T -7 Months and Counting

Fair weather at Atlas Cove and on the Laurens Peninsula, Heard Island, taken April 10, 2015.  Nominal resolution is 250 m/pixel.  Image credit: NASA Terra/MODIS.
Fair weather at Atlas Cove and on the Laurens Peninsula, Heard Island, taken April 10, 2015. Nominal resolution is 250 m/pixel. Image credit: NASA Terra/MODIS.

We are now just under seven months from departure from Fremantle, Australia, to Heard Island. Preparations continue for the expedition; seven months may seem like a long time, but many projects need to be accomplished by then.

With plans for operations coming together nicely, there is a new focus on selecting, acquiring, and testing the equipment and supplies to be used on the expedition. Here are a few examples of choices which will need to be made:

  • What kind of shelter will we use?
  • What will we do to keep the shelter from blowing away?
  • How will we keep the shelter warm?
  • On what will people sleep?
  • What food will be brought on the expedition?
  • What kitchen equipment do we bring?
  • How will we network the computers, including shelters 200–300 m away?

Of course, as we make these choices, we are also considering what sort of backup plans we have. This expedition, like any other, is a delicate balance between redundancy, robustness, and minimalism (weight, cost, and labor).

One factor in choosing gear which is often overlooked in temperate climes is that of its poor-weather field-usability. With the precipitation, high winds (blowing snow, rain, and volcanic sand and dust), and cold temperatures, small pieces or anything requiring manual dexterity should be avoided. Choosing glove-appropriate tools and equipment can make the difference between a good day of efficient field work, and a very uncomfortable, miserable day in the cold, wet wind. Without glove-appropriate gear, the gloves have to come off, which in turn drastically reduces their [the gloves’] effectiveness.

Fortunately, on this expedition we will not have to deal with the temperatures found in the coldest regions of the world. In those extremely cold regions, eating utensils (at least fork and spoon) must not be made from metal—they will act as a heat sink and conduct heat away from your mouth very efficiently. I may bring wooden utensils just in case.

Procuring the gear we need presents its own logistical problems. The expedition leader and many of the support team are based in the US, but anything bought in the US has to be shipped to Australia. Buying things in Australia saves shipping, but larger items can’t be tested by the US team. There are further differences in things like electrical power distribution; generators will need to match the plugs and voltage required by the equipment, and the VK0EK amateur radio team need to be confident that the electrical devices we bring won’t interfere with their operations.

For my proposed research project, I have been wrestling with a the questions I posed in my previous post on expedition preparation. Some of the questions have been resolved. Not all of my lines of inquiry were successful. A number of locations I thought would be good to sample have, upon further reflection and study, turned out to be unlikely to yield results which would add meaningful data to my research. Further discussion with other scientists is planned, and I expect will help further clarify a plan of action—though it may be to scrap the project altogether and pursue a related research question.

This weekend, I finally got my hands on a book I have been looking forward to reading: Heard Island: Southern Ocean Sentinel. I took a brief glance through it, and there is a lot of good information there. Although I had planned to write today about glaciers, specifically the glaciers on Heard Island, I have deferred that for the time being so I can read more before writing that post. Maybe next time!