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Oceanography Major goes to the South Pole as part of Operation DEEP FREEZE

  POSTED ON: Friday, January 18, 2019 1:07 PM by MIDN 2/C T. R. Sheehy, CDR Shawn Gallaher, Alexander R. Davies

During the U. S. Naval Academy’s (USNA) winter break, Midshipman 2/C T.R. Sheehy, an oceanography major, had the opportunity to visit McMurdo Station, Antarctica as part of Operation DEEP FREEZE.  Operation DEEP FREEZE is a National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative that invites students from the various Service Academies each winter to experience life on the Antarctic continent.  MIDN Sheehy spent a total of 15 days on the ice, observing military, logistical, and scientific operations.

Transportation was provided by the 109th New York Air National Guard responsible for moving researchers, support personnel, and students to McMurdo Station from Christchurch, New Zealand.  Flying the ski-equipped LC-130H (pictured below), the 109th lands on ice airfields at McMurdo and the surrounding remote field camps.  The unit supports the Antarctic missions during the austral summer as well as scientific operations in Greenland during the other half of the year.

109th New York Air National Guard LC-130H on the ice airfield at the South Pole.

Accompanied by cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Military Academy, MIDN Sheehy observed and participated in the duties required to support scientific research in such a harsh and desolate environment.  “From wastewater treatment, to trash collection, to firefighting, we toured many of the departments which are critical to scientific operations as well as daily life,” said MIDN Sheehy.

A major highlight was a three-hour trip to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.  “Being at the bottom of the world was pretty surreal.  I could never have imagined being at the Pole.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will treasure,” said, 2/C MIDN Sheehy.  The temperature on the day MIDN Sheehy visited the Pole (pictured below) was -10°C with a wind chill of -30°C.

MIDN Sheehy at South Pole

As a 2nd year oceanography major, MIDN Sheehy has taken several courses on atmospheric science, polar science, and climate-related topics.  In McMurdo, MIDN Sheehy received several lectures on cutting edge research projects currently taking place on the continent, such as the Icesat-2 satellite program and the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.  “Learning about the various large scale projects to determine ice level changes showed the importance of the work occurring all over the continent,” he said.  “The scientists we interacted with are some of the world leaders in their respective fields.”

Other scientific exposure included conversations about antifreeze proteins in fish who inhabit the waters near McMurdo, a lecture on movement of West Antarctic glaciers, a visit to the light detection and ranging facility, and a trip to the long-duration balloon station.  These balloons carry specialized payloads into orbit and serve as a more economical option to conventional rocket launched satellites.  “Being able to see a payload that will be in space in just a few days was truly amazing,” he said.  “Meeting the scientists and researchers behind the project was the best way to understand the importance of their work.  It is cool enough to read about advancements in space technology, but to see it first-hand was a unique experience.”

The internship allowed  MIDN Sheehy to directly apply classroom lessons to the real world.  The McMurdo weather station is responsible for launching twice-daily weather balloons (see picture below of MIDN Sheehy launching a radiosonde balloon). These balloons transmit critical weather information and provide pilots with the necessary parameters to determine safe flight. “Having worked with weather balloon soundings almost daily for an entire semester, it was special to launch one of my own,” he said.  "I got to see the data collection in real time and could interpret the results due to my previous meteorology courses.”

2/C Sheehy launching a radiosonde balloon from McMurdo Station.

When not interacting with scientists or support staff, Sheehy was able to make the most of unique Antarctica specific activities. One of these was a tour of Scott’s hut, a fully preserved shelter from the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910 led by Robert Falcon Scott.  Due to the extreme cold, the hut is fully preserved since its usage some 100 years ago.  Other activities included trips to Scott’s Base, the New Zealand research base located down the road from McMurdo, as well as several hikes around the area.

After 15 days on the ice, MIDN Sheehy returned to Christchurch, NZ before heading back to Annapolis, MD.  MIDN Sheehy plans to continue his studies of polar oceanography, eventually working towards a capstone research project within the discipline.  He expects to use experiences and connections made on the ice to further his education and understanding of the complex polar regions.  MIDN Sheehy concluded the experience by saying, “I am incredibly grateful to the National Science Foundation, the 109th, the Naval Academy, and the entire oceanography department for their support.”

Category: Research, Press Releases, Academics, People, General Interest

Press Contact

Alexander R. Davies
Oceanography Department, USNA