Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 1990-91: VUWAE 35


page break



Antarctica New Zealand October 1990 - January 1991

page break


J.A. Gamble (Victoria University, Wellington), J.L. Smellie (British Antarctic Survey), W,C. Mcintosh, K.T. Panter, P.R. Kyle and N.W. Dunbar (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology).

The two projected field seasons of the WAVE programme for research into the Intraplate volcanoes of West Antarctica have been completed. Detailed volcanological mapping and sampling was undertaken on Mounts Sidley, Waesche and Murphy and additional collections made at Mount Cumming, Dorrel Rock and the USAS Escarpment. Planned visits to Toney Mountain, the Crary Mountains, Mount Petras and Mount Flint were cancelled due to a combination of bad weather and aircraft breakdown.

The mapping programme confirmed that the majority of rocks forming Mounts Sidley and Waesche were erupted sub aerially while on Mount Murphy a transition from sub aqueous eruptions (perhaps sub glacial) at the base of the volcano to sub aerial at higher altitudes has been documented. In addition, sub aerial lavas can be demonstrated to have erupted onto glacially striated surfaces and occasional till horizons separate lava flow units - these sedimentary layers may yield microfossils which will be important paleoclimatic indicators. Other fossil material, which we believe to be the first insitu material from Marie Byrd Land, was found in sedimentary rocks forming the basement to Mount Murphy. High precision 40Ar/39Ar dating studies will be undertaken on samples collected across the transition zone. Detailed analysis of this data together with the stratigraphic information may yield important information as to the permanance of the West Antarctic ice sheet during late Cenozoic times.

Geochemical study of the volcanic rocks are being undertaken in order to understand the geochemical evolution of the magmas and their sources. Xenoliths (rock fragments entrained in the lavas and which were plucked from the lithospheric wall rocks as the magmas moved towards the surface) have been collected from parasitic scoria cones in all the centres visited. They range from shallow crustal rocks (either subvolcanic intrusions or immediate basement) to lower crustal (mafic and felsic granulites) to mantle peridotite in composition. The xenoliths promise to give unique information on the crust and lithosphere of the earth in a region where only the tops of the volcanoes peek through the ice cap.

At present two PhD projects are being undertaken in conjunction with the WAVE project and a number of papers have been submitted for presentation at the forthcoming Sixth International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences.

page break



page break page break




page 1

Report :

This report is concerned only with the equipment, logistice and safety aspects or the Event. The scientific program will not be discussed hers.

Locality :

The Event worked en and around Mt Murphy, western Marie Byrd Land. See appendix 1 (map detail), and the Mt Murphy sheet of the USGS Antarctica 1:250,000 Reconnaisance series SB 10 - 12/16 1977. Mt Murphy is at 75V 23′ S, 110. 45′W.

Personnel :

Bill McIntosh (Principal Investigator) USA
Kurt Panter (Geologist) USA
John Smellie (Geologist) UK
Paul Rose (Polar Guide) UK
John Gamble (Geologist) NZ
Bill Atkinson (Field Leader) NZ

Personnel Selection :

McIntosh and Panter, both from New Mexico Tech, came through the USAP, while Smellie and Rose were employed by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in the UK. Gamble is a Senior Lecturer from Victoria University, Wellington. Atkinson, a Mountain Guide based in Twizel, was employed by DSIR Antarctic. All except Rose were on the 1989/90 Event.

Timetable :

The Event reconnaisance f1ight and airdrop was delayed from 4 November til 8 November, but the put–in at Mt Murphy LZ was accomplished on schedule on 10 November 1990. The lift-out date of 20 December was missed, and the group returned to Byrd Station on 2 January 1991. Panter, Gamble and Atkinson went en to Scott Base/McMurdo, while Mcintosh, Smellie and Rose were joined by Phi1 Kyle and Nelia Dunbar at Mt Hampton. Flights out of Antarctica to New Zeal and were further delayed in January.

page 2

Tekapo Training :

Gamble and Atkinson attended at Tekapo for 3 days in August 1990 to finalise Event planning details.

Pre–Event Organisation :

Delays on the reconnaisance flight made it necessary to hold the team close to Scott/McMurdo -from 4-9 November. The food/fuel /equipment were made ready for the put-in Flight on 10 November, but the usual shakedown trip/survival training had to be abandoned. As the Event members were, with one exception, on the WAVE program last year, this proved to be acceptable.

Field Equipment / Store :

Much of the equipment was provided by the Berg Field Center (BFC .) at McMurdo. This included major items such as ski–doos (snowmobiles), 17 empty jerrycans, 8 × 200 liter full mogas fuel drums, 3 drum frames, two-stroke oil at 1:50 ratio, tools, 8 Optimus 111B stoves, 36 × 1 gal < US) full Coleman stove fuel cans, 8 Nansen sledges, 2 HF field radios, 3 VHP hand-held radios, rock boxes, packaging, and airdrop materials.

The Scott Base Field stare and DSIR provided 2 VHF radios and solar chargers, 2 First Aid kits, the personal equipment and clothing for the two NZ and UK staff, and also the camping gear, excepting stoves.

The group all used white gas C Coleman fuel) stoves this year. NZ practice has been to use kerosene with a solid or spirits primer. This experiment with a more volatile fuel was successful. Coleman fuel is conveniently packaged, requires no primer, and burns more cleanly in the tent. The whit gas stoves will easily, burn mogas, as proved necessary this season, with the flight out of the field' being 12 days late.

Just under 6 × 200 liter barrels of "mogas were used by 4 ski–doos, for approx 8 kpl, and an average of 700 km travelled by each machine. 36 cans of Coleman fuel lasted 6 persons (3 tents) approx 45 days, with the last few days on unmixed mogas.

The bulk of the food came through the BFC, with the emergency supply from Scott Base.

page 3

Snowmobiles :

The Event used 4 Bombadier Alpine 503 machines, three of which were used t WAVE last year (1989/90). These were equipped with ice cleats, rock boxes, jerrycan frames, and ice axe holders. Emergency tentaqe was shockcorded to the nose -frame for the season. Seat backs were not taken or needed.

The routine maintenance schedule included checking spark plugs, steering linkages, ski bolts, bogie wheel shafts and bolts, transmission belt, trac' tension, and transmission oil.

Recorded problems were few, and are listed for each machine.

#1721 :ice–clogged fuel pump induction line; added six new ice cleats.
#1794 :i set broken bogie springs; loose steering bolts; loose bolts at top of ski leg, and through spring; replaced spring locking plate; popped front axle seals and lost oil, replaced; front axle bearings and splines a 1ittle worn; small track tear at ice cleat.
#1791 :replaced cracked transmission belt; broken brake handle pin.
#1728 :possibly broken lead wire in igniter, replaced.

Our thanks to Kirk Kiyota and Pete, mechanics at McMurdo's ski-doo garage, and to Bill Mcintosh, for preparation and care of the machines.

Logistics :

Transport to Antarctica was by C141 at the beginning of November. This happened on schedule, and no equipment was lost. The placing of the reconnaisance on November 4, and its subsequent postponement through to tr 8th, displaced the time available for the usual shakedown trip and survive training at Scott.

The recconaisance flight put one fuel pallet at Mt Toney and three at Mt Murphy, all as requested. Some other items went with the airdrop, and everything at Murphy was recovered intact. The Toney dump was not retrieve due to weather, but was observed to be in place.

The put-in flight was on schedule on 10 November at Mt Murphy.

The lift-out flight was on 2 January 1991, 12 days after the planned date of 20 December 1990. Mt Murphy, and Marie Byrd Land in general, have only narrow 'windows' of flyable conditions. Several of these were missed between 20 December and 2 January.

page 4

Communications :

In 19S9/9Q radio traffic was best achieved on 5400kHz from the Mt Sidley area to Scott Base- This season 5400kHz and 4770kHz to Scott from Mt Murph were ineffective.

Best communications were with McMurdo on 11553kHz, and often to Byrd Surface Camp or Pole Station on 11553kHz or 8997kHz. We reached SPRITE, also in MBL, early in the season, and occasionally a group in the Ruppert mountains, MBL.

Direct contact was never made with Scott Base-Message transfer from Mt Murphy to Scott via US Navy radio was necessarily indirect, often frustrating, and usually a waste of time. The system improved to same extent when Phil Kyle and Nelia Dunbar arrived in McMurdo, and were able to assist Rick Campbell with the radio traffic. Our thanks tc all three.

The field radios used were :

One Southcom 130 HF, able to handle any frequency between 2000kHz and 12000kHz- There were no problems with this set.

One Southcom 120 HF. This radio had a low output, and the locked crystals did not include 11553kHz.

Auxillary equipment included two braided wire aerials (the alternative steel tape aerial breaks a lot, and has no plug connectors), a wooden radio box, and solar charger panels. The US solar panels have weak wire connexions, but the NZ panels were strong and efficient.

Communications within the 6–person Event were made with VHF hand-held radios, an Channel 1, which is the McMurdo industrial (I) net. No other combination of the available 6 NZ and 10 US channels was found to work, other than Channel 1 on both Tait and Motorola radios.

page 5

Weather :

Photocopy of dai1y weather records included as appendix 2.

To draw same generalisations from the experience of 19S9/90 and this seasc 1990/91 :

The sky is often cloudy in MBL- Inside a cloud it is snowing. Cloud breaks that allow a C–130 landing are brief, usually 12 - 24 hours.

A zero or very shallow pressure gradient means no wind, or only light winds. A steep pressure gradient, up or down, beginning or ending at any point on the line, means lots of wind, and/or strong winds.

The windward quarter was NE to SE.

The US Navy now C 1989/91) requires the Event to radio weather informatic at hourly intervals in the day before a scheduled pick-up in the field. They currently want, in this order :
Sky (cloud in octas) and ceiling (in feet).
Visibility (in miles).
Temperature (in degrees F).
Grid wind (in degrees, with your east longitude as north eg our 110 W becomes 250 E, subtract 250 from the local true map bearing to get grid wind direction).
Station (will accept hPa/mb, but prefer inches of pressure mercury).
Altimeter (sea level equivalent – requires analogue altimeter).
Definition (ground and horizon; poor, fair, or good).
Remarks (anything relevant).

Miscellaneous :

There are various comments to be made concerning equipment, logistics and safety :
  • A motorcycle helmet (3/4 face) was worn for several days while travelling, but was found to be restrictive, and didn't seal well with the issue goggles.
  • The polarpile neck ruff requires stretch stitching thread.page break
  • A new pair of ASICS mukluks 1eaked b1ue-gresn dye all season.
  • A re-design of the salopette straps would make the garmet more versatile for toileting purposes cf. the Patagnia polarpile salopettes.
  • The new DSIR carrybag develops a leak where the clear plastic covers the nametag slot. Otherwise, a good bag.
  • Tent prusik cords need to be longer than current issue, and around 7mm diameter, to be effective.
  • One pyramid tent (not old, but faded, and possibly used on Erebus) ripped out cloth at a guy point.
  • A VE 24–clone dome tent was collapsed and broken by winds gusting over 70 kts, despite heavy poles. Try pre–curved poles to prevent canopy damage.
  • Fertiliser sacks make great field gear/food containers, where rigid protection is not required. The weight of a sack compares favourably with the 181b of a food box.
  • The US full–length sledge tank is faster and easier to use than the NZ short version. However, you may want to carry a short plywood floor for the tent. Also, the sledge, if left with the US tank unloaded in gusty wind, will attempt to emulate a C–130 field take off.
  • Earmuffs should be available for sound protection on snowmobiles, though not all operators will wear them.
  • The US tef1on frypan is superior to the NZ version.
  • A coffee pot makes a good substitute for one of the NZ billies, as it has a pouring spout and a handle.
  • The NZ milkshaker has still won no friends in MBL.
  • The supplied clothes pegs are ineffective, and soon break.
  • The NZ toaster frames are better than the US type, but need rivetting on the corners for durability.
  • The weights and measures in the Field Manual need revision. Liquid volumes (eg fuel drums) should be in US or metric. The use of Imperial is confusing.
page 8

Documentation :

I have been helped a lot in the preparation and writing up of the Event by access to computer Facilities at Scott Base and DSIR Antarctic in Christchurch. Particularly useful was the Apple Mac at Scott. My thanks to Malcolm Macfarlane for generous technical assistance, and information on the Mac and various word processing programs.

Conclusion :

As well as the persons already mentioned in the text, I would like to than! Eric Sax by, for support in Christchurch; Sherel1e King., for help with word processing systems; also Dave Geddes, Barry Were, and particularly John Alexander, for direction and assistance at Scott Base.

In addition, my regards to the other members of K04S / SO81 and DSIR Antarctic, for good company and a good field season.

Bill Atkinson

Mountain Guide Scott Base 5 January 1991