The summer mission 2016-2017 is begun. It was a long trip going to the Dumont D’Urville French station, in Terre Adélie, Antarctica. As I told you before, Christophe and Dana started the mission the first week of December 2016, but I had to postpone my date due to an important accident (maybe you already noticed something in the picture with Clément in the blog). Fortunately, now I am better and I can speak about this interesting scientific adventure.
The journey started on January 4th with a train which connects Grenoble, a beautiful city in the heart of the (French) Alps, with the Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) in Paris. CDG was the meeting point for the people going to Antarctica, sponsored by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) to participate in different projects and jobs. We had to arrive to the Hobart port in Tasmania, Australia, to embark toward DDU, crossing the Antarctic Ocean. We flew from Paris to Hobart about 24 hours and we had two intermediate stops (Dubai, Emirates and Sydney, Australia).
On January 6th, we arrived to the legendary Astrolabe icebreaker which has operated since 1988, transporting people and supplies to Dumont D’Urville station. Each year the Astrolabe performs five rotations between Hobart and DDU from the end of October and the beginning of March, corresponding to the summer (in the Southern Hemisphere) campaigns in Antarctica. This summer it will do its last rotation Hobart-DDU in the framework of the French Antarctic missions, the next year it will be replaced by a new Astrolabe. Usually the Astrolabe takes one week arriving to Antarctica, but sometimes it can be the double depending on the sea ice conditions. This occurs often at the beggining of the season, when the temperatures are too low to melt the ice and it does not allows the easy displacement of the ship. The Astrolabe has a maximum capacity of 50 passengers and 12 crew members, who make the things work perfectly onboard of the ship.
The meteorological report announced a strong storm coming to the southern coast of Tasmania, so the captain decided to depart as soon as possible, to avoid waiting a long time for the next good weather period. At first hour of the next day we embarked toward depth waters to reach our big goal.
This opportunity the ship was at half capacity and among the passengers there were scientists from the National Museum of the Natural History of France (Anouchka, Annabelle, Guillaume, Jerome, Marc and Mélyne); a physicist (Erwan), who studies the compounds which affect the ozone layer by using a long-range lidar, going to stay the full year at DDU; a glaciologist from LGGE (Fabian); a Chef cooking (Linonel), who surprised us later at DDU with its plates; two medics (Mathieu and Paul); two journalist (Bertrand and Michel); and the crew of the new Astrolabe which will start next year.
The trip begun with a good weather, warm air temperature and a quiet sea, but at the end of the first day, the waves made difficult to keep the balance onboard of the ship. The second day we were very far from any fraction of land, far enough to see not more than sea in all the directions. Some passengers started to suffer the so-called “mal de mer” in French, which generate strong nauseas and constant headache. With rest, a good hydration and some special medicaments, the synthons can diminish and disappear fast.
At the fourth day, the nights were significantly shorter, that meant that we were getting close to the Antarctic Polar Circle. By the fifth day we saw the first signals of sea ice, they were just little fragments of ice floating to the drift and also we saw the first Adélie penguins showed up with all its elegancy and other Antarctic birds (Damier du Cap and Pétrel geant Antartique), also it was possible to see some whales and seals.
The next day the pieces of ice were considerably bigger, reaching several meters, and also there were several icebergs. The sea was very quiet, but the displacement was each time slower. The straight line was not the best strategy anymore to move on, so the captain had to decide sometime between avoid or break the sea ice.
The satellite images from MODIS allow planning the best route, but the scenery was not promising because they showed that the sea ice was too extended and the Astrolabe would not be able to arrive near to DDU. At the end of the sixth day the icebreaker stopped its march at 80 km from the scientific station. Usually during January the Astrolabe can arrive much closer to the Antarctic coast, thus the current distance meant a significant amount of extra expenses in terms of resources and time, due to the transport of personnel, scientific equipment and supplies by helicopter. During the Friday 13th, we did the last part of the trip going to our last destiny. There were four helicopter flights to move passengers to DDU and Prud’Home (a glaciological station on the Antarctic ice-sheet) and after a full week of flights transporting the supplies.
When I arrived to the station, Christophe and Dana were waiting near to the heliport. They together with Yohan and Etienne (Characters who I will speak about in the next episode) were working the previous days in the deployment of the second Micro Rain Radar and the meteorological sensors. Before to start with the work, we made a little tour around the station and I checked the main living rules at DDU. The next stage was the calibration and deployment of the atmospheric lidar (see the description in the blog), which arrived with me on the Astrolabe. This work was complex, but very interesting and I will tell you all the details in my next post. Be prepared for the updating and do not hesitate to do question and comments. Thank you very much for your time and see you soon.