Drescher ice camp

Weddell seals in the Drescher Inlet
Weddell seals in the Drescher Inlet (Photo: Joachim Plötz)

When researchers’ work takes them to frigid regions far from civilisation, they don’t always have permanent stations at their disposal. As such, from time to time a mobile ice camp seems to magically appear on the Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf – the Drescher Station. It primarily consists of red prefabricated igloos – or “tomatoes”, as the researchers affectionately refer to them.

The ice camp is established in the hindmost area of the “Drescher Inlet” on the eastern coast of the Weddell Sea – a trench in the Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf measuring 25 kilometres long and up to three kilometres across – because it has proven to be a highly stable site.

The fibreglass igloos are completely assembled in the course of their voyage on board the Research Vessel Polarstern; as such, they can then be transported with all of the necessary equipment inside by helicopter. Once on the ice, they can be set up in just a few hours, and can be taken down just as quickly when the research campaign is over.

Seals and penguins

At the camp, zoologists especially investigate questions concerning the eating habits and diving behaviour of Weddell seals and emperor penguins – both of which live in colonies nearby. The longest campaign to date involved five researchers who stayed for 53 days. For safety purposes, the minimum team size is four members.

The scientists use three of the red igloos as living quarters; a fourth “tomato” serves as kitchen, pantry and community room. While there is a separate igloo for the radio and computer, when it comes to toilet facilities, the team has to make do with a tent.

Since it would be far too difficult to transport sufficient drinking water to the Antarctic, melted snow is used instead. Two five-kilowatt generators, used alternatively, deliver the electricity needed for the snowmelts and other equipment, while deep fryers supply hot meals. However, the researchers spend most of their time out in the ice and snow – when they get their clothes and gear wet in the process, fan dryers are called for.

Two snowmobiles and Nansen sledges are used for the fieldwork. Depending on the weather conditions, the camp can consume up to 25 litres of petrol and 1.5 kilogrammes of gas a day. All glass, plastic, metal, paper, sewage and food waste is kept in separate tubs and later brought back to the ship. The team leaves nothing behind when it goes.

Position: Riiser-Larsen shelf ice, Antarctica, 28 meters over sea
Coordinates: 72° 50' S, 19° 02' W

Namesake

The research station was named in honour of the biologist Dr Eberhard Drescher (26.11.1944 - 26.6.1983). As one of the Alfred Wegener Institute’s first members of staff and head of the working group “Marine Endotherms”, his work primarily focused on the ecology and protection of Antarctic seals.

Equipment

Helikopter mit Tomate (Photo: © Simon/Simon)
  •     Snowmobiles
  •     Nansen sledges
  •     Kitchen igloo
  •     Living quarters igloos
  •     Equipment igloo
  •     Toilet tent

History

The former station - consisting of three containers as living quarters - was built-up in 1986 and already dismantled in 1990; a mobile ice camp is being established in due course. Since 1986 there have been six research campaigns in the Drescher Inlet (a trench in the Riiser Larsen Ice Shelf measuring 25 kilometres long and up to three kilometres across), the forthcoming one in the 2015/16 season. Over the past several years, the biological research conducted in the vicinity of the Inlet has proven to be a worthwhile focus area, as the combination of field station and research vessel offers the ideal setting for synchronising the projects of different disciplines. This unique approach is based on and promotes close collaboration between researchers from different sections.