8.1.18 A fair-weather day of a Neumayer summer scientist

8.1.18 A fair-weather day of a Neumayer summer scientist

A mirage, caused by a strong temperature inversion shows the icebergs in bizarre shapes

I was asked what I am actually doing the whole day. Basically, there are three “types” of days: fair weather, whiteout, and blizzard days. First I will describe a fair weather day.

Some icebergs seem to be doubled

Some icebergs seem to be doubled

It is 6am when I wake up in the morning. The first thing is to look out of the window of my little cabin: The sun is shining brightly (as it has done the whole night), the flags at the bamboo poles hardly move, it seems to be a great day. I switch on my smartphone (!) to check the meteorological data: -12.6°C, wind 4kt from SW. Perfect! (In the olden days, we could not look out of the windows, and the only way to find out about the weather was to go to the meteorology lab and look at the screen there … Now everybody has the actual weather and all kinds of information on their personal computer, or even on the smartphone in the cabin, which still feels absolutely weird and unreal).

I put on a warm cap, my polar overall, boots and sun glasses and walk over to the main station. The sky is deeply blue, in the east, the icebergs have assumed strange and bizarre shapes: mirages or fata morganas, caused by the very stable cold air, similar to the ones we can see in the desert or above the hot pavement of a road in summer. Sometimes it just makes the icebergs look much higher, sometimes it completely distorts their shapes.

I climb up the 47 steps of the staircase to “Deck 1”, where the mess, our eating room, is found. (Since Neumayer is formally a ship, nautical terms are used, and in fact, we are swimming on the ocean, only 200m of ice separate us from the ocean water). After a good but not too extended breakfast, I go back to my cabin, get the skis and ski boots, put the stuff I need on my little pulka (sled) and start to ski southwards to my trench and measuring transects. The snow is glistening in the sun, the air does not feel cold with so little wind, and the radiantly white icebergs greet me at the eastern horizon. What an incredible commute! In summer, the snow can be fairly soft, and in most cases it is much more convenient to ski than to walk. I have broad cross country skis with steal edges and leather boots, which I have used already 28 years ago. I first take samples at the 500m transect, then at the 100m transect, the latter for special measurements in the science trench. By the time I am through with the last measurements, it is almost noon and I head back to the station for lunch.

After lunch, the temperature has increased to pleasant, almost too warm -5°C, I ski back south, to take the deeper samples  (25cm and 1m), for which I use carbon tubes. In the trench, the samples are cut into 1cm-slices and put into plastic bags. This all takes a while, and it is almost dinner time when I am through.

Some are lucky...

Some are lucky…

Here you can see how the grey "fur balls" turn into proud emperors

Here you can see how the grey “fur balls” turn into proud emperors

The weather is still stable, so we plan a little trip to the sea ice after dinner. The new winterers want to go to the penguin colony. Fine with me, so slightly after 7pm we leave with 4 skidoos and 8 people out on the so-called “penguin route”, which leads to the ice shelf edge 8km away. From there it is not far to the penguins. The young ones have made progress with their molt, and now we can really see how the cute little grey “fur” balls turn into the proud emperors. The adult feathers grow underneath the grey baby feathers. A skua, a huge seabird, is sitting in the middle of the colony. The chicks are too large meanwhile to be afraid. Skuas can reach a wing span of up to 1.60m, and they can eat the little chicks, but most of the time they find enough ones that

Skuas can reach a wing span of 5 ft (1.60m)

Skuas can reach a wing span of 5 ft (1.60m)

were so unlucky to die of the cold when they did not reach their parents quickly enough. A sad sight in winter, which I remember well, but now the chicks are almost as large as their parents and the skua represents no danger anymore. The sun is standing low above the horizon and the light is getting softer all the time. We cast long shadows on the sea ice and the structure of the icebergs and the ice shelf edge is emphasized by the light. For me, the beauty of the icebergs is still overwhelming. Sometimes, as much as I like the penguins,  I use them only to compose a beautiful photo of the icebergs… In less than half an hour we are back at the base, which, on the way home, is also seen distorted due to the temperature inversion, varying from being high in the sky to disappearing. We refill the tanks of the skidoos and park them with the sledges that carry the survival bags in the garage underneath the base.

When I come out of the base and walk to my cabin, a low fog has formed in the depression between the base hill and the air chemistry lab in the South. The fog is shining light against the low sun. At first, the containers in the “summer camp” are only half in the fog, then they disappear. A last look out of the window to the icebergs in the Atka Bay, before I close the blinds and happily fall asleep.  

The fog seen from my little hut. The container is the so-called "Green Library", which had been set up by an artist at the time when the base was still underneath the surface. It is full of books and a nice retreat.

The fog seen from my little hut. The container is the so-called “Green Library”, which has been set up by an artist at the time when the base was still underneath the surface. It is full of books and a nice retreat for a few quiet hours.

Needless to say that those days, at least this summer, represent a vast minority.

Soon the chicks will have changed to the adult feathers and be able to swim

An emperor penguin, his feathers shining in the evening sun