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Antarctica: The Ross Ice Shelf

By Dave Risk

I have now officially completed my Antarctic Field Training. Our most excellent 1.5 day course was taught by Benji Nicholson. Ben’s normal job is as a paramedic in a beachside Australian town (who worked for a year in Jasper), but he jumped at the opportunity to come down to Antarctica and work for a season assisting researchers, mapping ice crevasses, etc. Our Field Training course involved introductions to hazards and gear, followed by camping on the Ross Ice Shelf. It was great to get outside for the night, as I had been feeling rather cooped up from days of traveling, and nearly two days in the station. Camping was just the thing. Though visibility wasn’t the best, it was otherwise great weather, being just above freezing and with only the mildest breeze. Before dinner, we scrambled up a steep little ridge route called Castle Rock, which would presumably have a really nice view if we weren’t in the clouds. We have some good laughs that evening in our kitchen wind break, followed by a coma-like sleep (despite the continuous sunlight).  Overall, the course was great and I liked the sensible team-based approach to field risks. I may adopt some aspects of the Kiwi approach in my own field courses.


After our return to Base in the Hagerlund, Jayne and I boomeranged immediately (now that we’re allowed to be on our own) to see the pressure ridges that form at the juncture of sea ice (a few metres thick) and the ice shelf (60 m thick) which is the sea-rafted extent of the Antarctic ice. Because of tidal action and currents, they collide and form mountains, similar to our pack ice on the Northumberland Strait. The formations and colours are great. There were a bunch of seals around scratching their noses (but little else).

As for science, we’re still somewhat in prep mode for Dry Valley deployment. The helicopter was flying today, which is great news. Two veteran members of our team went out to collect data from a meteo station in another Valley, and will return this evening. The Hercules flights to and from NZ are also going today, which means that my gear should arrive tonight. When it does, we’ll finalize weights and dates for our fly-out to the Dry Valleys. As the heli wasn’t flying yesterday, we’re a bit worried that our departure will be pushed back a bit. We’ll see. But, at least it seems certain that I’ll have gas sampling equipment!

I’ll probably have only another day to write before I go into the internet-free zone of the Dry Valleys. Well, it is internet free at least for us. The Americans broadcast the interwebs through the Dry Valleys for their scientific teams. Ah, the ubiquity of modern communications…

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