Sunday, 15 December 2013

Instruments up, Instruments down

The last week was characterised by severe instrument interventions. Monday and Tuesday kept us busy with the extension of the mast of the automatic weather station. Monday I dug out an almost 2m deep hole around the mast. This depth was necessary to reach the top of the battery container. The batteries were pulled out and put into a new container which finally was placed on top of the old one. These batteries kept the weather station running now since almost five years, and they are still in good shape. It was a funny feeling being down in this hole and even when standing upright I could not look out. It was also a very warm, calm day and during digging, the warm down jacket was not necessary. Around noon, the air temperature in 2m height was even +3°C !  However, down there in the hole it was freezy. The aluminium mast had still the temperature of the surrounding snow/ice – around -20°C. My sweaty leather working gloves would freeze stuck immediately when touching the mast. The following day two colleagues –Francois (on the image in the hole) and Craig- helped me to extend the mast. First, disconnecting he upper part and laying it softly down on boxes in order to avoid ground-touching. Then we put the extension on the old bottom part and lifted finally the top part into the extension. Now the meteorological instruments are again in a height of around 4m. Afterwards, the hole needed to be filled. It was much more wind that day and the drifting snow helped to smoothen the surface around the mast. The days after I did detailed checks on the Brewer, the nephelometer and the cloud condensation nuclei counter (CCN). After many checks and tests Erik and I did in the heart of the Brewer instrument, it was clear that there is some malfunctioning of an electronic control board. And this we cannot fix here, why it will return already with me. The nephelometer also has a serious problem and very probably some parts of the optical interior have to be exchanged. As I do not have them here, it will also return with me. It’s more than a pity that these instruments have to return, but things like these can happen. On the other side, we could fix the pump problem of the CCN and it is working fine since Friday afternoon. So, it’s an up and down here. Apart from the instruments – the landscape around Utsteinen is always fascinating. That it is Antarctic summer is also marked by the snow petrels which are now gliding much more often and in higher number in the wind around our ridge. These birds bring up their chicks here in the mountains (far away from predators), but fetch the food at the coast. The coming days starts already the preparation for our departure.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Summer at Utsteinen

Time has passed in the meantime. The windy weather of the first week made place for more calm days with a lot of sunshine. Temperature however is still cold, around -10 to -15°C. Yesterday St Nicolas passed. My little family provided me with some self-made items and chocolate to celebrate this day. That was nice and I loved it. Otherwise, we would all just be too busy with our work and a day like that passes easily without anything special to it. I also had a skype call with a school class in the UK, of 8 to 10 year old pupils, on the occasion of Antarctic Day (normally 1st of December). They asked lots of questions on the Antarctic or on how daily life has to be imagined here. One question was also if I built already a snowman. I had to admit, that no. Too busy with work apparently. However, the snow here is too dry and would not be sticky enough. But we could sculpture something with blocks of snow-ice. Anyway, many things have been done. The pyrometer and the precipitation radar are back in operation on the roof. Also the Sun photometer is back on its place on the very top of the station. Its elegant movements to point to the sun and to make measurements make the others often ask me what it is for. In the aerosol shelter, the cloud condensation nuclei counter from Leipzig has been starting its measurements. It seems that there are not many particles in our Utsteinen air which are capable to form cloud droplets. But I need to do some more tests on this. My problem child at the moment is the Brewer ozone spectrophotometer. There is apparently an issue with a turning micrometer, which adjusts some important parts of the optics. Until now we haven’t found out what exactly the problem is, and the instrument keeps Erik and me busy. Last Wednesday morning the expedition team to the coast left (see group image above). They will be doing research in the field for around 10 to 12 days. To get to know what they are looking for, it is best to visit their blog. One of the last days, when wind was almost none, I went around 1 km upwind of the weather station and digged, like last years, a snow pit of 1m depth in order to characterize the different layers of ice (crystal size, habit, density, temperature…). The view was great from there and in weather conditions like that it’s nice to work outside ;-) . Next week, the extension of the mast of the weather station is on my agenda, as is another snow pit, and hopefully putting back into operation the Brewer and the nephelometer.