Field training sessions for newcomers - © International Polar Foundation

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Field training sessions for newcomers

Everyone staying at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is obliged upon arriving to take a safety training course to make sure they can handle the hostile environment of Antarctica.

The station is surrounded by ice teeming with hidden dangers that anyone who wishes to leave the secure perimeter around the station must be aware of – despite the fact that he or she will always be accompanied by a field guide.

The mechanics, Kristof and Walter, explain to newcomers how a snowmobile works and how to handle common technical difficulties one may face in Antarctica.

Field guides Christophe and Jack have spent two mornings in the isolated glaciers 12 km from the station, first with scientists from the ICECON project, and then with scientists from the 53rd Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition (JARE 53). It provided an opportunity to practice driving skidoos over rough snow surfaces shaped by the wind, as well as how to recognise dangerous areas such as crevasses.

The scientists became familiar with both the danger and the beauty of these often-hidden cracks in the ice as they learned techniques to get out of them in case they are ever unfortunate enough to fall into one.

Climbing harnesses, helmets, ropes, carabiners, and pulleys were used as the scientists – who always have a guide accompanying them in the field – learned not to take the icy environment around them too lightly.

In a simulation exercise, everyone had their turn being lowered into the crevasse – which was nearly 20 metres deep – while their fellow scientists learned how to rescue them from difficult situations.

They also practiced carrying an injured teammate back to the station. The person simulating an injury is placed on a stretcher attached to the sledge, and gets to experience the bumpy and frigid ride back to the station – something that will encourage everyone to be all the more cautious when in the field.

Author: Jacques Richon

Picture: Field training sessions for newcomers - © International Polar Foundation

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