After a 4 day delay in Christchurch and a week since I left home I arrived in Antarctica last night (27 August) at 8PM.
The weather in Antarctica makes flight schedules relatively meaningless. Over the past week there were 5 flights scheduled to fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica as part of WinFly. Instead only 2 flights made it south in that time. The weather in McMurdo was pretty stormy over the past week with sustained winds of over 50 mph for several days. Strong winds combined with snow on the ground creates blizzard conditions and near zero visibility making it impossible to safely land an aircraft. As a result myself, and nearly 200 other scientists and support personnel (mainly support personnel), spent the better part of a week in Christchurch waiting for the weather to improve so we could fly to Antarctica.
The flight south is in some ways similar to any commercial flight. You need to arrive at the airport about 3 hours before your scheduled departure. We got to the airport at 11:30 and wound up taking off at 3PM.
Of course the amenities on board the military C-17 are a bit less plush than on a typical commercial airliner.
The flight from Christchurch to McMurdo takes about 5 hours on a C-17. We left Christchurch at 3PM and landed at 8PM. It was completely dark when we landed.
Yesterday the sun rose at 10:09 AM and set at 3:43 PM and at noon was only 2 degrees above the northern horizon so it was completely dark when we landed. I actually really enjoy seeing night in Antarctica since most of my trips are summer trips when the sun is up 24 hours a day. I also enjoy seeing the southern stars. As I stepped off of the plane the first constellation I saw was the Southern Cross.
Today the day is 19 minutes longer with sunrise at 9:59AM and sunset at 3:52PM. Despite the nearly 6 hours of daylight today we didn’t actually see the sun as Mt. Erebus, a large volcano on Ross Island where McMurdo Station is located, blocks the northern horizon.
The weather is relatively mild with a temperature of -18 F today. Yesterday the low was -22 F and the high was -15 F. While those temperatures may sound cold to most of you the fact that there is very little wind right now makes it bearable to be outside without a full compliment of cold weather gear (plus I really like cold weather).
Our first day in Antarctica has been spent at various meetings and training sessions. We’ll spend the next few days learning everything from how to drive, the rules for off-station hiking, to how to deal with being stranded off station if the weather turns bad. We’re still waiting for our science equipment to arrive on a flight later this week. Once that arrives we’ll need a few days to get the planes setup and tested before we’ll be ready to fly and start doing our research.