Plans A through Z cancelled; on to a whole new alphabet

This has been a busy, shocking afternoon, as our existing plans for this season were completely tossed out and new, leaner plans are being built on the foundations.

It all started about 1:30 this afternoon when I saw a friend in the Crary lab that shouldn’t be there- it was someone from one of the other science parties operating out of Shackleton this year, and I had thought they were on the plane that flew to Shackleton this morning.  Turns out their field season, the whole thing,  has been cancelled, as had the field season of another Shackleton group.  As I listened to his story the NSF rep approached me and asked for a moment of my time.   That’s an “oh-oh” moment for sure.

What she told me was that the LC-130 schedule was a mess, and as a result Shackleton was a mess, with only a minor percentage of the flights it needed to operate and a similar inadequate supply of fuel for airplanes.  She went on to say that we’d just barely snuck over the cancellation bar- had they not known of our legendary flexibility, our field season would have been another victim of cuts. As it stood the only way our field season could survive was either to massively cut back our Shackleton plans or completely give them up and work somewhere reachable from McMurdo.

I volunteered to come up with a prioritized list of alternative plans, and we agreed to try meeting again at 3:30 or so.   I quickly went hunting for John, Jim and Brian.

The four of us met at 2:30 and brainstormed.   We pretty quickly came up with our list,  ruthlessly questioning each other on the details so that we not only had concensus but also had solid reasons for everything cut or kept.  Armed with a few notes I went looking for the NSF rep only to be told they were looking for me- and within a few minutes Jim and I were in one of McMurdo’s biggest meeting rooms.

I won’t go into the details of the meeting since the results are not yet in.  I will say it felt constructive, open and I think our suggestions were well-received- there were a lot more smiles and expressions of relief than headshakes. While one alternative plan seemed pretty clearly the best,  final decisions have not yet been made-  we’ll meet again tomorrow.   But the following changes are either very likely or already happened……

  • We are almost certainly not deploying to the Shackleton region again this season- there’s just not enough LC-130 support to get us there,  nor is there enough fuel there now or in the next few weeks to support our work.
  • We are cutting back on the field team.   Duck and I,  who were only going out in the field for 10-14 days anyway,  are giving up and heading toward home.  Meanwhile Brian and Lindsay,  who were due to fly to McMurdo tomorrow,  are being turned around and also heading home.  Wherever this season takes us,  it will be a field team of 6 rather than 8.
  • We would much rather have a decision quickly than wait two weeks and hope options improve.  So we will push for a resolution in the next day or two at most.

ANSMET is lucky in that we have lots of good targets for meteorite recovery across the Transantarctic mountains, so coming up with new plans is relatively easy for us,  and we’re in the habit of having alternate plans in our pocket ready-to-go. We are also lucky that the community trusts us to be flexible, so much so that we’ve been given a chance to design our own cutbacks rather than have them imposed upon us. The latter might have seen our field season eliminated entirely.

More on this tomorrow.  Now it’s time for a trip to the coffee house.  Lamentably,  Monday night is “dry” in McMurdo.

Posted by rph from McMurdo.