Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Aurora Basin North Update December 16

Well, a lot has been happening in recent days, but as yet, the stars
haven't aligned to bring flying weather at Casey and ABN and have an
operational skiway. Thankfully the last of these ingredients is now in
place, so next weather window will allow us to start to bring in the ABN
team. Exactly when this happens is still uncertain, with less than ideal
weather forecast for Casey in coming days, but we shall see.

At least the weather at ABN has taken a pleasing turn for the better. It
started with a glimmer of blue and brief sun late on Friday - heralded by a
pair of snow petrels: pretty impressive being 550km from the coast. The
petrels did a bit of swooping and wheeling around our tents - clearly
curious to see what it was that broke up the endless kilometres of white in
all directions. Then, as quickly as it opened up, the cloud and low
visibility resumed, shrouding the site overnight and for Saturday morning.
Finally on Saturday afternoon, there was a lasting change, with beautiful
still, sunny conditions. We finally got a clear look at the skiway for the
first time - pleased to see the fruits of the long days, but realising that
there was still work to be done to achieve the desired surface: now that it
could be seen properly.

We also got another airborne visit and scrutiny on Saturday - mechanical
rather than feathered. The Basler that will be servicing our camp, based
out of Casey, had a run to Concordia Station (Dome C) to pick up some
equipment, and decided to check us out on return. It was most impressive as
it buzzed down the length of the skiway before climbing out and turning for
Casey. Incidentally, the run to Concordia was needed to replace some
scientific equipment for ABN that was damaged on freighting into Casey. It
was fortunate that this replacement was available, as it is pivotal for
some of the firn air studies.

Knowing that every chance to advance camp setup must be taken, we have been
pushing along the unpacking of cargo and camp establishment as rapidly as
possible. A big achievement on Friday was the erection of the kitchen and
living tent - actually two 24 foot (a bit over 7m) tents butted together.
It was challenging in winds around 40km/h and drifting snow - the cover was
a 15m x 6m potential sail, but with good help from the French team and
some careful pinning of the upwind side, we avoided becoming impromptu
parasailers headed for Casey.

On Sunday, French scientists Manu and Olivier did the upflow transect I
mentioned in my last post - they achieved some 65km from the ABN drill
site. The radar information will provide a good basis for understanding the
variations we see in the core, and in particular how the flow from inland
affects the core record.

Since the time is nearing for the French team to depart, last night
(Sunday), we were treated to a special dinner. Quite possibly we ate at the
best restaurant in Antarctica. Two of the French mechanics, David and Alex,
showed their other talents - they turn out to be very accomplished chefs.
We had multiple courses, with wines to complement each. We started with
specially cooked slivers of duck, with foi gras. The meal also included
other delicacies, and a first for me - frogs legs. Dessert was crepes with
chocolate sauce and optionally, grand marnier. It was a very convivial
evening and a fitting celebration of the achievement in getting to this

It looks like the French will leave us on Wednesday - there's a chance of a
flight tomorrow, Tuesday, but probably not a good chance given the weather.
So tomorrow we cut the final ties of convenience/dependence on the traverse
facilities and become reliant on the camp infrastructure we have been
working on. Without fresh food inbound from Casey, we will be eating a
little more narrow diet - certainly more narrow than last night! But we
will be warm, and have an enormous amount of dry food to choose from.

One thing we will lose until our inbound Casey flight and team arrive is
email. Our full communications kit was held up in McMurdo when we came in,
and while it has subsequently arrived in Casey, it is not with us. We have
plenty of comms - two satellite phones and HF radio, but there will be no
email, or alas, blogs, until we see that plane. Stay tuned...