Packing for Christmas | Polarjournal
Where should the boot liners go? (Photo: Jochen Bettzieche / SLF)

Matthias Jaggi, a technician at the Swiss WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, will spend the festive season in Antarctica. The luggage for his long expedition is travelling ahead of him.

Matthias Jaggi ponders, warm boot liners dangling in his hand. Where should they go? The aluminium box in front of him is almost full, but the boots have to go in. Definitely. At the end of August it is still pleasantly warm, even in high-altitude Davos. But the SLF technician will be needing those boots soon. He is preparing for an expedition. His luggage will be setting off in September. What doesn’t go in, he’ll have to manage without. He can’t buy anything where he is going: there are no shops, and online deliveries are out of the question. Jaggi is heading into the cold.

He will set off in early November, first to New Zealand and then on to Antarctica. His luggage is travelling ahead of him, by plane, icebreaker and PistenBully, to the Concordia Research Station on the high plateau called Dome C. There, Jaggi will spend Advent and celebrate Christmas and New Year, not returning to Switzerland until early February, in time for Carnival.

The prototype comes with

Him, his equipment – and three large polystyrene boxes, in which he places hundreds of small plastic containers that will be used for snow samples. He also has two drums of diethyl phthalate ready and waiting. He will add this liquid to snow samples, filling the empty space in the snow structure and then freezing it to minus twenty degrees Celsius. “This keeps the ice crystals stable in the long term, meaning that the structure remains intact,” explains Jaggi.

Hundreds of tubes for snow samples will be transported in well-insulated polystyrene containers. (Photo: Jochen Bettzieche / SLF)

While in Antarctica, he will collect a lot of data as part of the NIVO3 research project run by the French Polar Institute Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV). For example, he will investigate how snow metamorphism, the transformation of each individual snow crystal into an ice pellet, affects how different isotopes of oxygen are distributed in the ice. Oxygen isotopes are oxygen atoms with atomic nuclei of different weights. “This is extremely important to enable climate scientists to draw conclusions about global temperatures,” says Jaggi, placing a black case inside a metal box.

This is the SnowImager, a device developed by colleagues at the SLF to measure snow profiles using an optical method. Although still a prototype, Jaggi intends to use it to study the snowpack and snow metamorphism in Antarctica. It will also be an endurance test for the device, with temperatures dropping to around minus forty degrees Celsius.

Kitted out for temperatures of around minus forty degrees. (Photo: Jochen Bettzieche / SLF)

Sunny Christmas …

While a white Christmas is guaranteed, Jaggi suspects that the festivities will have more of a Mediterranean feel, given that the research station is operated by Italy and France. Moreover, a contemplative atmosphere by candlelight is unlikely over the festive season. “It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere,” says the technician. “It’ll be light all the time in Antarctica. The sun doesn’t set.”

Jaggi reaches for the big snow saw. At least he doesn’t have to think about where this should go. There is only one place for it in the long, black case in front of him. The saw is packed carefully away behind foam so that it doesn’t damage anything. The technician will need it for snow profiles, in order to obtain the straightest possible surfaces on which to measure.

In the end, there are six metal boxes, one case, two barrels and three polystyrene containers, totalling 2,000 litres in volume and 450 kilograms in weight. (Photo: Jochen Bettzieche / SLF)

… and a good herbal tea

Shovels, cables, electrical equipment, multi-sockets, a robust three-metre-long folding rule, special weatherproof and moisture-resistant writing pads, and much more go into the containers. In the end, there are six metal boxes, one case, two barrels and three polystyrene containers, totalling 2,000 litres in volume and 450 kilograms in weight. Jaggi holds back when it comes to personal items. An e-reader, some sports equipment (there is a sports room at Dome Concordia), a camera. “And,” he adds, “if I’m allowed to bring it in, a good herbal tea.”

Jochen Bettzieche, WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF

More about the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF at

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