Sunday, 23 January 2011

MZS again


It was a two hour flight to Terra Nova. We didn?t land on the ice
this time, but a new landing strip that?s been built from snow on the
side of a hill, up in the foothills of the mountain range. And i mean
built, there is a pisten bully here, just like those in ski resolts,
and it's been used to make a shelf out of snow on the side of the hill
that we can land on. The Canadians have some work to do, to guy their
plane out. It can be seriously windy up here.

I?m driven down an extremely steep dirt track by Rick, the Italian
technical manager in a land rover. The track has been cut roughly
out of the face of a steep scree and gravel covered hill, into tethys
bay and has a precipitous drop to one side, and upslope of very loose
rocks above us. Most days there are new rocks, anything up to several
tonnes, on the road that need cleared but no-one has ever been near
them when they come down. It's usually the winds overnight that
dislodge them. In Tethys bay, the steep sided bowl that held the old
ice sheet landing strip we took off from five weeks ago, the ice has
completely melted and the bay now looks transformed, with the cliffs
and glaciers now sliding into clear, deep, still, and and very bright
blue sea.

I didn?t really have time to notice in McMurdo, but here I start to
notice the lovely thick; soupy quality of the air. I can?t resist
checking my sats ? 98%! My brain might actually work properly here!
It?s warm too, I?m just in a t-shirt and thin wind jacket. I
commented how nice it was to be in plus temperatures, but apparently
it?s still 2 centigrade below. I suppose living in -40 C has changed
my perspective a little!
It?s lovely to be by the sea and after dinner I take a stroll over
rocks, over uneven surfaces, grippy surfaces, sand, shingle, and down
to the sea shore, where I let my feet get wet. Yup, still cold. Never
before have I been so pleased by varying textures underfoot. What a
novelty it all is after 6 weeks on the ice at Concordia!
But, so pleasant as it is, I?m keen to get back to the base to keep
up the momentum with the research now it?s really underway, and my
thoughts are full of the flight up tomorrow and what I can get done

Logistics again.
The plan was to fly to DC (Dome C - a vast region but the only thing
in it is Concordia and it?s a bit quicker to say) where they would
drop me off and pick up a full planeful of people to fly to DDU
(Dumont D?Urville, France?s big coastal station and our supply point):
But the weather is iffy for DDU for the next few days. The pilots
point out that they are obliged to take a five day break in the next
few days, and if DDU is closed for three days this would be the most
logical time to take it off. The upshot, I realize with some horror,
is that I?m going to be stuck at MZS for five days.
ESA. Is going. To kill me.

I stand by our decision though - This Is Antarctica as we are saying
more and more frequently as we adjust to this continental sized
logistical nightmare. Between Andrea and I it was sensible for me to
go. I have no surgical skills and for me to be the sole doctor on the
base would be risky. The epidemiology here is mainly trauma and
apparently poisoning too, because everyone is screened for major
medical problems before they come. And while he could manage a case
of poisoning as well as it?s possible to with some good specialist
advice from Europe, no amount of phone advice is going to help me
close a lacerated blood vessel should someone have a nasty accident.
So knowing that there is always the potential for a delay in getting
back, I packed for three days, just in case.

In the end a compromise is struck with the pilots ? we?ll go tomorrow
and they get their rest afterwards. But it depends on there being
good weather to land at DDU after taking me to DC. Fingers crossed.

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