Maximilien Desservettaz is on V1 - diary from the Aurora Australis!
Today, Saturday 4th of November 2017, is day 7 on voyage 1 from Hobart to Davis and back onboard the Aurora Australis. It is the first day I have been able to sit down at my computer because of sea-sickness or the side effects of the sea-sickness patches and tablets.
On Sunday 29th of October, my birthday and day 1 of the voyage, the ship left Hobart and went to wait within Adventure Bay in the lee of Bruny Island. This one-and-a-half-day stop was to avoid up to 15m swell south of Tasmania. Some panic on my side as I could not locate the filters for the mercury sampling manifold. Eventually, an email from the instrument owner meant I could locate and set up the sampling, into the night.
From day 3, as we left the comfort of Adventure bay, my day was mostly alternating between lying in bed and feeding myself. I would do a quick run to the instruments ensuring they were still running before running back to lie on my bed.
Other than that, the ship is full, carrying the summer crew for Davis and Mawson stations. So many faces and names. I remember the faces, but so few names stick though.
Monday 13th of November. Approaching Davis. We’ve have been going through the ice for the last 3 days. Spectacular is insufficient to describe the landscapes that sea-ice and icebergs create. It is just mesmerising, and added to the ever-lasting daylight as we go south, I am starting to accumulate some sleep deficiency. But the crew on the bridge is getting to know me better.
Two days ago, on Saturday, we had some celebrations on-board. The newbies like me, who haven't passed 60S on the ocean before were, upon approval, submitted to several rituals to appease King Neptune, protector of the southern-ocean. This was followed by 50 or so passengers running to shower and use the 3 washing machines. Those festivities were followed by an outdoor BBQ and a Special Occasion (this being our 1 opportunity for an alcohol drink on this leg of the voyage). I had been craving for a cider for over a week and it was all so worth it.
Another spectacular thing to witness is the wildlife. Though, most of it is recorded while being highly frightened by the passage of the ship. But it makes for some comical penguin runaway scenes.
The ice has been a much-welcomed sight for me, as the ocean seemed to be stretching on forever, and I was struggling to keep morale up. We are due to meet the fast-ice of Davis late tonight. Exciting times!
Sunday 19th of November. Our arrival on Tuesday morning was a record for the AAD. Less than 9 hours of breaking through the fast-ice, when it can sometimes take up to 5 days. Cargo and refuelling have also been very smooth. As of today, over half the RTA (return to Australia) cargo is already on-board, and we are due to leave on Tuesday.
But arriving at Davis has also meant a first abrupt, then more gradual depletion of the expeditioners still on board, from 105 on Tuesday down to 23 today. The ship feels empty. On top of this, strict regulations surrounding people’s movements during resupply operations have made things altogether quite difficult psychologically. I am very much homesick at the moment. Hopefully, as we turn around and start our journey back to the Australia, daily routines will resume onboard the Aurora Australis.
One last thing for today, the galley and its three chefs were already serving us delicious meals while the ship was full. But with now a quarter of passengers left, they are surpassing themselves making it really difficult not to overeat during meals!
Tuesday 28th of November. We turned around and left Davis behind a week ago. Three days or so to leave the realm of Antarctica and sea-ice before re-entering the open ocean. The ride so far has been very smooth – nothing compared to the way down. We have even got an ETA for “tie-up” to port: 10AM on Sunday. But our current speed will have us near Tasmania by Saturday afternoon. Probably another night anchored in Adventure bay, with access to mobile networks and therefore internet.
Round trippers and winterers returning together leaving only 24 passengers; less than a quarter compared to the 106 that we were going down south. The atmosphere is more relaxed and quiet. No longer the excitement of meeting Antarctica or the never-ending trainings and briefings. Yet, somehow, the days feel shorter. The instruments I am looking after have been running like clockwork, with the exception of the MAX-DOAS software trying to overwrite its own data – good thing that we do daily checks and data backups.
I finally, at the age of 27, got to witness my first Auroras. These are truly a spectacular phenomenon, but you cannot stop the scientist reminding oneself that we owe auroras to the solar wind bringing highly energised particles to interact with the Earth's magnetic field, down the magnetic lines, to energise the molecules of the top of our atmosphere…
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