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Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 2002-03: VUWAE 47

LOGISTICS REPORT K042: Oceanography and Sedimentation beneath the McMurdo/Ross Ice Shelf in Windless Bight 2002-03

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K042: Oceanography and Sedimentation beneath the McMurdo/Ross Ice Shelf in Windless Bight

Antarctica New Zealand 2002/03

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This project was designed both to investigate the little explored sub-ice shelf environment and to provide essential site data for coring 1000 m into the sea floor by ANDRILL for a history of the McMurdo-Ross Ice Shelf (MRIS). Ross Island has been depressing the crust under its own weight for at least the last million years, and at the same time has been acting as the western pinning point for the MRIS. As a result sediment has been accumulating in a sea floor depression over 900 m deep to the south of Ross Island in Windless Bight (Fig. 2). These sediments record the presence and possible past absence of the MRIS, and the movement of Ross Sea Shelf Water behind Ross Island between McMurdo Sound and the central Ross Sea

Proposed field activity

We proposed to occupy up to 4 sites on the McMurdo Ice shelf (Windless Bight area), first melting a 50-cm-wide hole through the ice shelf (70 to 150 m thick). We then proposed to measure water depth (expected to be over 800 m) and water column properties through a tidal cycle (conductivity, temperature, current speed, current direction) before sampling the sea floor by grab and gravity corer. At one or more sites a mooring to measure currents over several tidal cycles would be deployed and recovered. The access hole was to be melted by a Hot Water Drilling system provided by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, which had been delivered by ship the previous summer.

Achieved activity

The project ran extremely well with access holes drilled and kept open through the ice shelf for up to 9 days (for a full account see the Logistics Report). This was critical for the success of the project. All instruments and sampling devices deployed through the access holes functioned and were recovered. The two most central of the 4 proposed sites were occupied, and a third site at the edge of the ice shelf monitored over a period of three weeks for currents in the upper 2/3 of the water column. The field operation to deploy the camp, drill and ream the access holes took longer than expected for the first site especially. In addition the techniques that we would trial to re-drill a hole and recover the frozen-in mooring were evaluated and it was decided that these required further development before this procedure would likely be successful. We decided to concentrate on two ice shelf holes setting short-term current moorings in both and a sea ice site where a mooring was deployed for 22 days.


Name Designation Organisation Departed Chch Returned Chch
Prof. Peter Barrett PI ARC VUW 07 Jan 03 5 Feb 03
Dr Lionel Carter Scientist NIWA 07 Jan 03 28 Jan 03
Dr Gavin Dunbar Scientist ARC VUW 04 Jan 03 10 Feb 03
Mr Eric Dunker Engineer AWI Bremerhaven 30 Dec 02 10 Feb 03
Ms Giovanna Giorgetti Scientist Uni. Siena 07 Jan 03 10 Feb 03
Mr Johno Leitch Engineer-Driller Ant.NZ SB Scott Base 10 Feb 03
Mr Doug Mason MSc student ARC VUW 04 Jan 03 10 Feb 03
Dr Frank Niessen Scientist AWI Bremerhaven 07 Jan 03 9 Feb 03
Dr Uwe Nixdorf Scientist-Driller AWI Bremerhaven 30 Dec 02 10 Feb 03
Mr Alex Pyne Field leader ARC VUW 30 Dec 02 9 Feb 03
Ms Christina Riesselman PhD student Stanford Uni. 07 Jan 03 10 Feb 03
Ms Natalie Robinson MSc student ARC VUW 07 Jan 03 10 Feb 03
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Application process

At the time of submission of this program for review by Antarctica New Zealand AWI and VUW had committed to sending the AWI hot water drilling equipment to Antarctica by ship in January 2002 and was also awaiting the outcome of PGSF funding. This was a significant risk and a commitment of funds primarily by AWI before the result of the proposal submission was known. The timing of Antarctic logistics, the timing of season proposal system due October 2002 for one season (2002/03) programs did not allow any alternative and would require a one year delay. In future the earlier timing of proposal submission and the longer term (3 year) proposals will hopefully reduce this problem. PGSF funding was approved March-April 2003, the hot water drilling equipment wintered at Scott Base so the program could proceed.

Communications with Antarctica New Zealand staff

This program was one of the larger programs supported by Antarctica NZ in 2002-03 and it was clear that it would require a significant large part of the available surface vehicle resources. These resources and in particular their timing when they were available were a constraint to the field program. Field events such as the Divers working on the sea ice in October-November and the seismic operation (K114) working in the WOLZ before Williams Field opened (October 21) required the same resources. We also considered it to be prudent to under take NZ's first hot water drilling operation during the warmer part of the season to minimise freezing problems based on past experience with other drilling projects. The AWI HWD system is also operated outside without protection from wind and temperature. We proposed to operate in the January – February period when temperatures were still relatively warm but were also conscious of the limited time frame available especially the expectation of minimal aircraft cargo capacity for equipment return to NZ and therefore relying on ship cargo which had to be available early February. Antarctica NZ was aware and understood these constraints and accommodated our program within their resource capability.

A significant planning step was to confirm the position of the proposed HWD sites with the US Airfield authorities. This was done by several emails and a meeting with NYANG and ANT.NZ representatives in Christchurch in mid 2002. Several different groups approved the proposed 2002/2003 seismic lines and HWD sites in the US system. One site was too close to the Williams field cross wind runway but this was only apparent when we had setup our considerable camp. We and Antarctic NZ followed appropriate procedure, got US approval but it is now clear that the system at McMurdo is extremely complex and that the system and process is will have to be clarified for future work such as ANDRILL.

We did have some miscommunication and changes regarding the start timing of our field operation and our flexibility to change this was limited because of international flight travel by our German, Italian and US collaborators. There is a difficulty in planning around the Christmas – New Year period when few flights are planned but more a usually scheduled as the season progresses. Antarctica NZ's effort to get three of us on a NYANG flight was very helpful.

In future this HWD operation probably would be better planned for the warm and settled weather period from mid November to ensure a longer field period is possible without the cargo on timing constraints associated with the end of the season.

Provision of maps and aerial photographs

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Aerial Photographs or maps were not sourced from Antarctica NZ. During our negotiation with NYANG and McMurdo authorities regarding the seismic and HWD operation in the WOLZ it became apparent that a map data base of the McMurdo Station area with the airfields, roads etc. is available and updated by USGS/Raytheon. It would be extremely helpful if Antarctica NZ investigated this and made it available to NZ researchers and also the operating group at Scott Base.

Pre-season information

We were well informed by the Operations Manager and Cargo Operations during most of the planning stages. Our operation was complex and we accept that it is important to able to initiate dialogue and requests with the personnel who are directly providing the service.

Medicals, documentation and flights to Antarctica

International collaborators add an extra dimension to this process. It is important that this is considered and the process this year as in the past of accepting other national programs medicals should continue. This season German and Italian members used their own medial process and hand-carried their medical records to Scott Base to be held by the Operations Manager. Our US member was not supported by the US program and completed NZ requirements. Some of the documentation could be available earlier in the year. The cost of medicals is an increasing concern especially for people visiting Antarctica on a regular basis. At the moment all Laboratory tests must be done again and these seem to be increasing in Number (SARS next?).


Reception and planning for your event

This process was complicated due to the size and complexity of the program. We hired Johno Leitch as camp and program engineer and he was involved in planning and the set up of equipment from mid December for this event prior to the other event members starting on the program and arriving in Antarctica. This position required extensive knowledge of Scott Base, trade skills and field experience. In addition to an engineer salaried to the project the Scott base engineering group provided support including building core processing and sea ice mooring equipment, set up and minor modification to a Cape Roberts project drill site lab container for physical properties measurements on the core. A refuelling operation at the Willies field Road transition was co-ordinated by Scott Base Engineers. The plant operators were available to assist with the movement of the equipment and their contribution was a vital part of the operation.

Field training

Members of our event new to Antarctic with "old" members doing appropriate refresher courses undertook field training. We appreciated the flexibility that Antarctica NZ makes available to "adjust" a course to the event's activity that takes into account existing experience within the event. There is probably still some scope in refining this process to include area specific familiarisation where appropriate i.e. a local McMurdo Area road, routes and procedures.

Field party equipment 'shakedown' journey

This was not undertake primarily because the area of activity was primarily close to Williams field and a semi permanent camp was set up for the field operation. A significant part of the science activity was undertaken at Scott Base in tandem with the field operation.

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Delays at Scott Base, whatever the cause

No significant delays occurred except for a storm on 20-21 January when personnel were at both the camp and Scott Base.

Safety and Risk Management processes

I believe that we operated in a safe way, identified risks, which are increased in any large-scale operation that uses heavy equipment and vehicles. Drilling operations also have specific risks including hot water as well as operation of winches and movement near the ice shelf hole where personnel were in safety harness. Travel procedures for our operation were negotiated and agreed to that were more in line with field procedures than Scott Base procedures. The revised procedures made our operation work and we would have required more resources and personnel on Call from Scott Base if we followed Scott base rules. It was clear that with a field activity operating so close to Scott Base that some differences would be apparent to Scott Base personnel. Perhaps further training should be undertaken by Base personnel to allow more flexible procedures to field activities.

Other comments



Generally all vehicles were in good condition.

Final drive noise in the D6 that developed during the early was an initial concern because without this vehicle this program could not be deployed into the field. This was monitored by the mechanic but was probably getting progressively worse.

The Hagglund and Kassbohrer PB100 allocated K042 were operated without incident. Of concern in the H2 was the lack of a functioning engine pressure gauge and odometer when the vehicles were allocated to the event.

The Kassbohrer PB170 was vital for our operation and was not in good condition. It was serviced back at Scott Base by expert engineers during the field period but returned no better that before. Both the Hiab crane hydraulic hoses and the vehicle hydraulic transmission controllers had problems. The stub axel on the front right was also damages when the wheel fell off driving back to Scott Base. This was temporarily repaired but need further maintenance.

Two Alpine (model 2) and a new Skandic skidoo were allocated to the event. The new skidoo performed faultlessly but it is unstable on rough ground and potentially dangerous if rough ground is encountered at speed. The engine of one of the old Alpine 2 skidoos failed and the vehicle was towed back to Scott Base.

Aircraft Operations

Helicopters was used on two occasions:
  1. Gonville and Caius Range.
  2. New Harbour and Black Island ANDRILL site familiarisation. At New Harbour the Rig Point site used for storing MSSTS drill equipment was located. A small amount of equipment and rubbish still remains and this could be cleaned up within a few hours during the snow free period of the year.
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Ship Operations

Science cargo was prepared for ship cargo return to NZ on 5 February.


Date Main Activities and Location Other Comments
16-30 Dec. Preparing Aalener sledge for Hot Water Drill at Scott Base Johno Leitch
Preparing Camp Containers, CRP DS Lab and equipment at Scott Base Johno Leitch, Scott Base staff.
30 Dec. E. Dunker, U. Nixdorf, A. Pyne; Chch to Scott Base
31Dec.- 4 Jan. Assembly and testing equipment at Scott Base -Willy Rd. transition. Preparing traverse loads Assisted by SB plant ops. (Kim and Gus)
4 Jan. G. Dunbar, D. Mason; Chch to Scott Base
3-5 Jan. Traverse equipment to MISHWD-1 site. Start camp setup.
5 Jan. Move site west along seismic line to HWD-1 site.
6 - 7 Jan. Camp setup, Vehicle licences, started making water with HWD
7 Jan. P. Barrett, L. Carter, G. Giorgetti, F. Niessen, C. Riesselman, N. Robinson; Chch to Scott Base. Melting snow at HWD site 1 for drilling.
8-12 Jan. Drilled HWD-1 hole. Down hole reamer fitting lost and new hole drilled 3 m away
8 Jan. Preparing equipment and laboratory operation at Scott Base.
10 Jan. Sea ice site for Broadband Deployment, site BB2, Kassbohrer drilled hole.
11 Jan. BB2 site, recovered instrument for checking and set up snow box (box brownie) around hole.
14 Jan. HWD-1. Started current meter (S4) and water bottle sampling. Winch motor problems, used skidoo. Multiple water bottle array stuck under ice, recovered at slack water.
15-16 Jan. Winch operating with SB electric motor. 24 hour current profiling and water sampling.
16-17 Jan. Completed current profiling and water sampling. Calliper log of hole and coring and grab of sea floor. Reamed hole for ADCP mooring.
18 Jan. Deployed ADCP mooring. Some personnel return to Scott Base.
19 Jan. Fuelling and camp maintenance. Johno camp caretaking
20-21 Jan. Storm, condition 1-2 on Willy Rd. Some personnel return to HWD-1 camp on 21 Jan. during short weather break.
22 Jan. Dig out and recover ADCP mooring (86 hour duration). Personnel to HWD-1 camp for instrument download.
23 Jan. Start camp pack up and move. HWD-2 site located and camp moved for overnight occupation. Some personnel to Scott Base. Johno and Gus
24 Jan. Set up Hwd-2 campsite. Move remaining equipment form HWD-1 to HWD-2 site.
25 Jan. Preparing HWD equipment, make start-up water and complete camp setup. Personnel to site
26 Jan. Drill HWD-2. Ice thickness approx 144 m.
27 Jan. Reaming hole Visitors from SB
28 Jan. Started 24 current profiling and water sampling
28 Jan. L. Carter return Chch.
29 Jan. Completed water column profiling. Coring and grab sampling of the sea floor Visitors from Crary Lab & McMurdo.page 7
30 Jan. Calliper log and reaming hole. Prepare and deploy ADCP mooring.
31 Jan. Caretaking at site, some personnel return to SB and return to site.
1 Feb. Personnel to site for mooring recovery, recover mooring started at 2300 hrs.
2 Feb. 3.5Khz and further coring of the sea floor. Preparing instruments for return to NZ and transport to Scott Base.
3 Feb. Set up mini HWD on Hagglund sledge for sea ice mooring recovery. Recover sea ice BB ADCP.
4 Feb. Break camp and start return of equipment to the SB transition.
5 Feb Packing for Ship Cargo, returning camp/equipment to SB
5 Feb. P Barrett return Chch.
6 Feb Helicopter recon. To New Harbour and Black Island, proposed ANDRILL sites. (Dunker, Nixdorf & Pyne)
7-9 Feb. Packing up equipment and laboratories at Scott Base.
9 Feb. F. Niessen & A. Pyne return to Chch.
10 Feb. G. Dunbar, E. Dunker, G. Giorgetti, J. Leitch, D. Mason, U. Nixdorf, C. Riesselman & N. Robinson return Chch.
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The weather conditions during the field operation were generally unsettled with intermittent light snow, light winds and overcast conditions for most of the time with only a few clear calm days. These conditions did not affect the drilling operation significantly although some minor overnight glycol mix freezing problems resulted when air temperatures fell below about –15°C as temperatures began cooling at site 2. Poor visibility on occasion did affect and delay transport between Scott base and camp. A storm event on 20-21 Jan. with winds up to 35 knots, heavy snow fall and poor visibility caused some problems which prevented members of the event returning to HWD site 1 camp from Scott Base and delayed the recovery of the mooring. This storm was relatively benign at the McMurdo Ice Shelf site.


A minor amount of equipment was lost during the drilling operations, see environmental section but no other accidents or incidents were reportable during the drilling and field operation. The storm event on 20-21 Jan. was unpredicted and did result in one experienced person remaining at camp caretaking over night and this was longer than anticipated. Event personnel prior to returning to Scott Base had carried out camp maintenance and fuelling operations.

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  • The hot water drilling operation can be wet especially operating in the warm part of the summer season on the ice shelf. Waterproof (but breathable) clothing gloves and footwear are required. The black diamond boots are not completely waterproof (leather-rubber seams) when it is warm and may be too hot. Keeping the liners dry is a constant problem. Our German colleagues used insulated waterproof "cordura" one-piece suits and fur lined calf length leather boots.
  • The field camp primarily consisted of ISO container wannigans.

    CRP Kitchen container on CRP sea ice sledge.

    CRP Drill Site Lab Container connected to the kitchen and used as a mess on CRP sea ice sledge.

    CRP accommodation container on CRP sea ice sledge.

    NZ10 accommodation.

    Camp Haskell Generator and fuel on CRP Aalener sledge.

    Scott Base Dive hut container used as a field laboratory.

    AWI HWD drilling equipment container on CRP sea ice sledge.

    AWI HWD on Aalener sledge.

    CRP sea ice bridge sledge.

    Two – three polar tents were also used for sleeping.

  • FOOD supplies. This event was required to support up to 12 people intermittently at camp. The camp included the Cape Roberts Project kitchen container with a new large semi professional/domestic gas stove fitted. Bulk food was drawn from the field store system in addition to a smaller quantity of food from the Scott Base kitchen supply. Food boxes were only used for emergency backup.

    The current field food allocation system does not cater for medium to large field parties (over 5 people) very well especially when operating from wannigans and semi permanent field camps. The type of bulk food supplies required is much closer to that used at Scott Base especially if bulk food is continued to be purchased in forms that are smaller packages or can be readily separated into smaller quantities e.g. free flow frozen portions.


  • VHF communications were only required during this program and the local Scott base repeater was used. Both hand held and vehicle VHF radios were used. Some of the vehicle VHF radios were older models and we found that the channel availability and numbering was not consistent with current Ant.NZ allocations as noted in the field manual. This was particularly frustrating when trying to call Williams airfield tower in H2 and PB 170 to obtain permission to cross the approach to runways. The radios were reprogrammed at Scott Base when we realised the problem but this does highlight that a process should be in place to check all vehicle radios early in the season to make them consistent.
  • Scott Base radio communications .was generally very good and we received good service and support. We had some difficulty maintaining our radio schedule timing because of the drilling and science operations that could not be stopped. We tried to maintain a listing watch with a personnel hand held while drilling but sometimes the noise of the operations affected our ability page 10 to pick up calls. At times we had some confusion understanding if we were communicating with Scott Base or an individual (comms. operator).

    We were required to note how many personnel were over-nighting at camp every evening radio schedule. The timing for this (2000 hrs) was often difficult because our workday was still uncompleted at this time. This was improved when the night comms. Operator took responsibility for this.


Facility Use
Hatherton Geoscience Laboratory Offices, email,
Q-Hut Laboratory benches
Scott Base Wet Laboratory Scott Base Summer Laboratory Equipment preparation, oceanographic instrument programming, microscope work
CRP Drill Site Lab Core physical properties measurements. (Frank Niessen AWI)
  • Microscope (Petrographic polarising and stereoscopic), oceanographic equipment and core physical properties measurement equipment were specifically sent to Scott Base for this programs.
  • Other comments


  • Suitability and effectiveness of computer network
  • Quality, suitability and performance of public computers


*Sites Visited

Site name McMurdo Ice Shelf HWD-1
Site location (coordinates/description) 77 53.308′S 167 05.067′E
Dates occupied 3 - 23 Jan. 2003
Total days (or hours) at site 20 Days
Maximum number of people at site 15
Total person-days (or person-hours) at site (see SB Ops report for person nights)
Main activity undertaken Hot Water drilling, sub ice oceanography and sea floor sampling

*Sites Visited

Site name McMurdo Ice Shelf HWD-1
Site location (coordinates/description) 77 5.111′S 167 20.209′E
Dates occupied 23 Jan. - 5 Feb. 2003
Total days (or hours) at site 13 days
Maximum number of people at site 15
Total person-days (or person-hours) at site (see SB Ops report for person nights)page 11
Main activity undertaken Hot Water drilling, sub ice oceanography and sea floor sampling

*Sites Visited

Site name Sea ice BB site
Site location (coordinates/description) 77 5.111′S 167 20.209′E (approx 4.5 km south of Scott Base)
Dates occupied Instrument: 10 Jan.-3 Feb. 2003
Total days (or hours) at site Instrument deployment: 23 days
Maximum number of people at site 6
Total person-days (or person-hours) at site Approx. 300 hours
Main activity undertaken Hot Water drilling, sub ice oceanography and sea floor sampling

*Sites Visited

Site name Gonville and Caius Range
Site location (coordinates/description)
Dates occupied
Total days (or hours) at site
Maximum number of people at site
Total person-days (or person-hours) at site
Main activity undertaken Geological sampling

*Sites Visited

Site name New Harbour (Rig Point)
Site location (coordinates/description) 77 32.686′S 163 42.241′E
Dates occupied
Total days (or hours) at site 1 hour
Maximum number of people at site 4
Total person-days (or person-hours) at site
Main activity undertaken Locate for possible ANDRILL land storage site.

*Geological Material

Location 77 53.308′S 167 05.067′E
Specimen type Sea floor sediments
Quantity (kg) 30 kg max.

*Geological Material

Location 77 5.111′S 167 20.209′E
Specimen type Sea floor sediments
Quantity (kg) 30 kg max.

*Geological Material

Location Gonville and Caius Range
Specimen type Beacon rock samples
Quantity (kg) ?
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Chemical form Propylene Glycol (food grade)
Quantity used Approx 300 litres, mixed with fresh water.
Location of use Two Hot Water drill sites
Storage/release details of unused chemicals Used antifreeze mix was returned to Scott Base for ultimate return and disposal in NZ. Minor quantity of mix was lost down hole.


Chemical form Glutaraldehyde.
Quantity used 50 mg
Location of use Camp Lab
Storage/release details of unused chemicals All contaminated sea water filtration liquids (20 litres) were returned to Scott Base and returned to NZ


Chemical form Mercuric Chloride solution. (HgCl)
Quantity used 10 ml
Location of use Camp Lab
Storage/release details of unused chemicals No release of chemical. Unused solution returned to Scott base and NZ for disposal.

Equipment installed/left in field

Type of equipment Drilling equipment lost down hole or buried in 2 m deep snow pit.
Location of installation left in field 77 53.308′S 167 05.067′E in moving McMurdo ice Shelf.
Size of items left in field Plywood sheet 1.2 m × 1.2 m, Plastic deflector 0.45 m diameter
Number of items left in field 2
Date of intended retrieval Not retrievable

*Other environmental impacts

Minor loss of food grade glycol fresh water mixture

*Differences from original Preliminary Environmental Evaluation (PEE)

Approval for use of food grade glycol and burying of human wastes as part of revised PEE process.