13.2.18 Leaving on a Jet Plane…

14.2.18 Update:

Our flight was postponed, and we might be some more people from Neumayer on the feeder flight since of the 28 British people, who were supposed to fly with us on the Boeing, only 14 could be brought from their base Halley to Novo and the weather conditions at Halley are getting worse… They might end up going home with Polarstern, which is still in the area of the Weddell Sea. From Capetown we won’t fly before Monday, so maybe home on Tuesday. Happy Valentine’s Day!

13.2.18 Leaving on a Jet Plane…

The Twin Otter that is supposed to fly us to Novo

The Canadian Twin Otter that is supposed to fly us to Novo

It seems as if it ends like it began: blizzard again! Yesterday we had hurricane-force gusts. The old winterers and a large part of the summer people left us last Sunday, and now it is time for us to leave. If/when the weather improves, the little Twin Otter will bring us to Novo, and from there, according to the present plan, the nice Boeing will bring us to Capetown. However, so far there was no single plan that was not changed, so we will see…

Well, you have heard about this one before....

Well, you have heard about this one before….

Today we are packing and finishing the last work-related things. We will have one night in Capetown and then fly home. I will post a last blog entry “Polar research – yesterday and today” when I am back at home. This might take a while, though. Right now, we can just hope that the weather will be ok for flying and that everything goes well.

And then hopefully this one will bring us to Frankfurt, from where I take the Tyrolean Dash-8 home.

And then hopefully this one will bring us to Frankfurt, from where I take the Tyrolean Dash-8 home.

8.2.18 The base

Time is flying away, and I still owe you the description of a blizzard day, which is basically a description of the base since work outside is impossible in a blizzard. Since I had a storm blog entry already, I will just try to describe life on the base a bit now. The picture below shows a plan of the base:

Neumayer III

  1. Foundation: The station’s total weight of ca. 2,300 tonnes is distributed among 16 foundation plates. Hydraulic supports are used to raise the station on a regular basis, allowing it to compensate for new snowfall.
  2. Garage: The garage offers ample room for the entire vehicle fleet (caterpillar trucks, Ski-Doos, etc.). Additional storage and utility rooms have been integrated into the interstitial deck.
  3. Power unit: An intelligent management system regulates the station’s electrical and thermal power supply. Over the next several years, the percentage of energy harnessed from the wind will gradually be increased by adding new turbines.
  4. Balloon-launching hall: Meteorological balloons with radiosondes can be launched from the hall on the station’s roof.
  5. Stairwell
  6. Living quarters and workrooms
  7. Water supply: A snowmelt supplies the station with fresh drinking water.
  8. Access: Returning vehicles enter the station’s garage via a ramp of pure snow with tightly sealing lid.

(text and figure: https://www.awi.de/en/expedition/stations/neumayer-station-iii/construction-of-neumayer-station-iii.html)

Contrary to Neumayer I and Neumayer II, Neumayer III was built above the surface on 6 m high poles in order to prevent too much snow accumulation. The first two stations were snowed in very quickly and, when I wintered, the base was situated 10m below the snow surface. The basic idea for the new station was that the snow would just been blown through underneath the station and, apart from the normal 50cm annual snow accumulation, no additional snow would be deposited around the base. This turned out to be not true. The station can be raised hydraulically, which has to be done twice every year now. Meanwhile it is standing on a huge hill that can be seen from far away. (positive: the view to the icebergs is also great from here, especially from the station roof!) When I approach the station coming home from my trench or from the ice shelf edge, I still have the feeling that this big thing is something that does not fit here. It sometimes reminds me of a mixture of spaceship Enterprise and the Colosseum: Huge, mighty and futuristic. It also has so smooth forms that it still looks like a construction model, not like the real building. For the winterers, of course, it means home; they have spent more than a whole year here. For me, the feeling of “home” here is the sight of the icebergs, the wildlife, the snow, and the beautiful light (and my little hut).

Underneath the so-called Deck 0, there is the garage for all the vehicles. It can be closed hydraulically by a huge lid above the ramp that leads to the surface. On the roof, various instruments are installed, measuring e.g. cloud height and visibility. Also the inlet, where the air for our Picarro measurements is sucked in, is found there. The biggest construction on the roof is the hall for filling the balloons for the radiosondes and ozone sondes. Radiosondes are launched every day, ozone sondes once per week. Since the old Eastern German base Forster was closed after the Reunion, the ozone measurements have been continued at Neumayer.

The snowmelt can easily be filled by Pistenbully today. Foto: Thomas Steuer (URL see above)

The snowmelt can easily be filled by Pistenbully today. Foto: Thomas Steuer (URL see above)

The snow melt at the first base, Georg von Neumayer, in the 1980s

The snow melt at the first base, Georg von Neumayer

On Deck 0 the snowmelt is found. Only a large metal lid that opens horizontally by gliding over the back part of the opening can be seen. The opening is so wide that it can be easily filled with snow by a Pistenbully, which is done twice a day. In the olden days, we had a metal tube of about 1m diameter that led from the snow surface down to a heated reservoir. We had to fill it manually, using shovel and spade. Often we had to dig down to the wooden lid before we could open it. The person, who was on “snow-melt duty”, was the only one who was allowed to use the washing machine. Here the water seems to just come out of the faucet, you hardly think about it anymore, and the two washing machines are running almost all day long. When you have to shovel for each drop of water you use for showering, you do not indulge in long showers. After my return I really appreciated the water that flew so easily into the bath tub. Here, inside the station, I feel a bit detached from the real Antarctic life. I have not even been able to take a photo of the filling of the snowmelt in nine weeks, since it always happens between 4 and 5am, or later in the early evening when I was usually working. There are specialists for everything, I was not even allowed to help building my own science trench. Apart from the fact, that in the base you share your room with three other people and the bathroom is down the hallway, it really feels more like living in a hotel. The food is fantastic, the breakfast for instance has a way larger variety than what I would eat at home or even in a hotel on a normal business trip to a conference. The two cooks really outdo themselves.

Sometimes on Sunday mornings breakfast is replaced by brunch

Sometimes on Sunday mornings breakfast is replaced by brunch

Table soccer after lunch in the lounge

Table soccer after lunch in the lounge

As the reader might have guessed already, we also have internet (even though it can be very slow at times), and we can make cheap phone calls to home. When I wintered, one minute cost 20 DM, so probably the equivalent of 20 EUR today! Actually, I could spend a year here without any work to do without getting bored. There are so many things you can do indoors (and outdoors anyway, if the weather allows), starting with making a good cappuccino for breakfast with our professional Cimbali coffee machine. I really like this possibility.

Our fancy Italian coffee machine

Our fancy Italian coffee machine

One of the numerous cups of cappuccino I made with the machine

One of the numerous cups of cappuccino I made with the machine

Then there are tons of options for getting some exercise: there is a gym downstairs with two fancy bikes, a treadmill, a rowing machine, a small trampoline and other small things. Up here, in the so-called gallery, that’s the space between the outer hull of the base and the inner heart of the station that contains all rooms, labs, etc., there is a strength training machine, a basketball training area, table tennis, dart, a push-up board, a boxing sack, I probably forgot something. Apart from the mess (nautical term for dining room, and not messy at all J), where we take our meals, we have a huge lounge, with a big sofa and a projector with screen for talks,

sauna

The sauna

movies, the weather briefing etc. (Most recently a giant screen replaced the projector-screen combination.) Further, there is a table soccer, which is used intensively after the meals, a pool table, the bar, a large shelf with books (additionally to the Green Library outside) and last not least, the coffee machine. It is also possible to repair or build new things in the workshop, professional tools for working with wood or metal are available. And, I almost forgot, we have a sauna, too.

The gym is only one of many possibilities for getting some exercise in spite of the missing snow shovelling

The gym is only one of many possibilities for getting some exercise in spite of the missing snow shovelling

However, there is a lot of work to do, of course, so after breakfast, most people vanish in their respective labs and the technical crew disappear in the basement or outside or wherever they are busy that day. While I am writing this, I find that the description of all the scientific and other work probably will have to wait for another blog entry.

 

4.2.18 Polarstern was here

4.2.18 Polarstern was here!

The German research ice breaker, RV POLARSTERN arriving at Atka Bay

The German research ice breaker, RV POLARSTERN arriving at Atka Bay

Finally, the third and for us most important ship, the German research ice breaker RV Polarstern, arrived. I had been on the first winter expedition of Polarstern in 1986 as a young student, and of course, we came with Polarstern to Neumayer before we wintered and also went home with the ship. After the winter, she brought the first fresh fruit and salad, new people, and, most important: the MAIL! Nowadays, with e-mail and planes the importance of the ship has decreased. I had a chat with the captain, whom I had known as a young navigation officer already. He regretted that the connection of the ship with the base was not as close anymore as it used to be. The ship still brings a lot of the winter supplies, including food and fuel, and, also important: the skis and two snow bikes for the winterers!

The whale (it probably was a minky whale, so not one of the big ones, but still a great sight, especially in the wonderful light.

The whale (it probably was a minky whale, so not one of the big ones, but still a great sight, especially in the wonderful light.

 

The ship approaching the ice edge, looking for a good place for the unloading

The ship approaching the ice edge, looking for a good place for the unloading

However, the arrival of the ship was still a big event. On Sunday evening we went with the skidoos to the place where she was supposed to moor and we saw her arriving. It was a majestic sight, the ship plowing through the ice, beautiful icebergs in the background. It took a while until she had pushed away all the sea ice floes to get close enough to the ice shelf edge. We waited patiently and were rewarded by being allowed to go onboard via the so-called “mummy chair”, a metal basket that the crane brings over to the ice and back to the ship. We stayed on board until 11pm, then went home. While I was waiting for my colleagues at the helicopter deck I suddenly saw a movement in the water: a whale! The sky was almost overcast with cirrus clouds, which made everything, the water and the clouds, shimmer in pastel colors. A wonderful sight!

The "mummy chair" that brought us on board and back to the ice

The “mummy chair” that brought us on board and back to the ice

With the mummy chair, we negociated the gap between ice edge and ship.

With the mummy chair, we negociated the gap between ice edge and ship.

On the following day, the unloading started. After it had been finished Tuesday afternoon everybody went to the ship again for a little party. We also had a soccer game Polarstern- Neumayer. I hardly knew for whom to cheer since it turned out that the ship’s meteorologist , the goaly, was a former student from our institute.  At 9pm the captain whistled to finish the game and everybody was brought back to the ship. The ship signalled with its claxon and while the big waving good-bye started she slowly left the ice edge and disappeared towards the icebergs in the distance. We went home in the Pistenbullys, “riding into the sunset”, since the station was due south.

The soccer game Neumayer against Polarstern ended 3:3.

The soccer game Neumayer against Polarstern ended 3:3.

Riding into the sunset back to the base

“Riding into the sunset” with the Pistenbully back to the base

Arriving at the base at sunset

Arriving at the base at sunset

The sun was setting right when we arrived at the base. This was the last ship to visit us. We expect more visitors by plane, in fact, very official visitors, the Norwegians have announced an inspection. Within the Antarctic Treaty, the different nations control each other; they mainly look  if the environment is not harmed by station activities. We don’t know when they will come exactly, and I wonder if I will get a chance to try my Norwegian with them. The next plane will bring the former winterers and a large part of the summer people out, and the following one will be my flight out. The weather will decide when those flights will take place.