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

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Frozen Sea

Panoramic view of the sea ice around Rothera, taken from Reptile Ridge

Finally, after weeks of 'warm' (up to +3 degrees C) and windy weather it's starting to get a little more wintery. With the calm weather and temperatures dropping to -17 the sea ice has started to form. This week the ice in the local area was finally thick enough to allow travel so Birgit and I headed out to cut some holes and deploy some traps in a bid to collect some marine life for us to study.

Matt making light work of chainsawing through the 40cm thick ice in Hangar Cove

GAs & willing volunteers heading out to test the thickness of the sea ice further off base

Freeing the ice blocks
Hauling the ice blocks from the holes

After 5 days of clearig the holes of new ice and checking traps daily our catch totals a rather disappointing single Parbolasia worm.

A delightful Parbolasia. They're around 50cm long and very slimy! They are scavengers and will eat anything, apparently one was once caught in Hangar Cove which had ingested an empty Spam tin!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Sunshine straight from the fridge!

North end of Stork Ridge. The route is to the right of centre

Dan (GA) and I headed out to climb a route on Stork North today. Climbing routes often get bizarre names which are highly meaningful to those who named them but usually leave others a bit bewildered - as in this case where the route is named 'straight from the fridge', sadly I have no idea why. It was a mixed route - meaning partly snow / ice and partly rock. Rock climbing whilst wearing large boots, crampons & gloves and weilding ice axes is "interesting".

Me leading up the easy bit!

On reaching the top we were rewarded with a very special sight - our first view of the sun since it disappeared behind the horizon nearly 2 months ago.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Crevasse Exploring

Some photos from a stunning local crevasse which Rob, Dan and I went to explore:

Dan setting up the anchors to enable us to abseil down into the crevasse (photo by Rob Webster)

We abseiled 20m down to a fairly wide snow bridge then descended another 10m on foot whilst the walls of the crevasse narrowed, just allowing us to get through.

My crevasse pose (photo by Rob Webster)

At the entrance the walls supported strange mushroom-like snow formations.

(photo by Rob Webster)

Rob admiring the icicles which made amazing sounds when chimed.

As we got to the end of our rope (meaning this was as far as we could go.. for today) it was getting fairly narrow and the walls were perfectly smooth.

(photo by Rob Webster)

Jumaring back out wasn't quite as much fun (it involves hauling yourself up the rope with the aid of 'Jumars', these can be moved up the rope and grip it when they are loaded, there's also a sling attached to one of them in which you put your foot. So it's a case of standing up in the sling then quickly moving the top jumar up as high as you can, bending your knee and moving the lower jumar & leg loop up and repeating process this lots and lots and lots of times)