Neil Ross writes:
Rather belated greetings from Subglacial Lake Ellsworth (SLE). I had hoped to post something a bit sooner in the season (we have already been here three weeks) but there has been far too much work to do and good weather to do it in. Sorry! Here is the first installment from late last month, more to come...
Last season at SLE we undertook a series of geophysical measurements (seismics and radar) to map the size and depth of the lake, which is located beneath three kilometers of West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This year, the primary goals were the resurvey of the location of 60 metal poles left in the ice surface last season, using a GPS to measure their elevation, how far they had travelled, and in which direction, plus additional radar surveys (more details on this in later posts).
Before fieldwork at SLE started for this season I spent a fortnight helping out at the British Antarctic Survey’s blue ice runway at Sky Blu towards the bottom end of the Antarctic Peninsula putting up tents, making weather observations, digging out fuel drums and catching up on lost sleep - all great fun.
On Boxing Day, after a delicious lunch of pizza delivered fresh(ish) from South Pole by a Twin Otter travelling north (which had the unfortunate luck of spending Xmas Day stuck in fog on the Ronne Ice Shelf), a southbound Twin Otter arrived from Rothera to fly me, and Dave my field assistant, down to Lake Ellsworth. We almost didn’t make it, about 5 minutes from the Ellsworth Mountains (which we had to cross to get to SLE) we were enveloped in thick cloud (I only found out later we were 2 minutes away from turning back to Sky Blu). Thankfully, however, the skies cleared and we flew between, quite literally, mountain peaks lit up by glorious sunshine.
Then the hard work really began. After the plane dropped us off, had refuelled and returned skyward, we had to put up our tent and start digging out the equipment that we had left at SLE last year. Digging out about half of it took the two of us 5-6 hours (between giving hourly weather observations for the plane over the radio), eventually crawling into our sleeping bags at 3am in the knowledge that we had to get up at 8am to give weather. First task of the next day was to extract two skidoos out of the 1 m deep drift they were buried in. Amazingly, these skidoos, which had spent almost a year sitting here at SLE started on only the 4th or 5th attempt! Somehow, the University of Edinburgh flag we had left flying over winter also survived (well about 25% of it anyway!)
Other highlights of the first few days included: 1) the call of a skua at 5am in the morning on the 28th Dec (in 3 months here last year, with the exception of a huge weather balloon, we didn’t see or hear any sign of life apart from ourselves and a visiting film crew); 2) a second Twin Otter delivering all my science kit; and 3) the setting up of the first piece of science equipment (the camp GPS base station), both on the 29th Dec. The science then started in earnest, with the survey of the metal poles (glaciopoles) that we left in the ice last year. By the 31st we had already surveyed 29 of these, all within a few kilometres of camp. A great start to the season. Temperatures around –14 ?C during the day, and –20 ?C at night: tropical for SLE. I’m sure it won’t last!
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Friday, 16 January 2009 20:25
Exploring Subglacial Lake EllsworthWritten by Exploring Subglacial Lake Ellsworth
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