Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Hi folks, and Happy New Year to you all.

We left harbour at 2pm local time. After 10 hours of navigation, the state of affairs is the following: heading 190 degrees, speed 12 knots calm(ish) sea, rapidly clouding over.

I was told to expect the Astrolabe to roll a lot, and I can confirm that it does. The sea is pretty calm, yet we are rolling constantly between 10 and 20 degrees. I have not yet felt seasick, luckily.

We have been playing games on the aft deck to train our inner ear: running round the helipad, balancing on one leg, standing still in a tai-chi position etc. All this ponctuated by running to the side to gawp at dolfins that come every now and again to play.

We are an hour away from midnight, the sun has set, and champagne is waiting for us in the mess. Happy New Year to you all!

Astrolabe day 1

Hi folks!

Here we are on board the Astrolabe. It is a sunny day in Hobart, Tasmania, and we spent the morning strolling around the harbour. It is yachting season, and there are many great ships that have just finished the Melbourne to Hobart regatta. Some of these look like they cut water really well.

We boarded last night, our fist night of sleep in a horizontal position for three days (long haul flights and all that). Luckily for us the Astrolabe had not finished loading its cargo, so we spent the night in the harbour. No seasickness.

We will be departing in a few hours for the open sea. Large seas are forcast right for New Year's dinner... I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

[No photo attachments are permitted on either outgoing or incoming mail to the ship, so there will be no pictures with my posts until I reach dry land again.]

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Visiting Hong Kong

As you can see from the above photo - taken at the airport shuttle station in central Hong Kong - we did make it out of the airport and into the city after all. It took us some time (over an hour) to figure out how to pass from the Cathay Pacific lounge in the departures area to the outside world. A hint for those who would want to do the same on future trips: go to the Cathay Pacific transfer desk, and ask for a special form. This form will allow you to backtrack your way through the security controls, and get to Hong Kong immigration. From there on it is easy and relatively fast to get to the airport shuttle and then the street.

Hong Kong is full of contradictions, most vividly exemplified by the juxtaposition of ultramodern skyscrapers (see below for an example) with archaic colonial era buildings, and bamboo scaffolding (see even further below). The transport system is a similar hodgepodge of state of the art automated trains, red and white Toyota taxis, and ancient busses, trams and lorries. The city is at once very rich and very poor.

We have now returned to the airport, after six hours of sightseeing, happy, tired and jet-lagged. I am now looking forward to a few hours of rest before our next long-haul flight to Melbourne, Australia.

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Greetings from Hong Kong International Airport

After a long but rather uneventful first leg of our journey, here we
are at Hong Kong International Airport, at the start of a 15 hour
layover before our next flight. The conditions are rather luxurious
compared to what I've been used to. It helps that IPEV (the French
polar institute) organized airline lounge passes for us all.

There are 28 of us currently lounging around the place, all from
different institutes, all going to Antarctica to do different things.
As you might expect from a crowd of scientists and nerds, the
proportion of us tapping on laptop computers as I write is
non-negligible. I guess a nerd remains a nerd even when traveling.

It is sunny here, and quite warm (20C at 9am). Some of our group are
trying to figure out how to manage to leave the airport and do some
sight-seeing in town. If it turns out to be possible, I will probably
do that to, otherwise I'll take advantage of the relative comfort of
the Cathay Pacific lounge to catch up on the sleep I did not get on
the plane.

That's all for now, folks!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Expedition Planning #14 : Tomorrow is the day

The waiting is over. This is the last expedition planning post. Tomorrow at 5:45 am the expedition starts for real.

I shall post when I can, taking advantage of the email-to-blog feature used in this post. As I expect to have access only to text-based email, my posts may not be nicely formatted. Please bare with me. My colleague JJL has agreed to become a co-author on this blog and to fix the worst of the formatting during my absence.

I shall not be able to access the web much if at all, so expect me not to be up to date with what's going on in the blogging world. This also means I shall not be able to read your comments in real-time, though rest assured that I shall read and reply to them upon my return.

I have been looking forward to this expedition for so long! The expedition has two aims: continue work on the permanent seismic station at Concordia (code name CCD), and start the CASE-IPY experiment by deploying three prototype autonomous seismic stations. JY and I will be working flat out from the moment we set foot at Concordia in early January, in order to complete everything on our ambitious to-do list. Not so much, though that I won't be able to savor the experience of being in Antarctica, and share it with you all.

Best wishes to all for the up-coming New Year!

[Photo credit Philippe Noret - AirTeamimages]
Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Expedition Planning #13 : Astrolabe position update

D-Day minus one and a bit: the latest GPS readings have the Astrolabe at 250 nautical miles (290 miles or 560 km) from Hobart (see image above).

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Expedition planning #12 : flight plans

The tickets have been purchased and sent to us, so there should be no further modifications to our departure date of December 28th (in two days' time).

Itinerary on the way out : Strasbourg - Paris - Hong Kong (16 hour layover) - Melbourne (6 hour layover)- Hobart. Itinerary on the way back : Hobart - Sydney - Hong Kong - Paris - Strasbourg (with no significant layovers anywhere).

Our expected arrival date back in Strasbourg is February 19th.

My next task: packing!

Antarctic craziness: marathons at 80S

As I say in my blog description (orange box at the top of the sidebar):

You'd be surprised how many crazy souls are out there...
You don't get much crazier than this: running a marathon and/or a 100km trail at 80S. These marathon runs are aimed exclusively at adventure runners who can shell out the $15k registration price to participate in the only foot-races on the Antarctic continent. They can choose between a 26-mile marathon or an 100km (62 mile) ultra race over snow and ice, at an altitude of 3000ft, with an average temperature (including windchill) of -20°C, and the possibility of strong Katabatic winds. Not for the feint of heart (and definitely not for me!).

The 3rd edition of these races was held on December 20th. The marathon was won by Marc de Keyser from Belgium, in a record breaking time (4h, 42min, 32sec). Only two out of the ten runners who had entered for the 100km ultra race completed the run. Cristian Schiester from Austria took the title in just under 20 hours, while Susan Holliday from Great Britain became the first woman to complete the distance in Antarctica in just over 22 hours. You can find all the results and more information on the races on the Antarctic Ice Marathon website.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, folks!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

It's that time of year again, the decorations are up, the cards are sent, the presents wrapped. This year I have been deficient on the card side, so here is an attempt to make up for things. The picture above was taken in March 2006, on the Southern Indian Ocean island of Crozet, and shows the peaceful co-habitation of Royal Penguins and Elephant Seals. I've turned it into my official 2007 Christmas card.

My thoughts go to my family, with whom I had an early Christmas reunion ten days ago, to my friends and colleagues in Strasbourg, Cambridge, Pasadena and Rome (you know who you are), to our valiant seismic operators at Crozet, Kerguelen, New Amsterdam, Dumont d'Urville and Concordia, and to the folks spending Christmas on the high seas aboard the Astrolabe (current position shown below).

Best wishes to all !

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Antarctic travel: risky business?

Whether for tourism or research, travel in Antarctica is never free from risk. The same could be said, though, of anything. There is a certain level of risk in crossing a road, hiking a trail, riding a bicycle, driving a car, taking a train or a plane. We may or may not acknowledge it consciously, but the risk is there.

Antarctic travel is no different, except for the environmental conditions. Because of these conditions, extra precautions are taken when embarking on any sort of travel, be it on foot, skidoo, tractor, plane or ship. These precautions are designed to reduce the gravity of the consequences of any accident that might occur.

Because of these precautions (be they practice evacuation drills on ships, distance limits on how far from base a sortie can take place, or the obligation to carry radios and spare batteries and to keep in regular contact with the base) the risks involved in any activity in Antarctica are more likely to be acknowledged consciously.

With this acknowledgment comes a certain degree of personal responsibility for one's own safety and the safety of others. Risks are taken, yes, but they are taken with eyes wide open, with all the requisite precautions, and in full knowledge of the potential consequences.

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Expedition Planning #11 : Astrolabe back on the move

Here is the latest position of the Astrolabe. As you an see, it has left Dumont d'Urville and is heading out to the open sea. In five days time it should reach Hobart.

Our departure date of December 28th has been confirmed. We set off on the 7am flight out of Strasbourg. Our route will take us to Paris, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Hobart, where we should arrive on December 30th.

Just a few more small things to take care of, and I'll be good to go.

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Expedition Planning #10 : departure postponed

As you can see from the picture, the Astrolabe is still at Dumont d'Urville. The latest information we have indicates it will set out again on December 23rd.

This means our departure has to be postponed. We'll be flying out on the 28th instead of the 26th. Good news for those celebrating Christmas with their families!

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Where is the Astrolabe?

The Astrolabe, the ship in the image on the left and our transport to Antarctica, is currently at Dumont d'Urville. You can follow its progress on this web page, or using Google Earth and this kml file.

A little while ago, I wrote a post about the new high-resolution images of Antarctica, called LIMA. They have now been integrated into Google Earth. Here is an image of the current position of the Astrolabe superposed on the LIMA image, in which the ship seems to be navigating on sea-ice. The ship's position is given by its on-board GPS, and is updated regularly. On the other hand, the background image is fixed, and shows the winter extent of the sea-ice. In the height of the Antarctic summer (the summer solstice is two days away), the waters around Dumont d'Urville are usually navigable, though dotted with ice.

As soon as it has finished unloading its cargo, the Astrolabe will go back to Hobart, from where it is scheduled to depart again - with me on board - on December 28th. During the next week, I'll be keeping a close watch on its position !

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

7 things you didn't know about me

Oh dear, I just got tagged! There is a meme going round the Geo-Blogosphere, and I just got hit with it. What is a meme, you ask?

In the context of web logs / 'blogs / blogging and other kinds of personal web sites it's some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. [The Daily Meme]
Chris over at Highly Allochthonous answered the current meme (which is to list seven things about one's self), and then tagged me to do the same. I've never played these kinds of games before, and I will probably not be able to play while I'm away, so here goes:

(1) Despite loving sailboats and sailing, I get quite seasick, especially when I'm stuck below deck. This does not bode well for the sea crossing to Antarctica.

(2) I decided to do a PhD in Earth Sciences after tagging onto a field trip to Greece. Before then, I was set on a career in Radio Astronomy. From the Heavens to the solid Earth in some sense.

(3) I hate the cold!

(4) As an undergraduate, I learned to fly gliders, though I would probably be incapable of doing so now.

(5) On my reading list for Antarctica: Simon Winchester (in Italian), Garcia Marquez (in French) and Jared Diamond (in English). I'm not doing too well on the reading in original language score (one out of three).

(6) One winter, instead of building a snowman, some friends and I built a snow Loch Ness monster. After that, I could never go back to snowmen, too boring!

(7) Sismordia isn't my first attempt at blogging, but it's the best yet.

OK, I'm done! (I won't be tagging anyone else with this meme - viral blogging can only go so far before it runs out of steam).

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Expedition planning #9b : Back update

Thanks to those of you who contacted me after my last post. After two days of not being able to sit down comfortably, by back is now on the mend. I will be taking extra care not to strain it again before we leave!

Our departure date of Dec 26th has been confirmed. We should be receiving our plane tickets next week.

Posting will be slow over the next few days as I am having an early Christmas reunion with my family. I'll be back soon...

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Expedition planning #9 : What not to do before setting out

If there is one thing I've been conscious of during the past few weeks of testing, packing and shipping equipment, it has been to take great care when lifting heavy objects. With the last of our cases shipped (all 200kg), was quite pleased with myself for not hurting my back by any incorrect lifting.

That is, until two days ago. We had run out of printer paper on my floor, so I went down to the paper-deposit room and stupidly reached over a pile of junk to pick up several boxes' worth... and strained my lower back... Doh!

Not the most intelligent thing in the world to be doing 12 days before departure...

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Monday, December 10, 2007

Concordia data acquisition systems

After last week's post on the RefTek digitizer that we shall use extensively for the CASE-IPY experiment, here is a short post on the digital acquisition systems used by the permanent station at Concordia (CCD).

The permanent station uses two digitizers made by Quanterra - Kinemetrics: the Q4120 (big orange box on the bottom shelf) and the Q330 HR (thin orange box on the left of the top shelf) with its external hard disk called a Baler (squat orange box on the right of the top shelf).

They are two very different generations of machines, the Q330HR is newer than the Q4120, but their purpose is the same:

  • to receive analog signals directly from the seismometers (voltage being proportional to the velocity of the ground),
  • to digitize them (turn voltages into bit-counts that can be recorded onto hard-disks or data tapes),
  • and to date them accurately using the time given by a GPS receiver.
The quality of a digitizer contributes greatly to the overall quality of a seismic station. These two are some of the best in their class.

We shall have work to do on both of these digitizers, to configure them to talk to the SeisComP system that is supposed to make it easier to retrieve and archive the data they record. We have prepared for this by setting up identical systems here in our lab in Strasbourg and going through the entire configuration procedure from A to Z. We suspect, though, that going through the procedure at Concordia will be a bit more difficult given both the cold and the lower oxygen level up there!

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Small steps count !

In two weeks or so, I will he heading off to do some dubious field experiment in seismology, in a less-than-practical field area. And what do I expect we will learn from such an experiment? What will make the deployment a success?

You may have read previous posts about the objectives of seismological investigation in Antarctica, which mostly involve improvements in our knowledge of its crustal and lithospheric structure, and in our understanding of the inner core. But before we even get to the analysis part, our first great success would be in obtaining data in the first place.

There is so little data available from Antarctica, that any good quality recordings we can make will be valuable. After that, any inference we can make from that data will be icing on the cake. In any case, East Antarctica will not be "solved" during the International Polar Year. We may hit some of our research targets, we may not, but what is almost certain is that we will dig up more questions.

I read a couple of things last week that brought home to me how science advances only one small step at a time, with many findings only appearing after many years of consistent observation. Unfortunately, what today's society wants - and what funding agencies ask for more and more - are predictable results, within two or three years max. It is also getting harder and harder to publish observations without having to come up with some revolutionary interpretation for them. None of this is doing science itself any good.

There are many voices saying similar things. Here are two recent ones:

The author of the Clastic Detritus blog has just defended his PhD thesis on sedimentary geology. Two days before his thesis defense, he posted a piece on how doing science is being like a cog in a giant wheel.

I think people (some scientists included) need to understand how science progresses — through incremental steps over long periods. Yes, there are certainly big leaps (breakthroughs) that are attributed to individuals or small groups of researchers, but those need to be considered within the context of the incremental progression. [...]

Doing science is being a small cog in a giant wheel. Unfortunately, it seems this view is taken rather negatively nowadays. As if being a part of something bigger takes away from individuality. I think that’s a bogus viewpoint. If what I do ends up getting acknowledged beyond my small specialist clique, that’s great! But, I don’t expect it to. I’m not in science for fortune and glory. Surely, I would enjoy the accolades and try to capitalize on it (i.e., get more funding to do more), but visions (delusions) of grandeur certainly don’t motivate me.

In last week's edition of Nature there is a commentary piece by Euan Nisbet on Earth monitoring as Cinderella science. Although the article is focused on the problem of environmental monitoring, much of it is also relevant to solid Earth monitoring such as is carried out by seismological observatories around the world.
Monitoring is science's Cinderella, unloved and poorly paid. Sustaining a long-term, ground-based program that demands high analytical standards remains challenging. Funding agencies are seduced either by 'pure' notions of basic science as hypothesis-testing, or by the satanic mills of commercial reward. Neither motive fosters 'dull' monitoring because meeting severe analytical demands is not seen as a worthwhile investment. At one stage, Keeling was ordered to guarantee two discoveries per year and today, modern research has become a planned journey through set 'milestones' to deliverable destinations.
What should be taken from all this. Only one message: each step counts, and though the big ones may be flashy, it is the small ones that take you where you're going.

Photo credit: photo modified from an image of JĂșlio Reis.

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Friday, December 7, 2007

ConCorDia is official

The permanent station at Concordia now officially exists. We registered it this week at the International Registry of Seismograph Stations under the station code CCD (ConCorDia).

Here are the details of the station:

  • Latitude: 75.1065 S
  • Longitude: 123.305 E
  • Elevation: 3240.0 m

This station is part of the French-Italian Concordia project. It is jointly funded by IPEV (F) and ENEA (I), and is jointly operated by EOST Strasbourg (F) and INGV Rome (I).

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Expedition Planning #8 : The last of the equipment is configured

The past two days have been spent getting this funny-looking computer talking to two different machines, copies of the two acquisition systems currently running at the permanent seismic station at Concordia.

The function of this SeisComP computer is to obtain data in real time from recording systems connected to the two seismometers in the Concordia seismic vault, and to retransmit them in a standard format to any number of client machines. We shall install it at the station next month.

This machine is the last of the equipment that needed to be configured for our summer campaign. Yay!

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

International Polar Day - Ice Sheets

Ever heard of International Polar Days? They are a response from the IPY organization to journalists and teachers looking for ways to talk about the International Polar Year. During IP Days, there will be press releases, access to experts and to researchers in the field, images
and videos etc.

The next IP Day will be focused on Ice Sheets, and will occur on December 13th.

Here are some interesting ice-sheet facts:

  • there are only two ice sheets on the planet: one in Greenland, the other (you guessed it) in Antarctica;
  • cores drilled in ice-sheets are records of past climate; the longest record comes from a core drilled at Dome C (near Concordia) by the EPICA project;
  • there is a network of lakes under a large part of the Antarctic ice-sheet; the largest one is Lake Vostok; liquid water is thought to move between them relatively rapidly.
There's a lot more to learn about ice-sheets than is already known. For example: how do they work? How are they formed? What might the effects of global warming be? Are sub-glacial lakes really interconnected? There are over 20 different IPY projects and experiments focused on the ice-sheets. You can find a list here. Some of them, including the Norwegian-US Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica, keep blogs and web journals. As Antarctic field season is getting under way right now, these are worth reading.

Will there be an IP-Day on my kind of research? Probably not. The one that comes closest will be held on March 13th 2008, and will concern the changing Earth, ice, climate, oceans, paleo-climate and Earth history. With all the climate change angles possible on this IP-Day, I fear any mention of Solid Earth history will be pretty feeble, but I'll do my best ...

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Data acquisition for CASE (and html test)

This post has been re-edited to remove abortive formating from an emailed html post.

The picture above shows a RefTek-130 DAS (digital acquisition system) with all the cables and connections we will be using next month. Except that next month the DAS will not be on a table, with its companion electronics spaced out around it, but crammed in a box with 20cm of insulation on all sides.

The DAS is made by Refraction Technology who are based in Plano, Texas.

All the cables are specially made using silicone instead of ordinary cable covering material. At the temperatures we will be deploying our station at (-30 to -40C) only silicone cables will still be flexible enough to be installed without too much risk of them snapping.

During the winter months (May to October) the temperatures will descend to about -80C. At these temperatures even silicone cables will be stiff and brittle. This means there is no way of moving them without risking breakage, even if it were possible to visit the stations in the dark.

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Ice-raids, or how stuff gets to Concordia

This is a photo of the IPEV Raid, the ice-convoy that IPEV runs regularly between Dumont d'Urville and Concordia. The convoy takes approximately 10 days to cover the 1100 km that separate these two bases. It carries the hundreds of tons of material and fuel required to run Concordia, and the scientific experiments it supports.

Just over one ton the freight carried by the various Raids of this Antarctic summer is for CASE-IPY: seismometers, acquisition systems, radios, electronics, wooden boxes for station installation, solar panels, masts (for radio antennas and solar panels), and batteries.

The last of our equipment is now on our way to Dumont d'Urville on the second crossing of the Astrolabe (called R1 - counting starts at 0). It should then meet up with the second Raid (called Raid2 - counting starts at 1) at Dumont, and arrive at Concordia by the end of December, just in time for us to unpack it all and start working.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Testing communications options

Having a blog is all well and good, but it would be of little use as
a window on the experience of doing seismology in Antarctica if it
was not possible to update it from down there. The main limiting
factor is internet access. I will be without it for most of the time
I'll be away.

However, all is not lost. I am told that email access is possible,
with emails being exchanged over satellite links once or twice daily,
both during the ship crossings, and at the Concordia base itself.
Blogger provides a feature for sending posts in by email, which I am
using right now to send this post.

This is a text-only email, with a photo attachment that should appear
somewhere in the post. If this format is readable I'll continue with
it, as text emails can be sent from any application. If not, then I
may have to write my mails in html. The next few posts will be tests
of how posting-via-email works in practice.

Now for the photo: this is a picture of one of the means of
transport we will have out there. It is a twin otter aircraft, of
the kind that will ferry JY and me up to Concordia from Dumont
d'Urville. It was taken by another colleague of mine, JB, who went
on several missions up to Concordia before the base was fully built.


For those of you not in the geophysics loop, AGU stands for the American Geophysical Union, and more specifically for the Fall Meeting of said union, which is held yearly in San Francisco. It is a gigantic meeting, bringing together between 10 and 12 thousand researches in all fields of geophysics.

I usually attend every year (I have missed only one in the past 8 years), but this year getting ready for Antarctica trumped over spending a week in San Francisco. Although I shall not be physically present, there will be some emanation of me in the form of a poster about the CASE-IPY experiment, and about seismology at Concordia in general.

Following are excepts from the poster, freely re-formated for online viewing. Also available are the official AGU abstract and the poster itself.

Scientific Objectives of CASE-IPY

The East Antarctica POLENET network of which the CASE-IPY deployment is a part (station map) will provide unprece dented coverage, allowing us to:

  1. Improve our knowledge of regional crustal structure. Crustal thickness measurements will help trace the boundaries of the units that make up East Antarctica, enhancing our comprehension of the formation and breakup of Gondwana.
  2. Improve our knowledge of regional lithospheric structure. The network will allow lateral variations in the structure of East Antarctica to be imaged at higher resolution than previously possible using both earthquake and ambient noise.
  3. Improve our sampling for inner core studies. Analysis of inner core anisotropy and heterogeneity requires seismic paths nearly parallel to the Earth's rotation axis. The deployment of stations in Antarctica will dramatically increase the number of available paths.

Concordia Permanent Station

Concordia is the site of an experimental permanent seismic observatory station, which has been operational since 2005. The extreme temperatures present at the site (-60 degrees C) imply difficult operating conditions for the seismological equipment. The quality of the data we obtain from this station has been steadily improving as we resolve the technical issues related to working at such low temperatures.

2007-2008 Summer Campaign

This year we shall deploy three prototype stations within a 10 km radius of Concordia. Each station contains a broad-band seismometer, a data recorder, a radio transmitter, solar panels, batteries, heating elements and power control electronics. Each box is protected by 16-20 cm of insulation. Data is telemetered to Concordia once a day. At sundown, when the battry charge falls below a cut-off level, the stations will shut down; they will wake up in the spring, when the solar panels have re-charged the batteries.

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Expedition Planning #7 : The final countdown

D-Day (or departure day) as given by our marching orders is December 26th. While most of you will be sleeping off Christmas and settling in to a relaxing Boxing Day, JY and I will be making our way to Strasbourg airport at the crack of dawn to start our journey to Concordia.

What will we be doing in our last three weeks before departure? It's a classic case of "so much to do, so little time"... We have pared down the remaining tasks to the bare essentials. For me these are:

  • finish configuring the remaining equipment that we will take down there;
  • get an article I am writing with colleagues in the US to a point at which they can move it forward during my absence;
  • brief my colleague JJL (who is also PI on the CASE-IPY project that is taking me to Antarctica) on the current state of a masters project we are co-supervising;
  • get home for an early family Christmas (this also means finding time for early Christmas shopping);
  • buy essentials for the journey and pack my bags.

I would like to say I am calm, collected and efficient right now, and that all this will be done with no stress or panic. The reality is somewhat different. I seem to be going through phases of being entirely with it, calm and efficient, followed by phases in which I feel like I am going in circles and am incapable of doing anything right.

My advice to myself in these cases: breathe! And remember that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step...

Keep up to date with the latest developments at

High Resolution Antarctica Images

There has been a lot of buzz around the web recently about new high resolution imagery of Antarctica, called Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA). LIMA was created by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and NASA, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Follow the links to read the official press releases from the USGS, BAS, and NASA.

As an example of the quality of images available from LIMA, here is a false-color map of the region surrounding the French permanent Antarctic station Dumont d'Urville. The false-color map incorporates infrared data, which makes it easier to distinguish between ice and snow. Each pixel in the image represents a 15x15m area.

In this image, South is approximately up. You can see the difference between the glaciers sitting behind Dumont d'Urville, and the sea-ice sitting in front of it. In winter the sea-ice completely shuts off the base from the water. As there is no airfield, just a small landing area for Twin Otters and helicopters, all cargo and most people must get to and from the base by ship. The base is accessible only during the summer months, when the sea-ice retreats.

I have been told that the first trips of the year, usually end of October, are the most spectacular. The Astrolabe (the ice-capable ship used to reach Dumont from Hobart in Australia) has to navigate between plates of sea-ice, and some years cannot get to the base itself. In these cases, if the ice-pack is not too wide, people and light cargo is ferried over to Dumont by helicopter. Sometimes the ice-pack is too wide, and the ship has to turn around and go back.

The crossing my colleague JY and I are booked on is due to sail from Hobart on December 28th. We will most likely reach Dumont on the 1st or 2nd of January, at the height of the Antarctic summer. Our chances of finding sea-ice are minimal, but we may if we are lucky get good views of the larger icebergs that will not have drifted too far or melted too much by that time. I am very much looking forward to that!