Friday, November 30, 2012

Final preparations

Planned field work operations at Derwal ice rise (right) and on the ice shelf (Be:Wise project)
All equipment has been thoroughly tested and the Eclipse drill is working. Final preparations for the cargo train towards the coast are on their way. Yesterday the weather deteriorated and the whole morning until mid afternoon there was a lot of wind, making operations difficult. The plan is to depart early morning on Sunday, if everything goes well. In the meantime there is plenty of work for everyone in getting the final planning together, checking and double checking cargo and requirements or resting before embarking on a very long trip towards Derwael ice rise.

A presentation of the science of IceCon, given last night at the station for all station personnel and other vistors can be downloaded on the Publication page of this website.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Field training

View from within the crevasse
Field training is part of Antarctic research activities. The ice sheet is not a safe place: as the ice slowly moves from the center towards the edge, it cracks and opens up at the surface due to tension, especailly when the ice moves across an obstacle (subglacial bump or mountain). Those cracks, called crevasses, are usually covered by snow, which means that they are hidden. Most of the areas we will visit are safe, meaning that crevasses are not present, but one should be prepared.

We went to a crevassed area 9 km from PEA to do crevasse training and rescue. Each of us was lowered safely in the crevasse, 20m down and then pulled up by two simple techniques, one involving a pully system anchored on a skidoo, another technique using two skidoos, in which the pully was done by the second skidoo. The latter goes fast of course :-)

The crevasse itself was very impressive, with beautiful snow crystals inside, as well as very silent (compared to the buzz at the surface). The field training ended with the immobilization and transport of a person that was injured (fictively of course, and perfectly mis-en-scène by Bryn) to PEA.


ULX1 installed

Installing the antenna on the ULX1 mast.
On Tuesday 27 November, the geodetic continuous GPS system was successfully installed on Seal Nunatak, a small rock outcrop next to the former Japanese Asuka station, approximately 60 km from PEA. The area is particularly known to be windy, which is very nice from the point of view of energy supply via our wind turbines, but less interesting if one needs to install the GPS mast and the power supply box at the top of the nunatak. Fortunately for us (Alain, Raphy, Nicolas and Frank), the conditions were quite balmy, with only a 20cm high wind drift around the rock (while at PEA there was no wind at all!). The reason why it is so windy is that the site is further to the east, hence less protected by the mountains from catabatic winds. (Catabatic winds are gravitationally driven winds coming from the polar plateau and picking up speed while making there descent towards the coast)

The fixing and drilling of the mast and the battery box was done by Alain and Raphy, while Nicolas and Frank installed the solar panels, wind turbines and powered up the whole system. Luckily it was all tested at PEA before, because the windy conditions do not leave much room for quiet analysis of what to do next and reading the manual at ease. All systems seem to work, the solar panels produce the bulk energy and wind power is only used during absence of sunshine. However, the latter could not be checked completely, unless we decoupled the solar panels from the system.

Instalation on Seal Nunatak of the GPS mast ULX1, the battery box and receiver, solar panels and wind turbines.
The system will now run continuously for several years. The consumption of energy is rather low, and the batteries are charged via solar panels (summer) and wind (winter). Once they are charged above 13V, they will charge the internal battery of the receiver, which in view of the low consumption should be sufficient to get us through this whole period without major maintenance.

The cGPS is meant to measure tiny horizontal and vertical motions of the Earth's crust due to tectonics as well as uplift due to changes in ice mass (in response to a bigger ice sheet during the Last Glacial period). This information will be extremely useful to constrain GIA models (see the IceCon project page for more information on the subject).

Fixing the monument into rock

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Instrument testing and calibration

Setting up the Eclipse ice corer
Weather is nice and warm (at least during the day) with very low wind speeds. This allowed for extensive testing and assembling of the equipment. The drill team (Jean-Louis, Bryn and Morgane) are in the process of assembling the Eclipse corer that will be employed for drilling an ice core at the ice divide of Derwael ice rise.

The radar/GPS team (Kenny, Reinhard and Denis) is then quite happily busy with testing the 5 GPS systems that will be deployed to measure a strain network on Derwael ice rise and several continuous measurements on the Roi Baudouin ice shelf with the purpose of establishing the effect of tides on the ice shelf at different places across so-called shear margins on the ice shelf (weaker zones where ice acceleration is expected). The latter is within the framework of the Be:Wise project.

Nicolas testing the cGPS data at PEA
Finally, the geodetic GPS team (Nicolas and Frank) set up and tested two cGPS systems. The first one to be set at Seal nunatak (near the former Japanese Asuka station), and one one the Derwael ice rise (shown here). Both systems are different in the setup and power. They will run autonomously during several years. The battery box contains 10 batteries (more than 400kg!), which are powered up by both solar panels and wind turbines.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Arrival at PEA

Arrival at PEA, view from the station's window on Utsteinen Nunatak
All went smooth. We departed from Cape Town at 23h30 and arrived at Novo airstrip a bit more than 5 hours later. The Ilusyin aircraft was offloaded in no time and the Bassler loaded for the first feeder flight of two. By 10h30 local time a first group of six people arrived at the Princess Elisabeth Station. The remainder will fly in tomorrow (weather permitting of course).

After a tour of the station's facilities, most people went to work to check instruments, verify the arrived cargo and we started with the preparations of the upcoming field work. As mentioned before, a lot needs to be done and all tasks require quite a lot of logistic support. The first thing to do is to install a GPS station at Seal (a nunatak next to the former Japanese Asuka station). After that we'll head for the coast and do the work on Derwael ice rise (drilling, GPS network) and the work of the Be:Wise project that runs in conjunction with IceCon.

Scientific results of the expedition, of previous expeditions and a more detailed outline of the science plan of the IceCon project will be outlined on the project page and other pages available on this website.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Imminent departure

Briefing at ALCI headquarters
We had a briefing at ALCI (Antarctic Logistics Company International) this morning regarding the flight to Antarctica. We will leave at 23h30 tonight to arrive early morning at Novo air strip (next to the Russian Novolazarevskaya station). It will be a full flight with 60 people on board from different nations. From Novo, two feeder flight with Basslers (refurbished DC3's) will take us to PEA (Princess Elisabeth Antarctica), one upon arrival, and another one the next day. This means that the IceCon crew will be be split in two and arrive at different days at the station (unless the weather decides differently of course).

The last day in Cape Town means the last day to buy things that seem indispensable, the last time we have a nice meal at the Waterfront with a chilled Chardonnay (and not a drink that has been refrozen several times), the last pool, the last sauna, the last shopping, the last beach visit, the last phone call, the last ...

Well, till down south.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

IceCon in Cape Town

Some IceCon team members in front of the new South African icebreaker in the harbor of Cape Town
The whole IceCon team made it to Cape Town on monday morning. All went smooth, no delays, no lost equipment. While the plane that will take us to Antarctica was still at Novo station on Monday (due to the delays of flight D1 and D2, the first two flights of the season), ALCI (the Antarctic flight operator) is very confident that D3 (our flight) would leave on schedule, that is Wednesday night to arrive on Thursday morning at Novo Air Base.

Cargo seems sorted out, so we have the time to linger, although the weather seems not so promising here (no spectacular views of Table Mountain, hidden in the low clouds). We checked out the boots to wear in the field this morning at the warehouse, where the new South African polar vessel was moored. It hasn't been to Antarctica yet.

Planning the field work (left to right): Kenny, Reinhard, Raphaël, Nicolas.
With all logistic operations going so smooth, there is time to plan the scientific activities in more detail: what radar profiles to measure in priority, how to set up the strain network, when to setup the GPS systems, how to setup camp, etc. Slowly but surely, the expedition falls into place.


Monday, November 12, 2012

J-7: station still not operational

According to the Antarctic Station website, the crew that needs to open the station and make it operational for the coming field season is still stuck in Cape Town. They were supposed to arrive in Antarctica on 6 November, but bad weather prevents them to leave South Africa:

Such delays may have consequences for the upcoming field work, although we hope for the best. We are the first team to arrive (21 November) this season and rely quite heavily on logistics involving drilling, GPS deployment and radar. If the preparations are not going according to plan, delays are to be expected.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

IceCon on Facebook

Follow the science and the upcoming expedition to Antarctica via Facebook and the Project Webpage. Regular updates will be posted here.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Preparing the upcoming expedition

Cargo train at ULB ready for departure
The first expedition of IceCon to Antarctica is planned to leave Brussels on 18 November 2012 (until Christmas this year). We will fly to Cape Town from where we take the DROMLAN flight to Novo and further down to Princess Elisabeth Station (PES). The team members are Nicolas Bergeot (ROB), Bryn Hubbard (Aberystwith University), Kenny Matsuoka (NPI), Frank Pattyn (ULB), Morgane Philippe (ULB), and Jean-Louis Tison (ULB). We will be joined by Reinhard Drews (ULB and 2012 recipient of the InBev-Baillet-Latour fellowship) and Denis Callens (ULB) from the Be:Wise project.

Our expedition relies quite heavily on logistics. We will install two geodetic GPS systems that have to run all-year long, which puts serious constraints on power. We therefore rely on batteries charged up using both solar panels and wind turbines. One of the geodetic GPS systems will be set up on Seal, a small nunatak in the vicinity of Romnoesfjellet, but quite easy for access. The former Japanese Asuka is just next to it. The purpose of the GPS systems is to monitor over a 4 year period vertical changes of the lithosphere in response to the unloading of the ice due to post-glacial rebound. This way, we would have an idea on what volume of ice was present in the this sector of Dronnng Maud Land (Antarctica) during the Last Glacial Maximum. This information is essential to constrain models of Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (GIA), which form the basis of the interpretation of the GRACE satellite signal (see Project page for more information).