Category Archives: Field Assistant

Signy Research Station

The island of Signy was first named on a chart in 1912 and by 1945 the precursor to the British Antarctic Survey was actively looking for somewhere to site a base in the South Orkney islands.  There was briefly a hut at Cape Geddes on nearby Laurie Island before the Signy Research Station was built in 1947.  As with a lot of these bases this one has gone through many permutations over the years from housing up to thirty wintering staff to its current status as a summer only base with only seven of us.  Before the BAS base at Signy the island was heavily used by whalers in the early 1900s and much evidence remains from this period, the wrecks of various ships, pumps and pipes for fresh water and of course enormous skeletons from some of the whales.  The whale populations have never recovered from this period – a whale sighting would now be a special event on Signy though the catch data from 1920-1930 shows forty four thousand Blue whales and thirty two thousand Fin whales were caught between the South Orkneys and South Shetlands.

Signy remains significant today due to the long running data records and the fact that so many animals visit these islands.  When the various animals arrive and choose to breed shows simply what is happening as global warming affects the planet while the exact reasons remain complex and hard to study.  With less sea ice every year the breeding cycle of the Antarctic animals gets earlier and species that previously bred further north now do so as far South as the South Orkneys.  Fur seals are a good example with only one sighted in 1949 and 13,000 sightings a year by the 1980s along with the first recorded pups.

I’m going to attempt here to answer some of the common questions posed by friends and family about life on a small base.

_MG_5545

Sørlle house, the main building of Signy Research Station.  Captain Petter Sørlle was the first to produce a chart of the islands and named Signy island after his wife Fru Signy Sørlle.  Left to right – our labs, offices, living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms are all contained in this building.  The base is pretty small!931A9420

The weathers not usually like this but it is an awesome view when you step outside the front door.  When people wintered at Signy they would travel across the sea ice to Coronation island to climb the peaks.  We have a single person travel limit (about 2 kilometers) and a two person travel area (the rest of the island).

931A9308

Pit room.  The bedrooms are tiny and there is something slightly funny about sleeping in a bunkbed as a grown up but generally you only go in your pit room to sleep anyway._MG_5992

Darts match in the living room.  The kitchen joins this on the left of the image.  This room is used as a dining room, living room, cinema, pub etc etc.  We’re actually playing one of the other bases here via skype.  Iain (far left) is updating the score while the camera is on the dart board.  The connection between bases isn’t really good enough to speak but the video is just good enough to check if the other team is cheating.  L-R Iain (facing away), Fabrizio, Tim, Tom, Matt and Jim

Untitled.001

The two most important documents on base.  On the left is the Earlies and Lates rota.  If you’re on earlies you get up at 6am, check the generators and the water production and make bread.  You are then also responsible for providing the evening meal.  The blue sections are when there are low tides which in turn affects some of the travel area.  Lates means you have to stay up till midnight and do a final walk around of base turning things off.  On the right is the weather forecast. It is surprisingly accurate here – the big green bits are cloud cover and the purple sky scrapers are precipitation.

While we all have our own job roles on base its common to help each other with bigger tasks or if you finish what you’re doing early in the day.  So – who am I with and what do they do?

_MG_5998

Matt (Station Leader) (with Tim to the right).  Matt works as a carpenter in the UK but has been the Station Leader at Signy for 13 years as well as numerous other seasons at other stations.  Photo taken during one of the Saturday morning training sessions – how to fix stoves and lanterns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tom (Carpenter/Builder) – works in the UK as a carpenter and formerly worked for BAS during the Halley VI move in 2016/17.  Tom and Jim are working this season to do up the base as well as work on a couple of the huts around the island.  Tom here helping Iain and I move some new stove parts for one of the huts up to the skidoo parked about a kilometre away.

931A0686

Jim (Carpenter / Builder) – Jim has spent the last eleven summers working on various different BAS bases as well as going to a lot of the historical sites such as Stonington, Horseshoe and Port Lockroy helping keep the buildings standing or “polishing turds” as he would probably put it.931A0167

Fabrizio (Scientist) – Works in the UK as a University lecturer and has formerly done a couple of short summer seasons on Signy collecting penguin data.  Fabrizio’s area of study is the penguins feeding habits during the nesting season.931A9253

Tim (Zoological Field Assistant) – Tim started at BAS the same time as I did in 2015 and wintered on Bird Island as part of a group of four.  Tim collects the data for the long running penguin studies along with any other science that needs done.931A9443Iain (Facilities Engineer) – Iain works as a gas fitter in the UK but has spent the last three seasons on Signy making sure the generators produce power for the base and the reverse osmosis plant produces drinking water along with a host of other necessary facilities for us to live here.

_MG_5552

Gentoo penguin outside base.  A few people have asked whether its claustrophobic living with such few people on such a small base.  For me, no, not really.  It will no doubt be a shock when we get back the real world but in general theres plenty of space on base and you can always step outside the front door and hang out with a penguin or a seal.

Visitors.  We do in fact get some visitors through the season.  The HMS Protector (The UK’s vessel that patrols Antarctic waters) was first and we will have three cruise ships visit throughout the season.  The other part of our role here is to promote Antarctic Science.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Royal Marines helping us get some building supplies ashore for “Foca” hut on the west coast with the HMS protector standing off.  Six marines with Jim, Tom and I then shifted the building supplies from the shore up to the hut by hand.

931A0092

The Barque Europa.  Built in the early 1900’s the Europa is the only traditional boat to cruise with paying guests in Antarctic waters.  The guests have to stand watch and help with the running of the ship.  The captain was kind enough to give us a tour and I felt like a real pirate with Tom whistling the theme to “Pirates of the Caribbean” behind me.  Cruise ship passengers come ashore for a brief tour of base, ask some questions and can then buy BAS merchandise and use the Post Office.

Those that went before.  Just over the hill from base is “Cemetery Flats” – a reminder that the South Orkneys have a long (for Antarctica) human history and any hardships we think we might have are really nothing compared to those at the start of the 1900’s

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Unknown Whaler”  of the six large crosses at Cemetery flats, three are unknown whalers with the others Norwegian names.  Unfortunately the cemetery is now a popular wallow for elephant seals.

Screenshot 2018-12-07 16.49.19

“Ginge” one of the longest serving BAS staff at Signy.  Ginge sailed back to the Falklands in 1962 after living on the base for years.  BAS are now a lot more careful about invasive species! (Photo by Fred Topliffe)
Untitled.001-2

Taken from the old Signy recipe book.  “An excellent breakfast dish”!

_MG_6002

Saturday night dinner.  Our Christmas decorations are up and Jim has taken to wearing a santa hat already.  Saturday nights are usually a three course sit down meal with a few drinks.  Hard life!

Also posted in alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Signy, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , |

What are we doing here?

So why are there seven of us on a tiny island for the Antarctic Summer?  First and foremost we are here so the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a presence in the South Orkney Islands.  This is arguable (and I should probably be careful what I write here) but with an Argentinian base on the nearby Coronation island the FCO needs to keep the current BAS bases running every year which in turn helps with the British say in the Antarctic Treaty.  Science probably comes equal to that and on Signy science means penguins.  The colonies studied on Signy have the longest data sets of any in Antarctica and they continued to be monitored every year.  Along with the penguins there is also a vast amount of other bird life, seals and mosses and lichens.  Understanding what is happening to the various species in Antarctica over time gives an insight into what is happening in the larger environment.

So seeing as lots of people have asked for pictures of penguins, here it is, lots of photos of the wildlife at Signy.

931A9411

Flying the flag at Signy Research Station, Coronation island behind.  If you’d like to have a virtual wonder around Signy Research Station click – here

penguins

At signy we have three types of penguins – Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo.931A9196So can you spot the difference?  While this looks like one massive colony there are actually distinct boundaries between groups of birds.  Sometimes this is birds of different types (this is Adelies and Chinstraps) and sometimes just different groups of the same bird.

People love penguins – I think this is because we find some of their actions endearing and somewhat humanlike – they mate for life, they return to the same colony they were born in to have their chicks and the male and females take turns on the nest and going off to feed.  They also have very little fear of humans and look funny when they walk!

931A9638Tim (the Zoological Field Assistant) has two main study colonies – one of Adelies and one of Chinstraps.  In these colonies he has 100 nesting pairs that he checks every two days.  He checks each nest for number of eggs and/or chicks.  When the chicks are born they will get weighed and their diet sampled as well.  Above – Iain (facilities engineer) recording the numbers as Tim shouts them out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Recording at the Adelie colony.

931A9216

Adelie penguin posing for the camera.  Its hard not to imbue animals with human traits.  If Adelies were humans they would probably be the village idiot, constantly wondering around, falling over, stealing stones from each others nests and looking quite lost.931A9232The ecstatic display.  At times is hard to imagine penguins showing emotion but this does seem to be a display of pure love and affection – perhaps another reason everyone loves penguins so much.  It usually starts with a slight bow to each other , sometimes twice, there heads almost touching and then they bob and weave there heads either side of each other dipping down as low as there middles.  They then look at each other with there heads close together before looking away as if to check that no-ones noticed.  A pair of penguins might stop and do this every few minutes if they are both at the nest at the same time.

931A9644 Chinstraps on the nest.  The chinstraps are slightly smaller than the Adelies and don’t seem to do quite so much aimless wondering around.931A9199Chinstraps standing around in their pairs.  This has changed now with one of the pair permanently on the nest.

931A9260Gentoo penguins.  The Gentoos are a tiny bit bigger than the Adelies and a lot more skittish.  They also nest further away at the North point of the island.  While the two main study colonies on the Gourlay peninsular get counted every two days the other colonies get counted every couple of weeks.

931A9648Is that meant to be one chick or one egg?  Iain checks his numbers with Tim after another counting session.  

931A9621

We also record all seals that we see and in February all of the staff on base will be involved with the annual seal census counting every seal on the island over a few days.  Above – it can sometimes be hard to work out what type of seal it actually is (these are Weddell Seals)

931A9310Leopard Seal.  These are the absolute killing machines of the Southern Ocean and actually responsible for the last fatality at BAS in 2005.  This one was hauled out just below some Adelie colonies having a rest.
931A9360No doubt what type of seal it is when you see a Leopard seal close up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Elephant seals – the one everyone loves to hate.  These are enormous animals and they love getting around the BAS bases, keeping you up at night burping and farting.  The bull elephant seals are enormous and can grow to weigh about four tons.  These adolescent elephant seals have found a nice wallow amongst the crosses of some Norwegian Whalers a short walk from Base.  While ridiculous and disgusting on land they are amazing animals with the ability to dive to around 4 km in depth while shutting down their brains, operating on a sort of “auto pilot”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Elephant seal pup and its mother.  Pretty much the cutest of all baby seals its hard to imagine it growing into a full size one!

931A9181

Fur seal trying to scare me off.  Fur seals are really the only thing we have to watch out for on land.  They look and behave a bit like an angry Doberman and if they do manage to bite you the wound would be pretty dirty.  Sleeping, they look just like rocks and then leap into action either making a big fuss or making for the sea.

931A9247Southern Giant petrel – There are also lots of other bird species on the island other than penguins.

931A9272

Cape Petrels in the water at North Point.

931A9432

Iain looking down on the Gourlay peninsular on a rare blue sky day.

If seven people seems a lot just to count some penguins here is brief run down of our jobs.  While everyone has set responsibilities its very normal to help each other depending on work schedules etc.

Matt – Station Leader.  Deals with the running of the base, Comms and the bigger picture

Iain – Facilities Engineer.  Keeps us in Electricity and Water

Jim and Tom – Carpenters/Builders.  This year fixing the base and and the huts.

Tim and Mike/ Fabrizio – Zoological field assistants.  Mike and Fabrizio change over this weekend after a visit from the HMS protector.  They have both ongoing science and sometimes other data collection for other papers and PHD students.

Me – Field Assistant/ Field Guide.  Basically anything to do with being out “in the field” from training to helping with data collection to keeping the huts restocked with food and fuel.

Other blog posts coming soon – Life on base (with better photos of the team) as well as more about the Base and the huts and of course some more penguin photos (the first chicks just hatched in the last couple of days).

 

Also posted in Adelie Penguin, alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Gentoo, Signy, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Ernest Shackleton and Signy Arrival

We were on board the Ernest Shackleton for two days before setting off South with Signy Research Station as the first stop. Ive spent a fair amount of time at sea before including yachts on the Wild Coast of South Africa and various tall ships in the South China sea and the North Atlantic and I’ve rarely been seasick. This was all about to change.

Onboard the ship passengers are still referred to as FIDs though there is no longer a “King Fid” declared as there was in the old days of BAS staff going south (Spikes book “In the shadow of Ben Nevis” has a great description of how it was for BAS Staff going south in the 1960’s). Initially I had been a bit put out by us being the first stop as it would have been a good excuse to see the other BAS island bases “Bird Island” and “King Edward Point” on South Georgia. Within a few hours at sea I had changed my mind.  By the first meal I was feeling pretty rough and heard one of the crew comment “It can’t be rough yet – the FIDs are still showing up for food” – sure enough the only thing I managed to show up to after this point was a few very quick meals and the various safety briefings.  The hardest thing about this journey is really that there isn’t much to do even if you are feeling well.  There is some basic exercise  equipment in the hold, a tv lounge, a smoking room and a general lounge or as I did you can just lie in your cabin and stare out of the porthole.

Arriving in the South Orkneys I was relieved to see only open water and no sea ice. With sea ice present it would have been up to me and the Station Leader to organise the relief of the ship over the ice – testing thicknesses etc. In a fragile sea sick state this could have been quite the test. In fact all we had to do was wait for the crew of the Ernest Shackleton to get there tenders ready, struggle into our dry suits and head to the base.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jim and I’s cabin on the ship.  These are sometimes shared by four people.  Luckily for me I had the top bunk so could easily see out of the porthole

931A9122

 

 

 

One of the less rough moments when I managed to go to the bridge.  The Shack is known for her corkscrewing motion and the fact that she rolls 30degrees.  (That horizon is meant to be straight!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A really exciting briefing. (Biosecurity I think)931A9125

My favourite view.  I was able to lie in my bunk and watch a film on my laptop as long as I alternated between the porthole and the screen every couple of minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lifeboat drills on the first morning at Sea.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the last season that BAS plan on using the Ernest Shackleton.  With the new ship currently being built the Shack will end her service next spring and the James Clark Ross the following year.  This calendar on one of the decks shows the progression from two to three ships and down to just the “Sir David Attenborough” and finally it sinking in 2021 (bottom right).  931A9129

Looking a bit pasty but very ready to get off the ship.  After three days at sea I was ready to leave my cabin!

931A9130

First view of the South Orkneys931A9145

Jim and a big pile of cargo ready to go ashore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Ernest Shackleton out in the bay as another blizzard rolls in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving not been lived in for eight months the first job was removing the shutters off the window and getting the base habitable (to be sure that we wouldn’t have to back to the ship that night!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Various ships crew and staff from other bases came ashore to help dig out the base and unload cargo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The most important cargo was the last off.  I’m holding a case of Glenmorangie and was happy to see Dalwhinnie 15yr old and some Talisker 57deg North come off as well.  Hopefully it lasts us!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The fresh food that came ashore will be all we get until the next time the ship comes in mid January.  Every piece of fresh food has to be inspected for any wee beasties that might have hitched a ride.  Above – Tim and Mike (Scientists) inspect the cauliflower and remove a few tiny caterpillars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Taking the Skidoo around to the other side of the island.  The Shack was only with us for a few days so it was important to make the most use of their tenders while we could.  It felt pretty strange to be putting a skidoo onto a boat and taking it to somewhere I’d never been.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One penguin, two penguins, three penguins….. Tim doing his first of many penguin counts.  Tim, Mike and I made a quick visit to the main penguin colonies on the Gourlay peninsular on the second day.  This will be Tims main focus for the 5 months and part of my job is to help him.  (Dont worry – lots of penguin shots to come!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Its definitely spring here.  The South Orkneys are at 60deg South so gets roughly the same daylight hours as Orkney in the North of Scotland (59deg North).  It is a little colder here month by month however due to not having the gulf stream.

signy.001

Signy Island.  Home for seven of us for the next four months.  The base is on the peninsular in the middle of the East coast (tiny black dots)  You can view a pdf version of this map here.

Next blog – life on base and why we’re here.

Also posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Ernest Shackleton, Field Assistant Antarctica, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Signy, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Heading South

Its now a week since I left home, slowly making my south for another season in Antarctica.  Traveling with the British Antarctic Survey is always slow and dates and times constantly change around you as you travel, making for lots of confusion and frustration along with a lot of time to read your book.  The changeable nature of traveling south is even more pronounced when traveling by ship to the island bases of South Georgia, Bird Island and Signy, where I will be spending the next four and a bit months.  The travel might be slow but is always interesting and this season even more so for me getting to travel through the Falklands.

I’m not great at understanding much about somewhere till I get to visit and while I had obviously heard of the Falkland Islands growing up I really know nothing about them other than they were “owned” by the UK, they weren’t very big, they were always windy and there was a war fought over them when I was a kid.  Since working for BAS I had also become aware that they were a major stepping stone for personnel going to work in Antarctica.  BAS staff are still sometimes referred to as FID’s (Falkland Islands Dependants).

931A8994Stanley Post Office.  When wandering around the Falklands a lot of it feels very British and then you turn a corner and see a penguin.

falkland-islands-location-mapI had never really grasped why Margaret Thatcher had sent the British Navy to the Falklands after the Argentinians invaded in 1982.  It makes more sense in Stanley where the people are so proud to be British and there’s a statue of Thatcher in the high street where shes heralded as the person that came to the Falklands rescue.  In a recent referendum 99.7% of the Falkland islanders voted to stay under British Sovereignty.  There was one person who voted against!

For those of us heading South the falklands is an 18hr flight in a Military Airplane via Cape Verde from Brize Norton near Oxford.   Military planes have loads of leg room and a box of food is thrust at you every two hours but unfortunately theres not 500 films to watch on your own personal screen.931A9001At one end of Stanley high street is a statue of Margaret Thatcher, at the other a statue made from the jaw bones of two blue whales.  This has stood since 1933 (with a bit of restoration) and is hard to believe that these could have come from any animal alive today.

931A9003Sort of British and sort of not.  British style town houses with tin roofs in Stanley

931A9006The only sign that you’re outside one of the most popular pubs in the Falklands.  Its very hard to tell whether a building is a shop, pub or someones house as there’s very little to tell them apart.

931A9018Black- Crowned Night Heron at Gypsy Cove.

931A9041Obviously with a major war having been fought on a tiny island there’s old ordnance all over the place.  The gun that guarded the mouth of Stanley harbor  is looking pretty old now.

931A9044I spent a day wondering in the hills above Stanley.  I’m told this weather is pretty rare in the Falklands but it was perfect weather for climbing!

931A9050Its definitely windy!  A wander along Berthas beach with some other BAS staff showed endless sand dunes and a few penguins.

931A9082Sort of like the UK and sort of not.  A gentoo penguin casually sauntering past some geese and a sheep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoarding the Ernest Shackleton in more normal Falklands weather.

We (the 7 of us going to Signy) should be spending four days on the Shackleton along with some staff headed to the other island bases.

Signy Antarctica.001Where is Signy?  Signy Research Station is a Summer only station in the South Orkney Islands, 600km from the Antarctic peninsular.  More people have heard of the South Shetland Islands (closer to the peninsular) as they contain Elephant Island where Frank Wild was left with some of Shackleton’s men when he set off for South Georgia after the failure of the Endurance expedition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While the Ernest Shackleton is an Ice Class vessel (not an Ice Breaker) she is known to have a fairly bad roll in heavy seas.  I thought the statement “If you suffer from motion sickness however slight this ship will make you ill” pretty funny at the initial brief but when we set sail tomorrow it might be a different story!

 

 

Also posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Ernest Shackleton, Falkland Islands, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Gentoo, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Stanley, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |

Finlandia Foothills and a Skua Survey

The news was broken to me at Halley that I was the only person flying back to Rothera with Olly the pilot.  My dreams of alternating between napping and reading my book in the back while someone else did co-pilot duties were shattered!  As the plane was so light we flew direct from Halley to Rothera in just under seven hours with me still managing to get a bit of a nap and some reading done.  In reality it was a fun trip feeling much more like a road trip than normal with just Olly and I chatting away and me occasionally doing a little bit of flying to give Olly a break.  On the way out of Halley we flew over the RRS Ernest Shackleton doing relief on the Brunt Ice Shelf 40km from the Halley base.

931A6425

The “Shack” doing relief with lots of cargo sledges and vehicle lined up to take the cargo back to base.
931A6431

By the time we got to Rothera it was grey and overcast.  Flying from Halley to Rothera directly does mean that the last bit of the journey has some interesting views as the route cuts across the peninsular.

931A6462

Back at Rothera Julie and I had a bit of planning and packing to do before the input to the Finlandia Foothills for our final short project of the season.  It wasn’t until after Julie had flown in to establish our camp that I was shown this excerpt from the previous field party in the area in the early 80’s.  Needless to say Julie and Pete were on the ground for five days waiting for the weather to improve for the rest of us to fly in.931A6473

Julie walking away from camp with the Wilson range behind.  The team of six of us were in the Finlandia Foothills on Alexander island in the hope of establishing an Antarctic Special Protected Area (ASPA).  An area of the foothills had shown promise via satellites and four scientists were expecting a higher than normal density of biological matter and some birds. (Basically bird poo, birds, moss and lichens).  (Fossil Bluff is also on Alexander Island which at BAS is often referred to as being the same size as Wales.  I recently learnt that it is also the second largest uninhabited island in the world)

931A6489

On our first afternoon we headed up on the screes above camp looking for moss and lichen931A6490

Pete hard at work collecting Lichens931A6499Gearing up to leave camp.  On this day we decided to head down to our main objective just over 6km away.  Note the bird net Richard is carrying.931A6503

Julie and the two Pete’s skiing away from camp.

931A6492

What a lot of Lichen!  After three hours of glacier travel on skis and foot we reached the site to realise that there was…. just a few bits of Lichen and no sign of birds, bird poo or moss.  We had expected the sample collections at this site to take three to four days!
931A6515

Scientists in the mist.  While at the site Kevin wanted to collect a series of DNA samples making him and Richard look particularly strange wandering around in the mist.  Needless to say it was quickly decided that the site was not worthy of ASPA status!
931A6531-HDR

The neighbours – It was great to be in a field camp as a large group again as once we had discovered the site was not what we wanted we had to wait a few days to be picked up.931A6538

Julie and the Petes being told the planes wont arrive tomorrow.

931A6547

After eleven days for Julie and just six for me we flew back late afternoon over some amazing chunks of sea ice and the RSS James Clark Ross doing relief at Rothera.

931A6555JCR on the Rothera Wharf.

931A6575

Skua survey.  After a brief couple of days at Rothera it was straight back out with my tentmates from Finlandia, Kevin and Richard, to carry on a skua survey on the islands near Rothera.  The flags on Kevin and Richards bags are to give the skua’s something to go for rather than your head when you’re peering into their nests.931A6577

Skua chick.  While Kevin outlined survey areas and Richard counted nesting pairs I tried to count nest contents.  Despite the skuas clearly showing you where their nests are by swooping you more and more aggressively the nests are surprisingly hard to spot.931A6613

Our salubrious accommodation on Anchorage island.  Salubrious until I pulled the door off the hut within minutes of our arrival!   931A6617

More Skua chicks.931A6620

Inquisitive Weddel seal.  I’ve spent barely any time on the islands around Rothera so doing the Skua survey was a great excuse to wander around and get some photos on both Anchorage and Leonie Island.
931A6682Incoming! Despite being assured by Richard that the skuas were not that aggressive and would only go for the flag some of the birds were extremely persistent I did get a few good hits to my head by some of the more adventurous ones.

One more week in Antarctica before heading home to Scottish winter which appears to be shaping up nicely.

Also posted in alastair rose, ali rose, Anchorage Island, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Skua Survey, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Halley Christmas

A bit late on Decembers blog!  I’ve had a really varied season so far with the biggest difference getting to spend time at BAS’s other Antarctic Research Station – Halley VI.  Halley has been in the news a lot over the last couple of years as some previously dormant cracks started opening up in the Brunt Ice Shelf inland from the station.  Last year a huge team of Engineers, Drivers and support staff moved the main modules to the other side of the crack (known as the Chasm) only to discover there was another crack (Halloween Crack) even further “inland”.  Work continues at Halley this season with a lot of monitoring of the various cracks, readying the base to survive the Antarctic winter without staff and and attempt to fully automate all the long term science that happens.

From a Rothera perspective Halley is the place that all the fuss is made about while the science and field work happens from Rothera.  From a Halley perspective Rothera is not the real Antarctic.  The main difference for me is that you get bacon rolls for smoko at Halley

Antarctica Dec.001

At the start of December I spent a lot of time flying around the Ellsworth Mountains with Ian (Pilot) and Ben (Engineer) sorting out more science sites.  The views of the mountains were amazing as was getting to stay in the “hotel” at Union Glacier.

 

931A6048 Mt Vinson  – the highest peak on the continent (4892m)931A6052 Ben working at one of the sites south of the Ellsworths.  The first few sites were al uphill from the plane and involved lugging batteries to and from them.  A couple of these sites were at about 8000ft.  With the lower air pressure in Antarctica they feel more like 12000ft so its pretty knackering dragging car batteries behind you.931A6072 Tough place for a lunch stop.931A6090Enormous crevasses on the approach to the Union Glacier skiway.931A6098 Ben walking back to our tent on the guest side of the Union camp.  It was great to check out the setup here and catch up with some friends.931A6236 Flying again –  As field guides we spend a lot time in the aircraft.  Fellow field guide Julie knitting away on the long flight from Rothera to Halley.
931A6280 Halley VI.  The original Halley Base was started in 1956 with the most recent incarnation being commisioned in 2006.  The original four bases were snowed in and the staff lived in them underground.  Both Halley V and VI were designed to raised to deal with the snow accumulation.  931A6284 I’ve often wondered why you dont see many pictures of Halley from the air.  I think part of the reason is that its not a particularly exciting view but also that a lot of attention is focused on the space age modules.  The view from above shows the vast amount of infrastructure needed to keep the base running.  Above – Halley modules in the centre with the various vehicle lines, container lines, accommodation and garage modules.  The lines at the top of the photo are enormous windscoops leading to the “hinge zone” where the Brunt ice shelf meets the continent.931A6312-HDR Classic Halley view.931A6327 Christmas day – Doug climbing in Halloween crack.  Mark (FG), Doug (Air Mech) and Olly (Pilot) snuck off on Christmas for a quick climb in Halloween crack.  Having to ski-doo there, set up the ropes, abseil in etc meant there was only time for a couple of climbs each but a great way to spend Christmas!931A6332 Some things are the same on Christmas day the world over – lots of washing up!.  (Though I’m not sure Marks Hawain shirt and flip flops are standard)931A6343 Straight after Christmas it was back out into the field for me.  I joined Neil at Bluefields depot and then moved to a Depot in the Shackleton Range.931A6362Filling in the days with igloo building.  Rob (who switched with Neil) came to join me while I did constant Weather observations for the aircraft.  10 days of staring at clouds, drinking tea and reading.

Back to Rothera in the next couple of days and then back into the field for a couple of weeks before heading home.

Also posted in alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Halley Research Station, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Mt Vinson, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Digging Season

I’m back at Rothera.  It slowly occurred to me over the summer at home that working in Antarctica didnt have to be a one off and an email from the Field Operations Manager as I boarded a plane to Tanzania offering me a couple of months work was too big a temptation.  It feels great to be back at Rothera helping train new staff, eat amazing meals, go skiing after work and of course do lots and lots of digging.

This season I am doing a variety of work for BAS both from Rothera where I was for my 18 month contract and also at Halley on the Brunt Ice shelf.  The first part of my season is focused on Instruments.  This is based from Rothera with trips between a day and week to service, relocate or replace instruments that record Glacial Re-bound, Ice shelf movement or the weather.  As a Field Guide my job is to help the pilot spot crevassing and a good landing spot, help access the site (deciding to rope up or not, to use skis or not or just to wander on over) and then help with any digging.  If the trip is overnight the Field Guide also sets up camp and sorts food and water out while the Pilots/scientists/engineers are doing their work.

First up a few photos from some training etc around Rothera.
931A5763

This summer there is a large focus on training at Rothera.  I have learnt things this summer that I should have known two years ago when I first started.  One of the main things has been sharing knowledge with the pilots who we spend a lot of time with.  Above – a group of field guides staring at a plane at the ski-way above Rothera.  This was aborted due to high winds in the end but the end of a training exercise in how to lay out Ski-ways in the field and on safe loading of Aircraft.931A5766

The high winds were quite obvious above the Stork hills.931A5788

New Field Guide, Tom Lawfield practicing crevasse rescue with the added complication of unconscious people (the green bag behind him) and pulks.  All done from the safety of the sewing loft!931A5799

Blair carefully digging up a seismometer a few kilometers from base.  Science gear weighs a lot and even being able to drive Ski-doos to within about a kilometer of this site it probably took us the best part of two hours for Blair, Ben and I to get everything onto the pulks and tow it back up the glacier.
931A5819

Elephant seal cleverly blocking the two doors I use most on base – Accomodation on the left and “Fuchs” the field guide office and store on the right.
931A5857

More training.  Fuchs being used by some of the fire team to practice blind searchs.

Instrument work.Antarctic Novjpg.001

Where I’ve been in the last week.  The good thing about instrument work is getting to lots of places.  The bad thing is spending lots of time in the aircraft.931A5874

First up I did a day with Ben (Electronics Engineer) and Ian (Pilot) to the Welch Hills and Traverse Mountains a short flight south of Rothera.  These sites were in a spectacular location a short flight down the peninsular931A5924

Old depot – new science.  While at the second site we were also meant to remove an old depot.  We had originally thought that the depot was American but on opening the manfood box we realised it was British.  (The marmite is the giveaway!)  This food was pre- use by date but some of it was manufactured in 1970.  The chocolate still tastes great but we werent brave enough to try anything else.931A5926

Ian towing another sledge of junk back to his plane.931A5929

Next up I flew up to the Larsen C ice shelf with two glaciologists.  Above – even for one night in the field with 4 people theres a lot of kit!931A5937

Science on the Larsen C.  The larsen C has become well known in recent years after the collapse of the Larsen B iceshelf in 2002.  Recently the largest Iceberg ever recorded (the A68) broke off the Larsen C.  BAS personnel now have to have a plane with them at all times while working on this Iceshelf.931A5940

A68 Iceberg edge.  One of our tasks was to photograph the A68 Berg which is reported to be the same size as Wales or London depending who you ask (A bit like saying “as deep as the grand canyon” it doesnt really mean anything other than its really big).931A5970

Flying along the edge of the Berg.931A5991

Hammer plate Seismic’s on the Larsen C, Emma manning the computer and Jim hammering the plate.  There are Geo phones every 10m for 200m which measure the shock of the hammer down the line.  I’m assured that this is world class science.

931A5981The tent all set up for the night.  I have been trialing a new tent made by “Arctic Oven” which is massive but not as heavy as the traditional pyramid tents.  With Jim and Emma on the Larsen they were so busy with hammering etc they actually only came into the tent for a nap at 7am!  I estimated that Jim had done over 500 hits with the sledge hammer and walked over 10km through the night.  (I did help out till midnight and then made then tea at 3am and checked on them at 5!)
931A6009-HDR

Coming in to land at Union Glacier.  Straight after being on the Larsen C for two days I flew further onto the continent via Fossil Bluff, Sky Blu and Union Glacier (The field camp of the commercial operator A.L.E).  Myself, Alex (Electronics Engineer), Dave and Mark (both Pilots) flew out to the Foundation ice stream to pick up some instruments that will be redeployed later this season.931A6027

I dont have many photos of the Foundation Ice stream as the weather was chasing us.  Above – Dave getting a quick nap after some digging before another flight.

My next big chunk of work will be at Halley on the Brunt ice shelf a base that has been in the news a lot this year.  Should be interesting!

Also posted in A 68 Berg, A68 Larsen C, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide Antarctica, Larsen C Ice Shelf, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

Last days at Rothera – How was it?

Sitting on the plane I can feel the question coming as I head towards catchups with friends and family – How was it?  Where to start? – Its hard to sum up sixteen months of life in a few short words but as I fly home I’ve been trying to think of the differences between Rothera and my home life and some of small things that help show the randomness of life working for BAS.

Since leaving the UK I have been on almost sixty flights from as short as fourteen minutes to as long as twelve hours. I’m not a massive fan of flying but there has certainly been a lot of variety with everything from cattle class on major airlines to flying as a co-pilot in the twin otter aircraft. If anything I’ll probably feel happier flying on a normal commercial flight – nothing can be quite as bad as a bumpy flight in the back of small plane surrounded by poo bins and petrol jerry cans.

Of the sixteen months almost two them have been spent in “lie up” stuck in a tent or caboose. Twelve percent of my total time on the continent has been spent camped at Trident East on winter trips.

I haven’t seen any trees, grass, flowers, dogs, children etc for over a year and I’ve only drunk in one bar. I’ve eaten amazing meals, both from the Rothera chefs and in various field camps and tents. I’ve also eaten somewhere in the region of eight hundred biscuit browns and some fairly average dehydrated food spiced up with fried spam and chilli sauce.

I’ve met some amazing people. Scientists who have been to Antarctica every summer for over twenty years, people who have done multiple winters (sometimes agreeing weeks before they were meant to go home at the end of their first eighteen months to stay for another twelve). And of course friends who I could meet in a week or ten years and still laugh at the same jokes, people who will hopefully turn up on the doorstep uninvited and stay for weeks.

I spent seven months with the same twenty one people between the ages of twenty three and sixty, living, working, socialising, cooking, cleaning and partying.  In such a short time I feel I know these people as well as I know some of my best friends.  I had the privilege of taking eight of these people on their winter trips. Camping, skiing and mountaineering in winter in Antarctica will always feel special but getting to know people at the level you do on these trips can only be described as a privilege. Being stuck with the same twenty people through what seemed like endless bad weather and dusk was at best some of the funnest times and funniest parties I’ve been too and at worst made me question some of my life choices.

I did more climbing and skiing than I expected but also watched more movies and tv series than I would have ever considered possible. From never having been to a gym before I became a regular (at least till the sun came back) in one of the least inspiring rooms for exercising ever. 2016 will hopefully always stand out as the year I did the least rock climbing since I was eighteen, the year I did the most digging, sitting around and most refuelling of vehicles.

The hardest part has been missing events in others lives. Friends and family have moved on, passed away, got married, moved house (some multiple times), had birthdays, had babies, been through hard times and done amazing things and its been hard to not be present for any of it. I can only hope that these people know I was thinking of them and while I feel I missed out on their experiences I don’t feel I could have missed out on this one for myself.  I have lived away from the UK for a lot of my adult life but for some reason this time felt different.  The idea that you cant return to see people no matter what happens can be a difficult decision to live with.

Its been hard to leave all the amazing people at Rothera, somewhere I called home for a while but with some Scottish tunes playing in my head phones (Frightened Rabbit, Braebach, Skippinish and Runrig) I cant wait to get back to my real home, my family and friends and see what happens next.

These photos hope to show my last couple of days on base as well as some of the things that might be a little different to home.

IMG_5482The view across the Ryder bay from Base.  I have photographed this view so many times but it never fails to be impressive.  It has occasionally felt like being in a museum with a look but don’t touch mentality.931A1999The wonderful Pilots and Mechanics of the BAS airunit.  These are the people you hope are doing their jobs correctly!  Keeping the planes flying or coming to get you and not complaining about how much you smell.931A2025The Cross.  This area is littered with memorials and a great reminder that some people do not come home from Antarctica.  In my last couple of weeks on base the ice was slowly moving North away from Rothera making the landscape even more dramatic.931A2028In the last couple of weeks also had a visit from the RV Laurence M Gould an american research vessel.  Possibly one of the most ugly ships I’ve ever seen but I had also heard that they had good food and a great coffee machine on board.  Twenty of the Rothera staff went on board for the day for a bit of a cruise and a bit of sciencey stuff.  Above – getting winched onboard at 7am.  Straight from here into a massive american breakfast while the Americans who had swapped with us went for toast and cereal!931A2043Nelly and I found the coffee machine and then took almost an hour working out how to make two coffees.  They were pretty amazing though!931A2048View from the bridge.  The Gould is not a full icebreaker but can push the ice around a bit.  Here we are headed back towards Rothera (top right) through the broken up ice.931A2066The Gould is a dry ship but traditionally stops at Rothera once a year for a bit of a social and some music.  Above – a well stocked fridge outside the music venue (the garage)931A2105 The band in full swing.  One of the things that has truly blown me away about Rothera is the amount of time people are willing to put into making things happen.  While some of us where on the ship a group of staff had built the stage and set up for the evening complete with decorations and a full bar complete with optics.  On stage (l-r) Adam (Bass -Boatman), Jim (guitar -chippie) Calum (drums -comms manager) Rob (vocals -Plumber), Kate (Vocals -Dive Officer), Trev (Sax -Chef), Tom (Trumpet -Doc), Ali (Sax-Bonner lab manager) cranking out the tunes.931A2132 The doctor.  The talent and time people are willing to put in to help others enjoy themselves is truly incredible.IMG_8742Traffic Jam on my commute to work.  Last summer there were hundreds of Elephant seals.  This year there were only three but they did decide to commandeer the bridge between the buildings forcing people to walk around them.  I think elephant seals are awesome but I’m not sure what they actually do.  These seals were in place for the whole of my last week on base never eating or drinking anything.  IMG_8745Decisions.  The only thing I have really noticed since returning home is that there is a lot of decisions to be made.  Above – the whiteboard tells you what to do and when.  The “foxhat” (worth googling) is the film choice of the person who’s been washing dishes all day.IMG_5497 The dive team heading off for a dive.  Before diving they need someone on Seal watch looking out for Leopard seals or whales in the area.  Such a tough way to spend an hour or so!IMG_8752The history on the walls.  Above – the family tree of all the Antarctic dogs that worked out of Rothera and Halley.  This amazing document is on the wall down a side corridor in a building that will soon be knocked down.  The walls of the base are littered with amazing things like this.  (Great to look out for themes in the dogs names with different generations – Lord of the rings, hebridean islands, film characters etc)
IMG_8753 View out of the library window at another weather front rolling in.IMG_8754 Tough times in the rothera bar.  This sign has been up the whole time I have been at Rothera so I dont think there is any risk of the stocks not lasting.  Getting used to using money instead of just ticking next to my name could be interesting (Top right is probably my favourite picture on base of Tom Crean picking up one of Shackletons dogs.)IMG_8755One last penguin shot.  There has not been many penguins about this summer but the odd Adelie does pop up around the point.

IMG_4836The awesome winter 2016 team.

Also posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant Antarctica

The Depot that wasnt there – Part 2

After two days sorting kit at Rothera I was headed back to Mt Murphy.  This time with Steve (Field Assistant) and Zac (Boatman) along with a metal detector, Ground penetrating Radar(GPR), snow blower and a full camp setup to be able to spend as long as needed to raise the depot and drive it back some of the way toward Rothera.  This time we got through Sky Blu with only a day of waiting and jumped on the plane with Vicky who had Adam (boatman) as Co-pilot.931A0755Steve towing and Zac reading the GPR.931A0756Zac, Adam and Steve in the first pit.  I thought we had seen a reflection on the GPR so we started digging down looking for flags again.  We carried on GPRing and saw an even better reflection so started digging another hole.931A0758Steve turned out to have the luck of the day spotting the depot on the GPR screen and finding the first flag.  Above – sheer joy at finding the first flag.931A0762Zac in the hole checking we are going the right direction.  The end of the metal detector is about 20cm from the top of the skidoos in this photo.  The depots were buried by about 3.5 – 4m of accumulation.931A0773Down in the hole.  We excavated the three skidoos and then tunneled back to pull out the rest of the kit.  In the depot were 3 skidoos, 5 Nansen sledges (Wood), a siglin sledge (Plastic), three tents, two 44gallon drums, 24 fuel jerries, lots of science boxes, skis, clothing, food, fuel etc etc etc.  Once we started pulling things out it got more exciting though chipping away in the back of the cave was not.931A0800Hard not to enjoy yourself when this is the view.931A0822Zac had not been on base long so in the name of further training we did manage to get out and about a couple of days.  Above – Steve staring out to the cost on the Ridge above camp.
931A0863 Steve and Zac doing some further training on Mt Murphy the large peak behind camp.931A0872 Steve, Zac and I having a tough day.931A0876 The final mission was digging up the fuel bladder which was on a big plastic sledge.  We had learnt what worked and what didnt (mainly the snowblower) on the first depot so this one wasnt quite as bad though we did have to dig carefully as we got close to it to avoid any punctures.931A0879Rain on the tent.
931A1833After twelve days we packed up for our 800km drive back across West Antarctica.  This was the same drive I did in 2015 though in reverse.
931A1841 Selfie in the wing mirror931A1849The next camp – everything is depoted in a line ninety degrees to the prevailing wind.  We were lucky with weather and driving surfaces on our first day and managed to move 150km.
931A1859Zac making calzones on a lie up day.
931A1875
The team with no place to go.  This was taken on the last day when we had to stop due to poor contrast.  931A1904 After eight days we finally got to “Castle depot” on the edge of the Ellsworth mountains where we were due for pick up.  We then waited for pick up for a few days ending up being out there for a total of a month.IMG_8719Steve and Zac cooking Christmas dinner in the tent.IMG_8723The final sledge coming out of the first Depot.

Also posted in Antarctica, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant Antarctica, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Uncategorized

The Depot That Wasn’t There – Part 1

Summers as a field assistant at Rothera are all about being flexible to changes.  When working on base its possible to wake up in the morning and be told you are flying somewhere for the day, or a couple of days or even a couple of weeks.  With that in mind it should not be a surprise how different my summer ended up looking from the one planned.  Myself and Jo left Rothera at the start of December thinking we were going to the Kohler mountains for her Geology work.  We estimated that we were going to be out there roughly 50 days not knowing that we would be back at Rothera in a week.  We left rothera and headed to Sky Blu – a common place to get stuck as you wait for the weather to improve further south and a plane to become available.  As most of our stuff was in a depot at Mt Murphy we only need one plane and managed to get through Sky Blu having only spent 4 days there.  We flew on to the Depot at Mt Murphy picking up another field assistant (Al) on the way as he also needed stuff from the Depot at Murphy.  On flying in I was sat in the co-pilots seat and it was obvious something was not quite right.  We passed overhead in the plane a couple of times with myself and the pilot (Vicky) both looking for any sign of the flags and kit that was left there 10 months ago.  We landed and Al and I wandered out to the GPS point of where the depot had been.  As the depot was on a glacier we were not expecting it to be in exactly the same place but we did expect to see something of the 3m bamboo flags that mark it.
Antarctica.001931A0539Life at Sky Blu is a lot more comfortable than last year complete with couchs and a decent kitchen.
931A0583Twin Otter landing on the ice at Sky Blu to take us further into the continent.

931A0665

Steve with his first cup of tea of the day.  We stopped to swap Steve for Al at one of the depots.  Steve decided to share a tent with me to experience my sleepwalking – little did he know that he would have to put up with a month of it later in the season!
931A0704So we started digging.  We hoped to pick up the top of one of the 3m bamboo flags – probably as close to a needle in a haystack as you can get.  We dug multiple pits to about 1.5m before deciding on a spot of highest probability and digging a trench across the direction of flow of the Glacier.  Al, Jo and Vicky in the trench late in the evening.
931A0679Unsuccessful!  After a day of digging and searching we were told to return to Rothera.  Al, Jo and Vicky walking back to the plane at about 10pm.931A0707Vicky leading Al and I in some yoga before bed.  I think Al (far left) might be inventing his own yoga poses.931A0718The next morning we packed up and headed for Rothera.  Above – Jo contemplating 10hours in a small aircraft.931A0729Flying back to Rothera.

Also posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant Antarctica, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Rothera Research Station, Skidoos, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |