Sunday, December 22, 2013

Aurora Basin Camp Update: Post Traverse Departure

It has been an eventful few days at the ABN camp. First our numbers dwindled to just three as we saw the French traverse off, and then, yesterday we received six of the team in from Casey.

The departure of our French colleagues was a mixed experience: bidding farewarell to colleagues we had come to know at close quarters in the two plus weeks since the traverse began, but also knowing we were moving on to the next phase in the project.

There was some reluctance on behalf of the traverse to leave just three of us in such a remote location, but by Thursday we were very well established and they have other commitments and fuel limitations which made a departure timely. We watched them complete their pre-start routine, warming the tractors as they lumbered around a groomed track to warm up before hitching up and trying to move. In the days on site, they vans had stuck pretty well, and it took some fancy work to get it all moving, unbogging a couple of stuck tractors on the way. They crawled off onto the horizon, becoming small specks after many tens of minutes.

The weather on departure day wasn't suitable for a flight, so we spent most of our efforts getting the camp ready for more people - putting bedding in tents, figuring out how to cram all the accumulated gear into sensible places so that newcomers could fit and getting food/kitchen similarly ready.

Yesterday we finished preparations, including erecting a pretty serious looking windsock for the skiway. Then we got news that flying was to happen. We initially got a basler flight loaded with cargo, followed by three of the team on a twin otter. It was great to welcome in Mark, the project leader, along with the doctor, Malcolm, and Simon, one of the Danish drilling crew.

The weather was perfect - the best we have had, with temperatures above minus 20, virtually no wind and clear skies. It was also quite satisfying to see a perfect and smooth landing by both aircraft on the skiway which had been the focus of so much effort in the past week or so.

The conditions allowed for a second round of flights, so we had another basler (cargo) and three more crew: Trevor (Danish, driller), Jerome (French, firn air analyst/driller) and David (Australian, firn air). This brought us up to the basic complement required to do the main science tasks, and so gives us some insurance that regardless of weather from here, we will be able to secure the main goals.

With the extra cargo, we have been able to refine the camp infrastructure, importantly for all, getting the full communications and email running - hence the resumption of blogging.

Today we got another two flights with cargo only, and got stuck into the science preparations. We have one drill for the firn air work largely assembled and are getting things ready for some drilling maybe tomorrow. The drill requires a trench to be dug so that it can be swung from horizontal to vertical in operation. The main drill and tent also require a similar trench, but because the drill is taller, the team have decided that the best way to fit in the tent is to excavate the entire inside the tent to a couple of metres depth. They have begun this task with a snow blower, and will then tow the constructed tent over the top - the tents aren't designed for this, so tomorrow may have its challenges!

So all is humming along well. We really would like to see the rest of the team in camp as soon as practical, and we are hopeful that this will transpire in the coming couple of days.