Thursday, November 29, 2012

Antarctica 2012 Update: Slowly and Steadily Heading South

It has been a productive week in the Antarctic, where South Pole skiers are making good progress and the Lake Ellsworth research team has gotten down to business. There is still plenty of work to be done, but it is good to see some encouraging and positive news from frozen continent at last.

The skier who has suffered the most so far this season is easily Aaron Linsdau. He hit the ice early in an attempt to get as quick of start as possible on his Hercules Inlet to South Pole and back again journey. But so far weather conditions haven't cooperated and Aaron has had a very tough time gaining any kind of momentum. He seems to be getting on track a bit now, although he still has a long way to go and has dug himself in to a mileage deficit over the first few weeks of the season. Still, his daily distances are increasing and he's trying to put as positive of a spin on the situation as he can. Do give you an idea of how difficult it has been for him, yesterday he traveled for 9 hours and managed to cover 7 miles (11 km) and those numbers are an improvement over his first few weeks. Whether or not he can take it up a notch and still manage to reach his goals remains to be seen, but high winds, whiteouts, nasty surface conditions and blizzards have all worked against him thus far.

In contrast, Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir of Iceland has been out on the ice for ten days now and yesterday she covered 20 km (12.4 miles) and crossed the 81st latitude. That means that she is actually gaining quickly on Aaron and picking up speed nicely as she makes her bid to become the first woman from her country to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole. To be fair, Vilborg is carrying less gear and supplies with her, making it much easier for her to go faster. Her trip to 90ºS is one-way and she has no intention of trying to make it back to Hercules, where as Aaron is carrying twice the amount of supplies in the hopes of making the 1400 mile (2253 km) round-trip a reality.


Also now out on the ice and making steady progress is the In The Footsteps of Legends team. This it he group of British vets who were wounded on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan who are making a last degree journey to the South Pole to raise funds for the Walking with the Wounded program as well as Alzheimer's Research UK. They've now been underway for a total of four days and have managed to cover a bit over 10 miles (16 km) so far. Their entire journey is expected to take about 19 days to complete, so they're just getting warmed up. These first few days have been spent acclimatizing to the conditions (temperatures have been around -25ºC/-13ºF) and getting use to pulling their heavy sleds filled with gear. After another day or so of getting their legs under them, I would expect that we'll start to see them pick up momentum as well.

Finally, the entire Lake Ellsworth team is finally onsite for their research project which entails drilling through 3 km (1.8 miles) of ice to reach a subglacial lake. Their intention is to take water samples from that lake in hopes of gaining insights into what the climate in Antarctica was like thousands of years ago and to see if there is any life there now. The team has already drilled the first sections of the hole, but they are still bringing their heavy equipment online, so the project has yet to ramp up fully. One of their first tasks will be to collect a massive amount of snow that they can use as melt water inside the drilling system. The estimate they will need about 90,000 liters (23,775 gallons) of water to run the drill, which means they first have to collect about 270,000 liters of snow. Fortunately they have plenty of heavy equipment to help collect the snow, but all of it will have to be fed into the drilling system by hand. That will certainly keep them busy over the next few days.

That's all for now. More teams heading out on the ice soon and activity seems to be increasing on schedule. December is going to be a busy month at the bottom of the world.

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