Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas at AGAP-North

In Antarctic particularly when carrying out survey work Christmas is just another work day like all the others as when the weather is fine it is better to crack on and get the work done. Saying that Christmas is remembered as best we can with the opening of a few presents brought from home and a little more special food for dinner.

VP-FBL our Survey Twin Otter at AGAP-N

Having been at a AGAP-North a week we have carried out 16 survey flights which covers some 30+ survey line. The survey is split in to a grid that contains survey lines and a smaller number of tie lines, once flown this systematic grid gives a good coverage over the survey area allowing the scientists to say what lies beneath the 2 to 4 km of ice that covers the surface of the Dome A area. Work is continuous with the hours spent survey flying, checking data, archiving data and repairing equipment that has failed (Antarctic is very harsh on electrical equipment so a fair amount of time is spent monitoring and test equipment to keep it in full working order). As seen in the above photograph the international participation in this survey is immense with the Australians providing the logistical support for our camp here at AGAP-North, the Americans delivering the fuel by the way of airdrops, the Chinese will retrograde the camp at the season close by way of their land train from Dome A, the Germans provided logistical, financial and project management and the British contingent from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) provided the survey expertise, a survey Twin Otter and a logistical Twin Otter.

As time progresses here at AGAP-North thing are becoming more established as the finer points of camp life can be concentrated on to make the cold temperatures (daily average of -25 degrees C without wind chill, but as we have a nice constant breeze of 12 knots we end up with an effective temperature of about -36 degrees C). Occasionally you have the luxury of a bucket bath, having not washed for weeks it is quite pleasant to feel clean and refreshed again. Work progresses in earnest so BAS at AGAP-North going clear as we are about to depart on another survey flight.

Monday, 22 December 2008

AGAP-North The last outpost of AAD and BAS

Having spent a rather comfortable time at South Pole acclimatising in Ack camp the AGAP-North camp was less luxurious with only one heated tent the kitchen / dinning tent. The flight across for the personnel and the cargo involved the use of the German Basler from AWI flown by Canadian pilots from Enterprise in Canada. FBL the BAS survey Twin Otter followed a day later with the seasons first survey over Dome A for the AGAP survey teams.
AGAP-North Camp

AGAP-North camp which was setup by the Austrialians with the support from one of BAS's GA's, FAZ BAS's utility Twin Otter and AWI's Basler. The camp consists of a cook/dinning tent, a small weatherhaven acting as a science tent, toilet tent and a collection of Scott and Dome tents acting as sleeping quaters. From the camp there is nothing to see but snow to the horizon and the pallets of airdropped fuel which was delivered prior to the building of the camp.
FBL our Survey Aircraft and FAZ our Logistics Aircraft

With the full BAS survey team at AGAP-North survey flying can start in earnest, with the aim to use up all 4 airdrops worth of fuel before we depart back North. The daily survey flying routine is a long one, it starts just before breakfast when the survey rack heaters are turned on to warm up the equipment to an operable temperature. Once the racks are up to temperature a gravity still reading is done and the rest of the survey equipment is powered up and tested. The first crew (pilot and the operator) either flying 2 shorter flights or a longer flight and once they have returned to camp the aircraft is refueled either for the second short flight or for the second crew to go on a longer survey flight. Once all the flights have been completed for the day the data is checked and archived this can be a somewhat long and tedious task but does guarantee that any little problems in equipment can be spotted and rectified before the next days survey flying.

As we are surveying over the Dome A/AGAP region the scenery is some what barren though occasionally we do get to se some more interesting ice and snow features.
Antarctic Landscape Near Dome A

Life at camp is OK with our camp staff cooking up some good food and the tents for sleeping in though cold initially but soon become more comfortable once you have snuggled deep inside the specially made sleeping bags that were made for this season.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

AGAP-North Bound

Having completed the acclimatisation at Ack camp we had our first survey flight to AGAP-South from South Pole. Ack camp involved us doing light work and been feed great food by our chef Dan and sometimes by our medic Mel. Day 3 of acclimatisation we installed mag and GPS base stations to make checking the data easier and reducing our reliance on other sources of data down the road.
South Pole Station

On the touristy front we had our pictures taken by the South Pole both the symbolic one and the geographical one. We saw the old South Pole base which is a Dome and looks quite futuristic rising out of the snow. The new one is a modern two story building on stilts quite different in terms of scale to everyone else’s bases here been twice the size of most countries main bases. Weather here is mostly around -30°C with either zero wind or up to 12 knots of wind.

The first survey flight into AGAP South was a bit of a long haul taking some 9-10 hours involving refuelling at AGAP South before the return, so took both our pilots to avoid pilot fatigue. Getting back after 10pm meant along night of radar processing and checking this is mostly automated but does involve the odd key push from time to time. First views of the Gamburtsev mountains beneath the ice were seen in the data. The next few days entails some more survey flying before we move to AGAP North which the Australians are currently setting up with the aid of one of our GA’s they are hard at work as they have 4 C17 airdrops to round up and a run way to groom.

AWI Basler turned up this morning to transfer cargo and personnel to AGAP-North.
AWI Basler with BAS Survey Twin Otter FBL

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Survey Starts

FBL taking off for maiden test flight

As it nears the end of a very busy week that saw FBL the BAS survey Otter arrive late Sunday the survey team completed bag drag in preparation for the flight to South Pole and acclimatisation. We spent 2 days converting the inside of the Twin Otter into an airborne geophysical survey aircraft. Day one of the install saw us install the equipment racks and populated with most of the equipment. Day 2 the remainder of the equipment was installed.

Wednesday the test flight saw the aircraft head over the Ross Iceshelf to the carving front. Though the weather was cloudy our pilots did a fine job of flying the survey. For the first flight the equipment worked with only a few minor issues to solve. Thursday the flying took us over open water so saw us wearing emersion suits just in case, we returned after 3 hours and more confidence that we were ready to transfer to the deep field. Friday was spent tidying up the installation and doing final cargo consignments to Pole. Saturday was a test flight to train a few more operators in how to use the equipment.

Today Sunday was bag drag for the advance survey party to go to South Pole to acclimatise before heading further into the interior and AGAP-North.