One chance only
One of the hardest parts about working here in this vast remoteness is being able to let go. It is 50 years since a science team has visited this area of the Antarctic, and it may be 50 years till the next. How heartbreaking it is then to see equipment fail or components that just don't make the mark.
Location: 77º 38’ S, 1º 48’ E
Weather: All clear, -33 C, wind 9 kts
How many spares and backups are enough? (Actually I am of the opinion that our logistics team are more valuable than a plethora of backups). How to justify missing a day of radar measurements or not coring for longer? And how on earth to decide when the losses just have to be cut and we have to move on regardless?
We are 6 scientists, each with our own special interest and needs. You read a few days ago about loosing the drill and the tremendous effort that went into retrieving it. This cost extra unplanned days that will put pressure on us during the long drive to Kohnen, especially if vehicles or radars need repairs. But without the drill, the coring activities would be over, and a significant and highly valuable potion of our science would be forfeited, a loss that would have consequences beyond the ice core group. Each science activity complements the others. The shallow radar can be used to trace layers between core sites, whilst the cores can be used to date the layers seen by the radar. The deep radar provides the necessary ice thickness measurement to be able to infer from the gravity measurements the type of material underlying the ice whether it be rock, sediments or water. Each science question is as stimulating as the next, each deserved of attention, and all require more than one approach to be addressed.
In the end it is the calendar that drives us. We have to meet the boat at the shelf edge and catch the plane out from Troll before winter descends. It is the logistics team that subtly keeps us in check with this reality. How fantastic it would be to achieve 100% of our goals. But even by attaining a fraction of what we set out to, we will discover the climate of times gone by, unravel the secrets of snow, chart 100s of kilometres of unknown land and, no doubt, entice future visits.
For this merry band, life is full of routines requiring constant observation, maintenance and refinement, this lying in a delicate balance with getting enough sleep to be able to maintain the necessary high level of initiative and enthusiasm. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made one way or the other.
We have one chance only. As we pass each spot it becomes as yesterday, beyond our reach and not to be regretted. We learn in leaps and bounds as we travel, not only about the continent over which we traverse, but also about our instruments and methods, and not least about the hugely valuable qualities of perseverance, adaptation and cooperation. Although we strive for perfection in our work, sometimes we just have to let go, and that's ok.
P.S. Despite the woes and worries of the scientists, the hardest job I am sure goes to the extremely competent logistics crew whom have demands from all sides and yet manage to deftly turn themselves to any challenge that arises with patience and amazing insight. I take my hat off to them with respect and gratitude.
The expedition leader lets go! Not every minute can be spent on science…