Icebergs and penguins

13.12.2017  The calm before the storm

pingipanoSince a cyclone was supposed to arrive last night and cause blizzard conditions for the rest of the week, with partly hurricane-force winds, we decided to do a little trip to the sea ice after dinner to see the icebergs and penguins. It had been blowing from SW the whole day, but between the SW wind and the easterly winds of the next storm we knew there had to be a quiet period. We caught exactly that period with almost no wind between 7pm and 10:10pm last night.

eisberg1-klThe edge of the ice shelf, the floating glacier ice plate the station is built on (more later) is only 8km (~5 miles), away, by skidoo about 20min. From the edge, a snow ramp that the wind has formed during the many storms leads down to the sea ice below. In late summer, the sea ice here melts completely away, but right now the ice in Atka Bay is still solidly frozen. Many icebergs of bizarre shapes and colors are lying there. We went out on the sea ice to a very beautiful iceberg, parked the skidoos and went for a walk around it. Penguins were travelling all over the place , single or in small groups, either walking or, the faster option: sliding on their bellies, with the wings as “paddles”.eisberg3z-kl A cloud bank from the cyclone “ante portas” fringed the horizon, and the shiny white icebergs in the distance stood in sharp contrast to the dark grey clouds. In front of us, the huge iceberg was looming high above us, glistening in the sunshine against a deep blue sky, continuously changing its colors and shape while we were walking around it (at a safe distant, of course, since icebergs are no stable constructs, they move, so the ice surrounding them is thin, and also parts can fall off). It was breathtakingly beautiful! In the distance, Neumayer Station could be seen at the western horizon on the ice shelf, looking rather unreal, like a UFO, and definitely a completely alien object in this environment.

pingieisbergAfter our walk we got back on the skidoos and drove to the penguin colony. Thousands of emperor penguins, the biggest penguins in Antarctica, breed here in winter during the cold and dark polar night. Meanwhile the chicks are already fairly big, but they are not molting yet and their grey baby feathers look like soft fur. They have to get their adult black and white feathers before they are able to swim. If the sea ice breaks up too early for them, they’ll die.

While in winter they stand close together in order to stay warm and shield each other from the wind, the birds were now scattered all over the place, standing in little groups, the chicks chirping with their high-pitched baby voices. A sight not many people get to see in their lives. The nightly sun was shining golden on the snow, when we arrived at home on the base. Now we will happily survive a week in the blizzard in front of our computers…

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We made it!

11.12.2017 We finally made it to Antarctica!

Sunday morning at 5am we started in Capetown. We had expected a flight in a Russian cargo plane (“wooden-bench class”), but due to  some safety issues with that plane they had to charter a fancy Boeing 757 instead that is usually used by Bill Clinton, Phil Collins and the likes…

We flew in the VIP section of this charter machine, strange experience for us poor scientists....

We flew in the VIP section of this charter machine, strange experience for us poor scientists….

Interesting experience, but the best part was that we were allowed to go into the cockpit. The pilots and the co-pilot were very nice and I stayed there for quite some time. Outside there was nothing to see but clouds, though. After a very smooth landing on the blue ice runway of Novo, we changed to the small, heavily loaded Twin Otter, which brought us directly to Neumayer.

 

The guys from British Antarctic Survey enjoying their breakfast

The guys from British Antarctic Survey enjoying their breakfast

Today the sun is shining, but it is breezy with drifting snow, the icebergs in Atka Bay keep disappearing and reappearing, I hope I can soon get closer to them, but the forecast for the rest of the week is blizzard, which is good from a professional point of view since 2/3 of my scientific cargo has not arrived yet, so I cannot start with my measurements anyway.

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In the cockpit of the 757

In the cockpit of the 757

The Antarctic Research Base Neumayer III

The Antarctic Research Base Neumayer III

The Twin Otter and the Boeing 757 at the Novo runway

The Twin Otter and the Boeing 757 at the Novo runway

9.12.2017 Robben Island

Visit Robben Island – another “tourist thing”?

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Another day of “waiting” for flying weather in Capetown. While the group from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), who will fly with us to Novo and then on to Halley, went on safari, I decided to take a tour to Robben Island, the former prison island in Table Bay. Admittedly, apart from the fact that I had been interested in South African history and the anti-apartheid movement ever since my first visit to this country, one reason to go there was that I wanted to experience Capetown once more from the sea. Well, after 5 min the ship disappeared in a fog bank and Table Mountain was gone. (So much for “experiencing Capetown from the sea”).

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Fog bank above the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean west of Capetown

We arrived with the boat at the island in the fog, which did not make it appear more cheerful. A flat, windswept, small island, surrounded by the chilly waters of the Benguela Current. I found it rather depressing, all the fences, watch towers and old prison buildings, the quarries, where the prisoners were forced to work. We also saw two old churches. After they had driven us around in a bus for a while, we were shown the cells of the high-security prison, where, among others, Nelson Mandela had served 18 years of his 27-year sentence. 

 

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Our guide there was a former inmate, who told us about his personal experience. We were all seated on wooden benches in one of the big cells, in which forty or fifty prisoners had lived together. About 30 tourists, who listened carefully to the guy telling his story, the looks on their faces becoming more and more disturbed, no matter of which color the face was. When we were shown Nelson Mandela’s cell, I did not even feel like taking photos, it seemed somehow inappropriate. So, I must say, I was deeply impressed by this visit, it was clearly no touristic sightseeing for fun, and I can only hope that this beautiful country can overcome its difficulties in the not too far away future.

The last political prisoner was released in 1991. Robben Island is a  museum now. The UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1999.

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View to Table Mountain on the way home from Robben Island. Had to take the photo through a little hole close to the bottom since we were not allowed on deck and the windows were all wet with seaspray.

The less serious end of the story: I finally got the chance to use my admittedly restricted vocabulary of the Zulu language (saved in my brain 25 years ago) and thanked the guide in his mother tongue: Syabonga gakulu! He understood me perfectly and was appropriately impressed. And on the way home we did see Table Mountain from the boat again.

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Stranded in Capetown

7.12.2017  Stranded in Capetown…

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View from Table Mountain to Capetown

Whether “progress” is an advantage or not, is hard to say… After having landed safe and sound in Capetown on Tuesday morning we were supposed to fly to the Russian Antarctic base Novolazarevskaya (shortly: Novo) tomorrow. In spite of fantastic weather at Novo our flight was postponed to next week, though, since a so-called “feeder flight” that should bring a group of Indian scientist with a small plane to the main runway at Novo was impossible due to the weather conditions at their location. Since they will fly back to Capetown with “our” big plane, we have to wait until they arrive at Novo. Then we might get stuck there, until our feeder flight to Neumayer has the right aviation weather. We’ll see. We got the bags with our polar cloths, which we need to change to in the plane before landing, and we also had to check in our main luggage already at the flight briefing yesterday. So we have to survive in Capetown now with hand luggage (8kg incl. the notebook!) for an uncertain time period. With 34°C (93F) outside, it means washing a few things by hand almost every day. Not good, since they are experiencing a severe drought here in Capetown and we try to save water.

The good news: we will most likely not fly with the Russian cargo plane, but with a fancy Boeing 757, which should allow as to look out of the windows! Maybe it is worth the waiting…

In the olden days, we went by ship to Antarctica, which took us about 10 days. I am not sure we will make it to Neumayer in 10 days flying with the planes… However, RV Polarstern, the German research ice breaker, is due at Neumayer not before 22 January, so hopefully we will still be earlier than that.

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The South African Antarctic research vessel RV Agulhas II in the harbour of Capetown. She is due to leave for Antarctica any time.

Meanwhile, I play tourist and try to enjoy Capetown. It is full summer tourist season now, but the beauty of the city is mostly caused by its surroundings: the mountains and the sea. Thus I took a little trip on a sailing boat last night and finally had a familiar feeling, seeing Capetown as I was “used” to when I arrived with Polarstern in 1986, 1991, and 1992. Beautiful!

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Capetown with Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak

 

Return to Antarctica after 26 years

Going “home” or exploring a new world?

28 years ago I wintered as a meteorologist at the German Antarctic base “Neumayer”. We flew to South America and then took the ship. After 10 days at sea we arrived at the station, the last 10 Miles we flew by helicopter. This is what the station looked like when we landed:

The first base, built in 1981. The little orange thing is a summer hut, the rest is underneath the surface.

The first base, built in 1981. The little orange thing is a summer hut, the main station is underneath the surface.

I remember that I thought, “This flyspeck shall be my home for 15 months”??

The station was situated underneath the snow. Built at the surface in 1981, it was covered by more and more snow that the frequent storms brought, and, in 1989, it was 10m below the snow surface. It was made of metal tubes that had the shape of an “H”, and in the tubes there were containers that formed the labs, the living quarters, everything. You could only see the upper end of the “staircase tower” in the middle and the four towers with ladders to climb out plus some “fresh-air tubes”. In winter we were 9 people: 4 scientists, a doctor, a cook, a radio operator and two engineers. In our case, all women. Antarctica had been a male domain for many decades. Women had not been allowed for a long time. In 1989, the Germans still did not allow mixed crews! So we went as the first and only all-female Antarctic wintering team, it was our only chance, and we took it. (We had to find the crew (with professions that were dominated by men) ourselves.)

The new base is built on poles at the snow surface in order to let the snow being blown through underneath rather than piling up and burying the station. I have never seen it. (Hope to be able to take a phote of it soon!)

In two weeks I will fly to Capetown, and, weather permitting, I will arrive at Neumayer a couple of days later. Will it feel like coming home? The familiar sight of the vast, rough snow surface, the view to the beautiful icebergs in Atka Bay, the distant, blue “hill” Halfvar Ridge… Or will it be a completely new experience, on a modern base in times of internet, planes etc.? I will report!

Travelling to Antarctica in the olden days.. with Research Icebreaker RV POLARSTERN

Travelling to Antarctica in the olden days.. with Research Icebreaker RV POLARSTERN

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking snow samples back in 1990

Taking snow samples back in 1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying the warm summer sun on a little Trip to the ice shelf edge, together with my colleague and friend Ulli

Enjoying the warm summer sun on a little Trip to the ice shelf edge, together with my colleague and friend Ulli

Welcome to my Antarctic blog

lisltindi-portraitThe start of the Antarctic expedition is getting closer….!

On December 4th I will fly to Capetown, from where we will fly to the Russian Antarctic base Novolazarevskaya with a big plane that lands with skis on ice. Then, if the weather allows, a small plane will bring us to the German wintering base Neumayer, where I will be for almost three months to do measurements for my project. I will report on this blog about what’s going on.

 

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