Archive for the ‘Antarctica’ Category

The JCR made it into Stanley just after lunch on Christmas Eve. It was strange coming back into where we had been only a few weeks earlier. It had seemed hilly and remote the first time, but after the ice cliffs and empty islands further South it looked a bit more hospitable now!

As soon as the ship had passed custom’s we made a dash to Peacocks, the only clothes shop in Stanley. Having not expected to still be with the ship come Christmas party frocks had not been packed. Luckily there was enough of a selection that we didn’t all match!

Christmas Day started with a phone call from home and a run along the sea front. We had organised a scientists secret santa and, after complaints from some of those not included, a ship-wide secret santa too. During Christmas morning parcels started appearing under the tree. Official celebrations began with pre-lunch drinks and present swapping. Some of the gifts were amazing, especially considering the limited resources available on a ship. I gave fridge magnets and a tutu, and got an engraved glass and ropework keyring.

After the drinks we enjoyed a turkey curry Christmas dinner complete with stuffing samosas. There was no way I could manage Christmas so close to the sea without going in it -in the afternoon a group of us walked to the closest beach, Surf Bay, for a quick dip. The water was surprisingly warm (or at least not cold), whether this was due to the multiple G & T’s or Falklands summer time I’m not sure. As we were enjoying post-swim beer and jaffa cakes we spotted a seal where we had been moments before.

At 6 am on Boxing Day we set off to the airport for 16 hours of flights back to the UK. 24 hours after leaving the ship I made it back home to start the family Christmas celebrations!

I had a brilliant few weeks on the JCR – the crew and officiers were amazing, the scientists made me feel at home, the penguins were amusing. I hadn’t been looking forward to spending Christmas away from home, but it ended up much better than I could have imagined. I now need to find a way to make my modelling PhD involve some ship time…

Finally, here is what has been going on in my office whilst I’ve been away:



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For the last few days we have been in the South Orkney Islands dropping off people and supplies. We dropped off a scientist and field assistant at Cape Geddes on Laurie Island, with only a rarely used dilapidated hut for shelter. The two of them are spending six weeks camping with penguins, then moving on to Powell Island.
 Sea ice around the shoreline made dropping them and their supplies off challenging, with growlers closing in around the humbers.
Then we had a day to wait in Signy as some of the ships engineers were sent ashore to fix a generator. We went on a walk over a glacier to see some Chinstrap and Adelie Penguin colonies, complete with chicks!

Now we are heading for South Georgia where we will drop a few bird botherers off at Bird Island, before heading back to Stanley in the Falklands.

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Our next port call was Jubany, an Argentine base  on King George Island. Deception Island, an active volcanic caldera, was on the way. It is one of the safest harbours in Antarctica, so the ideal place to test the starboard liifeboat. The island forms a ring with an entrance 230 m wide called Neptune Bellows. Once inside we headed to Whaler’s Bay, a large black sand beach. Due to wind conditions the lifeboat wasn’t put in the water, just lowered and raised a few times. Then the Humbers were put out to do a few runs to shore.

Due to the volcanic activity warm water bubbles through the sand at the edge of the beach, perfect for wallowing in. Once the water is more than a millimetre deep it is Antarctic cold again, but digging a hole in the sand a hot shallow bath could be formed. To good a chance to miss we stripped down to swimsuits (or underwear for those who didn’t think swimming costumes are essential packing for the Antarctic!). I dived straight in, momentarily panicking when I realised I couldn’t touch the bottom, then recovered in the warm bits and repeated for a while.

All along the beach were remnents of whaling stations: large iron boilers to extract whale oil, rusting tanks, derilict buildings, piles of whale bones and an old hangar. It smelt of rotten eggs and steam came off the edge of the water. It was a weirdly atmospheric, but felt like the perfect setting for a Doctor Who episode.
We stopped for some science overnight arriving at Jubany early this morning. The base comprised of orange buildings, with very little snow around, giving it a very desolate appearance.

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We left Rothera very almost on schedule – half a day late, giving time for a few last walks up to the monument before departing. Lots of the base staff came to wave us off in perfect sunshine. The trip back around Adelaide Island gave some spectacular views of the snowy cliffs.
The next stop was meant to be Vernadsky. The POL science team needed to drop of some tide gauges from the Ukrainian base. A few cruise ships had been in the area so we thought getting in would be ok. The shortest route was via the French Passage, this was covered with sea ice and with only a narrow channel of surveyed ocean we had to make a U-turn and try to get in another way. The cruise ships take the Le Mayer channel , to get to this route took us right past Port Lockroy. It would have been rude to go so close by without popping in to say hi!
Port Lockroy was initially a British army base used to spy on German submarines during world war two. Later it was used by BAS; then fell into disrepair. When the Antarctic Treaty was made BAS had to dismantle the base entirely or renovate it – they turned it into a heritage site visited by 14000 tourists a year. The base is only open during the summer months; they do limited science – penguin counting and meteorological observations. The only way to the base is little boats – so we were ferried across to look in the museum and see the Gentoo penguin colony close-up. The ride back on the little boat was my highlight; the wind had picked up a bit so we got soaked by waves. I was very grateful for my x4 ‘fat’ suit keeping me snug.

After the fun of the morning I really needed to get on with some work, but we quickly got to Le Mayer channel. Although it was foggy we could see the snowy cliffs either side appearing to go on forever into the clouds. As we came out of the channel we saw the National Geographic Explorer cruise ship waiting to go back up.
As we got to Vernadsky it was clear getting anyone to shore was going to be a challenge – ice flows continued right to the shore. After going round in circles for a while the captain parked up as close to shore as he could get – 32 m off the rocky edge. The crew had a challenge – how to get a full bin-bags of expensive scientific instruments to shore. Attempt one involved throwing a rock attached to a line, this barely reached half way. Next attempt – a giant elastic band catapault, this only reached a few metres! Then one of the motormen came up to the foredeck with a fishing line – after a few ‘practices’ he got the end of it to shore. After a few minutes we could see a ski-doo coming down the slope. I’m not sure the Ukrainians were expecting to have to pull a few hundred metres of rope on shore as the bin-bags were split up into lighter loads, a goodwill gift of a few bottles from the bond  might have helped compensate!

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For the past few days the JCR has been docked at Rothera Research Base on the Antarctic Peninsula. The JCR brings supplies for the base – food, equipment and personal kit to keep the station running for another year. It took two and a half days to unload all the boxes, the crew are now repacking with waste from Rothera and kit to deliver to the bases we are visiting as we head back up the peninsula. I helped out with unloading ticking off what was being taken off and in a human chain moving hundreds of crates of beer into containers.
Yesterday I got a tour of the engine rooms – a maze beneath the living areas with more big machines than seemed possible. As well as four huge engines there were generators, sewage works, things to make fridges and air-con work, miles of cables for the winches, water treatment plants…  everything needed to sustain the ship at sea. I realised just how much work the engineers have to do – there is a team of five engineers keeping everything running smoothly. When we were going through the ice to get to Rothera all four engines were running at max, using (I think) 25000 litres of fuel a day.

I also got to observe the meteorology checks at the base. These are essential to the pilots flying scientists and personnel to other bases and into the field. The data also gets fed back to the Met. Office. Observations are made hourly with cloud cover, precipitation, current weather, temperature and many other parameters logged – some on automated systems others by hand.
We were given the opportunity to go on a ‘jolly’ – skiing or crevassing. As I have never been skiing, and doubt the university fieldtrip insurance covers broken legs due to skiing in Antarctica, I went crevassing. We were kitted out with crampons, harnesses and helmets and taken up the hill opposite the base in a snowcat to a hole in the snow. We then went down the hole about 15m. The ice caves below were incredible. Light reaches through the snow and ice above creating a turquoise cavern. Icicles hung from the ceiling, some so big they reached the ground forming columns. Some of the ice was smooth and clear, others more like hoar frost.

Providing you took somebody who had been before, we were allowed to go walking around the point Rothera is based on. I managed to fit in a few of these walks – the sea states, cloud cover and time of day meant each time was different. Once away from the base there are little groups of Adelie Penguins and occasional seals along the coastline. The penguins seemed inquisitive, tobogganing towards us on their bellies. The seals were uninterested, lazing on the ice next to the water. The snow around the walk was deep; I frequently  ended up thigh high in it, often deliberately. It was easiest to follow old footprints – but not so fun! We made snow angels and had snowball fights. We went paddling in the sea making my toes go bright red. I decided not to try swimming due to the seals (and maybe the cold).

 Today we are heading on to Venadsky, a Ukrainian base that used to be the British base Faraday. We have woken up to glorious sunshine!

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We have finished the CTD work and are now steaming down the Antarctic Peninsula. We made a brief stop at Elephant Island, the island where Shackleton’s crew spent several months stranded, and passed close by the volcanic Deception Island. There are now regular icebergs passing by, and we are expected to reach sea ice some time tomorrow.
Pictures cannot do the scenery justice!

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