Archive Page 2

4.12. Hard Work

Yesterday we made our biggest working day so far. 85 m of line logged with the laster scatterer (the burninator) and zapped with high voltage (the electronator). It was quite a day, windy and not too pleasant, but we were well satisfied with our efforts.

aslak.jpgThen we processed the GPS data we had collected and looked at the data, finally running a nice new backup program Aslak had made to keep all our various files up to date and synchronized on our machines and memory sticks. But to our horror we observed that the “back up” was in fact deleting our original files…Several hours later Aslak pronounced that the files were no more, they were ex-files and we had in fact go nothing from the day.

                                                                                Aslak considers his mistakes. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

Today dawned very bright and very calm. Right off we got nice and early to repeat all of yesterday’s record breaking rn (of course it had to be our biggest day, not a rubbish one). So we did after battling with too warm weather, melting, short circuits (which the electonator tends to make as its zaps a thousand volts into the ice if there is half a chance), and possible sun-stroke as we worked without a break to get back to where we were last night.

john.jpgBy 3pm we had done it, the sun was high, we (and the ice) were fried. It was Saturday night, and the local girls would be looking forward to seeing us and getting to know us real well. So we went back home and had ourselves a wash – yes a real wash with water and soap and everything.  Really nice, OK it was a fifth of a bucket of luke-warm water outside, but it was not windy and warm enough to catch some rays, and catch up on some much needed poetry (Emily Dickinson). Sadly, the girls never turned up, what are they like, eh?

John with his friend, Emily. Photo Aslak Grinsted/FINNARP


-John & Aslak


29.11. Scharffenbergbotnen petrels

dragon.jpgTwo ghosts in white wheel over white, through white 
Home to the brown cliff warmed by feeble summer 
Almost to freezing point. 
Far from food, three hundred kilometres from sea
Is it the black olivine that they worship?
Or does the valley of the ancient dragon
Guard them from harm?
Nests from the ice age cover the cliff,
Countless generations of petrels
Finding each-other in ecstasy, far, far
From easy drudgery.


 Aslak keeping an eye on the dragon Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

28.11. Trouble with the satellite phone

Poor weather kept us stuck in the hut for four days. Today dawned finally calm and bright. However things did not turn out as we had planned.

Around lunch time we wanted to lock the keyboard of the satellite phone, so that I could have it in my pocket without dialing it accidentally. Previously I have had a pager in my pocket, and the phone (which is much bigger than a normal mobile phone) in the scooter or tent somewhere close-by, but not immediately accessible in case someone really needs to talk to us. So, we found a function that said “lock phone”. We used that and suddenly the phone was asking for some code.

web-3g-vasynyt-aslak.jpgWe tried the normal pin-code, but that didn’t work. We also tried several easy ones like 0000, 1111, and so forth. Nothing worked. This was really quite serious if we wouldn’t be able to make contact with Aboa before 1530 tomorrow, then they would start a rescue operation.  Aslak Grinsted after a hard day of work. Photo: Kristiina Virkkunen/FINNARP

So, the rest of the day we were working while all the time having that stress in the back of our minds. So, perhaps as a consequence, our measurements for today did not seem to go right. (I will check the data later today.)

In the afternoon when we came back, we immediately tried to make contact to Aboa using both HF and VHF radios. That didn’t work. After half an hour or so, we decided to try one last code 1234 and miraculously it worked. Great relief! Now we won’t have to make a fast drive to Aboa in the middle of the night to avoid a rescue operation.

Bloody changes in our routine do not work very well….especially after being in bed so many hours.


28.11. Field Skeds

One of the things I most miss about working at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), back in the 1980’s was the evening field schedule. This started at 19.30 and so was timed to be during the main evening meal of the day for most of the dozen or so field parties that BAS sent out for 2-3 months in the summer season.


Photo: Kristiina Virkkunen/FINNARP

Each field party was a “sledge” and had a name assigned form the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo…Yankee, Zulu). The radio operator at Rothera would randomly select the order of calling the field groups on the HF radio, and all the others listened to the conversation. A typical evening’s field sked would last an hour or so. A good radio op (I remember an Irish guy called Maurice) could find endless things to ask the field parties beyond the essentials of where are you, what are your plans, what did you do today?

It was often very entertaining hearing about what bizarre weather was reportedly overcome; what gourmet cuisine was being scoffed; what mysterious malfunctions had occurred to the skidoos (the driver being never at fault as an irate mechanic was called to talk the field group through some sketchy repairs to one of his pride and joys); or what strange requests were to be added to the “shopping list” to be delivered whenever an aircraft was in the vicinity or a supply depot laid for the group.

Nowadays, it’s all satellite phones of course. Very easy, no more bad comms, dropouts or struggles re-tuning to secondary frequencies – but very dull. Hard to get any feeling of what’s happening at base from the one-sided chat from the field guy on the phone. Naturally there is no clue about how the other parties are getting on, or even any gossip from the station. It’s a small part of a trend towards dry efficiency that just is not overcome by team-building exercises and group psychology days. But then again I am getting too old for this game.


27.11. Morning routine


Svea Research Station. Photo: Kristiina Virkkunen/FINNARP 

As Strongbad says “the morning routine is the most important routine of the
day”, so here’s mine.

It is my turn to make breakfast. Misery. Cold, and especially damp. In the sleeping bag it’s nice. Outside it’s not. There is a drip of water from the ceiling splashing on the floor, where it freezes. But the sun is shining through the back window and the day needs to be started. So up quickly, out of the bag, into the clothes left from last night – still only a week in use (quite fresh considering the time and clothing I have for the next 3 months). The old back is very stiff from yesterday’s work, hard to pull on the socks, must be getting old for this game…

web-3a-makuuhuone.jpg Find my pee can and get some relief… those of a more fussy disposition sometimes go outside to the pee pole, 20 m away, but that’s a bit much for me first thing, especially as its up a nasty snow hill and requires a fair bit of extra clothing and care – the can is much more simple.

Get the porridge on. Boil endless water – well actually about 5 litres, which seems endless when it is to be melted from snow at -15C. Wake up Aslak when it’s all ready. Do the field schedule with Aboa. A discussion of the day’s plans, yesterday’s events, and the bits of news that exist in two communities of 2 or 3 people 200 km apart in the Antarctic. Set up the GPS base station to run all day. Get down the rocks to the snow scooters and leave for the day.

The bedroom. Photo: Kristiina Virkkunen/FINNARP


24.11. A Day Off

Today is our first day off since we arrived at Svea. It’s a bit windy outside, quite mild and misty, a bit like Scotland in good winter climbing nick. Time to catch up on reading, programming, feeding, finding the cricket on the HF radio and fixing the candle to celebrate Aslak’s birthday. Stupid John, of course, forgot to bring any presents.

Traveling through the air strip in the Schumacker Oasis (Novo) on the Iluyshin and then the old Basler was an interesting experience. The staff of the ALCI are mostly Russians and they do a really good job – as is evidenced by the fact that about 15 countries use their plans for Antarctic logistics. But they certainly have their own style – almost every nation’s polar clothing is on display on the guys at the Weatherport hut tents at Novo. One of the Swedes seeing a fellow-Swede driving a forklift unloading a plane went to
tell him that he couldn’t just jump into the ALCI vehicle, but then realized that the guy wearing the SWEDARP windproof was actually a Russian. 

Just next to the landing strip there is another kind of Iluyshin – this is a surprisingly practical bi-plane that was used for internal Antarctic flights (the Finns went from Novo to Aboa with it in 2003). However this plane will fly no more, thanks to the winter winds that overwhelmed the tie downs from the tail and wings. Many planes meet this fate in Antarctica, certainly those that are kept outside eventually must.

FINNARP and SWEARP consider asking for a flight
re-booking. Photo: John Moore/FINNARP


-John & Aslak

24.11. Driving from Aboa to Svea

In earlier post we mentioned the long drive from Aboa Research station to Svea station, which we did a few days ago. Here is some more about that:

The air in Antarctica is vacuum clear, the clarity that makes crystal look cheap and nasty. The sky is blue as at the edge of space and visibility is not even limited by the oblate-spheroidal nature of the planet. That’s because of another factor of looking at stuff here – the Fatima-Morgana.

This is exactly the opposite of a mirage. It’s caused by the air being very cold close to the snow surface and the air a few meters above being quite a few degrees warmer. This difference in temperature changes the refractive index of air (as in a mirage), which bends light as it passes through it. Light from objects near the horizon travels mostly in these layers and are strongly distorted. The net effect is that it seems like you are sitting in the middle of a big bowl, the horizon is up in every direction.

The combination of the great clarity and the Fatima-Morgana means that it’s a bloody long way to the horizon. So for example during the 200 km, 12.5 hour scooter journey from Aboa to Svea, the view changed exactly once. For 3 hours we drove towards a low ridge named Fossilryggen. Visible at about 50 km distance from Aboa. Finally we arrived and pulled up the 100 m or so rise with some reasonably exciting crevasses off to the left. After a couple of kilometers we crested the last short rise and there in front of us – 150 km in front of us, was Heimefrontfjella. Bugger. That was a sloooow crawl to the horizon.
Hour after hour sitting on the scooter hearing it drone, drone, drone and drone some more. The only distraction is the weather is, are the clouds going to get to us? Is it getting windy? (bloody hell, it did get windy and coldish). But mostly is looking at the mountains never getting closer and the painfully slow clicking onward of the scooter odometer and the GPS waypoint coming closer very slowly. I mean it’s ridiculous when there are no course changes necessary for 124 km between two waypoints. If I had made the route I would have added a couple just for the sake of keeping awake!  Drone, drone, drone… get the idea, pretty dull eh?


Only 5 hours more of this view and we will be there! Wish I could get the BBC on this helmet antenna! Photo: John Moore/FINNARP

Not the kind of thing to want to rush out and repeat in the near future. 12.5 hours (and that was a fast trip) of scooter driving and you do feel it for a day or two after. And the last thing in the world you want to do is do it again, even though that’s what needs doing to get home, “I don’t care just leave me here” is how you feel. Well, the only thing is that here at Svea there is no water except that made by melting snow. Therefore washing of self or clothes is not easily – or for that matter difficulty, done.

After only 10 days here, the thought of the nice sauna, shower (my hair is getting quite itchy now, but that will pass in a week I know), and not having to wear these same clothes for another week starts to sound quite attractive. Its only 200 km and it only took 12 hours getting here, maybe we can pick up Kristiina when she arrives and take a shower at the same time instead of waiting for Swedarp to bring her here?





KINNVIKA EXPEDITION by Emilie, Venkata, Michael and Sakari

ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION by John Moore and Aslak Grinsted