Antarctic Research Centre

RICE 2013/14 Field Season Blogs

RICE Project field camp, Antarctica 2010/2011

This blog shows the communications from the RICE team who are working in Roosevelt Island, Antarctica. The blogs highlight the progress of the equipment extraction effort, how the team are faring in this remote location, and the general goings-on in the camp.

Read our newest communication from the team:

2 December 2013

24 November 2013

17 November 2013

16 November 2013

15 November 2013

10 November 2013

03 November 2013



2 December 2013

The last month for 2013, and what a place to start it. 

But before that, over the last week we have had a couple of stunning culinary breakthroughs in field camp cuisine, firstly the “stacon”, a delicious prime porterhouse steak, grilled to your liking, wrapped in a subtly smoked rasher of middle bacon all fried in premium New Zealand butter.  Followed up by Otis’ famous pancakes, thoughtfully crafted from cheesecake mix, cooked in buttery deliciousness!  Thirdly the Roosevelt Island Burger, created by Hoff, with butter fried hash browns, butter fried bacon, butter fried grilled cheddar, between two lightly butter fried bagels, seasoned to perfection with fistfuls of organic sea salt served with a side of defibrillator.

Mike, Jodie and David left us a few days ago as we started to ramp camp down. Not always enjoyable to see the camp wind down, as you would like to keep good people to help with plenty of work ahead for the final pullout, but at some point the Roosevelt Island burgers have to end.

Incidentally, in-between morning teas of stacon, we had five further aircraft drop by for cargo, one of which was quite important, we had to all be on it.

That eventuality finally did come.

At the weekend and despite the weather challenges, we managed to get most of the camp wrapped up and ready for a pull out flight, the RAC tent coming down on Friday evening after a day of condition two and three with blowing snow and less than 30 metres visibility.  This left more or less the sleeping tents and endura only to tidy up camp, freeing us up to help Twit over the weekend with some accumulation measurements, using the highest standard in scientific instruments, and I am writing slowly here, a tape measure.  Richard continued playing Nintendo with his GPR, managed to sort through some of his earlier technical issues and get good numbers, you know when the instruments start producing good data that an aircraft is due eh!

So Monday dawned (maybe not where we are but certainly somewhere it did) with beautiful clear skies and when you start weather observations for the aircraft at two in the morning the figurative dawn comes quiet early in Antarctica.  We were on for the Basler as primary and two Hercs on backup missions, which became three Hercs, and being a back up to three flights on a sunny day and probably rubbish weather in at least one of the Herc primary mission locations you know one of them must come.  It did.

Unfortunately our final four Herc pallets didn’t arrive on the previous flight so that meant that about 8,000 lbs of cargo had to be manually loaded into the Herc, fortunately the other 4,000 lbs of cargo either had motors or feet so could self load.  The 5,000 lbs or so for the Basler was “mostly” empty drums, a relatively straightforward load then.

Nevertheless, if it had all gone to plan it would have being all too tedious, and the Nancy Boys do not do tedious.  Just to keep the boredom at bay the Herc arrived 20 minutes after the arrival of the Basler, entertaining all seven of us, not forgetting the Kenn Borek and LC130 guys, with loading both aircraft.   17,000 lbs of cargo and two hours later, we drank the LC130 water cooler dry, took our seats and departed Resort Island.

The aircraft straining to accelerate past the former campsite along the skiway, we willed that within the next 30 seconds or so some air would appear between skis and snow, mostly so we could have a cold beer with dinner.

It must have happened as I now have a cold beer.


The Nancy Boys

RICE team 2013 (Jeff Rawson)
RICE team 2013 L to R Twit, Richard, Hedley, Jody (front), David, Otis (front), Hoff, Mike, Jeff (front), Darcy.
(Photo: Jeff Rawson)



24 November 2013

The Nancy Boy bunch continues to grow this week seeing the arrival of two additional personnel from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).  Sgt Wade (Otis) de Garnham and Cpl Sam (Hoff) Nikoloff who will be joining us for the rest of the season to provide their experience in making up the pallet loads for the L130, bringing our total camp population to 10.

The weeks work started with Jeff, Mike and Jodie marking (with black plastic bags) and grooming a skiway in anticipation of a busy flight schedule at Roosevelt Island Airfield.   Mother Nature having been in a rather benevolent mood this season resulted in requiring less skiway preparation than planned, no significant leveling of sastrugi and a good firm snow base to start with.  Grooming is still a considerable effort using only skidoos and the 6000ft skiway takes approximately 6 hours to complete with each grooming pass, and with every aircraft landing the skiway needs repair and re-grooming due to their skis rutting the snow.

Of course, this would not be Roosevelt Island without a couple of “no fly” weather days, Hedley continued to provide his succinct daily weather forecast service with his prognosis typically, “it’s crapping out”.

In between the “it’s crapping out” weather we did manage to receive three flights by the end of the week.  The Monday Basler that brought in Otis and Hoff, followed up by a Basler and LC130 on Thursday, keeping us all busy sorting out the cargo and palletizing, particularly with the NYANG 109th unexpectedly upping the LC130 allowable cargo load (ACL) from 8,000 lbs to 14,000 lbs so early on into the operation.  It meant we could haul serious loads out (reducing our total air movement requirement).  It did mean that the two pallets already delivered to us previously with tie down equipment (TDE) were not going to be enough to make up the additional ACL.  Two extra pallets needed to be hand built on the ground with the Herc running then winched into the aircraft.  The loads had to be kept simple to minimise the Herc ground dwell time (so the aircraft did not exceed its bingo fuel point, and we would need to find accommodation for six extra crew).  It was decided that one of these would be a pallet of 18 empty drums with the other made from nice square blocky things, not requiring too many Tetris skills to play.

So while the logistics team was playing with the Lego, the science department had started their own work in earnest.   Richard with a high-resolution ground penetrating radar (GPR) collecting data at the locations he had previously measured three years ago, David and Twit logging the RICE bore temperatures, all putting in some rather long hours watching their respective instruments.  Either on a winch travel down the 763 metre hole at what seems astronomically slow, or hunched over a display with squiggly lines for an hour or two, then repeating the process multiple times just in case the wiggly line is different from the previous one,  kind of like watching paint dry but without the suspense.

So anyway, it is Sunday once again, but no rest yet and a full flight schedule for the upcoming week.  We have sent packing 26,000 lbs and loaded five flights, not quite halfway but we are now well into our work and we are all thinking that home by Christmas is not too much to ask, right?

All the best from the 91st largest island in the world.

The Nancy “what-the-hell-are-we-doing-here-and-how-do- I-get –voted- off-this-island” Boys.


17 November 2013

LC130 arrival to RICE camp

LC130 arrival to RICE camp for put in (Darcy Mandeno)

Well it had to happen, the Nancy Boys made it to the field, almost on if-somewhat-delayed plan.  We did have a practice run earlier in the week with an attempt at the put in on Tuesday, but yes bloody fog.  It was close mind you, only 130 metres to go, however with the landing being quite important and not without its challenges when the view outside the aircraft resembles the inside of a ping-pong ball, both aircraft pilots (LC130 and Basler) decided to boomerang back to McMurdo.  Hello Scott Base, remember us?

Friday was to be the actual day, a couple of us were skeptical as the satellite photo indicated a band of “cloud” across the Ross Ice Shelf and Roosevelt Island, however weather forecasting maestros at Charleston and Mac Weather assured us that it was a band of ice.  They were right, no Tui ad here, a beautiful day for flying and most importantly landing at Roosevelt Island. 

Jeff, Twit and I were the first to arrive on the Basler, and for once the Island had chosen to play nice, only about 30cm of accumulation over winter, all the cargo was still mostly on the surface, hoo-bloody-ray, the Caterpillar D1 diggers (shovels) will not get too much of a work out this year!  Anyway loading 2000lbs of retro into the basler and preparing for the imminent arrival of a LC130 was the more pressing issue.  Jeff managed to get the service tent door dug out and extract a running skidoo within 30minutes, while Twit and I loaded one of the cargo caches left from the previous season into the Basler and bid the Kenn Boreck guys adieu.

Twenty or so minutes later the Herc arrived and with the addition of Mike, Jodie, Hedley, David, Richard, Adam and Nicola to help with the day’s second load, about 4500lbs, to be manually loaded into the Herc, engines still running.  50 minutes later, we wished the NYANG 109th crew along with Adam and Nicola a fond farewell.

It’s gone to a plan.  With so many iterations of the plan, it was always going to go close to one of them, now to destroy any evidence of other plans and keep the one that most closely resembles reality, a bit like history, always written from the perspective of the victor.

The remainder of Friday, Saturday and Sunday has been spent setting up camp and getting a 4100lbs cargo load ready for the Basler on Monday (18th November).  We are all now sitting comfortably in the RAC tent with the diesel sigmar (Oscar Snr to his friends) burning contentedly in the corner.   A hot meal on the stove ready to be demolished (one does not eat politely in Antarctica field camps) by a rather hungry crew, and of course a Glenlivet duly issued to toast the weekend’s efforts.

And finally from Roosevelt Island, CHEERS!!!!!

The Nancy Boys


16 November 2013

LC-130 Photo courtesy of Nicola Lang (Nov 2013)

Cargo drop LC-130 (Nicola Lang, Nov 2013)

Darcy, the other Nancy Boys and the 3 US personnel got into Roosevelt Island on Friday as per the email below. Photos courtesy of Nicola Lang (Cargo Handler)

Email from Peter McCarthy, Scott Base “The team managed to get in yesterday in the Basler and LC-130.  We had the RNZAF cargo handlers arrive yesterday and will try to get them in this coming week. The Basler is delayed today until 1100 hr due to Wx at RI. “

“The other bonus for the team being on the ground is they'll set up that Tactical Met station and start feeding back good met data to Charleston which the local McMurdo forecasters will benefit from. “

15 November 2013

Cargo LC-130 (Nicola Lang, Nov 2013)

Message from communications log book reads: K049, 15/11/2013, 1832, MW, Iridium, Roosevelt Island
Everyone is well dinner is being cooked. 
No incidents to report
Looks as if all equipment has wintered well with little snow coverage
Plan to work around camp tomorrow and prep loads for the Basler flights tomorrow.
Wx: Clear blue skys, cold (unsure temp) 5-10 kts W.
Messages to: Basler scheduled for 2 taps to Roosevelt Island ETA 1030 & ETA 1730
HF not set up yet hopefully by Monday.


10 November 2013

Madness.  It was once stated that the very definition of madness was to attempt a task repeatedly, achieve the same outcome and yet continue to try again, I can’t quite recall who it was who said this but it was probably someone who figured out that they were actually quite mad themselves, experience really is the best teacher. 

I could Google who actually said the madness thing but the inter-web crawls at sub dialup speeds down here with the priority of course going to that fleeting online fad, Facebook.

I digress, getting back to madness an oft-useful attribute in Antarctica, has once again silenced rational thoughts of a carefully planned season start. 

At least the Basler aircraft has arrived.

And so has the weather, sublime, omnipresent, crapping out.

You may have gathered we are all waiting at Scott Base, patiently, patience yet another desirable Antarctican attribute and as it happens one we fortunately all have, maybe not in spades but any ¼ teaspoon will do. To be fair we technically have only being waiting three days, bringing us to our second Sunday brunch and the bright side, waffles with whipped cream.

Despite this you can’t afford to stop planning so the team has become quite adept at creating new put-in scenarios that invariably end with a cancelled flight.  The trick is to plan just enough so that you can complete the task reasonably without resembling a chicken abattoir.   The latest plan, which will be cancelled on Monday, is an action blockbuster of coordinated logistics, and aircraft not forgetting a significant supporting cast.  

The characters.  A Basler, putting in the advanced ground crew of Twit, Jeff and Darcy will arrive 2 hours or so before the arrival of the LC130 with Jodie, Mike, Hedley, David and Richard, guest starring the New York Air National Guard and Ken Borek Air.   Like all good films, our foreign accented protagonist is the Weather, it however has no time for a crisp upper crust English inflection, it settles for simply yelling it’s lines with as much bluster as it can summon. Apparently Monday is going to be quite the yell.

The Plot.  We depart the McMurdo Ice Runway to Roosevelt Island and land at last year’s campsite. Load the Basler with 2000lbs of retro, bid farewell to the Ken Borek guys, find the sleds and start digging out a skidoo from the service tent and stage at the cargo pile we wish the NYANG 109th to land their LC130 next to, where we now reach the peak of the narrative arc, a frenzied hour of palletizing 4500lbs of cargo and loading the Hercules with the assistance of the 109th pilots, loadmasters, Kiwi and USAP team, the loaded Herc then departs for McMurdo.

Herc flying into the sunset closing shot and fade to credits.  Cut.

“But it’s the polar austral summer so there is no sunset” I hear you say.
“haha” I retort, “CGI”.

And if Monday doesn’t work for all this then maybe Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, I think you get the point.  But never mind all that, Scott Base staff do get the benefit of 5 extra staff members willing and able to vacuum, wash dishes, repair Nansen sleds and provide the butt for banter, as exampled by the following recent PA announcement by the comm ops.
 “Attention K-0-4-9, check-in for your flight has been scheduled for sometime in the next week, than you.”

So from Scott Base and until sometime…

The Nancy Boys
Mike, Jeff, Jodie, Hedley and Darcy


3 November 2013

So here we are, the fourth and the planned final season for the field operations of the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution Project.

This year the task is predominantly an airlift logistics effort to extract 30 tonnes of equipment accumulated from three years of ice core drilling operations at site.  With such an intensive extraction effort required over the next four to six weeks an experienced team of five has been assembled with staff from both Antarctica New Zealand and Victoria University of Wellington backed up and supported by the team at Scott Base and USAP Mac-ops.  Additionally from USAP a three party science team will continue with bore hole temperature, optical tele-viewer measurements, GPR, mass balance and a couple of shallow firn cores.

And so it begins, but first I’ll introduce the K049 and USAP field team….

From Ant NZ we have Jeff Rawson joining us for his second season at Roosevelt Island, contributing his plant driving and mechanics skills, after doing a sterling job last year it was a welcome return.  We welcome Jodie Curtis, a builder by trade and comedian by nature, the RAC tent would not have ever been erected so well, and with the one-liners learned from years of building site banter, as entertaining.  Mike Rowe who after wintering at Scott Base as Field Support joins us for an additional little jaunt to “Resort Island”, mad by most peoples standards but clearly not Mike, he is positively chomping at the bit. 
From Victoria University we have the perennial Hedley Berge, an Electrical Contractor prone to outbreaks of common sense and experience returns for his third RICE season and his 10th Antarctic season, sucker for punishment? Probably.  Finally myself, Darcy Mandeno, an occasional engineer, driller and spreadsheet complicator returning for the fourth RICE season to lead the team even if they are following out of curiosity just to see what I’ll stuff up next.

The USAP team consists of Howard “Twit” Conway, Richard “AF>1” Hindmarsh and David “The Logger” Clemens-Sewall.  After arriving Friday Twit, Richard and David are well into their own load and flight planning arrangements, but not without the obligatory corporate Sunday brunch at Mac Town with almost all the team, a nice way to discuss the upcoming season, and watch Jodie mistake the sugar for salt…yummy.
Our own departure from Christchurch last Wednesday was uneventful enough with weather delays finally relenting and allowing us to depart early afternoon after four hours of hanging out at the Antarctic International Centre, arriving at Scott Base for a thoughtfully held aside hot meal and cold beer.   The three days since have been a maelstrom of food, tents, cookers, training, drivers licenses, cargo planning, NYANG 109th meetings, comms plans, the essential Scott Base corridor meetings and not forgetting the Tatty Flag focus group discussions at the end of each day.

So now its Sunday we can relax a little, catch our breath, with preparations near completion; uplift all our equipment and stage at the ice runway by Monday afternoon(ish) and wait for the plane, which currently sounds something like this.

It’s there somewhere…
The Plane.
Where then???
Oh in Punta Arenas, South America…
Right then so we wait?
Yup but that’s okay, we’ve done this before and it somehow always works out. Somehow.

Roll on Wednesday, the first put-in flight. I can already hear all former RICERs in unison saying something like “yeah right”, except one, that would be Nancy “Rose Tinted” Bertler.

 Thanks Nancy, no really, thanks.

Love and kisses
The Nancy Boys


 From left: Jodie Curtis, Jeff Rawson, Hedley Berge, Darcy Mandeno, Mike Rowe