Sunday, 17 April 2011

Three Hard Days

After 2 days grounded by bad weather the team finally got into the air on Wednesday to head for our Northerly site (85.58°N) less than 500 km from the North Pole. The GPS display on the cockpit shows our destination as ‘HAAS3’ in the opinion of Christian a good place to land the plane but not somewhere that anyone has yet trodden.

After what can only be described as a very exciting landing involving several bounces the plane landed, unloaded and then went off to cool down it’s skis. The skis get so hot during landing that if the plane just stops it will freeze solid to the ice making it impossible to move the place again, not a good idea when you are 400 km from home!

Once we’d landed the first thing is to choose our sites, mark with flags then lay out the corner reflectors and tarpaulins (which help the aircraft locate our line) taking great care not to disturb the snow around the corner reflector.

Once completed the two sites are fully equipped with corner reflectors and markers ready for the over-flights by the various aircraft (the near ‘blue’ site can be seen in the foreground and the far orange site in the background).

Over the next two days the aircraft overflew and we then returned to carry out our more detailed survey, in some ways this is when the real work begins. Only when we are in transit from one site to the next do the occasional opportunities arise to grab some more scenic pictures of the ice.

The blue ice pushed up in ridges demonstrates the incredible forces at work when the ice is compressed by winds driving two sections of the pack ice together.

Our pilots are wonderfully patient and give us the maximum time available on the ice but we always need to remember the time it takes not just to unpack but also to pack up the plane before departure.
On our return everyone works flat out to measure how deep the snow is around the target and to look in detail using a ground based radar operating at the same frequency as the satellite.

Not far from one of our sites the wind has carved out a huge hole next to the ridge. Here the snow thickness is more than 2 metres.

Time is so precious that there isn’t much that distracts us from our work. However the unexpected arrival of one of the survey aircraft caused everyone to drop their tools and pick up their cameras. The Polar-5 is a converted DC3 with many instruments onboard. The most impressive from the ground is the EM-bird designed to measure ice thickness but only at a low level, 30ft (10m) in fact. This photo was taken on the 2nd pass. On the first I was in line with the bird – pretty scary seeing what looks like torpedo heading towards one at 250 knots only feet over your head.

Finally after 8 hours working in temperatures of -30°C, with multiple surveys including nearly one thousand snow depth measurements, the exhausted team gets back into the plane with conversation stifled as everyone need just warmth and food.

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