Thursday, 26 February 2009

afterwords 1

Finally, our return journey to Brussels went smoothly. On Sunday morning, after the storm, the weather was quiet, with a broken sky full off very interesting clouds and a lot of sun. The weather forecasts were favorable for flying, so that we only had to wait for the Russians’ flight planning. Soon we were informed that we would fly to Novo today, to continue directly to Cape Town with the awaiting Ilyushin. Our only question was: when exactly? Several groups in different stations (Troll, Neumayer…) had been blocked by the storm. All of them needed to be picked up and flown to Novo today. For us it would probably be sometime in the afternoon. So we had time again. Together with Irina, I took down her Ceilometer (which measures the cloud height) from the roof of one of the scientific containers. It had perfectly survived the storm, but it was nevertheless filled with snow. As there will be no power during winter, we had to put all our instruments back into their boxes for storage. A definite sign that the end of our stay had come. I benefited from the nice weather to stroll around a bit, to say goodbye to the scenery and all the places which had become so familiar during the three weeks. I took the last pictures of the fascinating mountain wave clouds, staring northwards into the wide open snow/ice fields, wandering around in and outside the station. Together with Gigi I made my last skidoo drive towards the magnetometer site in order to check if the solar panel tower had survived the storm. It had… No sign of injury . Via the Iridium phone my Japanese colleague confirmed that all the time the system had measured and continues measuring without problems. Good feeling.

In the meantime our take-off time was still not fixed. We had time to wait. Late in the afternoon we were informed that we were to be picked up by the Lidia at 8pm. David, our cook, prepared a delicious Tiramisu as a goodbye present, and at half past seven everybody was on the sledges of the Prinooth to be driven down to the landing strip. The Lidia arrived and then the great farewell scene started between us 16 who flew out, and the bunch of 13 staying at the station. What a hugging, wishing all the best, last personal words… After all that, our luggage and cargo was stored inside the plane and we took our seats. When the Lidia took off it was the last turn for us over the Utsteinen area. Outside it already became dark and we were all quiet, both reflective and tired. However, after a while the good mood and life came back and the flight to Novo passed quickly whilst talking or taking pictures of each other.

We arrived around 9:30 pm, local time at Novo. What a wind there… Temperatures were not very low, only around –7 °C, but the wind was really strong. We unloaded our luggage onto a long wooden sledge and either a sticker mentioning “carousel” (for luggage claim at Cape Town) or “storage” (for further air cargo at Cape Town) was fixed on each piece. Andrei from Novo station drove the sledge with a skidoo directly to the Ilyushin and together with two others we went to help him to load our stuff onto palettes, below the open cargo door of the big aircraft. When that job was finished we were driven to the kitchen tent where all the others of our group already were. The tent was crowded; all the other passengers from Neumayer, Troll, Sanae were also waiting for the departure of the Ilyushin. Dinner was still available, which was very welcome. Outside the hauling wind was shaking the tent and blowing the snow. Nobody wanted to wait outside. Besides meanwhile it was dark outside, but overall visibility was still good and ther was no doubt that the Ilyushin could take off. However, we still had to wait until half past midnight before the Russians started to pick us up by groups of 12, and drive to the Ilyushin by sledge. This way boarding went fast and nobody had to stay for a long time in the biting wind. Finally we took off at 2:30 am. Everybody tried to sleep.

One or two hours before arrival we changed our clothes. No more thick trousers, fleece jackets, but T-shirts, sandals and light trousers instead – what an “uncommon” feeling. The arrival at Cape Town went smoothly; we arrived at our hotel around noon (the time difference is +2hrs compared to Novo). What a great feeling to take a real shower, after 24 days without this comfort! My, in the mean-time, grown beard also came off. After that we all went out eating together; everybody looked so changed suddenly . My flight back to Brussels was scheduled at 8 am next morning, so for 7 others too. The others had one or two days or even a whole week more in Cape Town. During the afternoon I took the time to buy some souvenirs to please my family and to have a last drink in the sun on the waterfront. I was surprised to find out that it was no problem at all to be exposed that rapidly back to +30 degrees, it was even very pleasant instead. In the evening our group ate out in a very nice seafood restaurant and afterwards again it was time to say goodbye.

It was a short night and early in the morning we arrived at the airport. We had 11 hours of flight to London-Heathrow, most of the time half-asleep. The flight to Brussels was shorter than our stay at Heathrow. Once again it was time for hugging and saying goodbye to each other at Brussels Airport. The Antarctic group now dissolved and everybody was returning to their family and their normal live. I arrived in my apartment shortly before midnight. Oof... This was finally the end of the journey that started 33 days before. Doris was waiting for me and I told her the first bits of my experiences and she in her turn told me the first bits of what had happened during my absence. My little daughter was asleep, so I only caught a glimpse of her sleeping quietly in her bed. The next day and the rest of the week I would have time for her.

Back home

Après avoir été retardé par le mauvais temps, je suis (enfin) rentré à Bruxelles.
Bientôt des nouvelles et surtout mes impressions.

Na vertraging te hebben opgelopen door het slechte weer, ben ik
(eindelijk) weer in Brussel.
Binnenkort nog wat nieuws en vooral mijn indrukken.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Directed by the weather...

On Thursday 19th very bad weather was forecasted to arrive.
Normally I was supposed to fly out on Friday bound to the Novo runway,together with 14 others,
Given the forecast, this wasn't a certainty any more.
Ok, I have to admit that we were very lucky to have a sunny, nearly clear sky during the last 4 days; but bad weather precisely on our planned departure day... hmm...
The past few days maximum temperatures were around -15°C (-20°C at night in the tents), but in the sun it felt nice because of the low humidity level.
During the night it is also becoming nearly dark now, at least from 21:00 till 01:00.

The announced bad weather arrived on Friday, as predicted. It became more and more overcast, wind increased from hour to hour and snow started to drift around noon. The visibility was still good and our flight to Novolazaravskaya would still have been possible until around 17:00, but unfortunately the the aircraft's arrival at Utsteinen was only scheduled for 17:50...
Conditions worsened within 30 minutes, snow started to fall, the wind gusts enhanced up to 40 knots,
snow drifted, and the visibility decreased to 30m. There was no possibility for the plane to land, and halfway it had to turn back to base...

As in the meantime we had already taken down our tents, we installed ourselfs on the interior of the station. Looking from inside to the outside conditions, gave the good feeling that the station is well designed and built: cosy and warm inside and bending flagmasts, endless waves of drifting
snow over the ridge, visibility less than 20 to 50m, the sound of the wind, outside...
It was good to know that we didn't have to sleep in the tents...
That night I slept in one of the 4-bed sleeping rooms in the annex of the garage. It’s not heated and temperatures in there are somewhat below 0. But I slept a lot better than the other nights, probably because the temperature stayed constant and didn’t decrease.

Saturday morning the weather showed no change.
The storm was still raging, the snow was still drifting and the wind was hauling.
No improvement was predicted before the coming night.
This gave us the opportunity to continue work inside the station, to wait for the weather to improve, and for a possible flight on Sunday... or on Monday...
In the meantime the bad weather system also arrived at Novo, so that everybody is being blocked at the moment ;-)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Easy living at Princess Elisabeth...

This morning all VIP's left from Utsteinen. They took off with three little aircrafts (a Twin Otter, a Basler and the third was an Antonov or a Dornier) from ALCI, the Dronning Maud Land flight operation organisation. All together they were 46: journalists, politicians, sponsors, scientists. Mrs Sabine Laruelle and Mr Pieter De Crem represented the government.

They were very lucky with the weather and I can imagine they will have the impression that life is easy here at Utsteinen.

The inauguration took place on Sunday in the early afternoon, on the roof of the garage, just in front of the station's tower. It was very moving to be able to attend this event.

The station had been metamorphosed and looked very nice, cosy, welcoming and warm at the inside. It was quite a difference with Friday or even Saturday late afternoon. The ministers were rather relaxed. In the evening it was really nice chatting in this pleasant ambiance. Our cooks did their utmost and prepared so much delicious food. Seen the wonderful weather, the adapted interiors and the marvellous food, the visitors might have thought that life at Princess Elisabeth station is easy. Luckily they were spared of the rough side of Antarctica.

This afternoon was a rather relaxed working day. It is difficult to retrieve the same pace and rhythm after such an event.

Kind regards,

Monday, 16 February 2009

After the inauguration the work continues

The internet connection at the camp has been interrupted since a week and is still not working properly. It should have been repaired today.
The media seemed not to have problems with their own equipment.
It's intriguing how dependent one can be from this service.
Communication is very important, especially in remote regions like this. For the moment the internet is working again, and everybody is happy about it. Not only for the publicity, with the inauguration on Sunday, but particularly for the possibility to send and receive messages to and from our families.

Today the weather at Utsteinen is perfect and calm with a clear sky.
Wednesday was a very cloudy,windy day with snowdrift in the morning. The snow was going everywhere and even if it was not too cold, it was around -10°C, the wind made it feel very uncomfortable.
With certain jobs, like screwing something for example or reading out the weatherstation's datalogger and writing the current weather data in the logbook, your fingers got frozen after only one minute. I was lucky to have this great thick "Arctic extreme" mittens in which the fingers warm up rapidly.

Thursday was a very bright day: only a few thin cirrus clouds showed up. It was the ideal day to carry out measurements with the sunphotometer. However, the wind was very fresh.
Although the sunphotometer and the aethalometer are running very well without necessarily standing beside it, I always prefer to watch the data coming in and watch if everything works well during these first measuring days.
In the evening the wind calmed down and the sky was clear. Air temperatures fell to -15°C and the ground temperature to -21°C. It was the coldest night so far. In the morning the vapour from my breath was frozen at the inner side of my tent.
It was a good idea to keep my toothpaste and skin protecting cream in my sleeping bag during the night... All the other lotions were frozen ;-) Nevertheless the tent is warming up during the day and things become usable again.

On Saturday we were mainly busy with the preparations for the inauguration of the station on Sunday. This was indeed a big job. Everybody was busy with tidying up the station, the garages and the space around the station. Work lasted till late at night.

Sunday brought,as if it was ordered, the brightest day so far: clear sky and almost no wind, the perfect weather for the inauguration.

Not only could I nicely demonstrate the instruments, but at the same time they did good measurements, which is not a certainty in atmospheric measurements. So, beside the great pleasure and warm feeling I had, to be able to attend the inauguration of the Princess Elisabeth Station, the scientist in me was also very satisfied with the nice measurements.

De authalometer - L'aethalometre

De aethalometer is een meettoestel om de donkere deeltjes in de lucht te meten, de zogenaamde “zwarte koolstofdeeltjes”.
De werking berust op de lichtopname van deze deeltjes. Lucht wordt met een pomp door een filter gezogen. De koolstofdeeltjes blijven in dit filter zitten. De hoeveelheid licht dat door het filter wordt geabsorbeerd is een maat voor de hoeveelheid zwarte koolstofdeeltjes in de lucht.

Door deze metingen aan de zuidpool uit te voeren kan men een beeld krijgen van de hoe luchtverontreiniging van het geïndustrialiseerde gedeelte van de wereld de zuidpool beïnvloedt.

De zwarte koolstofdeeltjes dragen ook bij in het broeikaseffect omdat deze zonnestraling absorberen en zo de stralingsbalans van de atmosfeer wijzigen.

Il s'agit d'un instrument qui mesure les particules sombres dans l'air, appelées parfois le "carbonne noir".

Le principe de son fonctionnement se base sur l'absorption de la lumière par ces particules. L'air étant aspiré par une pompe passe à travers un filtre sur lequel ces particules fines se déposent. La quantité de lumière absorbée par le filtre est directement liée à la quantité de particules dans l'air.

En effectuant ce type de mesures, on peut mieux comprendre comment la pollution industrielle à l'échelle planétaire peut influencer la qualité de l'air au pôle sud.

De plus, le carbonne noir intervient dans le bilan radiatif puisque sa présence dans l'atmopshère influence l'effet de serre.

Friday, 13 February 2009

internet connection failure

Unfortunately the internet connection at the station is down since Friday afternoon.
from time to time we can send e-mails via an iridium phone.
As soon as the internet is functioning normally I'll come back with some more elaborate news.
Kind regards,

Friday, 6 February 2009

What happenned these last couple of days

Wednesday morning started with a sunny sky, only a few clouds were visible. A fresh wind was blowing. For the afternoon, an overcast sky, strong wind and snow drift was forecasted.

Irina and I decided to install the solar panel tower that serves as the power supply for the magnetometer, in the morning. The location is about 2km from the base camp. The station and its wind turbines are still visible from out there.
The installation went pretty fast, as we almost finished the necessary digging the day before.

Yet, in about 20 minutes the weather had turned, it became very cloudy with poor visibility, snow started to drift and wind gained force. For safety reasons we had to return to the base rapidly. Due to this the tower was quickly fixed to its anchors, however without proper levelling. On top of that our skidoo refused to start during 15 minutes, probably because of the cold wind. We still could see the ridge with the station on it, but the changing visibility made us a bit nervous. Anyhow, we had gps and satellite phone with us. In the end the engine started and it took us 5 minutes we arrived in the kitchen tent where lunch was waiting. The rest of the day the weather was grey, overcast, with poor visibility, strong eastern wind together with snow drift. At night our tents were shaken up by the wind and our sleep was often disturbed.

Thursday on its turn showed again a blue sky, few clouds and only light wind. In that way we had enough time to install the solar panel tower properly. It was very warm, so that gloves and a second fleece jacket were almost not necessary. Weather in Antarctica can change so swiftly! During the afternoon we filled the large hole of the weather station. This took us longer than we thought and in the evening I was bound for an early and long sleep.

Friday brought many clouds but calm weather and we installed the other items for the magnetometer station. Unluckily, switching it on had not the intended effect - something was not working. Because this is a collaboration with the Japanese Institute for Polar Research, we phoned back and forth to check out possible reasons why the instrument did not work. But as the battery ran out of power and because there is a 9hr time difference with Japan (they also want to sleep at night) brought this to an end without solution.

That will be for tomorrow.

Picture of the magnetometer during test period in Dourbes:

Sky Picture from : Xavier Jubier

Installing scientific equipment

Today, thursday 5 februari 2009, we will finally install the solar panel tower.
Unfortunately snow was forecasted for tomorrow, so that I'm afraid that the final installation of the instrument won't be possible.

The aethalometer arrived in good condition and all the test were ok.

Last Tuesday a scientific shelter was built, but before we can use it for the measurements, we have to make flanges, holes, in the roof.
This is to avoid that we measure the generators instead.

Also the cimel arrived well and safe and it will probably be installed next week on the roof of the station.

Till soon
Kind regards,

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

finally arrived at Utsteinen

Last friday, after 5 days of traveling, the party of scientists, station engineers, artists and myself finally arrived at Utsteinen.

Due to the bad weather, we were blocked two more days at Novolazarevskaya.
As, for flying, one depends a lot upon the weather, it is not unusual to be stuck for several days.
When we arrived, the weather at Utsteinen was grayish and cloudy with poor visibility. A big bravo for the pilots who decided to fly nevertheless.
In the end, everybody was very eager to arrive.

The first afternoon and evening at Utsteinen was dedicated to find out how the living at the base is organized.It is rather easy, mainly because the people who stay there or the ones who were there before, already arranged everything: the mess tent, the bath room, the toilets, the room for washing and drying clothes (these are often containers, not real rooms)...

Sleeping in tents is also far better than I thought: you have three or four layers of mattresses, or thermarests, a nice warm sleeping bag and if this is not enough, you also have warm clothes.
When going to bed, the temperature is around -10 degrees, but after staying in the tent for about ten minutes, it's already 10 degrees warmer. It gets cold during the night, but your body warmth is kept in the sleeping bag. During sunny days as we are enjoying now, in the morning the temperature in the tent is even between 10 to 20 C°.
This is time to get up... to warm to stay in a sleeping bag.

On Sunday and Monday we benefited from the perfect weather to put up the first of our scientific instruments: the automatic weather station. First we dug a cross of two times 7m, 80cm deep, 50cm wide. This was quite a heavy work, but the snow was not too hard and probably there is no more beautiful working place then this:in our back the station on the ridge, to our left flat snow as far one can see, in our front a mountain ridge covered with snow, and to the right the Utsteinen nunatak.
And all this against a perfect blue sky.
The automatic weather station is now ready to work. It gives a good feeling to have completed the first task.

To give in evidence that everything is well organized here, the cooks pleased all of us with duck and polenta in an olive/almond sauce,hmmm...
And if you want to give yourself another treat: washing away the sweat and suncream afterwards gives back all energy.
If the weather stays like this, the next autonomous station, a magnetometer, will also be installed quickly and with pleasure.
Until now I haven't experienced the extreme cold temperatures that are customary for Antarctica.

The real test for my equipment still has to come.

Have nice days,
we have,

Monday, 2 February 2009

Interview deel 2 - Interview partie 2

Voor een buitenstaander lijkt het klimaat op Antarctica de “ver van mijn bed show”, nietwaar ?

Op het eerste zicht misschien wel, maar… Al ligt het Antarctisch continent veraf, toch wordt het beïnvloed door allerlei chemische stoffen zoals emissies van natuurlijke aërosoldeeltjes, door vervuiling van lagere breedtegraden (verbranding van biomassa, vulkanen, …) en door de activiteiten op de wetenschappelijke stations zelf. De analyse van de graad van vervuiling in relatie met de luchtmassa’s die ze tot op Antarctica vervoeren kan ons heel wat informatie opleveren over de transportmechanismen die op globale schaal actief zijn in de atmosfeer.

Het Antarctisch gebied (zoals ook het arctisch gebied) is anderzijds, vanwege de grote gevoeligheid voor klimaatswijzigingen, de aangewezen plaats om globale klimaat te bestuderen.
Deze onderzoeksprogramma’s vinden namelijk plaats in een kader van een wereldwijde samenwerking. De waarnemingen zullen in internationale databanken geplaatst worden zodat ze kunnen gebruikt worden voor globale studies van het milieu. Alle waarnemingen van op de grond van chemische componenten, van straling en van de hoeveelheid fijn stof, zijn erg nuttig voor het valideren van satellietgegevens (die weinig zouden betekenen zonder deze waarnemingen van op de grond) en modelgegevens. De waarde van modelgegevens neemt trouwens toe naarmate deze meer vergeleken worden met echte waarnemingen en onder de controle van meer onderzoeksgroepen komen.

Pour les profanes, le climat Antarctique peut donner l’impression d’être des objectifs bien éloignés de son quotidien, non ?

Oui et pourtant … Bien que très isolé, le continent Antarctique est influencé par les émissions d’aérosols naturelles et par des pollutions de latitudes plus basses, (Feux de biomasses, volcans …) et par les stations scientifiques elles-mêmes. L’analyse de ces niveaux de pollution en relation avec les masses d’air qui les transportent jusque là, peut apporter beaucoup d’informations sur les mécanismes à l’œuvre à l’échelle planétaire.

D’autre part, la zone antarctique (de même que la zone arctique) est une zone très sensible pour surveiller l’évolution du climat mondial.

Il faut comprendre que ces programmes de recherches s’inscrivent dans une vision de coopération internationale. Les données que nous récoltons sur place prennent place dans des banques de données mondiales qui permettent de mieux connaître à l’échelle globale notre environnement. Que ce soient les données chimiques, radiométriques, celles sur l’abondance des aérosols … récoltées in situ, elles permettent de valider des données satellitaires (qui seraient bien peu de choses sans les données au sol) et les modèles. Ces modèles sont d’autant plus exploitables ensuite qu’ils sont confrontés à des données réelles et sous le contrôle de nombreuses équipes de recherche dans le monde.