And there was night again

The first sunset of the new year

As many of you noticed, I have been quiet over the past two weeks and the reason for this has a lot to do with today. I am writing this blog on the day, when the Sun will set for the first time again, having bathed Neumayer and the Atka-Bay in eternal sunshine over the past six weeks. For filmmakers this means that there is always light and always something to film, so we have spent a large amount of time outside, filming up to 15 hours a day for two consecutive weeks. The only time we spent at Neumayer was when we got back in order to eat and sleep. So, while you all were waiting for a new blog post we have been getting some really great footage of this place and the penguins and also got a really nice tan – at least on our faces ;).

A lot has happened since the last blog post and I will try to shortly summarize the major events. You might have noticed that these lines are written in English. There were so many people asking me about offering this blog in English, that I have decided to switch languages from now on. Soon everything will also be translated into German as well, but I believe for now I will reach a larger audience and hopefully you will be happy with this choice :).

Soon after the New Year, the big AWI icebreaker Polarstern arrived at Atka-Bay and brought a year’s worth supply of all the things you need to run a research station for an entire year. Incredible amounts of food and spare parts for technical facilities as well as one repaired Pistenbully and our personal Zargesboxes. The latter was eagerly awaited by many of the new winterers, since the we all put our personal belongings in there. For me this meant, that I now finally have access to all of my photo gear again and I could finally photograph with a battery grip again – for weight reasons I had put the grips for my cameras inside the Zargesboxes and did not bring them in my flight baggage. Stupid idea, let me tell you ;).

Looking at the filled up storage rooms now it is hard to believe, that we will consume these incredible amounts of food over the course of a year and it really makes you wonder how over six billion people can be fed by one single planet, if twelve (+ guests in the summer) of us already need seven to six shipping containers full of food. One very nice aspect of this however is, that we finally have fresh fruit and fresh eggs again as well as milk that has not suffered from being deep-frozen. It will cause little lumps to form inside of it, which do not taste bad but do not look nice either.

About two weeks ago after Polarstern had left, the sea ice of Atka Bay started breaking apart and our ramp onto the sea ice was not accessible anymore. Consequently all of our work is taking place on the shelf ice for now, but there are still some emperor penguins left who have made their way up here – a thing which I had never seen before, but which has been happening for a few years now. The last days on the sea-ice were pretty magical though with some very nice light and even some drifting snow. When loose snow gets blown across the surface of the sastrugi structured sea ice, it looks like thousands of snakes are crawling towards you and it is just one of the most breathtaking sights. I can’t wait for these moods in winter time when the Sun is low above the horizon and illuminates the drift, transforming it into an orange glow. I’ll make sure to take photos and short video clips of it for all of you.

While we were spending a lot of time on the shelf close to a place that we call North-East pier, I also had the first whale encounter of my life. When I wintered at Neumayer for the first time in 2012 some of my colleagues were treated to seeing orcas close to the North pier one day. When we went there the following day however, they had left already, which was quite a disappointment at that time. Now I can say, that for the past two weeks, that we have spent at the North-East pier, we have seen Orcas or Minke whales every(!!) single day, that we were out there. On two days we even got some amazing swim-bys by the whales with them surfacing really close to us, spyhopping and exploring the bay. These encounters were definitely amongst the most special ones I have ever had with wildlife in my entire life and all the disappointment from 2012 has completely vanished. In fact, I am quite certain, that we got treated to some of the best sightings of Orcas in the wild you could hope for.

One thing which is definitely worth mentioning is the long period of good weather we have had for the past couple of weeks. Aside from three days, when the wind exceeded 20 knots for a few hours, we have not had any major storms whatsoever and could spend a lot of time outside. With the high temperatures, barely below freezing and almost non-existent wind, the days actually felt quite warm and only once we dipped below -10°C so far. With the Sun now setting for longer and longer periods of time, this situation will change rapidly though and I expect that within one month, -15°C will be a normal temperature for us. Going further into March and April -20°C to -30°C will surely hit us multiple times along the way and I will finally be able to give my new gloves a good testing. The good thing about this will be, that I won’t have to torture my face with copious amounts of sunscreen anymore!

With the last plane that arrived, station life has become quite busy as well. Currently we are around 55 people here and it’s by far the highest number I have ever experienced at Neumayer (which I think is true for some other Neumayer „veterans“ as well). As a consequence there are lines at lunch and dinner time and the washing machines are constantly occupied. The next plane is scheduled to arrive in around two weeks, but this time the amount of people at station will be dramatically reduced and the last weeks of Antarctic summer will begin. Until then, some portions of the station will be transformed: two storage rooms have already been changed into living quarters and now offer 8 additional beds for people to sleep in the station.

A very important event last week was the official handover of the station from the old to the new wintering team on Saturday. In the evening there was an official ceremony with everybody on station and speeches were given by the operations manager as well as the team leaders of the new and the old wintering teams. While all of this happened Lindsay and I were outside filming, but looking at the photos and videos of that night, it seemed like it was a very relaxed and cheerful celebration. The wintering teams exchanged T-shirts with their logos on them and while one group is excited about going home and seeing their friends and family again after 14 months in Antarctica, the other group is excited about the upcoming winter and having the station completely for themselves. Funny to think about how two groups in the same place are looking forward to something completely different :).

Personally, I am feeling much better now after having had a day of rest and finally being able to call my wife and parents again and catching up with my email and photos, the latter of which I was only downloading off the SD cards and backing up on multiple harddrives. I believe I have captured quite a few very nice and unique moments and I am looking forward to revealing some of them to you soon. I have also gotten a few questions about the gear I am using in Antarctica and I will soon give you some more detailed information on that. So far everything has been working flawlessly and I hope that this will continue to be the case throughout the winter as well. Keep your fingers crossed :).

So that’s a short update from the end of the world. We’ll be enjoying the first sunset of the season tonight around midnight and since there are not very many clouds currently, we might actually be able to witness the event. Looking forward to all of your responses, your questions or just your greetings and I’ll do my very best to answer all of them in a timely manner. BTW, if you would like to check out our current weather at Neumayer, you can just have a look at the official station webcam – unless you cannot see the station, because of a major snowstorm or complete darkness, we’ll probably be outside filming ;).