Trek to Barcroft, May 28, 2010:

Winter storm sweeps away Barcoft solar panels.

The heavy snows and delayed spring snowmelt in 2010 prevented WMRS staff from reaching Barcroft in winter/spring 2010. We knew via remote monitoring that the main power sytem had shut down, but we didn't know why. Getting up to Crooked Creek has been delayed by large snow drifts, and once the way was open the snow was too soft for easy passage. Finally, on May 28, WMRS Associate Director John Smiley was able to drive the snow cat to the base of Sheep Pass; close enough to enable a 4-hour hike up to the station.

Our "old friend" Campito the wild horse was feeding in Big Prospector meadow. We don't know how old he is, but he has lived alone up in the White Mts. for over 10 years.

Winter conditions still prevail above 11,000' elevation. Nothing green was seen. A huge drifts completely blocks the road above the Barcroft gate and in other places the drifts are still very deep, probably 10 feet or more.

Historic snow gauge near lamb camp. The trekking poles leaning against snow gauge are 52 1/2" (133 cm) tall. Thus, the bottom of the first "step" is 4' (48"=122cm). The upper steps are added in 2' (24"=61cm) increments.

The well-generator shed was relatively snow-free.

Approaching Barcroft from the south. The new astro-dome hides much of the main (Pace lab) building. click on photo to enlarge.

The snow drifts around the buildings in unexpected ways which turn out to be predictable for the site conditions.

The astro-lab door on the lee side is deeply buried, but wind scour keeps the rest of the buildings nearly snow-free.

One look at the Pace lab roof revealed the extent of the exterior damage. Unfortunately a total prolonged loss of solar power was not planned for (as opposed to a partial loss), causing damage to the battery system

The "tiki bar" is realtively scoured out, but look at the height of the adjacent drifts - about 10' deep! The 6 1000-gallon propane tanks are completely buried under this drift.

The sheep pens have 2-3' of snow in them, covering most of the pen fencing. click on photo to enlarge.

The site where the atrophysics team will be installing solar panels looks relatively snow-free. The upright steel posts will each support a frame with panels.

The astrophysics lab battery container was also snow-free. The battery bank, shut down for the winter, seemed in good shape, though a little low on water. It produced a voltage of 48.6 volts.

The rooftop mounting system did not fail completely, as shown by the roof center mounting pipe and the 9 panels which remain in place. The other 60 panels have come down.

However, the ring bolts and turnbuckles dis not fare so well. Once the snow clears and road is open we will know better how the mountings failed.

Although we don't know the exact time of failure, we know that 70 mile per hour winds were recorded March 13 at the nearby weather station, 10 mph fasrter than any we have recorded before. Windspeeds up on the Pace lab roof may well be much higher than those recorded at the weather station, only 3m above the ground.

In addition to powering the inverter system for remote monitoring and other winter operations, the battery bank was connected to some small constant loads such as low-wattage heaters and emergency communications systems, totalling about 120 watts. A partial failure of the solar panels would have resulted in an automatic shutdown of the inverter loads, but loss of all solar power meant that the small constant loads could drain the batteries completely, allowing the plates to become sulfated and the water to frreze. We don't know yet if freezing occurred inside the insualted box, but complete sulfation seems likely.

After analyzing the event and consulting with our alternative energy partners, we hope to replace the damaged equipment as soon as possible. We have come to rely on this solar generation system, enabling us to get by with one portable diesel generator as power backup, rather than running full time on two generators. Our station users have come to expect clean, reliable electric power. Also, to date this system has replaced hundreds of tons of CO2 which would have otherwise gone into the atmosphere. See WMEP web site for more information on the Barcroft Power System.