Thursday, 14 March 2019

Concordia Station - France and Italy together in Antarctica

Dome C and Concordia, on Antarctic's East Ice Sheet.

Here, not far from the South Pole, as in the International Space Station, humanity behaves in a friendly and cooperative way that we'd like to see also at home, which is Europe in this case.

France and Italy have built a common house on the southernmost iced territories of the planet, living together in harmony under -30 to -80º C on the top of a vast polar desert.

Concordia: 75° 05′ S, 123° 19′ E

Concordia, nice name ! , is situated on Dome C, one of the coldest hills of ice at the Antarctic plateau, 3233 meters high. It started working in 2005 as an all year round research station, with a crew of 12 to 15 in permanent occupancy. A team of seismologists, glaciologists, astronomers and climatologists.

The Station is built in a pleasant unique architecture: two large faceted cylinders are the main three-storey buildings; they rest on six hydraulic legs that allow horizontal level adjusting and elevation control as ground level rises with snow accumulation. The two structures are connected at first floor by an insulated enclosed walkway.

Left, the red annex with generators and boilers; then the walkway gallery across the two main buildings, ending in a stairway to the ground

One building is dedicated to somehow 'quiet' activities like labs, accommodations, hospital, communications, weather station. The normal accommodating capacity is up to 65 members, and occupation varies from 12 to 20 in Winter, to over 70 in Summer, when heated tents are used outside.

The other building hosts more noisy social activities: meeting room, offices, library,  restaurant and kitchen, gym, media room.

Generators, the heating system, water treatment and other technical facilities are installed in the red annex cabin.

Local transportation is done by snowmobile tractors.

Dome C is the top of a soft slope, like an upwards deformation of the Ice Cap. Temperature outside is never above -25ºC, at the peak of Summer in January, but can plunge down to -80º C, when a minute of exposition can be fatal; 'normal' is around -40º, like inside a powerful freezer. Very low humidity - driest air - but fortunately not strong winds, as in other domes in Southeast Antarctic.

The feeling to be living in the future, some centuries ahead, in pristine environment and total quietness.

Ice vehicle prototype by Lotus, reaching 130 km/h, under tests during the Solar Eclipse in 2014.

This dryness and quietness is the reason why the site was chosen: it makes an exceptional location for astronomical observations. Besides, atmospheric pollution is absent, and there are no lights around - except full Moon and the Austral Auroras (Southern Lights). Concordia works in full cooperation with ESA - European Space Agency.

One of the astronomic observation devices.

In any direction around, there is 'nothing' in a 1000 km radius, except the Russian Vostok base, 600 km to the north through impracticable terrain. But over 1000 km eastwards the coastline is reached, where other stations are located - McMurdo, Scott, Dumont d'Urville. From there comes the biofuel, spare parts, tools or other equipment, transported by a long convoy of containers pulled by snow tractors on catterpillar treads, known as "The Raid". The two way journey takes a month.

'The Raid' supply convoy arrives at Concordia.

The hardest time is the 9 month full isolation between February and November, when air supply is impossible due to weather conditions. SOS, available with a small Twin-Otter, is also disrupted in the 5 winter months.

Concordia has its own airport in the form of a runway over 1.5 km long. The arrival of the first plane in November is always celebrated: a Canadian Basler 67, the most solid and efficient aircraft to land and take off in short distances on ice terrain, brings the long waited fresh supplies.

Apples, oranges, vegetables, newspapers...

Christmas happens in the best season - December is in Summer at this latitude - and with freshly supplied stocks.

The Basler 67 is a high-tech updated version of the old DC3, from 1942.

Nights can be magic:

More details:

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Siglufjörður, a fishing village at 66º N under Northern Lights

Iceland is a country in progress. From a remote half-unknown island, a desolate treeless land of volcanoes, canyons, torrents and waterfalls with a few small fishing villages along the coast, Iceland has been changing rapidly into a modern country where the savage Nature is a plus to civilization; the coastal settlements are now coulourful and pretty, culturally eventful, displaying all modern comfort and facilities.

The island's circular road has been improved with tunnels, so that travelling is also easyer. This region of the extreme North, where Akureyri is the main thriving town, offers some of the best landscapes and attractive villages.

In the northern coast of Ireland, just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle and west of the large Eyja fjord, Siglufjörður is an old small fishing town that has become recently seeked for thanks to the viewing of Auroras - it's a privileged viewing point, and visitors from all the world are coming for the show.

Siglufjörður was inaccessible by road until 1940, but can now be reached via new tunnels linking to the main northern road, and has been improved with museums, cafés and a few shops, a new hotel and modern restaurants. All that, keeping alive the traditional fishing activities.

A string of tunnels now allows access from/to the East.

Siglufjörður is located on the left bank of its own narrow fjord, and surrounded by steep mountains.

A scenic little arctic town

Siglufjörður, northern Iceland

Coordinates: 66° 11′ N, 18° 53′ W
           (22 km south of the arctic circle)
Population: ~1300

All these waterfront buildings from the old fisheries are now part of the Museum complex.

The town center: Museum, church, main street
Aðalgatan, the oldest street

Aðalgatan, from the shore to the church.

The modest but coherent church from 1890.

The church tower in late August

The local administration and the residents keep renovating some of the old houses, so the town looks almost brand new.

A typical Icelandic corner

The Sæbyhús from 1886, in Norðurgata - one of the oldest houses in town, now declared heritage.

An Icelandic beauty.

Henriksen house, the best house in town, in Aðalgata.

The magnificent house was built for a Norwegian herring trader. and is now a fine Hostel.

'Gistihús Soffía', also in Aðalgatan.

View from a window at Soffia's guesthouse

Torgið restaurant

A small shop in Suðurgötu

Hjarta Bæjarins, Aðalgata - wool knitting, design, crafts and gifts

The port and leisure area

In the last century, the town experienced dramatic changes (that can be viewed in the Herring Museum). At one point, it was the busiest place in Iceland during summer and the center of the booming herring industry.

But the port keeps a strong local position for fishing cod, haddock, saithe, redfish, halibut, and also shrimp, flatfish, lobster. Freezing industry is also at full work, and Siglufjörður is still the largest cod landing port in Iceland.

The 'Júlíus Geirmundsson', a trawler from the local fleet.

The red, the yellow and the blue

Three fishing warehouses were converted for leisure and tourism as cafés, art galleries and other events. Each one painted in a different (bright) colour.

Hannes Boy café

Behind the Rauðka (red) and the yellow, there is the Bláa (blue) house

Jolamarkadur - the Yuletide Market

Christmas market Jólamarkaður

The Herring Era Museum

The Museum is installed since 1994 in warehouses that were part of an old Norwegian herring station. The assembly, construction and installation of the Museum was completed in 2003.

The three exhibit buildings tell the stories of the people who worked in the herring industry, of the factories and products, and of the fishing work and fishing boats.

Museum Síldarminjasafnið (The Herring Heritage)

The three buildings are the Salthúsið (Salt house), the Grána fish processing house and the larger boat house Bátahúsið.

The main building is a salting station from 1907. In front there is an old pier with work stations for the salting process

The fish processing provided herring to export to Europe and North America in the form of fish meal for feed and fertilizer; and fish oil, for use in all manner of household products, from floor wax to hair cream.

Grána fish factory, 1930-50

Products from the factory

The Boat House displays boats and trawlers, equipment and scenes of the daily fishing life.

"Herring ball in Siglufjörður" (1918) by Muggur, in the Herring Museum.

The Boat House reflected on the waters of the fjord.

The Folk Music Center

When visiting the Folk Music Center guests get an idea about Icelandic folk music, hearing local people singing traditional rhymes and folk songs.

The Folk Music Centre in another of Siglufjörður’s oldest houses, the Madame House (Maðdömuhús,1884).

The Icelandic Poetry Center, "Ljóðasetur islands":

Ljóðasetur islands offers the opportunity to browse poetry books and experience live events.

A bookshelf of Icelandic literature

The Siglufjörður Hotel

In summer, an outdoor café

Warm interior, Nordic design at its best.

Also a warm outdoor pool with a view.

Skarðdal forest, at 66° 8' N

A program of forestation has been developed at Skarðalur, near Siglo; the forest 'opened' in 2015, and it's the northernmost planted forest in Iceland, reaching Arctic latitudes. Mainly birch, spruce, pine and larch have been planted, and the system reached a development allowing for leisure, with nature paths for visitors.

The fiord forest in glorious spring.

Finally, some Aurora fotos from Siglufjörður and surroundings:

What a wonderful, magic place this is, don't you agree ?