Friday, February 14, 2003
Le radeau de la meduse
I think this is the last diary entry I'll make this year. I don't think
I'll be able to write much more. No, I haven't gone sentimental. It's just
that the sea is rocking hard and it's almost impossible to concentrate in
front of a computer screen. Let's just say that I strongly regret the
conditions we had on our way to DDU. This time, although we haven't met a
storm yet, the weather is quite bad and 6 people have not left their bed
since the departure. Jon and I are not sick (that's why they sent us: we
are tough) but we are not happy campers either. We have two more days to
go and I can tell you that so far, each day has been interminable. Also,
instead of 15 passengers, we are now 40 on board. You can forget about
sitting comfortably in the lounge. The place is packed and that's another
reason to spend most of the day lying in bed. Nothing exciting happens
either. Someone saw a whale this morning but that's about the most amazing
event since we left DDU. Personally I can't wait to be in Hobart to sleep
and eat in a place that does not move. I also can't wait to be in Sydney
to negotiate to go back to Dome C next year by plane.
Now I should stop winging and finish this year's diary in a positive way.
Jon called Sydney yesterday and the AASTINO is working like a charm. The
first photos of Dome Concordia "post-summer" should now be on the web
(there should be a link from this page). They prove that our mission has
been a great success this year. I hope you'll all tune in next year for
more science in the cold.
See you next year...
It's been now almost 4 days in DDU. One thing is for sure, if I stay any
Back to DDU
longer I will become like a Roman emperor (of the decaying era, of
course). I spent a lot of time here sleeping, eating and playing pool. To
my defence, I had planned to do some work. After all, I have my laptop. I
could have been writing papers and working on my data. Unfortunately, I
could not do that because I had left all the power adaptors with Jon back
in Dome C. All my batteries were drained and being the only Australia in
DDU, my only chance was to wait another 24 hours for Jon to arrive.
The morning Jon was due in DDU along with a large part of the Concordia
builders, the DDU station manager realised that this horde of barbarians
coming down from the plateau would not fit in the remaining dorms and so
he decided to make them sleep on the Astrolabe. That was not a total
surprise; we had done the same thing a month ago. So they would sleep on
the boat at night and come back to the land during the day.
The plane landed a bit after lunch. I was not surprised to see a very
tired face when the helicopter dropped Jon in the station. We spent a bit
of time talking about what he had done the past two days in Dome C (the
content of his last diary entry). After dinner he and the other guys were
taken to the boat only to come back the following morning. Knowing his
lack of sleep, I was counting on him to come back to the base rather in
the afternoon than in the morning. So when I got up (I won't tell you what
time...), all the Dome C storm-troopers where here, armed with their
cameras and looking forward to the couple of days of relaxing time in DDU
before flying home. Jon was still on the boat, fair enough, making up for
the last two difficult days in Dome C.
Through the afternoon, however, the weather started to get bad. The blue
sky I've had since my arrival was gone and the wind was becoming a lot
stronger. In consequence, no one could go in or out of the Astrolabe. Jon
was therefore stuck on the boat with the crew as the only company.
Unfortunately for him, the weather remained like that for three days. I
guess he didn't miss much since we all stayed inside the whole time. The
wind was too strong to make a walk even remotely enjoyable. Still missing
my power cord I was doomed to wait the day of departure to be able to
write those lines.
The rest of the Dome C team and I got plenty of time to compare the
lifestyle of Dome C with Dumont D'Urville. Of course, there is the
difference of size. Dome C peaked once at about 45 people when Dumont
D'Urville easily reaches 60. The buildings of DDU are a lot older but much
larger and more comfortable than the summer camp of Dome C. Being a winter
base, the entertainment is well catered for. The island itself is great. I
don't think it's possible to get sick of walking around it. The amount of
changes it has gone through in a month is amazing. I could barely remember
having walked through the same paths. The ice has melted a lot so all the
places I remembered white were now rocky and muddy. I mentioned before the
changes the penguins have gone through and they make a difference in the
look of the landscape since there are some may of them. The place was all
black and white before and now it is grey, white and brown essentially.
The sea looks also different. With the temperature rising, a lot of the
glacier has melted and the ocean is totally covered with icebergs.
This adventure is almost over. We now have to face 6 days in the
Astrolabe, let's hope they go quickly.
Where were we? That's right, a succession of events made us lose contact
for quite a few days now. Last time you heard of us was from Jon alone in
Dome C. We got separated after I left on the 5th as planned by the Dome C
logistics. Between that time and Jon's last diary entry things happened
rather fast and this is now the first time since that I have the chance a
sign of life.
On the evening of the 4th I was announced that my flight would leave the
next morning at 4am. In other words, there was no point going to bed since
I would have inevitably slept through my imaginary alarm otherwise. I
packed everything and gave a last gaze inside the AASTINO, confident that
Jon would easily eat away the few remaining issues. The SODAR was fully
working, the engine made an acceptable noise and the inside temperature
was probably the warmest of the whole station.
The flight itself was quick and painless. We were only two passengers,
myself and a French scientist from Grenoble. It would probably have been
more comfortable if we didn't have 800kg of boxes lying around the plane.
The conditions inside the plane were probably comparable to the ones at
the beginning of Indiana Jones (except we didn't crash). I lost interest
in the landscape outside my window after the first 10 minutes. The four
hours of the flight were then inexistent. I was wakened up by the co-pilot
just before landing. At our arrival the wind was blowing as you would
expect it to on the coast of Antarctica. We got every single box out of
Twin-Otter within 10 minutes. The helicopter came to take us to the base
and that was definitely the most entertaining thing done in weeks. The
pilot of DDU is known here for his speed. As soon as we got in, he lifted
the helicopter right up and turned the machine around while backing toward
the station (I guess you had to be there). We flew to the island a couple
of meters above sea level, only rising to avoid the few icebergs along our
path. I think I'd be happy to go back through DDU next year simply to
enjoy another helicopter flight.
In DDU, nothing had changed since our short stop on the way to Dome C. The
main building containing all the sources of entertainment is still
everybody's dream. It has a cinema room, a pool table, a baby-foot table
and walls covered with books and comics. There are chocolates, cookies and
candies laid out on the tables and even a whole ham waiting for you to
carve it. I found Fabrice and Patrick, two Swiss EPICA scientists, who had
left Dome C a couple of days before me. They were fully immersed in their
comics; I had to make myself noticed to pull them out of their trance. It
was only a couple of days later that I would realise I would be just as
easily drawn by the same books.
Like all the other Dome C people, I was given a shared room in the summer
dorm. It's a good 10 minutes walk from the rest of the station but I would
be dumb to turn down another opportunity to walk amongst thousands of
penguins. A lot has changed about them by the way. A month ago the colony
was populated by young parents living in nests accompanied by usually two
eggs or two small babies never more than 10cm tall. This time, however,
the situation was quite different. Most of the adults were gone and nests
were replaced by nurseries. The baby, grouped and protected by some
remaining adults, were now full size and only differentiable by their grey
feathers that they were losing day by day. The older babies only had this
layer of feathers on their heads such that any group of them looked like
the Jackson 5 dressed in tuxedo. All of the youngs spent their time
scratching themself trying to get rid of as much feathers as they could.
With their quantity and with the strong wind, the air was always filled
with feathers taken away to the sea or in the eyes of Australian tourists.
One of the most amusing sights was when a baby penguin would run after one
of the guarding adult to beg for some food. Looking bigger than the grown
ups with their thinner fur, I can see why the adult would in fact run away
from the baby. So imagine this picture of about 20 Michael Jacksons
gathered together around a security of about 5 body guards in tuxedos
focused on the outside threat and one of them running in circles inside
the nursery, chased by one of the Jacksons (making the sound of a baby
chicken). And it was the same show in every single nest. It must be tough
being a penguin.