Date: 12/01/03
Latitude: 88.33 degrees South
Longitude: 93.16 degrees East
Temperature: -30°C(−22°F)
Wind speed: 10−15 knots
Wind Chill:−45°C(−49°F)
Wind direction: not given
Elevation: 9800 feet
Kilometers traveled: 120

Notes on daily life:
Tom reports:

Today was the first full day of traversing. We got up around 8 and were on the trail by 9.The snow conditions were much better than yesterday and we were able to put in some good distance. The snow surface out here in East Antarctica is not flat, but can have a lot of bumps and hills. We passed through several rough stretches yesterday, where the bumps were up to 3 feet high; bumps this size are called sastrugi. We also crossed over several small hills and valleys in the ice surface. It was sometimes hard to determine distance over the largely featureless snow, but it was fairly easy to tell when the trains were ascending or descending by watching the horizon.

We reached our first major destination at the end of today's travel, the site of the Nico weather station. There are several automatic weather stations spread out over the surface of Antarctica. These stations measure things like temperature, wind speed and wind direction and then relay this data back to scientists via satellite. Anything left on the surface of the snow will eventually be drifted in and buried by blowing snow. This particular weather station (NICO) has not been seen in several years. They tried to locate it via airplane a few years ago and were unsuccessful. Our task was to find the weather station, record its position with GPS, and mark the location with flags so that in the near future, the weather station can be raised and serviced.

We arrived at the coordinates of the station around 10 pm. Our initial scans of the horizon were not productive, so Matthew and John took the lead tractor (with our crevasse-detecting radar) out to survey a grid near our stopping point. The radar should detect a large metal object like a weather station, but the survey was also unsuccessful. After a fine pasta and tomato sauce dinner, John went outside for an evening constitutional. He saw a shiny object out in the distance – further inspection with a pair of binoculars determined that it was the top of the NICO weather station! Several of us marched out to the station, which was actually about a half mile distant, marked the location with bright orange flags and recorded the position via GPS for future reference. Only the top foot or two of the station was still visible. John was in exactly the right place at the right time to see a reflection from this object while we were near the kitchen module, and so allowed us to complete our first task successfully.
Tomorrow, we drive on.

click on a photo to see it full size
blue sky and horizon   Sastrugi from the CAT cab     AWS nearly buried   AWS as installed

Photos of sastrugis and the flat lanscape from last year's traverse, and some examples of buried Automatic Weather Stations. The last photo is a weather station just after instalation.


Date: 12/02/03
Latitude: 88.33 degrees South
Longitude: 93.16 degrees East
Wind speed: 9 knots
Wind Chill:−38°C(−37°F)
Wind direction: not given
Elevation: 10,010 feet
Kilometers traveled: 195

Notes on daily life:
By Dan

As we left the NICO AWS (automatic weather station) site, the snow surface conditions deteriorated to the point where we were getting stuck regularly. The hard sastrugi were interspersed with deep depressions filled with soft sugary snow. The sugary snow is amazing to touch, it feels dry and runs through your fingers like sand. Surprisingly, the forked CAT seemed to cope better with the soft, sugary surface conditions despite its heavier load. We struggled and shoveled for quite some time until, about 20 miles out from NICO, the surface improved to the point where there was not a single sastrugi to be seen. The snow surface was totally flat all the way out to the horizon for 360 degrees! This type of snow surface was new to me and seemed quite odd; normally there are one or two sastrugi around that can be used for orientation. But in this featureless environment you would become disoriented immediately. Thank goodness for our GPS (global positioning system) units.

At first the flat surface was a pleasure to drive over; no humps and bumps at all, a very smooth ride. However, our pleasure turned out to be short lived because the flat surface also turned out to be extremely soft and sugary and much deeper than before this type of surface is a mortal enemy of CATs and traverse trains! On one stretch we were bogged down 5 times in less than 200 yards.

We persevered and shoveled until we were sore. Eventually, the sugary surface gave way to some small sastrugi that were harder. The harder surface allowed us to make some slow progress in our last few hours of driving, but not as much as we had hoped.

The original plan for this traverse was to drive for 10 hours a day and spend the other 14 hours working and resting. The new plan (formed as a result of our slow progress through the soft sugary snow) is to drive for a minimum of 15 hours a day! Let’s hope that the surface conditions improve.