KC4/WB9YSD Antarctic DXpedition at WAIS Divide

Hello, I'm Steve Polishinski, WB9YSD, and I work at the University of Wisconsin,
Madison, Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC).Picture of me by McMurdo Station Sign  This year (2010) and last year I was fortunate enough to get a chance to go to Antarctica with the ice core drilling equipment I've been working on and shipping off to the ice for the past several years.  You can read a summary and see some pictures of the equipment on the SSEC DISC Drill web page.

I hope to be able update this web page from Antarctica, so it is very simple.  The Internet connection is slow (38 KBaud) via GOES 3 and is only present for about 4 hours a day. It is also shared with about three dozen other people.  Last year I was only able to get this web page updated by sending email to my wife Barbara, N9JAR.  This year, I configured my server to update this web page automagically using only email.

This web page caters to family, Amateur Radio (Ham) operators, friends, and students, so please understand as I try to address all audience levels at once. 

WAIS Divide Site

The site where we are drilling at is on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, or WAIS for short.  It is pronounced like "waist" without the "t." It is located at longitude 112.085 W and latitude 79.467 S.  The WAIS Divide Wikipedia page gives more details and explains why this site was selected for our drilling.

The purpose of drilling ice cores at WAIS is to study the earth's past climate records going back nearly 100,000 years.  In very elementary terms, the ice cores contain layers, trapped gases, and trace elements which very accurately reveal the past climate.  IANACS (I am not a climate scientist), so please visit the web site at University of New Hampshire for more details.

The Antarctic Sun is a wonderful daily site to watch for all things happening with the US Antarctic Program.


It is impossible for me to go to Antarctica without taking my Amateur Radio equipment!  In theory, I have about an hour a day for ham radio, if I'm lucky.  That doesn't mean I'll be on the ham radio everyday.   Emailing home,  washing clothes,  or shoveling about my tent all take up my "free" time.  The work week on the ice is 54 hours long; 9 hour days, 6 days a week.  We get off on Sunday, though we are expected to do some light work cleaning or maintaining equipment.

Ham Radio has a long tradition in Antarctica.  Here is Charles Bentley, our PI operating a Ham station in the late 1950's.  He is visited WAIS in 2009!  Before satellites, Ham Radio and phone patches were the only way people could communicate back home to family.  Today we have satellite cell phones.

My radio is an  ICOM IC-7000 with an IT-100 auto antenna tuner.  A Dentron Jr. Monitor (manual) antenna tuner is my backup.

My ham shack at WAIS is my tent!   Power is from two 12 Volt, 17 Amp/Hr gel cell batteries.  Though we have 120VAC electric and heated tent "buildings" at WAIS, the practical aspect of trying to operate from these "buildings" is a 20 over S9 noise level!  My tent has an incredibly LOW noise floor for reception.  It is not uncommon for me to comfortably be able to receive state-side 40 meter SSB round tables.  No signal level on the meter, even with the pre-amp on, but 100% copy.  The other issue with operation in the "buildings" is simply antenna placement.  There isn't a good place to put an antenna near these buildings, as snow removal equipment requires 360 access.  The power lines are on over head poles.

My antenna is an 80 meter dipole fed with ~ 95 feet of 450 ohm ladder line.  A 4:1 balun and 3 foot piece of coax completes the path to the IT-100 tuner.   For antenna supports, bamboo flag poles keep the antenna off and out of the snow.    Sitting on top of an ice sheet is almost like being on top of a tower to begin with, as earth ground doesn't exist.  Ice is an electrical dielectric, so any "Ground" my antennas will see would be a 1/4 wavelength counter poise wire.   So far, I haven't noticed "RF" in the shack, so I have no counter poise yet.   Getting the antenna wire several feet above the ice & snow simply avoids issues with having to dig up the antenna at the end of the season.  The snow here packs like very hard brown sugar!  The wire cannot be left since that would violate international treaties about leaving the environment in Antarctica as you found it.  There's also some detuning effects as the snow drifts in about the wire that go away when mounted only a few feet above the snow, but that wouldn't matter this year with my auto antenna tuner.  The ice will effect the angle of radiation of the antenna negatively, as I believe it will raise it which is not desirable for working off the continent.

My Ham Radio Schedule

Subject to change, my work schedule is 7:00 AM to 3:30 PM, or 18:00 Z to 2:30 Z, Monday through Saturday.  The US Antarctic Program operates on NZ time (Christchurch).   The weird polar propagation also effects my time of operation as well.  In 2009, and so far this year, it seems the best propagation occurs when the grey-line gets closest to me.  Again, following last year, 40 meters is the best band to use.  20 meters is very much in second place as a viable band.  Remember, WAIS has 24 hour sun light.  So 80 meters has too much D-layer to penetrate just to get off the continent. 

PLEASE DO NOT ASK FOR A SKED -- all requests will be ignored.  Emails to my ARRL address will NOT be checked from the ice!  Ham radio is NOT my primary mission, it is a hobby.  I'll operate as I can.  No promises.

At McMurdo, Nov 20th to Dec 2nd, I operated KC4USV.  I was on during the CQ WW CW contest and made a whole whopping 85 contacts.  This was while using a TH-7 beam antenna and about 700 watts from an amp.  Called CQ for hours. 

Remaining Calendar Schedule for 2010 Season
Again, schedules in Antarctica are always subject to change. 

    * Arrived WAIS Divide Dec 02 -- TWO WEEKS LATE, and flight delayed over 6 hours!
    * Dec 19th - KC4/WB9YSD active at WAIS
    * ... future guesses
    * Jan 24th, 2011 - KC4/WB9YSD last day of operation??
    * Jan 26th, 2011 Arrive McMurdo, possible KC4USV operation
    * Arrive Christchurch, New Zealand, Jan 29, 2011

Pictures and Stuff

2010-2011 Pictures are being posted here without captions, however I'll try to be adding pages with captions here from WAIS.  All of the 2009-2010 pictures (those pictures not in the "2010" directory) are reachable with the link just given, but if you use the links below, you'll see the same pictures with captions.

.... Everything below this point is from 2009-2010 season, but mostly applies to 2010-2011 as well.....

Here's some "sights" of McMurdo Station.

Here's pictures of  KC4USV, the ham station at McMurdo.

(From 2009) We are FINALLY getting some of our people into WAIS!  Today the first crew left for there.  I'm waiting until probably Monday, the 30th, but who knows!

 Jan 2nd, 2010, Saturday from WAIS (last season).

Well, I've been at WAIS for near a month.  Internet is very poor, with email about all I can count on. Getting this web site updated meant sending pictures out with people leaving WAIS.

I've managed to get my ham station up and running with a 40 and 20 meter dipole FROM MY TENT WITH BATTERY POWER.   Operation from the a building at WAIS was tried, but quickly determined to be very difficult.  First, there's no place to put my antenna about any of the heated buildings, as for the most part 360 access for heavy machinery about all the buildings is required.   The batteries came from 3 computer UPSs that one of the professors used down here last year.  The UPSs were used for a few months, then stored in heated facilities in McMurdo.  He had the battteries replaced because it was unclear if they'd be good.  They are fine.  So I have SIX 7 Ampere hour batteries that I've been running in pairs.  After using one pair for a day or two, I bring it in to be charged.  My "solar oven" tent keeps temps above about 20F, and during the warmest part of the day it can reach into the 50s,
mostly keeping the batteries in OK shape.   So far, my contact total is at a screaming 10 or so.  KC4/WB9YSD?  That must be someone from Florida. 

Here a bunch of pictures with captions detailing what we've been doing for the last month at McMurdo and then WAIS Divide.

A hike about McMurdo.

My flight to WAIS, and some other ski plane flights into and out of WAIS.

Here we are getting ready to drill.

The first ice core this season.

My tent.  (Sorry, this was before I got the ham radio setup there so no pictures of it yet.)

A bunch of pictures describing the DISC Drill.

People I'm working with at WAIS.

The Ram Drill, which deployed out of WAIS.