Nov. 30 2018: The Freezing Traverse to the Plateau

After being on the Antarctic Plateau, I promise I won’t complain about cold anymore.

9 AM UTC Time, the Hilux fully loaded with the necessary stuff and not 3, but 4 Musketeers ready for the next adventure!  65 km to our final destination. On a regular route you will probably cover this distance in less than an hour. In Antarctica, 4 hrs. We can’t go more than 15 Km/Hr. Skidoos are faster, but we are not warm, we can’t talk, and for sure they are not that comfy.  So, well the “slow motion” is worthy then.  Around 1:30 pm we reached the first sampling site. -18C.  Cold, of course, but not bad.  With the help of Henri and Manu, we get to work.  We can’t spend too much time here because we still have a new sampling site to go to. It’s only 16 Km away from this one, which means ~1 Hr driving if we are lucky and the terrain is in good condition.

After almost 2 hours, we’re done here, and we begin our trip to the next point: The Deep Plateau.  The landscape is just incredible, and the more we drive the more I notice and feel the difference.  Katabatic winds blowing harder, temperature decreasing pretty fast to ~-23°C and voila! here we are, in the middle of nowhere. To the side, you turn your head and look at the most beautiful flat, white and bright 360 panorama you can ever imagine.

Before getting out of the car, two very important things. Number one: organization of all the tasks to do. Each of us is responsible for doing something different.  That way we can achieve the goal efficiently but quickly due to the low temperatures.  Number two: (but this one is just for me) to be ready with the “ultraclean outfit” in order to minimize the contamination of the samples as much as possible.  Being aware of the chilly temperature, hand warmers are in between my two gloves, but I was not prepared to be blasted by the wind!  In a matter of seconds my vinyl gloves were completely frozen and, with that, my fingers as well; the -23°C feels like -30°C! So, I ran to the Hilux to take the gloves out and replace them with regular plastic gloves. I am sorry for science in this point. But if I lose my fingers now I won’t be able to complete my mission in Antarctica and so far, we only have 3 out of 7 sites done! Safety first.

While I’m sampling snow, my folks are installing the three new poles we need at this new site.  Two for the organic compounds and one for the inorganic materials.  We all finished almost at the same time.  So, either I took a long time for the sampling or they did their job very fast.  6:30 PM and we’re finally done, high fives for the 4 of us.  Nice freezing job!  But the satisfaction of seeing our samplers set up is a great feeling.  It’s not easy to work in extreme conditions but always possible when even the small details were triple-checked before going.  After another 4 ½ hours we’re back home.  Princess Elisabeth station is so quiet because it’s almost midnight and the whole crew, except us, is asleep. Christine has left 4 plates ready with dinner for us on the counter in the kitchen.  That was so nice of her.

And that is how our traverse ended.  Full tummies, happy hearts!  Goodnight everybody. 😉

Until the next blog.

Stefania

Nov. 28 2018: The Bad Guy: The Antarctic Weather

Unpredictable, changeable, variable, unstable. All in one.  But seriously how bad it could be? Well, pretty bad indeed. Awful and very frustrating.

I cannot even mention how many times these past days Preben and I were ready to go, but literally ready, and at the last minute a new forecast changes everything. So far, we have three missions aborted, and one of them we were so close, only 12 Km away but unfortunately, we had to come back. The combination of strong winds and not an easy terrain make us to return for safety. Anyway, we came back safe and sound to the station, without samples and not with a smiling face. The lesson to be learned: working on this kind of environments requires extra patience! And never giving up…

The morning of Tuesday November 27th, was so much productive for us. Not because the weather was good but because we managed to finish the installation of 3 active pumps, for both organic and inorganic compounds. Preben came up with a very smart idea to improve the inlet of my active pump and after seeing the new modification installed on the roof of the “Atmos shelter”, our little and cozy “office” for the next weeks, we are very happy with the results!  So now the smile is back in our faces!

Wednesday is the day of preparation for our, hopefully, next field trip to the Plateau. A traverse of ~75 Km to be done in the Hilux for safety reasons. We have two sampling sites to visit. One from the previous season and a new site in a more challenging area in the deep Plateau to increase the resolution of our sampling. We are very excited to complete this traverse so I’ll tell you more in the next blog.

Cheers to all the readers,

Stefania.

Nov. 22, 2018: Doing Science is always Fun!

Thursday, November 22st, sledge attached to the skidoo, Zarges boxes loaded with all the required material to work on field, and coordinates on our GPS, Preben, Henry (the chief scientist) and me are ready to go 4 Km away from Princess Elisabeth Station.

3, 2, 1.. Let’s do it! 20 minutes later we arrive onsite and from the distance we can see our poles standing. YES. Nice feeling, we found everything as expected. We parked the skydoos few meters behind the site in order to avoid contamination.  To continue protecting our samples as much as possible, it’s time for me to dress up a little bit. And yes, you can laugh, with the wind blowing and inflating my uniform I look like an astronaut! Two different kinds of samples I have to take care of. First, I’m gonna collect snow samples into a pre-cleaned 10L bottle that will remain frozen upon return to our lab in Brussels. Second, I’m going to replace the filters from the passive dust collectors known as Sigma2 placed by Nadine during the previous season (1-year sampling period). While Preben is taking care of his organic collectors I am dealing with mine, and Henry is helping us with whatever we need and is the named photographer ;).

After almost 2 hours we are done! We are very happy of our work, so we came back to the station to store the samples in the freezer and re-organize everything until the next field trip that will depend, of course, as everything in Antarctica, on the weather!

Tefi

Nov. 19/21: Staying Alive and much more

“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive…”

 

That is not only a Bee Gees song. It’s also the same tempo of 100 beats per minutes at which one should give chest compressions during CPR. What do we know about Hypothermia?? Five different stages and trust me after the talk, you don’t want to experience none of them! Thank you so much Dr. Sandra for your great training and advices! These past days were full of very important and valuable lessons. We learned a lot. Briefly, when you are in the field you are not alone, you are responsible not only for yourself but also for the rest of team.

After such important classes it looks like we are ready to start doing some real work. With the skydoos warm up, it is time for me and Preben to start taking care of some stuff located in the “Atmos shelter”. Here Preben has a High Volume Sampler and I have an Active pump. Both samplers are designed to collect atmospheric particles but the kind of filters we use and scientific goals we look at are different.  I focus in the inorganic composition and he looks at the organic compounds. At the same time, in this shelter there are also a couple of instruments from some of our colleagues who are not here this year. That means we were trained before to take care of these devices. Preben is really good managing everything and extremely precise and organized doing his work. So, I can’t complain. I help him with what he needs and learn a lot indeed. So far, I think we are doing a great team.

In the next days we will go to the field to check our sampling sites from last year. So for more news keep reading the next blogs…

 

Nov 17/18, 2018: Arrival at the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Station.

It is time to give you news… how our adventure continues… 1 am in the morning and we finally arrived to PEA (Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Station, the Belgian Station). What a great feeling! Alain Hubert and other members of the team are waiting for us. They welcome us very kindly and give us the first indications and rules about how everything works here. After a cup of warm tea, it is time to rest a little bit. 7:30 am we need to be back for our first official meeting and meet the rest of the crew. Tired and jetlagged or excited or with a combination of everything, we make our way to our bedroom. It is a blue container outside the station that will shelter us for the next 5 weeks. In case you are wondering, it is heated, of course! The morning of Saturday November 17th, after breakfast, Alain Hubert (the famous Belgian explorer and chief in charge of the Station) gave us a tour showing us the entire station, explaining in detail about the management and functionality of PEA. I must to say, it is incredible what they have built so far. It is a place with all the facilities you can imagine and a completely zero emission station is the goal for the next coming years. Water Engineers, Electricians, plumbers, constructors, technicians, etc… are part of the crew responsible every day of the running of PEA but we all have duties that help for the right development. I feel very delighted to be part of this, at least this year. The day is almost over and everybody is excited because Sunday is day off! So now it is time to enjoy dinner and some beers and/or wine all together.
It is Sunday already and we cannot wait to go outside and explore the surroundings of PEA a little bit. Always following the field guides, they take us for a tour to the “wind scoop” of the Utsteinen mountains. We are six and for me is the first time walking in the ice using crampons. Landscape is incredible beautiful. Shapes I’ve never seen before and also sounds I’ve never heard or experienced. My eyes are just amazed for what I am seeing. I am so lucky to be here, that’s all I can think of. So, in resume, it was a wonderful experience but I couldn’t have done it without help. So, thank you Daniel (one of the field guides)! For someone without experience like me, support is very important.
The next two days will be training days for us. This means medical, GPS, skidoo driving, crevasse safety, rescue, etc. So if you are interested to see how this goes, more stories later on….

Tefi & Preben.

Nov 16 2018: The Beauty of the indescribable -Antarctica Day 1.

The CHASE expedition Nov.-Dec. 2018 –
The adventure of Stefania Gili (ULB- Labo. G-Time) and Preben Van Overmeiren (UGent – Department of Green Chemistry and Technology)

After several months of preparation, finally the time has come. Mixing of feelings to hear “Ladies and Gentlemen, please it’s time to get ready with your warm clothes. We’ll be landing shortly…” Minutes later after a warm clapping for the genius pilot who landed us safe, the steward said “Welcome everybody to Novo Air Base, Antarctica, Local Time is 1:00 PM.” The Boeing 757 opens its door and here we are, the BELARE /CHASE team has completed the first leg of this trip to Princess Elisabeth Station. Oh yeah ! Happy faces, at least for the ones who are the first time here! Beautiful weather today! We couldn’t ask for more to be honest. While part of the team is checking that our cargo has arrived complete and safe, the rest is taken to a “container house” to wait until the departure of our next flight, which is at 9:00 PM local time. After a great welcoming at Novo, especially for me because the Argentinean team (16 people) gave me some goodies to bring with me! That really made my day even more exciting because it was a nice surprise I was not expecting. Seated now in a smaller plane, we are ready to   flight to put new home for the next 5-6 weeks. The feeling is just amazing. After 1 hr and 45 minutes we finally got the the view of the PEA !!! Unbelievable, we are here !

If you want to know what is next … read the next story …
PS: I hope you enjoy the pics as much I do …

Tefi & Preben.

Wednesday 21st February

For this last day on the field, we decided to look further west from the station, an area we haven’t sampled yet. Smalegga Mountain proved to be a suitable location, as well as a significant point of interest, as it was at the foot of this mountain that the 1959 Belgian Antarctic expedition left a sledge. Once at the top of the first crest from the ski-doo track, we noticed a glacially eroded surface covered with fine-grained material, which is an ideal sampling site for micrometeorites. After taking the sample back to the laboratory of the station, we quickly found our first cosmic spherule of the day. However, it also turned out to be our last micrometeorite in this sample. Once back in Brussels, we will have more time and better equipment to determine the quality of this sample.

Now we keep busy preparing our trip back to Belgium, packing and labelling all the samples we have collected on the field. A tedious task, but an important one nonetheless.

After 450 km on the skidoo and 105 kg of sampled sediment, our Antarctic adventure has come to an end. As they say in French: “ce n’est qu’un au revoir!”.

Steven and Matthias

map-samples4

February 20th 2018

On Tuesday, we visited Wideroefjellet, where we know micrometeorites are abundant based on an earlier expedition in 2012. To reach a ridge near the highest summit of the Sør Rondane Mts., of course we need to make a small effort and climb this monster using crampons, ice picks and snow poles. We reach the ridge in 2.5 hours. The weather is good, yet the wind-chill factor goes down to -30˚C near the sampling site. Exhausted (except for robot Raphael!), we start our sampling. Even in only 5 years, this site has changed with significantly more snow accumulation. The soil and underlying rock are frozen, and we need to use the chisel and hammer to collect fine-grained sediment. Matthias points out that the other side of the valley may also be a good site to sample. Reluctantly, as it’s getting late and temperatures are starting to go down, we move in that direction to discover that this is indeed a perfect location! With backpacks full of sediment, we move down to the skidoo parking spot in 1h15m and return to the station after a skidoo ride of 1h. No need to say that again the collected samples appear full of micrometeorites using the microscope at the station?

What are we going to do with all these samples in the range of 70 kg? Well, pick out all the micrometeorites of course! Because the larger a micrometeorite collection is, the more chances of finding extremely rare material. Just think of unmelted micrometeorites, rare achondritic micrometeorites, airblast particles…? Who knows what secrets this now very large collection holds?

 

map-samples-all-1 

February 18th and 19th

On the fifth day of the expedition, the target was a supraglacial moraine located near Walnumfjellet, which is the most micrometeorite rich site we have found so far. Previous moraine sampling has proved to be reasonably successful, so aiming for this moraine in particular made sense. Much to the surprise of the team members, what we found upon arrival to the site was a line of sparse rocks partially enclosed in ice, with no fine-grained material to be found. Steven and Raphael decided to take this opportunity to sample ice along the blue ice field the moraine was running along, while Matthias decided to explore the moraine further to find a micrometeorite sampling site. After walking along most of the moraine, only one suitable sampling site was found, which consisted of a centimeter-thick layer of icy fine-grained material. Upon returning to Princess Elisabeth Station, we stopped on the ridge of the Svindlandfjellet to sample more fine-grained material. Upon examination of the moraine in the laboratory, it turns out that this unique sample in surprisingly rich in micrometeorites! The sixth day of the expedition was a very demanding one, as it involved sampling ice along a steep glacier close to Wideroefjellet. But it was worth the effort, as these 22 samples will allow a better characterization of the ice dynamics in the area.

map-samples3

Saturday 17th February

The weather was exceptionally good today, so we decided to take a long ski-doo trip to Walnumfjellet, a group of small mountains located 70 km from Princess Elisabeth Station. For this very technical trip, amongst glaciers leading to the high plateau, we were lucky to have Alain Hubert as our guide, next to Raphael. After a long ride, we eventually reached our destination, 2400 m above sea level and with wind-chill effects reaching -28°C. We quickly noticed glacially eroded summits popping out of the ice, which looked like ideal sampling sites. The cold temperature motivated us to quickly get to work, sampling a very promising looking fine-grained detritus. Promising because the surfaces of these flat summits have been stable and potentially exposed to the sky for approximately 2 million years, during which we surmise that they have been accumulating cosmic dust falling from the heaven. After sampling 5 different sites, we made our way back to the station, through steep glaciers and long stretches of icy flatland. Once back, we couldn’t hold our excitement and started looking through one of the sample. Much to our amazement, we found more than ten micrometeorites in less than 15 minutes, making this sample exceptionally rich. We can finally say that braving the cold and lack of oxygen was a small price to pay for such an exceptional find and day.

map-samples2