Bel Antar 2018

Mission belge Antarctique 2018

Thank you all !

By The Mass2Ant team

After a long trip, we are now back in Belgium with our scientific results and full of memories from Antarctica. We followed the same path on the way back as for the way in. We first flew from Princess Elisabeth Station to the Novo air base Saturday evening on a DC3. This plane has a long history behind, including some activities during World War 2 and several updates since then. The journey continued to Cape Town and then Paris and Brussels.

We arrived Monday afternoon, so in time for the Tuesday exams in our Universities! The data analysis will start as soon as we have dealt with all the issues that have risen during the seven weeks when we were away.

The DC-3 that makes the connection between Princess Elisabeth Station and Novo air base

The DC-3 that makes the connection between Princess Elisabeth Station and Novo air base

This is thus the last post of this series. Information on our results and on the arrival of the ice cores will be posted on the web site of the project

It is the opportunity to thank all the people who contributed to make our campaign a success.

The story started with the funding of our project by the Belgian Science Policy office (BELSPO) and the support we received from the BELSPO team since the launch of the project.

The campaign was only possible thanks to the logistics well handled by the International Polar Foundation and its very dedicated team. We want to thank specifically Christophe, Pierrick and Alain that accompanied us in the field and Michel, Claire and Gigi for the organization of our mission and for welcoming us so warmly in Cape Town.

The support from our family and friends is essential for all of us before, during and after the mission.

Our colleagues in our universities agreed to take care of the daily business during those seven weeks, replacing us in some of our duties, and we are very grateful for that.

We would also like to thank icefield instruments (White Horse, Canada) who provides the drill used for the ice core and the Australian Antarctic Division that shared with us a few tanks of Estisol, the drilling fluid.

For the blog itself, a special thank goes to Alain and Sabrina who have posted all the messages we have sent, even during their holidays, and to the Press Office teams of UCLouvain and ULB that informed the media of our work. Without them, you would not be able to follow our progresses in the field!

And of course, we would like to thank all of you for your support, your fidelity and your interest in this blog! If you have additional questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact us.

What will you miss when leaving Antarctica?

By Hugues Goosse

As mentioned in the previous post, we will be very happy to find back our ‘normal’ life after our stay in Antarctica. However, we will not leave the white continent without a few regrets.

The exceptional environment marks all the ones that have the opportunity to stay here. We have reached our goals and enjoyed the time here. We have memories, photos but nothing really replace the sight, in all the directions, to appreciate the landscape.

The pure air and the 24 hours of daylight are in strong contrast with our long winter nights in Europe. There is even no lighting system in the containers including our kitchen and bathroom as they are only used in summer. This means that we have not turn on or off the switch for the lights during weeks!

I will also miss is the calm and the simplicity of the life. The choices are very limited in Antarctica and the number of possible activities is much smaller than in Belgium. This has of course disadvantages but it also means that the life is much more quiet compared to the life in Belgium where we are always so busy.

In our camp, our next neighbor is likely more than 50 km away. No queue is shops, no internet except for emails with no or very light attachments, no television, no way to buy anything. The difference will be striking when we will arrive at Cape Town airport!

And of course, the team will let strong memories for the work done and all the time spend together. I would like thus to finish this post by thanking all the members of the group who made this experience particularly rewarding and enjoyable.

I would like to thank in particular Jean-Louis, our chief scientist, without whom the campaign would not have been possible. He managed with great skill, all the human, logistics and scientific aspects allowing us both to enjoy our stay and reach our scientific objectives.

What did we missed when we were in Antarctica?

By Hugues Goosse

Our mission is close to its end, even though the way back can still be long. After the post on the end of the measurements and the trip back to Princess Elisabeth station, this one is devoted to what we missed during those seven weeks.

The first point is without any doubt our family and friends. We all knew before leaving the conditions and the length of the stay. I think that none of us was really sad because of the separation but you only had to see the face of those who just gave a phone call or received an email to know how we missed our families.

A second element is food. Even though we have eaten nice frozen meals, we all dream of some fresh fruits, raw vegetables, grilled fished or meat. Each of us also has a special dish that he or she will find with pleasure when back home, being fries, a croissant, or a favourite yoghurt.

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Back to Princess Elisabeth Station

By Hugues Goosse

We have definitely left our camp on the ice rise that we have named TIR for Tison Ice Rise. We have announced it to our chief scientist for whom it is likely the last mission in Antarctica, during our last evening dinner on the site.

The official choice of the name of a location in Antarctica depend on a specific commission. This is thus complicated and requires a lot of time but, for us, it will remain the TIR.

The dismantlement of the camp was a bit more perturbed than planned as we had a storm over the last days there. It was less strong that the one that hit us late December but, during the removal of the drilling tent, all the skill of our accompanying team and the involvement of the whole group was required to avoid that part of it fly away.

Logistics and organization in Antarctica are full of surprises. We were supposed to leave the camp the 12. After a rumor for the 14th, an announcement for the night from 12 to 13, we finally left the 13 in the evening.

We came back through the camp where we slept a few nights when we made the measurements on the site of last year drilling site (FKIR) and finally arrive at the Princess Elisabeth Station after a 20 hour trip spend in the container that were used as kitchen, talking a bit, playing games but mainly sleeping after all those short nights despite the bumps on the ‘road’.

The next step was to organize the material and put it in the right boxes to bring them in Belgium according to the custom documents. We sorted our garbage and put it in the right containers here at the station.

We also had to prepare the transport of the ice cores. After we leave, they will be brought to Perseus, an air strip close to Princess Elisabeth Station. They will then fly in an Iliouchine to Cape Town and finally by boat in a container at -25°C towards Anvers. They are expected in Brussels in early March. This step is always a bit stressful as the ice cores should of course not melt during the journey but even not warm up to avoid reactions in the ice that would modify the amount of some components!

For our departure from Princess Elisabeth Station, we should wait for the right weather. Several days were mentioned over the last few days. If everything goes well, it is planned to go back through the Nov air base and then Cape Town as on the in. The departure is expected on the 19th, arriving in Brussels the 21st if everything goes as planned.

Map showing the region north of Princess Elisabeth Station (PEA) with the first camp where we spend a few nights (CAMP), the first ice rise we visited (FKIR) and the second one where we drilled the ice core (TIR)

Map showing the region north of Princess Elisabeth Station (PEA) with the first camp where we spend a few nights (CAMP), the first ice rise we visited (FKIR) and the second one where we drilled the ice core (TIR)

How do you find your way in Antarctica?

By Hugues Goosse and Sainan Sun

The only ‘roads’ in Antarctica are the path taken by snow tractors and snow mobiles. Even if there are indicated by poles, they can be quickly covered by snow. Of course, no sign helps you for directions at the ‘crossroads’.

Out of busy places such as between an airport and a base, you should thus not rely too much on them.

The topography is relatively flat. No building or change in vegetation can be used as a mark to remember your way.

The path followed by tractors out of Novo air base

The path followed by tractors out of Novo air base

In addition, sometimes when snow is blowing or the fog is very thick, you cannot see at a distance of two meters. In this ‘white out’, everything seems white. You cannot even walk five meters between two buildings if you cannot follow a safety rope previously installed in prevision of such extreme conditions.

More generally, the best way is to use a navigation system based on satellites like in the GPS of your car. You set the coordinates of your destination and then you just follow the indications.

For some scientific interests, ‘marks’ (e.g. bamboo sticks) are put on ice. First, surface accumulation can be estimated by simply measuring the part of the bamboo that is still out of the snow compared to the last year. Standard handle GPS have an accuracy of about 10 meters, and can be used to find the marks you left in the previous campaign in slowly flowing regions such as ice divides.

Secondly, by measuring the movement of the stick in one year, you can estimate the ice velocity. This requires a high precision in the measure as the shift is often smaller than one meter around the ice divides. The more precise system GNSS (global network of satellite system) is often implemented in this case.

An antenna communicates with satellites in different directions and different heights to interpret the precise coordinates. A static point is often chosen as a reference station (such as the peak of ice divide), the relative movement compared to the reference station can achieve precision of millimeter magnitude by half an hour tracking.

Looking for the bamboos in this ice environment to determine their position is like searching a needle in a haystack. It may take some time, but the technique works well !

The security rope in the camp to find our way to the tents even if we have no visibility

The security rope in the camp to find our way to the tents even if we have no visibility

What do you need for an observation campaign in Antarctica?

By Hugues Goosse

The first thing that you think about is probably the scientific equipment needed to perform the measurements. This equipment can be relatively light and comes with you in the plane when you travel to Antarctica but it comes more generally separately as cargo or is even stored at the station.

The second element is likely your personal belongings, such as polar clothes, camera, computers to analyses the data, etc.

However, a dominant aspect in the problem, requiring a lot of time, manpower and budget is the logistics. Everything is more complex in Antarctica and thus must be well prepared and organized.

The International Polar Foundation (IPF) is responsible for the operations at the Princess Elisabeth station. This means that they are in charge of organizing the work at the station itself but also the scientific activities related to the station.

This starts first with the preparation of the scientific mission, for instance performing the medical checking of the participants and booking the flights towards South Africa and then Antarctica.

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260.1 m !

By Hugues Goosse

Our stay in the field is close to its end now. The drilling has reached this Thursday morning the final depth of 260.1 m. The quality of the ice core is great all along, thanks to the addition of the drilling fluid. We have thus well beaten the value of 208 m reached last year, and this core was of bad quality after 100m.

We have made more radar measurements of the snow layers than planned and we have calculated precisely the position and height of the many bamboo sticks we have planted close to the field camp. Some parts of the area looks now as a kind of dried bamboo forest!

Next year, some members of the team will come back to measure the part of the bamboos that remains out of the snow and the new positions of those bamboos. They will also redo some radar measurements to see the changes from one year to the next. This will allow us inferring the accumulation of the snow at the surface as well as the ice movements.

We have also plenty of profile of the snow density and surface snow properties.

The deepest core of this season

The deepest core of this season

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Ice core borehole measurement: temperature and optical televiewer

By Mana Inoue

One of Sarah and my role in the field is carrying out the ice core borehole temperature measurement and optical televiewer (OPTV) measurement. The OPTV is a kind of camera that films and analyse the snow and ice layers.

Temperature record will give us an idea of the energy budget changes in the ice sheet. OPTV measurement will give us an idea of the density profile through the ice core borehole.

OPTV measurement “the ice fishing”

OPTV measurement “the ice fishing”

OPTV is also able to tell us the vertical strain rate (how much of the snow accumulation in the year is thinning by the weight of another one year of snow accumulation) by comparing the OPTV record from the previous year measurement.

How we do the measurement? Both temperature and OPTV measurement were similar. We put a temperature probe or OPTV probe into the ice core borehole and record what the machine tells us.

Which means there is not much physical movement during this measurement. And if we don’t move much it gets cold quick. To at least protect from wind, we have a tent around us during the measurement. At the result, we look like we are doing ice fishing.

We will do further analysis with the data when we back to our lab. Wait for us for the exciting finding!

OPTV camera view

OPTV camera view

Waves at the snow surface

By Hugues Goosse

Many locations in Antarctica appear relatively flat, as in the vicinity of the ice rise where we installed our camp or on the central Antarctic plateau.

This does not necessarily mean that the bedrock itself is flat but snow covers everything over several hundreds or thousands or meters. Only the highest peaks in a region can be seen, as close to Princess Elisabeth station

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Why Belgium continues to keep an exceptional position in Antarctic research

By Jean-Louis Tison

Our previous blog post has described how the efficiency in the logistics and the expertise of the International Polar Foundation allows carrying out research projects like Mass2Ant.

You have seen that polar research implies strong logistic constrains, in a remote place. Polar research also requires up-to-date scientific equipment in the field and in the laboratories for the analyses as well as manpower from the researchers and technicians involved.

Here, as in many other cases, funding remains the key issue! Belgium does not have a polar institute with specific funding like other European countries (France, Germany, Italy,…) and Belgian scientists must thus find other funding sources.

Thanks to its historical involvement in Antarctica (since the expedition of de Gerlache in the late XIX century), Belgium has always maintained a strong position in Antarctica, and more generally in polar research.µ

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