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Antarctica 2012: Thankful for Freedom

Evidence-of-real-progress

We are all anxious to get home, and we are now officially going to be arriving late. Flights will need to be changed, meetings rescheduled, and we will all miss our loved ones a little longer. We have started repacking our gear in preparation for the trip home. Even though we still have time before the ship feels heavy movement, our delay requires greater care be put into packing. The Aurora will no longer have the luxury of spending a few days in harbor to resupply for the run to Casey Station. The target time for cycling the contents of the ship is now four hours, meaning everything must be packed for rapid removal via crane. This also means that crane containers must be packed in order of priority to allow access to items that must leave the dock the same day they arrive.

It is a good thing our ship will be resupplied before leaving port again.

Our ship has run out of coffee, an event that has prompted us to start calculating the lifespan of other supplies. While we have plenty of fuel and dehydrated food rations, our comfort of living may take a few hits before we arrive home. The selection of fruits and vegetables is decreasing, as is the variety of tea available. The only thing I really find concerning is our dwindling toilet paper supply. I have taken a vow to not take any of our remaining supplies for granted.

The expeditioners aboard have relatively high morale, even in spite of the declining standard of living. Many of us spent Election Day eagerly watching the polls.

There is no internet, radio, or television aboard, so we had to rely on email updates from friends and family. You will see from the photos of our whiteboard we did the best we could with the information that slowly trickled in.

 

It was particularly interesting to compare early election coverage from both the US and Australian news sources.

A much greater boost to morale came when the Aurora finally moved. The last few days on the ice were spent well. The ROV was deployed through a hole cut into the ice, we watched the newest installment in igloo art reach its completion,

saw the sled hill grow slightly,

and the biologists even caught some krill in the ROV hole.

While the final few days at this ice station were nice, they paled in comparison to being underway.

A lead appeared approximately 800 meters ahead of the ship.

It started small, but the ice pack around us relaxed, allowing it to really open up.

This lead presented an opportunity that would not be ignored. With a slight shudder the Aurora slipped off the ice in which she was trapped and started the long journey to freedom.

Travel was initially slow going. At a rate of approximately 20 meters per hour it took nearly two days for us to make our way to the lead. We broke through early one morning and made relatively quick progress northwest.

Progress northwest was welcome, even though Hobart is northeast of our position. We are moving northwest because satellite images show the pack here becomes lighter. The extra distance will be made up over the open ocean, and will most likely save us a considerable amount of time in the long run.

We are cautiously optimistic about our movement through the ice pack. While we cannot ignore the real possibility of being trapped again, our progress has been encouraging. The best case scenario has us entering the marginal ice zone within a day and a half, at which point a barbeque will be held.

We all look forward to this celebration, but more importantly we look forward to milestone it represents. This barbeque will mark the end of the ice pack that has held us so tightly, the end of any foreseeable delays, and the beginning of what we expect will be a rapid trip back home.

Editor’s note: All photos in this post were taken by Christian Sampson.