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.

 

31.1.18 Now we know why…

31.1.18 Now we know why….

The last penguins standing in the light.

The last penguins standing in the light.

Last week, on a cloudless day, Saeid, my new “assistent” (a Ph.D. student), and I decided to go to the coast to see the iceberges in the beautiful light again. Well, in the evening clouds came in and it was overcast. We decided to go anyway, and as soon as we reached the ice edge the clouds started to break up (against the forecast…). At first, there was just a stripe of light that slowly wandered over the sea ice, sometimes just shining on the penguins, while the sea ice behind and the icebergs were still in the shade. Then more and more then sun came back. It was a magic play of light and shadows and we just stood there and watched.

Magic light at the ice edge

Magic light at the ice edge

An hour after we had left, the sea ice started to break up. We know this because the biologists, who study the penguins, have an automatic camera there and they showed us a spectacular time lapse video. The entire sea ice pack broke along the ice shelf edge and moved almost as a whole away from the edge, then quickly breaking apart  it was driven out of Atka bay. Absolutely spectacular! We missed it just by one hour.

Same spot, 24h later...

Same spot, 24h later…(the ice that is seen is the ice shelf I am standing on)

Just before the ice broke up...

Just before the ice broke up…

So, on the following evening we went again and saw the deep blue sea!

Within a couple of hours, the sea ice was gone. Nobody ever doubts the decision again when the sea ice gets closed for visits.

Within a couple of hours, the sea ice was gone. Nobody ever doubts the decision again when the sea ice gets closed for visits.

 

21.1.18 The sea ice is breaking up

21.1.18 The sea ice is breaking up

The huge iceberg that had been calling me...

The huge iceberg that had been calling me…

As we saw when we visited the Mary Arctica, in the north of Atka Bay the sea ice is almost gone, there is already open water. Neumayer is situated at the southern edge of the bay, where the sea ice still looks very solid. Last week, I wanted to get closer to one of the huge icebergs that can be seen from the base. The berg had been calling me ever since I arrived here, almost like a mountain that makes me wish to climb it. Well, climbing an iceberg is out of discussion here, but just to see it from close would satisfy me. The big icebergs in the bay are grounded, whereas the sea ice is moving with the tides, which leads to cracks in the vicinity of icebergs and makes it wise to keep a safety distance. Sofi and Tim, from the old wintering team, Daniel, a summer scientist, and I went with only two skidoos and headed for the iceberg. I immensely enjoyed being in a small group for a change, and having chosen the destination myself. We are 55 people on the base now, with only a restricted number of available skidoos, so normally you can hardly choose where, when and with whom you want to go. The first sea ice trips were very enjoyable, but it was like going with strangers, I often had met the people just a couple of days earlier. Sofi is my direct colleague here, we share an office and had also gone skiing together, Tim is the doctor and I know him slightly better due to some small medical problems I had, and Daniel is a very nice, quiet scientist, who seems to enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of the sea ice landscape as much as I. They were the best companions I could imagine this summer. (Funnily, Daniel’s father was active in polar research in the olden days, when I wintered here.) In the olden days, I had been on excursions to the sea ice with friends, which felt very differently. Here, there are so many people, and the fluctuation of people is so high with all the planes, that it is almost impossible to make friends. However, with this small group that evening, for the first time here I felt like I was there together with the others, not only at the same place at the same time. There was no rush, no stress, we took our time to take photos and everybody enjoyed it and it felt good to share all this with the three colleagues. I sometimes think the greatest happiness must be to be able to share this Antarctic experience with the person you love, but only few people are so lucky.

Our shadows on the way to the big iceberg.

Our shadows on the way to the big iceberg. On this trip, for the first time this summer, I had a feeling of togetherness.

From the iceberg we went to the seal colony. We had to cross a big crack to get there, but made it without problems. Seals need cracks to get access to the water to go on hunting trips, so it is always recommendable to be a bit careful around seal colonies. The seals were lazily lying on the sea ice, the young ones almost as big as their mothers now. Since the summer is so short, they have to grow very quickly, and they do, drinking the extremely fat milk of their mothers, while the latter are losing weight all the time. We just sat there, watched them, took photos and enjoyed it.

A Weddell Seal on the sea ice, in the background the ice shelf edge

A Weddell Seal on the sea ice, in the background the ice shelf edge

A beautiful iceberg close to the seal colony. Even the penguins seemed to admire its beauty.

A beautiful iceberg close to the seal colony. Even the penguins seemed to admire its beauty.

A young penguin on the ice shelf, in the background Neumayer Station at the horizon

A young penguin on the ice shelf, in the background Neumayer Station at the horizon

On the way home, we stopped at a small group of young emperors, about 120 individuals, which were on the ice shelf, less than a kilometer away from the ramp. It was almost 11pm by now, and the light of the low sun was wonderfully soft. The penguins were standing at the edge of an ice-covered and almost snow-filled inlet, with spectacular icebergs behind, only I was almost too tired meanwhile to take good photos. But in this light, almost any photo would look good.

 

A small group of penguins at the inlet in the wonderful light of the midnight sun

A small group of penguins at the inlet in the wonderful light of the midnight sun

7 hours later the sea ice was closed to the public for safety reasons, and we were really happy that we had had this wonderful last trip.

 

18.1.18 We got visitors again!

18.1.18 We got visitors again!

Two curious visitors at the station

Two curious visitors at the station

When I came back from my trench on Tuesday, some people were standing around in front of the base with their cameras and I soon saw what attracted them: two little Adélie penguins had come for a visit. They are smaller than the emperor chicks, but can run very quickly on their short legs (they do not use the belly technique of the emperors so often) and they are very curious and absolutely fearless. We wondered what made them come the long way from the sea ice to our base, but even the French biologists, who study the emperor penguins in the bay, could not solve this puzzle. Back in 1990, we had a couple of Adélies at the base for several days, and they refused to stay away from the “snowmelt”, the place where we got our water from. They also kept us awake at night with their lively chatting.

Those penguins seemed to be interested in the space project EDEN

These penguins seemed to be interested in the space project EDEN

These two guys seemed to be interested in the what we call “space gardeners” here.

They can walk faster than I and they cover larger distances

They can walk faster than I and they cover larger distances

The space gardeners have a container about 400m south of the base, where one of the winterers will carry out an experiment with the flowery name EDEN, where he grows salad, tomatoes etc. without soil (soil is forbidden according to the Antarctic Treaty) as a test for a space mission. It was all over the press in Germany, but I doubt that the penguins could have heard it via those channels.  After a little while,  they moved on towards the south, maybe they wanted to see the air chemistry lab (or even my trench?), and we never saw them again. They are cute little fellows, but normally they breed on land, they build their nests out of stones, so nobody knows what they were doing among the emperors or here on the ice shelf.

The Mary Arctica, a danish cargo ship, leaving the inlet

The Mary Arctica, a danish cargo ship, leaving the inlet

Then we got another ship coming, the “Mary Arctica”, a Danish cargo ship that brought us fuel and took a lot of cargo that had to be brought back to Europe. She was supposed to come already on Monday, but could not get through the pack ice. Finally she made it yesterday in the early morning. The technical crew left with the Pistenbullys and sledges and some curious scientists followed them after dinner to see the ship. When we arrived, they had just finished the unloading, and some of us were a bit disappointed that they had missed it, but I did not care at all: I had longed for seeing the ice edge further to the north, where our old base had been, and I was looking forward to seeing some open water, too. As much as I like snow and ice, the contrast of the deep blue sea and the icebergs, shining in a radiant white, is amazing. The ship had moored at an inlet, one of those V-shaped big cracks at the ice shelf edge, they remind a bit of a fjord in Norway. They develop because the ice is flowing and spreading out, but is too brittle to simply get continuously thinner  like a glacier tongue in the Alps. There are many inlets at the edge of Ekström Ice Shelf, on which Neumayer was built. Often there are crevasses in the vicinity of the inlets, too, so we had to be careful.

One of several inlets, v-shaped "fjords", at the edge of Ekström Ice Shelf

One of several inlets, v-shaped “fjords”, at the edge of Ekström Ice Shelf

We came just in time for the departure of the “Mary Arctica”, and even though it was just a container ship, not a pretty research icebreaker like “Polarstern” (which we expect for the 29th of January), it was a stunning sight: the red ship in the middle of the broken sea ice floes with the deep blue water in between,  the fantastic shapes of the white icebergs in the background . The ship’s horn tooted once and they slowly left the natural ice pier. We did not get a chance to talk to the crew, but somebody on the bridge waved at us and we waved back. After a while they stopped the engine again, we did not know their plans, so we started our skidoos and went back to the base, the icebergs and the blue water to our left, the station 20km away at the horizon in the southwest. I thought about an evening back in 1991 when we had gone to the ice shelf edge close to the so-called Aklestad Inlet. There was almost no wind and, in the inlet, the water was absolutely calm so that the steep ice cliffs of the inlet were mirrored in the water. Incredibly beautiful. I hope to see something like that again before I leave!

On the way home, we saw more beautiful icebergs, lying in the deep blue sea

On the way home, we saw more beautiful icebergs, lying in the deep blue sea

12.1.18 Whiteout!

12.1.18 Whiteout!

6:30am, I look out of the window of my little hut: I see the station and the neighbor huts, but otherwise just white, white, white. It is the fifth day in a row that we have “whiteout”. Whiteout occurs when the sky is overcast by low clouds and the light is multiply reflected between the snow surface and the clouds. This leads to conditions, where there are no contrasts anymore. The structure of the snow surface disappears, no horizon can be seen, the snow surface seems to blend into the sky. Only at the northern horizon the sky is dark grey, because of the reflection of the dark sea water. This is called “water sky” and the old sailors and whalers used it to find open water for their ships in

Whiteout! (no words needed9

Whiteout! (no words needed)

Whiteout. The pic was taken on a slope, the man is standing behind my colleague Stella.

Whiteout. The pic was taken on a slope, the man is standing behind my colleague Stella.

the pack ice. The visibility to the distance can still be very high in a whiteout, only you cannot estimate sizes and distances, a little black object could be a hut or container in the distance or just a matchbox close by. Back in 1990 we took some photos to demonstrate whiteout. I apologize for the bad technical quality of the scanned old slides, but they really show you what it means. These conditions are particularly dangerous for flying, and especially for helicopter flying.

For me, it means a normal working day. I still ski to my science trench, only I cannot see the little obstacles formed by the wind at the surface. I more or less “feel” my way, my skis and my feet tell me what the surface is like. I get stuck in soft snowdrifts because my old Rottefella binding is wider than the skis, I get stopped by hard sastrugis (snow obstacles formed by the wind), and sometimes the surface is hard and icy, so that my skis can cross if I am not paying attention.  The work is the same as usual, sampling snow and doing measurements on them in my trench, only that I don’t mind so much working in the trench when the sun is not shining outside anyway. Cutting the longer samples is tedious work, it does not feel like doing great science, but the data set we will have in the end is unique in Antarctica! Together with a long time series of stable isotope data of fresh snow that started in 1981 and to which I contributed when I wintered in 1990, the new snow data, in combination with the water vapor data from the Picarro and the complete meteorological data will give us the chance to do great science. However, nowadays, everybody just contributes little bits to the picture, tiny steps to a larger entity, and eventually we will get a much better understanding of the complex processes that are involved in ice core studies and thus in climate. I must say, though, I do not envy the people, who have to cut the deep ice cores of 3000m length…

Two plain wooden crosses to remember the victims of the helicopter crash in the whiteout.

Two plain wooden crosses to remember the victims of the helicopter crash in the whiteout.

On the way to the sea ice, after about 6km (4 Miles) we always pass two crosses, plain wooden crosses that have been set up to remember two men, who died in a helicopter crash in 2008. I have thought for quite a while about whether I should mention this here in my blog or not, but I decided to do it. The crosses have been taken care of all these years, they are raised regularly, otherwise they would be buried in the snow in one season. I have never met those people,  but I think of them each time I go by on the skidoo, and I think it is a good thing that they are not forgotten here in Antarctica. And it is also a reminder for us that, in spite of all the modern technical progress, the Antarctic nature is still dangerous and requires our utmost respect.

 

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

 

4.1.18 Expecting S.A. Agulhas!

4.1.18 Expecting S.A. Agulhas

The ice breaking research vessel S.A. Agulhas

The ice breaking research vessel S.A. Agulhas

Even in times of planes, private jets etc. the arrival of a ship at an Antarctic base ist still a special event. The South African research icebreaker S.A. Agulhas was due at Neumayer at Christmas Eve, but we knew that this date would not hold since I had seen the ship still in the port of Capetown in the first week of December. Then she was supposed to come at the end of the year, but the weather was so bad where she had to do the unloading of the cargo for the South African Antarctic base, SANAE IV, that it took ages.

S.A.Agulhas breaking a small channel through the sea ice

S.A.Agulhas breaking a small channel through the sea ice

Then suddenly yesterday morning, she could be seen from the roof of our base. In the morning there had been clouds, but now the sun was shining on the white icebergs and the red ship was clearly standing out in front of them. She did not try to get through the ice to the ice shelf edge, but stayed at the eastern edge of the sea ice, ramming only a short way through the 1.5m thick ice. So the unloading had to take place on the sea ice. Our Pistenbullys (snowcats) with the heavy sledges carrying the containers had to go 16km (10 Miles) on the sea ice. With our skidoos we were faster than the Bullys and went to see the ship. It was a majestic sight, the ship was still trying to find a safe position for the unloading and was pushing through the ice. We kept our distance, took some pics and went back. On the way back to the station we saw the technical team with three Pistenbullys and empty sledges on their way to Agulhas. Everybody is a bit nervous during a sea ice unloading, but the weather was perfect, everything went well and we were all happy when it was safely finished.

I was even happier because on the way to and from the ship we came close to beautiful icebergs, some of them I had never seen before.

on the way to Agulhas we passed some beautiful icebergs

on the way to Agulhas we passed some beautiful icebergs

Icebergs can have all kinds of shapes and colors

Icebergs can have all kinds of shapes and colors

1.1.2018 New Year!

1.1.18 New Year’s Eve (Silvester und Neujahr)!

New Year's Eve barbecue dinner in the workshop

New Year’s Eve barbecue dinner in the workshop

The new year started like the old one had ended: overcast skies, moderate wind and light drifting snow. To celebrate the transition appropriately, we had a barbecue in the evening, in the romantic setting of the workshop, where normally skidoos and other things are repaired.

Julia, the new wintering cook, at the barbecue

Julia, the new wintering cook, at the barbecue

The workshop was decorated with garlands and flags of all 9 nations that are here at present, the wine and other drinks were set up picturesquely in front of the tools, we were sitting on wooden benches, Zarges boxes or garbage bins, and everybody seemed to enjoy the food. At 10pm, “Dinner for one” was shown in the lounge, as it has been tradition for many years. Afterwards I retired to my little hut, our present “troup” is simply too large and too inhomogeneuos for a truely common celebration, but I started the New Year with a good night’s sleep.

Das neue Jahr begann, wie das alte aufgehört hatte: mit bedecktem Himmel, mäßigem Wind und leichter Bodendrift. Um das alte Jahr gebührend zu verabschieden, gab es eine Grillparty, im romantischen Ambiente der Werkstatt, wo sonst Skidoos und ähnliches repariert werden.

getraenke

The good South African wine from Stellenbosch

Die Werkstatt war mit Girlanden und Flaggen aller 9 Nationen, die derzeit hier vertreten sind, geschmückt, die Getränke waren malerisch vor dem Werkzeug aufgegestellt, man sass auf Holzbänken, Zargeskisten oder Müllkübeln und allen schien es zu schmecken. Um 22h gab es in der Lounge das traditionelle „Dinner for one“, danach habe ich mich verabschiedet. Zu groß und zu inhomogen ist unsere derzeitige Truppe, um wirklich gemeinsam zu feiern, aber ich habe das neue Jahr mit einem guten Schlaf begonnen.

 

The four "Oldies", but three generations of winterers: Erich (1984) and Elisabeth (1990) (GvN= Neumayer I), Harald (1992, NeumayerII) and Jölund (2010, Neumayer III)

The four “Oldies”, representing three generations of winterers: Erich (1984) and Elisabeth (1990), (GvN= Neumayer I), Harald (1992, Neumayer II) and Jölund (2011, Neumayer III)