I didn't want to leave WAIS Divide. For one thing, it was so difficult getting there that I didn't really expect to leave immediately after we finished our work. We delayed only three times this time around, but after five missed flight opportunities to Siple Dome, I was jaded.
Honestly, it worked out perfectly for me. As I waited to go to WAIS, I was able to set up the ALFA antenna and help out on the day that we had to pass several critical science and communications tests, which meant to we were ready to launch the balloon whenever the weather was favorable. I also got to celebrate Thanksgiving at McMurdo with my colleagues and run in the Turkey Trot!
Visually, WAIS isn't terribly different than Siple. It's white. It's flat.
But it is up on a plateau, which makes it suitable for ice core drilling. In fact, that's why it was initially set up ten years ago. Now, the main drilling facility, the DISC drill, is due to be taken down after taking a very sucessful series of ice core samples. The facility has accumulated so much snow each winter, that one of the big projects that the staff at WAIS undertake every year is digging out a path to the door. The entire 40ft-tall building gets buried every year.
There's another fascinating retrograde project at WAIS. They're taking apart the PIG traverse. When David and I were there, several people were working almost continously to get ready to drive 300 miles out to the traverse where they would dismantle it in such a way that it could be flown out of WAIS later in the season. The trip itself required significant planning, as they needed all the fuel at WAIS (12,000 galloons!). So they were waiting for more planes to arrive with additional fuel before they could even head out to the site.
What did we do at WAIS? We had a great time. That's what. The day we arrived on a C-130, we unpacked our things and headed out beyond the DISC facility, beyond the remote weather station, and picked a spot in the middle of nowhere to set up our pulser station. We were able to take our time this time, because we'd likely be spending the night. Craig, the camp medic, helped us. He's probably the most interesting man I've ever met: a former navy doc and diver who worked with the underwater bomb diffusion team for his career. He retired two years ago, and will be the station manager at the South Pole next year.
We were done by morning, and since we had extra time, we were able to take measurements of the local surface roughness. As I said, it's flat. So flat that it can be a bit scary. David and I went 2 miles out away from the camp in somewhat low visibility to take the surface roughness measurements, and realized pretty quickly that we'd be lost if a storm came in and covered over our tracks. We hurried back.
We had the pleasure of getting to know the people living there. The food was divine. Fresh cinammon rolls and fish tacos (thanks Francis! thanks Chris!). I watched Game of Thrones for the first time, and they were kind enough to put us up in a heated, already-standing tent. Such a delight. My main regret is not sending the food they requested when I got back to McMurdo. Sorry guys!