Great White Weather Man: ExWeb interview with Mark de Keyser

Posted: Sep 12, 2011 01:26 pm EDT

(By Correne Coetzer) Several ski expeditions to the South Pole start this year in October. That is the tail of winter, warned ALEs meteorologist, and sometimes this tail can trigger extreme cold/windy conditions. Mark de Keyser has many seasons experience on Antarctica and tells about the weather on the ice and the weather forecasts he provides to other parts of the globe.

ExplorersWeb: What type of expeditions does Weather4Expeditions provide with weather forecasts?

Mark Currently, weather4expeditions consists of two experienced meteorologists, Fritz Buyl and myself. Fritz is an experienced sailor who participated himself in the big sail races, as for example the Route du Rhum, the Transat 650, the Fastnet,etc. With that experience and his skills as a trained meteorologist he is the ideal person to supply sailors with the best possible 'routage'.

I have quite a lot polar experience in the Arctic as well as in Antarctica. This austral summer it will be my 8th season down South on Antarctica, of which four with Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions. From there I have been supporting numerous South Pole expeditions and Mount Vinson expeditions.

The last three years I have been working as the meteorologist for the Neem ice core drilling site in the North of Greenland and have been supporting several W-E and S-N Greenland crossings, on skis or kites.

In the meantime I am building up quite a bit experience in Himalaya expeditions as well.

ExplorersWeb: Where do you get your data from?

Mark A good forecast is based on several important elements.

Of course you need your model data, this is the collection of surface and altitude maps, soundings and cross sections. And there are several global models available of which the two most important ones are GFS (or commonly known as the American model) and ECMWF (the European model).

But on top of this model output you need to build up experience, you need to make a lot of forecasts, get it wrong and try to find out why. And so, step by step, you learn to understand the local weather patterns and this improves the forecasts considerably.

ExplorersWeb: Every movement on Antarctica depends on the weather. When you are on Antarctica, how easy/difficult is it to get weather data? How do you get your data from there?

Mark At Union Glacier ALE has a good communication set up. Via an Iridium connection I can get my 'met stuff' from the office in Punta Arenas.

Next to that we have a NOAA satellite reception station that provides us with very useful satellite images of the area. This information is indispensable as it gives you a direct view on the actual cloud/fog distribution.

We also have a network of Automatic Weather Stations, that sends us information about wind speed/direction, temperature, pressure,... and a few of them are equipped with cameras so we can have a recent image of, for example the skiway at Thiels Mountains.
Via this link you can see the images and observations from Union Glacier:

ExplorersWeb: Is there anything that you can say that is typical of the weather on Antarctica or on a certain route? Wind patterns? Okay, its cold and windy ;-)

Mark Yes, everybody knows it's cold and windy. But this varies a lot from the start till the end of the Antarctic spring/summer.

November is statistically the coldest month of this period, whilst January can be surprisingly 'hot'!

Temperatures also depend on the altitude you're on. The further South you go the higher (literally) you get, and the colder it gets.

On the South Pole temperatures early November vary around -35°C to -45°C but in January it can get quite warm up there: -20 to -25°C.

Certain areas are known for their katabatic winds. These strong winds can blow for days constantly from the same direction. As you can imagine, the combination of those strong winds and the low temperatures can make it 'quite uncomfortable'.

ExplorersWeb: Some teams will start this year very early in October. What can they expect from the weather? Temperatures? Wind?

Mark In summer we have 24 hours of daylight. But in October, depending on your location and the time in October, you can still have a few hours of darkness and that makes it very cold.

October is the tail of winter, and sometimes this tail can trigger extreme cold/windy conditions. At that time of the season, the polar traveler should be prepared for everything.

ExplorersWeb: In the evenings during the scheduled calls, the skiers give weather reports from where they are. How important is this data?

Mark The best weather forecast is based on a good observation, so for me it is very important to get that weather report from the expeds in order to give them a good forecast.

Also for the person in the field it is interesting to spend some time looking at the weather, this makes him or her aware of changes that can happen. And that experience on the ice is more than very important. That makes them weatherwise!

ExplorersWeb: Anything else?

Mark As a personal remark I would like to say how lucky and fortunate we all are that we have the opportunity to enjoy and to do our thing in this great white wilderness.

Sometimes I see people or teams that arrive in Union Glacier that are so focused or obsessed on that record or schedule that they forget to enjoy and to respect this unique and pristine part of our planet.

Even if things are not going the way you've planned, well that is too bad, but that is the nature of Antarctica: things are not always going as planned. And we have to respect that.

Marc De Keyser is a meteorologist of the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium. He worked two summer seasons at Rothera (Antarctic Peninsula) and one in Davis (East Antarctica). This austral summer he is going to spend a fifth season as the meteorologist of ALE at Union Glacier.

4 years ago Marc founded : to support expeditions and sail teams all over the world.

Marc is also a motivational speaker/presenter for youngsters - to learn them about weather/climate/polar regions and to make them conscious about the fragility of all these processes.

Marc is a passionate runner, he ran 65 marathon of which three in Antarctica (once he came first, twice second) and several 100k runs (one he ran on Antarctica and won the race).

#Polar #Science #topstory #interview

Mark de Keyser: The best weather forecast is based on a good observation, so for me it is very important to get that weather report from the expeditions in order to give them a good forecast. Mark running in the image winner of the 100km race.
courtesy Mark de Keyser, SOURCE
That is the nature of Antarctica: things are not always going as planned. And we have to respect that. In the image: ALE chef and previous kite ski world record holder, Norwegian Ronnie Finsaas, riding the winds on Antarctica.
courtesy Mark de Keyser, SOURCE