Jos Van Hemelrijck's snowy moustache - © International Polar Foundation / Jos Van Hemelrijck

in News

Dry continent, snowy coast

This Sunday, I learned that Antarctica was in fact a very dry continent and how aerosols and particles were playing a role in that dryness. Ironically, that was in stark contrast with the recent news from the coast, where our friends were​ getting massive amounts of snowfall​ dumped on​ them.

Remembering ​Queen Fabiola

Last Friday, we learned that Queen Fabiola had passed away. In sign of mourning, the ​B​elgian flag ​at the station ​has been​ flying at half mast. It will stay that way for a few more days. After all, Princess Elisabeth is a little piece of Belgium in Antarctica​,​ and we all wanted to pay our respects.

Bad weather at the coast ​delays ​progress​

We had news from the team at the coast yesterday​, and unfortunately the weather​ has been quite a hassle. I​t​ ​has been snowing very heavily​. An entire day was lost ​for both for research​ers​ and ​crew. Near white-out conditions make scientific work in the field impossible​, and repairs on one of our venerable Prinoth tractors had to be postponed​. This morning, one scientist even woke up to discover that ​the entire inside of his tent​ filled with snow ​overnight because of the wind.

Time is running short for the ICECON and BENEMELT ​scientists. They ​must soon​​ leave their camp on the Derwael ​I​ce ​R​ise and move ​out close to the edge of ​the King Baudouin ​I​ce​ ​Shelf​,​ where they ​ hope to drill a few 150 metr​e​-deep ​ice cores, weather permitting. Let's hope the weather will be better soon​ so they can accomplish what they came for!​

Particles, aerosols and snowfall

Meanwhile at ​the ​Princess Elisabeth​ station​, our meteorologists​,​ Alexander Mangold and Quentin Laffineur from the Royal Meteorological Institute​ of Belgium, spotted something unusual while monitoring aerosols in the upper atmosphere​: ​their instruments recorded a very sudden and sharp increase in the number of​ particles ​in the atmosphere ​above Utsteinen​. At ​6​,​000 particles per cubic centimet​re, their concentrations were 20 times the usual amount​ of ​particles in the atmosphere.

Alexander told me that​ this increase had nothing to do with pollution​. He believes that it might have been triggered by turbulence in the upper layers of the atmosphere​,​ where these particles are formed.

​P​articles and aerosols play a big role in Antarctica's climate​, so it's nothing to worry about.​​ The​y​ play a huge role in the formation of clouds. If there ​we​re no particles or aerosols​ in the atmosphere that moisture ​could​ adhere to, no droplets could form and there ​would be no clouds, precipitation ​or​ snow.

In the ​austral ​summer, ​average concentrations of atmospheric particles ​average​ around 300 particles per ​cubic centimetre. In the winter, concentrations drop to 10 or 12 ​particles per cubic centimetre​ (even the best "clean room" laboratories with fancy air pumps and filters would struggle to get to such low levels​ of particles​).

That's why, contrary to popular belief, Antarctica is a very dry continent, with very little ​​snow​fall ​... except at the coast these days it seems ...

Author: IPF

Picture: Jos Van Hemelrijck's snowy moustache - © International Polar Foundation / Jos Van Hemelrijck

Related Items

All related items

Use the links hereunder to browse related items sorted by type.