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California Scientist-Ham On the Air from Antarctica's McMurdo Station, Ross Ice Shelf


Ham radio is not the primary reason Ron Flick, K6REF, is in Antarctica, but it’s proving to be an enjoyable diversion to his scientific activities at McMurdo Station and the Ross Ice Shelf. He’s put a few hundred contacts in the log since arriving late last month from California. Flick, an oceanographer with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Division of Boating and Waterways, and colleagues are conducting ice vibration studies on the Ross Ice Shelf for Scripps Institution of Oceanography. McMurdo is home to KC4USV, but Flick’s initial experience at the station — once he was able to locate the key to unlock the door — was less than optimal.

“The view is spectacular!” he enthused. “After I plugged the radio into power and the Yagi, I was able to hear a few stations on the lower end of 20, but was not able to contact anyone. The Yagi is fixed in an east-west orientation.”

Flick subsequently learned that the Antarctic winds had shifted the Yagi’s orientation. He’d been using 14.243 MHz — the “usual” KC4USV frequency — and 14.290 MHz, which he called “my personal favorite.” He was also using 21.260 MHz, generally getting on the air around 2200 UTC for a few hours, depending upon his work schedule.

“[C]onditions here are rough for old men like me,” he said, “and the training and equipment assembly for our project is a big job.”

According to the Scripps Institution, Amateur Radio operations are part of the outreach and education efforts of the “Dynamic Response of the Ross Ice Shelf to Wave-Induced Vibrations” expedition.

Starting this week, Flick will be on the air from Yesterday Camp near the International Date Line, running 100 W to dipole antennas, as time and conditions permit. He hopes to be on the air for a few hours during the Antarctic afternoon and evening, starting at about 0300 UTC.

A member of the Star of India Amateur Radio Club at the San Diego Maritime Museum, Flick reported that upon his arrival October 31, he was greeted with a “balmy 14° F” temperature, as summer weather approaches the South Pole.

Some computer-related wiring was underway in the ham shack this week, which, Flick said, was a good thing, since it will provide Internet service to the KC4USV operators. The downside was the work inhibited his ability to get on the air.

“Antarctica is full of rules and procedures, by and large designed to keep everybody safe and warm, or at least alive,” he quipped.

He had been planning to be on the air as much as possible before heading out onto the ice on November 11, and he is hoping to maintain “a similar routine” from the Ross Ice Shelf while camped out there until December 5, sans Internet, and operating as KC4/K6REF. “But we will have satellite phones, so I can call Bob, KK4KT, and he can forward alerts,” he said.

Flick anticipates “primitive” conditions at Yesterday Camp. “I would greatly appreciate it if you can act as relays to make phone contact with my wife, Myra, and other expedition team members to pass on how we are doing while we are on the ice shelf,” he implored the Amateur Radio community. “As far as we know, no humans have ever been where we're going to be camped!”

The US Antarctic Program has a webcam at McMurdo Station. — Thanks to Joe Garza, AB6RM




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