Have we Weathered the Storm?
After being blocked several days by the ice pack, the Mary Arctica was finally able to make her way through the ice floes. She sailed 55 km on Wednesday and got within 74 km of Crown Bay by evening. She is expected to reach the unloading area by Thursday night.
As the news coming from the ship looked promising and as the waters were ice free at the unloading site, I gave the green light for the convoy to leave the station towards the coast, with the 4 Prinoths and 13 sleds.
The team woke up at 4:30 am, and we were on our way by 6 am. If all goes smoothly, we should be able to travel the 220 km from the Princess Elisabeth station to the coast at Crown Bay by midnight today.
Unloading at Crown Bay
Unloading will be done as swiftly as possible because of the delay already accumulated, and more so because of the weather forecast showing an overcast week-end. Visibility is a key factor in such operations. The distance between the base camp on the ice shelf and the unloading area on the sea ice is 6 km. Those who remain at the base camp must be able to continuously survey the whereabouts of all vehicles while unloading operations go on.
We also must check the condition of the access ramp that I set up back on Dec 10th. Indeed, as the ice shelf advances about one meter per day, the plain of sea ice that sticks out from the edge of the ice shelf towards the open water will certainly be somewhat unstable. Furthermore, I am afraid that this same plain of sea ice might be cracked somewhere over the 4 km between the cliff at the edge of the ice sheet and the open water.
Such a crack happened four years ago, and the ship had to break through bit after bit of the plain of sea ice until she reached the crack and more stable sea ice. The area of sea ice that remained was indeed too unstable and thin to bear the weight of the 16 tons of unloaded freight.
Well, all of this has become routine for us. But, we never forget that we are in Antarctica and that we always need to stay vigilant, even if we know the terrain very well.
Picture: Convoy ready to go for the coast - © International Polar Foundation