Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year from...

... Casey Station!

Some explanation: I started yesterday (Monday) thinking I had another night at ABN, but following some firn air pumping late on Sunday night, the ice was starting to say clear things to us... there was little open pore-space left. The bubbles were largely closed, and at our next level, a metre or so deeper, Jerome and David were not able to extract much air despite pumping with maximum available pressure.

Knowing that this was the case, we looked again at the logistical picture. A flight was due on Monday afternoon to exchange six camp members, and the weather was showing some risk of preventing another flight until Friday. But Friday is also the day of our Airbus flight from Wilkins (the ice runway that serves Casey) to Hobart. This was not a risk we cared for, given that our science role at ABN was effectively over, so we put on our skates, packed our bags and made the Casey return flight.

It was a time of mixed feelings, saying goodbye to our friends remaining behind. For the three traverse team members, who had started this back in early November, this was the end of a long chapter -  Noel (diesel mechanic) and I were leaving, and Sharon remains as field leader. Having established the camp, there was a sense of wanting to see it to conclusion too, but our roles are complete; and the process of extracting people and infrastructure will be an imperative over the remaining weeks to late January when the last tent is pulled down and the remaining few come home. The departure marked another achievement too - we brought out over 600kg of ice core.

It was quite remarkable returning to the coast after more than a month on the high plateau. We were greeted by scenes of meltwater, positive air temperatures and soft, warm, moist air filled our nostrils. The coast is the home of life on this continent and you can see and smell that too - so striking after the barren, sharp cold of the interior. For sure, we saw a few birds far inland, but they were interlopers like we were: able to make the journey naturally, but aliens nonetheless. Of course we could only sustain our efforts with the aid of the fossil remains of past living things - distilled to the fuel that propelled our tractors and planes, powered our generators and heater. This strikes me as something of a circular situation - the past provides energy, for us to extract ice ... to explore the past.

So this brings to a close my personal journey to ABN and back. I will make one or two more posts to this blog, to put up some pictures now that I am back in the land of the internet, and probably to cap things off at the end of the whole project with some kind of summary of events. Watch on twitter (@tasvo) if you want to be reminded. But the story now belongs to the group remaining at ABN - there is the major portion of the main core yet to drill, and another auxiliary (~100m) core for the sulphur studies of our French partners at LGGE. You can follow events through the AAD website.

And a final comment - I've been surprised and pleased to hear of the many folk who've followed this blog... thanks for your interest. The knowledge that you were doing so was a factor in keeping me at the computer after midnight several times (that's a good thing!).

And a final picture from the Basler window as I left yesterday...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

December 29 ABN News

I awoke this morning after a late night chasing the drilling problem in the firn tent, and thought how well I was acclimatizing to the cold. Actually though, it wasn’t me acclimatizing to the weather: just some amazingly warm weather. Our maximum today was -1.5C in the shade. Drilling tent doors were open to try and keep them cool enough to work and the processing tent was not used. Some outdoor shallow coring was done instead, and even this required some care and shading to keep the ice from melting in the sun.

We tried a few things with the firn drilling in order to get it to retrieve core, initially without success, but eventually a combination of things seemed to do the trick, and we were back in action. We had expected a long ‘lock in’ zone (as explained in an earlier post), but we are finding that the pores are closing very fast (with increasing depth) and it is proving difficult to get large air volumes. This is disappointing for the firn air science, as it won't provide as extensive a record as we had hoped. There is a bright side, however as understanding the unexpected properties of this site and the way the snow turns to firn and then ice will be useful in the broader interpretation of ice core results. Such unknowns are part of the territory of course with research.

Tomorrow six of the first half team change out from camp, and six second halfers arrive. Those of us in the firn air team will spend a bit of time hunting for the last dregs of air at depth, and pack up for a return to Casey the day after. It will be a strange feeling to end my personal ABN chapter after nearly two months. Still, I am jumping the gun â€" there will be more to report in the next couple of days, and that is without even considering what the weather might do to plans.

Saturday 28 December

Today started with one of those special Antarctic moments… I extruded myself through the tent tunnel to find almost clear skies and perfectly still conditions. There was a thin misty feel, a little like an early morning in winter and the sun was accompanied by a magnificent ring/rainbow.

The misty conditions quickly lifted and it has become a warm, bright sunny Saturday. Just after breakfast it was almost like a Saturday morning in suburbia, but the “lawnmower” sound was doctor Malcolm using the snow-blower to excavate a trench to take our ice core boxes: very timely given the warm conditions, as we need to get them out of the sun.

One of the Hobart scientists, Andrew, has got a laser spectrometer up and running and is measuring our first ice samples (for those interested, this device measures isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in the water/ice, which can be interpreted as past temperatures). We are interested to see seasonal variations in the ice, especially in the shallow sections near the surface, as these will tell us more about the annual snowfall rate here.

The main core drilling continues, at 114 metres, and the team have been working hard to solve some technical problems with the drill. The firn air coring has now reached 102 metres and we are in the special zone called the ‘lock-in’ zone, where the ice is still porous enough to allow us to pump trapped air out, but the air itself is now isolated from the modern atmosphere. The point of this is that we can get very large samples of air that is decades old: much larger that can be obtained from bubbles in a relatively small ice core. Such large samples can be used to measure exotic gases like carbon-14 methane.

Others have been busy making use of the good weather to drill a shallow core. This is important because the setup of the big drills makes it difficult to get a nice undisturbed ice core from the surface, which gets trampled and cut away. The shallow core will be about 20-30m deep and the measurements on this core will overlap the other ice cores and allow the continuous record to be assembled.

The changeover of staff between the two half seasons is getting closer. We could be flying out as early as Tuesday, so we are working hard to complete the firn core and air extractions and leaving time to pack up. The actual pumping takes a couple of hours, filling flasks as well as making online measurements. We are looking at the depth remaining (which is sort of unknown, but we estimate to be another 10 metres or so) and figuring out how many extractions we can fit in the time left; the more the better!

Postscript: Midnight
How quickly things change â€" the firn air coring has hit a nasty snag. The drill stopped feeding near 103 m and after a lot of diagnosis we think the problem is the buildup of fine snowy dust in the bottom of the hole â€" accumulated from the drill runs abrading the hole, and probably from the insertion and removal of the long bladder that is used to seal the hole during air extraction. Whatever the exact cause, the drill is not successfully getting a bite on the ice and so our progress is halted. We have a few ideas to try tomorrow, and Trevor, one of the drilling experts in camp says he has seen this problem before and that a solution can generally be found. While this turn of events makes for some suspense/intrigue for readers, I must say I’d prefer a more boring blog at this point!

Friday, December 27, 2013

27 December Update

The ABN camp is really in full swing now. Everyone is busy at their tasks: two drilling teams, a processing team, and support folk. The processing team consists of a number of the most recent arrivals, and they have put up the last of the large tents and are filling it with core cutting and cleaning facilities.

Yesterday, in the evening, we enjoyed our Christmas celebration. A delicious meal and everyone swapping stories, including anecdotes from the countless accumulated field trips. These included fond memories of some of the pioneers in our field, notably our recently departed Danish colleague Sigfus Johnsen, whose memory we toasted.

The weather hasn't been so good the last couple of days, with a fair bit of wind and snow, as I think I mentioned. We are largely immune to the weather now, with all tents up and most work inside, but moving around camp with the cloudy skies and 'flat' light can be tricky. There are 30cm plus high drifts between the tents that weren't there a day ago, and these nearly invisible obstacles make for some clumsy stumbles. I'm nearly at the point of having to get a shovel to dig out the entrance to my tent - entry is now a hands-and-knees slide down through the canvas tunnel; exit is a case of throwing out whatever you are carrying and diving uphill onto the snowdrift.

The drilling continues well - the main core has reached 100m, and the day has a couple of hours left. The firn air coring is also going well - we are at 85m and Jerome and David have just completed another air extraction, with air that looks like it is about 13 years old, and still in the porous phase (the bubbles are not sealed and the air is still actively connected to the atmosphere).

I need to finish off now and go and drill a few more metres in preparation for the next air extraction.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

ABN December 25

Today brought some more developments at ABN. A Basler flight brought in our last three science crew and our changeover mechanic, who was scheduled in January, but will have the opportunity to get a handover of the setup from the current mechanic. The notable thing about this was that Bloo, the new mechanic, arrived in Santa costume, which combined with his impressive beard and jolly deameanour had a very authentic effect - at least if you ignore the fact that the costume was probably a couple of sizes too small and back-to-front!

Work continued with some success. The firn-air team and the main coring team have now each drilled to a little over 50 metres. The progress of the firn air coring was stymied for a while by ongoing trouble with tension in the spring "skates" that prevent it from spinning in the hole rather than drilling. For a while around the middle of the day we were stuck around 35m depth, where the skates had slipped in the hole, over-enlarging it and threatening any ability to progress. With some good advice and head scratching these difficulties seem to have been solved, and we hope to pick up the pace tomorrow.

The newcomers from yesterday have thrown themselves into their work - one team putting up the final large tent which will house core processing, and others organising the kitchen and living area to cope with the large population: now 19!

I've included a picture that shows the camp this evening - it is rather windy and snow is drifing through the area providing an atmospheric effect. It isn't as cold as it has been (only -23C) but the wind makes it rather uncomfortable.

As I said yesterday, our Christmas will be tomorrow, a shortened work day and a special dinner at the end. I think the best present for us all will be a day of good progress.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve Bulletin

Well, things at ABN have really got busy! We didn't get a flight in on Monday as hoped for, so it waited until today for the right conditions to bring more folk in.

Actually, on Monday, we had a working bee for the imminent influx, putting up several sleeping tents. We now have a substantial village of some 19 pyramids.

On the science front, the last two days have seen good progress. The firn air drilling has now reached 30m depth, and undertaken the first serious air extraction this evening. The main drilling is also underway, reaching 12.6m this evening (albeit starting in a 4m deep basement). So everyone is feeling very pleased and there a lot of smiles around.

Many of the smiles are on faces of the 6 new folk who flew in today ... Pleased to finally be at ABN after much waiting at Casey. Actually, the ABN skiway was like a real airport today as we no only had our Basler and twin otter flights bringing people in, but we also had a twin otter from Concordia that dropped 5 passengers to connect through to Casey on our returning aircraft!

The adverse flying weather over the last two weeks and slow arrival of the full team has put us behind a little, and there's a lot to be done in coming days, especially for those of us scheduled to change out around NewYear. We will celebrate Christmas, but it will be a (slightly shortened) work day so we can keep things happening. In order to allow today's arrivals to settle (especially chef Jenny) we are delaying our Christmas by a day. This will also allow our final few arrivals, scheduled here tomorrow, the chance to be part of the celebrations.

So, on this Christmas Eve, best wishes to all blog readers for a very happy Christmas. Ours will be white, bright and night less, as well as a little delayed.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Aurora Basin: December 22

After much preparation, today the project has moved fully into its science phase.

The camp was a hive of activity, with the firn air and main core drilling teams well underway while others put up more tents for incoming personnel, marked out the skiway, attended to mechanical needs and prepared meals.

The most dramatic event of the day was the installation of the main drilling tent over the 1.5m deep "basement" that had been excavated for it. As I mentioned yesterday, the tent was towed over the top of the hole, and the whole thing went very smoothly. The drillers in this tent can now boast of cathedral ceilings! They spent the rest of the day cleaning up the excavation from inside and towing out the remaining snow - some 42 cubic metres was removed in all over a couple of days!

The other big event was the commencement of the first coring - in the firn air tent, we completed the assembly of the drill and sawing out the 2.2 metre deep trench that it swings in with enough time to commence drilling. We did three drill runs each with cores a bit over a metre taking us to 5.85m depth. Jerome and David then installed the firn air pumping device (which consists of a cylindrical bladder a couple of metres long) to seal the hole and pump trapped air from below it. This is largely an initial test of the equipment and went well.

Tomorrow, weather being favourable, we expect more newcomers to fly in - probably six of them. This will provide extra hands for existing tasks, the ability to start setting up new facets of the project, and also bring greater support in the form of our camp chef.

Everyone seems to be settling into camp life in a cold, remote and high altitude location. We all have related stories to tell about the vagaries of getting in and out of our tents, changing and into sleeping bags with the minimum of hassle and exposure. Some of the tents seem to be better designed for these conditions than others. The usually favourite polar pyramid tents have undergone some redesign which includes very heavy fabric that doesn't allow easy entry/exit in these very cold conditions. Consequently those of us who have these tents all find ourselves stumbling and snagging as we go in and out.

Sleeping is actually pretty comfortable with multiple layers of foam and camping mattresses underneath and two nested sleeping bags. If you want water overnight, it is necessary to keep the water bottle in the sleeping bag to avoid freezing. Getting up in the middle of the night, especially with the pyramid entrance snagging, is not at all welcome, and even in the morning, getting up into temperatures around -25C to -30C takes a bit of planning and willpower.

In other respects, we have a nice comfortable living/kitchen area, and now even email. As I write, three of us night owls are clicking away, sitting around our revered kerosene heater, partly out of interest in email, and partly procrastinating over the cold-dash to bed.

Hopefully tomorrow brings more folk to ABN and plenty more metres of ice core.

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.

Aurora Basin Camp Update: First post traverse

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 two Basler

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...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Aurora Basin North Update December 12

Position: ABN Campsite
Temperature (evening) -15 °C

We were very grateful today that we got the one tent up yesterday, because
the whole day was far too windy for any serious outside work, and certainly
for putting up a tent. We did complete unpacking of one container before
things got too bad though.

We marked out a parking/turning area off the skiway and our grooming team
from IPEV continued work roughing out the skiway itself and the parking
area. Visibility for much of the day was very poor due to drifting snow.
Already just one day after putting up the generator tent it has drifts over
30cm deep forming around it.

Aside from the bit of unpacking, we did a good deal of sorting of gear,
organising, final tying down of the one tent we have up, and importantly
got the generators commissioned and fuelling stations organised. This is a
big step toward having an independent camp running and so we are pleased
with the day.

Looking forward, the forecast remains a bit dismal for the next day or few,
with similar weather to today expected to continue. Still, we hope for gaps
where we can push forward with the unpacking and hopefully get another tent
or two up. We need to get an independent camp and skiway completed as soon
as possible so we can get the team in and also free up the French team to
depart. It looks like this will take some days yet, but as we arrived a
little early, we are still broadly on schedule.

Actually, the French scientists Manu and Olivier are planning a day trip,
some 40km "upstream" from ABN (i.e. where the ice flow direction leads)
before they leave, and they are also waiting on improved weather. They will
do radar studies and some shallow coring. This work will help the
interpretation of the main ABN ice core by giving us a clearer picture of
the upstream changes in local snowfall rate that have affected the ice at
various depths below us here.

On elevation and sun dogs

This picture is a nice illustration of parhelia (sun dogs) around midnight
during the traverse to ABN.

For the attentive and technically minded reader:
You may have noticed an asterix (*) in my last post regarding elevation,
which I meant to get back to in that post. I've been flagging elevation as
2677m. This isn't definitive, as it is based on barometric pressure in
conjunction with GPS (using some clever jiggery pokery in the device
itself). The alternative is pure GPS, which doesn't give good elevation
from a basic GPS. Digital elevation data for the site (Bamber's DEM)give an
elevation of 2701m, which is probably the best value we have. Eventually we
will have good a good GPS fix from a geodetic GPS we will deploy.

Aurora Basin North Update December 11

Update: December 11 2013, 1230UT
Position reached: E 111° 22.091' S 71° 09.922'
(final traverse van position, 150m from ABN drill site)
Elevation: 2677 m (* see below)
Temperature (evening): -18 °C

Today was a busy day and gave us plenty of exercise to make up for the
sedentary long days in the tractors on traverse.

Unfortunately the weather continued to hamper things somewhat with very
poor visiblity at times and periods of wind. We did get the 2km long skiway
limits marked out. The wind had shifted from its somewhat easterly position
during the bad weather of the last day or two, and was more aligned with
the SE direction expected from the old automatic weather station records.

The weather did not mean we got to sit around lounging though - we made
good progress on unpacking containers (hence the exercise), working our way
throught the 30 tonnes or so of gear. We emptied one container and made a
good start on a second. Cranes on the tractors helped with some heavy
items, but many heavy items had to be manually handled and pushed around on
small sleds. We also put up the first of the large tents (14x24 feet in
the old measurements), which took some effort in the wind. This tent will
house the generators, but at the moment is a general staging-post for gear
that comes out of the container.

Our IPEV colleagues are giving us tremendous assistance with all the camp
and skiway preparations.

Tomorrow the work will continue - we will see what the weather does and
adapt. At the moment we have a very pleasant, still evening!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Aurora Basin North Update December 10

Update: December 10 2013, 1230UT
Position reached: E 111° 23.766' S 71° 10.051'
(no change: 1km from ABN drill site)
Elevation: 2677 m
Temperature (evening): -14 °C

The traverse living/generator vans remain 1km from the drill site at the
end of this, our first, day at ABN.

We enjoyed getting off to a somewhat later start today - a chance to
recover a little from the relentless traverse routine!

We had a good day, but with no thanks to the weather. It was snowy with low
cloud and poor visibility all day. We drove in to the site along a
carefully planned route to avoid disrupting the areas we want to remain
pristine for drilling, snow sampling and fresh water, and began to mark out
the site. For this, we used bamboo canes - a standard tool in Antarctic
fieldwork, as they are light, long and strong.

The first task was to assess the wind direction which determines the
alignment of the skiway and the best alignment of camp tents. These are
best distributed across (perpendicular to) the wind, as this alignment
helps to avoid snow drift tails from one tent inundating others downwind.

At the moment we are experiencing a significant weather system that is
producing easterly winds. This, however, is unusual for this site, and we
have records from a nearby old automatic weather station that suggest the
prevailing winds are typically south-easterly. We can just make out older
partly obscured drifts that confirm the more normal SE winds - and so we
bravely ignore the present indications in aligning the camp: and skiway in
days to come.

After marking things out this morning and running the kassi over the area
to level for tents and foot traffic, the weather closed in and visibility
decreased to virtually nil. We retreated for lunch to the vans 1km away,
driving on GPS, as our tracks from earlier were almost impossible to

In the afternoon, we went back in only slightly better conditions and were
able to bring in the five containers on sleds with our gear. We also put up
a medium/small tent for working storage/shelter, and did some preliminary
unpacking/exploring of the containers.

That's about it for the day - it is good to be making a start on the
camp, although working in the windy and snowy conditions is always
challenging, and slows progress. The warmer temperatures are a relief in
many ways, lessening the biting chill and risk of cold injury, but they do
make the conditions somewhat wet - the snow that gets caught in gaps and
crevices and attached to clothes very quickly turns to water.

The forecast for the next few days is much the same, but we are hoping for
at least some gaps with better visibility so work can begin on the skiway.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Traverse Day 15 Update

Day 15 Progress:

Day 15 - 9 December 2013, 1330UT
Position reached: E 111° 23.766' S 71° 10.051'
Elevation: 2677 m
Distance covered: 1353 km
Distance remaining: 1 km
Temperature (evening): -18 °C

Well, we have arrived at ABN minus 1km. Today we departed in low visibility
with some snow overnight continuing and low cloud/fog. This rapidly
deteriorated to whiteout at times, which slowed travel a little bit,
although a very flat, minimal sastrugi surface literally smoothed the way.

We arrived just 1 km short of the ABN site around 1830 which afforded us
the rare luxury of an early shutdown - once vehicles were fuelled and
everything sorted out, we settled down to a celebratory dinner about two
hours earlier than normal. We enjoyed a great Franco-Australian celebration
of the achievement of the past two weeks.

Tomorrow we will go to survey the campsite, ready to bring in the traverse
and begin unpacking/setting up camp.

The evening has cleared and settled to a nice mild (-18C) and relatively
clear night. The 11pm sun is shining through the window across my desk,
sporting a couple of picturesque sun-dogs on either side. A fitting end to
the traverse phase, and inspiring start for the next phase of setting up
the camp and getting down to the scientific work.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Traverse Day 14 Update

Day 14 Progress:

Day 14 - 8 December 2013, 1330UT
Position reached: E 113° 44.405' S 71° 12.614'
Elevation: 2652 m
Distance covered so far: 1269 km
Distance remaining: 85 km
Temperature (evening): -24 °C

We are hopefully at our last night on traverse, with only a modest day's
travel remaining. Progress was once again good - we have had
fairly consistent conditions since turning off at D85.

After a relaxed meal, we sat down and watched a short old film that Noel
had, of a 1960s traverse from Wilkes to Vostok, 900 miles inland. Wilkes is
now abandoned, but is an old US station that passed to Australia before
being closed once Casey was established across the bay.

It was remarkable what 4 men in a caravan of small sleds hauled by two D4
tractors achieved. We were struck by how our modern mode of transport is
essentially the same, yet different in speed, comfort and safety. The film
was particularly apt, because the ABN site we have selected is on the old
Vostok traverse route. So while we are assuredly the first people to pass
over much of the ice we have traversed in the past week or so, we are very
much pre-dated as visitors to GC40 (the formal location of the ABN site).

Tomorrow, all going well, we reach the site. We will park the traverse
caravan a kilometre or so short, and if time allows do an initial survey to
establish wind direction, drill site, basic camp and skiway layout. Once
these things are determined, we will be set the following day to bring in
the traverse and start the work of setup.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Traverse Day 13 Update

Day 13 Progress:

Day 13 - 7 December 2013, 1330UT
Position reached: E 116° 36.488' S 71° 09.289'
Elevation: 2664 m
Distance covered so far: 1166 km
Distance remaining: 188 km
Temperature (evening): -20 °C


Break out the Hawaiian shirts - we arrived to still, sunny conditions and
-20°C this evening. Refuelling and outdoor chores were very pleasant, and
in fact most of us were a little over-warm because the tractors got pretty
hot in the sun while travelling.

Not much news today - everything was normal, apart from a false start which
bogged one tractor at the start of the day, and which was rectified pretty
smartly with some rehitching and towing. It did underscore to me the skill
involved in synchronised starts to get a couple of hundred tons sliding in

We had better get to the destination soon, as I'm getting through my 25
episodes of ABC Conversations - I'm getting about 58 km per episode!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Traverse Day 1-12 Update

Day 12 Progress:

Day 12 - 6 December 2013, 1330UT
Position reached: E 119° 32.665' S 71° 08.654'
Elevation: 2678 m
Distance covered so far: 1059 km
Distance remaining: 295 km
Temperature (evening): -25 °C

The last two days we have covered very good distances of 108km and 105km
respectively, so we are really starting to think about arrival at ABN.

Not surprisingly, given the good progress, the surface has been great for

There was no report yesterday because we drilled a core during the evening,
before/after dinner and didn't retire until well after midnight.

Otherwise there is not a lot to report - the routine traverse life
continues, with a convivial group. The Australians are picking up a little
more French, and enjoying good cheese and occasional French wine.

Today's natural highlights were some more diamond dust snow, a new crescent
moon standing right up on its end as it follows the sun around the sky, and
some spectacular polarised highlights reflecting from the snow. Just as we
were driving right into the sun, glazed areas ahead were sparkling in two
shades - a bright phosphorescent white, and an iridescent pink - it looked
like some sort of gem-like deposits coating the sastrugi in patches. Small
things, perhaps, but one gets adjusted to seeing small changes after a
thousand kilometres at such a leisurely pace!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is a picture worth a thousand (or 1300) kilometres?

Here is a map of progress so far. In an attempt to make it small enough to
fit the satellite email, it may be barely legible, so excuse the

Anyway, the take-home message is the red line showing progress so far.
Waypoint markers on the red line are end-of-day markers. Waypoint markers
between the red line and ABN are the intended route we will follow over
coming days.

Traverse Day 10 Update

Day 10 Progress:

Day 10 - 3 December 2013, 1330UT
Position reached: E 125° 23.287' S 70° 59.893'
Elevation: 2863 m
Distance covered so far: 846 km
Distance remaining: 506 km
Temperature (evening): -27 °C

A routine day, except that 95 km is better than we expected to cover. In
fact if it wasn't for some minor hiccoughs with getting the snow radar
running, we may have hit the 100km - a slightly sore point around camp in
a good humoured way.

We were going to drill a shallow core (10m or so) tonight as one of 2-3
short records to look at recent variability. As it happened, the surface
in the area we travelled through looked unsuitable for a good climate
record. It was marked by strong glazing from wind-drifted snow and
erosional features (scoured lumps and bumps) rather than nice depositional
drifts and sastrugi. Since exact location is less of an issue than getting
a good climate record, we will try at the next opportunity. Interestingly,
by the end of the day, the worst of the wind-glaze was past, and the
surface was improving, so maybe tomorrow.

Speaking of the area we traversed today, we were a little surprised that
the route passed through even higher elevation than yesterday, reaching
2889m at one point, and then decreasing slightly. The weather was cold
most of the day, -29°C with around 50km/hr winds at lunch time. Mercifully
it was milder by day's end when we were refuelling etc.

We are past half way in distance (as indeed we were yesterday), and with a
bit of continued good travel, arrival by mid next week is looking

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Traverse picture

Here is picture of the majority of the traverse on the move. It is a bit
difficult to get a shot of the whole caravan, as it isn't always configured
as one train, and besides, once moving, all occupants are generally on

Anyway, this picture is missing the Kassbohrer and the tractor Manu and I
are in, which is towing 3 fuel tanks (about 40 tonne). As we are making
snow radar measurements, we aren't connected to the rest of the caravan.

I think I mentioned earlier on that the traverse was hauling 90 tonne, but
I've since found out that is an incomplete subset of the whole. Including
vehicles (the 4 Challenger 65C tractors and the Kassbohrer) and fuel as we
were a few days back, the entire traverse is around 230 tonne.

Traverse Day 8-9 Update

Traverse Day 8-9 update

Day 9 Progress:
Day 9 - 2 December 2013, 2300UT
Position reached: E 127° 56.663 S 70° 49.591'
Elevation: 2836 m
Distance covered so far: 751 km
Distance remaining: 601 km
Temperature (evening): -27 °C

Yesterday was a long and busy day, and despite a good day for the raid we were saddened by the news of the helicopter accident on the Amery. Our thoughts are with all
those involved. Consequently today I'll give a combined 2 day update ...

This is another iPad under-way attempt, I must say battling at the limits of dexterity as we bounce along at 8-9 km/h. Blame the sastrugi and autocorrect for any

We covered 87km yesterday and 84km today, which is excellent progress now we are off-roading. Yesterday we parked the caravan around our usual time of 2030 under
ideal conditions: scarcely a breath of wind, and clear sunny skies making the -24°C air temperature seem mild. It was a case of doors flying open as vehicles came to
a stop and everyone scattering to make the most of the weather. Manu doing another radar transect, Olivier doing snow pit work, while I got our Kovacs shallow ice
corer out to do some testing in preparation for some genuine coring in the near future. This frenzy of pre-dinner science activity was aided by the rest of the group
who picked up our common end-of-day tasks. While on the topic of science, a clarification regarding Manu's snow radar during traverse. I think I said it covers the
upper several tens of metres; in fact it extends to about 150 m, somewhat deeper than I thought.

The clear still weather brought a cold night. I'm noticing a distinct difference between temperatures of -30° and below, and the more congenial -10° to -20°
temperatures we encounter in previous work near the coast and at Law Dome. Each day little tasks requiring dexterity, Iike tying up radiator covers on the tractors,
are compounded by clumsy gloved hands or very cold fingers. I expect we will really be challenged at the ABN camp when it comes time to put up the 7 or so large tents
and 20+ polar pyramid tents. I'm putting in an order for more windless weather!

The surface today was rougher than yesterday and Sharon pointed out the difficulty in operating the kassi when some sastrugi scrape off smoothly at a reasonable
speed, and others bring the vehicle to a shuddering stop.

Now that I've had confirmed the fact that I can blog pictures, I'll throw in the occasional bit of eye candy if future posts, although I dare not clog the satellite
link, so they'll be sparing and low quality.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Test traverse post - picture

I didn't have a chance to test if this would work before departure, but
here is an attempt to blog a picture via satellite email. It will either
work, or be a boring little post, so here goes. The picture is shrunk and
heavily compressed to fit through the low bandwidth link, so there is a
quality compromise.

The picture (credit Sharon Labudda) shows the front of the traverse last
tuesday, as we travelled in whiteout and blizzard conditions. You can't see
the whole traverse caravan because of the conditions, but you should be
able to make out the lead tractor, a couple of fuel tanks, the next tractor
and the living van... behind this are a couple more tractors, more fuel and
several containers...

If it fails to work, we may get it put up on the AAD website.

Traverse Day 7 Update

Day 7 Progress:
Day 7 - 1 December 2013, 1330UT
Position reached: E 132° 30.341' S 70° 33.051'
Elevation: 2724 m
Distance covered so far: 579.8km
Temperature (evening): -25° C

Today we turned west toward Aurora Basin, and left the formed track to
Concordia. It was with some trepidation that we headed off, not knowing for
sure how easy progress would be on an unconsolidated surface.

We left a little later today - we had some reconfiguring of the caravan to
do, and Manu was setting up a snow radar on our tractor. This trails over
the snow on a boom off to one side and takes regular (2 second) profiles of
radar returns from the upper part of the snow pack (tens of metres). This
will be the first look at how the snow layers change across this large
swathe of East Antarctica, and will help understand the geographic
variation in snowfall rates.

At first Manu and I followed in the 'radar' tractor, with the rest of the
traverse ahead of us - we were also pulling our weight, in the form of 3
12000 L fuel tanks. As it happened, the snow _was_ pretty soft, and the
fact that it was heavily worked over by the caravan ahead of us meant we
got bogged a couple of times. This took a little time to get towed out, and
we ended up reconfiguring the train of vehicles to put us up front, just
behind the kassi. No more getting stuck, and a pretty smooth trip -
although still a bit bumpy to read or blog!

All-in all a 62km day with the later start and minor hitches is a
satisfying start to this stage of the trip, and our target arrival around
December 11 looks within reach if nothing changes!

The off-track work is a bit heavier for the kassi crew, because they are
dealing with an untravelled surface to groom, and simultaneously
maintaining GPS course to the set of waypoints provided by Patrice from

We are currently travelling almost due west, along around 70.5S latitude,
and will gradually make our way south in coming days to the ultimate ABN
latitude of 71.2S. The route will be fairly level - we are now a little
higher than ABN (2701m) and will climb another couple of hundred metres or
thereabouts before crossing a ridge in a couple of days and descending.

Speaking of elevation, the cold polar atmosphere is somewhat thinner than
similar altitudes elsewhere, and so we are in the equivalent vicinity of
about 10000 feet, or a bit over 3000 m. For at least some of us we are
noticing a bit more huffing and puffing than usual when we exert ourselves,
but otherwise no ill effects.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Traverse Day 6 Update

Day 6 Progress:
Day 6 - 30 November 2013, 1300UT
Position reached: E 134° 08.301' S 70° 25.851'
Elevation: 2656 m
Distance covered so far: 517.45km (At D85 waypoint)
Temperature (evening): -30° C

A brief bulletin today. Good progress was made and we have reached a
significant landmark: the D85 waypoint, where we leave the "road" to
Concordia, Dome C.

We began the day in low cloud to the surface, but visibility was not too
bad. The cloud lifted in the morning, and the afternoon was delightful and
clear, with no significant wind.

On arrival at D85, we had more great sun dogs and diamond dust
precipitation - for those who haven't heard of this, it is also called
clear-sky precipitation and is visible as millions of tiny ice crystals
falling from a clear sky - a special sight to see.

Tomorrow we turn the corner for ABN, a bit over 800km away. Progress is
hard to gauge in advance and will depend on the surface roughness and

Postscript, erratum:
Just noticed yesterday's update had day 5 as 25 November?? It was, of
course 29 November.