Plan B

5.30 a.m., a screaming alarm awakes two early birds in the Brisas del Sur hospedaje (B&B) for their first day of fieldwork. To avoid the strong afternoon winds, Seb and Matthias leave the hospedaje before dawn. The zodiac of Lucho, our assistant captain, brings us to the COPAS research vessel ‘Sur-Austral’ where our captain Rodrigo awaits us. After loading our equipment on the ship and pulling the anchor up, we are ready to take off. First stop, Baker fjord!

The R/V Sur-Austral navigating into Baker fjord at sunrise.

After navigating approximately half an hour, we arrive at the first mooring site. Winds are picking up speed earlier than predicted and we start doubting whether or not we should attempt the retrieval of our first sediment trap. As we do not want to lose the sediment we collected over the last year nor damage our beloved beast, we decide to collect a water sample to calibrate our turbidity sensor and return to Tortel hoping for more clement weather the next day.

Retrieval of the Technicap sequential sediment trap, a.k.a. ‘the beast’, from Baker fjord.

5.30 a.m. the next day. For a second time the alarm wakes us early in the morning. Once again, we head up to the Baker fjord mooring, this time in much better weather conditions. Within half an hour we had retrieved the beast, the sediment it accumulated over the last 12 months, and our precious Aquatec turbidity logger. With this success in mind, we navigated to Steffen fjord towards the north to collect our second trap. Another success! This year’s trap collected about 2.1 cm of sediment originating from Steffen glacier, which is about half of the previous two years, possibly due to the absence of a GLOF over the past 12 months. We just hope that the crab that was waiting to be rescued from the sediment trap has nothing to do with it …

Retrieval of the continuous sediment trap in Steffen fjord which caught another year of sediment… and a crab.

The same day, Francois, a geologist and old friend of Seb, and his girlfriend Mélanie joined us at Brisas del Sur. As they were travelling through Chile, they stopped by Tortel to give us a hand with the redeployment of the sediment trap. In return for some Pisco Sour, Francois and Mélanie enthusiastically cruised with us through the Chilean fjords. After an evening spent on cleaning and servicing the mooring, the four of us were ready to deploy the beast in Steffen fjord the next day.

Francois, Mélanie and Matthias preparing the Steffen mooring at the COPAS Sur-Austral lab.

Fieldwork, however, never goes as planned. In the middle of the night, Seb received a worrying call from Rodrigo (our captain)’s wife. Due to a medical emergency he had to be flown over to Coyhaique and then onwards to Santiago. Without a captain, we could no longer use our trusty research vessel! For every plan A, however, there is a plan B. And for every plan B there is one spare day to come up with it. After a few phone calls to the headquarters of the COPAS Sur-Austral in Concepción and tremendous help from Lucho, a new ship equipped with a crane able to lift the deadweight of our mooring was found. Of course, this was only going to happen mañana (the following day). The main function of our newfound barge is to transport garbage across the fjord. This time, we gave her a more noble job!

The barge, a.k.a. the ‘trash boat’, ready to deploy the beast in Steffen fjord.

Since the “trash boat” goes about half as fast as the R/V Sur-Austral, we left Tortel relatively early the next morning. During our four hour trip to Steffen fjord, we had plenty of time to arrange the mooring on the deck, which was very precisely documented by our private onboard artist Mélanie. Despite the challenging conditions in which we had to operate, we were able to deploy the Steffen mooring at its desired location. It is now ready to trap sediments from the next GLOF originating from Steffen Glacier for the Paleo-GLOFs project.

Illustration of the Steffen mooring preparation aboard the ‘trash boat’ by Mélanie Roy (

This concludes the first objective of this year’s expedition. Time to pack up and head north to Cochrane for the lake part of our field expedition. Despite the absence of our dear captain Rodrigo and of the fit-to-function R/V Sur-Austral, we managed to redeploy our mooring as planned. Thank you to the staff of the COPAS Sur-Austral for organizing this plan B so efficiently. Rodrigo, if you read these lines, we wish you all the best and hope you get well soon!

Blue buoy in Steffen fjord indicating the top of the mooring. See you next year!

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