the final place taking off from Utsteinen - copyright International Polar FoundationOn Monday, 24 February around noon, all station team members left Utsteinen and flew out to Novo (see image of the station webcam above; www.antarcticstation.org). For the coming nearly 9 months, nobody will be at the station. Everything has been arranged in order to guarantee the functioning of the station and that the scientific instruments can be remotely controlled. Four aerosol instruments remain active in the southern shelter: the TEOM-FDMS, the aethalometer, the laser aerosol spectrometer (LAS; number size distribution of particles) and the condensation particle counter (CPC; aerosol total number). The sunphotometer (total atmospheric aerosol load) was uninstalled by Karel and it is now on its way back to us. It has to be calibrated each year by the reference centre of the network it belongs to (AERONET; aeronet.gsfc.nasa.gov) and because during winter the sun is missing for its direct sun measurements. In addition, the sensors for total solar irradiation and UV-A and UV-B radiation remain active (follow in near-real time the evolution of the UV index ). Also, the cloud condensation nucleus counter is on its way back to the Institute for tropospheric research in Leipzig, Germany. We have now two months of simultaneous data on aerosol number, size distribution and the aerosol’s capability to form cloud droplets. The analysis will give us more insight into the type of the aerosol, if there are dependencies of the cloud formation properties on meteorology or on air mass origin. To operate aerosol instruments without being able to do any physical maintenance during 8 to 9 months is a challenge. Luckily, the aerosol shelter is well-insulated and heated, thus the harsh conditions during winter should not be a problem. However, during periods of heavy storms with very strong snow drift, the instruments could get problems of, e.g., too many snow crystals sucked in via their air sample inlets. Therefore, two additional supervision tools were installed in the shelter: (i) a webcam (an example image above), to be able to see, e.g., if the instruments are still on, if any of the error-message LEDs of the instruments are lit, or if there is any snow intrusion; (ii) a remotely controllable power switch, via which we can switch off and on each instrument individually. This last one will be useful when, e.g., the data connection between desktop and CPC hung up itself, or when the automatic tape advance mechanism of the aethalometer is blocked for any reason. So, everything is setup for a successful winter measurement period and currently working fine. Credits for this go to Karel Moerman, who supervised the instruments during the last two months, to Erik Verhagen who helped me a lot during my stay at the station, and also to Alain Hubert and the whole station team for the support and the help in order to keep the instruments running.
Thursday, 27 February 2014
Friday, 17 January 2014
So, until our flight to London/Brussels on 22 December in the evening, we had four days in Cape Town. Enough time to relax, to de-compress, to buy some souvenirs and to enjoy the good food in Cape Town and the nice sunny weather. I also did a day trip safari (during the former stays in Cape Town I always thought that once I had to do this). There are several parks and tour operators you can choose from. We went to a private game reserve which is around 2 ½ hour drive by minibus to the East of Cape Town. Private game reserve means, it is a very vast enclosed area, in an impressive landscape, where the animals are supervised and protected (against poaching), and where small scale tourism takes place (you can also stay overnight in comfortable lodges or chalets, however there is not much else than safari to do in this remote region). It also means that you are more or less sure to see the animals, compared to other parks which are open wild life. Our open-jeep safari took around 2 ½ hours and we saw them all – buffaloes, zebras, rhinos, eland antelopes, hippos, giraffes, elephants, and lions. The lions live in a separate compartment of the reserve where they may hunt the game living there. From time to time they get some additional food. And as they only hunt one/two times per week – they are most of the time lying lazily around (and are not interested in tourist meat). The reserve hosts also some white rhinos. You have to know that South Africa is the home place of almost the whole population of the white rhino and poaching with the only aim to cut their horns is a real threat. In 2013 alone, almost 1000 rhinos were killed by poachers (see www.savetherhino.org).As said, now it is office work again in greyish and wet Brussels, and I am remotely controlling the instruments in Antarctica. At the station, it is Karel Moerman who supervises the instruments and who is doing all necessary maintenance tasks which cannot be done remotely. He is doing this extremely well and I can sleep quietly, knowing that the instruments are in good hands.
Sunday, 15 December 2013
The last week was characterised by severe instrument interventions. Monday and Tuesday kept us busy with the extension of the mast of the automatic weather station. Monday I dug out an almost 2m deep hole around the mast. This depth was necessary to reach the top of the battery container. The batteries were pulled out and put into a new container which finally was placed on top of the old one. These batteries kept the weather station running now since almost five years, and they are still in good shape. It was a funny feeling being down in this hole and even when standing upright I could not look out. It was also a very warm, calm day and during digging, the warm down jacket was not necessary. Around noon, the air temperature in 2m height was even +3°C ! However, down there in the hole it was freezy. The aluminium mast had still the temperature of the surrounding snow/ice – around -20°C. My sweaty leather working gloves would freeze stuck immediately when touching the mast. The following day two colleagues –Francois (on the image in the hole) and Craig- helped me to extend the mast. First, disconnecting he upper part and laying it softly down on boxes in order to avoid ground-touching. Then we put the extension on the old bottom part and lifted finally the top part into the extension. Now the meteorological instruments are again in a height of around 4m. Afterwards, the hole needed to be filled. It was much more wind that day and the drifting snow helped to smoothen the surface around the mast. The days after I did detailed checks on the Brewer, the nephelometer and the cloud condensation nuclei counter (CCN). After many checks and tests Erik and I did in the heart of the Brewer instrument, it was clear that there is some malfunctioning of an electronic control board. And this we cannot fix here, why it will return already with me. The nephelometer also has a serious problem and very probably some parts of the optical interior have to be exchanged. As I do not have them here, it will also return with me. It’s more than a pity that these instruments have to return, but things like these can happen. On the other side, we could fix the pump problem of the CCN and it is working fine since Friday afternoon. So, it’s an up and down here. Apart from the instruments – the landscape around Utsteinen is always fascinating. That it is Antarctic summer is also marked by the snow petrels which are now gliding much more often and in higher number in the wind around our ridge. These birds bring up their chicks here in the mountains (far away from predators), but fetch the food at the coast. The coming days starts already the preparation for our departure.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
Time has passed in the meantime. The windy weather of the first week made place for more calm days with a lot of sunshine. Temperature however is still cold, around -10 to -15°C. Yesterday St Nicolas passed. My little family provided me with some self-made items and chocolate to celebrate this day. That was nice and I loved it. Otherwise, we would all just be too busy with our work and a day like that passes easily without anything special to it. I also had a skype call with a school class in the UK, of 8 to 10 year old pupils, on the occasion of Antarctic Day (normally 1st of December). They asked lots of questions on the Antarctic or on how daily life has to be imagined here. One question was also if I built already a snowman. I had to admit, that no. Too busy with work apparently. However, the snow here is too dry and would not be sticky enough. But we could sculpture something with blocks of snow-ice. Anyway, many things have been done. The pyrometer and the precipitation radar are back in operation on the roof. Also the Sun photometer is back on its place on the very top of the station. Its elegant movements to point to the sun and to make measurements make the others often ask me what it is for. In the aerosol shelter, the cloud condensation nuclei counter from Leipzig has been starting its measurements. It seems that there are not many particles in our Utsteinen air which are capable to form cloud droplets. But I need to do some more tests on this. My problem child at the moment is the Brewer ozone spectrophotometer. There is apparently an issue with a turning micrometer, which adjusts some important parts of the optics. Until now we haven’t found out what exactly the problem is, and the instrument keeps Erik and me busy. Last Wednesday morning the expedition team to the coast left (see group image above). They will be doing research in the field for around 10 to 12 days. To get to know what they are looking for, it is best to visit their blog. One of the last days, when wind was almost none, I went around 1 km upwind of the weather station and digged, like last years, a snow pit of 1m depth in order to characterize the different layers of ice (crystal size, habit, density, temperature…). The view was great from there and in weather conditions like that it’s nice to work outside ;-) . Next week, the extension of the mast of the weather station is on my agenda, as is another snow pit, and hopefully putting back into operation the Brewer and the nephelometer.
Tuesday, 26 November 2013
Since Friday late afternoon I am now back at Utsteinen, at Princess Elisabeth station. It’s nice to be here again. The flight with the Ilyushin went without issues. The weather at Novo Air base was very windy and by times the visibility became worse and we thought that we might even be stuck in Novo. But it cleared up again and two hours after arrival in Novo, Reinhard, Lionel and I took off with the Twin Otter, direction Utsteinen. As the Twin Otter cannot carry as much payload as a Basler, we had to leave most of the cargo at Novo – and therefore we decided also that two of us, Nicolas and Christophe would stay in Novo. Unfortunately, they had to stay until Monday afternoon in Novo because of the overall bad weather there. In the meantime, I had a look to the bunch of instruments I have deployed here. The Brewer (ozone spectrophotometer) and the sunphotometer are well and are waiting for some calm weather to be installed on the roof again. The wind is too strong at the moment and working on the roof is not really to be recommended. The UV-Vis radiation measurement box on the roof had to be dismounted for a check of the datalogger inside. After this, we mounted it again on the roof and it is operational again. The instruments of the Hydrant project of KULeuven http://ees.kuleuven.be/hydrant/ are also in the pipeline to be started up again. The ceilometer has warmed up inside and routine checks have been done. Yesterday around noon we installed it on the roof and it is operational again now. The precipitation radar and the pyrometer (cloud temperature) still need to be checked. Some pyrometer replacement items arrived just yesterday with the flight from Novo and today Erik and I made the necessary tests inside. The weather station is also well. But beginning of November there was a huge storm which brought around 40 cm of snowfall accumulation within a few days. The weather station instruments are therefore only 215 cm above ground – which is probably not enough for a whole next year-round of measurements. Therefore, we have already foreseen in our cargo a special mast extension set, with which we can lift the meteo instrumentation up again. I also checked the aerosol instruments in the special shelter. The aethalometer, TEOM and the particle counter are operational again. After the 6 months without power and in the cold I had to check if they are safe to be started up again (snow inside, cleaning of parts, replacement of filters, replacement of the cooling fan of the aethalometer, checking the tubings, etc). The laser particle sizer needs a bit more care – the laser window has to be cleaned regularly in order to have enough laser power arriving in the measurement chamber. Yesterday I could bring this laser power already high enough for sufficiently good measurements, but it needs further cleaning. Unfortunately, the nephelometer (light scattering by particles) does not want to start up again. The reason is not clear yet – I will take it inside the station where I can investigate the electronics and other parts more comfortably than in the shelter.
Thursday, 21 November 2013
So, we are still in Cape Town. The Ilyushin flight normally planned passed Tuesday will happen only tomorrow, Friday morning. Take-off at 8am CET. Likewise with the flight of the first team destined for the Belgian station – they stayed 7 days there. For us it will have been 5 days. This delay is due to the bad weather in Antarctica – it’s not too stormy there at the moment, but too cloudy, snowfall and bad visibility. Also at the locations of the individual national research stations the weather is not the best and all the feeder flights with the small propeller aircrafts are also delayed. So, what have we been doing here? In the beginning we have been at Cape Town airport’s cargo storage hall. There we had to re-pack some large boxes into smaller ones. And we checked that all our cargo sent from Europe arrived well. The rest of the time we spend with bit of tourism. Or with work (long-distance telework isn’t it?). Today was a perfect southern summer day and our group of five decided to go up to the Lion’s Head (or Leeukop in Afrikaans), just here opposite of Table Mountain. It’s 669 m asl and from the rocky top the view is really great. You have it all around – the Ocean, Cape Town, its beaches, Table Mountain, the mountain range of the Twelve Apostels, Signal Hill – really to be recommended. From top to bottom of the images: Reinhard pointing to the mountain and Lionel besides of him, then Leeukop itself, me, and all five of us (Christophe second from left, Nicolas to the very right). So, tomorrow morning at 5 CET we will leave the hotel for the airport, landing in Antarctica 14 CET. Most probably we will then fly with a Twin Otter to Utsteinen to the Belgian Princess Elisabeth station the same day. The next post will hopefully be from Utsteinen.