The International Polar Foundation, flying the flag at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica - © International Polar Foundation

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As season comes to a close, the weather stays on side

As the 2012-2013 BELARE Antarctic season draws to a close, expedition leader Alain Hubert brings us up to date with the work and projects being carried out at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote that “the last five weeks of the season will even go faster than the rest”.

I must say that I wouldn’t have imagined that it would go quite so fast… Since mid-January we haven’t really stopped, so we’ve been lucky to have the weather definitely on our side this season. In fact, it’s possible that we will complete the season without experiencing a single storm at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, which would be the first time in five seasons!

As I mentioned before, there’s lots of work going on here, mainly related to the reconstruction of the entrance hall – a tough challenge for our team. But things went well, and cooperation between the different technicians, from construction to electricity and mechanics is really amazing. People here must be polyvalent – that is, able to take on multiple roles, even if they are specialist in their field. We work as flexible team, sharing responsibility as much as possible.  This means that when we are short of time or need to take advantage of the good weather, or some of us need needs help, others can come to in reinforce. Then, things go faster and the “to do” list becomes shorter and shorter.

With the end of the season approaching we are all quite tired… when leaving the station at the end of the month, everything, will have to be ready to ensure the station will run on its own during the following eight unmanned months. This is the responsibility of several of people – all of whom take care of the zero emission concept that guides the unique energy management of Princess Elisabeth.

The critical point has been what we could call the “electrical connectivity” of the station’s energy production, with new devices added and reinstallation of the entrance hall.

Every thing had been dismantled and disconnected, yet remounted within two weeks. All of the wind turbines (except one that needs repairs) have been reinstalled, including a new one, new platforms of solar panels has been installed as a kind of solar roof for the fuel platform - as a test to improve energy production, and a set of new of panels installed for testing was also put on a mobile sledge and plugged in to the grid. All power connections have been redone inside the station: this was a nightmare for our electrician Karel, who was helped by Craig and Erik and the rest of the team when needed. I don’t know where he found all the patience and concentration to put all those hundreds of cables back in the good place in such a short period of time.

End of season means also maintenance of vehicles – this is very important, as we have a limited budget, and it’s important that everything is ready to work when we arrive for the 20130-2014 season.

We need tractors to operate here in Antarctica – it’s important to be able to rely on this machinery, when, for instance, we travel to the plateau, to retrieve our mobile units and without worrying about breaking down in the middle of nowhere, and having to repair a tractor at temperatures of -30°C and a wind of about 35 knots! 

Luckily on the last pick up trip to the plateau at the end of the meteorite research we didn’t have any major problems. It was on the 2nd of February when Kristof and I went up and transported everything back to the station. In order to make sure that the Japanese and Belgian scientists would be able to easily drive back to Princess Elisabeth after 39 days in the field, we told them to leave the camp at it was. Christophe, our field guide, had cleaned and packed as much as possible - a pleasure for us when arriving at the camp in the middle of the night after nine hours of non-stop driving. 

All this joined Belgo-Japanese expedition had a very positive result with more than 450 meteorites found on the blue ice field of Nansen. They all left on February the 9th with the station chief doctor Jacques Richon, the Water Treatment expert Jacob and mechanic Walter, for whom it was the first season at the station. 

The plane arrived the night before had brought the new team with GG (responsible for logistics) and station manager, Mathieu who is replacing the doctor and the two final scientists of the season, Olivier Francis from University of Luxembourg who is coming to do his bi-annual measurement of Earth Gravity, and Stephen Konrad, head of WSL in Switzerland who will install two new full climate change weather stations. 

As they both are here for two weeks, they started preparing their equipment as soon as they arrived. Olivier has measurements to be done in the science shelter north and a few at Asuka former station site and along the way to. Konrad is installing first a weather station at the airstrip to be able to get accurate information for all flights from Dromlan coming here to refuel, or for the purpose of the program. He has installed another at high altitude, on the plateau at 2330m, about 60 km from the station – we had exceptional weather when doing this, with no wind. 

The entrance hall will be completely completed by tonight allowing us to get back the mini-football table and its evening competitions…

I am now leaving for Crown Bay on the Antarctic coast again for the last traverse of the season to bring fuel back for next year’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research program next year and for our annual scientific survey for Glacioclim project for the LGGE in France. Wednesday will be final day before the flight D11 and the departure of Olivier, Konrad and two of our technical team Olivier and Pierre, who achieved a fantastic season here by working on the building and helping everyone when needed whatever they were busy with.  We will miss you guys, for the shutdown of the station, which will start as soon as the flight leaves, giving us a few more days to be ready for overwintering at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica.

All the best,

Author: Alain Hubert

Picture: The International Polar Foundation, flying the flag at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica - © International Polar Foundation

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