future posts will give updates on drilling activities, so stay tuned!

Aerial view of the RAID modules in drilling configuration. Foreground left to right: shop, fluid circulation, and power modules; background left to right: drill rod and drill modules.

Photos by John Goodge.

The views expressed here are personal reflections that do not represent either the RAID project or the National Science Foundation.