I am norwegian doctor who worked as expedition doc on the Antarctic research station Troll for the summer season 2007-2008. NB: This blog is intended as a personal and ecological account from The Ice Planet - fully independent of the Norwegian Polar Institute, their official web page being: npweb.npolar.no

25 Nov 2007


The barrel is the red blood cell of the station. They carry diesel (for most of our vehicles), kerosene (for the smaller aircraft) and petrol (for snowmobiles and ATV). All of our waste is dumped in barrels and shipped off the continent. Moving, pressing, and knowing where the different barrels are to be found, is a big part of the job. A colleague and I spent today with the barrels. Empty ones can be carried and thrown. Full barrels are lifted with a small crane on the back of the "Hägglunds 206". We store them on upcurled plastic pads in case of spills. If they're not anchored and strapped well, the next storm will carry them over to the crevasse field on the far side of the blue glacier.

Antarctic medicine

The previous doc has now left after a 10 day overlap period and I'm left to myself to explore the sickbay and doctor's office. The room is basically a well-equipped GP office, with basic surgical equipment (for sorting out cuts and simple fractures), emergency medical equipment (oxygen, defibrillator, suction, chest drains), and a small pharmacy. There's lots of tools for heating, transporting, and keeping patients warm. Diagnostic equipment includes a small lab with a microscope basic blood chemistry tests. Learning how to use those macines was easy.

The x-ray machine is a different matter.
I've spent the last 2 days trying to become friends with a sturdy old Toshiba from 1980. Having worked in a South African hospital the last year I should be familliar with this type of machine, but I've never been the one actually taking and developing the x-rays images. Due to a temporary lack of developing fluid it hasn't been used for the last year, so noone here can show me how to do it (right). I feel happy with the familiar buzzing sound it makes when you press Charge, Ready, X-ray!, but after developing and fixing the image the helpless piece of smoked meat ("fenalår"-a norwegian lamb specialty) I'm experimenting on turns out all black and foggy. If the fenalår had a fracture it would have to be major one for me to detect it. I'll keep on trying all the different settings. In the meantime I'm glad my living patients can talk and express pain.
We haven't had any major accidents yet.


We have a outdoor bathtub (kept heated by excess heat from the power generator) and a sauna (powered by electricty from the same...) at the station. We also have beer, and the three can easily be combined. Feeling boiling hot even with icicles growing out from our heads, we have to take regular turns in the snow to cool off.

20 Nov 2007

Exploring the area

Sunday was our day off. We had an excellent walk up one of the nearby mountain tops, Grjotfjellet - giving us a view both inland towards the gradualy rising polar plateau, and northward towards the sea ice shelf. The air is exceptionally dry, we're in a polar desert here, so the view was magnificent!

Significant discoveries on the way up:
1)Three different types of lichen. (2 in picture) Lichen are symbiotic lifeforms, a fungus cooperating with single-celled plant cells (green algae). The algae contributes with photosynteshis, and the fungus provides sustenance and nutrients to the algae, drawn directly from the rock. The lichen seem to enjoy small hollows and areas where the sun melts the ice during the hottest part of the day.
2)Another snow petrel colony, nests scattered throughout the moraine-covered hillside.

Significant discoveries on the way down:
Two freshly killed snow petrels, and a guilty-looking south polar skua further out on the blue ice.

17 Nov 2007

Typical day?

Having only been here a few days, it's difficult to describe what a "typical day" at the station is like. This is what i did today:

0710hrs: woke up in the so called "emergency station", a small cabin/bunker with emergency supplies and survival gear (in case the main station burns down, now used as housing for 2 colleagues and me - the others being the station plumber and electrician)
0730: breakfast in the main building (that's the big red house below the bird in the picture below). We're currently 9 people here - 3 of the guys will come back from a support mission having escorted the IPY south pole traverse expedition that left Troll yesterday(see links)
0800: morning meeting, planning the day's activities.
0830: our station leader showed us the most important station infrascructure - among other things we looked at the toilets, the power station(s), the water melting station, the centralized heating system, the automated alarm systems.
1000: learned how to drive the "206" vehicle, a belt-powered vehicle for driving on snow and ice. Good fun.
1100: moved some barrels of diesel and kerosene with the "206", a small crane, and a trailer.
1300:replaced 3 kitchen propane cylinders by means of the above tools.
1400: learned how to drive an ATV - all terrain vehicle.(Had my snowmobile debut yesterday).
1500: Circled the nearby blue ice field in a snowmobile, looking for loose barrels, planks and debris, dislogded and blown several hundreds of meters across the ice during the hurricane that shook the station the week before my arrival.
1600: Dinner(fajitas..)
1700: Intro on basic crane operation and trying out some heavy machinery.
2000: Workday ends. We work 12 hour days, and take sundays off. Going to explore the nearby peaks tomorrow.

Lessons learned today: 1. 80% of the time is spent looking for things. 2. Use lots of sunblock when there is a big ozone hole above you. 3. Don't drive an ATV on loose snow.

16 Nov 2007

Lifeless wasteland?

Looking up the hillside right next to the main station building (where we eat, sleep, shower and browse the internet) it didn't take long before I saw a brief white flapping movement behind a rock. A short scramble later I found these two (love)birds. In an apparently lifeless landscape, in 15 degrees minus, we have neighbours managing without food, water or a diesel-fueled powerstation, and they even have energy left to flirt, fight and flap around.

These are snow petrels, one of 3 bird species found in the area. No penguins here, 235 km inland from the ice edge - only good fliers get to these mountains, willing to make the long journey to court, nest, and eventually raise their chicks. Also found here are the antarctic petrel, and the southern polar skua, the skua preying on the eggs and chicks of the other two (more about skuas another time!)

The snow petrels above arrived ca 1 week before my arrival, are now courting, and will hopefully lay their eggs under the stone by the end of november. Being here the whole antarctic summer, and already something of a twitcher, I'll certainly follow them closely.

15 Nov 2007

Flying in

Flying over Queen Maud Land in a small aircraft from Novo (russian base) to Troll (norwegian base) the landscape is like nothing I ever thought I would see. It's as if someone cut the top of the alps and dropped them into the ice.
Just got to Troll. The place is amazing. I need a powernap now.

12 Nov 2007

First penguins seen

Only 33 degrees south, still dressed in shorts and sandals, we came across these penguins today.
This is the globally threatened African Penguin, and might well be the only penguins I'll see on this expedition. These two have come temporarily ashore with several hundred other African penguins over the last months, for the purpose of discarding their old feathers ("moulting"). While waiting for their new feathers to grow out, they hang out on Boulders beach right outside Cape town to keep warm and dry. Ever since 1985 the penguins have been regular visitors to this beach. They come here to breed, moult and party. Why choose this particular seaside resort? Because of the shallow, un-trawled and fish-filled waters of the False Bay, and because the strong human presence keep their natural predators away. Both penguins and tourists seem happy with this arrangement.

08 Nov 2007

Going to The Ice Planet

Antarctica, the South Pole Continent, Terra Australis - the "world below".

I'm finally going to see the place for myself.
In 2 days I'll catch a flight to Cape Town, and from there a plane to Antarctica, briefly landing on the russian antarctic station of Novolazarevskaya, then onwards, weather permitting.

Where exactly am I going?
To the norwegian research station Troll, on Queen Maud Land, East Antarctica. Plot the coordinates 72°00′07″S, 2°32′02″E into Google Earth, and you'll see some small buildings and containers hugging a mountainside 235 km from the antarctic coastline. Nearby you can see the Troll airstrip carved into the ice itself. Troll station is fairly small, with a winter crew of 6 and a the summer crew variable, but rarely above 40. I'm going for the antarctic summer season, beginning november 2007, lasting until march 2008.

What am I doing in Antarctica?
I am going to be medically responsible for the rest of the station crew, support personnel, and visiting scientists. It is the International Polar Year now, so (by antarctic standards!) the place will be bustling with activity.

Who am I?
I am a norwegian doctor, 29 years old. Professionally I've been interested in tropical medicine and international health, and have therefore been working in a rural South African hospital for the last year (Hlabisa Hospital, in Zululand). Privately I have many interests. My love of the natural world, natural sciences and being outdoors are the chief reasons I'm going to Antarctica.