Unloading the Mary Arctica - © International Polar Foundation

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A Speedy Offloading

The gods of the Antarctic are finally smiling upon the IPF! The Mary Arctica was able to moor at Crown Bay as the IPF convoy was reaching the unloading zone. What timing! After 12 days of delay, the Mary Arctica took advantage of an opening in the sea ice to reach Crown Bay around 8pm on Thursday.

Things are looking up!

Since midnight on Thursday, we've had a nearly miraculous reversal of fortunes for the better; all operations have gone smoothly and swiftly since then.

It took the convoy 20 uneventful hours to travel to the coast from Utsteinen. The team arrived as planned at midnight and set up camp on the ice shelf. They then had a short three-hour nap.

Even the weather forecast has taken a turn for the better: the high-pressure zone in the area seems strong enough that it will hang around for a few days.

Offloading isn't easy

While Captain Petersen started offloading the two German helicopters A355 Twin Star, 14 IPF team members were preparing the ramp leading from the top of the ice shelf down to the sea ice.

Because there's a V-shaped rift at the end of the ice shelf that faces towards the ocean, normally it's easy to gain access to the sea ice below. However this year, the sea ice cover has been disturbed somewhat, giving it a very irregular and buckled surface, with huge, uneven slabs of ice sitting on top of each other, much more akin to the kind of sea ice normally found in the Arctic.

"It's definitely not going to be an easy task to move all the equipment up to the camp 6 km away on the ice shelf," said Alain Hubert, "but we have been here before and everything will be ok. Under such circumstances, you realize why field expertise is so important."

A sigh of relief

Everyone is much less stressed these days, especially the German scientists, who will be able to start their field research as early as tomorrow. Both helicopters will fly back tonight to PEA carrying five of the 14 IPF team members who went to the coast. It will be a short two-hour flight – a lot less than the 20 hours it takes by Prinoth!

We're dedicating all of our energy to finish offloading the 240 tons of equipment, and we won't take a break until we've finished the job. We estimate we'll have everything offloaded by 11 pm tonight.

A big part of the cargo we're offloading is fuel for the German team – for both the geologists based at PEA and the AWI team staying behind on the ice shelf.

After a short rest, it will take them one day to haul everything up onto the ice shelf, and then the convoy will start heading back to Utsteinen. In a fortnight, a second convoy will be back to haul the remainder of the cargo, as it's impossible to bring everything in one trip. Alain and company will then take advantage of their time at the coast to finish the base camp the Germans have asked for, with a view onto Crown Bay.

Author: Michel Brent

Picture: Unloading the Mary Arctica - © International Polar Foundation

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