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04.01.2018  |  News


There are also some nice aspects about life at an Antarctic research station. One of them is the sauna where everyone can relax after a long working day in the cold. Or the dinner that the two cooks of the station prepared on Christmas day - even though it was a bit hard to digest for a Swiss stomach...

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This picture of the people the station also served as our Christmas card.
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New Year's cake in the shape of the Antarctic continent. It was very sweet...
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On New Year's Eve, I got the chance to climb the "American Tower", a measurement mast.
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The "American Tower" is about 30 m high and is equipped with various instruments. The view from atop is impressive.
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Driving a snow mobile is fun!
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My daily measurement with the SnowMicroPen in my sample area. With this instrument, we can detect changes in the snow pack over time and collect information about the snow microstructure.
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The snow samples are preserved with diethylphthalate. Back in Switzerland, they will be analyzed by computer tomography.
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This was our "taxi" to the spot with the 4 m deep snow profile where the Italian researchers are taking snow samples for chemical analyses. The area is located a couple of kilometres away from the station in order to avoid disturbance of the snow pack.
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A researcher has filled plastic tubes with snow that will be analyzed for its chemical properties.
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More than 600 plastic tubes have been filled with snow. In order not to contaminate the samples, the person in the profile is wearing a protective suit.


Of course, Christmas and New Year’s are also celebrated in Antarctica. Because the “fragile Swiss” (this is how the Italians call me) had recovered from his illness, the station’s doctor didn’t have anything to do. So instead, he dressed up as Santa and started decorating the Christmas tree. Our two cooks prepared a huge meal. Since it is a French station, the food consisted of frog legs, snails, mussels, shrimps and other special treats. Not really the kind of food that a guy from the Swiss mountains is used to, but because the cold here makes me very hungry, I found the courage to try it. Both evenings, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, have been very entertaining and sociable.

Nice “warm“ weather - just -24 °C

On the weekends, we can use the sauna which is very cosy and relaxing. Inside, the temperature is about 100 °C, whereas outside it is -40 °C. But because of the very low humidity, both still feel ok. On the day before New Year, the wheather has been extraordinarily nice: blue skies, no wind, only -24 °C. Some guys even took off their T-shirts and had pictures taken of them next to their research instruments.

The experiments are running

My experiments started successfully. All four snow blocks are now being incubated in the special metamorphism boxes. They are exposed to temperatures between -40 °C and -25 °C. One of the blocks is supposed to experience the same temperature conditions as the snow in the snow profile outside that I use for comparison. A measurement station supplies me with daily temperature measurements, and I apply the same temperatures to the snow block in the box. When adjusting the temperature, I can only use very thin gloves to operate my laptop. Therefore, I try to be as fast as possible to avoid cold fingers.

Pasta twice a day is not enough

To observe the structural changes in the snow pack, I do daily measurements with a device called SnowMicroPen. It measures the resistance of the different snow layers. Because there are some very hard layers, I have to use my full weight to press the SnowMicroPen against the snow surface. Even though I eat pasta twice a day, my weight sometimes is no sufficient: Instead of me pushing the device into the snow, it pushes me away. Then I have to stop immediately to protect the very sensitive sensor of the instrument from breaking.

It doesn’t get dark at night

I helped with some experiments that the Italian researchers are conducting to analyze the chemical composition of the snow pack. We took snow samples in a 4 m deep profile, sampling every 3 cm by hammering plastic tubes into the snow. That was quite exhausting. But since there is daylight 24 hours a day, we could at least work late.
Today I decided to change my schedule for the journey back. I will not fly via Wilkins but via Dumont-d’Urville station at the coast. The advantage is that I can stay one week longer here at Dome C to get more time for my experiments. And it is also an advantage for me personally because I will get to see the Antarctic coast and maybe meet some penguins. From Dumont-d’Urville, a ship will take me back to Hobart, Tasmania.