Blog: Expedition plan Antarctica changed: Polarstern returns to dock

The researchers on expedition to Antarctica have a technical problem with one of Polarstern’s two propellers. This changes the expedition plan to Antarctica.

Photo: Two Adélie Penguins inspect the ICEFLUX team working on the fast ice (left to right: André, Julia, Fokje, Giulia, Bram)

Our previous Blog of the 2nd of January ended with the story of the pumping of diesel for Neumayer Sation to fuel containers on the high shelf ice and concluded that further developments were ‘ice and weather dependent’. At the time, it appeared somewhat premature to tell you about a technical problem with one of Polarstern’s two propellers as we hoped the problem could be fixed. 

Problem with our port-side propeller

In between Christmas and New Year, during our attempts to break the fast ice to make a way to the iceshelf, a technical problem came up with our port-side propeller. Polarstern regulates forward or backward power by changing the pitch of the propeller blades. On our left propeller, the blades at some stage became firmly fixed in backward position and could no longer be controlled. With all capacities the crew has attempted to fix the problem, but this proved only partially possible. They managed to shift the propeller blades to the forward position, but they had to be fixed as such and can no longer move. So, the good news is that in open water it’s no problem to use both propellers to steam ahead. But the ship is poorly manoeuvrable and can hardly move astern, both highly important functions for an icebreaker in heavy ice conditions.

Polarstern, a small dot along the iceshelf near Neumayer (foto 2007-08).
Polarstern, a small dot along the iceshelf near Neumayer (foto 2007-08).

Dock repair unavoidable

For proper repair, Polarstern has to be dry docked, which at such short term was not really possible in “nearby” African or South American harbours. Therefore, in the end the decision had to be made that after the Neumayer resupply we should abandon our plan for heavy sea ice work and ending our cruise in South America. Instead, we will steam along a reasonably ice-free track to the north and then back to Cape Town. There we will be dropped, with Polarstern moving on to Bremerhaven to be docked there for repairs.

Fuel pumping

But first, we still have to pump the fuel for Neumayer ashore. Weather conditions do not really help. Not that we have real stormy weather, but it has been blowing just too much for several days already. On the iceshelf, the wind causes permanently drifting snow which hampers the work for the Neumayer crew and also complicates flying the helicopters. The wind is north to east, which pushes sea-ice to the coast which makes it difficult for the limping Polarstern to keep its position. The low pressure areas that cause these circumstances seem to have firmly nested themselves to the north of us. We’ll simply have to wait for an opportunity to finalise the fuel resupply.
The helicopter transports items for the fuel operations above the ship on the high shelf ice.
The helicopter transports items for the fuel operations above the ship on the high shelf ice.

Half expedition

Clearly all of this means that much of our planned research in the dense sea-ice areas of the Weddell Sea are no longer possible. On our way to Cape Town we do hope to realise some research stations in relatively open water conditions. However, also for those our time is running out. We now plan to arrive in Cape Town early February. That date hardly differs from our original time schedule. In time for research we may lose about  half of our expedition. But the next team, expecting to go on a geological research cruise from Punta Arenas in Chile, can stay home. We are still the lucky ones.

Bram came up with the fun idea that we should make “shelfies” that is selfies with the iceshelf in the background. In this picture Anton and Bram cheat a bit, as the ice in the back is part of a tabular iceberg, once part of the shelf, but no longer so!
Bram came up with the fun idea that we should make “shelfies” that is selfies with the iceshelf in the background. In this picture Anton and Bram cheat a bit, as the ice in the back is part of a tabular iceberg, once part of the shelf, but no longer so!
André was the first to make a real shelfie, the white in the back is really the shelf ice!
André was the first to make a real shelfie, the white in the back is really the shelf ice!

Making good use of our time

Meanwhile, on board and at home, many are busy with the reorganising flights and hotels. Evidently, we are trying to make optimal use of our waiting time her. Several ice stations on fast ice were added, and we made an additional trawl with the RMT net. On the ship, while some are sorting out earlier samples, others are computer processing and analysing their data. Michiel has made two extra wind panels along our observation boxes on the monkey deck, providing extra shelter against unfavourable wind directions.

Michiel has made us two extra wind panels alongside the observation boxes.
Michiel has made us two extra wind panels alongside the observation boxes.

Thus we are still busy. But also, this gives some more time for photography. For example I can really go for my lifelong addiction to petrels from the polar areas. Modern equipment allows pictures one could only dream of in the old days. Such use of our time here confirms the global validity of one of Johan Cruijfs famous quotes: ‘Every disadvantage has its advantage’.

Jan Andries van Franeker, 7 JanuarY 2015

Neumayer Shelf ice edge; 70°31’South – 08°50’West; Air temperature -4°C

Reacties 1

  • Harma Bouwman

    Ik hoop je nog eens te ontmoeten!
    Harma


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