To the Plateau


Since last trip we managed to get 4 sample sites done at once and as the one near the station was already serviced the first week we were here, only the 2 sites on the Antarctic Plateau remain. However, for those 2 the weather conditions need to be excellent as only then it is possible to work for an hour outside. Since the weather by the end of last week was far from prefect (read +10m/s winds and whiteouts) it gave me some time to work on the second new addition to the project this year.

A prototype that will allow us to monitor changes in the atmosphere during the year in contrast to giving the average composition of a complete year like the passive samplers do. It took some work but we managed to install it on the roof of the southern ‘Atmos’ shelter where most atmospheric measurement instruments are installed. I already can’t wait to see if it will survive winter.

After the weekend the weather promised to change, this gave us a window to go into the field. The Antarctic Plateau is a special place. It is the largest continental plateau in the world, stretching from the area around the South Pole to most parts of East Antarctica. The average elevation is about 3000m! To reach it you need to drive southwards from the station and cross the Sør Rondane mountain range via the Gunnestadbreen. A huge glacier which in fact is a very deep fjord covered by a several kilometer-thick ice sheet. If it were to melt you would be able sail here by cruise ship! (That is if there was still any harbor remaining after sea level rose 60m because of the meltwater) The thick ice layer creeping down against the mountains creates huge crevasses which can easily fit a complete Prinoth tractor. You don’t want to wander off the established GPS track here.

Driving to the top of the glacier already brings you to 2200m of elevation and this is were our first site south of the station is located. The area here is still sheltered by some rocks and mountains, so weather here tends to be quite calm. This is changes once you drive further south, and you enter the factual Plateau area. It is an impressive, huge, ice plane with absolutely nothing and stretches as far as the eye can see (and further). The wind is solely katabatic and is always blowing snow which freezes every uncovered piece of skin and fills everything with snow the moment you expose it. It is truly another world! Going 2000km further south will get you to the South Pole (don’t forget to set your compass to the geographic south!), take a left turn a little before halfway and the highest point of the region is reached; Dome Fuji at 3700m. This is were Alain will go to with a few Japanese scientists around the end of this year. We however, will stop at our most southern sample location, at 2400m of elevation. Quite surprised, we found everything intact. After a year of brutal conditions, the metal poles were still at their original height and pointing straight up, making us slightly proud of the job we did last year. Finishing this site meant the end of our field campaign for this season on which we can look back as successful! After a quick group picture, we went back down to the station marking our track as safe with bright red flags. At least Alain and the Japanese won’t get lost during the first 70 kilometers of their trip. Only one more week to go here, time to wrap everything up!