Dear Friends and Colleagues,

A ‘lidar marathon’ record, a lot of penguins, and gorgeous Antarctic scenery with so much open water — these are the unforgettable aspects of our Antarctic journey! Flying back home today my heart is still filled with the Antarctic beauty and the fantastic science we can do there!

An unusual Antarctic warmth with continuous clear skies from near the end of year 2013 to early January 2014 provided us a great opportunity to make a new record in lidar history in Antarctica! We did a continuous lidar run of 174 hours at Arrival Heights under blue skies, which was from 11:30pm on Dec. 29th, 2013 to 5:30am on Jan. 6th, 2014 (McMurdo local time). This record was achieved with three lidar team members: Cao Chen (Chris), Jian Zhao, and Xinzhao. Two PhD students Chris and Jian from CU-Boulder have done superb jobs! Seven days plus extra six hours of continuous Fe lidar observations for middle and upper atmosphere studies in Antarctica — such a lidar marathon record is probably very hard to break! It was also why we gave a title of “LIDAR Marathon” to the Sunday science lecture on Jan. 19, 2014 at McMurdo. The lidar data are precious because they provide the first opportunity to study how the physical, chemical and dynamical characteristics of the stratosphere, mesosphere and lower thermosphere vary through multiple days at such a high latitude like McMurdo.

This time the warmth was unusual because air temperatures stayed above freezing (even reaching +5C deg) at McMurdo for nearly a week. It caused melt issues for the ice runway at Pegasus air field. Consequently, all wheeled aircrafts were grounded and only could LC-130 aircrafts take off or land for intercontinental flights. Undoubtably such warmth brought people working at McMurdo a very pleasant week. While keeping the lidar running around the clock for over 7 days, we enjoyed the midnight sunlight. As a proof, our ‘action’ in the 1st photo was entitled “Welcome to Arrival Heights LIDAR”! The Fe lidar is hosted in an AntNZ (Antarctica New Zealand) green building. It’s a nice modern facility with roof access. During the lidar marathon run, we also learned that Chris passed the psychological evaluation so PQed for winter 2014. Chris’ dream of winter-over Antarctica finally came true! Excited by this good news, Chris (left) and Jian (right) were jumping up in the 2nd photo! Jian will go for winter 2015!

Penguins — our love! Who wouldn’t be thrilled by watching playful Adelie penguins?! All these trips to Antarctica one of my wishes was to see penguins as many as possible, but not so good luck in the last three seasons. Finally our luck came on Jan. 19 when preparing for the Sunday science lecture. I learned from Jen that several groups of penguins had come to near shore, so Jian and I rushed down from the Crary Lab to the shore with our cameras. Adelie penguins were playing on floating icebergs — walking, resting, chatting with each other, jumping into the water, popping up from water to ice, hopping over the water … I caught their actions in a movie. Interestingly a seal was swimming nearby; it surfaced once but then disappeared. The following two photos (P3 and P4) show you the scenery of penguins, icebergs and sea water with Royal Society Mountains in the background. Three penguins in the 5th photo were chatting before they were caught in a movie. In the movie they jumped into the water and then popped up onto another piece of iceberg to meet other penguins. Finally all penguins jumped into the water one by one and hopped over the sea. (The movie is too large to be attached here but it will be posted online for everyone to watch.)

On the 2nd day of penguin filming, all icebergs seen in the previous photos were gone — blown away by wind! So I saw McMurdo Station surrounded by a very large area of open water for the first time. Besides warm weather and wind helped open up the water, we must say that the icebreaker Polar Star did a really good job to break the ice. Polar Star (in the 6th photo) may be one of the most powerful icebreakers in the world! It cut the ice from far side of McMurdo sound, and under right conditions the wind pushed all ice to the open sea. Antarctic beauty under blue skies is hard to describe with words — blue water and white ice shelf in front of Discovery Mountain (the 7th photo) plus the historic hut point and part of McMurdo town standing by the open water and ice shelf (the 8th picture). This is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects for working in Antarctica! Of course, Antarctic weather changes fast and we must be prepared as such gorgeous weather quickly turned into a “white out” condition and became very windy and cold with blowing snow at Arrival Heights.

A whole year run plus the lidar marathon had put a lot of stress on the lidar system. To prepare for winter 2014 we spent extra efforts to refurbish and upgrade the lidar system. A lot of hard work was put in and at the end everything worked out nicely! Chris now has a very powerful lidar to run through winter 2014! Photos of people: Richard Dean (with lidar team) of USAP in the 9th photo, Peter Brookman, Isaac and Kate of AntNZ in the 10th photo — their help, support and friendship during the process are highly appreciated, along with many other people’s support and help! At last CU Buffs in Antarctica — Chris was wearing the Buffs’ sweater and Jian wearing an Antarctic T-shirt while I was in the University of Colorado T-shirt.

Looking forward to a very successful winter 2014 by Chris!
Many new data and new discoveries from Arrival Heights lidar!

Sincerely yours,

P.S.: This email is long but photos attached have their descriptive names. So you may skip the text and go to the photos directly. I believe this is what most people do anyway 🙂