PS111 – Weekly Report No. 2 | 27 January - 2 February 2018
Neumayer and beyond
Now we have arrived – Polarstern makes her way easily through the disintegrating winter sea ice cover, heading for the northeastern edge of Ekström Ice Shelf.
On the way through the ice, we encounter the first Ross seal, which gets a sensor glued to its head as a little present from our seal researchers. The sensor transmits information on what a seal does during the day – diving, foraging, sleeping, diving, foraging, sleeping...what a wonderful life in the Antarctic marginal seas. Since one seal is not enough for any reliable analysis on the behavior of Ross seals, the search must go one. When you step onto the working deck now, you will not see the horizon in the far distance. Instead, on the starboard side you face a 10 m high wall of ice, which can be overlooked only from the upper decks. We have definitely arrived at the Ekström Ice Shelf edge.
The next two days are dominated by unloading 130 tons of material, stored in 15 containers, 150 cubic metres of Arctic Diesel, 64 cubic metres of Kerosene, one Pisten Bully (snow mobile), and a lot of small boxes. During the spare time, crewmembers and scientists are allowed to visit the German permanent station in Antarctica, Neumayer III, which is reached with a 20-km (one hour) long sledge ride on a bumpy, back-breaking ice track. However, the weather is perfect for travelling – air temperature -5°C, wind 2 bft, and the sky partly cloudy – requiring a high-summer sun block of factor 50. What is missing to round up the Antarctic experience? Sure, penguins! As ambassador, one Emperor is watching five ice floes away, and small groups of Adelies add to the biosphere on the sea ice. However, they do not seem to be impressed nor disturbed by our high-tech research vessel. Maybe, 35 years of the same procedure every year might have made the inhabitants of Atka Bay bored.
Neumayer III: As a masterpiece of German engineering, this station can escape the accumulation of snow by going up (https://www.awi.de/expedition/stationen/neumayer-station-iii/bau-der-neumayer-station-iii.html). While the ‘old’ over-winterers guide us through all four floors of the station, telling us enthusiastic stories of the past year, the ‘new’ over-winterers have to stow away the food for the next 12 months. Since we don’t want to disturb them, we leave for the “Garden Eden”, a near-by greenhouse container run by the German Space Agency (DLR). The vegetables are already growing inside, but not yet enough for a decent soup for all. Neumayer III is a very spacious station, but accommodating 53 people right now, is at the edge of its capacity. However, in the next few weeks most of them will leave by plane, allowing the 10 over-winterers to relax, settle-in, feel at home, and prepare for the long polar night. Finally, a note from the old (under-snow) station Neumayer II: The load of 25 years of snow accumulation has caused the station tubes to collapse, making further visits impossible.
The support stop at Neumayer III ends with the traditional soccer game ‘Polarstern vs. Neumayer’ and a few cups of mulled wine afterwards. The ship’s horn says good-bye and we leave, heading in the direction where the ice floes get thicker. In the following weeks, Polarstern will show her full capability of surveying and sampling all components of the polar Earth system from the atmosphere to the deep ocean floor. The tools we brought with us include a wide range of instruments, which allow for a large variety of observational methods. In the coming weeks we will report about the details – the excitement increases with the morale - or vice versa?
On behalf of PS111, the chief scientist and the editorial board send regards from a sunny coastal polynya in front of an impressive ice shelf edge – all are doing very well!
Supplement to Weekly Report #1: On our way to Neumayer Station III we surveyed a previously uncharted area of sea floor the size of Lower Saxony.
Michael Schröder, Chief Scientist PS111