Monday, 23 March 2009

All in a day's work

I've just found this post that I wrote 3 years ago but didn't publish.  I might get around to updating this site one day! 

Today has been my last Monday at Rothera (the Ernest Shackleton arrives on Thursday and we depart for the Falklands on Sunday)

I arrived at work this morning to find a fur seal sitting outside my window - I have one of the best office-window-views on base (but then I would say that). Sitting at my desk I can see the sea, ice cliffs, mountains and the islands and often have penguins and seals passing by - so it takes some beating.

The 1st dive of the morning - Birgit and I went in off the wharf on the hunt for brachiopods which are pink bi-valve molluscs (rather like a mussel but fatter and pink!). The underwater visibility is improving and down at 25m where there is less impact from icebergs the life is stunning - anemones, sponges, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, nudibranchs and brachiopods.

After lunch we headed further afield to a site called Shack's Crack. En route we came across 3 curious humpback whales. They spent 10 minutes circling our tiny RIB and swimming right underneath us, it was a truly awesome experience to see these huge animals swimming so gracefully and watching us with as much interest as we were watching them. None of us had a camera but in someways I'm thankful for that - sometimes it's better to just watch and remember (so I apolologise for not being able to share the experienc visually).

We continued to Shack's Crack - a large crack in the rock of Ryder Bay buttress. This site offers an excellent wall dive, the rock drops vertically down into the sea and underwater carries straight on down to 100m. We were planning on diving at 18m - so it's one of those dives where you have to be pretty confident with your buoyancy. The visibility was abot 15m which is good for summer. Again the life here is abundant - large sponges, soft corals, anemones, squirts and limpets.

Tonight I am doing a shift on nightwatch (since it's the last week of summer a few of us are doing a night each this week to save one person doing it all week). I've been baking cookies (chocolate, walnut & apricot), doing my rounds (fire checks and ensuring everything is running as it should - generators, science computers, freezers etc..) and cleaning.

I can't imgine there are too many jobs out there where you get paid to do all this - but if anyone knows of any please let me know as I'm going to be unemployed this time next week!! As of next week a whole set of new adventures awaits - I'll be spending 6 weeks travelling up through South America- meeting some good friends and my brother and parents along the way. I can't believe it's been 27 months since I've seen them.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Rothera Summer is...

being able to get aerial views
spending Christmas at Sky Blu...
...with luxury accommodation

ice skating in the sunshine on a blue-ice runway

drinking Christmas whisky with 1000(s) year old blue ice
getting up close with killer whales

boating and diving in an Antarctic context
sunbathing seals
the appearance of snow algae around the point
flocks of gullsmelting snow

Summer is also about not finding time to update your blog! Apologies and Happy New Year!
2009 will be a strange year, after spending an amazing 2 years living and working at Rothera it will be time to leave my home in less than 10 weeks. This is a very sad yet very happy occasion - all in all emotionally confusing! Leaving will no doubt be an awful experience, one which will be eased by the thought of meeting up with friends and family and the adventure of re-discovering the colours, smells, sights and sounds of the real world (I'm sure there are many best left un-discovered!).

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Yesterday Rob, Dan & I set off for a second round of crevasse exploration. We came across a promising-looking slump in the snow and managed to open up a small hole in the snow bridge through which to enter.

A ramp of snow (a 'false floor' probably created by a previously collapsed snow bridge) gave us an easy entry into the main crevasse. It was considerably wider than the previous slot we'd discovered and continued opening up towards the top where it was heavily bridged by snow. Large lumps of old snow bridge littered the false floor on which we were standing. In winter it can be expected that the snow bridges are 'fairly stable' as temperatures are low and there is little sunlight to cause melting. There's always that chance that they might 'go' but then you might get run over by a skidoo tomorrow....
Dan went ahead fixing the rope to the solid walls of the crevasse as he went. We're always clipped into the rope just incase the floor decides to disappear beneath us! Rob descending into the crevasse

The point where we had entered was fairly cavernous, leading off this was a small chamber where Dan headed off to check what was around the corner. Rob and I stood patiently listening to the sounds of "****", "wow", "ermmm", lots of hammering with ice axes and nervous laughter. Finally we were allowed to follow. There was a large fin of ice coming up into the centre of the narrowed crevasse, Dan had knocked the top off enabling us to move along it in a very dignified shuffling manner. In the words of Greg & Al (the infamous [at Rothera anyway] NZ yoga instructors whose video yoga-routine we regularly follow) "the guys may need to re-adjust the placement of their tackle for this move"...There were some amazing ice formations including large ice-crystals (about an inch long) that resembled feathers (and sadly were difficult to get a photo of) and in one corner a mass of icy threads which looked like spider webs.
It is an unusal feeling entering these stunning underground ice caves, into which possibly no one has ever been (there hasn't been much recorded about people visiting crevasses in this area). You feel extremely priviliged yet extremely vulnerable (despite all the protection you put in place). They are extraordinarily beautiful places where calm and cold conditions allow for the creation of unbelievable ice formations, often sculpted by the flow of air through its passages. There is a sense of time standing still, as whatever the weather is doing up top, underground it is calm, with dim blue light shining through where the snow bridge is at its thinnest. It is deathly quiet and you are filled with a great sense of awe for the place. I have only been down three crevasses and each has been entirely different, I'm looking forward to seeing what suprises the next one holds....

Saturday, 9 August 2008


Today has, in some ways, been rather frustrating. It's been nearly a month since I've been able to get out to do a CTD - the CTD is an instrument which measures Conductivity (from which you can work out the salinity (saltiness) of the water), Temperature and Depth. It also hosts a PAR sensor (which measures Photosynthetically Active Radiation i.e. the part of the sunlight that the phytoplankton use) and a fluorometer (which measures the amount of phytoplankton in the water). The CTD is attached to a winch mounted on a RIB (small boat) and taken to a site in Ryder Bay where it is winched (by hand) to 500m and back twice a week in the summer and once a week in the winter. This gathers important oceanographic data which contributes to a data set spanning 10 years for Ryder Bay, this is one of the largest data sets for Antarctic waters and one of very few spanning summer and winter months.
Since early July some promising-looking sea ice had been forming in Ryder Bay, sadly high temperatures (up to 2oC) and high winds have caused the sea ice to break out and we're back to open water. After being unable to boat because of the ice (which was too thin to take skidoos on in order to do a CTD) this week has been too windy to go out boating. It started to calm down yesterday afternoon but no sooner had we got out to the CTD site (about 3km from base) the wind increased and changed direction causing us to head for home and making recovery of the boats rather interesting. This morning the weather looked promising once again but the pesky wind picked up just as we were donning our boat suits. It did drop off this afternoon, only to give way to snow showers which reduced visibility too much for us to go out. Still... sitting around waiting to see what the weather did involved drinking lots of tea so it wasn't such a bad thing.

Deploying the CTD on a dingle day in summer

Elsewhere on base.....

Adam and Matty have been setting up the new overhang on the climbing wall in Fuchs House. Graham (chippy) has done a marvellous job on the structure and we're all looking forward to trying it out. The only problem is there is a shortage of large holds so it could end up being rather challenging.

Currently there are a number of people on base training for the Rothera Triathlon, basically we're going to put ourselves through a few hours of utter tedium sitting in the gym for a 5km row, 30km bike then 10km run. For some there is the challenge of getting their best time or being the fastest. For me it's more a case of if I don't die I will be delighted :)

Monday, 4 August 2008

Antarctitc 48-hour Film Festival

This weekend stations all over Antarctica took part in the first ever continent-wide 48 hour film making competition. This has been run at McMurdo Station and Scott Base for the last two years, but this year they invited other Antarctic stations that have a winter crew were to join in. To ensure the films were filmed and edited over one weekend a number of randomly drawn elements to be inlcuded in the films were picked and e-mailed on Friday evening. These included a cardboard box, an 'FNG' (american base slang for a 'new guy'), the line "what do you mean you want a day of for Midwinter?" and a bodily noise that wasn't speech.
Our film was very much a base-wide effort and it was brilliant to see everyone working together so well. Here are a few photos from the weekend but to get the full story have a look at the end result here....

Jim (AKA the FNG)

Adam playing a convincing dame

Matty the Producer & Editor checking the set

James, Ferg & Bravo getting that perfect camera angle

Some disturbing extra footage can be seen by following these links....

Adam gets to grips with his new physique -

Doc Jason takes time to admire Matty's handywork with the prop making-

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Sea Ice Excursions

After a disappointing sea ice year last year, when 'travel' was limited to access to dive holes in Hangar Cove, it was a brilliant experience to finally be able to walk on water around Rothera Point this week. We were out testing the thickness of the ice which remained between 20 and 40cm.
Massive icebergs get trapped as the ice forms

Ferg & Jason admiring the awesome views

A huuuuuge berg with Jenny Island in the background
Heading towards South Cove

Me using a different mode of transport in the same spot 2 weeks ago

Rather disappointingly the last few days has brought windy and warm weather (temperatures up to +1 and sleet yesterday!). This has caused leads (patches of open water) to open up in the ice and means we will have to wait for a lot of it to reform before we can go out on it again.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Flag Ceremony

The flag on Rothera Point is traditionally replaced on the day of the sun returning to base. The ceremony was perfectly timed with the sun peeking over Stokes peaks just as we started.

Ali, our base commander, welcoming the sun
John (the eldest on base) lowers the old flag
Matt (the youngest) raises the new flag