Finished Work in Chignik

Note: Field reports have gotten delayed due to the intensive pace of work, and the difficulty in getting bytes to move out of the remote field locations. Even just getting photos from device to device has to happen the old-fashioned way – iCloud photo sharing will get my photos in sync in about a month, or within an hour of me getting to Anchorage, whichever comes first. Multiple posts this weekend will get us caught up.

August 19, Chignik. We finished all the planned work in Chignik ahead of schedule! We deployed 4 temporary continuous GPS sites to run for the next year, plus a seismometer on Chowiet Island. We picked up all 7 campaign GPS sites, and deployed two additional ones between Chignik and Sand Point, which we will pick up later from Sand Point. Everything went faster than we expected, and we had no delays – the team was working at very close to maximum efficiency. This came down to a combination of good weather, good preparation, and good decisions.

The weather was great. With helicopter operations, weather defines what you can and cannot do, and we were very lucky. Our first and third days had high overcast, but we only had one landing where the clouds were down at the level of the site (and that one also had strong winds, so it was a difficult landing). The middle day was clear and sunny with no more than gentle breezes.

Before heading out to the field, we prepared everything we could to minimize the amount of assembly needed on site. We also had spares of everything, so if anything did not work we always had a replacement piece ready. Those were needed twice: once for a GPS receiver that mis-behaved, and once for the iPod that controlled the seismometer setup. One of our iPods seemed to be stuck in a demo mode, but between switching iPods and rebooting the datalogger, everything got back to normal.

Thanks to that amazing preparation, Jim Normandeau and Sarah Doelger from UNAVCO were able to install each of the temporary continuous sites in 1.5-2 hours. Each site has a polar mast monument, and a large box with 10 single-use air alkaline batteries to run it for a year. There is no rechargeable power, but if we can get funding we will add that and Iridium telemetry next year and bring these sites online daily. Jim and I have worked out a design for that, and we think we’ll be able to do that with a single helicopter trip to each site next year given what is already out there.

Our helicopter team is pilot Pete Emerson and mechanic Mike Nowak from JL Aviation. Mike is a pilot as well as a mechanic, and he has been doing the ground crew work, flight following, and weather checking. In addition to first-rate flying from Pete, we have always known to the minute where the helicopter was and how fast things were going. With that info and up-to-date weather forecasts, we have been able to plan out the most efficient route every day. We used up all of the flying time available every day, and that plus our team’s hard work paid off in getting this first phase done one day ahead of schedule, plus not needing to use our contingency weather day.

All of that is really good, because the weather forecast for the weekend is not so rosy. At the moment, Saturday is expected to be “complete dog chow”, in official aviation parlance. Translated to English, that means rain, wind, low clouds and minimal visibility. So we are unlikely to maintain our maximum efficiency, but we can hope to get the maximum that the weather allows.

Finally, I want to thank John and Mary Ann Rantz from Chignik Bay Adventures. We stayed in their wonderful lodge in Chignik, rented their suburban, and they were so helpful with excellent lodging, wonderful food, letting us use work space in their garage, and even storing the pinkish-purple seismic sensor shipping case for us until next summer. John also coordinated getting the helicopter fuel out to the airport, and helped us navigate some of the quirks of getting in and out via the air services that fly out there.

Jeff Freymueller, Michigan State University

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