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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!
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!
As well as the CTD work I’m involved in and the WAGES work with buoys and balloons there is one other science team on board. They are from the National Oceanography Centre Liverpool, linked with Southampton. They are here to deploy and recover bottom pressure recorders. These are dropped over the side of the ship and sink to the bottom. They sit on the bottom for a year or more gathering data. When we come along to collect them an acoustic signal is sent out to ‘wake up’ the bottom pressure recorder, allowing the bottom pressure recorder to ‘talk’ to the ship. Then a signal is sent to make the bottom pressure recorder release from the bottom, by leaving a heavy frame behind, and float up to the surface. The bottom pressure recorder is then recovered back on board. As the instrument has been on the sea bed for at least a year some of the local wildlife is often brought back up with it! As you can expect, being brought up to the surface from around 1000 m depth is not a good idea.
Here are some of the specimins we found:
 

As I’m not biologically inclined I won’t many any attempts to identify them!
 


Yesterday we let Pudsey go for a ride on the WAGES spar buoy, which sits behind the boat measuring wave motion. He seemed to enjoy it and came back dry!

Then he wanted to go up with the WAGES balloon. This is designed to take photos of the sea surface to allow them to evaluate how much white capping (white horses) there is.

As we get closer to Antarctica there has been an increase in the number of penguins we are spotting. Most of these are Chinstraps, which are constantly yelling for their friends making them easy to spot. It seems odd seeing these birds so far from land in the middle of nowhere, often on their own, but they look happy!

I have told you that we ‘do CTD stations’ but not what that involves doing specifically. The CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) itself is a ‘rosette’ of bottles which are filled by ‘firing’ them (click go on the computor which causes a magnet to release closing the bottle) to collect water samples at various depths. There is a selection of sensors monitoring not only conductivity (which is used to calculate salinity) and temperature, but also pressure, oxygen, fluorescence, transmissivity and altimeter depth (within the bottom 100 m). The data from all these is fed straight to the CTD operator’s computer, in this case me. The CTD is lowered over the side by a winch with a 10000 m cable; it drops at 60 m/min. On the way down (the downcast) no stops are made so that we can collect a continuous profile of the water properties. On the way back up stops are made to collect water in the bottles. The water samples are used to calibrate the salinity measured by the CTD with lab tests. Other tests can be carried out on the samples. 


My role is operating the CTD. Before we get to the station I set up a file for the data to be collected in and make sure the graphs will display the whole water column. When we arrive I turn on the pump (to pump water past the sensors) and start collecting the data. I fill in a log sheet, recording the time, date, depth and various other parameters. The winch man lowers the CTD to 10 m, where we wait for the pump to activate before bringing the CTD back up to the surface and lowering straight down to the bottom. The descent takes over an hour on the deeper stations. Towards the bottom I keep an eye on the altimeter – we want to stop the CTD about 10 m above the sea bed. 
I fire two of the bottles at the bottom, then ask to winch man to bring the CTD up to the next depth to be sampled. I decide the sampling depths by looking at the salinity profile taken on the downcast and choosing areas of low salinity gradient (why?). Five or six depths are sampled, including just below the surface, two bottles are fired at each in case one does not fire correctly or leaks when it comes out of the water.



A few hours after the CTD entered the water it comes back out. When the bottles are filled it can weigh half a tonne – I’m glad it isn’t my job to manoeuvre it back onto the deck! The crew move the CTD back into its home. I record the on-deck pressure then stop collecting the data. There are a few initial data processing steps I complete before transferring the data to our directory. 

Then I put on waterproofs, boots and a hard hat and go down to do the water sample. We transfer water from the bottles on the rosette into smaller bottle; that are put in a controlled temperature lab for salinity testing. We empty the remaining water out onto the deck – my favourite bit! Then we cock the bottles in preparation for the next station, this is a bit awkward as the bottles are about a metre high and the top and bottom are strongly sprung. We have a system where I hold the top and bottom whilst the other scientist reaches into the middle of the rosette to secure them in place.
Between the stations I start processing the data and producing the preliminary plots to make sure the data looks realistic – unlike the density section posted previously. The ocean does not align itself in such perfect layers. If I manage to work out what went wrong there I’ll post a proper density section!
It has also been pointed out that a Hercules is not a fighter jet, it is a transporter. I should have been able to figure this out myself from its size but fighter jet sounds more exciting.
The attentive among you may have noticed the sudden splurge of activity on this blog. I have been writing a blog at day whilst at sea, but I haven’t managed to upload them all. Today we have been unable to do ‘science’ due to the sea state, so I have been catching up! I tried taking photos of the waves but you can’t tell the size with one shot, whilst we are heave to (head to wind) there isn’t much spray.
Coming into the labs before breakfast this morning I was greeted by a desk of woolen ear warmers, the overnight team had completed one task – learning to crochet! At their first station last night the rough sea had prevented the deployment of the CTD, so we had stayed put til light. At dawn the captain decided it was still to rough to put something overboard that takes a few hours to get back in. Coming up to 5 pm we are still waiting for the waves to calm. The WAGES team are using our delay productively with their motion buoy out collecting data all day.
Between watching the waves I have been processing the data we had collected so far. I have made some pretty plots:
These show the temperature, salinity and density of the water. We started the section on the left hand side – you can see the depth increasing as we get further into Drake’s Passage. From where we are (on the right hand side) the depth will stay about the same until we get close to Elephant Island on the other side. On the temperature plot (the left hand side) you can already see that the surface waters are getting colder as we head South. When there are more plots the interpretation will get more exciting with some different features (hopefully!).
This shows a T-S (temperature salinity) plot. The black contour indicate isopycnals – different density levels. The surface waters are at the top left side where temperature is highest and salinity lowest – causing least dense waters. The denser, colder and saltier waters are located towards the bottom right. The shape of the graph shows changing water bodies as you go down the water column.