Concordia Base Log

By: Adrianos Golemis, ESA research MD

Time: L+373 (November 2014)                                                                        Temperature: -32 ˚C
Week: 53                                                                                          Sunlight: Continuous (24-hour day)

Morale: Great, with a noticeable impact of change

Placing the signs. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

Placing the signs. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

There is a rather insignificant line in one of my favourite books that reads: “He left that place and never came back there alive again”. It does not influence the plot in any way, but the finite nature of the statement made a strong impression on me in my childhood. There are days here at Concordia that I find myself wondering if I will ever return to Antarctica. My home for a year.

The signs of change were evident for some time now. First of all, as the end of the winter campaign was coming closer, you start counting weeks, not months. Then that turns into days. Five days left till the first plane arrives. Three. Two. Tomorrow. That is honestly a great difference if we consider that when you first come here you think that there’s an infinite amount of time to pass.

Then there are all the preparations. The cleaning of the base, arranging the sharing of our rooms with the incoming summer crew. Removing the snow that accumulated around the feet of the Station due to the winter wind – a bit like dunes of ice. And of course, preparing the runway.

And then there’s the sun, which now refuses to leave the sky even in the middle of the night. The constant daylight began just a week before the end of our isolation. And the rhythm of our everyday lives here changed with it. From the calm pace of the winterover – calm in part because you feel there’s so much time left that you have no need to rush and in part because living in isolation requires some level of moderation – we have now switched to a hasty routine. We finally have an imminent deadline. And we had to finish a lot of things before it reached us. We cut and drew our personal “road signs” (boards indicating the distance to home that every crew traditionally leaves behind). Then packed our luggage even though we are not to leave the Base for another month or so.

Flags flying proud at the beginning of the winter.  Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

Flags flying proud at the beginning of the winter. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

All that is left of the Greek flag after six months outside. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

All that is left of the Greek flag after six months outside. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

There are small details that makes our minds spin: the temperatures are currently as high as -32 degrees Celsius, an unbelievable change from the -80 that we experienced in the winter. Could it really be so long ago…? And yet time did pass by as you can tell from other signs. For example the degradation of the flags that flew atop Concordia during the winter.

For the first time in eternity (it seemed), I heard a radio transmission from the Station’s communications console. A transmission from another Station. More news started flowing in over the next few days. The peripheral summer bases were open and people were on their way to Concordia. Ships, aeroplanes and ‘Raid’ vehicles were getting ready. The world was preparing to come back to us once again.

But the most defining moment was that special morning when the Kenn Borek Air Bassler plane coded “VKB” was sighted in the skies above Concordia. A tiny black spot on the horizon. And with it, an avalanche of changes.

I slept very little the night before. In part because of the excitement and in part because some of us decided to have a little festivity in light of our campaign’s nearing end. Still I remember I woke up on time to clean my Lab one more time and to dress up in polar clothes in anticipation of the landing on a sunny day with clear weather.

The tiny black spot up in the skies grew larger and larger. The radio was buzzing as we took our places – ready to connect the ladder, unload the new supplies and help the passengers into the base. We saw the posterior skis (not wheels!) of the plane flirt with the icy surface. We pictured the faces of the people aboard – and we felt the contrast of feelings within us.

Landing of the Bassler. ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

Landing of the Bassler. ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis


In some peculiar way it felt like no time had passed since the end of the last summer, when the last flight left us to our own. I was there that morning too, the last to return when that plane took off. Same clear weather, similar feelings. And today it seemed that the winterover was a parallel experience, cut off from all that. As if a film director had edited it out the movie, taking the frames of our winter life away and batching the rest together – Summer to Summer. It was as if the winter period was a life in a separate world, now departed and inaccessible.

Bruno was signalling the plane how to taxi to its destination, dressed in orange. The door opened and the same pilots as last year stepped out, together with many familiar faces that we had met in the previous summer campaign. We shook hands and hugged, even with those with whom we had never been close to before. Most of us made videos and photos (I’ll be happy to upload mine once I’m back!).

Fresh fruit! ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

Fresh fruit! ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

And then, to work. The fresh food had to be carried inside and the newcomers were in no mood for heavy-lifting (unlike the winter crew that had been here for a year, the newcomers had to readapt to the high altitude, affecting their physical strength). On the other hand, the fruits and vegetables could not remain on ice for long! So we worked and worked until it was all safely inside Concordia.

Return of the light

During the long polar night, I never really felt that I missed the light – and yet I celebrated its return immensely. Similarly, it seems that I had completely forgotten the pleasure of biting a fresh fruit, it never occurred to me profoundly that we lacked fresh food in the winter. But again, the joy was great when we tasted tomatoes, apples, peppers, olives, oranges and kiwis again.

New arrivals. ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

New arrivals. ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

The summer is so different from the winter in so many untold ways. We now share the Station – which felt like our Station for a long time – with the summer crew. At the same time, it’s great to socialize with new people. The stress of being enclosed in a tin can with the same companions for a year has also disappeared. And we still continue to notice the markers of our own imminent departure. For most of us, it will be a permanent goodbye to Antarctica. The first plane has landed at Concordia. And soon another one will take us away.

As a child I used to be quite a nostalgic person. I remember for example that I did not want to grow up like other kids of my age since I was having a good time right there, right now. One can argue of course that at the end of every adventure you only recall the nice moments. I definitely feel nostalgic already for having to leave the white vastness of Dome Circe behind soon. Particularly because I have all the vivid colors of this last winter’s livelihood imprinted on my mind now: I remember where I was sitting when I spotted my first Aurora, what we ate for Halloween and how it felt to walk to the Astronomy shelter surrounded by complete darkness. But I do not feel melancholy at any level. Just a sweet taste that comes with reminiscing… until we all embark on our next adventure.

In the end, what is life if not a meticulous collection of great experiences? I am thrilled to have added Concordia to this. With its arduous moments and its magnificent delights. ҉

Package arrivals - technical supplies for ESA experiments. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis

Package arrivals – technical supplies for ESA experiments. Credits: ESA/IPEV/ENEA-A. Golemis