Sunday, February 6, 2000

Crevasse rescue on ice shelf

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Thursday night a New Zealander and three Americans had a brush with death. While walking between the road to Williams Field and the road to Silver City, on the Ross Ice Shelf near Scott Base, the group went off a flagged route, unknowingly entering a crevasse field.

The New Zealand woman fell through a slot, ending up 20 feet below the surface in a fairly narrow crevasse, said Ted Dettmar, of the search and rescue team, who was one of the first rescuers on the scene.

She was not complaining of any specific injuries, Dettmar said, so he and other members of the SAR team set up a rope to pull her up. Units responding were one of the fire department’s ambulances, both SAR team Hagglunds tracked vehicles, and two New Zealanders in their
tracked truck.

“We had everything we needed for a full-on crevasse rescue,” Dettmar said.

But because the crevasse was not very wide or deep, four rescuers were able to get a rope around the woman and pull her to the surface without much trouble.

“She was shaken, a little sore, and upset,” Dettmar said. Aside from being cold, she was uninjured.

The team escorted her to the ambulance, which took the patient and another member of her party back to McMurdo. The other two returned to town with the SAR team.

The following day, a team went out to examine the area, Dettmar said. They found a large crevasse field very close to existing flagged routes, including one slot several feet on from where the fall occurred, which was much wider and deeper.

The inspection also revealed foot tracks which did not belong to the group who suffered the accident, or to their rescuers. One set of tracks went over a crevasse over two feet wide, Dettmar said.

Dettmar stressed that the flagged routes are the only safe paths for foot or vehicle traffic on the ice shelf. “You get off the flags and you’re on your own,” he said, noting that there are crevasses on the flagged routes, too, but they are monitored and either filled or bridged to make safe crossings.

To perform the rescue Thursday night, Dettmar said, several people and vehicles had to drive into a very dangerous area. After the rescue, the team marked their paths with crossed black flags to indicate that they are not safe to travel on.

“Just because there are other footprints or vehicle tracks, off the flagged route, doesn’t mean it’s safe,” he said.

A frozen melting pot: The world comes together in Antarctica

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Antarctica is the second-smallest continent, home to over 100 research stations run by 29 countries. Here is a brief look at the activities of the other nations conducting research in Antarctica.

Argentina is operating 12 stations, six year-round, and six summer-only. Its program began in 1904, when a remote weather station was installed on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys. Argentina participates in a number of cooperative efforts with Antarctic Treaty members and consultative parties, including U.S. institutions.

Australia has four major bases in Antarctica. The Australian program started in 1947, with the first Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. The program involves about 400
people each year, including 250 researchers. Wintering teams number 15 to 20 per
Annual budget: $46 million

Belgium is not currently operating any permanent stations or bases. The country is a founding member of the Antarctic Treaty. Its scientific research program began in 1985, and has consisted of a series of three-year studies by university-based scientists.

Brazil operates one research station, Ferraz, on King George Island.

Bulgaria operates one research station, St. Kliment Ochridski, on Livingston Island. The first Bulgarian to visit the Antarctic went with the 13th Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1967-1969. Since then, several scientists have traveled to Antarctica with the British, Soviet and Spanish programs. An ice-core drilling project is in development, as are improvements to the base infrastructure.

Canada is not operating any bases. In 1993 the Canadian Antarctic Research Program began to expand Canadian polar studies to the southern hemisphere. Canada publishes a newsletter
on Antarctic research and maintains a database of individuals and organizations interested in Canadian Antarctic work. One goal of the Canadian program is to exchange foreign access to Canadian research sites in the Arctic for Canadian access to other countries’ sites in Antarctica.

Chile has 10 stations in Antarctica, four permanent and six summer-only. Chile participated in the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), but sent its first expedition to the Antarctic in 1916.

China runs two stations in the Antarctic. In January 1980 the first Chinese scientists traveled to Antarctica to visit Australia’s Casey Station. In February 1985 the first Chinese station, Great Wall Station, was established on King George Island in the South Shetlands. In winter, the two Chinese stations house 35 to 45 people combined, and up to 100 during the summer.

Ecuador, though a member of COMNAP, is not currently operating any permanent stations or bases.

Finland runs one summer-only station, Aboa in Queen Maud Land. At the site is a year-round automated weather station. Finland’s first large expedition was in 1989, involving scientists at Aboa and on the Aranda. Finland often cooperates with Norway and Sweden, as well as conducting long-term ozone research with Argentina.

France has four stations, including its shared station with Italy at Dome C. Researchers winter at two of the stations, Dumont d’Urville and Charcot in Adelie Land. Dumont d’Urville’s population
varies from about 26 in the winter to 80 in the summer.
Annual budget: $9 million, plus $15 million for administration.

Germany operates two stations. Neumayer Station has a winter population of 9 or 10, and a summer contingent of about 60. A cleanup of former East German Antarctic research stations is underway as part of the program’s environmental monitoring effort.

India has one Antarctic research station, Maitri, in Queen Maud Land. In 1981 the first Indian Antarctic Expedition began the program. It joined the Antarctic Treaty consultative nations in September 1983, just after the first Indians wintered on the Prince Astrid Ice Shelf.

Italy operates two stations, including its joint station with France, Concordia, at Dome C. It signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1981, and began Antarctic research in 1985. The main station at present, Terra Nova Bay station, can hold 70 people. Cooperation in logistics and science
between Italy, the U.S., and New Zealand has increased significantly.
Annual budget: $35 million

Japan operates four stations in Antarctica. Its first expedition was on board the Soya in 1956. Research programs have been done every year since then.
Annual budget: $35 million

Korea has one station, King Sejong, operating year-round on King George Island. Korea has been conducting Antarctic research since 1987. King Sejong’s population numbers about 15 in the winter and up to 60 in the summer.

The Netherlands is not currently operating any stations or bases. One of the major research policies is not constructing new research facilities, but instead using the infrastructure of other
nations in collaborative efforts. Sailors from the Dutch East India Company sighted several sub-Antarctic islands in the 16th century. The Netherlands has been engaged in scientific
researching since the mid-1960s, when three expeditions were developed in collaboration with Belgium. In 1990-1991, the Netherlands rented half of the Polish Arctowski Station, rather than build their own facilities. Projects involve collaboration with German, U.K., Australian, and New
Zealand researchers, among other nations.
Annual budget: $1.8 million

New Zealand runs one base, Scott Base, on Ross Island, which has been occupied since the International Geophysical Year. Scott Base has a peak summer population of 86, which drops to 10 in the winter. The program uses Arrival Heights for some research, as well as maintaining
eight research and emergency shelters in the Ross Sea and the Dry Valleys. Christchurch, New Zealand, is a major gateway to the Antarctic, where the U.S., New Zealand, and Italian research
programs have offices. The New Zealand program also supports the Antarctic Heritage Trust,
which protects and maintains the historic huts and sites of the Ross Sea area. New Zealand is heavily involved in collaborations, partnering in the six-nation Cape Roberts Project, as well as
other projects with the United States, Italy, France, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, China and Australia.
Annual budget: $8 million

Norway runs two stations, both in Queen Maud Land. Norway participates with Sweden and Finland in shared responsibility for Antarctic expeditions.
1996 annual budget: $6 million

Peru operates one station, Macchu Picchu, in the region of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Poland has one station, Arctowski, on King George Island. In 1976 Poland began research in the
Antarctic with five marine expeditions to the South Shetlands. The Arctowski station opened in
1977 and has operated continuously since then. The base houses 70 people in summer and 20 in winter. Collaborative projects join twelve Polish institutes and universities, as well as institutions in Belgium, Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Russia runs eight stations, three summer-only and five year-round, including Vostok, on the polar plateau. In 1956 the Soviet Union began research in Antarctica. The research was run primarily in institutes based in what became the Russian Republic. Russia succeeded the U.S.S.R. in the Antarctic Treaty system. The year-round stations together house 144 year-round personnel, while the summer season sees an increase of 162 people. The country has economic difficulties which has made Antarctic research difficult to maintain. International
collaboration has been part of the process by which Russia has maintained a high level of research while cutting costs significantly.
1995 annual budget: $10.5 million

South Africa operates two stations, the larger of which is SANAE IV in Queen Maud Land. There is also a year-round weather station on Gough Island. South African Antarctic research began in the International Geophysical Year. South Africa was an original signatory of the Antarctic Treaty.
Annual budget: $500,000

Spain has two stations, both in the South Shetland Islands. It also has an ice-strengthened vessel, the Hesperides. All three operate only in the summer; the stations can house 12 people each, while the ship can host 30 scientists, plus the crew.
Annual budget: $6 million

Sweden has two stations, both in Queen Maud Land. Sweden has long been involved in Arctic research. In the 1980s it extended its research to the Antarctic. Sweden, Finland and Norway have an agreement to share expedition costs and research benefits. Collaborative efforts are also under way with the British, the U.S., and other European Antarctic research organizations.

Ukraine operates one research station, Vernadsky, on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The United Kingdom has four stations in Antarctica. U.K. scientists have been active in Antarctic research for over 75 years. The British Antarctic Survey has been the primary Antarctic planning and coordination organization for the past 56 years. About 40 staff spend the winter at
the four stations combined. In the summer, field parties deploy primarily from Rothera, the largest base, which can house 120. The program has 180 scientists among its 420-person staff.
Recently research collaboration has increased, especially with Germany.
Annual budget: $42 million

The United States operates three year-round stations, a number of smaller field camps on a summer-only basis, and unattended year-round observatories.
1995 annual budget: $197 million

Uruguay has one station on the continent, Artigas, on King George Island. In 1776 the country first issued licenses for fishing in the southern seas. The first Antarctic research began in 1975, with the first expedition to the continent in 1984.

This information is condensed from material located at, the website of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs.

SOARing to new depths

Published in the Antarctic Sun

A small team of researchers is painting the white-on-white landscape of Antarctica in bright colors. The Support Office for Aerogeophysical Research, headed by Don Blankenship of the University of Texas at Austin, is looking at the continent in ways many scientists have only imagined.

SOAR is a consortium of researchers looking at how ice and rock interact in Antarctica. Their maps are in full color, showing different types of rocks and land formations, often over a mile under the ice sheet.

The researchers fly in a Twin Otter airplane over swaths of area larger than the state of Maine, to look at the ice-flow systems in key regions of the continent.

“We’re trying to figure out how geology influenced the formation of the ice sheets,” Blankenship said.

The airplane is crammed with electronics, so many that it takes two to three weeks to configure properly.

That’s after the plane’s structure was so radically modified that it required its own certification from Canada’s Ministry of Transport before Kenn Borek Air was allowed to fly it.

“The airplane was put together to do both geology and glaciology projects at once,” Blankenship said. In addition to the internal instrumentation, it has antennas hanging off the wings.

The electronics are all sophisticated sensors, measuring the plane’s height above the ice, using ice-penetrating radar to look at the rock beneath the ice, and also measuring the strength of the
gravity and magnetic pull of the rocks.

The gravity of the rocks, when separated from the influence of the Earth’s pull, shows how dense the rock is, giving clues to its composition. When that is combined with information about the
rock’s magnetic properties, the type of rock can be identified quite accurately.

Putting all this information together into a meaningful picture, Blankenship said, requires an additional layer of sophisticated equipment and calculation.

The airplane has several GPS units onboard, which measure the position of the plane to within four inches.

With that data, and the results from the instruments, Blankenship and his team create incredibly accurate maps of the ice and the surface beneath the ice sheets covering Antarctica.

“We’re good to within 10 centimeters,” Blankenship said.

They can find sediments, holes, changes in ice-sheet layering, and other phenomena. The SOAR team helps teams like ITASE choose routes for traverses, sites for ice-coring, and helps predict how what they find relates to other locations around the continent.

Their radar also lets them see significant layers in the ice sheet.

“It’s essentially virtual ice coring,” Blankenship said. The next actual deepcore site in West Antarctica will be chosen by the SOAR team, in collaboration with the ITASE researchers.

This season they made several excursions, one completing work they have been preparing for since 1992.

The plane and equipment flew routes over the transition from the Ross Sea to the Transantarctic Mountains, across the mountains to the Wilkes Basin and all the way to Aurora Highlands.

This cross-section of an area of the continent about which little is known geophysically was very important.

“We can get a really good handle on the evolution of the whole area,” Blankenship said.

The planning and organization resulted in use of several locations for this research and other work this season: McMurdo, Dome C, Mid C, Byrd and Siple Dome camps were all bases for SOAR flights.

For eight years the project has been underway to help explain why the Transantarctic Mountains are where they are. But once it’s all set, things move quickly.

“It took, what, 15 days to do,” Blankenship said. Good flying weather and few equipment difficulties were part of the success, as was increased computing power.

After a four-hour flight, the plane and equipment need about 90 minutes to refuel and recalibrate instruments. During that time, the researchers can take a provisional look at their data and get a sense of how reliable it is. Even just a few years ago, researchers needed more than five hours to do the same task.

“The quality of the data we get is really outstanding for the remoteness of the environment,” Blankenship said.