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“How did we blog from the field ?”
The Darwin Glacier is so remote that modern ways of communication are no option – because there is no internet or cellphone reception available. In order to send messages to the outside world, we relayed our daily updates via high-frequency radio to Scott Base. HF communication is often called short wave radio and uses the reflection of waves within the ionosphere layer of our atmosphere.
By this method HF radio waves can travel beyond the horizon, around the curve of the Earth, and can be received all around Antarctica and even at intercontinental distances. We never knew who else was listening on our frequency and we are very sorry if we have occupied channel 3 for to long.
Unfortunately, suitability of HF radio is highly dependent on solar activity, because radiation of the sun affects the wave propagation significantly. Sometimes we even had to relay our messages using the NATO phonetic alphabet due to a noisy signal or a broken antenna. The spelling alphabet is also a great way to come up with new nicknames…
However, the highly-collaborative staff from Scott Base (Ruby, Leigh, Jim and Dave) then typed down the message and sent it via email to my friend Tom “Tango Romeo” Rose back in Christchurch, NZ, where he published it as soon as possible.
Our field blog was a team effort of many involved people and I owe each of them a big “Thank You”. Reading through all the questions and comments now is very rewarding and makes this blog the “icing on the cake” of our expedition.
In this sense:
Charlie Whiskey, over and out !
How could you finish such an incredible field season ? With a C-130 Hercules flight back to Christchurch ! After a sleepless night, we left Scott Base to Pegasus Airfield where the “Kiwi Herc” was already waiting for us. The aircraft is originally designed for military purpose of the Royal New Zealand Air Force but it has found good use in scientific research support.
The exciting take-off from the ice runway was just the beginning of our board entertainment. Shortly after the departure at 10am, we flew across the Drygalski Ice Tongue (the floating extension of the David Glacier). This ice tongue is about 70 km long and 20 km wide and probably the most spectacular feature along the Scott Coast.
The noise of the four engines was almost as impressive as the horizontal temperature gradient within the aircraft; positive 30 °C in the front and freezing cold in the back. Sitting along the sides of the plane and looking at the piles of cargo next to us gave rise to a “James Bond” feeling.
After eight hours flight, we arrived back in New Zealand. Here, summer is a big difference to the winter wonderland of the last month. Our sensitive noses were completely overwhelmed by the smells of flowers and our eyes surprised by other colors than blue and white. Our great adventure came to a successful end !
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”
The observation hill is located next to Scott Base. It is where the members of Captain Scott’s expedition, that stayed at Ross Island, looked out each day for the return of their companions from the South Pole. Scott and his men never returned – they perished in February 1913 due to violent blizzards, lack of food and severe frostbite.
The top of observation hill plays a key role in polar history for over one century. Standing on the summit is great to admire the views, but a change of perspective shows a different picture. It reveals that the we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. But this must not be a problem, it is our opportunity to make a change…
Today we were able to have a look underneath the sea ice surrounding Scott Base. We would have never expected to see this amount of life just a couple of meters below our feet.
Sea ice is just frozen ocean water, growing in winter and melting in summer. At its bottom it is exposed to the cold, relatively low-salinity water flowing out from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. It is here where parts of the supercooled meltwater coming from the Darwin glacier meet the ocean surface and are recrystallizing again. These tiny ice crystalls are growing slowly to the size of a hand while they rise towards the surface and get stuck beneath sea ice. This layer is called “plateled ice” and is home to a large variety of organisms.
Sea ice is thin enough to let sunlight through which allows algae to grow. This algae forms the beginning of the food chain, feeding crill, fish and eventually seals and killer whales. The “observation tube” let us climb below the sea ice, where glass windows allow an insight into this fascinating underwater world. It was the most colourful place we have seen during the last month and its surreal inhabitants made us feel like “sea-icetronauts “.
We made it ! After short notice we finally got our flights back to civilization. It was great to see how quickly a camp can be dismantled when you know that there are two Twin Otters already on their way to pick you up…
It was an honour to hear how our Canadian pilots George and Alex were excited about our Igloo. The actual flight along the Transantarctic Mountains was just breath taking, but our efforts of the last weeks made us fall asleep shortly after the take-off.
Back at Scott Base, the first look into the mirror was quite entertaining, but this didn’t stop our friends amongst the base staff to give us a big welcome-back hug. After a delicious dinner and a three minute shower (to save warm water) we just fell in our beds. However, all the impressions of the last month kept us awake during the night.
Now we can spend a few days at Ross Island and enjoy being exposed to the local science community before our departure back to New Zealand.
Weather delayed we spent another day in our camp on the ice. While waiting for our flights back to Scott Base, we found some non-sciency experiments that kept us busy . What would you do if you could spend a day in the middle of Antarctica ?
I finally found the time to tick another box on my “Things ToDo Before You Die List”. This was building a house with my own hands, and, since there was plenty of snow around, this house had to be an Igloo. The small play around became a major undertaking and at the end, roughly 200 blocks were manually cut out of the firn – each weighing around 20 kg and glued together with sweat and tears…
It was great to see what can be achieved as a team, because it was impossible to hold up the blocks alone while cutting them into the correct shape. A helping hand was needed to stabilize them, otherwise the entire thing would have collapsed. After finishing the Igloo, I invited all my friends on the Darwin glacier to the house-warming party and we warmed him up to -17 degrees Celsius, it was a really awesome night.