Freitag, 18. März 2016

Despedida de la Antarctica

Last days are for the preparations of the luggage of how things are left behind, or at least that is what you would think, if you knew that you would leave... 
We had one more task pending: the measurement of the transect on the Fourcade Glacier on Barton Peninsula. These observations are important for the glaciological model run of the whole Potter Cove. It ties down the model results on the other end of the model area. So this is why we took off to take the last important measurements for this campaign. I went with two good friends, whom I already knew from former campaigns and who I knew could be trusted for the work on the glacier. It is a very important precondition for who to take on a glacier and who not! 
We left on Sunday morning with the forecast ( predicting at least 6 hours of calm sea for the crossing from the Potter Peninsula across the cove to Barton Peninsula. We arrived without any incidents on the other side, prepared the ascend on the glacier border and went up the glacier. The transect was intact and all we needed to do was measuring the height of the ablation/accumulation stakes.

On the glacier top, we got into the clouds that always are accompanied by higher winds and precipitation in form of snow this time. Since it is not an environment that is very convenient, we just finished our task and went down again. We searched a bit of shelter at the glacier bottom and had a tea and some snacks to recover some energy. In these conditions, you always need to be aware that the cold and the harsh winds take a lot of energy and you need to drink some hot beverages and fill up some energy. 
We called the station via radio to ask to be picked up, but when we arrived at the beach, we saw that the waves were easily 1m heigh and together with the snow and wind these weren't good conditions to land the boats on the shore. The quiet weather had changed into a full snow storm! We advised via radio that the boats turn back and that we would go to the refuge that was nearby. They told us, that they were already on the way and nearly there, and that they were going to try to land at the beach! 
It turned out to be not a good idea: the motor got stuck in the rocks of the shore and broke, one of the divers went underneath the boat ba a wave carrying the boat full of load (us) over him. It was clear, that the divers had enough problems without us being in the middle and needing to be taken care of. We got out of the boat, got our stuff, and went to seek shelter in the refuge. This was a good decision, since the boat itself was in an emergency situation and needed help from the base! 
We did the walk to the Korean refuge near Narebsky Point. It was a bit longer than anticipated, though, and being in the middle of a snow storm did not help, apparently. We walked about an hour through thousands of sea wolves, avoiding to be caught in their midst! These creatures can move at the amazingly speed of 30 kmh and they pass on some very nasty infections, when your leg gets caught between their fangs! Being that many in very close quarters raises their level of testosterone to high levels, so it very wise to watch out to all sides and stay together. Since we had the boat emergency suits on (our clothes and boots were completely soaked due to the rescue try), we appeared like three teletubbies on the beach going around the animals, trying to scare some off.. It was a walk that I will definitely not forget. We arrived at the Korean refuge after an hour and after scaring off some sea wolves lingering in front of the door, we finally got into the shelter! 
What an amazing place in a hut of 3m x 3m, but we found a gas stove, tons of food, water, dry clothing and dry boots (which was most important)! Seriously, it felt like Christmas, Easter and your Birthday at the same time ;) 

So we had warm and dry clothing, some hot and spicy soups (we left all of our rations there), Mate to drink, enough water, and sleeping bags for the night! 
After getting warm and settling in, getting all things on a hanger to dry (for as much as it might help), our moods were already at good levels. At some point, we checked the outside. Of course, it was still in the middle of a huge storm, but after a hot meal and feeling dry and warm, your spirit is ready to do some more exploring.. 

The Korean outfits were really good and sufficient enough to move a bit outside to experience the mind-blowing landscape outside! 

It is absolutely fascinating, how all colour can be sucked out of a landscape leaving nothing but black and white and drama! Winds with more than a 100 kmh were blowing us over, the beach was tinted in white and the animals were partly covered and trying to shelter from the high wind speeds! 

It is unbelievable that these should be real colours! Amazing, beautiful and absolutely devastating!!! 

Back in the refuge, we settled back into our places. There is not very much to do, so you continue telling stories, drinking Mate, eating, telling jokes. 
All the better to be with good friends sharing an intimate and special evening! And it turned out to be the last evening with them together. Some of the pictures are from Tincho (Martín Gingins) and Juanma (Juan Manuel Pereda). A night to share and never to forget!!! 

The next morning, we got the message via the radio that I would be picked up in 15 minutes since the Herkules flight out of Antarctica would be THIS morning, and that otherwise I would miss the flight... 

I really like spontaneity but in the Argentinean station, they never fail to surprise me all over again! We got our things together real fast, took some last pictures! and then it was already time to say good-bye to my friends, to this amazing and beautiful place, to my field work and turn your head 180 degrees! 
As Monty Pythons Flying Circus states: And now to something completely different! 

Many, many thanks here to Nadja and Marcella, who packed all my stuff expertly into my bags! In front of my inner eye I see how spread out it all was and how much, and I very much owe you for that! Good bye! We will meet again at some other place and time! Que tengan un buen invierno y nos vemos!!! Until our next meeting... 

Antarctic Landscapes

Here just a few impressions from the Barton Peninsula, the sunset after a beautiful day!

Donnerstag, 17. März 2016

Work Life Balance in Carlini

King George Island is an amazing place with a lot of great views and places. Not all are accessible for everyone. It is mostly protected area and you need special permission to enter these. Permissions are granted to those who are doing work there, either logistical or research. Our group has access to the glacier where just a few can go. Glaciers can be dangerous if you are not careful and you don't know how to move in it. There have been several accidents in the past, and since it is a remote place, the possibilities to encounter such emergencies are few. On the part where we have most of our installations, it is quite secure to move around. We do this with skidoos that are parked at the border of the glacier during the summer.

We use them to go to our climatological stations and other installations, and we do Differential GPS (DGPS) measurements to assess the glacier surface elevation and topography. There are not many maps of this area and since glaciers always change, this is important information. Those measurements are used as ground truth information for remote sensing analysis for example. It is not often we have such a nice day as in the pictures here! The pictures are all from the overwinterer Martín Gingins, since my picture SD card is still in Carlini and will come to Germany somewhere in April. But this is another story for later ;)  

This day we were doing the kinematic grid with the DGPS to assess surface elevation and also did the measurements of a rock outcrop that appeared on the glacier due to the melting about four years ago. It is amazing how much bigger this outcrop has become and we mapped it again this year to identify and verify the satellite data. It is also in a nice setting very close to the crevices field of the Fourcade glacier calving front, so while doing work you get rewarded with mind-blowing views of the cracked glacier ice. 

It is also very close to the coastal waters of the cove and you have to be very careful, not to slip if you want to avoid a huge slide and a dive into the cove's cold water.

So, although our days are full of work it is work in an amazingly beautiful place with different views at every turn you take. Every day is different, and besides the diversion at the station, that includes Pizza and Beer night on Saturday's and a Boliche, a dance night in the Cinema barack, for me it is the right balance between the adventure of being outside testing yourself in this environment, the scope of your work and the perspective of the science we do, all the more important, since the changes in this place are visible to the regular visitor's eye on a year to year basis. 
It is indeed a really nice work-life balance, although afterwards you definitely need to take a few days to recover ;) ...

Dienstag, 23. Februar 2016

Between mountains and sea

A beautiful morning in Ushuaia, Argentina. We are about to embarque on the Beagle that will bring us to the Argentinean base Carlini in Antarctica. I hope, we will have a calm crossing. On the other hand, a bit of wind and the huge swell is what the region is famous for and it would add a lot of drama to the crossing and make for great pictures ;)

Montag, 22. Februar 2016

hot and cold

Cold - hot - cold

I'm off to another trip to Antarctica, well actually, to the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Most people I tell my itinerary reply "wow! nice! it must be really cold there, right?". No, actually it is not THAT cold, not what people think it would be anyway. It is really the far north of the most southern continent and it is austral summer! It is breeding area for a lot of sea mammals and sea birds, meaning there is considerable melting and ice- and snow free areas. Air temperatures can be well below zero but usually they are around the melting point. Another point is, that it is just on the other side of the Drake passage and the area is prone to low pressure systems and advection of moist and warm air masses from lower latitudes. In plain words, there are a lot of storms, a lot of rain, and temperatures around zero! If it wouldn't be for the really high wind speeds, you could think of my home town in winter, that is a lot of rain, cold and humid, meaning you are always cold and wet. Actually, not really what people picture when they think of "Antarctica". BUT from the scientific view, it is a highly interesting research are due to the magnitude of change you can observe!
There are few people really comprehending that coming here is a major challenge for your body, health and patience.. Like this year again, I left Bonn, Germany, at cold and wet conditions a little above zero, so that everything is muddy and wet, just to arrive to Buenos Aires with about 40 degrees Celsius and high humidity. The first half hour, you enjoy the sun, but then later in the night, you just want to die because of your messed-up sleep (jet lag) and your just melting around the clock..
Patience is what you need, since nothing is going as planned, as this year, I was supposed to leave right the next morning to the Southern end of Argentina to board the ship that would bring me through the Drake passage to King George Island. Of course, this just didn't happen and I spent one week in subtropical conditions.

This morning we finally left with the Hercules TC-66 operated by the Argentinean Airforce to Ushuaia, being met by lovely conditions with high winds and rain. Of course, the conditions were such that our ship could not load the cargo and we are currently really nicely set in the naval base at Ushuaia. It is good that I have a great book with me and a lot of movies so I can pass the time, that I do not work on the computer until we finally can board our ship for our "voyage with the Beagle" across the Drake passage. The sea in this region of the earth is usually so rough, that in order not to get sick, you take pills against sea sickness, at least that is what I will do. That helps! But it also makes you incredibly sleepy and your brain gets the sharpness of a sponge. But in any case, after the last weeks efficient work (nobody disturbing with coffee, email etc), I can take some days off to enjoy the nature and some good movies before we finally get to the Argentinean base Carlini, and to our research site! Actually, I very much look forward to that part of the travel :)