Previous Raid arriving at Concordia. Credits IPEV/PNRA-B. Limouzy
Bruno Limouzy just sent an email from Concordia research station saying the first 'Raid trail' is leaving back to the Antarctic coast, just two days after arriving with cargo and equipment.
A Raid trail supplies Concordia with heavier cargo and is an impressive caravan on skis. The trek is over 1000 km with tractors pulling many containers across the white desert of Antarctica with a height difference of 3000 m.
Bruno has taken part in previous expeditions to supply Concordia and the travel is quite exhaustive just to get to the Antarctic coast. From Paris, France he travelled to Hong Kong on a stopover to Auckland, New Zealand. From there he continued to Christchurch also in New Zealand and had to wait three days until a C130 aircraft flew him to the Italian Mario
Previous Raid arriving at Cap Prud'homme. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-B. Limouzy
Zuchelli station. The next leg of Bruno's travels took him to Cap Prud'homme on a DC3 aircraft. "A long but beautiful voyage!" says Bruno.
A crew of twelve including Bruno left Cap Prud'homme on 18 November arriving at Concordia on 1 December. They left today for the return journey after unpacking.
Good luck to the crew on their return voyage!
Towards the end…
Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E. Kaimakamis
I am writing this post at the beginning of November, a few days before my departure from Concordia station on my way back to Greece. The last few days have been extremely busy with preparations for my departure but also full of mixed feelings because of this. A fantastic experience that lasted almost a year is about to come to its end, but on the other hand, I am about to return to my beautiful country and see my family and friends again, which is really a relieving thought and something I have been dreaming of for months! These mixed feelings are one of the most prominent features of the Concordia adventure. Living this challenge is always full of joy and amazement, but also of melancholy and anticipation: We have been anticipating the days of darkness with the spectacular night views of the sky, then the return of the sun, the arrival of the first plane, and finally the return back home to our loved ones… (more…)
Soon before the arrival of the Summer scientists ending Concordia's nine-month isolation, Antonio Litterio gives an impression of what he feels:
This time I chose the song Roberto Cacciapaglia's Ecstasy and Abyss to guide you through the breaks in my writing.
Today I started to fix the chest that is in my room. This feels like a rite that preludes the end of my experience. While I was working I lay down and started to think.
More than eleven months have passed since I had my first impression of Antarctic soil and since then I have lived nine months of complete isolation. I saw many seasons pass but for the first time in my life they were not marked by the changing colours of nature like leaves of a shimmering green painted by an important painter.
Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
The seasons passed by in monotony punctuated by changing light, the cold and changes in my spirit and body.
I went through the sunset season, a prelude to the more challenging season of darkness with a thousand and one dark and fascinating nights without light. They marked me deeply. The season of dawns followed, a new renaissance, feeling alive and realising the importance of light.
And now, here I am back full-circle in the season of eternal light, but it is different from what I went through a year ago. Now I am tired , I cannot and I will not hide my fatigue, it is a frustrating physiological fatigue that makes me want to break the world but instead I have no energy.
Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
I want to walk for miles and miles in the shadows of trees and breath crisp air full of odours. I want to hear waves crashing on rocks as thunder on a black day and feel the rain wet my body.
Living in a sanitised world is not easy: monotony is a great opponent but being aware that we are not immersed in a world of stimuli makes it easier.
Looking at my room I think about how many moods have lived here, how many thoughts and sighs were heard by the walls that harboured previous hivernauts? Like the veins in the wood on these walls, my personality is marked and characterised by the experience. Sleepless nights and days looking for answers and strength. This room has heard me mutter the words “I wish, I wish, and I miss…” so many times.
I miss feeling sea water on my face, the taste of juicy fruits, hearing voices , lying down under a tree and staying there staring at the leaves as the wind blows and the Sun shines and fills my eyes with bright light.
I am tired, I want to sleep now in a green meadow and feel cradled , rocked by a mild spring breeze, cradled in the arms of a woman who can make me fall asleep and when I awake I want to feel as if all this was a dream and feel full of energy again, ready to live a new season.
Last full moon. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
Shared experiences of isolation in cold space
Antonio Litterio and the Concordia crew talked with ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano on the International Space Station last week. The Concordia crew, surrounded by 600 km of white space share their experiences with Luca, surrounded by infinite black space. As always Antonio suggests you listen to music by Roberto Cacciapaglia as you read his experience:
On 20 September, our reality was confronted by another reality in a unique isolated location. At 19:50 an unusual place shows on the screen in our living room , it is a small space and a person floats freely right in the centre of it. It is Luca Parmitano, the Italian astronaut currently on a mission on the International Space Station.
Floating. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A Litterio
We were all listening to him speaking in perfect English, amazed and astonished at seeing a person floating upside-down or stretched out in mid-air. But at that moment I felt the urge to cut myself off from everything. I kept hearing his voice in the background and our voices that filled the room,and I started to think about the similarities between our two experiences. Fifteen people on the Antarctic ice compared with six floating in space. Both experiencing realities that are lost in vast territories, isolated from the rest of civilisation, protected by a hostile environment thanks only to technologies invented by man. The absence of fresh food and restful sleep, distanced from loved ones, seeing unique things, the same visions but from a different perspective. We see the same as Aurora Australis and stratospheric clouds but somethings completely unique to Luca such as his dawn - an explosion of colour that lasts but a few minutes whereas we are the only ones that see the Sun change colour, from green, pink, red, orange to purple.
Multicolour Sun. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
Two unique and yet similar experiences, but so very different. Somebody asked the question "Will you go back?" and Luca’s answer was "Of course!" as his face lit up with joy. While our response to the same question was accompanied by a sigh: "Some of us would come back but not for another winter ". I noticed surprise on Luca’s face when he heard our answer, as if he expected something different.
Happy to see home. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
But for me it was all clear, in his response and reaction, I saw myself during the first three months of this experience, in our response I saw me now after 10 months living in Antarctica. Those who reach Mars will understand us and go even beyond this feeling.
At the end of the evening while I was sorting through the photos my attention was drawn to a small detail: our faces lit up at the sight of our house seen from space that appears in the frame of the webcam. It is always a thrill to see something unique.
Contemplating life in a barren world
Self portrait in the dusk. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-O. Delanoë
The last of Olivier Delanoë’s series of blog entries on the end of darkness and living without life around.
Sometimes an alarm will sound at night, waking us up with fatigued eyes. It even occurs that the alarm sounds multiple times, a horrible alarm clock that makes waking up even worse than usual. At this altitude, the ultra-dry air repairs our bodies even less than usual when sleeping. A medical experiment I am taking part in for ESA shows that we are suffering from sleep apnea. I often wake up with a dry mouth so I keep a bottle of water close at all times.
I turn and turn in my bed. All sleep has left me. I turn on the light to read a book. The Sun has disappeared for months and waking up is hard. I must take care not to fall into the trap of floating sleeping patterns. On the other hand it is sometimes better to sleep late and feel rested. Some crewmember’s sleep is no longer in sync and some stay up later than others.
What is the hardest part of the winterover? It is hard to say. We all experience the lack of light and sleep differently. The longest night drags on and on for some, others hardly seem to notice it. Time passes by quickly and the weeks fly by.
I sometimes don’t get out all day but I quickly feel the need to get a breath of fresh -70°C air. If only for ten minutes, getting out to look at the horizon, to impregnate the images, is important for me. I think of nothing, take time for myself. These ten minutes of reflection rekindle my spirits and keep my morale up.
Emptiness. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-O. Delanoë
The amazing thing about this landscape its immense emptiness. No mountains, no cliffs, just a huge white emptiness. Even in a hot dessert, life is always around you, a lizard, an insect, something moving, looking for food. Here nothing like that exists.
Life is 1100 kms away on the border. Life, flora, fauna! For the moment I don’t miss green pastures too much, but I am looking forward to seeing the ocean again. Watching the waves hit the beach and retreat in an endless flux of movement and the sound of birds wailing above my head. It has been over eight months that I have heard any noise from insects, the buzzing of bees, whistling of birds, the meowing of a cat. What does the mooing of a cow represent? When you are used to it, not much, but when we get back it will have a new significance and I realise that the world is rich with all the insects and animals that speak their own languages. The diversity of nature is astounding. Here nothing lives and nature’s beauty lies in its harshness. Without life elsewhere on Earth we could not live here as we are dependent on the riches of our habitable Earth. We live on a small spaceship in a greenhouse that allows life to prosper. Destroy it and we will destroy the spaceship.
We float on a solid ocean. The only waves are build-ups of snow that form from the wind and turn into abstract sculptures sometimes. Like on the ocean the horizon stretches far and at certain times of the day we can see the roundness of Earth. The distinction between sky and ground is clear. The oceans support life, some say they are at the origins of life. Our glacial ocean has imprisoned inside it the history of our climate.
Another aspect of our life here is that there are no smells. Our noses are underused. No smells exist outside to keep our senses occupied. The air is so dry that our noses suffer from irritations. We will rediscover smells on our return that we have forgotten over the last year.
Our supply of fresh fruits and vegetables have run out and we must wait for the first aircraft to arrive for more. No garden exists here to pick a juicy tomato still humid from the dampness of dawn. I dream sometimes, but not for long.
Life back on Earth For over six months I have not had much motivation to know about what is happening in the world. Knowing of all the distress and the bombardment of daily information distracts us from concentrating on ourselves, our own life. My colleagues briefed me on some things but I prefer to read, watch films and listen to music. I sent emails to my loved ones and talked about my stay here. There is not much to say, nothing much newsworthy happens at Concordia! Internet has changed the polar adventure. Years ago, the winterover crew would return and learn of deaths in the family. Now we know within hours of the passing away. Is it better or worse? I don’t know. Bad news can lead to hard times but good news can release people from thinking in circles. Has introducing computers made people less social on the base? It depends on their character. Socialites will continue to seek company for games of poker or ping-pong despite their computers. Solitary persons can use a computer to isolate themselves even more. The 15 personalities that are living on the base have found their own equilibrium, reading, watching films and talking. The most important thing in my opinion is to have a colleague to confide in when morale is low.
Today we saw the Sun return at 11:09. This morning I woke up at 08:00 and I looked at the horizon through the window of my room. A red line ran along the horizon. I went outside and took some photos. The sky was on fire and the horizon seemed to vibrate. The glacial expanse underneath seemed dark and somber. As the redness of the Sun expanded it turned a reddish-brown.
The Sun has returned. Winter is not over yet, the first aircraft will not land until November but we have only three months to wait. The third part of winter has arrived. From February to May the days get shorter. We enter the polar night from May to August. When the light returns we start to return to our metropolitan habits. A winterover in Antarctica with the Summer campaign is 12 months in the cold. It might seem long, but time passes quickly.
Rising Sun. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-O. Delanoë
Lucky to be living in silence
We continue Olivier Delanoë’s triptych on Concordia life starting with the leaving of the last aircraft…
Early February the last plane leaves. It’s an emotional moment to see our colleagues leave. For the next nine months our group of 15 people will live together with no help of rescue in case of trouble.
Safety is most important and health issues can have dramatic consequences. We are very aware of this fact as we watch the aircraft disappear over the horizon. Winter has begun and we are on our own.
We are completely isolated from the world in an incredibly hostile environment where temperatures can drop to -80°C. Life outside the base is impossible. Fauna and flora do not have a place in this space-like place. Life in general doesn’t really belong here. Under our feet we find no earth, no lichens, no bushes, nothing but 3300 meters of ice frozen to -50°C on average.
To escape the cold ground but also to avoid build-ups of snow our home is built on stilts. Essentially two large cylinders, the buildings will be our refuge for the winter. The Summer camp is 500 meters away which can be used as an emergency shelter if necessary.
Concordia library. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Barbero
I know I have nine months ahead of me before the Summer scientists come back. I must live through this and not turn the winter into suffering. Like my colleagues I must keep busy, find a hobby. I brought a synthesiser with me and a library is available. Monotony must be kept at bay. Boredom is a formidable enemy here. Time can drag on and I mustn’t isolate myself from the group. Peace of mind is indispensible and it will be easier if relationships with my colleagues are good. I get in the habit of playing table tennis with three colleagues after dinner and this becomes a real moment of relaxation.
I also brought my aquarelles, colour crayons and paper. I painted a single small picture. The fatigue and darkness stripped me of my creative spirit. I have been using my camera to record films to show my family and still pictures might support and inspire my painting when I get back home.
Early May the Sun disappears for three months. We become even more tired and some find it hard to sleep. I am not affected much by the lack of light.
The sky is crystal clear and the Milky Way is magnificent. This place has one of the most stable atmospheres in the world, the air is dry and shows the beauty of the Universe in all its splendour. The sky is there, begging to be contemplated, but the cold is so intense I prefer to stay inside. The glacial air pushes me to return to base after watching the stars for just ten minutes. I can feel my frozen eyelashes. My hands are cold from holding the telescope, the coldness of the metal pierces through my gloves and freezes my fingers. My breath fogs up the binoculars and I cannot see anything.
My colleague shows me the Omega globule and I return elated. These are the moments that make living here worth it. Discovering things that are impossible to see back home in the light of our cities. On another day we climb onto the roof of our base and see an aurora covering 180 degrees of the sky above us. We take some pictures and I film it which is pointless but I don’t care.
Aurora over Concordia. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA-E Kaimakamis
These moments give us strength and remind us how lucky we are to be living here in the silence.
Hazy shade of winter
This new video shows the harsh and beautiful landscape around the station during one of the last sunny days in May and how the winter darkness engulfed Concordia and its 12-member team. It was shot by Olivier Delanoe and includes excerpts from letters sent by Antonio Litterio.
Scaling the sky
Antonio Litterio sends a composite photo of the Sun's trajectory at the base:
Just to give you an idea of how the Sun is moving now, here’s a panoramic photo composed of images I took once an hour from 08:00 to 14:00.
Starting from the right with the Moon, you can see how high the Sun is in the sky now. You can also see that by 14:00, the Sun has already set.
Return to sunlight
Antonio Litterio describes the emotion of seeing the Sun rise again after months of darkness in the Antarctic:
Here I am once again to share with you another really important event in my life here at Concordia. As ever, I’ve included a few photos and when you read this entry, I recommend you listen to “Figlia del cielo” [Daughter of the Sky], which has four breaks corresponding to my four sections.
It’s 11:10 on the morning of 10 August 2013, and the eastern skies are clear and radiant. I’m surrounded by diffuse light, azure blue in front of me, dark blue behind. There’s still no trace of you but all this anxious waiting is about to come to an end. Slowly, on the snow, I see the first signs of you as a band of fiery red light brushes every single ripple of snow between me and the horizon. I watch the light spread. As it approaches me, it broadens like a wide embrace; I look up and there you are, in a blaze of light. I’m incredibly happy. I lose myself for a moment: I only have eyes for you, I immerse myself in you and you reflect in my eyes to light up infinity. My heart leaps and I murmur “Welcome back”. Before today, I could never have imagined how powerful you are in the mind and heart of someone who has been deprived of you for so long. Ninety days after our last goodbye, here you are once again in all your splendour.
The long Antarctic night is far from over, but now we begin to see the signs that winter has left everywhere: pure white snow coats every surface leaving only shapes intact. It drains surfaces of the colours that give them character. But today, even though you’re still so weak, you have melted one snowflake and released a dot of colour. I know this to be true because because you’ve done the same inside me.
I’ve looked for you avidly over the past few days, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to see you. I even thought of running as far as I could see, then beyond, and there, with my bare hands, digging into the ice just to see you. But I didn’t – not because it was impossible, but because I knew that today you’d come looking for me. Over these past few nights, I’ve looked out of the window, captivated by the beautiful starry sky. But in my mind I was thinking of you and how I would soon see you again. Human beings need light to feel calm and to live: light really is life. Wanting to see you again was not about wanting to feel closer to the end of my time here; it was about recharging my batteries. Over the past few days, even that warm glow has given me so much energy. Seeing you now, entering my bedroom in the morning, is a beautiful awakening.
Friends, you are surrounded by light, you are addicted to it, so you cannot understand how important it is. Today, seeing the light after so long, for those few minutes the Sun lingered above the horizon, I felt something that was a mixture of a mother’s caress, the warmth of a hug, and the peace and energy radiating from someone important to you. At the precise moment when the Sun reached the end of its arc, settling on the horizon, we looked at each other and there was nothing left to say. I’ve missed you…
The essence of Antarctic night
Antonio Litterio. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
Antonio Litterio sends us a haunting blog entry. Read the introductory note and turn the music up for the best experience:
INTRODUCTORY NOTE: Dear readers, here are some tips to intensify the reading experience. My letter is composed in three parts, just as Roberto Cacciapaglia’s wonderful music Fiamme. I recommend you read the first part listening to the most intense section of the music. If you are a fast reader, wait for the start of the slower, more emotional part of the before you continue reading. Wait for the pause in the music before reading the last few lines.
I recommend you follow this advice as I wrote it with this in mind.
Part one By chance I came across our group photograph that was taken during the summer. I felt an emotion that inspired me to write this letter about my experience here.
Concordia group photo 2012. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio
What follows is very delicate. Seeing that photo again lots became quite clear to me, our change and the difference between a 'South Pole adventure' and 'experiencing an Antarctic winter'. In the eyes of those who are not with us it can be difficult to understand.
Much has changed since December, when Concordia was invaded by a myriad of people with whom we shared contact. Different times have crossed my eyes since then. December is depicted in that picture, our faces are charged with joy. Summer is the period of a thousand smiles, of amazement and frenzy. The novelties of seeing a first circular rainbow or of the midnight Sun add to the excitement. But already at that time, as a future winter crewmember, I could see the difference between the faces of the new arrivals and those who had already spent the winter here.
I looked at their faces, so different from mine and I wondered ... why? ... but I did not ask questions, perhaps out of fear, but also because I knew I would find out by myself.
Days have passed since our arrival and we convinced ourselves that it would always stay like it was in December and that our winter would also be a period of a thousand smiles. But slowly, as the months go by, this changed. With the departure of each plane that took people back, sadness descended on my face while the curiosity of the unknown increased as the last plane left... What would winter bring? What will it lead me to discover about Antarctica and about myself? Slowly time is providing me answers to these questions ... but because I have not yet reached the end of this experience they are incomplete, guidelines, opaque images that form a bigger picture that will only become clear in November.
Time passes quickly when it is not contained by clocks or calendars. What is time in this place? I do not know... I have a feeling that it does not exist as it is not even being recorded by the presence of light. There is no night and day here. But even if time does not exists it still passes by.
The expression of wonder on my face that accompanied me during the summer is now dormant under the weight of what winter is loading on my shoulders. Just as the wind sculpts the snow around us I am being sculpted by the winter. It is changing who I am, just as the absence of light plays with one’s perception of the infinite horizon.
We are slowly but surely becoming different people to what we were at the beginning of this adventure. But we have to be careful because even the perception of change is amplified. We change, but in the eyes of each one of us, these changes are like night and day. Can we be sure that we have actually changed or are we simply exposing what we really are?
Concordia is amazing, it awakens many questions within me, it is eager for answers, and it is granting me a way to find these answers.
Part three Excuse me if I failed to convey what I would like to, but, believe me, even if everyone experiences Concordia in their own way, only those who experience the long Antarctic night can get a closer understanding. Maybe this letter will only serve as a memo to remind myself of this incredible experience when I return.
Concordia at night. Credits: IPEV/PNRA-A. Litterio