Tag Archives: Field Assisstant

I-Beam and the Ronne Ice Shelf

I had thought of a lot of humorous titles for this blog post – “Three men and a caboose” “The big, the flat and the white” “The one Ronne” “Antarctic Bin Men” etc but settled on I-Beam and the Ronne Ice Shelf.  I have just got back from my main project of this (Antarctic) summer season called “I-Beam”, based on the Ronne Ice Shelf.  This project was a traverse that was purely logistics, cleaning up from previous large drilling projects and putting equipment and fuel in place for a drilling project at a depot called “Beamish” in 2017.  I had no idea what to expect as I flew out to meet Tim and Dave who had already been out there for quite a few weeks.  All I knew was that I would have to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to look for crevassing when we were travelling on new routes and we would be living in a Caboose (Caravan on skis).  During the two months I was with the project we would also have an airdrop of fuel from the RAF and meet a german ship called the polarstern to offload some cargo and give them a vast amount of Antarctic rubbish.  I flew in a few days before christmas and was quickly struck by the vast whiteness of being on an ice shelf and the vast amounts of equipment we had.  If you have images of Antarctica with dog sleds and fur mittens you should probably stop reading now.IMG_7557 One of the tractors (some of my skiing friends might recognise these pisten bullies) towing the caboose.  There are actually a few other sledges behind the caboose here but they’re covered in snow.  One of the realities of living with everything on the roof of your house in boxes is that it always takes a long time to find anything.


Inside the caboose looking towards the kitchen


Inside the caboose. The square holes at the back are the bunks with normal sized single mattresses. We didnt keep much personal stuff inside the caboose, just a shelfs worth in the red lockers and some personal stuff in your bunk with you.


Christmas dinner anyone?  Yep – thats parsnips, brussel sprouts, turkey, stuffing and roast potatoes.  IMG_7338Tim (traverse leader) sorting out his Lego advent calendar.  Christmas eve was spent putting together lego space ships.
IMG_7342Dave looking very happy about the Stella Artois and a large cheese board.  IMG_7349Tim and Dave tucking into Christmas Dinner (we had a bit more than just the boil in the bag stuff in the other image.  A big bottle of port and the Father Ted Christmas special on the laptop.IMG_7355My skidoo with Radar sledge.  Christmas turned out to be a brief respite from moving lots of very heavy stuff around or driving for very long days.  When travelling on unknown areas I would drive the Skidoo in front of the tractors looking for any signs of crevassing.  Driving days were usually 10-15 hours long with one 30min break to refuel the machines and ourselves.
IMG_7544-HDRMy view on a driving day – the flat white and the GPR screen and GPS.  Driving in a straight line whilst simultaneously looking at the GPS, the GPR and the ground in front of me turned out to be the main challenge.  Needless to say I got through a lot of music and audiobooks on my Ipood.IMG_7561One of the pisten bullies with 3 sledges loaded with rubbish headed for our meeting with the Polarstern.  (The red blob behind is another skidoo on a different type of sledge covered with snow)
IMG_7807Dave adopting the co-passenger position.  On known routes I did some driving to give Dave or Tim a break or slept/read in their passenger seats.  The pisten bullies would travel at about 10-12km an hour but can tow around 50 tonsIMG_7706Getting fuel in place.  A major part of our work on the Ronne was getting supplies in place for the future.  The Pisten Bully here is driving up to a berm already loaded with fuel barrels towing 120 200L barrels.  Everything is put on berms so that the snow doesnt drift over the top of it.
IMG_7774 The flat white with a line of berms.  This is the “Three Ronnes Depot” near the ice shelf edge.  By the time we were finished the line of berms was over 2km long.  The tiny black dot on the left of the skyline is the Caboose.IMG_7749Unloading barrels with the Pisten Bully.

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Fossil Bluff

After my last post I recieved a few emails from friends asking for more information, more writing and to know what it is I am up to.  I will try and fill in the gaps a wee bit though I do like the thought of people having to do a little homework and look things up!

I am currently working as a Field Assistant for the British Antarctic Survey.  BAS conduct enviromental science  in Antarctica and also hold a presence on the continent to get a say in the Antarctic treaty.  The field assistant job was described by my manager (the Field Operation Manager) as facilitating the science in the field.  While this is true for all jobs with BAS the field assisstants are the ones on the ground making sure that the scientists (beakers in BAS terminology) stay safe, everything from glacier travel to cups of tea.  The job is varied with loading and unloading vehicles, skidoo driving, camp managing and cooking, taking people skiing and climbing for their recreation, endless digging and the slightly randon co piloting of planes.

I am on an 18 month contract with BAS and will be based at Rothera until early 2017.  The two summers will be filled with field work and the winter with recreational trips for the wintering staff who all get a couple of weeks holiday skiing, climbing etc.

I am briefly back at Rothera after a few weeks on various projects and will try and get up a couple of blog posts up before I head out again.

First up I was sent off to Fossil Bluff which is a very small BAS base operated by just two staff during the summer months.  It has a reputation as a bit of a holiday spot as the only real work is giving weather observations (Met Obs) every hour and refueling planes that come in on their way further south.  Fossil Bluff is about 300 km from Rothera on Alexander Island looking out on the George VI Sound.  The hut was built in 1960 and was actually wintered in by 3 men in the winter of 1960/1961.  The place oozes history and the book about the first winter, “The Silent Sound” is a great insight into the “old days” where the men would throw their rubbish out the door and let the wind blow it away, had an underground snow toilet and a generator that stopped working 2 weeks after they had been abandoned (in true antarctic style they also ran out of food and fuel for their stove).


Flying into Fossil Bluff. The hut is in the bottom right of the photo with a thin white line leading to the hut (its a path in the scree).


Busy night at the bluff. My first night there we had three planes stop with us as the weather was too bad to fly back to Rothera.  This is the main room of Fossil bluff with the reflex stove in the middle and a sink etc around the corner.  The only other room is food store.


Matt eager to unload a few barrels of aviation fuel. Almost any job you do with Aviation fuel it ends up on you and it really does stink.


Unfortunately the beer wasnt full!


Looking across the sound.  The small green hut is the generator shed.  The thing at the bottom right of the photo is the Emergency Caboose (currently on its side after the winter)


Cab hill and the mountains behind. The Cab is from an old “tractor” – I should be driving a newer version of these soon


View out of the door


Emily and I relaxing on the balcony inbetween some plane refueling. I ended up at Fossil Bluff for a week, 2 days of which I was working with Dave who was then replaced by Emily


Emily doing the only work of the hour. Radioing in with a Met OB


One of the Twin Otters coming in to the skiway


Emily skiing off to Belemite valley on a no fly day.


My last night at the bluff. Talisker and a homemade lasagne.  You can see the sleeping bunks at the back.  There just one main room and a food store but its pretty homely.

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