Sunday, January 24, 2016

Radar, radar

After a Monday of storm, we spend a full day of digging out the camp and the ROB1 cGPS station on Derwael ice rise. The receiver and batteries box were buried about ~2.5-3m of snow due to accumulation and subsidence during the past year. The station is now removed after more than 3 years of full data without interruption. After this huge shuffle-party we reoccupied pRES profile already measured during the 2014-2015 BELARE by Frank and Brice.

Then IceCon team went back to RBIS2 where the Benemelt team (Stef and Mark) together with Erik and Gunther were working for more than one week. Since then the sun is shining and sun screen seems to be more important than gloves. During our absence Benemelt visited lakes around the camp, there is quite a lot of water around here. IceCon has since started its geophysical measurements with shallow and deep sounding radars. Benemelt and IceCon mutually inspire each other and every morning profiles are adapted according to the latest results. Days are long and our hard disks gradually fill up with the recovered data. Our field guides Sanne and Frank are preparing another move to a far-out satellite camp, we will keep you posted. All goes well here.

Picture by Sanne Bosteels


Monday, January 18, 2016

Storm on Derwael ice rise

This is an update directly from the field.


The IceCon and Benemelt teams arrived on Thursday at an already prepared basecamp near the grounding line of the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf. The skidoo travel was about 10 hours, including a visit to check on the Asuka cGPS station (everything is running here). With the sun brightly shining the day after, we managed to install a phase-sensitive radar which measures ice thickness changes (and hence basal melt rates) continuously every hour. Once a day a control message is sent to our office in Brussels. This instrument is part of a larger network on ice shelves around Antarctica, many of which are maintained by the British Antarctic Survey (who gave us great support in managing the instrument, even with messages relayed from the Filchner Ronne Ice Shelf). Our guides Sanne and Frank prepared in the meantime our traverse to the front of the ice shelf. We left the next day, and found all three instruments (two times GPS referred to as the TweetingIceShelf, and another phase-sensitve radar) which were left in overwintering mode by the previous IceCon Expedtion. After a resupply with fresh batteries the GPSs started tweeting instantaneously, and 15 GB of data from the pRES are waiting to be processed. Knowing that the weather was turning worse Sanne and Frank went ahead to Derwael Ice Rise to install the dome tent (a Stronghold) in case of bad weather... but the storm was already there so it took them 4 hours to install the dome and the sleeping tents in extremely harsh conditions. Reinhard and Nico arrived a few hours later (after finishing up some pRES measurements) and were happy to see the Camp fully functioning. However, the Skidoos almost drove into the tents because of the complete whiteout. Today the storm continuous making it impossible to work. We sit here quietly awaiting the end of the storm which gives us the opportunity to write this somewhat lengthy blog update and send it out via satellite communication. Weather prediction tells us that winds should be less strong by Wednesday evening.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tweeting ice shelf reactivation

It took 10 hours skidoo driving across the path laid out by the Prinoth during the night, to arrive at the camp site on the ice shelf, near the grounding line. The camp is called RBIS1 and is at the site of the meteo station from the BENEMELT project ( The first activity was to put the new ApRES (phase-sensitive radar) in place in one of the channels on the ice shelf. Data are collected regularly and transmitted automatically via Iridium. The next day was devoted to retrieving the GPS stations on the ice shelf (the so-called tweeting ice shelf - Both systems stopped working due to battery failure, but they ran for one year, which was their design period. Unfortunately, since the expedition was delayed with one month and a half, we have to cope with the data gap. Both systems were successfully retrieved, dug out and repositioned. The antennas were still 1.5 meter above the snow surface. The relatively low accumulation is probably due to the wind action in this area of the channels. However, the flags that indicated their position were tilted or down on the snow surface. Luckily that the precise coordinates of the sites were known (thank you tweeting ice shelf!). Both systems are again transmitting data live. The old ApRES radar was also dug out. It took about 2 hours with 4 people to clear the job, but 1.5 gigabytes of data were recovered from the system. It is now used to remeasure all other points that were measured last year. All activities need to go swift, because a storm is expected on Monday. The purpose is now to move to Derwael ice rise as soon as possible and to retrieve the data from the geodetic GPS systems. All ApRES measurements across the ice divide also need to be done. So far, so good.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ready for Departure

Tomorrow morning we are going to saddle the horses and drive to our first (out of four) research sites near the grounding-line of the Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf. The last two days were dedicated for preparing every little details: the oil for skidoos, the GPS coordinates of turning points, the battery connecters, the ropes, the food, the latest satellite images, the fuel, and so on and so on. All the preperations were done with excellent support from staff at the station, and we feel very well preparted to go. For the next three weeks we will be without solid internet connection for blogging, but some updates will be given via the Iridium telephone. We set out the geophysical survey lines for a maximum possible coverage over the three/four weeks time frame (see image below). If we manage to cover even half of all the lines we will already be quite happy. The weather looks good, the sun is shining (as it always does), and we will hop into a final shower this evening.


Monday, January 11, 2016

10 months of Data from the Yet Nunten GPS station

Today Sanne led a Team around Nicolas Bergeot towards the Net Nunten mountain, which is situated between the Princess Elisabeth Station and the cold Antarctic Plateau. This station was difficult to maintain in the past because of the extremally harsh conditions (strong winds + low temperatures) and we were pleased to find that the station was operational until October 2015 before it entered into the same stand-by mode as we already observed at Asuka station. With two down, there is still one GPS to go, which is situated at the coast on top of Derwael Ice Rise. This station will be dismanteld, and we plan an organ-transplant so that Yet Nunten makes it through another year.

The support of the station is great and today testing of our lower frequency radar was successfull. Our envisaged date of departure from the station to the coast is Wednesday.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Visit at Asuka Station

Today, Nicolas Bergeot and Olivier Francis were accompanied by a crew of PEA lead by the field guide Guenther to visit a continuous GPS station, which was initially setup by IceCon in 2012 at Asuka (an old Japanese station). This time the station measured continuously until the end of January 2015 when the GPS receiver went into an unexpected standby mode in spite of full batteries and operational solar panels.

Nico will have to investigate as to why this has been the case so that we can modify the system for the coming year. Other than that our phase sensitive radar has been setup and we are currently testing the overwintering mode and the corresponding Iridium data transmission.

Tomorrow, Nico and Sanne, the chief of the field guides, are going to head out to Yet Nunten (close to the Antarctic plateau) and see how the continuous GPS is doing over there. Once all material has been successfully tested at PEA, we will be preparing the traverse to the coast which will hopefully commence in a few days from now.

Picture taken by Erik Vroonem


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Windy Skidooing

In the morning we had various meetings clarifying the last details about the planned field work on Roi Baudouin Ice Shelf. The IceCon team will part together with Benemelt in a larger team of 8 skidoos. It was hence a timely endeavour to (re-) acquaint ourselves with the insights of skidoo-mechanics and handling. Our field guides Sanne and Guenther led us for a nice ride around the blue ice fields around the windscoop of Utsteinen. Parallel we started unpacking and testing our scientific equipment and we were happy to find most of the things which our colleagues (Frank Pattyn and Brice van Liefferinge) of ULB have left behind last year.

The first containers from the boat unloading have arrived, containing among others a nice tasting beer from a Belgium beer company which is known to fund excellent scientifc research in Antarctica (see Benemelt blog for details). Tomorrow Nicolas Bergeot will leave to maintain the permanent GPS station near Asuka, which is our first scientific target of this season.

Picture taken by Stef Lhermite, Benemelt

Seamless Arrival at Princess Elisabeth Station

The Ilyushin flight took off as planned at 10:00 on a sunny morning in Capetown. About six hours later we arrived at the notouriously windy airfield of Novolazarevskaya Station. In the upcoming days stormy weather is expected for the Dronning Maud Land area, and luckily the BELARE team was able to catch the feeder flight to Princess Elisabeth immediately (while all other groups were transferred to shelters). At about 20:30 local time we were welcomed by the station team waiting for us in the background of the familiar Utsteinen mountain. It is nice to be back and operations at the base are at full swing because the supply vessel has already reached the ice edge two days ago. So far everything is on time and even ahead of schedule. After a long day, we are looking forward to hop into to our (already prepared!) beds and will commence unpacking and field training in the coming days. For now we enjoy the magnificent view of the Sor Rondane mountain range surrounded by ice, ice and again ice. Somehow you never get used to that surrounding.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

ALCI meeting and scheduled departure

At today's ALCI meeting the flight from Capetown towards Novolazarevskaya has been confirmed. We will be leaving on Friday morning at 10:00

with a relatively newly commissioned Ilyushin 76. Weather conditions are favourable at the moment and we hope that the entire team of 7 BELARE (Belgian Antarctic Research Expedition) scientists make it without problems in one go using a feeder flight from Novolazarevskaya to Princess Elisabeth Station with a modified Basler DC3.

At the briefing we met many old science friends from other nations, particularly from the British Antarctic Survey (UK) and the Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany). In total the flight will transport 52 people for various scientific projects. Our bags are packed, and if everything goes as planned we will be leaving Capetown in record-breaking transition period of only two days.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Start of the last field season

Finally, the last leg of the field work of the IceCon project. This time Dr Reinhard Drews (ULB) and Dr. Nicolas Bergeot (ROB) will form the team to finish up the last measurements for the project and retrieve the data that has been collected so far. Today they arrived safely in Cape Town for the first leg of the voyage. It is planned to fly out on Friday to Antarctic, but all depends on the weather conditions that don't look so well so far.
Reinhard (left) and Nico, ready for departure in Brussels Airport (5 Januray 2016).
The field work has - as usual - a very tight plan, including travel to the ice shelf to retrieve radar instruments and reinstall the GNSS/GPS systems for another year of deployment that are part of the Tweeting Ice Shelf ( - @TweetinIceShelf on Twitter). A second set of radar measurements the the ApRES system (phase sensitive radar) needs to be done on Derwael ice rise, in order to get the vertical velocity field within the ice mass. The geodetic GNSS will also be dismantled there. Finally, a series of further measurements with radar (high and low frequency + ApRES) will be carried out in the vicinity of the grounding line, enabling to have sufficient data to constrain the ongoing modelling of the deglaciation in this area.

The two other cGNSS systems on rock need to be revisited as well, checked, data downloaded and put in operation again. And all this in one month.
We'll keep you posted on the events, live from the field.