Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Winter Olympics with HMSE

We had a mini Winter Olympics at Vals today - Rothera vs various teams from HMS Edurance. Events included downhill board & ski, slalom, snowball launch, sledging, luge and snow sculpture.

Amber and I volunteered for the snow sculpture event and chose to make a mermaid. The well-deserved winners from HMSE created an ig 'loo'. There was a stunning entry of a snow woman by one of the Morrisons builders too.
The 'free style' sledging had some interesting entries including a kayak!

We spent the evening aboard HMSE where we had a chilly BBQ on back deck followed by entertainment by their band 'The Growlers' who rocked.

HRH, HMS Endurance & ITN

It's been a busy week on base with the arrival of the ITN news team, closely followed by HMS Endurance and HRH Princess Anne and Rear Admiral Laurence. HMSE moved a large iceberg out of the way before coming alongside the wharf, which made for some interesting photos.
ITN have been doing live broadcasts all week and I've been told by people back home that they've been quite interesting( Although I can't say I'm as concerned as they appear to be about ice bergs melting in the Antarctic summer... I've managed to avoid being interviewed by them so far (sorry mom), but the Bonner lab and some of the dive team should get their moment of glory on Thursday.

HRH and Mr HRH visited the lab on Tuesday, they are both really down to earth people appeared to enjoy being shown around. A plaque for a time capsule we're burying near the new Bransfield building was unveiled in the afternoon following a short speech from BAS director Chris Rapley.

Sunday, 14 January 2007


There were apples at breakfast this morning!!!!!!!!!! Fresh fruit and veg is quite sparse on base as we only get fresh food when the Dash 7 has been to collect people from Falklands or Punta, or a ship comes in, which isn't too often. I'll have to get used to the lack of fresh food as we have about 6months over our winter when no ships or planes will be able to visit. There's a lot of other food-related things to get used to such as 'Nido' - powdered milk (as it's obviously easier to transport than UHT milk and it's a little too cold for the cows), not checking date labels (as by the time things get here they're generally out of date anyway, I found some chocolate from 1992 in the boat kit the other day!), 'Man Food' which is the freeze-dried out of date lovelyness (Hmm) which you get to eat when you're out in the field and 'smokos'. We get 2 smokos a day (basically 'coffee breaks' but the chefs like to make various smoko treats ranging from bacon sandwiches to cakes and french pastries).

I've been trying various methods of exercise to counteract the smoko treats, including snowboarding, skiing, skinning (attaching 'skins' to your skis so you can go uphill), snow-shoeing, walking around the point and today I cycled around the runway on one of the base bikes, I managed to do 5 laps - roughly 10km. There's also a small indoor climing wall and a gym on base but the weather has been too nice for that so far.

Starting Work

I'm in handover mode with Helen the current marine assistant. I feel very lucky because my job is quite varied and interesting..... scuba diving being the most exciting part of it. We're supplied with good dry suits and use full face masks so it's only really your hands which get a little bit cold towards the end of the dive. The water is around 0 degrees celsius at the moment.

Other tasks include going out on a boat to to CTDs and collect water samples. The CTD is an instrument which measures Conductivity (salinity / saltiness of water) Temperature and Depth, and is lowered by hand winch to the bottom of Ryder Bay and back (which is 500m deep!). Fortunately it is somewhat smaller than the one used on the JCR. CTDs are done roughly twice a week and the water samples are analysed back in the lab for chlorophyll and ammonia whilst some samples are also sent back to the UK for analysis.

This month Helen and I took a trip out to a local island 'Lagoon' where we installed some plastic settlement plates in the intertidal zone, I'll have to go back once or twice a year to photograph them and see if anything has grown on them. There is a small hut on the island were you can stay overnight if the weather gets bad or if you choose to get a night away from base. There are hoards of elephant seals there at the moment, they're massive, noisy and smelly but pose no threat.

Russian Helicopters

Early in the month we were visited by two Russian Helicopters stopping to re-fuel on their way to the South Pole.

Christmas & New Year

Despite the snow and Christmas decorations it didn't feel especially Christmassy on base, but it was welcome relief not to be out battling with crowds for last minute presents and enduring carols being played everywhere you go from November. We had Christmas day and boxing day off work and were given a fantastic meal cooked by the 3 chefs on base. Cyril (this years wintering chef) gave the Queen's speech in usual Cyril style. A few of us spent the afternoon at Vals (the local slope we use for skiing) snowboarding and building snowmen. We witnessed the rare sight of our two "Twotters" (Twin Otter planes) landing on the skiway (snow runway) at Vals. This is only used if the Dash 7 is coming in to land as it can't land on snow so the others have to land up at Vals and wait for the Dash to come in before landing on the runway at Rothera themselves. It was an impressive sight.

New Year's Eve started with the now traditional 10km run around the runway. I ran as part of a team and Sue-Ann and I decided it'd be much more fun in fancy dress so I brought out the horse costume which mom had helped me make for a fancy dress party last year and which I brought with me as I knew it'd come in handy! As you can see from the photos we were unaware that the race had started for quite a while and it was rather warm / awkward running in costume, it took us 17minutes to trot a lap and a half (about 2.5km) - pretty poor effort but good fun.

New Years Eve was celebrated in the 'Sledge Store' (where all the field kit, tents, skis etc are stored). Music was provided by 'Flamenco Jamie, Rob & Tris' followed by newly formed 'Ratchet Death' (not sure where the name came from), I played the sax on a few songs.

All in all a top evening and couldn't think of a better way to welcome in 2007.

Friday, 12 January 2007


Well, after 2 months of training, 1 day of flying, 10 days in the Falklands, 10 days at sea (and 12 years of wondering what it'd be like to actually go there) I finally arrived at Rothera, my home for the next two and a half years!

The following week was mainly taken up with 'relief' i.e. unloading the cargo from JCR. We received initial field training giving us the 'basic' skills of crevasse rescue, use of ice axes and crampons and use of pyramid tents, primus stoves and tilly lamps. We got to spend the night out camping at 'Vals' (the local area used for boarding / skiing) and woke to stunning views over base and out to the mountains of the Antarctic peninsular. It's summer at the moment and currently 24hr daylight which is difficult to get used to as you don't really feel tired!

The views from base are stunning and constantly changing with the weather. We're surrounded by mountains, glaciers, huge ice cliffs, ice bergs, sea and numerous small islands. The base is pretty busy at this time with people flying in and out on a daily basis being ferried between Stanley / Rothera and field stations further along the peninsular on the Dash 7 and Twin Otters.

Nymayer Channel, Lamaire Channel & Vernadsky

The final part of the journey to Rothera took us through the stunning Numayer and Lamaire Channels. These really were awesome beyond words so I'll just stick in some of my better photos instead!

We had the rare opportunity to go ashore at Vernadsky (the old BAS base 'Faraday' now run by the Ukranians) and get a tour around the base. One rather interesting instrument was the Dobson Spectrophotometer (see photo) which was used in the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica and is still in use at Vernadsky today.

We boarded the JCR again, next stop Rothera....

Science on the JCR

During the 10 days it took to get from the Falklands to Rothera I assisted on the 'Drake Passage Science Cruise'. This mainly invlolved helping with the 'CTDs' (an oceonagraphic instrument which measures Conductivity (used to assess the saltiness / salinity of the water), Temperature and Depth) in conjunction with automated sample bottles which enabled water samples to be taken at various depths (see photo below). The CTD and water bottles were lowered to depths of up to 4000m in the Drake Passage! Much fun was also had attaching polystryene cups to the CTD frame and sending them down to the depths of the ocean where the immense pressure squeezes all the air out of them!

We celebrated Anne's (one of the Artists who get to come to Antarctica to be inspired - how cool is that?!) birthday in style with a cocktail party on the Monkey Island (the strange name for an outdoor platform near the top of the ship - I'm sure someone out there can enlighten me as to why it's called this). Matt, Jim and Jamie made excellent waiters, randomly named the 'serviettes' for the night. There was a great turnout despite the temperature.

Thursday, 11 January 2007


My journey South started at RAF Brize Norton from where we flew to the Falklands via Ascension Island. We remained in the Falklands for 10 days prior to boarding the James Clark Ross (JCR) for the final leg of the journey.

Taking advantage of the free time we had in the Falklands a few of us took a trip out to Volunteer point to see the King, Gentoo & Magallenic penguins. It was quite bizzare seeing penguins on grassy banks and the beach.

A 2-day trip out to Sea Lion Island (via a tiny 6-seater Inter Islanader plane) proved highly rewarding, with Orca (Killer Whales) appearing in the bay within half an hour of our arrival. It was spectacular to watch them cruising in and out of the small bay checking out the Elephant seals. The local wildlife was abundant and unafraid - elephant seals, gentoo & rockhopper penguins, king cormorants, sealions, petrels.

The JCR arrived in Stanley on 5th December and we departed on 7th, bound for Rothera.

In the beginning....

Well I thought it was about time I joined the hoards of bloggers if only to keep my friends and family updated on my exploits down south.

I joined BAS (British Antarctic Survey) in September as the new Marine Biology Assistant for Rothera Research Station, where I will be based for the next two and a half years. My training started in the UK where I attended a number of courses including first aid, commercial diver training, a chainsaw course (for cutting dive holes through the ice of course!) and boat handling.

I shall endeavour to catch up as best I can (what with it now being January!)