Hi, everyone …
It’s November … usually the month in which the Polar Day begins, the isolation of the overwintering phase ends, and across the Antarctic, the stations transition into the hectic bustle of the summer season. Planes and ships come by, teams are exchanged and the new teams briefed, and experts from a range of disciplines who have travelled here just to do research in the region suddenly crowd into the stations that seemed so spacious in winter. But not this year … Antarctica is still slumbering. The deep sleep may be over; now and then Antarctica even opens its eyes as it lolls in the sun. But then it dozes back off again… snoring loudly, as we experienced in the form of storms and miserable weather. Brief two-day spells of good weather have constantly alternated with five- to six-day periods of bad weather. We all want to take care of the more or less urgent outdoor work, but the weather keeps stopping us. On the few reasonably pleasant days, we can only complete the essential outdoor tasks, like using the snowcats to remove large sastrugi, which pile up around the station with the drifting snow. Or fixing the faulty microwave transmission links and the mechanical problems with the satellite receiver on the roof. I wanted to have marked our trail to the observatory with new bamboo canes by now, but there hasn’t been a long enough stretch of good weather yet. Luckily, there are still a few scraps of fabric on the old bamboo canes flapping in the wind, marking the way … so replacing the canes can wait.
In the meantime, the Norwegian and Belgian teams are already in quarantine and are waiting for an intercontinental flight to the Antarctic. From the central airstrip at Novolazarevskaya Station (‘Novo’) in Queen Maud Land, the Belgian team will then fly with a small Basler DC3 to their country’s Princess Elisabeth Station. But the Basler is currently still at Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula, after setting off for Antarctica from Punta Arenas (Chile’s southernmost city) on 14.11.20. The Basler, with its crew of four, was supposed to fly on to Novo and refuel here on route. Initially, the weather looked favourable; in the two previous days, Mario had prepared a 1,500-metre-long and 40-metre-wide landing strip with the snowcat and snow blower, while I marked it with flags.
In addition, we erected living quarters at a safe distance from the station in case the plane couldn’t fly on, to avoid close contact with those passing through. But then Antarctica started “snoring” once again … which meant more storms, clouds, snow and whiteout. I just about managed to take down the wind vanes and remove the flags from the airfield; three bamboo canes had already broken in the wind … now we’ve had six days of storms, with wind gusts of up to 75 knots. The weather is supposed to improve again on 22.11, and so Mario will probably clear the airstrip of snowdrifts again on Sunday, and I will install the flags, complete with a wind vane. Hopefully the weather will stay stable and the small plane will be able to fly straight on to Novo once it’s refuelled. The Belgian team must have arrived there by now, after having to spend almost three weeks in quarantine in Cape Town due to flight delays … and I’m sure they’re eagerly awaiting the flight to their station. That’s assuming the weather at Princess Elisabeth Station is still good enough for landing … travelling in Antarctica is definitely more unpredictable than anywhere else in the world. Especially when the continent “snores” …
Air traffic has also started back up on the other side of Antarctica. From my messenger service, I’ve received news and pictures from Concordia, the French-Italian station … the new overwintering team flew in there on 15.11.20 after quarantining in Hobart, Australia, bringing fresh fruit with them. And a new team and fresh supplies are due to arrive at the Norwegian station, Troll, on 22.11.20. Oh well, here it’ll take a bit longer … if you’re interested, you can find wonderful pictures of and reports on all the stations mentioned above on the Internet.
I’m using the current bad weather to prepare the return freight. It’s a great task to take care of during bad weather, and it has to be done sometime. Gathering the return freight, packing it into crates, making the freight and packing lists, labelling the crates … organisational tasks that are fairly time-consuming. And when the weather is good, they can be really annoying.
Writing a blog is also a good distraction during bad weather. While I’m writing, I go through the past week in my mind and, of course, at the same time look at the photos I’ve taken. But in the last three weeks I’ve barely taken any new ones … a good time to go back over the past 11 months, looking at photos, while the storm rattles the station with wind speeds of over 60 knots. A lot has happened …
A look back: Northern shore, early February (Noah Trumpik), Penguins at the edge of the ice shelf, early March (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), Moonrise over the ice rise, mid-March (Noah Trumpik), Glowing sky, mid-March (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), Glowing snow, mid-March (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), Emergency shelter in the drifting snow, late March (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), Ice crystals on the window, late March (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), Moon over Antarctica, mid-April (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), The sun still sets, early May (Mario Beyer), Barbecue at minus 15 degrees, early May (Andreas Oblender), Noon on the day after midwinter (Noah Trumpik), Measuring the sea ice, late July (Roman Ackle), Measuring the sea ice, mid-August (Wanderson de Almeida Santos), Snowdrift in the garage, early August (Roman Ackle) and Sealing the garage, early August (Roman Ackle)
In the comments I receive on the blog, you often ask about the other team members. I’ve frequently brought up your comments at our team meetings, but writing a blog isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. To make it easier, I prepared a short profile … and received the first one back today:
Name: Mario Beyer
Position: Engineer and deputy station leader
Qualifications: Carpenter and cabinetmaker, ship mechanic
Previous jobs: Traditional wooden boat maker, ship’s mechanic, ship’s engineer
Home: Stralsund / Dänholm
Plans after returning home: A holiday and working more on my house
Best experience in Antarctica: The play of colours in the sky during the Polar Night
What I miss most: The Baltic Sea
Photos at work:
Photos: Doing maintenance on the combined heat and power unit maintenance at its 10,000-hour service interval (Mario Beyer), Doing maintenance on the snowcat at its 400-hour service interval (Mario Beyer), Before maintenance on the water treatment plant (Mario Beyer), After maintenance on the water treatment plant (Mario Beyer), Refuelling the snowcats (Mario Beyer), Digging out the snowcats (Mario Beyer), A day in the field (Mario Beyer), Clearing snow (Mario Beyer), Inspecting the Hilux (Anna-Marie Jörss), Repairing the Hilux (Anna-Marie Jörss) and Monthly maintenance of the wind turbine (Anna-Marie Jörss)
Let’s see when the next short profile comes back.
Until next time … stay healthy, and best wishes to all our blog readers, especially our families and loved ones back home.