Welcome to camp Washout!

As the team aboard the Sur-Austral welcomed Helena, I (Loïc) met Jon and Mathew on the shore of Steffen fjord. For a few days, I joined our British collaborators from Bristol University, who were collecting water samples from the main tributary of Steffen fjord: Huemules river (https://twitter.com/cryopisces). We shared stories of our recent adventures as we walked half an hour upstream to where our research equipment was dropped off by Don Efrain, the local park ranger. There, I was faced with the challenge of persuading my new teammates to walk to camp with the zodiac, Uwitec corer, and some other coring and echosounding equipment. In a marvelous two trips, we brought everything up to Camp Washout, the tent camp that our British colleagues courageously set up near Lago Steffen. Dead tired but still excited for the next days of science we huddled in the main Tipi with tea & milk to talk science and explain to the fellow campers how you best carry a zodiac for 10 km’s.

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Camp Washout: The orange tents are the “individual rooms”, the smaller white tipi is the clean lab and the larger yellow tent forms the group kitchen/living room.

After a well-deserved rest in my tent, my continental breakfast (porridge & tea) was served in the main Tipi. Mathew and I were getting pumped to go on lake Steffen and make the first ever bathymetric map of it. We helped each other get into our yellow drysuits (pictures not included due to serious offenses on style and fashion) and installed the echosounder on the transom of our well-travelled dinghy (thank you again Elke’s Dad). We discussed our route a couple of minutes and got the paddles out (unfortunately, nobody was keen on dragging the 50 kg engine up to the lake). Avoiding icebergs and ignoring the pain in our arms, we finished clocking in at 6 hours on the water.

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Lago Steffen and Steffen Glacier in the background

Dinner that night consisted of good camp grub.  We spent the rest of the evening discussing how we would use our 300+ new bathymetric data points to produce the only bathymetry of lake Steffen! Two proud PhD students we were!

Choosing coring locations the next day based on our primitive but freshly made bathymetric map was easy. Preparing the mini coring expedition, however, was both frustrating (untangling ropes) and exhilarating. Although we couldn’t retrieve any cores this year, plans and are already underway to return in 2018 and finally unravel the lake’s history.

Lake sediments is not the only reason we were here. A few weeks earlier, our fabulous collaborators had deployed the AQUAscat at the lake outflow for us. The logger, which Elke was awarded from Aquatec, had been continuously measuring suspended sediment concentration and grain-size, which we hope to relate to river discharge. With those data, Eleonora and I will be able to accurately interpret our fjord sediment records in terms of river discharge, and ultimately reconstruct the evolution of Steffen glacier and its watersheds through time. A real team effort! Thanks AQUATEC!

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Alex holding the AQUAscat whilst Matthew is measuring the pH of the water

For my last day in camp, we packed the equipment and carried everything back downstream, including the beast … our valuable but heavy zodiac! At the end of the day, I was back on the Sur-Austral, on my way to Tortel, while Helena reunited with her compatriots in camp! It was truly an amazing experience. Thank you PiSCES team!

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