Dog’s Head – Atka Bay
The crossing from the Dog’s Head ice shelf formation to Atka Bay led along 68°30’S and thus north of the sea ice border and directly westward. For the trip south on 02 Feb. 2020 through the sea ice belt suitable TerraSAR-X images were provided that also in this case again showed us a favourable route to our destination, the Ekström ice shelf.
Route through the sea ice on the way to the Ekström ice shelf and arrival at the northern jetty as viewed by the ship radar.
It can be seen that the choice of a route free of sea ice to the east of 8°W was made, so a quick and fuel-efficient journey south was possible. There was a small course deviation just south of 68.5°S in order to establish contact with a fishing boat. We then crossed a few small strips of sea ice, but they were no problem for S.A. Agulhas II. Around 16:30 UTC in good weather the ship reached the edge of the Ekström ice shelf, where on the next day we are to unload freight for the German research station Neumayer III.
Landing operation onto the Ekström ice shelf with the help of a crane and a trip in open sleds to Neumayer Station III
The planned shore leave and visit to Neumayer Station III could begin the next day in ideal weather. First of all, 'hold tight!' was the word as we glided in a crane basket more than 15 m above the dark blue water in teams of four during the transfer from the ship to the edge of the ice shelf, where some members of the station crew gave us a hearty welcome. Warmly wrapped, we then travelled the 19.5 km to Neumayer-Station III by sled in a brisk southwest wind for ca. 1.5 hours. On arrival the station head welcomed us to our extensive station tour. Also in the welcoming committee typical here was one of the two emperor penguins who did not choose to leave Atka Bay with the rest of their species during the short summer.
Arrival at Neumayer Station and a greeting from an emperor penguin.
Our tour of the entire station made quite an impression on us. The vehicle hall with its good collection of Pistenbully snow groomers, Skidoo snowmobiles and special all-terrain vehicles also houses the station's life insurance: hydraulic lifts regularly raise up the station to compensate for the successive accumulation of the masses of snow that drift in, thereby preventing the station from sinking down into the snow. In the above-ground part of the station there are spacious living, working and lab accommodations. The view from the station roof on that day presented an almost endless 360° panorama of Atka Bay and the Ekström ice shelf.
Hydraulic lifts regularly raise up the station. A view of the trace gas observatory (orange) and the EDEN-ISS container (foreground)
After a joint lunch at the station the next stop on the programme was a visit to the trace gas observatory (SPUSO). The walk from the station to SPUSO (1.5 km) is traditionally covered on foot since vehicle exhaust would falsify the measurements. The time series of climate-relevant trace gases and aerosols which have been assembled since 1982 supply important information on the composition of the global background atmosphere and its long-term development. Because the Antarctic has almost no sources of artificial pollutants it is an ideal location for this kind of long-term monitoring. An instrument developed at DFD also benefits from these measurement conditions. Since 2013 a GRIPS spectrometer to monitor the mesopause region has been operated here in cooperation with DFD's Atmosphere Department. The dark Antarctic winter will soon be arriving and GRIPS 15 – for the eighth season in succession – will routinely provide information on temperature dynamics in the mesopause region.
On the way back to the station we were also able to visit EDEN-ISS, a project lead by the DLR Institute of Space Systems. Under extreme Antarctic conditions the cultivation of vegetables for future space missions is being put to the test. Our colleague Paul Zabel from DLR in Bremen has been carrying out investigations and maintenance work since Christmas in the Antarctic hothouse. In the artificial light of the hothouse he explained everything worth knowing about soil-free herb and vegetable cultivation that requires only a carefully optimised nutrient solution.
Visiting the EDEN-ISS Antarctic hothouse
This is the place to give a big thank you to the entire station crew at Neumayer-Station III. They made it possible for us to gain unforgettable impressions from an entirely new perspective – namely from land. In the meantime S.A. Agulhas II has continued its journey and made its next stop at Penguin Bay. During the next few days scientists, technicians, and the South African winter crew, which has been living and working for 14 months at the SANAE IV Station, will be joining us here. So S.A. Agulhas II will be almost fully occupied for the three weeks until we get to Cape Town.