Tag Archives: British Antarctic Survey

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.

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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).

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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“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.

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

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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!

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

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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

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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.

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Recording at the Adelie colony.

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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.  

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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.

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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”.

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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!

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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.

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Cape Petrels in the water at North Point.

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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).

 

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

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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

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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.

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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!

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First view of the South Orkneys931A9145

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

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

 

 

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

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

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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)

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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.

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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!
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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!
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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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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.

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

Snow Clearing and the End of Winter Trips

The last couple of weeks have seen endless low pressure systems hit the Antarctic Peninsular bringing stormy weather and lots of snow.  Winter trips have continued with life as a field assistant meaning alternate weeks on base or out in the field.  This weekend marks the last weekend of winter with the first planes due through Rothera next Saturday.img_0440Adam posing on the ridge between “Max” and “Mouse” in the Stokes peaks.  All the Stokes peaks are named after dogs and are a popular destination for winter trips.  Two days after this Adam and I experienced gusts of wind up to 70 knots (force 12 is described as 64+) which destroyed our toilet tent resulting in some adventurous toilet experiences.img_0238Kate approaching the summit of “Morgan” in the Stokes on her winter trip.  I realised at the end of Kates trip that I will have spent about 12% of my time in Antarctica camped at Trident East.  While not far from base the options for skiing and mountaineering from this camp are amazing.img_8331With planes now due in a week snow clearing has started in earnest with both machines and people power.  Above – Window in the accommodation building surrounded by icicles and buried in snow.
img_8324Snow clearing the runway.  Snow clearing can only happen on good weather days meaning long hours for the Matt the mechanic and the other drivers.img_8323People power on the Hangar doors.  This took ten of us a day of digging and chipping before we could get them open.  Turns out they’re snowed in again now!img_8314Hector watching as Matt clears in front of the Hangar with the JCB 436.img_8378 The last of the winter trips was myself and Al last week.  Above – Al looking up at the next pitch of one of the routes we did on the second day of our trip.  Al and I headed to the other side of the island (back to the Myth campsite) with the hope of climbing one of the bigger peaks.img_0953Al on the summit of Mt Liotard just after 11am.  Mt Liotard was named for a french observer who surveyed the peak in 1909 and is visible from Base across Ryder Bay.  The tenth photo down in this blog post  We heard of a brief weather window on our second night in the tent so left camp early to get up and down before the high winds came in.  You can see the edge of the weather front coming in from the right of the shot.  img_1037Al skiing back to the Ski-doos with the summit (on the right) already in the clouds.  We were pretty lucky with conditions with great snow from col (directly above Al’s head) all the way back down.  Probably about 4km and 1000m of descent on perfect powder!img_1050The other reality of winter trips – Al with a cup of tea and snow melting on the stove.  About 25-30% of the time on a winter trip you are stuck in the tent as the weather is so bad.  The first day of lie-up is usually nice and relaxing and a great chance to do lots of reading.  Books, games and lots of cups of tea are the order of the day.img_8416More normal winter weather.  Al and I spent the last day of our winter trip determined to get out climbing finding some very Scottish conditions.  I’m not even sure if this photo is of me or Al as we were both wearing the same BAS issue clothing.img_8498Even after six months stuck with each other its amazing the efforts people still go to.  Bradders (Polar Bear), Emily (Zebra), Tom (Lion) and Jesus (Girrafe) dressing up for one last saturday night before we get invaded.

Posted in ali rose, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Midwinter, mountains to the sea, mountainstothesea, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Rothera Winter Team, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

The Other Side of Winter

Its easy to keep taking photos of the stunning scenery here, the icebergs, glaciers and snow-clad mountains but for this month I have tried to focus on life on base and to try and answer some of the questions that have come my way.  With no sensible way of getting anyone away from the base we are all “stuck” here until the first plane comes in October.  A few people have asked why BAS need people to overwinter in Antarctica.  There is some marine science done from Rothera over the winter either diving from boats or through holes in the ice.  Obviously if you need some people to be on the base the list quickly grows – if theres diving there should probably be a doctor and boatman, these people will need basic amenities like water, electricity, housing etc, these people will then need to be cooked for and so on.  The list quickly grows.  Another reason is so that Britain continues to have a say in the Antarctic treaty.  With these things in mind there are 21 of us based at Rothera over winter, Station Leader, Chef, Doctor, Communications Manager, four Field Assistants, Dive Officer, Three Marine Scientists (I am sure I will get some abuse for not actually knowing there job titles!), Boatman, Two Plumbers, Chippy, Sparky, Mechanic, Generator Mechanic, Electronics Engineer and Meteorologist.  Most people work 9-5 Monday to Friday with everyone taking turns to do a day of “gash” (cleaning) and to cover for the Chefs day off.  While we work core hours if something needs done then people just get on with it and its pretty normal to have a few people helping on big jobs (like digging out doorways).
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The Flag lowering ceremony.  As the most senior person on base (his tenth winter in Antarctica!) Dave lowered the British flag last week to mark the last time the base will see direct sunlight for a few weeks.  Our days are getting shorter by 7-8minutes every day making the lack of daylight really noticeable from one weekend to the next.  The flag will be raised again by the youngest person on base in about two months time.IMG_2723

Its not all pretty sunsets.  Ben walking to work (9am) last week as the base was slammed by rain, sleet, snow, winds up to 50knots and temperatures up to +9degrees C.  Even walking between buildings can be pretty hazardous.IMG_2593

Digging out one of my sledges.  All the field assistants have at least two sledges of kit for their winter trips stored about 4km from base with easy access to the mountains.  While Antarctica is the driest continent, we do live in one of the places that gets the most precipitation and digging out your sledges can be a fairly common activity.  IMG_2728

School.  As there are a variety of skill sets throughout the staff people occasionally run sessions so that you can learn about their trade.  We had a “Doc School” the other day with Doc Tom (right) showing us how to use the X-ray machine.  In Toms case its important to run these sessions in case of a major incident so that people are able to assist him (or fix him!).  I have no idea why Calum, Ben and Adam look so serious!IMG_2726

The real men of Antarctica.  Nelly the Generator Mech (left) and Maybell the Mechanic (right) using the D4 to move some fuel around.  With the ice we have all around the base just now even this machine was sliding around.IMG_2608

With the long nights we have to find ways to amuse ourselves.  Friday after work drinks in the Genny shed for a change of scene.IMG_2677

Tom (Doctor) and Rob (Plumber) in serious discussion at one of many fancy dress evenings.  (this was a masquerade ball)
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Table Tennis – probably the most popular Antarctic sport.  I would guess that there a few of us currently playing a minimum of about 7hrs of table tennis a week complete with a leader board and a handicap system.IMG_2566

Sea Ice.  The sea ice of lack of sea ice is a daily conversation on base.  This affects whether the boats can go out or whether people will be travelling on the ice to cut holes and dive from the ice itself.  Both the boating or the sea ice could involve any number of people from base.IMG_2599Sea ice party on the ice in the early afternoon.IMG_2600The tag out board.  One of the things I struggle with most down here is the lack of freedom to go where and when you want.  The tag out board is used to show your movement around various places both on the base and off it.  The white tags are everyones names (mainly tagged into their rooms) and you move your tag to where you are about to go while also recording it in a book with the time you expect to be back.  The four tags in the bottom right are “in the field”- basically out on a winter trip.  You can also see a VHF in the bottom right.  We all carry VHF at all times.IMG_2604Lewis (Chef) helping out Matt (Mechanic) in the kitchen even on his day off.
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More digging.  You should just be able to make out Nelly digging out the Hangar doors.  In the winter the Hangar is used for most of the big machinery.  Theres always something needed dug out.IMG_2537

There are no simple jobs.  Almost everything you do seems to involve digging stuff, moving stuff, finding and starting a skidoo and usually asking for help on the VHF.  Hector (Chippy) loading old plasterboard into the skip in the hangar.
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The good news is most of those boxes are cheese.  The bad news is we had to move them all from the freezer to count them and then put them back again.  Lewis (chef), Malcy (Station Leader) and Al (Field Assistant) in the middle of the count.
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Some people do work at random times.  John (Meteorologist) has to send weather balloons up three mornings a week as well as doing Met Observations at three hourly intvervals.  John releasing a weather balloon after I had messed up the first one by dropping recording instrument (the little white box).IMG_1853

Marine Science happens all year round and the marine team usually needs crew to come out on the boats with them.  Saz (left) and Emily (right) being helped by Octavian (Electronics Engineer).  Helping on the boats is a great break from normal routine but can be incredibly cold with no direct sunlight.IMG_1848Permanent sunset from the boatIMG_1872The Winter Team.  Back row from Left – Dave, Al, Calum, Emily, Saz, Octavian, Rob, Nelly, Lewis, Bradders, Maybell, Hector, Tom.  Front row from Left – Malcy, Ben, Chris, John, Kate, Adam, Me and Jesus.

 

Posted in alastair rose, ali rose, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Rothera, Rothera Research Station, Rothera Winter Team, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

Winter

Antarctica doesn’t really have an Autumn perhaps because there’s no trees.  Or maybe its just a British Antarctic Survey thing where you go straight from the Summer season to the winter one just to simplify things.  With twenty one of us left on base and the last ship gone a few weeks ago we are very much into our winter at Rothera.  This means shorter working hours (theres now only 1.5hours between meals instead of 2) rapidly decreasing daylight and of course winter trips.  All staff who winter get two weeks off base away on a winter trip.  These trips are a combination of a chance to get a break from life on base (and for others to get a break from you!), learn new skills and get the “real” Antarctic experience.  With four field assistant at Rothera two of us head out roughly every two weeks with another person in tow somewhere on Adelaide island.IMG_0609

 Octavian on the summit of Trident peak on the first day our winter trip.  Options for winter trips include Mountaineering, Climbing, Skiing and Snowboarding, Crevasse exploring, Skidoo sightseeing trips and drinking tea (or whisky) in the tent.IMG_0686

Enjoying a cup of tea in his hammock.  Rothera is almost visible over the left edge of the Hammock.  You don’t have to get far away from base to feel pretty remote.  IMG_0695

Skidoos leaving camp.  Skidooing outside of the Rothera flagline involves being linked up just in case one goes into a crevasse.  You can just make out the rope coming from the back skidoo.  The sledge between the skidoos carries the emergency gear and pretty much goes everywhere with you.  Basically enough food, fuel and kit to spend three weeks fixing your skidoos.

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Stunning views North after some easy mountaineering in the Stokes peaks.

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As there is always two trips out at the same time its great to camp together and go visit the other tent in the evening.  Or in this case follow in the other parties footsteps all day and not have to break trail.  Octavian and Ben looking happy with their day in the Stokes.

IMG_0709My second trip was with Saz.  Despite being stuck in the tent for a couple of days we got quite a bit of climbing and mountaineering done.  Saz below “Spiritual Harmony” on Trident peak (the curving gully on the left)

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Milky way over the tent at night.  There some amazing photography opportunities if you and your camera can face the cold.  This took me a while to get right as it was pretty cold and I had had a couple of glasses of Port. IMG_0743The tents are really comfortable especially with both the stove and tilley lamp going.  Saz making Chocolate fondu as dessert after a cheese fondue for our main course.  Saz and I had decided when we wrote the proposal for her trip that photography and food were going to be a priority, we ended up with a huge amount of cheese and chocolate, pizza, pancakes, full brunch with homemade tattie scones and a fair bit of booze

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Skidoos under the edge of N26 Nunatak.  Saz and I headed here to snowboard in the big bowl in the middle of the photo.  Our skidoos had struggled to get this far so at least we knew there was lots of deep powder to fall into.IMG_0767

Feeling pretty happy to have survived one of my few snowboard runs in the last few years

IMG_0782Crevasse exploring is always pretty popular.  Stunning and beautiful for the winter tripper and a bit stressful for the Field Assistant.  Saz abseiling into the second chamber of a crevasse we found.  I was standing on a very hollow sounding floor at this point so we didn’t stay long.

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Drying clothes inside the tent at the end of the day.  All that stuff hanging in the roof is hopefully going to be dry by the morning!  You can also make out the speaker (small red thing in the centre) for the music, the jar of Marmite (standard BAS issue) and a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15yr old.

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Winterers can also choose to go “Man-Hauling” – basically skiing and pulling pulks rather than using ski-doos.  I went to pick up Al and Lewis from a manhauling trip last week and took my big lens to get some shots of them steaming to the end.

IMG_0960When not on winter trips theres still plenty of fun to be had near to Rothera.  The Ski-in, Ski-out accommodation helps.  Al loading a skidoo for another quick mission outside the accommodation building.

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Scoping out another ski line

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The sea ice was also forming last week so we did a couple of training sessions on how to assess it for safe travel.  Dave showing the dive team what to do on the first day that the sea ice was thick enough.  Personally I think the idea of travelling any distance on sea ice is pretty crazy but it is a necessity for the dive team who still have sciencey stuff to do throughout the winter (and who have to dive under the ice!)

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Skiing out on the sea ice surrounded by icebergs.  The ice has to be 20cm thick to travel on.  The bindings on the skis are just bendy plastic that strap onto insulated work boots.

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John testing the waters. You might be able to spot how we cut the hole in the ice.

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Theres been some clear nights in the last couple of weeks so its been great to be outside with a camera.  The full moon has been spoiling it somewhat though I spent a great evening with John, Tom and Adam at the cross taking surreal photos.  Above – John (meteorologist), Tom (Doctor) and Myself admiring the view.
IMG_2489The weather doesnt always play ball!  Above – Hector topping out of a mixed route in the spindrift having experienced hotaches for the first time on a day when we thought there would be no wind.

Posted in alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, British Antarctic Survey, Climbing, Climbing Antarctica, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Long Exposure, skiing, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |