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The Antarctic expedition is launched to measure changes in the ice sheet


Kelly Brunt will not be home for the holidays, nor will she be playing in the New Year at a fabulous party or watching Ryan Seacrest count the celebrities on List B on television. Instead, between December 21 and January 11, he will lead an expedition of four people around the South Pole, sleeping in a small tent mounted on a plastic sled that is dragged by a snow cat. But that does not mean he will not celebrate: it will be a demure reunion, with his crew, a cozy fleece and a carefully prepared cup of his favorite gourmet coffee.

"We're being anal about the type of coffee and the spill," says Brunt, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We demolish our own filters and buy whole beans before we arrive."

Brunt will make his tenth trip to Antarctica since 2000. He has celebrated Christmas and the New Year five times, five days of Thanksgiving and eight birthdays. . As a glaciologist, he worked at the main US base at the McMurdo station, he camped floating icebergs in the Ross Sea and in 2009 spent three months in the Australian Antarctic Program on the Amery ice shelf.

And this year, Brunt leads the ground team at NASA's ICESAT2, which is studying the changes in the Antarctic ice sheet and how they contribute to global changes in sea level.

The expedition will cross 500 miles of crunchy and thick ice at the bottom of the planet. The huge ice sheet covering the South Pole is over 1

0,000 feet high, so the team will have to acclimate for several days at the Amundsen-Scott base before heading to the "deep field", which is Antarctic. place beyond the comfort of a permanent station. Yes, it will be cold, from -20 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (plus thermal sensation), but the crew has a combination of extreme polar equipment issued by the National Science Foundation, as well as personal favorites of the home. For Kelly, it is a lucky brown fleece that accompanies her on every polar journey.

Kelly Brunt

For two weeks, the crew takes turns sleeping and working, taking precise measurements of the thickness of the ice sheet and comparing it with satellite based measurements to make sure the two agree with the scale of centimeters. At the same time, a NASA plane will fly over the ground crew, using a laser altimeter to verify the data in triplicate. The pilots will then land at McMurdo Base and Amundsen-Scott South Pole for a hot meal, while Brunt and his crew will walk to the next ground station.

While December is the holiday season in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a time of intense work for approximately 1,200 American scientists and support staff in the frozen continent. This is because December falls in the middle of the southern summer, a time when the Antarctic sun rarely sets below the horizon (it starts in November and lasts until the end of February). It is also quiet enough to move without being knocked down by fierce winds that howl during the winter months.

Yes, it means they will not be home during the holidays. But they are used to it. On Christmas Day, Brunt and his colleagues will probably have a modest day at work. "I do not miss Christmas marketing," says Brunt. "I do not know how we're going to celebrate, but it's hard to do nothing in the field, we'll just make a recognition and celebrate where we are without being sentimental that we're not with the family."

Brunt and his colleagues began their journey at the end of November, flying from several points around the USA. UU To Christchurch, New Zealand. From there, they boarded a C-17 transport plane for a five-hour flight to McMurdo Station, a city of approximately 1,100 people on Ross Island, in Antarctica. The next section was a three-hour flight to the South Pole via a C-130 equipped with skiing.

And there, waiting for the crew at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, was home for the next two weeks: two PistenBully snowcats pulling specially designed sleds. The sledges are made of a plastic with a density structure that significantly reduces the coefficient of friction, so 10,000 pounds will be towed as 1,000. The sleds will tow essentials, such as fuel, but they will also carry fully assembled tents, so that investigators do not have to set up camp every day.

The trip is not only laborious; It is potentially dangerous, too. The crew will probably avoid the cracks and crevices that are often found around the edges of the Antarctic continent; This time, his job is to measure the thickest point of the Antarctic ice sheet. It also has less wind in the South Pole than in other places, according to Forrest McCarthy, a mountaineer and safety guide assigned to the ICESAT2 team. But there are still many dangers for the team. "When you think about fuels at low temperatures, the fuel we use is at minus 40 degrees and could cause instant freezing," says McCarthy. "If you spill it on yourself, you will be in a bad situation." Any accident will be days of medical help or evacuation. That means you have to keep everyone attentive, focused on your work and be able to get along when things get tough.

"Group dynamics are really important," says McCarthy, who works as a fishing and mountain guide in Wyoming and Alaska. during the rest of the year. McCarthy is a self-styled Grinch, but clearly gets along with Brunt, with whom he has worked since 2000. "When people get along, you end up being more productive, she has a good sense of humor and is very competent. why I signed up for the mission. "

At Christmas, McCarthy will call his wife home by phone, but he does not miss being at home. Every year, he feels the magnetic attraction of the absolute beauty of Antarctica. "I love Antarctica and the culture of exploration and science," says McCarthy. "It's one of the last great moors on Earth." Although even the most remote places in the world can use a little comfort. Along with his security team, extra clothes and food, McCarthy packed an Italian moka express pot to make everyone a café con leche on vacation.

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