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King Edward Point Diary — February 2013

After such a web diary as that written by Sue last month how do I keep up the momentum she has started?

February, for all that it is a rather short month, has had plenty packed into it. We continued to provide support for the soil beakers as we came to affectionately call the team of microbial biologists who arrived here in January to sample the varying substrates of our island. The idea behind their research is to determine, eventually, the amount of micronutrients entering the marine ecosystem from runoff from the land. This could help establish the extent of plankton growth and therefore add to our understanding of carbon capture in the Southern Ocean. As a boating team we took them to varying locations on the three peninsulas and then picked them up again. This provided excellent training for the new winterers on the boats.

Training on the boats continued at as fast a pace as peoples work commitments allowed and we managed to get Rod (BC) and Joe (Sparky) passed out as RIB coxes this month. We are continuing to get people out as often as we can and everyone seems to be enjoying the training quite a bit (especially on beautiful sunny days when it is too nice to be inside working).

Following the jet boat (Photo: Ella du Breuil)
Following the jet boat (Photo: Ella du Breuil)

Another science team on base this month were the Met beakers (or Meteorological Scientists). They came from the National Centre for the Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS) and were here to measure the atmospheric waves above South Georgia. The aim of this was to aid in forecasting for the area in addition to adding to ongoing research that they are doing. We mainly saw them letting balloons off every morning and every couple of days they increased this to every 4 hours. These guys were an absolutely cracking bunch, always ready to get stuck in and (once we had got Allan to stop talking about the fact we need a seaplane down here) we loved having them on base. 

Paula and John become meteorologists for the day (Photo: Ella du Breuil)
Paula and John become meteorologists for the day (Photo: Ella du Breuil)

The last science team in February were Norman Teferele and Seth White. They came down to input a Global Positioning System unit on Brown Mountain. This system will be so accurate that it will be able to tell if the rock (and therefore mountain) that it has been bolted onto has moved by even 1mm. The point of this is to be able to start getting more information about the tectonic plates and geological activities in the area. There is a school of thought that South Georgia may be on its own small tectonic plate which would be a real claim to fame. The antenna that they bolted onto the mountain and the batteries, solar panel and transmitter powering it were very kindly airlifted into place by HMS Edinburgh when she visited in January. We were all extremely pleased about that since all the kit weighed about 300kg and none of us wanted to be the mules hulking that lot up the mountain!

February saw Sue (Fisheries Scientist) leave us for a couple of weeks to act as an observer on the Btanzos, an ice fish trawler. Her presence was sadly missed for those two weeks and to show his pleasure at her return Rod put her on as Saturday night cook for the weekend she returned (his sense of humour is definitely one that has to grow on you to be appreciated). Our other scientist (Daniel) put us all to hard work yet again with the 2nd pup weighing over at Maiviken. We had a large group of people luckily and a nice day so it went by very quickly. It was Hazel’s first experience of pup weighing and I think she would have preferred to ease herself in when they were smaller but we all had good fun. Seeing met scientists chasing fur seals was an entertaining sight! We were typically British about the whole thing when we had finished and found ourselves eating a picnic on a beach in the Sub Antarctic, in the middle of a fur seal colony with katabatic winds of up to 40kts flinging kelp into our faces.

Hide and seek doesn't make pup weighing any easier (Photo: Ella du Breuil)
Hide and seek doesn't make pup weighing any easier (Photo: Ella du Breuil)

Daniel was extremely annoyed to have missed the season’s first sighting of a leopard seal on a berg in the middle of Cumberland East Bay. This thing was huge and when we went by him he raised his head to look at us and the look he gave us told us in no uncertain terms that out there, we were NOT at the top of the food chain. We hope to find Daniel another seal soon and it has encouraged us all to keep a better look out for any unusual wildlife.

The Ernest Shackleton arrived in the middle of the month under charter to the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) to help them input all the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) needed to allow them to run their Habitat restoration project: Rat eradication. They have arrived with a team of 24 people, including three chefs and two doctors, and three brightly coloured helicopters with which to spread bait pellets all over the island. If they can truly eradicate the rats it will be an incredible achievement. Phase 1 last year was already the largest area on which eradication had ever been attempted before and that was only the Thatcher Peninsula. The numbers of birds on South Georgia should increase exponentially without rats. They have a team of world experts and massive motivation to return South Georgia to the state it was in before humans ever arrived.

Work wise for us boatys it felt as if the entirety of February was taken up by the dry docking of Prion, one of the jet boats. We spent an incredibly hard week of starting work on her at 0630 and not finishing till 1800 everyday trying to change a couple of broken components before we lost the height of tide we needed to put her back in the water. We had the unwavering support of everyone on Base, especially Erny and Joe who helped us to get her back up and running on time while everyone was there with very much needed moral support and a willingness to turn a blind eye to our slightly manic singing of Queen at top volume at 0800.

Prion going into the boatshed (Photo: Ella du Breuil)
Prion going into the boatshed (Photo: Ella du Breuil)

The most important events in February were Joe and Paula’s birthdays which happened within a week of each other. Unfortunately Daniel and I were not on base to celebrate with Joe since we were on the Barff peninsula helping Kelvin Floyd (the invasive plant expert who has come in for a number of seasons) to spray for invasive plants in Ocean Harbour. We were incredibly lucky and had some of the best weather we have seen so far and Ocean Harbour is an incredible place so it was really more of a holiday than work. The rest of the team on base also took a half day off and did various things including visiting King Penguin chicks at Penguin river or, in the case of Joe, catching a fish.

The last social event in our very busy February was the visit of HMS Clyde who came down for a couple of days. There were some old faces from the last time she was down but there was a new captain and some new crew so it was a nice mixture. They had a good time touring the icebergs in the bay and we enjoyed having them around for a little while.

Right, I shall take pity on you now and stop there. These web diaries seem to take on epic proportions, it just goes to show how packed our life here is.

All the best to everyone at home.

Eleuthera (Ella) du Breuil
Boating Officer