27 October, 1996
Today started very early for us. We got to bed by midnight, it felt great to climb into a sleeping bag. At about 2:30 am we all seemed to wake up at the same time. The winds had picked up and were howling. Cold polar Katabatic winds blowing down the dry valleys can reach 100 mph and last for days. These winds originate on the polar ice cap and flow down the coastal slopes under the influence of gravity. Jim was worried that anything that wasn't in a secure place might blow away. When our equipment was flown in, it came on long lines attached to the bottom of the helicopter. When the pilot got to the camp, he just released the lines and dropped our supplies. There was still a lot of equipment lying where it fell when we went to bed. It took a half-hour for five of us to secure all of the things around the camp.
When I came in I decided to have a cup of tea to warm up. I hope that wasn't a mistake. The "P" can is only 15 feet from the door but with this wind and these temperatures, 15 feet is a long distance.
At 8:00 AM the wind is still howling. I had hoped to hike into the valley today. Since its Sunday we don't start work until noon and I wanted to use the morning to explore. There is another camp at Lake Fryxell about six miles up the valley. A group there is studying the ecology of the lake. I've found some interesting things around the hut. There are medical supplies that would help in most common emergencies. The instructions in the dental kit explain how to fix cracked teeth and loose fillings. I think I'll get one for home and do my own dentistry.
The wind changed direction at about 11:00 am and started blowing from the north. Down here a north wind is coming from the sea ice and usually indicates warmer temperatures.
I wanted to have a look at our communication system so I decided to take a walk to the transmitter at the top of the hill next to the camp. The transmitter is powered by solar cells about the size of a large book. These cells convert solar energy into chemical energy that is stored in a battery. The battery powers the radio transmitter that links us to McMurdo. At 8:30 each morning we must check in with the Operation Center. If we failed to call and they could not reach us, a search and rescue operation would be initiated. It's a good feeling to know someone would be looking for us within a day if we had a problem. The safety of the people working here is a top priority of the polar program.
At about noon we began to prep for the first dive at New Harbor. That's no small task, dive holes had to be cleared of ice, dive equipment heated, and an air compressor set up. If the divers are not warm when they enter the water their collecting time will be limited. Should their hands become numb, they would not be able to operate the equipment they depend on for their safety while underwater. It was 3:00 before they were able to get in the water. As a precaution they used double air tanks so they would have a larger volume of air.
The PI's have suggested that another safety hole be blasted. This will require two days of work. Occasionally a chunk of ice will break free and block the dive hole or a seal will move into and claim the hole. Having a second or third hole ensures that the divers will be able to resurface. The rational for a new hole was not just a safely precaution, it would give the divers a greater area where they could collect samples.
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