26 October 2016 Flying Off the Map

Flying Off the Map

Mission control: "Data - Are we going to fly off the map today?" We've all found ourselves without a map when we need one, but this is different. We headed to the South Pole today to run a baseline flight of highest priority. This is a first trip to the pole for the year and the data will be useful to many scientists working on different projects near the pole. It took about 5 hours to reach the pole, about 2 hours to collect our data, and about 5 hours back. Thank goodness we fly in the coolest plane in the sky! DC-8This amazing plane holds up to 45 scientists and crew, flies for 12 hours and returns to where it started everyday. It's a real workhorse!

Mapping the South Pole

The map view was very peculiar near the pole as you might imagine. Here are some images that I collected as we approached. South Pole mapTraveling down 70* Longitude, and turning to travel 180* along latitude 88* S appears as a line on the map, then shows us heading off the map, and then back on! flight path SPoleOur flight path shows the semicircle where the scientists collected data, 120 miles away from the pole. (NASA DC-Data Display System). Notice that we leave the map; the image ends at 85 degrees S presumably because map projections become confusing past that, so when we did our semicircular flight along the 88S degree latitude line, it appears as a curve from "below" but a straight westerly path on the projection. When we had completed 180 degree rotation and aligned with 70E longitude, we traveled toward the pole. This path was flown at 1000’ altitude, while scientists on board collected data. We then ascended to much higher altitude and traveled toward the pole south along the 70 degree E line to the South Pole. Nav WalterKlein Our amazing navigator, Navy Commander Walter Klein keeping us on track.

At the Pole

Flying low elevation above South Pole was avoided because of operations at South Pole Station, an American science base there. The south pole area has a good deal of radio frequency interference (RFI), has protected clean air space to the northeast, and several radio telescopes that we don't want to disrupt. So, as we approach we turned off our instruments (lasers and radar) 40 miles prior to passing overhead. South Pole Station is 12,000’ above sea level and is located in the most extremely remote place I have ever seen. It is thrilling to cross the South Pole, even for veteran mission command personnel. What an experience! SouthPoleStnView of South Pole Station as we cross the Pole (DC-8 Downward Facing Camera). Looking Up!Photo of the DC-8 from scientists at the South Pole! Yeah, we are in that plane! SPoleMissionIphoneTaking pictures of the instruments when we got to 90 degrees south was fun for everyone! The Polar highlands are extremely thick ice unobstructed by the wind. On the surface are snow features up to a meter high, and several meters long, that are essentially snow waves. With the prevailing wind generally easterly from the higher ground, the snow waves (sastrugi in Russian) at South Pole are the dominant texture on the ice surface. Below the ice, thousands of feet of layers of ice show a long history of snow accumulation. SPole landscapeThe ice at South Pole is over 12,000' thick, snowy and windy.

Our Long Commute

During our many hours of downtime, we entertain ourselves with various activities: classroom chats through XCHAT, reading, playing games, sleeping, discussions, and on the hour, some pushups! Having enough gas is always an area of concern. Fuel supply is calculated carefully so that there is enough fuel not only to get back to Punta Arenas but also to get 200 miles farther north to Balmeceda, Chile, in case our regular landing area is not available or there is severe weather at Punta Arenas. Even with this extra allowance, it is always very close. One pilot stated that we had a “thimble full” of extra fuel on board. While I hope that is a large thimble, I greatly admire the level of mathematics involved in the myriad of calculations necessary to make safe flights in extremely remote areas. MKwindowStaring out the window at the vast landscape is captivating AmyJohnheadsetsAmy FitzGerrell (NSIDC) learning about navigating through tones in the headsets with NASA scientist John Sonntag.

Comments

Aaron
Guest's picture
Amazing

I have to imagine you pinch yourself a lot on this trip! Did you hope to get to set foot on Antarctica when you applied? The trade-off of seeing so much of the continent versus being able to spend time on the ice would be interesting but looks like a lot of fun. The interaction with the classrooms has to be rewarding!

You mentioned the rotations of crew, does that mostly apply to just the flight crew? Are the scientists pretty much the same every flight?

Amazing

Great questions, Aaron! I would love someday to be able to walk and learn from the surface of Antarctica, but that isn't this trip. We get to see parts of the continent from the plane that hardly anyone ever gets to see, which is a great honor. The interaction with students (665 last week!) is hugely rewarding. We hear from some teachers how excited the students are, and it has real impact on the crew. The rotation of crew is daily for the flight crew (pilots, navigator, flight engineer) and some of the science teams trade off as well. A few fly every flight though, like the lead project scientist, Nathan Kurtz and the mission scientists John Sonntag. I have flown 4/5 of the available flights so far, and I hope to keep that up. As other duties present themselves, like visiting classrooms and giving talks, I do take a "down day" however. Lots to be done, and tons of fun all around! Maggie :)

Aaron Hayes
Guest's picture
Must say...

...after reading your blog, I'm warming up to the chance to do a project like yours. I applied for the 2017-18 season and initially thought I would be a little let down if I got a boat/plane project - always been a dream to get to all 7 continents. But from reading your blog, the amount of Antarctica you get to see plus the amount of interaction you have with classrooms really makes it clear that regardless of the project, there are so many neat aspects of each that I need to get my hopes in check. The classroom communication really got me excited as that's I think the neatest aspect of all these projects.

Different question: how much data do you get to interact with on the projects on the flight? As a math and stats teacher, I'm eager to see what modeling data I can get my hands on :)

Must say...

Hi Aaron, you make really good points about the project. I have loved, loved, loved this project and couldn't be disappointed in any aspect of it although I totally get it about being on the ice. That would be amazing too! So, to answer your question about data, the best thing to do is to go to the NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center) website and look at what they have. All this data goes there. They can help you pull a data set and its all free and open to the public. Let me know what you come up with! Maggie

Aaron Hayes
Guest's picture
thanks for the

Thanks for the website - will definitely post what I come up with. Have some down time tomorrow at in-service so we'll see. :)

Mike Penn
Guest's picture
Geographic South Pole

Maggie, Thank you so much for mentioning how important math is in your research. I'm constantly looking for evidence like this to show my students how and where the math they are learning is being applied and this is absolute GOLD!
Thanks again!

Mistia Zuckerman
Guest's picture
Thank you!

These are great pictures! I really appreciate this recap of your trip. I can imagine how exciting it must be to fly over the South Pole!

Mistia Zuckerman
Guest's picture
Thank you!

These are great pictures! I really appreciate this recap of your trip. I can imagine how exciting it must be to fly over the South Pole!

Operation IceBridge Antarctica

Subscribe

Subscribe to the Operation IceBridge Antarctica journals using the form below.

Email:

Team Member

Maggie Kane's picture

Journal Details

Location: South Pole
Coordinates:
Latitude: 90° 0' 0" S
Longitude: 70° 0' 0" W
Weather Summary: Clear
Temperature: -30* F

Operation IceBridge Antarctica Journals

Ask the Team