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Monthly Archives: February 2017 − News & Stories

Ross Ice Shelf – Febru­ary 28th, 2017

We went around Ross Island during the night to arri­ve ear­ly mor­ning at Cape Cro­zier, whe­re Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf meet. The­se steep vol­ca­nic slo­pes are the place whe­re Aps­ley Cher­ry-Gar­rards famous „Worst jour­ney in the world“ took place, that adven­tur­ous and dra­ma­tic search for Emper­or pen­gu­in eggs that were then igno­red by sci­en­tists for a who­le cen­tu­ry.

The ice shelf beg­ins at the very same place just ahead of us to dis­ap­pear behind the hori­zon to the east. You could fol­low it for quite some time to always see the same pic­tu­re, with „the gre­at bar­ri­er“ get­ting lost in infi­ni­ty. A very impres­si­ve image! But hard to pho­to­graph.

Gal­lery – Ross Ice Shelf – Febru­ary 28th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

And even har­der to get near to. Our plan to land by heli­c­op­ter on the ice shelf or at least to make a flight along the ice cliff does not mate­ria­li­ze. We are faced with 35 knot (force 8) wind, which is far too much. Icy cold it is inde­ed out­side, com­bi­ned with an air tem­pe­ra­tu­re of -10°C!

McMur­do Base – Febru­ary 28th, 2017

It is such a thing with ant­ar­c­tic sta­ti­ons. They are inte­res­t­ing, they pro­vi­de the world with signi­fi­cant know­ledge. They are poli­ti­cal, a dis­play of power within the Ant­ar­c­tic Trea­ty Sys­tem, always the flagg up in the wind. They are curious, from his­to­ri­cal to futu­ristic. If you hap­pen to visit Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, then it is quite likely you will want to see one of them.

The­se sta­ti­ons are usual­ly not places of gre­at natu­ral beau­ty and any­thing but pris­ti­ne. If anyo­ne has left their long-lived traces in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, las­ting signs of human pre­sence and acti­vi­ty, inclu­ding signs of des­truc­tion, then it is the­se sta­ti­ons (and not tou­rists, by the way).

Any­way, the­se sta­ti­ons are the kind of place of which many say befo­re visi­ting that they want to see it and after visi­ting, it could have been nicer rather to go to a more natu­re kind of place.

The famous US-ame­ri­can McMur­do Base is in many ways a magni­fi­cent spe­ci­men, regar­ding size, visu­al impres­si­on and poli­ti­cal power. It is the hub for the Amund­sen-Scott-Base on the South Pole, for logi­sti­cal­ly chal­len­ging pro­jects in deep field such as ice core dril­lings in very remo­te loca­ti­ons and the more or less con­stant field acti­vi­ties in the com­pa­ra­tively near sur­roun­dings: Dry Val­leys, Ross Ice Shelf, Mount Ere­bus. The­re are about 1000 peo­p­le working in McMur­do during the busy sum­mer sea­son.

Call it coin­ci­dence or the urge to find a loca­ti­on as far south as pos­si­ble by ship com­mon to both expe­di­ti­ons: this was also the place whe­re Scott win­tered during his first ant­ar­c­tic expe­di­ti­on, with Dis­co­very. His hut, the second-oldest one in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca after Borchgrevink’s Cape Ada­re buil­dings, is at Hut Point, a few minu­tes wal­king distance from Mac­Mur­do Base (click here for some 360 degree impres­si­ons of Dis­co­very hut). They actual­ly lived on their ship, the Dis­co­very, which was fro­zen in the ice next to Hut Point, so the hut is not as big and com­fy as the Ter­ra Nova Hut at Cape Evans.

And that is altog­e­ther the pro­gram­me for today. The wea­ther looks gre­at and it is sup­po­sed to remain sta­ble during the day, a chan­ge being pre­dic­ted for the evening only, and it is said that the Ame­ri­cans are well in con­troll of their local wea­ther. We will get back to that later. The­re was, any­way, not­hing in the way for the heli­c­op­ter flight over the fast ice to McMur­do Base. The sun was even shi­ning from the blue sky. Love­ly!

During our visit four years ago, the Ame­ri­cans did live up to all cli­chés: The­re was not much more than the fre­quent­ly repea­ted advice that we should quick­ly move through the sta­ti­on to Hut Point, pre­fer­a­b­ly wit­hout even tou­ch­ing the road and wit­hout loo­king left or right. Ques­ti­ons for any­thing left or right of the road were ans­we­red very effi­ci­ent­ly: „that is not aut­ho­ri­zed, and I am not aut­ho­ri­zed to aut­ho­ri­ze this.“ Today is in a stron con­trast to this: our hosts are very fri­end­ly, they have actual­ly orga­ni­zed a group of gui­des to show us around. The tour takes us in small groups through some important faci­li­ties, inclu­ding the sci­ence buil­ding, the main com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons buil­ding, the cha­pel, the cof­fee house whe­re we have our lunch (which we brought with us from the ship), and the­re is, of cour­se, a sou­ve­nir shop.

Gal­lery – McMur­do Base – Febru­ary 28th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

You can spend a lot of time at Hut Point, loo­king over the sta­ti­on, the near-by fast ice, and of cour­se visi­ting the hut. Ano­ther holy grail in the histo­ry of Ant­ar­c­tic explo­ra­ti­on.

And then the­re is Obser­va­ti­on Hill on the other side of the sta­ti­on. A steep hill of vol­ca­nic rocks, as ever­y­thing here, with a path lea­ding up to the top, which is about 230 m high. It is a stun­ning view from the cross that was erec­ted the­re as a memo­ri­al to Scott and his men who died in 1912 on their return trip from the South Pole. You can almost see or at least ima­gi­ne to see the place whe­re they had their last camp out on the Ross Shelf Ice. They were never retrie­ved, they are still out the­re, deep­ly buried in the ice the­se days.

Our retrie­val is still to come, the heli­c­op­ters are alre­a­dy fly­ing again, and then things are get­ting a bit more inte­res­t­ing than we want them to be. The wea­ther chan­ge pre­dic­ted for tonight has deci­ded to come a bit ear­lier than ori­gi­nal­ly pre­dic­ted, some clouds and wind are coming up. The love­ly warmth of the sun gives way to a biting cold. We do not have to wait out­side, nobo­dy is going to free­ze or to star­ve to death here, but the visi­bi­li­ty which our pilots depend on is cer­tain­ly not impro­ving. The num­bers of tho­se wai­ting is redu­ced by four or five heli­c­op­ter after heli­c­op­ter, a pro­ce­du­re that takes its time. Final­ly, all pas­sen­gers are back on board, only two last heli­c­op­ters for us gui­des, but I almost doubt that we will make it … the next heli­c­op­ter lea­ves, I am stan­ding at the heli pad with two col­le­agues and we are anxious to hear the sound of the engi­nes again soon. Obser­va­ti­on Hill is a mere sil­hou­et­te in the thin fog now, I won­der if that will be good enough? If not, we may well be forced to enjoy ame­ri­can hos­pi­ta­li­ty for some time, and I do not want to ima­gi­ne the trou­bles that would come with that. And I don’t have to, soon we here the noi­se of the heli­c­op­ter, which is on the ground moments later. Julio, the oldest of the three pilots, is keen on get­ting out, that beco­mes pret­ty clear as he takes off and pushes the thrott­le. Thank God, the fog is just han­ging around McMur­do Base and Ross Island, and it is clear again as soon as we get out over the sea ice. Soon we are all back on board. Hal­le­lu­jah!

Cape Evans – Febru­ary 27th, 2017

During the night, we repo­si­ti­on across the McMur­do Sound to Ross Island, aiming for Cape Evans on the foot of Mount Ere­bus. This is whe­re Cap­tain Scott had his hut built during his final expe­di­ti­on, with the famous ship Ter­ra Nova.

The­re is not much to be seen of Mount Ere­bus today, its migh­ty sil­hou­et­te remains hid­den in the clouds today. The stiff sou­t­her­ly bree­ze brings some­what mixed fee­lings, but at least the landing site is on the nor­t­hern side of Cape Evans. Off­shore winds are always good for Zodiac landings, or rather, at least not as bad as onshore winds.

It was a bit of an ope­ra­ti­on to get the Zodiacs rea­dy. We, the gui­de team, board the first boat with some scep­ti­cism, to have a look at ever­y­thing from water­le­vel. The beach as such is fine, the pen­in­su­la gives nice shel­ter from wind and waves from this direc­tion. Well, the beach is not the pro­blem. And we are cer­tain­ly wil­ling to accept the Zodiac ride, which is long, wet and very, very cold. But the tran­si­ti­on from the ship to the Zodiac is chal­len­ging in the­se con­di­ti­ons.

I obser­ve it for a while, and as the Cap­tain pro­mi­ses to use the ship to crea­te a shel­te­red posi­ti­on at the gang­way, I make a decis­i­on: let’s go. Keep a good eye on wind and wea­ther and on the situa­ti­on at the gang­way, be rea­dy to abort the ope­ra­ti­on at any time, and not too many peo­p­le on shore at any one time, in case we need to get ever­y­bo­dy back to the ship in a hur­ry. All the­se thoughts and some more go through my head in such a moment.

Soon, the­re are things to be done. The magi­cal moment to open the door to Scott’s hut and enter the hal­lo­wed halls, whe­re every board in the wall, every cup on the cup­board and every glass on the labo­ra­to­ry table still brea­the the spi­rit of 1911.

Ice-encrus­ted yetis step out of the Zodiacs one by one. At the ent­rance to the hut, ice and snow are remo­ved from clo­thes and sand and gra­vel from boots, and we have small groups ente­ring the hut, while others take a litt­le walk to the cross on Wind Vane Hill. The cross is a memo­ri­al for the three men of Shackleton’s Ross Sea par­ty who were lost during the 1914-17 expe­di­ti­on with Auro­ra. Then we have Zodiacs cir­cu­la­ting again, taking peo­p­le back to the ship, most of them pro­ba­b­ly rea­dy for a hot show­er and a hot cho­co­la­te, and brin­ging others here who are keen to make the pil­grimage to this famous place.

Mean­while, the ship is clo­ser to the shore, making the Zodiac ride con­sider­a­b­ly shorter, and the wind has lost some strength. Things are get­ting a bit more rela­xed, ever­y­thing is working well. Final­ly, we can lock the door again and lea­ve it all behind. After Tay­lor Val­ley yes­ter­day, with Cape Evans we have been suc­cessful with ano­ther one of the big places in McMur­do Sound. (Click here for a vir­tu­al visit to Scott’s Ter­ra Nova hut at Cape Evans).

Gal­lery – Cape Evans – Febru­ary 27th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Cape Royds is just some miles north of Cape Evans, but I watch con­di­ti­ons during the short crossing the­re with mixed fee­lings. The landing area is expo­sed to the south, into the wind. And as we are to see soon, the landing bay is full with ice. The low clouds pre­vent any tought of using heli­c­op­ters to get us ashore. Today is not a day for Cape Royds, so we have to make do with a distant look at Shackleton’s Nim­rod-hut. (Click here for a 360 degree pan­ora­ma visit to Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds).

But lea­ving from Cape Royds rela­tively ear­ly was to give us one of the most beau­tiful evenings of the who­le voya­ge. After a few hours we have rea­ched the ice edge in the inner McMur­do Sound. The air is icy cold, but calm and clear. The evening light brings warm colours into the cold atmo­sphe­re. The ice edge is stret­ching miles and miles towards the hori­zon, which is crow­ned by the migh­ty sil­hou­et­te of Mount Dis­co­very and, a bit to the right, the end­less chain of the Trans­ant­ar­c­tic Moun­ta­ins. And in the water: orcas, orcas, orcas. Ever­y­whe­re near the ice edge lows, sus­pi­cious­ly wat­ched by small groups of Emper­or and Ade­lie pen­gu­ins every here and the­re. And we are in the midd­le of this ama­zing sce­n­ery. The evening will remain in our memo­ries as one of the true high­lights of this trip, as the who­le day.

The Dry Val­leys – Febru­ary 26th, 2017

Today is final­ly the days that sees us arri­ving in McMur­do Sound, a key area for our voya­ge. This is pro­ba­b­ly what most peo­p­le think of when they ima­gi­ne the Ross Sea.

We hope to start with a place that is cer­tain­ly very high on the wish­list of most, if not ever­y­bo­dy here: Tay­lor Val­ley, one of the famous McMur­do Dry Val­leys. This moon­like, hyper-arid area within the Trans­ant­ar­c­tic Moun­ta­ins which has been too dry even for the gla­ciers sin­ce mil­li­ons of years. The moun­ta­ins keep the inland ice away, only some smal­ler side gla­ciers reach down to the val­ley bot­tom. A fasci­na­ting part of our pla­net! (click here for some 360 degree impres­si­ons of the Dry Val­leys)

But hard to get to. The first ear­ly mor­ning look out of the win­dow is not too pro­mi­sing: grey, grey, grey. Ice floes and whir­ling snow. Not good, as our birds need to see some­thing in order to fly.

Pati­ence is the one and only thing that helps. Fre­quent­ly, I meet with the pilots and the Cap­tain to assess the wea­ther deve­lo­p­ment. Slow­ly, slow­ly the visi­bi­li­ty is impro­ving and we can see the Trans­ant­ar­c­tic Moun­ta­ins just a few miles away, but the clouds are still han­ging low.

Gal­lery – The Dry Val­leys – Febru­ary 26th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

In the late mor­ning, chief pilot Feli­pe sug­gests to make a recon­nois­sance flight to check the con­di­ti­ons on loca­ti­on. Feli­pe makes some loops over the Cana­da Gla­cier and hovers a few met­res abo­ve the pro­jec­ted landing area, che­cking the clouds abo­ve and the tur­bu­len­ces near the ground. Final­ly he gives his thumbs-up. Back on bord, anxious eager­ness gives quick­ly way to joyful anti­ci­pa­ti­on after I have made my announce­ment. Some final pre­pa­ra­ti­ons are quick­ly made, a bana­na has to be enough for lunch, the first heli­c­op­ter for the field team is soon rea­dy for depar­tu­re, the­re is no time to lose. Who knows how long the wea­ther is going to last!

It is a flight of 19 miles over bro­ken sea ice, bar­ren land deco­ra­ted by ice wedge poly­gons, the Com­mon­wealth Gla­cier and then Lake Fry­xell befo­re we reach our area near the Cana­da Gla­cier. We unload the man­da­to­ry safe­ty equip­ment and then we are rea­dy. Mean­while, heli­c­op­ters num­ber two and three are pre­pared on board, and soon the machi­nery is run­ning. Ever­y­bo­dy is coming out in small groups, heli­c­op­ter by heli­c­op­ter, one by one. It is a long ope­ra­ti­on, taking quite some time. Peo­p­le come fly­ing in, get off and remain in awe for a litt­le while.

We have to redu­ce time on the ground to a mini­mum for safe­ty reasons, we have no idea how long our wea­ther win­dow will last and we don’t want to have too many peo­p­le out here in case we need to get out of here quick­ly. This is real­ly not a place to get stuck in bad wea­ther. But the wea­ther remains sta­ble, it even impro­ves, the sky is clea­ring up a bit, expo­sing some love­ly blue spots, with sun­beams illu­mi­na­ting the sce­n­ery as with spot­lights.

Final­ly we can hap­pi­ly finish a long, gre­at after­noon. Ever­y­bo­dy has had the rare chan­ce to fly into Tay­lor Val­ley. We were very likely the first peo­p­le after our own last visit two years ago, the­re is no other ship car­ry­ing heli­c­op­ters (and on the pre­vious trip, just a few weeks ago, Ort­eli­us did not have a chan­ce to get any­whe­re near this area, as the who­le McMur­do Sound was still full with solid fast ice).

Frank­lin Island – Febru­ary 25th, 2017

A wide belt of den­se drift ice is stret­ching out into the Ross Sea from the coast south of the Ter­ra Nova Bay. Much fur­ther than indi­ca­ted by the satel­li­te images. So we spent much more time navi­ga­ting around the ice than expec­ted. That is actual­ly good news: what would the Ross Sea be wit­hout ice?

The time loss does not bother us too much so far, we can afford it after the fast crossing from New Zea­land. We take it as it comes, and what comes is an com­ple­te­ly unex­pec­ted visit to Frank­lin Island. The island lies total­ly exp­lo­sed far out in the Ross Sea, which today is flat and peaceful, allo­wing us to go ashore wit­hout any pro­blems, alt­hough it is a long zodiac ride from the ship across the unchar­ted waters.

Gal­lery – Frank­lin Island – Febru­ary 25th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Most of what should have been more than 100,000 Ade­lie pen­gu­ins have alre­a­dy left the colo­ny, but a sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge num­ber of them is still at home. Some­whe­re an Emper­or pen­gu­in tried to hide among­st them, but he is quick­ly spot­ted thanks to his signi­fi­cant­ly lar­ger size and the attrac­ti­ve colou­ring.

It is hard to tell what is most impres­si­ve: the pen­gu­ins, the Wed­del seals which crowd the shore in lar­ge num­bers of the stun­ning coast­li­nes with its rug­ged cliffs and sea stacks of vol­ca­nic rocks. But we don’t have to deci­de, we just enjoy the who­le thing 🙂

Ter­ra Nova Bay – Febru­ary 24th, 2017

The distances are lar­ge also within in the Ross Sea, so we can dedi­ca­te the mor­ning to some hours of rest. Not­hing wrong about that. But then our hopes and expec­ta­ti­ons are rising, as we approach the wes­tern coast of the Ross Sea again, the Trans­ant­ar­c­tic Moun­ta­ins around Ter­ra Nova Bay. We sail past the migh­ty Cape Washing­ton, home to an Emper­or pen­gu­in colo­ny in win­ter. Mount Mel­bourne is towe­ring in the same sec­tion of the pan­ora­ma, a lar­ge, vol­ca­nic cone of beau­tiful sym­me­try.

Ter­ra Nova Bay is some­thing like the King Geor­ge Island of the Ross Sea. The­re is a lar­ge num­ber of sta­ti­ons on King Geor­ge Island in the South Shet­lands, ever­y­bo­dy has to have his flagg fly­ing the­re. Over here, the­re are three sta­ti­ons within a few kilo­me­t­res. Ger­mans and Core­ans can visit each other with just a short walk, whe­re­as Karl and Lee will need a boat for an Ita­li­an din­ner. But Karl and Lui­gi have alre­a­dy left and clo­sed their respec­ti­ve places down for the win­ter, they will only be here during the sum­mer.

After a lot of back­ground com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with aut­ho­ri­ties and sta­ti­on lea­ders, we deci­ded to have a clo­ser look at the Ita­li­an Mario Zuc­chel­li Base. Just the pro­s­pect to step on good, solid ant­ar­c­tic gra­ni­te was a good one, not to men­ti­on tho­se on board who have an Ita­li­an con­nec­tion. Some of them felt imme­dia­te­ly at home!

Gal­lery – Ter­ra Nova Bay – Febru­ary 24th, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Mario Zuc­chel­li Base may not be the most scenic place in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, some­thing it has in com­mon with most sta­ti­ons except some of the older ones, which blend nice­ly into the land­scape. The modern ones are usual­ly coll­ec­tions of con­tai­ner buil­dings crow­ned with satel­li­te dis­hes and sur­roun­ded by hea­vy vehic­les and other tech­no­lo­gy. So we don’t spend too many hours in litt­le Ita­ly, in order to have time for ano­ther litt­le landing, name­ly at the Ger­man Gond­wa­na-sta­ti­on. Gond­wa­na is ano­ther sum­mer-only based, they have only done main­tainan­ce work this sum­mer, but no sci­ence. As at Mario Zuc­chel­li base, the­re is nobo­dy here any­mo­re and the sta­ti­on is rea­dy to face the ant­ar­c­tic win­ter. The Gond­wa­na is much smal­ler and the ter­rain allows love­ly views over the sur­roun­ding sce­n­ery. Some Wed­dell-seals are hau­led out on land near the beach. We enjoy the who­le set­ting for a while, and then it is time to set cour­se for McMur­do Sound.

Pos­ses­si­on Islands & Cape Hal­let – Febru­ary 23rd, 2017

Of cour­se the­re was a gro­wing urge to set foot on shore, but that had to wait for ano­ther while. We had been hoping for a Zodiac crui­se at the Pos­ses­si­on Islands, but it was defi­ni­te­ly too win­dy to ven­ture out into the small boats. But also from the ship the islands are a view not to be missed. Rug­ged coast­li­nes with cliffs and arches. On the nor­t­hern one of the two main islands, the famous James Clark Ross went ashore in 1841 to take the new land into pos­ses­si­on for his coun­try – hence the name.

»We found the shores of the main­land com­ple­te­ly cover­ed with ice pro­jec­ting into the sea, and the hea­vy surf along its edge for­ba­de any attempt to land upon it ; a strong tide car­ri­ed us rapidly along bet­ween this ice-bound coast and the islands among­st hea­vy mas­ses of ice, so that our situa­ti­on was for some time most cri­ti­cal; for all the exer­ti­ons our peo­p­le could use were insuf­fi­ci­ent to stem the tide. But taking advan­ta­ge of a nar­row ope­ning that appeared in the ice, the boats were pushed through it, and we got into an eddy under the lee of the lar­gest of the islands, and lan­ded on a beach of lar­ge loo­se stones and stran­ded mas­ses of ice. The wea­ther by this time had put on a most threa­tening appearance, the bree­ze was fres­hening fast, and the anxious cir­cum­s­tances under which we were pla­ced, tog­e­ther with the recal-flag fly­ing at the ship’s mas­thead, which I had orde­red Lieu­ten­ant Bird to hoist if neces­sa­ry, com­pel­led us to has­ten our ope­ra­ti­ons.

The cerem­o­ny of taking pos­ses­si­on of the­se new­ly-dis­co­ver­ed grounds, in the name of our Most Gra­cious Sove­reign, Queen Vic­to­ria, was imme­dia­te­ly pro­cee­ded with; and on plan­ting the flag of our coun­try amidst the hear­ty che­ers of our par­ty, we drank to the health, long life, and hap­pi­ness of Her Majes­ty and His Roy­al High­ness Prin­ce Albert. The island was named Pos­ses­si­on Island.«

You need to have the ner­ve to go ashore under such cir­cum­s­tances, when get­ting the­re and back invol­ves seve­ral miles rowing rather than a rapid zodiac ride powered by 60 hor­ses. Ross did have the ner­ve, we rather enjoy the views from the ship, a warm cup in the hand.

Gal­lery – Pos­ses­si­on Islands & Cape Hal­let – 23. Febru­ar 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Also Cape Hal­let does not want us ashore. The beach is blo­cked by ice and surf, quite simi­lar to Cape Ada­re. This tur­ned out not to be a bad thing at all. Not only were the impres­si­ons that we got from the drif­ting ice and the icy shores from Zodiac pro­ba­b­ly much bet­ter than would we would have seen in a deser­ted pen­gu­in colo­ny on a flat gra­vel pen­in­su­la, but we found an Emper­or pen­gu­in on a ber­gy bit.

He (or she) did not have any­thing to do but to enter­tain us for quite a while with dif­fe­rent poses. And as this had not yet been enough, he was then joi­n­ed by an Ade­lie pen­gu­in, making the size dif­fe­rence more than obvious. An Emper­or pen­gu­in within a few met­res, obser­ved for a good length of time from sea level – how good does it get! 🙂

Cap Ada­re – 22. Febru­ar 2017

We have got a spe­cial mis­si­on at Cape Ada­re. We have got a grand­grand­son of Niko­laj Han­son on board. Han­son was the zoo­lo­gist of Borchgrevink’s expe­di­ti­on, which was the very first one ever to win­ter on ant­ar­c­tic ground, in 1899-1900. Han­son died in the late win­ter and was buried high up on the moun­tain ridge of Cape Ada­re. This was actual­ly quite a task in its­elf:

The coff­in had to be car­ri­ed seve­ral hundred met­res up a rather steep, icy moun­tain slo­pe, and then a gra­ve had to be blas­ted into the rock with dyna­mi­te. It is said that Hanson’s last wish at the end of his long dise­a­se was to see the pen­gu­ins again when they would return to Cape Ada­re. His com­ra­des cap­tu­red the first pin­gu­in that came back and brought it to Hanson’s bed. Soon the­re­af­ter Han­son died.

Never has a fami­ly mem­ber been to Hanson’s lonely gra­ve. It was our mis­si­on to chan­ge this, a mis­si­on that had been pre­pared by a per­mit­ting pro­cess of seve­ral months. In the end it is just a mat­ter of a heli­c­op­ter landing on a rocky moun­tain ridge devo­id of life. The mis­si­on is hap­pi­ly com­ple­ted in the ear­liest mor­ning hours.

Gal­lery – Cap Ada­re – 22. Febru­ar 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

The second mis­si­on, to get ever­y­bo­dy to Borchgrevink’s famous win­tering hut, the oldest ever human-made con­s­truc­tion on this con­ti­nent, turns out to be more dif­fi­cult. Cape Ada­re is noto­rious for wind and ice. The wind does not crea­te any trou­bles today, but the ice are an obs­ta­cle that we can not over­ca­me.

It is just a strip less than 50 m wide, blo­cking the beach of like the wall of a fort­ress, but the grow­lers are hundreds of tons hea­vy and they are moved around by swell and cur­rent. A very dan­ge­rous com­bi­na­ti­on.

This does not keep us from get­ting as clo­se as we can to the coast, the land and the hut with the Zodiacs. And that is pret­ty clo­se and impres­si­ve. Ice, Ade­lie pen­gu­ins, Cra­bea­ter seals. The sheer dis­play of power that is crea­ted in the inter­play bet­ween hea­vy ice and moving water is may­be the most impres­si­ve part of the who­le set­ting for me.

At sea – Febru­ary 18th-21st, 2017

The Sou­thern Oce­an does have a good repu­ta­ti­on for bad reason. Talk about the furious fif­ties and the screa­ming six­ties. That brings a cou­ple of ques­ti­on marks regar­ding our well­be­ing during the days of the crossing and the time frame. A force 10 on the nose, and you can suf­fer and watch your pre­cious time melt like ice in the suns­hi­ne.

And this time? King Nep­tu­ne is with us so far. We have got a lively wes­ter­ly bree­ze for some time, but it just brings a litt­le trai­ning ses­si­on in beco­ming a sail­or. No more than that. We can keep an avera­ge speed of a good 11 knots, which takes us in a mere four days from Camp­bell Island to Cape Ada­re. An easy and rela­xed crossing, we are doing well!

Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, we are coming!

The pic­tu­re shows our good heli­c­op­ter pilots and mecha­nics while pre­pa­ring flights in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca. We hope to give them a lot of work in a few days time!

Our heli team – At sea – Febru­ary 18th-21st, 2017

Camp­bell Island – Febru­ar 17, 2017

Yeah – we did go ashore, and not just a litt­le bit!

During the mor­ning, Camp­bell Island came slow­ly out of the low clouds. A green, wild island in the midd­le of a grey, wild sea.

The wea­ther fore­cast gave some reason to be opti­mi­stic, and rea­li­ty was not to dis­ap­point us. Ages ago, fri­end­ly gla­ciers car­ved a very useful fjord into the island, which pro­vi­des shel­ter from the oce­an swell. If only the wind is not too strong …

If you are pre­pared for ant­ar­c­tic con­di­ti­ons, then the mild tem­pe­ra­tures may sur­pri­se you. It seems warm, insects are in the air. High grass and shrubs, almost making the impres­si­on of litt­le trees, are forming a rather pecu­li­ar vege­ta­ti­on resembling low forests on the lower slo­pes. A lonely pen­gu­in near the shore turns out to be an erect-crested pen­gu­in, a new spe­ci­es for me. Erect-crested pen­gu­ins are only bree­ding on the Boun­ty Islands and the Anti­po­des. Talk of luck.

A board­walk leads up the hill, pas­sing the woo­den buil­dings of an aban­do­ned wea­ther sta­ti­on and con­ti­nuing through the den­se dwarf forest. The views bet­ween the small trees onto the bay are love­ly. Sur­pri­sin­gly lar­ge herbs are gro­wing on lar­ge are­as as we get hig­her up in the ter­rain, they are known as mega­herbs, an appro­pria­te name.

The wind is get­ting fres­her as we are get­ting hig­her and it is tur­ning clouds into cold fog banks. White dots every here and the­re on the gras­sy slo­pes turn out to be alba­tros­ses sit­ting on their nests. Roy­al alba­tros­ses, which clo­se­ly rela­ted to the Wan­de­ring alba­tross, the world’s big­gest bird accor­ding to the wingspan. Only small details of the beak and plu­mage tell the dif­fe­rence. The huge birds are spread ever­y­whe­re, kee­ping their chicks warm in their nests. The chicks will be just a few days old by now. We are very lucky to obser­ve alba­tros­ses in a rela­tively clo­se distance, fee­ding chicks and gree­ting part­ners upon return to the nest. Tho­se few of us who can’t lea­ve are trea­ted with a group of alba­tros­ses which comes to land just a few met­res away from us, socia­li­sing with one ano­ther. It is no less then six in the end which are dancing and making stran­ge noi­ses. An unfor­gettable expe­ri­ence, espe­ci­al­ly as the fog has by now given way to the blue sky and evening sun.

Gal­lery – Camp­bell Island – Febru­ar 17, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

After a long after­noon on shore it is time to say good­bye to Camp­bell Island. Two years ago we spend one and a half day wat­ching the island in a how­ling gale wit­hout get­ting real­ly clo­se to it. What a con­trast. An unfor­gettable after­noon in a very spe­cial, uni­que world.

In the evening it is time to set cour­se to the south. More than 1100 miles are sepa­ra­ting us from the Ross Sea, we will spend at least for days crossing this stretch of the Sou­thern Oce­an.

At sea – Febru­ar 17, 2017

The­re is a fair and ste­ady bree­ze blo­wing around the sou­thern­most cor­ner of New Zea­land, the sun is shi­ning, warm­ly and stron­gly, the air war­mer than I have expe­ri­en­ced it for quite some time.
Exact­ly 100 pas­sen­gers from almost just as many count­ries have found their way to our ship, the Ort­eli­us, and ever­y­bo­dy is curious what the next weeks will bring. It is the begin­ning of an Ant­ar­c­tic Odys­sey, more than 6000 miles are ahead of us.

Gal­lery – At sea – Febru­ar 17, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

A light, plea­sant bree­ze is blo­wing during the first few miles, we have set cour­se south for Camp­bell Island. Two years ago, we spent more than a day loo­king at the island in force 10 winds and bey­ond. Which was, in a way, impres­si­ve and beau­tiful, but going ashore is the real thing. Will it work this time? We are curious, fin­gers crossed. It would be a dream come true.

Hal­ley VI: An ant­ar­c­tic rese­arch sta­ti­on has to move

In 2012, the Bri­tish Ant­ar­c­tic Sur­vey had built an ultra-modern rese­arch sta­ti­on, on the eas­tern side of the Wed­dell sea: Hal­ley
VI. The five pre­vious sta­ti­ons were eit­her cover­ed in snow or not safe to use any­mo­re. Simi­lar to the Ger­man rese­arch sta­ti­on­Neu­may­er III, whe­re rese­ar­chers moved in for the first time in 2009, Hal­ley VI is situa­ted on the shelf ice. Alre­a­dy Neu­may­er III was per­fect­ly con­s­truc­ted for the pre­vai­ling con­di­ti­ons. It should be able to with­stand the local­ly strong winds and drif­ting snow should not accu­mu­la­te to the buil­dings. Sin­ce ice is moving, shear forces would act on the con­s­truc­tion, too. Fore the­se reasons the buil­ding was erec­ted on hydrau­lic legs, which gra­du­al­ly could lift it to the level of the cur­rent snow lay­er. Howe­ver, the Ger­man base is fixed to the ice below. At the pre­sent loca­ti­on the sta­ti­on is drif­ting to the shelf ice edge
with a speed of 157 met­res per year. The Bri­tish impro­ved their new con­s­truc­tion, and in Febru­ary 2012, a modu­lar buil­ding on ski was rea­dy to move in on the Brunt ice shelf. It can also be lifted hydrau­li­cal­ly. Each year, 1.5 met­res of snow accu­mu­la­te due to eit­her snow fall or snow drift. The appro­xi­m­ate­ly 150 met­re thick ice shelf below Hal­ley VI moves with a speed of more than 400 meters per year. To pre­vent the loss of the base over the years, hea­vy vehic­les are able to move the indi­vi­du­al modu­les on their ski from its loca­ti­on.

When Hal­ley VI was used for the first time in 2012, seve­ral chasms in the shelf ice South of the sta­ti­on were alre­a­dy known. Almost one year later, after 35 years of inac­ti­vi­ty, the chasms star­ted to grow again. The crack clo­sest to the sta­ti­on increased by appro­xi­m­ate­ly 1.7 kilo­me­t­res per year. Last Octo­ber, rese­ar­chers detec­ted a new fis­su­re in the North. They worried about the sta­ti­on to be cut off from the main­land. The­r­e­fo­re, BAS deci­ded for the relo­ca­ti­on of the Hal­ley VI, and the sta­ti­on would not be available for rese­arch for 3 years. Within that time, the trans­fer of the buil­dings should be
com­ple­ted. During the Ant­ar­c­tic sum­mer of 2015/16 sci­en­tists sur­vey­ed the area for a new loca­ti­on and a safe rou­te for trans­port. It is about 23 kilo­me­t­res fur­ther inland. Camps for fieldwor­kers and engi­neers will be build and the first modu­les are get­ting on the road during the cur­rent sum­mer. The rese­ar­chers hope that the base will be rea­dy for work for the 2017 sum­mer team. The sup­p­ly rou­te over the shelf-ice edge would then be exten­ded to 40 kilo­me­t­res. Bet­ter safe than sor­ry!

Hal­ley VI sta­ti­on on the Brunt shelf ice. Pho­to © Bri­tish Ant­ar­c­tic Sur­vey.

Halley VI


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