Monthly Archives: February 2012

Recalling days gone by… And the Russians arrive at Lake Vostok

Juan Pablo Albar

The frozen continent is far behind us now and we’re back among the night, the moon, tarmacked roads, neon lights, crowds, our loved ones, longed-for places, flavors we’ve missed…Suddenly, we’re home again, and almost without realizing it, without the need to organize turns for sleeping and watches. We’ve begun to get back into the swing of things and we’re well back into our daily routine. But there’s still something floating in the air, something that takes us back to that endless white sea that served as our North Star (or better said our Southern Star) for more than forty days.

Juan Pablo Albar with Antarctic ice samples

A sentence in unclosed brackets. A beautiful but incomplete phrase in an epic tale. Somehow we have to bring the story to a close with an action that sets the expedition at the level of an indisputable feat, without boasting yet without understating its relevance. The expedition, at every step of the way, has achieved all of its goals with absolute normality. Despite all the rush and the appalling weather conditions, we managed to get our a vento vehicle ready, to specifications laid down by Ramón who was the very heart and soul of the expedition. The sled has new features that have raised the vehicle’s performance and handling, improving considerably on the previous 2006 version (v1.7). The new vehicle is fitted with a fifth runner, and is made up of two separate modules: one pulled along by kites and another with the tent that remained assembled throughout the entire crossing (nearly 3,500km). All this, plus the tent’s innovative design, the high-molecular-weight Teflon sheets, the array of kites and tow-lines, and a range of other features, all worked to perfection. We tried out cross-bars made of different materials: fiberglass, aluminum, several types of wood such as iroko, ash, and meranti, all of which helped us to arrive at a number of conclusions that will come in useful for future versions of the sled.

Now we’re back in the Northern Hemisphere (coordinates: 40º39’42” North and 3º46’67” West), not far from Madrid’s mountain range, back to life’s familiar day-to-day duties and unpredictable surprises, and the routine of work has imposed its iron rule. For forty days we had to make a daily report on our coordinates to our guardians (Russians first and then Americans). Crossing from one degree to another became an almost daily obligation for us, our daily task. Our cardinal references, in degrees, minutes and seconds, were then transferred to maps (which some of us had only just found out about), placing us on an imaginary road, a highway without a verge that was leading us miraculously towards 90ºS. Those experiences, still fresh in our minds, continue to contrast with these tasks that also give life to us. Almost without realizing, we’ve gone from there to here and we’ve been drawn-in by the demands of day-to-day life that move us away inexorably from that other world, a white, grey world, full of light and incalculable horizons, and we are fully aware of its existence even though some maps hijack its location.

Juan Pablo Albar at The South PoleAnyway, I just wanted to close the brackets on this marvelous experience with a reminder that the three scientific projects that got under way during the expedition have now entered a new phase. On our arrival at Punta Arenas (Chile) we handed over the samples of ice and snow taken during the expedition for the CNRS-UPF of Grenoble, France (determine the oxygen (O18/O16) and hydrogen (D/H) ratios) and for the Group from Madrid’s UAM “Limnopolar” international project (presence of Dissolved Organic Carbon); they were then transferred on board the Spanish oceanographic research ship “Las Palmas” which is bringing them to Spain in cold storage (-20ºC).

The air samples gathered for Barcelona’s IDAEA-CSIC, using a range of polyurethane membranes, came along with me, in my luggage, and they are now in cold storage at the CNB. They’ll be forwarded to Barcelona, along with the gauges used to analyze them, once they arrive among the cargo we checked-in in Punta Arenas.

  • While on the subject of these projects, the highly-expected news item of the year finally arrived today: Russia has reached the bed of an Antarctic lake, 3,800 below the surface of the ice.

Spain does not have an ice station in the Antarctic; however our presence there could well take the shape of scientific programs or projects in which this clean vehicle—the Larramendi zero-emissions catamaran-sled—could take part by providing sample-taking sorties of an incalculable scientific value.

With all of this, we’re hoping to hold a media conference very soon. For the time being I can’t give you the geographical coordinates, but keep visiting this website as we’ll be announcing it sometime soon.

Juan P. Albar, Scientific Researcher at the CSIC and Scientific Coordinator of the Acciona Antarctic Expedition 2011/2.

(0) comments