Tag Archives: Ronne Ice Shelf

I-Beam and the Ronne Ice Shelf

I had thought of a lot of humorous titles for this blog post – “Three men and a caboose” “The big, the flat and the white” “The one Ronne” “Antarctic Bin Men” etc but settled on I-Beam and the Ronne Ice Shelf.  I have just got back from my main project of this (Antarctic) summer season called “I-Beam”, based on the Ronne Ice Shelf.  This project was a traverse that was purely logistics, cleaning up from previous large drilling projects and putting equipment and fuel in place for a drilling project at a depot called “Beamish” in 2017.  I had no idea what to expect as I flew out to meet Tim and Dave who had already been out there for quite a few weeks.  All I knew was that I would have to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to look for crevassing when we were travelling on new routes and we would be living in a Caboose (Caravan on skis).  During the two months I was with the project we would also have an airdrop of fuel from the RAF and meet a german ship called the polarstern to offload some cargo and give them a vast amount of Antarctic rubbish.  I flew in a few days before christmas and was quickly struck by the vast whiteness of being on an ice shelf and the vast amounts of equipment we had.  If you have images of Antarctica with dog sleds and fur mittens you should probably stop reading now.IMG_7557 One of the tractors (some of my skiing friends might recognise these pisten bullies) towing the caboose.  There are actually a few other sledges behind the caboose here but they’re covered in snow.  One of the realities of living with everything on the roof of your house in boxes is that it always takes a long time to find anything.


Inside the caboose looking towards the kitchen


Inside the caboose. The square holes at the back are the bunks with normal sized single mattresses. We didnt keep much personal stuff inside the caboose, just a shelfs worth in the red lockers and some personal stuff in your bunk with you.


Christmas dinner anyone?  Yep – thats parsnips, brussel sprouts, turkey, stuffing and roast potatoes.  IMG_7338Tim (traverse leader) sorting out his Lego advent calendar.  Christmas eve was spent putting together lego space ships.
IMG_7342Dave looking very happy about the Stella Artois and a large cheese board.  IMG_7349Tim and Dave tucking into Christmas Dinner (we had a bit more than just the boil in the bag stuff in the other image.  A big bottle of port and the Father Ted Christmas special on the laptop.IMG_7355My skidoo with Radar sledge.  Christmas turned out to be a brief respite from moving lots of very heavy stuff around or driving for very long days.  When travelling on unknown areas I would drive the Skidoo in front of the tractors looking for any signs of crevassing.  Driving days were usually 10-15 hours long with one 30min break to refuel the machines and ourselves.
IMG_7544-HDRMy view on a driving day – the flat white and the GPR screen and GPS.  Driving in a straight line whilst simultaneously looking at the GPS, the GPR and the ground in front of me turned out to be the main challenge.  Needless to say I got through a lot of music and audiobooks on my Ipood.IMG_7561One of the pisten bullies with 3 sledges loaded with rubbish headed for our meeting with the Polarstern.  (The red blob behind is another skidoo on a different type of sledge covered with snow)
IMG_7807Dave adopting the co-passenger position.  On known routes I did some driving to give Dave or Tim a break or slept/read in their passenger seats.  The pisten bullies would travel at about 10-12km an hour but can tow around 50 tonsIMG_7706Getting fuel in place.  A major part of our work on the Ronne was getting supplies in place for the future.  The Pisten Bully here is driving up to a berm already loaded with fuel barrels towing 120 200L barrels.  Everything is put on berms so that the snow doesnt drift over the top of it.
IMG_7774 The flat white with a line of berms.  This is the “Three Ronnes Depot” near the ice shelf edge.  By the time we were finished the line of berms was over 2km long.  The tiny black dot on the left of the skyline is the Caboose.IMG_7749Unloading barrels with the Pisten Bully.

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Meeting the Polarstern

One of the major jobs for the I-Beam traverse was to meet the Polarstern to offload cargo and load all the rubbish and empty fuel drums we had from previous years.  The arrival of the ship was brought forward by 10 days after they made good headway through the ice (burning 45 tons of fuel a day!!) making for a busy 24hrs for us culminating in Dave and I finding a route off the iceshelf and down onto the sea ice.
IMG_7582 Dave driving out to the Polarstern on the first misty morning.  I never really got used to walking or driving on the sea ice even though it was over a meter thick.IMG_7587 Three staff from one of BAS’s other bases flew in to help us.  In the image above you can see Denzel walking back to the pisten bully in soft snow.  IMG_7589 Tim and the three guys from Halley stayed on board while Dave and I stayed in the Caboose.  They were put up in the hospital ward which had one of the best showers ever (or maybe it was just because we hadnt washed in a while)IMG_7591 We were treated like royalty onboard with endless food and drink.  Drinks with captain (front left) turned into rather a long night of free drinks.IMG_7603 Tim looking a bit tired and sunburnt in the middle of the bar.  I dont think there was a single moment this night were any of us didnt have at least two drinks on the go.IMG_7607Midnight sun from the deck of the Polarstern.  The caboose was at the top of the ramp with the tracks created by the endless coming and going of the vehicles.
IMG_7616 The Ship from the top of the rampIMG_7618 It was amazing to be standing on the ice offloading cargo while the ship wasnt even moored to anything.  The Polarstern is double hulled and can carry fuel between the two hulls and can break ice up to 7m thick.IMG_7625 Fuel bladders ready to be towed back to camp.  Each bladder is just under 6000L (yes that is the right amount of zeros)IMG_7627 Generosity.  Crisps, beer and coke to add to our rations!IMG_7629 The Halley boys, Silver, Tom and Denzel (any photo captions welcome).  Having been working in a team of three for a few weeks it was amazing having these guys with us for ten days, especially when lifting science gear weighing 500kg.IMG_7651 Denzel saying a last goodbyeIMG_7663 The two pisten bullies double heading (both pulling at once) to get 4 of the fuel bladders up the ramp after the ship had left.IMG_7666 Tim and Silver in deep thought over an unhappy Pisten Bully the day the Polarstern left.  I think Tim was happy to have another “Mech” along for a while.  As someone who doesnt work on their own vehicle I find it amazing that these guys were taking engines to bits in the middle of the Ronne Ice shelf.IMG_7668A very happy team after a busy 4 days.  Then it was just lots of sorting to do!

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