vendredi 6 février 2009

First fieldwork and ... there is life out here (03/02/09) - Jeroen Van Wichelen

Unbelievable maybe, especially as you explore this harsh and seemingly sterile environment, but since yesterday we have seen life thriving with our own eyes. Of course we knew that there are certain life forms here and exploring these is one of the reasons for our mission, but still with this year’s snowy and cold conditions at this time of the year it came as a surprise. With all the snow covering the interesting spots, Cerille was already rather skeptic to find any of the small invertebrates he likes. But a closer look at the edge of one of the lakes around the nunatak of Utsteinen revealed a very nice mite species, a very exciting discovery. And today we went back to the nunatak of Teltet, some 6 kilometers away where we saw some rather organic ‘soil’ layers at its base yesterday and guess what, again a mite species, very tiny, and different from the other, we even could see the eggs, unbelievable that they make a living out here. And this afternoon, Cerille became completely crazy when he found Colembolla’s at the edge of another lake very close to the base camp here in Utsteinen.

We began our fieldwork some days ago starting with the moraine of Utsteinen nunatak looking for fluid water, lichens, algae and invertebrates, but none we could localize. Steve started to track the moraines edge with the GPS and gather some rock samples, while the others climbed and explored the other side of the mountain with the two cooks as guide. The landscape was just SPECTACULAR, we had to use crampons and ice picks, it was really like mountaineering at high altitudes and we felt it alike since the air pressure is much lower here, just like on higher altitudes in temperate areas. Cyrille and I compared the atmosphere out there as like in Tintin in Tibet, when Tintin and Captain Haddock hiked the Himalaya in search for their friend Tsjang. At any moment we expected the yeti appearing on the slopes above us… The day after, Steve and I started drilling the lake ice of the lakes around Utsteinen and we were full of excitement when water started to pop out at a depth of about 75 cm. Unfortunally, we noticed a second layer of ice (in all three lakes), which means we have to drill a long time through the ice before we reach open water, if ever, and the sediments at the bottom. But the people from the station are very happy with the presence of liquid water close by, which means they have to waste less energy with the melting of snow. And I can say, the water tastes great, it gave a wonderful feeling to drink pristine water directly from the well. Yesterday, we went with skidoos towards the nunatak of Teltet to drill another bigger lake. To drive around with skidoo’s on the icy, extended terrain made us happy like boys on their first motorcycle trip. Again we were very enthusiastic when the water started to well at a depth of about 90 cm and with full excitement we went on drilling deeper to reach the open water until the drill got stuck at a depth of 3 meter. We spent several hours to retrieve it but finally we had to give up and proclaimed the drill lost, since it was not ours we felt a bit down afterwards and to calm down our feelings we decide to climb up to the summit of Teltet nunatak to gather some rock samples and enjoy the fantastic landscape. To climb the steep slopes in this far away remote place felt a bit like climbing Mount Everest (on the base of what I have read about it). It appeared less remote when on the way back we encountered some empty barrels of fuel and some empty cans of food, remains of a Belgian camp of 50 years ago and two Japanese men on skidoos who returned to their camp a few miles away. After today’s excitement we long for another day full of exciting surprises and unforgettable emotions.

Jeroen van Wichelen

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