The Plateau


BLOG 5 02/12/2018

Tuesday we were a bit hungover from the failed expedition of the day before. Since there was no chance of going out in the field that day, we worked on the active sampling installations. We decided to run a test for a few days first to see if everything operates as it should. A few days ago I discovered the ambient temperature sensor on one of the instrument was broken, it’s not strictly necessary in order to sample but we need the pressure and temperature data to calculate accurate concentrations. Since I had some spare time on my hands the sensor was disassembled from the machine and I took it to the electrical ‘shop to figure out what was causing the trouble. The broken part was quickly identified and the colleagues in Ghent managed to order it and dropped it off with a scientist arriving at the station next week Tuesday. It’s not exactly next day delivery but still, not too bad for one of the most remote regions on earth.

Wednesday we had a quick meeting with Alain; we would try to reach the plateau again on Thursday but first we had to adjust the poles a little bit since he thought it’s better to drill them 1 meter into the ice and have the wooden board, which keeps them from sinking, closer to the ice surface. Again, all cases where filled with all the bottles we need for the exchange and installation. There are a lot! Empty ones, clean filters, backups, and that is just sampling material. We also needed to bring screwdrivers, shovels, chainsaws; we checked everything multiple times as we can’t risk forgetting anything or having the expedition aborted by a broken part. Check, double check, and check again. The next day the quick breakfast was followed by preparing lunch for the day, loading the Hilux and departure! We departed early, it is only a 55km drive (:-) .... from webmaster) but the Hilux averages around 15kph, not exactly highway speeds, because of the rubber tracks and the rough terrain. However, it is much more comfortable than a skidoo since you’re warm, protected from the wind and it’s possible to have a conversation. We even managed to take a small nap! The first hours passed quite fast and we arrived at the first site where we would replace the filters. However the poles where not there! Apparently, we made a slight navigational mistake (oops!) which was corrected quickly after which we got the three poles in our sights! Conditions are very different here compared to the valley next to the station! The katabatic wind is constant and ice is deposited immediately on everything staying still for more than a minute, including ourselves! It are difficult conditions to do fieldwork but with the aid of Henri and Manu and some perseverance, we were able to finish everything in around one hour. On to the next one, 20 km further up into the plateau, we would install a new station at an altitude of almost 2400m. Everybody warned us about the conditions there and they were right. Blazing winds combined with -25°C hit you in the face like a hammer the moment you open the door. Completely covered with balaclava, ski goggles and our thickest jackets we went to work! Manu and Henry started drilling while I mounted the sample holders to the poles and Stefania did the snow sampling. Installing the poles into their holes went quite easy thanks to the preparation. Despite the hard work and the body generating enough heat, I did manage to get some cold burn on my cheeks while working face first in the wind to secure all material in place. After taking some quick pictures, we were all very happy to be back in the Hilux, success! Time for celebration tea!

12 hours after departing, we were welcomed back by the station beautifully reflecting the low sun and Christine, the cook, who had kept 4 plates with fish and rice aside for us! Not the average day at the office, thanks to everyone involved! Friday and Saturday where quite calm. As there were some works happening to our measurement shelter we couldn’t run any active sampling. Instead, we took the time to wrestle ourselves through the enormous amount of instruments Alexander from the KMI/RMI has installed here. Some needed complete reinstallation, some calibration and some just a ‘gentle tap’ to get them going again. Also we saw some other people than the 24 currently living in the station as a plane arrived with some supplies. It was a Twin Otter this time and it’s always nice to go and see the plane takeoff up close. In the afternoon of Saturday, 2 weeks in already, we did the final fine-tuning and started with the active sampling. The high volume sampler will run for one week continuously taking into account the wind direction and speed, and will collect around 2000m3 of air. For our weekly recreational activity on Sunday, Aymar, the water engineer, and I went out on Nordic ski’s to do a 16km tour to Teltet, a mountain nearby, and back. It was a nice relief after a busy week to just ski with nothing on the mind, under a bright sun and a slight breeze. For sure, one shouldn’t underestimate the intensity of this sport, the French fries for diner where more than welcome! We are ready for week 3 on the Antarctic.

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