A Visit to the WISSARD Test Site

A Visit to the WISSARD Test Site
Written by Betty Trummel

Before I describe our field trip to the WISSARD test site, I’ll take just a moment to talk about my accommodations here at McMurdo Station. It only takes a moment to give you the details, because the rooms are very sparsely furnished and are tiny. You’ll see my sleeping area below and I also included a shot of the length of the room. Notice there are two more beds….yes folks, this tiny room might be packed with 3 people at once! Right now I’m by myself, my roommate having left for a field camp the day after I arrived. I was able to take the back section of the room which is more private and I’m also using the desk, since our office space is also quite limited. That blue shade on the window keeps out most of the light when I’m trying to sleep. Remember, it’s 24 hours of daylight here in Antarctica. There are women’s and men’s bathrooms down the hall. It’s comparable to a not-so-great college dorm room. I spend very little time in this space, and prefer to work long hours at Crary Lab and soon the test site.

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So, let’s get going on our field trip! We rode out to the Ross Ice Shelf to the WISSARD test site in an adapted 12 passenger van. I’ve seen a lot of vans around town.
Below you’ll see something called a mattrack. The mattrack was out at the test site. This specially adapted vehicle has tank-like treads that bolt on in place of ordinary wheels. This converts a 4×4 utility vehicle into a true all-terrain vehicle. I’ll be talking later about all of the strange vehicles in McMurdo, many of which have special adaptive features perfect for this snowy and icy conditions in this environment.

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We stopped just past Scott Base to see two containers that will be used as laboratories at the test site. They haven’t been hauled out there just yet. Notice the close-up shot of the skis. These skis make it easier to move such large containers over the snow and ice. All of the equipment at the test site was hauled out by tractors and heavy equipment.

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Electricians, mechanics, carpenters and all sorts of talented tradesmen have worked to build science labs inside of the containers. As we start testing the equipment I’ll go into more detail about each container and what’s inside. For now, let’s just take a brief tour of some of the structures.

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Also at this transition spot between the sea ice and Ross Ice Shelf you’ll find flags that have meanings assigned to their colors. Red and green flags mean that the way is passable and safe. Blue flags mean a fuel line and black flags mean danger…stay away. I cannot stress how important it is to follow the flagged routes and to obey the signs. People have been injured or have died in Antarctica because they disregarded the flags and have gone off of marked trails. Dangerous crevasses are hidden below. These stress cracks in glaciers are covered with a thinner layer of snow. Specialists evaluate the routes and mark which ones are safe for travel by vehicle and on foot.

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As we approached the WISSARD test site, it looked like a little village of containers. This is actually a photo of the back side of the site…the sun was more in my favor looking in this direction, but you can get the idea of how spread out the test site really is.

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Up close you can see the various containers, each one being used for a different purpose of the overall WISSARD Project.

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For example, these two blue containers house the generators that power up all equipment at the test site. They also have a unique heat-capture system which allows the heat that’s produced from the generators to be used to melt the snow in the melter. This is a great example of energy efficiency.

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The strange looking contraption below is the snow melter. The water from this process will be used in the hot water drill system.

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This water tank was specially adapted from a dairy tank. If you look closely, the dairy company stenciled their name on the tank.

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Inside of the container below I saw the water filtration system. I need to learn more about this process so I can explain it to you. Today was just a brief tour of the test site.

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The photo below shows the fuel tank that is replenished each day by fuel stored in large plastic bladders that have been hauled to the WISSARD site.

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Here’s another look at some of the equipment inside one of the containers. I am astounded at how many bits and pieces are a part of this test site and project. It is especially impressive given the fact that the research and testing is being done in such a remote location with such tremendous challenges in terms of weather and transportation. Bravo to the guys working on putting this site together! I know I’ll be giving you more details once the testing commences in a week or so.

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Dr. Ross Powell from Northern Illinois University (NIU) was the scientist who brought me on board this project. Other scientists and graduate students from NIU are also part of WISSARD and are down here on the ice for this first season of the project. I’ll feature Ross and others on the NIU team later in the blog postings, as the testing begins.

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Here are just a few of the WISSARD’s on the team, myself included.

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I’ll end today’s post with a photo of me with Mt. Erebus in the background. Mt. Erebus is probably my favorite view in the McMurdo area, and the WISSARD test site affords a perfect view! Have a great day, wherever you are in the world!

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