As I write this blog post, I’m sitting on the comfortable futon of summit station, enjoying our first day off since we’ve gotten here. Its been a long and stressful start to our season, so allow me to catch everyone up to speed on the details of what has happened thus far.
Our team arrived at summit on Wednesday May 14th, happy to be on the ice and in the presence of many familiar faces from last year. We were welcomed into the station by the station manager, Ken, and urged to take a breather, relax, and get used to the altitude. Shortly after arriving, I began to feel the altitude very strongly (Headache, exhaustion, slow breathing, body aches) – not a pleasant beginning to the season as we were all eager to get out to our field site and begin working. I was not the only one in fact, many members of our team weren’t feeling great regarding the altitude or sleeping the first night in tents in the brutal cold (I think it got down close to -40 – quite different than the warm summer temps everyone is experiencing stateside nowadays)
The following day, some members were feeling better and started walking around station to locate cargo and begin getting it transferred out to our field site 10Km NNW of station. Others (myself included) rested on the couches at summit, giving our bodies time to acclimate to the dramatic change in altitude & cold temps. By Friday 5/16, I finally had gotten a good night sleep and was feeling good enough to get to work, though I couldn’t say the same for other members of our team. We took a poll in the morning, and half of us (Vas, Michael Josh & Myself) were feeling good enough to make the move out to our camp, while the others decided to hang back at station, resting and trying to allow their bodies to acclimatize.
The move went smoothly for us, working hard to get our camp established so that we could begin setting up the drill and scientific equipment the following day. By the end of the day, as we all gathered for a dinner that our camp manager, Jamie, had prepared for us – we heard that summit station had an urgent message for us. One member of our team, Isaac, had come down with HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and was being medically evacuated to a hospital in Illulisat (a larger city than Kanger along the Greenland coast). This was a shock to us all, overwhelmed with worry, but apparently in good hands as one member of the station was also trained as a nurse and flew with him to ensure his safety. Meanwhile, Phil & Jayred were also not doing so well physically and kept under close watch of the station medic. Melisa, on the other hand had acclimatized and was to be coming out to camp the next day.
Short-staffed but still with enough to do, we plodded forward with setting up the lab and drill with as many hands were available – while Vas took a ride back to summit to discuss options regarding our staffing for the remainder of the season. When Vas returned that night, he asked us if we wanted to hear the good news, the bad news, or the REALLY bad news. The good news was that Isaac had made it to Illulisat and was recovering in the hospital there (As I write this he is back home in colorado and doing better). The bad news was that Phil and Jayred were both to be sent home the following day (the last day of the flight period) as their conditions (Vertigo and difficulty breathing) were not improving. The even worse news was that Melisa was to be sent home as well, although she had acclimatized well, she had also lost a filling on her tooth and with no dentist around the concerns of an infection developing was enough to have her sent back home.
Disappointing news all around – in that only a few days into the the first half of our season , we were reduced to half of our originally planned team size. I guess Murphy’s law still continues afflicting us even up on the icecap. Needless to say, this has put a negative impact on our plans for the season. We’ve all been working very long days, but been receiving help all around for everyone who can. Between our camp and summit station, there is another camp of drillers testing the intermediate drill for the South Pole Ice core to be deployed in Antarctica the next two seasons. They have been immensely helpful by sending us a drill assistant for the past several days to work with Josh so that Michael Vas & I could set up the lab and begin our 14C extractions. They have also helped us out by inviting us over to dinner at their camp – enabling us to focus as much on the science as we can. This is amazing on their end, considering that their season was even cut short by a week and a half as a result of the issues with the C130 planes I mentioned a few posts ago. They have just transitioned to working 2 shifts, so we will have to manage with just the four of us for now.
Luckily, I’m proud to say that we haven’t really fallen behind yet – largely as a result of cooperation on behalf of the weather (let’s hope is stays that way ;P) and everyone around summit being exceptionally helpful. Vas drafted out a plan for the remainder of the season, and provided that we’re able to get up to a full team of 8 + Jamie on the next flight period (Jun 4th), we may still be able to complete our sampling goals. All of our focus now is in acquiring the samples we came here for. Hopefully when things get simpler we will be able to share more stories & photos of our work here. But until then – we’re working hard up here at summit