14.12. When its time to go home

Usually the equipment we bring to Antarctica is pretty rugged – or at least you hope it is. A lot of time is spent checking manufacturer’s specifications, and doing tests in the cold room. However it’s pretty well always been my experience that all the toys break after a while in Antarctica, once they have all broken then its time to pack up and leave.

So what have we broken so far, after less than 50% of our time. The first thing to go was the hair dryer. Not a big loss you may suppose, considering our documented hygiene habits. But the hair dryer was actually not for us, it was to warm the equipment and melt any ice locking moving parts. Well, one part of our hair dryer was frozen the day I used – it was the fan, the heater element was very much working, so after about 10 seconds
of use, I had a burning piece of plastic in my hand rather than a supply of hot air.


The grinding machine – leaking oil and with broken handle. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

We have been using a concrete grinding machine with steel brushes (actually about 1000 8 cm long nails in 6 circular plates) to smooth the ice surface prior to measuring its properties. We had attached an extra handle to keep the grinder under control on the smooth surface of the ice. This has been a real handful for me and Aslak to control (a bit like grabbing a bull by the nose and by the tail). Later that same day the grinder finally decided that ice smoothing was not really its thing. The extra handle sheared off the engine casing and oil started pouring out of the engine. Not very pretty, but the machine had done all the essential work we needed, so it could be retired gracefully, and we could manage with manual ice axe chopping of the ice for the 200 m more we had left.

Over the following few days we could see a lot equipment starting to feel  the effects of the treatment we have been giving them for the last 4 weeks, lots of things need delicate coaxing over the last few meters of work they will have to do, they can sense that the finish line is approaching. Even the duct tape is looking pretty shaky.

The high voltage source we use for the electronator has also been suffering a bit. It spends most days about 30% covered in snow, which if the sun shine is strong enough, melts on the box casing. Water and high voltages don’t go well together, but we are dealing with Antarctic ice, which is purer than distilled water for batteries, so it was reasonably OK for a few weeks. 


Typical profiling with the electronator – the Metrel is under my left
hand (and a lot of snow and water). Photo: Aslak Grinsted/FINNARP

Well now the meter has packed in, and instead of giving 1000V, it gave only 40V. Not good enough, we really should complain to Metrel that their meter needs to be waterproof! Anyway it got us all but 20 m of the 1.25 km long profile we were measuring, so not so bad.


But the million year project is rock
Seconds or hours or days strumming on cables,
Huts moaning low, sensually unsatiated
Years plowing ice ripples blue,
Waves frozen only in living eyes
Madding millennia harvesting snow
A lifetime playing the fool with feathers, or hats
But rock is main work, carving geology takes time
When all that you are is air, but more than just wind
The life and death force,
Arbiter of the living human clay,
Shaper of worlds.




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KINNVIKA EXPEDITION by Emilie, Venkata, Michael and Sakari

ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION by John Moore and Aslak Grinsted


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