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About moving Troll in Antarctica

January 2014, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica: Three guys in blue anoraks peer toward the polar sun. A few meters above the ground hangs a container, shaking in a seemingly thin line on the way over to the truck bed that will carry it two kilometers away and 278 meters up. The time has come to move the Troll Observatory.

NILU has had the observatory in Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica since the winter of 2007, monitoring pollution and global atmospheric changes. The main reason for the move was that NILU’s measurements were affected by the activities in and around the main station at Troll. There are many scientists and construction workers from several nations at the station during the summer months, and despite strict restrictions some pollution is inevitable.NILU went for both expansion and relocation. The “new” observatory is twice as large, with the possibility for accommodation in case of bad weather. It can accommodate additional measuring equipment, and most importantly of all: the location means far less risk of local contamination.

Three men, three containers and an ATV

Just after New Year 2014, Are Bäcklund, Jan H. Wasseng and Chris Lunder from NILU, went down to complete the moving process, which was initiated before Christmas. When they arrived, the Norwegian Polar Institute had already built the road up to the new site. The work had so far taken less than a month, with all necessary equipment transported by ship from Cape Town and on sled from the ice edge more than 200 kilometers away. The structure has to withstand winds up to double hurricane level, and to avoid oil spills and pollution, they chose to bolt the foundation to large stones rather than drilling into the permafrost, says Chris Lunder.

By 22 January, they had electricity and internet, and the foundation was complete. Now it was time to start moving the station, consisting of two 20-foot and one 10-foot container and a range boxes and other equipment. Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) assisted with a mobile crane and was of great help, but the NILU engineers later confessed to being very nervous when the first container more or less floated up in the air while the truck bed was still a short meter too far away… But it all went well, and with a little extra push and pull the observatory was moved to its new location.

A new and invaluable resource on the team is Vesla, a NILU-blue electric ATV with solid tires. She is ideal for transporting supplies and people up and down the mountainside, without the risk of affecting the measurements. Similar vehicles have been tested at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, says Are Bäcklund. With a heated garage, he hopes that Vesla will cope with winter temperatures down to minus 40 degrees Celcius without much difficulty.

Chris René Lunder og Are Bäcklund i den elektriske ATV-en "Vesla"
Chris René Lunder and Are Bäcklund in their new and indispensable electric friend: the ATV “Vesla”. Photo: Jan Wasseng, NILU.

Short summer season

Summer in Antarctica is short, and during the winter season from February to November, only six people from the Norwegian Polar Institute stay at the main station at Troll. In the summer season (Norwegian winter) the “population” increases, with the arrival of a larger crew from the Norwegian Polar Institute as well as scientists and others from KSAT, various projects and NILU.

Normally, NILU sends a team of two to Troll for six weeks every year, but because of the move there were three this time. In addition to the move, all necessary instrument services needed to be performed, as well as completing the training of the new research technician from the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The research technician is replaced every year, and goes through strict training with NILU at Kjeller and at the NILU observatory at Birkenes. The training continues at the Troll Observatory in collaboration with the outgoing research technician, before the NILU staff comes in January and handles the detailed tutorial on site. After that, the technician is able to handle all measurements, instrument maintenance and necessary repairs alone for the next 11 months.

NILU on both poles

Most other observatories in Antarctica are located either on the coast or at the pole, while the Troll Observatory is located 2000 km from the South Pole and 220 km from the coast. Chris Lunder explains that this location provides the opportunity to measure in the transition zone between the costal zone and the inland ice plateau, as well as more knowledge about long range transported pollution to Antarctica.

In addition to the Troll Observatory in Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica, NILU also runs the Zeppelin Observatory at Ny Ålesund, Svalbard. The two observatories are set up with similar instrumentation, so that the same type of data can be collected from both polar regions.

NILU’s measurements include mercury, total and tropospheric ozone, aerosols, UV radiation, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide (CO). In addition, NILU measures more than 20 greenhouse gases, including halogenated greenhouse gases, methane and CO2.

As one of very few research institutions in the world to conduct atmospheric research at both poles, NILU has the opportunity to compare measurement results from both “extremes”. Through this, NILU hopes to gather new and important knowledge about transport and effects related to global pollution, and to provide an important contribution to international research in this area.

Foto: Are Bäcklund, NILU
NILU’s Observatory at its new location at Trollhaugen in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica. Photo: Are Bäcklund, NILU.