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

21 Jan 2008

V.I.P. visit

Last week was the busiest yet here at Troll - as we were expecting a Very Important Person, accompanied by 40(!) not-so-Important Persons, for a weekend visit.
VIP: The norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg.
NSIP: state secretaries, media consultants, journalists and photographers from Norway, Germany and the UK, a satelite company director, aircraft crew, and central leaders and scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Preparations included pitching 16 tents, clearing away our rubbish heap by squeezing it into containers with heavy machinery, pressing 200 empty fuel drums, some medical emergency preparations at the airport, discovering tables and chairs we didn't know we had in the first place, forcing our cooks to work overtime, opening a new outdoor urinal, and strenously raising a red mast to have visible proof we've been doing something this summer.

Norway doesn't have an "Airforce 1", but we do have a sturdy old Hercules, good for the purpose of transporting prime ministers. "Balder" flew directly from Cape Town in 8 hours, touching down on our newly polished ice strip. (Plane trivia: The C-130 Hercules aircraft type was used extensively in the NATO-led ISAF invasion of Afghanistan - neatly balancing out my previous slightly anti-russian blog subparagraph.)

Even anti-monarchists like me feel a patriot tingling when seeing the words "Royal" and "Norwegian" together like this.
Maybe I was just loosing sensation in my hands due to the cold.

Unloading the sleeping bags. Our prime minister, a fairly down-to-earth guy, preferred to sleep in a tent like the other guests, and by so doing, (unknowingly) prevented an outbreak of in-station fighting over who was going to give up his bedroom.

This is our man - up the mountainside behind Troll, naming 3 new mountain tops, and expressing honest enthusiasm over being this far south.

Jens Stoltenberg heads a centre/left coalition government and leads the norwegian Labour Party. He just came back from the Bali climate negotiations, where he got some attention for being more concerned than the others on behalf of the climate. When returning to Norway he slightly changed the government policy on carbon emissions, amongst other things increasing subsidies for alternative energy research, and by so doing brought Norway's climate policies a couple of centimeters forward. Our massive oil industry was left untouched, of course.
By normal political standards, this was of course a very radical step.

He is the first norwegian prime minister to visit Antarctica, and the timing is no coincidence, with anthropogenic climate change currently high on the international agenda - and Norway playing an important role in polar climate research.

In his speeches at Troll he also drew the line back to the norwegian explorers of old, Amundsen etc, and our proud "historical" responsibility for Antarctica and everything Polar.
Again, difficult to separate patriotic tingling from normal bodily sensations - this time a slightly nauseous feeling.

Our cooks preparing a grand dinner with both Norwegian and South African fish. 6 of us were serving the guests - quite enjoyable since none of us know much about (table) etiquette, 2 months in isolation not helping in that respect. One evening happily sloughing around in our woolen underwear, the next serving the prime minister. Antarctica is a place of contrasts.

The next day we took the whole group sightseeing around the Jutulsessen area. T4S piste basher with sled served as tourist bus. Here we are exploring a wind-hole under the 900m high vertical wall called Jutulhogget ("The stroke of the giant").

The surface of the cliff is a massive granitic gneiss (metamorphic), here heavily criss-crossed by intrusion dykes (magmatic). While the bedrock is precambrian and over 1200 million years old, most of the dykes stem from deep volcanic activity related to the breakup of the ancient Gondwanaland continent 4-500 million years ago. The picture shows a "dyke sequence", and tells the story of 3 different explosive events:
1)first a biotite-clinopyroxene intrusion (black)
2)then pegmatite (white - a large-crystal granite often containing rare minerals and gemstones)
3)finally a reddish granite.
After the breakup, mountains resembling Jutulsessen in rocks and composition eventually ended up in present-day Mozambique, Madagascar and India.

The science director of the Norwegian Polar institute, Kim Holmén, talking about glaciology, geology, climate research, birds, and the upcoming lunch stop with hot dogs and coffee.

Stoltenberg also opened a new satelite station, "TrollSat", on top of our neighbouring hill Nonshøgda. Together with "SvalSat" on Spitsbergen in the Arctic, these two satelite receivers can download data from polar orbit satelites twice per circuit instead of once. Polar orbit satelites are especially important for research purposes, an example being CryoSat 2, monitoring the global ice caps.

TrollSat will furthermore contribute to the Galileo Navigation System, a EU and ESA funded contendor to the American Global Positioning System (GPS). The main difference between Galileo and GPS is that Galileo is independent of U.S. military interests and will be available at full precision to all users, both civil and military. Costing 3 billion euros, it's also a big prestige project for the European Union.

Before leaving, we set up a video conference between Stoltenberg and the director of NPI, Jan-Gunnar Winter, who is currently at the South Pole station, having just finished the norwegian-american IPY traverse.

The expedition has been cursed with mechanical problems, and actually had to leave behind their vehicles at an improvised winter base short of the Pole, Camp Winter(!). Even still, they have successfully collected and flown out all the scientific material (5 tons of ice core and snow samples) they had planned for. The vehicles will be digged out of the snow next summer season, and after a serious overhaul hopefully bring the expedition back to Troll, along a different plateau route.

Even without limos, experienced waiters, or other statemanly pleasures, they were all very excited and happy after the visit, including Big Man himself.

On a less cynical note - I have to admit this kind of V.I.P. visit is important. We need all the PR we can get for polar research, and PM's undoubtedly bring PR (they also sit on the money bag).

Understanding the poles, especially the dynamic of big ice sheets, and their relation to sea level and ocean currents, is vital to climate modeling, and has not been taken properly into consideration by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
To ilustrate the point:
The IPCC estimates a 60cm sea level rise in the next 100 years, due to global warming.
(Goodbye Tuvalu)
If the Antarctic ice sheet looses a meagre 1% of its mass, it would at least double this estimate.
(Goodbye Maldives and 50% of Bangladesh)
If the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, world sea levels would rise 4-6 meters.
(Goodbye Manhattan)

Should I be smiling?


Anonymous said...

Great post! Bodily sensations are truly hard to comprehend ;)

Just heard on the news in Norway yesterday that StatoilHydro's Snøhvit project emitted 1 million tons of CO2 the last six months and is going to emit 1,5 million tons the next six.

And yet, all this talk about turning off light bulbs and everyone doing their part...

In the bigger picture we should not be smiling.


Mampi said...

I have a question, Maybe it is a childish kinda question. Any idea how much heat is being generated in the upkeep of the Antarctic stations of various countries? And is it being taken into consideration when we consider the environmental hazards etc.
Not being critical, just inquisitive.