Saturday, November 30, 2013

Traverse Day 4-5 Update

Day 5 Progress:
Day 5 - 25 November 2013, 1300UT
Position reached: E 134° 16.588' S 69° 32.189'
Elevation: 2558 m
Distance covered so far: 417.03km (50.69 km past Virage Nord waypoint)
Temperature (evening): -30° C

Time escaped yesterday (Thursday 24th), so a combined 2 day update

Actually, I'm trying something different today, writing this on my iPad
while underway. The bumps in the road are a little better this afternoon
(Friday). The sastrugi (the hardened wind-sculpted surface bumps) are less
vicious, at around 40cm, than yesterday: where 1-1.5 m heights weren't
uncommon! As I noted in an earlier post, the Kassbohrer does the heavy work
filing holes and scraping off as much as possible from the sastrugi.

This lead work by the "kassi" is hard on driver and machine. I rode with
Anthony (our IPEV Traverse Leader) yesterday afternoon, to observe the
constant task of manipulating blade and speed; keeping a bade full of
rolling snow, occasionally backing up to have a second go at tough spots,
all the while trying to keep the speed up to avoid slowing the main
traverse caravan behind. Normally it is Sharon in the kassi with Anthony,
as she has the skill and experience to share the driving - I'm definitely
an observer in that vehicle!

I said the work was hard on the machine, and in fact yesterday the kassi
"broke" (Anthony's technical description at the time) about 90 minutes
before scheduled stop. A bent hydraulic piston was diagnosed, and the
skilled mechanics in the team were able to make it good, in uncomfortable
-25°C wind, using the well stocked mobile workshop. The whole IPEV
operation (Institute Paul Emile Victor - the logistical arm of the French
Antarctic Program) is impressive. The traverse is very comprehensively
organised and is a major operation - from the big stuff right through to
details like excellent pre-made (French) meals to keep the humans fuelled
and happy.

Despite the cold windy evening, the two French scientists on the traverse
Manu and Olivier made use of the earlier "park-up" to get an experiment
underway. Manu and Olivier are from LGGE in Grenoble, and are along to do
some studies, particularly on the return leg, after we are deployed at ABN.
This will include taking shallow firn cores and making radar
measurements....all with the aim of understanding snow accumulation on
Antarctica, and how it varies across the continent and over time (what we
glaciologists call surface mass balance). This work is needed for
determining the Antarctic contribution to sea level with climate change
impacts, now and into the future.

Yesterday included a notable transition point in our journey - it began
with the last sunrise we will see during the project. The combined effects
of approaching mid-summer and our southward march brought the midnight sun

After 5 days, we are setting into a routine, and we Australians are
becoming familiar with procedures. The driving day is long, seeing the
icescape crawling by at 7-11km/hr. There is a sameness but subtle variety
to the snow surface that is hypnotic in its own way, and today we had a
great set of parhelia (? where is google when you need it!) .... 'Sun dogs'
and intersecting rings of ice rainbows that arc around the sun, up from the
horizon, and around the zenith. Two days ago we had a visit from several
snow petrels which wheeled around the vehicles for a while, before going on
their way - wherever that was!

Conversation, music, audio books all help pass the time, and we can swap
drivers with a cramped seat swap, thereby avoiding a stop for the whole
caravan. I'm pleased that a thoughtful someone gave me some broadcast audio
of some good radio interviews that I ration to a couple a day (Richard
Fidler's Conversations off ABC radio for the interested).

After the sedentary driving day the heavy work comes at the end. Fuelling
and de-blizzing (chipping away accumulated ice and snow) tractors and
shovelling snow into the melter for our washing needs isn't necessarily the
desired antidote for inactivity when it's -25°C and blowing 60km/hr.

The experience is not unlike taking back-to-back long haul plane fights for
2 weeks plus, getting off each day into a gymnasium in a freezer, eating,
grabbing 6-7 hours sleep and repeating. Don't get me wrong, it is a
privilege and an adventure of a lifetime, but it is not for the faint-
hearted! And, of course, it is the key to being able to do the coring at