Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Journey to Princess Elisabeth Station and first works

Our flight to Antarctica took place indeed in the night of 18 to 19 November. At 23h30 Cape Town time the usual Ilyushin took off for the 5h45 flight to Antarctica. The flight is more or less straight southwards, 4200 km, to the Novolazarevskaya Air base. The flight is organized by ALCI (Antarctic Logistics Centre International), an organization supported by the nations operating stations in and around East Antarctica and especially in the Dronning Maud Land area. From Novo it would still be around 2000 km to South Pole. 

Quentin and I and the Ilyushin at unload at Novo and our pile of cargo

In order to get to the individual stations, there are two small Basler propeller aircrafts. They can carry around 2.5 tons of passenger/cargo combined. As we were 13 persons and had quite a lot of cargo, we had to split into two groups. The lucky ones (including me and Quentin) had a flight the same day afternoon. Nevertheless, we had to wait 9 hours at Novo because the Basler aircrafts were first flying to other stations. Which stations are served first or later and when exactly depends mainly on weather (at Novo and at the respective station), distance, and the obligatory resting times for the pilots. In the beginning of the austral summer season, the weather is relatively unstable, i.e. fair and bad weather for flying changes often and flight plans change by hour. At Novo there is not much to do. You are assigned to containers which are nicely furnished with beds, heating and (European norm) power plugs for the laptops, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets people have nowadays always with them. There is also a large special container for taking the meals or to have a hot coffee with biscuits. Most of us slept most of the time. 

The Basler aircraft at Utsteinen air strip
Before departure, we had to load the nearly two tons of cargo into the Basler and off we went. It is a 1h45 flight from Novo to Princess Elisabeth Station, for the 450 km distance. From the plane the vast stretches of white, sometimes the cracks of the glaciers and sometimes some rocks sticking out can be admired. The specific shape of the mountains around Princess Elisabeth made it easy to recognize that we were approaching our final destination. At 17h30 local time, i.e., CET time as in Belgium, the Basler landed at Utsteinen air strip. Quick welcome, unloading, transfer to the station (still 2 km away) and there we are. The Basler returned immediately – they had another flight to do that day from Novo. On that Wednesday we had the introduction to the station and Quentin and I had time for a first look on the instruments which have been at the station during the unmanned period. 

The crevasse where we made the usual training.Beautiful.
The next day, we made a first planning of the work we will carry out the coming almost four weeks. Around noon, the group left behind at Novo arrived. After lunch, our group of 13 was summoned for the usual field training. As weather was perfect – almost no wind, blue clear sky, ‘only’ around -20°C, crevasse training was programmed. This means that everybody of us is going down –secured with a rope- in a crevasse and the others are trained in the different methods to get somebody out of a crevasse. There is no large crevasse in the near vicinity of the station and therefore it is a 12 km drive on skidoos (snow mobiles) to a ‘suitable’ one. Dealing with ropes, knots, carabiners, taking snow mobiles to help is on the menu. It was good to do a bit hand work at these cold temperatures. On Friday morning we had another training, now on the snow mobiles. After an introduction on the mechanics (and in particular what the scientists as suspected non-adepts of mechanics should better avoid to do), we drove out for some rides on slopes. Up and down, ever more steep. Have confidence in your skidoo and behave smoothly on your skidoo, that’s the message. 

 Skidoo training and a balloon launch

In the afternoon we had finally time to look more in detail to our instruments. We restarted some of them, checked others, and also made a radiosonde balloon launch. These balloon launches serve to know the vertical distribution of temperature, humidity, pressure, wind and wind direction, what is very useful for interpretation of the meteorological dynamic conditions. Saturday, Sunday and today, Quentin and I were busy with starting up instruments, testing them, and doing more balloon launches. I will write next time more on the individual instruments, not all of them making us completely happy. However, we are lucky with the weather. No storm in sight, what means that we can go on undisturbed with our works outside and on the station’s roof.

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