Out of the Frying Pan…

11 11 2009

After yesterday’s successes, we wanted to do a longer mission with ENDURANCE and start getting experience sending it to some of the areas not sampled last year. This meant we had to attach the new fiber optic tether, which is 2 km long as compared to the 1 km of the old tether. So Bill and Vickie spent the morning taking the fiber off its reel and flaking it into a large box. This permits Rachel, our tether-tender extraordinaire, to pay out and retrieve the tether without twisting the fiber, as it would do if it were attached and on a reel.

Bill and Vickie Flaking

Bill and Vickie flaking out our 2 km fiber optic line from its reel so we can use it for the mission today.

We headed out with our nice new fiber, and started performing sonde drops. Suddenly, Chris said “Umm… I think we’ve lost comms.” ENDURANCE was right in the middle of one of the profiles, with the sonde spooled out almost all the way down. We tried a few things to try to re-establish communications, including testing out everything in the ‘bothouse to make sure the problem was not in there. But nothing worked.
What was worse it that we noticed that the “deadman” process, which is supposed to monitor for communication losses and bring ENDURANCE home if they drop out for too long, had recently died (for as yet undetermined reasons). We hadn’t noticed this, and haven’t yet gotten our audible warning system set up to alert us if the deadman fails.
So now we had ENDURANCE about 400 m from the melthole, not responding, with the sonde spooled out about 25 m, and it was not going to come home by itself. Our first guess was that there was a problem with the new 2 km fiber, but it could also have been a battery problem or problem with other part of the network. Luckily, ENDURANCE was ice picking, i.e. sitting on the underside of the ice and not actively trying to control its position, so we could try to pull it back using the fiber optic tether, just like we did the last time we lost comms. This time it took about 2 hours.
Chris and Shilpa Pulling ENDURANCE

Chris and Shilpa pulling ENDURANCE back to the melthole using the tether.

When ENDURANCE got back to the melthole, we tried disconnecting the new fiber, almost sure that we’d be able to talk to it again. However, no dice. The problem was not with the new fiber, but somewhere else. Hmm… and the sonde was still spooled out, so we couldn’t pull ENDURANCE all the way out.
Luckily, there is another port on the spooler where it can be controlled from. Vickie harnessed up and reached out under the ‘bot to plug in to the port, while Chris stood by on the laptop to see if he could connect.
Looking at Payed Out Sonde

Vickie and Bart looking at the profiler spooler while Chris attempts to connect with it in the background. The green line going in to the melthole is holding the drope sonde.

Success! We managed to bring the sonde up and get ENDURANCE back on its stand in the ‘bothouse. We have a few good ideas as to what’s wrong, but we’ll go back tomorrow and figure it out exactly.




12 responses

12 11 2009

Too bad! Good luck tomorrow.

12 11 2009
Maria Richmond

also good luck from me. To have it from your wife and your mother means that NOTHING will go wrong! 🙂

14 11 2009
Maria Richmond

we talked with Ayca tonight and she informed us that the reason we haven’t heard from you via your blog is that you don’t have internet connection. Good to hear that otherwise all is well.

15 11 2009
Beth Steger (Emma's Mom)

I liked the term” tether- tender extraordinaire” Can Rachel say “tether tender” ten times in a speedy fashion? You all are working so hard! Keep it up!

17 11 2009
Maria Richmond

I am missing reading your blog every night!!

17 11 2009

Congratulations on your recent success with the fascinating pictures from the sonde drops!

Good luck for tomorrow!

18 11 2009
Maria Richmond

Heath, it sounds like you have had some recent info from Kristof or the others of the team. Have you? The last we, his mom, dad and wife, haven’t heard from him since 11/13. We are wondering what is going on and are getting a little worried since we were used to reading an entry into his blog by him, every day.

18 11 2009
Maria Richmond

oops, I just noticed that I made some mistakes.
The third sentence should read: The last we, his mom, dad and wife, have heard from him was on 11/13.

18 11 2009

Hi Maria,

I wrote my comments not realising that the blog posts were a number of days old. I am very glad to read Ayca’s news that things are actually ok down there at Taylor Glacier!! I was worried today when I realised that you guys had not heard news for a few days.

Best wishes,


20 11 2009
Maria Richmond

thanks, Heath.
Maria, Kristof’s mom

22 11 2009
Beth Steger (Emma's Mom)

Very, very neat to see the sonar pics of under Taylor Glacier! Thanks to the hero who went up to post 1882 and fixed the internet. This Mom sleep well knowing
contact is available. Beth

31 01 2010
Bob Lippold

Hey Emma. Since I don’t have your email address, I responding this way. I just finished reading it all- an incredible experience you’ve had. I’m very impressed with your spirit and enthusiasm in Antarctica and at the Shedd. I’ll look forward to seeing you again at the Shedd and maybe hear more about your amazing adventure.


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