Mission belge Antarctique 2018

Category: Everyday life in Antarctica (Page 1 of 2)

What do you hear in Antarctica?

The first thing is generally the wind.

In some places, you may hear the noise of the generator providing electricity or a snow mobile but there enough space around to avoid those areas if you wish. Princess Elisabeth is more quiet than some other bases as the electricity is produced by windmills and solar panels.

The ice itself is moving so slowly that you did not hear it if you are away from crevasses and ice cliffs that goes to the sea. Even in those regions, the noise is only occurring in some occasions when a movement or a collapse occurs.

This is quite different from the sea ice that floats on the oceans and moves much more quickly. It can be broken by the winds or compressed making ridges, ‘playing’ a complex and sometimes scary music.

There is nearly no life away from the coast so no bird singing or mosquito flying around you.

Consequently, if you are away from buildings and not moving in a windless day, you basically hear nothing during minutes. That is an impressive feeling!

What do we drink in Antarctica ?

by Hugues Goosse

We drink basically melted snow. At the Princess Elisabeth station, the snow is collected in a big container. It includes a thermal resistance powered by the solar panels and the windmills. The snow is melted and filtered before we can use it in the kitchen and the bathroom.

There is enough snow everywhere but the area where it is collected for drinking water is protected to avoid any contamination.

The principle is the same in the field but at a smaller scale. No machine is available as in the station to carry the snow. So, whenever the container is empty or if someone has time, we dig some snow towards the container.

The container including snow that has to be melted to produce drink water

The meltwater has a very low content in mineral. The taste is not great but it is fine. The closest one is some mineral waters that also have a very low mineral content. If you want to drink it directly, you may prefer to add a very small amount of salt or some syrup.

Filling in the snow melter in the field

Alcohol is never recommended for your health but you must be particularly careful here as it gives you a feeling of warmth while it contributes to lose faster your body heat and thus increases the risk of cold injuries. Additionally, being drunk is particularly dangerous is such harsh environment.

At the Princess Elisabeth station, there is thus a big stock of alcohol-free beers!

This did not forbid past explorers to order alcohol before they leave. For instance, Shackleton ordered 25 casks of MacKinlays rare old highland malt whisky for his expedition in 1907. The distillery reedited the blend a few years ago and you can probably find it. Very nice on an historical point of view!

Alcohol may also be served for special occasions nowadays but this is for another post.

Which law applies in Antarctica?

By Hugues Goosse

When we flew to Antarctica, we cross the international border at Cape Town but no border at Novolazarevskaya station or at Princess Elisabeth station. The readers with a legal sensibility may ask then which laws apply in this ‘international environment’?

This is officially ruled by the Antarctic treaty. However, the situation is complex and may differ from countries to countries and for different parts of Antarctica. We will thus just focus on our field campaign.

The panel announcing our flight to Antarctica.

To go to Antarctica, you need to have a permit. This permit includes an evaluation of the impact of the trip on the environment. You cannot just go and travel where you want.

Our permit was delivered by the Belgian government. Belgium considers basically that its laws applies in Antarctica to all the ones that receive a permit from Belgium. Consequently, for us, it is just the same legal rules as at home, with a few additional specificities in order to protect the Antarctic environment.

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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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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.

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

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.

The tripod with the antenna used to measure precisely the position

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 !

A few centimeters still out of the snow after one year!

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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A day in the life of an ice driller in Antarctica

Written by Sarah Wauthy

As we are now well installed on our main drilling site, it is time to describe a typical day for us. You are curious, aren’t you?

First, our day depends on the team you belong to as we are separated in two groups. No, we are not talking here about a football match.

Coming back on the organization, the first group wakes up around 7 AM for a breakfast around 7.30 and a working day between roughly 8 AM and 8 PM with a one-hour break for lunch at 12.30. This first group includes Nander, Sainan, Hugues and Christophe (our field guide).

The second group, the drilling team, works during night –between 9 PM and 9 AM- because of the too high temperatures during day that would melt the ice cores. It includes Jean-Louis, Mana, Etienne and me. Pierrick, our mechanics, contributes also to the drilling but he is not totally on the night shift as he has also activities during the day.

We adapt quit easily to this new timing as the sun shines 24 hours a day. Finally, the most complex thing is to remember if you have to say good morning or good evening when you meet someone from the other group.

In order to continue to spend time all together, a joint meal is organized at 8.30. This fits to everyone as some have their dinner while others have breakfast.

A dinner/breakfast in our kitchen

A dinner/breakfast in our kitchen

This makes a fancy mess in the kitchen with plates including very different dishes but this shared moment is very important. The day group also visits regularly the drilling tent, to give some help, say hello or brings hot coffee and tea. This is much appreciated, as the nights are cold!

The beginning and the end of the day also offer the opportunity to spend some time in the bathroom, with a timing for the showers planned over several days to avoid jams and be sure that water is available. We also share the housekeeping tasks such as preparing the meals, cleaning the dishes or filling in the snow melter in order to have water.

You are now aware of the organization of a day in Antarctica. Do not forget to continue to follow our campaign!

Welcome in the ETISOL world!

By Jean-Louis Tison

Hello everybody ! Here are the fresh news of the drilling tent to tell you more about the second phase of the process in which we were obliged to move to a wet drilling mode.

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, starting at a depth of about 90-100m, just after the transformation of snow (density of 0.5 g/cm3) in firn (density 0.5-82 g/cm3) and then in ice (density 0.82-0.92 g/cm3) is finished, the pressure difference between the ice and the air in the drilling hole becomes too high.

The mechanical chocks from the cutting by the drilling head produce ice in small disks, a few centimeters wide, that makes further analyses extremely hard or even impossible in some cases (such as for instance the analysis of the gas composition of the ice because of the contamination from the actual atmosphere along the fractures).

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Can you make a snowman in Antarctica?

By Hugues Goosse

After some snowfalls, I was able to make snowballs because the temperature here is not very low. However, it is clearly not easy to obtain a snowman as you may do at home, just starting from a small ball and rolling it on the snow, the ball increasing in size at every turn.

Your personal experience probably tells you that in order to make snowballs or a snowman you need relatively warm and fresh snow. It should ‘sticks’ enough to produce a compact ball that holds even if you throw it away or if you want to assemble several big spheres to make your snowman.

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