Danger !

(02-12-2019)

As Antarctica can be a hostile environment it is important to know how to prevent certain dangerous situations and how to act when something goes wrong. Therefor everyone active in the field receives an intensive 2-day training.

Monday, we started with a medical training where we learned to give the first aid for minor injuries to how to manage severe accidents as well as preventing frostbite. The day was ended with a simulation exercise where Frank (Pattyn) pretended he fell from the ridge and we had to improvise a way to immobilize his back, neck and leg while protecting him from the cold with what we had until the rescue team arrived! Thanks to some inflatable mattresses, down jackets and lots of duct tape Frank was able to survive and recovered miraculously. Under the monitoring of the station’s doc, Barbara, we passed the test.

The next day, Tuesday, was just an exhibition of the amazing beauty of Antarctica. While learning basic mountaineering knots and techniques to free someone out of a crevasse, a crack in the ice formed by its movement which can be up to 30m of depth, we of course got to spend some time in one. It’s funny how such a dangerous feature can be so breathtakingly beautiful at the same time. The afternoon was spent on the seat of a skidoo refreshing some driving techniques on ice and steep slopes after which we set up our tent and lit the stove. What a beautiful day.

Of course, we’re not here on holidays and there is some work to be done. Wednesday Stefania and I fired up the active samplers which will collect dust and organic chemicals until the station closes in March. After this we decided to go to the closest passive sampling site 5 km from the station. In the valley in front of the station there is only about 15-20 cm of snow accumulation each year, this makes that after two years of being out there the samplers sunk for about 40cm. Still high enough to easily find them in the white landscape. At some other stations such as at the coast accumulation rates are way higher so let’s cross fingers we find those as easily as we did this one.

During all our scientific work that day we were not alone! There was a camera operator, Xavier, carefully following our footsteps, shooting for a documentary about the station which will be aired this summer on RTBF (and probably VRT as well). Being here for the second year means the management starts to put some more trust in you. We can go around without having a guide with us all the time and I also could take Eric and Thore, the 2 PhD students working on Frank’s glaciology team to a site nearby where they did some snow density measurements to improve their models. Frank and his team are here to close the Mass2Ant project of the ULB and will be performing some final non-destructive measurements (so no drilling but radars and snow micro pens) on the ice rises near the coast. They gave a very nice overview of what the project achieved to the stations crew talking about the ice sheet’s dynamics and how the continent undergoes mass change.

Since Stefania’s frigo boxes arrived (by a freshly serviced and painted DC-3 plane) we will be joining that team to go to the coastal areas. Departure Saturday! As the sun is always above the horizon by now and there are no visual reference points in that area of Antarctica, being there is an alienating experience. You step into this huge white world where both space and time seem to be relative. Anyhow I’ll report on that trip later.

See you,
Preben

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