Situation Reports

The Aurora Basin field camp of ice coring, kitchen and polar pyramid tents
The Aurora Basin field camp. (Photo: Mana Inoue)

After a 15 day traverse from Dumont d’Urville, led by a French traverse team, the Australian Antarctic Division took over responsibility for the Aurora Basin camp on 19 December. Following are the sitreps from the camp.

21 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Overcast in the morning and clearing during the day.

Temperature: −29°C

Remarks:
Well we now have email up and running at ABN and our population has grown from 3 to 9 since my last sitrep. ABN is now on Casey time UTC +8. Over the last couple of days we have been busy. We saw the traverse leave us on Thursday morning, it was good to move into the next stage of our trip but also sad to see the team leave as they helped us so much and were great company. No flights were possible on Thursday so just the three of us were in the camp. We spent the day trying to sort out the kitchen etc as best we could in preparation for people coming in. Friday morning we put the windsock up in readiness for the arrival of our first flights with the Basler and Twin Otter. It was a busy day with four flights – two Basler and two Twin Otter.

Today was another busy and productive day, we had a Basler and Twin Otter flight (both cargo only), the eclipse drill was largely assembled and the main drill team commenced excavations to the drill site to accommodate the higher drill tower. The communications box is almost fully set up – just the HF and a few small things to sort out.

22 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny at times, snowy at times and fog/cloud to the ground at times.

Temperature: −26°C

Remarks:
Great day today, a lot was achieved. The firn air team are set up and have completed three core runs to a depth of 5.85 m, starting in a trench 2.18 m deep. They also completed some testing for the firn air extraction – all looking good at this stage. The main drill team finished assembling their tent and excavating an area 4 m x 7 m x 1.5 m deep to accommodate the drill inside the tent. The excavation was completed with the snow blower. The final task to move the drill tent over the excavation involved the whole team – first full team activity. They have a great ramp heading down into the pit – when emerging from the tent it looks like they are coming from a mine. We need to get them to carry shovels over their shoulders. Continued setting up things around the camp, putting extra markers on the skiway, but still awaiting more markers from station to be able to mark the complete skiway. No flights today as it was forecast to be unsuitable for flying – low cloud and snow. We had a visit from a skua today and looking forward to more members of our team arriving – hopefully tomorrow if the weather allows.

23 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Foggy all around, diamond dust, snowing.

Temperature: −24°C

Remarks:
Put all remaining sleeping tents up today in preparation for more members of the team to arrive. This was another all camp activity – fun was had by all, especially putting up the new polar pyramids with the vestibule. The main drill team had another good day, finishing the day close to having a fully functional drill. Firn air crew drilled around 6 m and now have the tent set up for logging. Progress was a little slow as the variable firn density is proving difficult to drill. We are all hoping the weather is good tomorrow to allow a flight from Casey to ABN to bring in all our team – will be a great Christmas present.

24 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Diamond dust for the morning, sunny afternoon.

Temperature: Cold – no thermometer

Remarks:
Busy day today – didn’t feel like Christmas Eve at all. The weather cleared up for us to get several flights into ABN today – two from Casey (Basler and Twin Otter) with six people and 1600 kg of cargo. A Twin Otter also dropped in with five passengers from Dome C to link up with our Twin

Otter to transport the passengers back to Casey to catch the Aurora Australis. The set up of the main drill was completed today and the drilling began. They reached a depth of 12.62 m. The cores that were retrieved were of good quality and are now awaiting processing. There was lots of action in the firn air tent today, they reached a depth of 30.4 m and completed their first serious firn air pumping. All is going well and they solved some problems with drilling in the tricky firn. Some ice trenches were made today in preparation for storing the ice cores.

25 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Good weather in the morning, but the wind picked up around midday – had drifting snow and around 15-20 kts for the afternoon. Great halo with the cirrus stratus.

Temperature: −23°C

Remarks:
Merry Christmas. We continued work as normal today and plan to have Christmas tomorrow, purely to allow everyone who arrived here time to acclimatise and a bit of extra time to prepare for the day. The Basler arrived around 1030 this morning with four more people, along with a special guest. Our camp population is now 19 – it is quite crowded in the kitchen tent. The guys in the main drill tent had a good day with 29 routine drill runs, all consisting of excellent core quality. They reached a depth of 54.1 m. The firn air team overcome several difficulties during the day to reach a depth of 50.66 m. Jen and Mez did a great job today getting the kitchen set up and running. The ice core box trench was completed today and is already in use.

28 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny and light winds. Overcast conditions came back in around 2200.

Temperature: No accurate thermometer

Remarks:
Great to have some sunshine today and very little wind for most of the day. The second ice core trench was completed and is in use already. This trench will be used to store the ice cores ready to be flown back to Casey. The main drill tent reached 122 m, still dry drilling but not routine. The firn air tent team reached 102 m and firn air pumping continued at many levels. The processing team have completed some density measurements near the pore close off for the firn air drill team. All the processing equipment has been set up (ECM, horizontal bandsaw, laminar flow, vertical bandsaw) and they are ready to start processing cores. Also two shallow cores were drilled to 12 m – these will be overlap to the main ABN core. The Picarro has been set up, calibrated and the first samples are being analysed. The first reading was −41 per mille. The Geodetic GPS has been setup for ice flow measurement. The diesos have caught up on some maintenance, cleared some snow from around the polar pyramids with the snow blower, tracked quad and mogul master. The full 2200 m of the skiway is now marked.

29 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny in morning, overcast in afternoon/evening. Very light winds – nil at times.

Temperature: −12°C

Remarks:
Today was a very interesting day. At 1130 the temperature outside was −1.5°C, it stayed warm all day, at 1630 it was still only −4.5°C. I never thought we would see temperatures this warm here. Inside the processing tent there were positive temperatures. This unfortunately prevented any processing of ice cores. The firn air team reached 104.5 m, and extracted air from two levels. They are finding that the bubbles are closing more quickly than expected and will use their last day to find the limiting depth and extract any air possible. The main drill team reached 130 something? It was a difficult day for drilling due to the warm temperatures. Despite the warm temperatures making it difficult to drill and process the ice cores, everyone took the opportunity to enjoy some time outside in the sun and warmer temperatures. If there is a good weather window tomorrow for flying, six people will leave ABN and another six people will come in for the second half of the season.

30 December 2013

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Thin cloud cover for the day, light winds.

Temperature: −20°C

Remarks:
Quite a busy day in camp. Ten people were preparing to depart, packing their personal gear while ensuring they finished their work before leaving. The firn air team were flat out completing their work and getting ready to make the flight back to Casey scheduled this afternoon, as their planned flight for Tuesday did not look promising with the weather at Casey forecast to change for the worse on Tuesday. They finished their drilling and measuring at 105 m. Even though the firn air project is completed, drilling has continued, reaching 112 m today – the aim is to continue drilling to reach 120 m.

The main drill team spent the morning doing the last dry drill runs to determine if it is time to change to wet drilling. The decision was made to change to wet drilling so they commenced reaming to make the hole larger for wet drilling. They reached 94 m with reaming today.

The AWS has been assembled, ready to be put up in the coming days. Around 1600 the Twin Otter and Basler arrived. The Twin Otter took the first ice cores back to Casey – nine boxes, very rewarding for all involved. Today signifies the commencement of the planned second half of the season as we farewelled ten people and welcomed six new people. Thank you to all who departed today for making the first half of the season so enjoyable, it was great working with you all. Camp population as of today is 15.

1 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Blizzard conditions all day.

Remarks:
Blizzard conditions all day. Most of the activity around the camp was shovelling snow to keep doorways clear and preventing things getting buried completely. It is a challenge to walk around the camp with all the blizz tails at the moment. Tomorrow if the wind stops we will have lots of work digging the camp out. Conditions again were too warm to work in the processing tent. We have started discussing options of changing shifts, times etc if these warm conditions persist. Happy New Year to everyone from the ABN team.

2 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Snowy overcast with patches of sun throughout the day. Some light snow fall but no strong winds.

Remarks:
The day started with clearing lots of snow after the blizz we had yesterday. The snow blower is being used to calve out a trench for the new drill to be set up in the next few days. Drilling has finished at 116 m for the eclipse drill. Reaming is complete on the main drill and preparations are underway to commence wet drilling soon. Ice core processing has begun in the processing tent – they can only do this a few hours a day due to the warm temperatures. The first results are coming through on the Picarro.

3 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Overcast most of the day, moderate snow showers at times. Wind around 10 kts most of the day.

Remarks:

Very productive day today. The main drill team started wet drilling and are now at 153 m, having drilled 20 plus meters today. The Eclipse drill/Firn air tent was moved to its new location, ready to set up the French drill. Running GPS surveys on the drill holes. Continued digging things out of the snow and preparing cargo load for the next flight, which might be tomorrow. At this stage we have another four ice core boxes to send back to Casey. Saw some great sun dogs after the snow stopped this afternoon.

4 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Overcast all day.

Remarks:
Another good day at ABN. The main drill team had a day of routine drilling and have reached 173 m. There was lots of snow excavation preparing the tent space for setting up the French drill. Set up of the French drill commenced and will continue tomorrow. The processing team have been going well, core cutting 32 m, scrapping 16 m and the Picarro 12 m. Removed the first polar pyramid – vestibule one to send back to Casey. Cleared built up snow away from all the other polar pyramids to make it easier to remove when the time comes. No wind at all this afternoon. There is a thin blue patch on the horizon to the North East, fingers crossed it is the clearing we have been waiting for so we can get the Twin Otter in tomorrow.

5 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny and sky clear in the morning with diamond dust. Winds picked up in the afternoon along with the increase in cloud cover.

Remarks:
Woke this morning to a beautiful clear blue sky – first time seen this for a while. For a few hours we had diamond dust until the wind started picking up and blew it all away. The diamond dust has been replaced tonight by clouds again. The Twin Otter visited us today and delivered the much needed parts to repair our quad and some more ice core boxes. We also back loaded to Casey, four ice core boxes and cargo totalling 900 kg. The main drill team had another good day, reaching 193 m. The trench is complete for the French Drill and the team is now setting up the anti-torque. They have an impressive wall outside their tent from all the snow they have excavated in the last few days. The processing team are at: core cutting 48 m, scrapping 24 m and the Picarro 16 m.The winds are forecast to pick up for the next few days, so time was spent today preparing the camp for the blowing snow and blizz tails that are sure to follow these winds.

6 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Overcast, snowy and winds around 15-20 kts. Whiteout conditions for most of the day.

Remarks:
Whiteout conditions most of the day today. Not the day for outside work, however there was still lots to be done to keep paths clear, doorways free of snow and fuel drums and drilling fluid to dig out of the snow. The main drill team has passed the 200 m mark for the ice core and is now at 212 m. The French drill team has had a good day, overcome a few problems with set up and is getting closer to being able to commence drilling. The processing team are working late at night still to try and get cold enough temperatures in the processing tent. They are at: core cutting 64 m, scrapping 32 m and the Picarro 22 m.

7 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Overcast, snowy. Flat light most of day.

Remarks:
Snowing again today, flat light and some drifting snow. Finished digging drums out of the drift and attached the mogul master to the tracked quad to remove blizz tails from the fuel drums and cargo depoted at the parking area for the aircraft. Another good day in the main drill tent with them reaching 229 m. The processing team worked late last night to get cold temperatures for processing. Core cutting is at 71 m, scrapping 51 m and the Picarro 28 m. Most of the team are out digging a snow pit tonight while some scrapping is continuing in the processing tent. The French drill team have started drilling. As I write this, there is a break in the weather, looking great outside with lots of diamond dust floating in the air. Don’t think it is going to last long though.

8 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Snowing in the morning, nil horizon definition and poor surface definition. Winds picked up around lunch time to around 25-30 kts. A lot of blowing snow throughout the whole day.

Remarks:
A productive day at ABN despite the weather. The main drill team had a good routine drilling day, reaching 245 m. A good day was had by the French drill team as well, reaching 25 m.The processing team continued scraping and also headed out to work on the snow pit again, they stopped when the winds picked up in the afternoon. There was excitement in the camp as we observed through the arch window of the tent, a blue sky patch start moving over us at 1317. The upper winds appeared to be quite strong as the clouds were passing us by quite quickly and with it the blue sky patch soon passed.

9 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Very windy in the morning and lots blowing snow. Late afternoon it changed and we saw the sun for a couple hours.

Remarks:
Busy day again here. Lots of cargo positioned down at the parking area in anticipation for a flight, when the weather clears. We took advantage of the small break in the weather to start to groom the skiway but unfortunately this break in the weather did not last long and it started to snow again and we had to stop grooming due to bad surface definition. The main drill team had a good routine drilling day, reaching 264 m. A good day was had by the French drill team as well, reaching 50 m. The processing team completed to 80 m cutting, ECM and scraping. Picarro is at 34 m.

Snow pit sampling to 1.5 m for 10 different sample types was completed. Power to the processing tent has been turned off and pack up of the equipment inside has commenced. This allowed us to only run one generator last night and will help with fuel economy for the remainder of the season. We will continue to run two generators during the day to support the kitchen tent and the two drilling tents.

10 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Windy, blowing snow all day. Most of the day nil horizon and poor surface definition.

Remarks:
Not a good day to do anything outside. Think today is the most blowing snow we have had. Well certainly the blizz tails are the largest we have had to date. We will definitely need the shovels coming on the next flight. The drilling teams continued work with the main drill team reaching 273 m and the French drill team reaching 73 m. The main drill team changed a motor today to improve drill performance. Packing up of the processing equipment continued and this coincided with the opening of the ABN all weather cargo facility (once known as the processing tent). We had a very short break in the clouds, however the blowing snow continued but we got to see an amazing sun dog with an inverted snowbow.

11 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny, blue sky day.

Remarks:
Beautiful sunny day. Spirits in the camp were high as everyone was happy to see the sun again and for the blowing snow to stop. The snow blower got a good work out clearing the many snow drifts around camp. Drilling continued with the main drill team reaching 291 m and the French drill team reached 90 m. The team continued their snow pit to 2.5 m for 10 different sample types. Cargo preparation for flights continues. All day has been spent grooming the skiway and more grooming will continue tomorrow.

12 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny, blue sky day.

Remarks:
Another sunny day. Grooming continued on the skiway in preparation for a flight. The Main Drill team reached 303 m and the French drill team reached 103 m. The Picarro is at 45 m. The AWS (Automatic Weather Station) is now in place and upright. Started plotting some of the initial scientific results.

13 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Cloudy in the morning and sunny, blue sky day for rest of the day.

Remarks:
Today marked the end of the drilling and the commencement of packing up the camp. Both the drill teams had their drills packed away by the end of the day. The tent the French drill was in was packed up and even fitted back in its bags. Grooming continued on the skiway along with creating cargo loads in preparation for flights. There was certainly a lot of activity around the camp.

14 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Cloudy in the morning and sunny, blue sky day for rest of the day.

Remarks:
The temperature has certainly got colder again here with last night temperatures dropping to around −35°C at 0130. No one wanted to stay up longer or get up to see if it got colder earlier in the morning. Another productive day. Both the main drill tent and processing tent have been packed up. Lots of cargo has been depoted down at the parking area ready to load onto an aircraft.

Very quiet in camp tonight with everyone heading to bed early to get warm, as the heater in the living tent is no longer working. We are now using small electric heaters to warm the tent, with a generator running outside the living tent. As I write this the temperature is continuing to drop, currently at – 28°C, another cold night ahead.

15 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Overcast, snowy at time until around 1900 then blue sky

Remarks:
Today definitely turned out to be a different day than expected. We woke to overcast and snowy conditions. There were six people ready for a flight back to Casey in the morning. However the conditions did not allow this and the day was spent checking the weather and waiting. During this time the decision was made; if we did get a flight today, or whenever the next flight was going to be, we would send a total of 11 people back to Casey to make the most of the weather windows and to allow us to pack up more of the camp.

By around 1400-1430 everyone thought we would all be spending another night at ABN. Then at 1515 the call was made that the aircraft were on their way. For the five extra people on this flight, there was not much time to pack or even think about leaving. Both aircraft arrived, 11 people departed, 34 ice core boxes headed back to Casey along with some other cargo. The next minute there were just four people left.

16 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny day and clear skies

Remarks:
Spirits are high and the weather was great today. Not a cloud in the sky. We took advantage of this great weather and started a shallow core with the kovacs drill, reaching 6.5 m and will continue with this tomorrow. We also pulled down and packed up four polar pyramids, prepared the camp and cargo as best we could for the deteriorating weather forecast from tomorrow afternoon for a couple of days. Unfortunately blowing snow and 25-30 knots are forecast, if this happens we will have a lot more digging to look forward to. Luckily we got some extra shovels on the last flight.

17 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Blue patches of sky in the morning but quickly turned to blizz conditions.

Remarks:
Today we didn't get to finish as much as we had hoped as the weather came in quicker than expected. The winds started to pick up around 0800 and by 1000 we were well on our way to blizz conditions.

We took advantage of this time we could not work outside by doing our best to reduce the cargo that needs to be flown out to Casey. So far today we have had: custard with Cadbury Caramello and apple and peach crumble, chocolate cake, pancakes, two-minute noodles, cheese and biscuits, lots of tea, Malteasers, Mars bar, Milo bar, muesli bars, lamb sandwiches, muesli, sustain, toast, porridge, wasabi peas, potato and corn chips, satay chicken and rice, beef curry and rice, pumpkin soup, chilli chocolate, Old Gold chocolate, salami, blueberry pancakes and fried pineapple. I really hope tomorrow is not a blizz day.

We even managed to watch a movie before we deleted them all. Who knew you just had to press play. (I won't mention who was in charge of this).

18 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Whiteout and snowy conditions.

Remarks:
Today the weather was a little better than yesterday which allowed us to do some outside work. We also started packing up the inside of the kitchen tent, the plant and equipment tent and also removed all bedding from the polar pyramids in preparation for when these tents will be pulled down. Hopefully tomorrow we will have better surface definition to allow us to check the skiway condition and see how much work we have to prepare the skiway for our next flights.

19 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: 20 kts blowing snow

Remarks:
Great day today. We got all the polar pyramids down apart from the ones we are using to sleep in. Tried to groom the skiway but had to stop as the drift was covering our tracks as fast as we tried to groom it. We saw a few blue patches in the sky in the afternoon, but the wind and blowing snow continued all day.

20 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: 20 kts blowing snow with high cloud and some blue sky.

Remarks:
Super day today. We got two basler flights in and one twin otter flight. This means we have got just under seven tonne out of Aurora Basin. We are now sitting back and enjoying the patterns of snow on our tent window. Surprising how captivating it is.

21 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: 20 kts blowing snow with mostly blue sky.

Remarks:
Who would have thought there could be so much snow around. Having 20 kts and blowing snow for several days we thought it would have run out by now, but we were wrong.

Despite the conditions we managed to dig out enough cargo for two flights today. That's approximately another four tonne out of here. Tomorrow there are strong winds forecast at Casey and we will spend our day digging and preparing more cargo for the next flights. We are becoming at one with our shovels with some of us even having our own special shovels.

23 January 2014

Time: 2300 (UTC +8)

Position: Aurora Basin North Camp

Weather conditions: Sunny, drifting snow in morning only.

Remarks:
Great day today, we got the French ice cores delivered direct from Aurora Basin to Concordia; Tessa got to come visit the camp; we got two twin otter loads and one basler load of cargo back to Casey; the sun was out; and there was less than 20 kts of wind.

We have started to pull the kitchen tent down… lots and lots of shovelling this afternoon as the snow was nearly to the roof of the tent on both sides. Glad we had a snow blower to help. As I type the temperature is continuing to drop. It is almost at −30°C (−29.7°C). Not looking forward to making the trip to my tent.

Will we make it out of Aurora Basin for Australia Day? We will see.