Tag Archives: Field Guide Antarctica

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

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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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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

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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!)
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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!

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