These images were taken with the team's digital
These were taken with Nomad's hi-resolution pan/tilt
I woke up a little after 8 a.m. and went over to the dining tent. It was completely deserted. The morning was gorgeous. After a while, Mike came in and we heated some water for coffee.
Talking to Mike, I gained some insights into last year's report of the field work that I had not had earlier. It seems that last year, when Nomad was in autonomous mode it would run for some distance and then stop at an obstacle, which might or might not be real. Then Mike, or someone else would go out to it, back it up and detour it around the real or nonexistent obstacle. After that it would travel further in autonomous mode until it stopped again. At the end of the day, these autonomous segments would be added together and the sum reported as "meters of autonomous travel." Unless this is understood, the goals for autonomous travel for this year may be set unnaturally high.
The morning turned into a windy one, with gusts from the south, followed by a more or less steady onslaught, with blowing snow. Mike had been out to Nomad around 7 a.m. and had started it up, to initiate the 2-hour warming process. Stewart wanted to go out to Nomad to get some more data on its navigating capabilities but not many people were up, so I agreed to accompany him to the site. The generator at Camp Crickett had stopped running the day before; Stewart had brought it in, but no one had yet looked at it. Normally, Stewart would have been at Camp Crickett, overlooking the scene from the tent and using the generator to power his computer. But without the generator he had to rely on batteries and hooking his computer directly to Nomad. He took a number of laser and stereo camera images of the scene around Nomad, for later analysis in Pittsburgh. He also drove the robot in a complete circle, to be able to see any differences that might exist in the recorded images due to sun angle. During this operation his computer blew off Nomad's carapace but was apparently undamaged. A problem he had was that he had to operate his computer's mousepad with bare fingers, and his hands were getting cold. When they gt too cold, there was another problem: the mousepad did not respond. So eventually he gave up and declared himself ready to return to camp.
I had been pacing around, looking at rocks. There are numerous dust bands associated with the moraine, and to me there seemed to be a zonation in types of rock on the surface: to the east the rocks were predominantly greyish possible limestones and to the west they were more slaty-appearing, with quartz veins. I couldn't suggest a reason for this apparent zonation -- it is just an observation.
When Stewart suggested returning, I was amenable and we drove back without incident.
The last two days had been magnificent, but we got very little accomplished. Alex apparently sensed a problem and suggested we try for an earlier departure date than originally planned: he had learned that there are two planes due to arrive on Dec. 1. I think this is a sound strategy, whether we make an earlier flight date, or not, because in any case the work will expand to fill the available time and we will be in a feverish rush at the end; this would be true even if we had 2 months to finish up.
The storm is waxing, with strong, gusty winds that blow snow through camp and deposit linear dunes downwind of obstructions and irregularities on the surface. This changing topography produced a big step down to the entrance to the dining tent. I thought I could negotiate it by kicking a little ledge into the dropoff surface with my heel, but I was wrong; it was solid ice and I landed on my back and my elbows. Now my shoulders will hurt for a while.
Matt, Mike and Sib headed down to Nomad to get it running again and to try to get some data tonight. I suggested they wait for gentler winds, pointing out that they had no guarantee the winds would not get even stronger before eventually subsiding. They felt they were ready for any eventuality, however, including being forced to spend the night at Camp Crickett, so off they went. They came back in the wee hours of the morning.
In Antarctica, you can count on getting punched in the face by the weather; more than once. My philosophy is to try to roll with the punches, waiting out the storms and taking advantage of good weather when it comes along. My colleagues seem to take bad weather as a challenge, fighting it tooth and nail. Who knows? Perhaps if I were their age...?
Our big 5kw generator has frozen up and when I returned from dinner, Alex, Pascal and Liam were wrestling it into the Endurance tent, where by morning it may be unfrozen. In the meantime, however, it's a massive heat sink that smells strongly of gasoline.
Lately there have been some quiet periods between wind gusts, so maybe this is the first sign the storm is abating. Then again, maybe not.