Week 2: Journey to the South!

Antarctica is the windiest, coldest and harshest continent on Earth. The weather in Antarctica is very unpredictable, therefore there is no confirmed departure time for the flights to Antarctica. We had to standby at the airport in the early morning for the weather updates. Once the weather turned good, we had to board the plane immediately. I was told that it is very common for passengers to standby for the entire day and still couldn’t board the plane due to bad weather condition in Antarctica. Even if the plane has succesfully departed to Antarctica, it might not be able to land and would have to fly back to Punta Arenas if the weather condition in Antarctica turned bad.

 

My boarding pass to Antarctica!!!

The weather in Antarctica was good that day, we were told to board the plane around 10 a.m.

Our plane landed in Antarctica around 12.15 p.m. Everybody was so excited and busy taking photos in front of the airplane.

 

Photo of me in front of the airplane

 We were brought to the Prof. Julio Escudero base, a permanent and main Chilean research station in King George Island, Antarctica.

 Prof. Julio Escudero base

 I was honoured to take the same plane and the vessel with the Malaysian delegation team. The team was led by the Menteri Besar of Terengganu, Datuk Seri Ahmad Said. The members of the team are Secretary General of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Dato’ Dr. Rosli Mohamed; Secretary General of the Malaysian Academy of Science,  Academician Tan Sri Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor; Director of the National Antarctic Research Centre (NARC), Prof. Dato’ Dr Azizan Abu Samah; Chairperson of Sultan Mizan Antarctic Research Foundation (SMARF), Mr Mohd Nasaruddin Abd Rahman; Malaysian Ambassador in Chile, Mr Ganeson Sivagurunathan, Senior Private Secretary of Menteri Besar of Terengganu, Mr. Azman Ghani and Prof Dato’ Dr Aziz Deraman from UMT.

The signing ceremony.

From the left, Menteri Besar of Terengganu, Datuk Seri Ahmad Said, Director of NARC, Prof. Dato’ Dr Azizan Abu Samah, Director of INACH, Dr. Jose Retamales and Commander Gonzalo Opazo.

Exchange of MoU

After lunch, Dr. Jose Retamales and I sent the Malaysian delegation team to the shore as they were invited by the Director of Korean Antarctic Research Program to visit the King Sejong station. I had an opportunity to look around at the Escudero and China bases. Dr. Jose also offered me a chance to go to the top of a glacier in a Hagglund.

Hagglund – the Swedish made amphibious vehicle that I rode to the top of the glacier.
Scenery from the top of the glacier.

The scenery was spectacular and breathtaking. I was amazed by the wonders of nature and was so grateful that I was able to set foot on this continent. We visited the Uruguay base on the way back to the Escudero base. The chief of the Uruguay base was very kind to show us their laboratories and buildings around the station. We boarded the navy vessel named Aquiles after we returned to the Escudero base.

Aquiles

 Deception island

On the first day, our vessel sailed to Arctowski to disembark two researchers to the Polish base. We arrived at Deception island on the following day. Deception island is an active volcano in the South Shetland islands. However, over half of the island is covered by glaciers. Due to the extraordinary environment in this island, the microbial community is very unique and some species cannot even be found in other parts of Antarctica.

We were sent to the island in zodiac boats and were told that we had six hours to collect our samples. However, if the weather forecast shows any sign of bad weather, the vessel will alert us using foghorn and we must return to the meeting point as soon as possible.

We arrived at the island in zodiac boats with the help of the navy crew.
Whale bones on Deception island

Deception island used to be an island with massive whaling activity. Therefore, whale bones can still be seen on the island.

View on the island.
A frozen lake

The weather condition turned bad and it started to snow in the middle of our work. We had to return to our meeting point immediately. However, the zodiac boats couldn’t come to pick us up due to the bad sea condition.  People at the Spanish base were very kind to invite us to wait inside their station.

We returned to the vessel about an hour later. After our late lunch, we had to get ready to go to the second point on the Deception island.

I was trying to find some interesting sampling sites on a mountain.
Hot spring in Deception island.

After we collected our samples from the hot spring, it started to hail. We had no choice but to find shelter near the abandoned whale oil tanks. We returned to the vessel by zodiac boats when the weather got better.

 Punta Hannah

Our second sampling destination was Punta Hannah, which is also known as Hannah Point on the south coast of Livingston island.

We supposed to have 3 hours of sampling time, but the foghorn of the vessel sounded about an hour after we landed on the island. We were forced to stop our sampling work and returned to the vessel. I was very disappointed on that day, but well, this is the main problem that we have to face every day while working in Antarctica. Weather is always a major concern!

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