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Glider Piloting with Jen: The Things We Do for Science…

December 31, 2019

The gliders haven’t even splashed down in Antarctica yet, and already our field season is off to a rough start.


Our lab is in La Jolla, California, right next to San Diego. Antarctica is on the bottom of the world, about 9,000 miles away. Every September, we transport the gliders via cargo ship from California to Punta Arenas, Chile, at the southern tip of South America. The trip takes almost two months. In early November, our glider team flew to Punta Arenas to make sure the gliders survived the trip with no damage, and to load the research vessel that would take them to Antarctica.

Except the gliders weren’t there.

Because of logistical challenges beyond our control, the gliders sat at a port in northern Chile for several weeks longer than they were supposed to. They were finally supposed to arrive in Punta Arenas on November 5. We got there on November 3 and prepared to get to work.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited.


Glider path mapped from San Diego to Antarctica. Credit: NOAA. 

In the meantime, we gave the okay for the ship we had planned to sail on to depart for its scheduled research cruise without us. That left us to figure out how to deploy the gliders. We decided that my co-pilot and I would stay in Punta Arenas and wait for the gliders, then scheduled to arrive on November 11. We would inspect them and prepare everything to load on the ship when it was back in port. The other two members of our team would return to La Jolla. They would fly back to Punta Arenas just after Thanksgiving in time to sail on the next scheduled research cruise in early December.

It takes 24 hours to fly between San Diego and Punta Arenas. My coworkers made that trip three times in November! They’ll still have to fly back from Punta Arenas at the end of December when the cruise they’re currently on is over and the gliders are finally deployed. My co-pilot and I spent two weeks in Chile, which was over a week longer than we thought we’d be there.

Next time I go to Chile, I’ll pack extra socks. Just in case.

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