Who are we? Christel (our old team member) and Ian (our Principal Investigator): Part 1

This is Week 7 (and also the last week) of us publishing weekly biographies on new and veteran team members. So far we have interviewed six ‘veteran’ team members and six ‘newbie’ team members. (For more on these interviews see below.) For Part 1 of this week we’ll chat to Christel. For Part 2 we’ve interviewed Ian. Christel has been to the Antarctic on four occasions during the Austral summers (or field seasons) of 2010/11 and 2011/12, and then again during 2013/14 and 2014/15 .

If you have missed any of our previous posts you can read about them following the links below:

  • During Week 1 we chatted to Dave and Nicola.
  • During Week 2 we chatted to Cam and Jenna.
  • Week 3 was spent getting to know Rosie and Tebogo better.
  • During Week 4 we got to know Liezel and Karin a bit better.
  • In Week 5 we interviewed Gaby and Sunet.
  • Week 6 was spent on getting to know Jessica and Gwynn a bit better.

Biography # 7 of the Veteran Participants: Christel Hansen

Q1: What are you doing now?

I am finishing off my PhD in the Geography Department of Rhodes University. Fingers crossed my hand-in will be in December. 


Q2: Why did you go to Antarctica?
I was working as a Geoinformation Technician at Esri South Africa in Midrand in Gauteng when Ian phoned me to say that he had a spot open for someone to go to Antarctica. The only ‘downside’, he said, was that it would mean I would have to do a Masters as well. Who doesn’t want to go to Antarctica?!?! And getting to further my studies while conduct ing research when visiting such an amazing continent was pretty much the cherry on top. The was NO way I would have let that opportunity pass me by. (Ian is the principal investigator of our project.)


Q3: What was your role in the team(s) when you went down?
I’ve been down South quite a few times and the roles I’ve had within the team have always been different. I have been a general field assistant where I basically assisted with everything and anything. That includes helping with packing, equipment maintenance, data collection and logistics. I have also been a team leader (during the 2013/14 field season). During my last trip I also managed the logistical side of the project. That applies to logistics before, during and after completion of the trip. But overall my role (or anyone’s role) is to simply assist your team members, since they do the same for you. We are there for our research so the main priority is always to collect the required scientific data and that is something that everyone on the team, regardless  of who you are, must do.


Q4: What academic work did you have to do there?
The first two times I went to Antarctica I worked on data collection for my Masters. The last two times I’ve been to Dronning Maud Land I focused on data collection for my PhD. Furthermore, during the last two trips I was the senior postgraduate student (and team leader on one occasion) so I also assisted my colleagues in their data collection. And, of course, I have also contributed to the data collection for the project, which focuses on active layer-permafrost dynamics and the interaction of the biotic and abiotic environment.  

(For more on the project click here. Christel’s Masters dissertation can be downloaded here. Her PhD thesis is titled ‘On high-altitude and -latitude frost environments’.)


Q5: How many times have you gone down?
Four times to the Antarctic and once to the sub-Antarctic (Marion Island).


Q6: Had you seen snow before you went down to SANAE IV?
Yes, many times actually. The first time I saw snow I was about five years old. It had snowed (only a teensy-teensy amount) in Windhoek (Namibia), where I grew up. It wasn’t a lot of snow but I clearly remember it! Since then I have seen snow on more than one occasion (and also a lot more snow than that first time).  I spent a year in Finland on exchange when I was in Grade 11 (Standard 9). During that year they received the most snowfall they had had in 50 years! After school I also lived in the UK for four years and saw lots of snow there. And then, of course, I have never seen as much snow as in Antarctica – snow EVERYWHERE (or rather ice, depends on where you are). 


Q7: What ONE (or two) word(s) would you use to describe the Antarctic?
Ethereal – the beauty of the continent is (almost) not of this world and I always think of this word when I think of Antarctica. 


Q8: What ONE (or two) word(s) would you use to describe your trip(s) to the Antarctic?
Friggin AWESOME!


Q9: What was the best part of your trip(s)?
There is too much to say here! I have made the most wonderful friends. I have also learned a lot about myself and what I can do. Importantly, I have learnt that I can depend on others, since everything down South is about teamwork. That was probably the hardest lesson to learn: that you don’t actually have to do everything yourself and that, now and then, other people are in fact reliable. 


Q10: Do you have any advice for newbies?
On a practical note I’d say pack lots of cable ties, duct tape, a multitool and some dental floss. Those four items are probably enough to fix everything and anything! And don’t underestimate dental floss – it’s incredibly tough and durable and I’ve used it for pretty much everything: securing items, attaching loggers to sampling poles, sewing things back together, tying flags down, repairing your ski pants (duct tape works here too), repairing your duffel bag …

But on a more personal note I’d probably say that working in Antarctica is hard but going there will be the most spectacular and defining experience of your life. Enjoy every second! The journey on the ship, seeing your first ice berg/seal/penguin/albatross/petrel/skua/whale (all variations of them)/sea ice/bay ice/glacier… There are so many ‘Firsts’ on such a trip. You will really learn to appreciate stars, since the sun won’t set while you are on the continent. You will also really learn to appreciate the sun, since it allows you to work for longer hours. You will get a healthy respect for nature and for the people around you.  You’ll fight and have disagreements with your team mates but they will also become your (if not best) fast friends. A some point you’ll be so exhausted from work and sooooo cold to the bone that you feel you can’t go on – just remember that you as a person can do anything you set your mind to. And when you work as a team EVERYTHING is possible. Just make the most of it! Try to absorb it all and don’t forget to, at least once, sit (quietly in company or by yourself) on the Northern Buttress and to take in the silence and beauty of Antarctica. There is no place like it anywhere else on the planet and you, having been, are a member of a very privileged and select club.

And the next time someone boasts about a holiday they have been on or something great they have done be safe in the knowledge that from now on you will always be able to silence them with this one-liner: ‘I’ve been to Antarctica.’


Q11:Would you/do you want to go again?
Absolutely positively YES! The answer to that question will NEVER be no.

#2016fieldpreparations #Antarctica #landscapeprocessesinantarcticecosystems #LPiAE

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