From the town of Ushuaia and even further south from the town of Puerto Williams, we climb north along the Atlantic coast to Rio Gallegos and then get closer to the Andes and our next mission which will take place on the other side, in Chile.
While we rest in the town of Calafate, gateway to expeditions to the Andes and the famous Perito Moreno glacier, we get contacted by the local radio (Radio Ahora Calafate) who has heard about us and Invite us to his live show. We go there, and armed with our best Spanish we explain our action but specify that we have no project in his city (below the video - and under this link you will be able to listen to the interview in full. And under this one you can even read the press article).
At the moment we go off the air, the producer tells us : a scientist phoned him during the emission and wants to meet us, too !
We meet him at the Glaciarium : Luciano, the director of this glaciology research center associated with the Ice Museum, tells us that he had a revelation while listening to us; It happens that the scientific director of his Research Center, Professor in glaciology Pedro Skvarca, lacks air data for one of his research !
Pedro and Luciano present the context : unlike the Perito Moreno glacier, which is visited by thousands of tourists each year, the Upsala glacier is forbidden to visit because it is located in the "Los Glaciares nature reserve". The only way to see it is to reach by boat the luxurious estancia (hotel) Cristina, located almost an hour's walk from the glacier.
The scientific interest of the Upsala glacier ? It is known for the retreat of its impressive glacier front: in 70 years, 12 km of ice have cracked and then collapsed, the debris of this glacier falling into the water in pieces - the icebergs - gently floating away, finally melting as they reached warmer temperatures. But this impressive setback - like the retreat of many glaciers in the world - has led to several consequences that scientists are not yet able to anticipate correctly. Upsala is in fact framed by two mountains, and when the ice retreated, the two sides of the mountains were "bare": not anymore held by the ice, they found themselves in the open air. A part of the west mountain did not bear it, and the scientists suspect that in February 2013 a whole pan collapsed, and as a result of this landslide, a tsunami of more than 15 meters occurred ! Fortunately there were no injuries, as there was no one in this protected natural park.
Pedro Skvarca proposes to realize a DEM - Digital Elevation Model, or three-dimensional model of ground - of the remaining part of this collapsed mountain as well as the surroundings of the glacier, in order to be able to predict the future landslides by understanding what exactly happened in February 2013. Of course, we accept !
Except that to do this, we need to get overflight clearance from the park manager... For once, we were able to admire the talents of persuasion of the glaciologists: in a few hours, authorization - originally impossible - was obtained! We can now prepare the mission : Looking at the surface to model, we plan five hours of flight. In order to reach the area and come back, we are planning a mid-range base at Estancia Cristina, two hours flying from the airport. In total, two good days of work!
After three days waiting for the perfect weather, we take off and a few hours later we finally rejoin the glacier. Majestic. A wall 40 meters high and 50 km wide faces us, and above this wall the glacier, this sea of ice as far as the eye can see - this southern Patagonian ice field, which gives the impression of no longer existing. It is here in autumn, the glacier has white and turquoise colors, and the sides of the mountains "freed" from the ice are adorned with trees with red and orange leaves. At the moment of photographing the front of the mountain of which part has collapsed, one can not help repressing a shiver of anguish ... A few magical hours of overflight over this sublime glacier, to make the first thousand of photos that, in addition to those we will make the next day, will be necessary to build the 3d model.
At the end of this first day, we stop at the estancia cristina not so far, from where we are able to land : no runway of course, since the zone is forbidden to overfly. But thanks to our floats, we can land on the water, where there is neither wind nor current - sheltered from a mountain - and then join the camp area ! We had planned to bivouac in front of the ultralight attached to stones by ropes, but the estancia's workers convinced us to join them for an asado - a huge barbecue - and they even freed a bed, so we are allowed to spend the night warm! It is by finding the ice the next morning above the wings of our machine, that we realize that we would probably have slept little with its negative temperatures...
Once the sun rose, we wait a small hour for the ice to melt, and let's go for a new day of photographic exploration! Before taking off we have the chance to meet, by chance, a professional photographer who agrees to photograph us from the base Cristina ; If you can admire the pictures below, it's thanks to him and his camera with a huge zoom :)
It will take a few months before the final 3D model is built from the thousands of geolocalized photos: the work is far from over. But we can still present you a preliminary first work below, thanks to our partner Bentley systems.
NB: A magazine has since been published which tells in even more details this mission. If you want to read it, it is here: magazine.
Stop at the estancia, then take-off between the small icebergs towards the Upsala glacier
Flying over the glacier and the collapsed wall, and taking pictures for 3d models
Back to Calafate, exhausted and soaked! And for fun, the picture of a little heart hidden among the mountains - love is everywhere!
Preliminary 3 model of the remaining wall after the collapse