6 Weeks on Larsen C
From one Pole to Another.
Getting ready for the craziest week of my life. In a few days I'll be leaving Svalbard, the place that I have called home for the past 4 years, to travel to the other side of the planet. But first, there's one last important matter I need to take care of, and not a simple one: my PhD defense. Four years of intense labor compressed in one day of presentations in front of an international Jury. Luckily, my family has made the trip to the Arctic, providing me with all the support I need.
"I hope you're not too stressed, today is a big day for you" I jokingly told my supervisor. The day went so fast, I blinked and it was over. I never though that a PhD defense could be that much fun. We finished the day with a huge dinner with friends and family before going back home under a sky of northern lights. The success was bittersweet, in a couple of days I will leave the place I love the most, leave my job, my friends and my glaciers, without knowing when I will be back.
The reason why I am leaving Svalbard so soon is because another adventure is awaiting. Something I have been dreaming of my whole life, the ultimate voyage a glaciologist can take. I am going to ANTARCTICA!
A few months ago I got asked to join a team of glaciologists from the Welsh universities of Aberystwyth and Swansea. They were planning their second and last field campaign of their project investigating the Larsen C ice shelf, 6 weeks working and camping on the Antarctic peninsula. I could not believe my luck, this was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
Svalbard - Tromso, Tromso - Oslo, Oslo-London, London-Santiago, Santiago-Puerto Montt, Puerto Montt-Punta Arenas. 3 days, 7 flights, and 17 500 kilometers later, we were one leap away from the White Continent. The last flight is a special one, we are taking a Dash 7 operated by the British Antarctic Survey. After a short night in Punta, we're told that the weather the next day looks good, Antarctica is calling!
The flight took about 5H, nothing like what the first explorers had to endure! We were the first batch of scientists and station personnel to reach Rothera after the winter. To say that the flight was spectacular would be an understatement. The ocean became sea ice, the sea ice became land, land became mountains. We were literally glued to the windows of the plane, trying to take it all in. I had to pinch myself so many times, this was not a dream, I was flying over the Antarctic Peninsula! "Fasten your seatbelts, we're about to land". This is it, our new home for a week, we've made it to Rothera.
ROTHERA, HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Rothera is the main station from the British Antarctic Survey, found above the Antarctic Polar Circle on Adelaide Island. In the winter it is home to 22 winterers, and up to 100 people in the summer. We'll need some time there to pack our equipment for the field, and train for our great adventure with our two guides, Al and Bradley.
It felt great to be able to have a full week before the fieldwork. Plenty of time to get acclimatized to the polar conditions of Rothera, that is about the same latitude as Larsen C. The days were super busy, but also full of wonderful encounters and plenty, plenty of food. You're never more than 2H away from a snack or a meal at Rothera, just what we needed to fatten up a bit before the field.
After spending a few years working in Svalbard I really enjoyed learning about the way fieldwork is organised in Antarctica. In many ways I would it very old school. Where in the Arctic we always tried to have the latest sledges, tools, in Antarctica everything seem to date from another era. And the reason is, that is something breaks in the field in Antarctica, you cannot call anyone to come and help you out, you need to be able to fix it yourself.
We packed our P-bags (personal bag for sleeping), tested the stoves, set up the radio antenna, and did plenty of crevasse rescue exercises. Our two field assistants are incredible mountaineers and all-round field master jedis, keen to make sure we will not burn out tents down when boiling water. We also have some time to "walk around the point", the main easy hike that can be done around the station. There's still plenty of sea ice around the base, friendly wildlife and huge icebergs waiting for the thaw to wiggle their way out.
THE TIME HAS COME
Finally, we are getting the green light to head to our field area, the Larsen C ice shelf. After so many months of planning, we are reaching peak excitement. Logistically, the drop off day is a challenge. We have to bring the whole team at once, with all the equipment required, so as soon as the operation begins it is rather tricky to stop it. Safety is key!
I am the third person of my team to be taken to the field, and to my surprise I have an entire twin otter plane to myself, flown by the talented Vicky. Little did I know at the time, that when you are a co-pilot with BAS (which I was suddenly promoted to), the pilot might ask you to fly the plane for a few minutes when they are required to do paperwork. So there I was, always across the trans-Antarctic mountains, flying my plane for the very first time! Let me tell you that I did not breathe for 40 minutes.
And there it was! Ice extending as far as the ice can see, flat, white, enormous, the Larsen C ice shelf in the flesh! On the blindingly white expanse we could see a tiny black dot. There was our first camp, looking so vulnerable on the ice.