2006 – 2007 US ITASE Field Report – Page 3


Field season one (2006–07) of US ITASE Phase 2 accomplished less than half of its planned goals. We would like to draw attention to the fact that this is the first US ITASE field report ever to include a section dedicated to obstructions to science because this field season was characterized by an unusual number of situations that led to delays and frustrations. The direct causes were a forced late (Dec 14) start to the traverse and reduced hours of daily operation mandated by NSF and RPSC. Specific causes for the reduction in scientific accomplishments are listed below.

  1. Pre-field season communications. In general, pre–field season communications between the US ITASE Science Management Office (SMO) and RPSC were at best minimal despite the fact that planning for this project started nearly two years ago. The US ITASE SMO was asked routine questions related to the SIP and some questions related to refurbishing the US ITASE platform. All questions were answered in a timely fashion. However, US ITASE SMO and PIs were not involved in any planning meetings other than the one convened by US ITASE at the 2005 WAIS meeting nor were they necessarily made aware that significant decisions concerning the US ITASE platform were being made by a group of RPSC employees albeit with traverse platform experience, but who were not involved in the 2006–2007 field program. As noted in the following some of these decisions would have been questioned had US ITASE SMO and PIs been involved in the decisions at more than a superficial level.
  2. Pre–season equipment inspection. At the end of the LGT traverse (2003–04) it was expected, based on previous US ITASE traverses, that a complete assessment of the state of the platform including necessary repairs and inventory of equipment and supplies would have been made available for planning Phase 2 of US ITASE. If such an assessment was available it was never shared with the US ITASE team and it did not apparently include a description of the very obvious structural damage sustained by several heavy sleds. In fact, there was supposedly a scheduled visit to the Taylor Dome winter–over site one or more years prior to the 2006–2007 season that also apparently did not discover major structural defects in several heavy sleds. These defects were not reported until the US ITASE put–in crew discovered them in early November 2006. This realization launched a series of discussions, notable delays, frustrations, and changes in procedure for the traverse.
  3. Existing State of Facilities. When the US ITASE put–in crew first entered the US ITASE shelters that had wintered since 2004 at Taylor Dome the insides of the kitchen and Blue room were in complete disarray. Either the LGT traverse close out team left the site in this state or the team that checked the platform in between LGT and the 2006–07 put–in crew created the mess. At least one week was dedicated to cleaning and sorting, and several large tri–walls of garbage were produced in the process.
  4. Sled design re–evaluation. The RPSC staff that provided platform change recommendations to RPSC, NSF and US ITASE indicated that the Berco sleds would function significantly better if the skis and tow bars were redesigned. In principle this may have made sense, but in practice the resulting changes were costly, ineffective, and required on site, early season re–engineering and construction. The redesigned Berco skis were slightly wider than the original skis and may shed snow better. The intention to shed ski snow was valid but not worth getting new skis because the snow loads amounted to a few dozen pounds per ski. Therefore new skis were not necessarily needed. The new tow bars that were delivered with the new skis were never used because they had design flaws, notably the tow bars pulled on the skis unlike the design for the original Berco skis. The new tow bars were never used and in fact were returned to McMurdo where they now sit untouched. The question remains: were these tow bars designed by RPSC or did RPSC accept a Berco redesign without proper engineering evaluation? Furthermore, the last minute engineering solutions given to US ITASE to solve the tow bar design flaws should have been part of the last two years of planning for Phase 2 US ITASE. According to Berco their sleds are designed to tow in tandem as utilized on US ITASE Phase 1 and LGT. As determined by RPSC and NSF the Bercos, based on their current condition, could not be towed in tandem.
  5. Welding certification. When Rick Schneider (Camp Manager) examined the Berco sleds left at Taylor Dome during the early days of the RPSC crew put–in he identified the structural damage to the Berco sleds and the flawed design of the new tow bars. As a consequence he suggested both structural fixes to the sleds, modifications to the tow points on the sleds, modifications to the original tow chains, use of the old tow bars (used old style tow bars, chains and clevises were subsequently found at McMurdo and installed), and proposed the use of a spreader bar to reduce and distribute sled loads. Spreader bars were used by the South Pole Traverse (SPT) during 2005–06 and have been used successfully in the Arctic. Rick Schneider provided the initial designs for the Berco tow bar repairs and the spreader bar based on his extensive welding and ski design experience. These plans were reviewed and modified by RPSC and NSF engineers whereupon fabrication commenced in McMurdo by Rick Schneider and helpers. When nearly complete RPSC staff informed Rick Schneider that he was not a certified Raytheon welder. This was never a requirement for his employment despite the fact that structural welding is routinely conducted on traverses. Rick has extensive certified welding experience and offered to take the exam, but was informed that he could only take the exam in Denver (where he spent two weeks in the fall with Raytheon) and after minimal compromise it was stated that he could take the exam in Christchurch. Either choice would require many days away from Antarctica and a halt to the traverse. The next step was mandated by RPSC. All of Rick’s welds (2–3 days of work) were removed and replaced by a Raytheon certified welder. This added another 3 days in McMurdo. When questioned as to how US ITASE could get structural repairs done while on traverse Raytheon answered that Rick was not permitted to perform any structural welding in McMurdo or at the US ITASE winter over site (Taylor Dome), but he could once on traverse. This inconsistency caused several more days additional delay and necessitated a Raytheon certified welder to stay at Taylor Dome for 5 days. All previous US ITASE traverses and the Raytheon 2003–04 LGT traverse commonly conducted structural welding in the field. In all cases the welding was done by mechanics that did not have Raytheon welding certification. Without their welding skills none of the previous traverses would have been completed. If this certification requirement is new then Raytheon should have insisted that Rick be certified before the field season and definitely not required adherence to a last minute requirement that led to a minimum 10–14 days delay in traverse science.
  6. Inadequate distribution of SIP information by, and to RPSC personnel. The arrival of the early US ITASE science crew in McMurdo was marked by numerous conversations with RPSC staff who requested clarifications regarding small sled modifications, alternative energy requirements, crevasse–detecting equipment, and necessary camp and science equipment. In many cases these questions had already een answered on the SIPin McMurdo. This missing or incomplete communication necessitated numerous days of work to rectify the numerous problems and increased the demands of the US ITASE program on the RPSC staff in McMurdo. At least some of the problems resulted from incomplete distribution of the entire SIP to the various McMurdo departments.
  7. Authorization for in–field modifications. In a teleconference on Nov 28 we requested in writing that we be allowed to perform sled rearrangements to improve safety in cases of severe topography and for crevasse avoidance. NSF responded graciously and positively within two days, however, the concept that such permission was required resulted from the frustration induced by several days of discussions concerning the platform operation where . During previous US ITASE and LGT traverses there was never a question that the field party had the on–site authority to respond to field situations with the understanding that major issues requiring extra logistics, extra funds, or notable deviations in plan required approval from the NSF representative in Antarctica. Previous traverses had all been accomplished successfully in the past despite major obstacles such as irreparable breakdowns of heavy vehicles, sled part failures, storms, adverse topography because the US ITASE team had the experience and mandate to function.
  8. Co–scheduling of environmental activities. The early stages of US ITASE preparation at Taylor Dome were
    combined logistically with the environmental clean–up of the Taylor Dome deep drill camp. Having these activities co–located and at the same time caused considerable confusion. The Challengers were needed for both activities, thus slowing both programs. Resources such as cargo chains from the US ITASE Challenger chain boxes, were depleted by the environmental team. McMurdo Raytheon staff denied US ITASE requests for replacement of the cargo chains. This action necessitated a special request to NSF McMurdo (Brian
    Stone) by US ITASE since the traverse could not move for lack of 24 cargo chains. The co–existence of US ITASE and the environmental clean–up crew caused further confusion despite the hard work conducted by both teams. The net result was that the environmental team departed several days before the US ITASE was underway – quite the reverse of the initial plan.
  9. GPS Tracker. US ITASE was not informed prior to arrival in McMurdo that a GPS Iridium tracker was to be (and was) installed on the US ITASE Pisten Bully by the Aircraft Management Division of the Department of the Interior. Had all or any of the US ITASE PIs been informed in advance, they would have made clear that the GPS Iridium tracker interferes with the collection of high precision GPS data during traverse since both utilize the Iridium frequency. Fortunately, the installation of the GPS tracker was casually mentioned to a member of US ITASE in the McMurdo galley. Without this knowledge several experiments would have been compromised. It is particularly interesting that PIs are required to list for RPSC the use of any radio frequency equipment on their SIPs in the event that this equipment might interfere with the research of other programs and with logistic activities. It is now clearly important that the opposite must also apply.
  10. Excess cargo/environmental crew food. RPSC insisted that the US ITASE and Taylor Dome environmental clean–up teams add several hundred pounds of extra food to the put–in flight at Taylor Dome, in case the environmental crew could not recover cached food at the site. Firstly, the environmental crew did recover the cached food. Secondly, it would have been far more efficient to let the environmental team borrow food from US ITASE and have US ITASE resupplied if needed. Instead, close to 1000 lbs of food sits on the Taylor Dome cargo line awaiting return to McMurdo.
  11. Excess cargo/runway flags. Unnecessary transport to Taylor Dome and back to McMurdo occurred in the case of runway flags. RPSC McMurdo determined that US ITASE must carry 4500 lbs of runway flags (3 Air Force pallets) throughout the full traverse to the proposed Byrd Glacier winter–over site. This was never discussed with US ITASE prior to US ITASE members arriving in McMurdo. The 4500 lbs of flags were C–130 lifted to Taylor Dome despite clarification concerning the actual number needed at the Byrd winter–over site. Discussion with the Air Guard, instigated by B. Welch (US ITASE), indicated that only 18 flags were needed (approximately 1/8 of a pallet). The 4500 lbs of runway flags were then shipped back to McMurdo. One full pallet (1500 lbs) reappeared at Taylor Dome a few days later. They now await retrograde to McMurdo, once again, on the Taylor Dome retro pile. On the order of 5–6 LC–130 pallet positions were wasted because of misinformation and poor planning.
  12. Unnecessary LC–130 flights. In addition to (11) above during the early stages of the US ITASE and Taylor Dome environmental crew put–in, several C–130 flights delivered equipment to Taylor Dome that was either not needed or not immediately needed. Because these flights were early in the season, prior to the time when the environmental crew or US ITASE had time to prepare retrograde, they returned nearly empty to McMurdo.
  13. Hours of Operation. Our daily hours of operation (14.6) at all times, including during the traverse, were handed to us within days of our arrival in McMurdo. This requirement negated years of planning on our part.Changes in the mode of fuel caching, from LC–130 airdrops requiring >1 year preplanning (and thus fixing us to a rigid route plan) to flexible caching by the Basler aircraft (another last minute change) perhaps for the better but wasted planning for the airdrops, gave us little time to re–evaluate cache locations as required for the season to progress.
  14. Number of Sleds Available for Traverse and Sled Damage in McMurdo. Our original plan called for 2 Lehman, 4 Berco and 3 Siglin sleds. Two Bercos were returned to McMurdo after it was determined that they could not be fixed in the field. No attempt was made to remove necessary spare parts (eg., rear hitches) and it is unclear why these sleds were deemed unsatisfactory. As a consequence US ITASE was not able to carry all of the fuel originally projected. One Lehman sled was damaged by a fork–lift in McMurdo prior to transport to Taylor Dome. RPSC Denver suggested that this damage might be repaired through resurfacing the sled with plywood. The estimated additional weight was several hundred pounds. US ITASE SMO responded that this was too much additional weight and recommended that a plywood or metal patch be utilized instead. The result was that both Lehmans had full plywood beds placed over the existing higher quality plywood beds provided by the manufacturer. Several hundred extra pounds were added to the traverse.
  15. Science–critical electricity generation. Electrical power is a critical component of scientific data collection on US ITASE, as it is with many other Antarctic research programs. US ITASE uses a variety of electricity sources for a number of different scientific and logistical tasks. The introduction of the large 12 kW diesel generators on the LGT traverse and 2006 US ITASE allowed us to eliminate the use of propane except for cooking and a back–up heat source. It also provided reliable power for science data collection (400 MHz radar and precision GPS) as well as science support tasks such as data processing and archiving, especially in light of the continuing problems with the batteries of the alternative power systems. The 2006 field season was plagued by problems with the small generators used to supply power to science projects away from the main traverse camp: ice core drilling and three radar systems (3 MHz, 400 MHz, 27 GHz). The generators are often difficult to start (we received high–altitude fuel jets for only two of the three 1.8 kW and one of the two 5 kW generators), and often stall for no apparent reason. Sparkplugs were repeatedly fouled despite the use of dry–gas and careful use of the choke. Contaminated mogas fuel may have contributed to the problem as we had similar problems of poor combustion with the Skandic snowmobile, despite its separate barrel of pre–mix fuel. Significant time delays and repeated losses of radar data occurred as a result of the generator failures. These small generators are science mission–critical equipment and are specified as such in the SIP. The excessive age, history of heavy use, and lack of high–altitude preparation of the generators prior to the field season was yet another hindrance to the science this year. It should also be noted that the relatively new 1 kW generators produce significant amounts of radio–frequency noise that make them impractical for use with broadband radar systems (in particular, the 3 MHz system). Better screening is needed, or generators specifically designed for low–RF noise production, such as diesel generators, would be far preferable.
  16. LGT Winter–Over Preparation. At the conclusion of LGT in late January 2004 sled trains and Challenger 55s were placed on berms. Unfortunately the berms were too closely spaced and sleds were not put on separate berms. The windward end of the bermed sled trains were partially visible in late October 2006 but downwind sleds on the same berm were buried several feet necessitating considerably more digging out than had the platform been correctly wintered. Correct wintering would have meant placing each vehicle and sled on a separate berm. Each berm should have been faced into (parallel) to the wind and each berm should have been spaced at a considerable distance from adjoining berms.

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