Antarctic report – a walk on the ice

By Guest Author 17/01/2012

by Dr Craig Stevens, NIWA

The first few days of any work down here are taken up with preparations, training, meetings and checklists. This seems a chore but is pretty important for keeping experiments running and having as few surprises as possible. Then the next task was to finalize our freight and make last minute decisions on what to take up north on the last leg of our journey to the Italian Base. As the flight up to the Italian Base is being operated by an America company all the weights are in pounds. Our entire experiment has to come under 2400 pounds. As is the way, we were way over our allowance so all those nice-to-have items dropped off the list. Then like a late Christmas present we were told that our allowance was about 200 kg more than we thought. So we got to put a few sampling luxuries back in — well when I say luxuries I mean extra batteries, a backup temperature sensor and more duct tape.

The freight is to be shipped out of Scott Base to Mario Zuchelli Base this afternoon, a day earlier than we originally thought so it was a bit of a scramble and gear didn’t have time to be re-checked. We’re hoping we won’t regret that later on, but these decisions need to be made all the time. Besides, it’s easier to spread out at our final destination; just a long way from spares! The one bit of serious testing we did do was to see how good we are at putting up the field tent. Pretty good it turns out — just not so good at putting it away. The tent is an excellent compromise between size, portability and resilience, regardless in the past we’ve had some challenging times putting these tents up in arduous conditions.

We’re not overly concerned about the lack of re-checking of the instrumentation as Brett Grant, my technical whizz in this endeavour, went through all the gear before it shipped out. We’ve worked together quite a bit over the past five years, both in Antarctica, and at sea in Cook Strait and further afield aboard the Tangaroa. Brett’s an expert in making the various profilers do their thing in an orderly fashion. I can usually get them to make sense, but in a much more chaotic fashion.

We went for a walk around the pressure ridges near Scott Base after dinner. These are ripples and deformations in the sea ice as it is squeezed by the land, the ice shelf and the wider sea ice itself. Earlier in the season these ridges form a sharp jagged alien landscape. But now with the heat (-0.3 deg C! plus sunshine) the lumps of ice are all melting and all the dips between the ridges are filling with… liquid! Rather strange really. So these beautiful ponds of greeny-blue are forming almost before our eyes. An example of the rapidity of this development is the flagged trail set out for hikers to safely go through the ridges actually went straight into a pond.

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