Diary of a Rothera Boatman

February Diary: Summer activity at Rothera

March 1998


Dear All

Rather a lot has happened since I last wrote. Rothera has been through its busiest month of the year - January - with at one stage over a hundred people on base. There was plenty going on with a whole variety of science projects taking place both in the immediate vicinity of Rothera station and out in the field. February saw numbers start to drop and now, in early March, the season is drawing to a close. In a week or so the Air Unit will be leaving and then on March 23 RRS Bransfield will sail and the station will be back in winter mode.

Before we look towards the winding down of the Antarctic summer let's look back to January. As I say a rather busy month for the station and for me as well, as at long last the sea ice broke up and the boats were on the water once more. As happened last year a camp was set up on Léonie Island. Terrestrial biologists forming part of a joint Dutch / British research programme study the effects of ultra-violet (UV) light on the many mosses and lichens that can be found on the island. As these plants are very sensitive to change they could act as indicators of climatic change. Terrestrial biologists were also working on sites on Lagoon and Anchorage Islands. Marine biologists continued hard at work as they had done through the winter, only swapping ski- doos and sledges for boats. A new dive boat for Rothera arrived on RRS James Clark Ross. It's bigger and more powerful than the boats we've had here previously and a welcomed addition to our little fleet. We've named her Stella, which is the name that the British Graham Land Expedition gave their launch when they operated in these waters back in the 1930s. Also arrived on RRS James Clark Ross was Martin Warnock. Martin has now taken over from me as Boatman and he will be staying through the coming winter. During January Martin and I spent much time going through the operation so by February 1 the handover was complete and Martin was officially Boatman.

So at the beginning of February the boating was handed over and in good hands. Whilst on Rothera I still play a very active part in it all but I was lucky enough to be sent back into the field. You may remember that back in October I was down at a fuel depot called Sky-Hi, a very long way south of Rothera. This time I was at Sky-Blu fuel depot. The two depots are only fifteen miles or so apart, but are quite different. Both take their respective names from the Sky-Hi range of nunataks. Sky-Hi is located on flat, white snow to the west of the nunataks, while Sky-Blu sits in amongst them. Why two places so close together ? Well Sky-Blu has only been used during the last few Antarctic summers but will in the future replace Sky-Hi. It is special as the wind blows over the nunatak located directly north of the camp and keeps a large area of blue ice free of snow. Provided that it is looked after (which basically involves helping the wind to keep it clear of snow) wheeled aircraft can land on the ice. This enables the BAS Dash-7 aircraft to fly in. Unlike the Twin Otter aircraft the Dash-7 isn't fitted with skis, but it is quite a bit larger so it can fly in much more cargo than a Twin Otter. For this reason Sky-Blu will be used in the future with the Dash-7 flying in large lifts of field-party cargo or drummed aircraft fuel more efficiently than the Twin Otters. If so required Twin Otters will then be able to fly equipment further into the field. To see the Dash-7 land is a truly amazing sight. It doesn't seem right that such a large aircraft should land on wheels onto shiny blue ice, but it does and very smoothly and safely too.

I spent just over two weeks at Sky-Blu. For nearly half the time we were in "lie up". This is when the weather is fairly poor and work can't be done outside. It's quite pleasant inside the pyramid tent. The primus stove is kept going for warmth as well as cups of tea and time passes reading, writing, chatting, playing scrabble or dozing. Although it's frustrating to be stuck in the tent it's quite comfortable. On the days when the weather was good the two of us were kept quite busy. Field parties were being uplifted and heading back to Rothera so we had Twin Otters bringing in equipment to be depoted ready for a Dash-7 flight. Heading down from Rothera the Dash-7 was bringing cargo to be depoted ready for a big project taking place next season. Once the field parties were back in, there was no more requirement for Sky-Blu to remain operational so the last few days were spent shutting the camp down ready for winter. Then finally Alex (one of the Field Assistants) and I departed on the last Dash-7 flight out of Sky-Blu. We had a fine flight back with the new Director of BAS. - Professor Chris Rapley. It was good to have the two or so hours back to Rothera to meet the new boss.

Since late December Rothera has been home to a group of German Scientists whose research is based around launching rockets. The rockets accelerate at an incredible speed into the sky leaving only a smoke trail and noise behind them. On reaching a height of 80 km up a small balloon is released that is then tracked as it falls back to Earth. From the speed at which it falls, the temperature way up above us can be discovered. Each launch is carefully controlled with everyone on base being accounted for before the rocket may be launched. The rockets aren't huge things and there have been no problems with them at all but it's always sensible to take care.

Many people have been on base throughout the summer but you may be interested to know what the twenty one of us who over wintered are up to in the next few months. Rob (Carpenter), Mark (Plumber), Alice (Assistant Marine Biologist), Si (Marine Biologist), Phil (Mechanic), Andy (Assistant Terrestrial Biologist) and Jez (Field Assistant) are all staying for their second winter. Steve (Electrician) is also staying for a second winter but he has moved over to Halley station. Rob (Diving Officer), Steve (Field Assistant), Seamus (Communications Manager), Nige (Cook) and Dave (Doctor) are sailing all the way back to Britain on RRS Bransfield. Dave (Generator Mechanic) will be flying home from the Falklands while Si (Field Assistant), Jenny (Meteorologist) and Ian (Mechanic) have already flown home. That leaves Lucy (Meteorologist), Mike (Field Assistant), Oz (Field Assistant) and myself. We'll all be spending a bit of time travelling in South America before we head off back home. Afterwards who knows ! - Oz will be returning to Australia after some time in the UK, Lucy has a bit of work in BAS back at Cambridge, Dave the Generator Mech will be there too, Ian will be back working on his family farm, Si will be off to Canada for a year and Doctor Dave will be working in Aberdeen. As for me I'll have a bit of time with family and friends before starting work at BAS too, this time involved in work with the two BAS ships.

So this will be my last newsletter from Rothera. I'll do my best to write a final one on board RRS Bransfield as I travel between Rothera and Montevideo. News from Rothera will continue ! Once RRS Bransfield has sailed Rachel, one of the new Field Assistants will be taking over and letting you know what's going on from her point of view through the coming winter and beyond.

So, until I write from RRS Bransfield on passage to South America, take care.

Best wishes, Stuart.

Stuart Wallace, Rothera Station, Rothera Point, Adelaide Island, Antarctica.