8 Jan - 7 Feb - Aerial Photography
January 8 2001: The two Canadian Twin Otter mechanics were brought in on the Dash-7 flight from Stanley. They started work on the planes immediately following their routine briefing to life on the station. After a first examination, their initial estimate for completion of the repairs was from two to three weeks; beyond the date we were due to leave Rothera for Signy.
This meant a complete re-think of our project planning. As the majority of our remaining projects depended on us working out of Rothera station, and only one out of Signy, it was decided to cancel the latter and stay at Rothera until the end of the season. Until either one of the aerial photography planes was repaired however, our only possible project was the completion of the eastern Palmer Land GPS surveying project, and we were put on stand-by for that whenever a plane was available.
As we had anticipated long periods of waiting (quite common during field seasons due to the constraints of working in the Antarctic) we were able to get on with some other work which we had brought with us from HQ. Also, there is plenty work to do around the station, and helping hands are always appreciated in a wide-range of activities. Many parts of the buildings were undergoing maintenance so that we were able to help out with some of the carpentry and paintwork. We assisted the terrestrial biologist, Mairi Nicolson with routine skua surveys and the meteorologists with installing snow-accumulation monitoring poles.
We also assisted the General Assistants (GAs) with crevasse probing on the access ramp above the station. This proved especially interesting when a large crevasse was found, along which a melt stream had carved out an ice-cave about 15 m deep below the surface. Once deemed safe to visit by the GAs we lost no time in abseiling down it with their assistance; a spectacular sight.
Saturday January 20 2001: We were visited by a Chilean Navy ship Letauro which gave us the occasion of practising our Spanish on the crew, as we invited them for a guided tour of the station. A very pleasant day which ended with them joining us for the traditional Saturday night formal dinner before they headed north over-night.
Week starting Sunday January 21: We received VIP visits from the BAS Director Professor Chris Rapley, Baroness Patricia Scotland, Bruce Smith (new external member of the Director's Committee), Francis Saunders (chair of the BAS Review Group) and John White (Foreign Office Commissioner for the British Antarctic Territory) which again ended on a colourful Saturday night party hosted by the 'Tabasco Band'.
January 27: The Twin Otter aircraft VP-FAZ was declared airworthy by the mechanics and test pilot (Giles Wilson). We fitted the camera back on the plane that same evening to be ready to go at the first weather opportunity.
January 28: As luck would have it, this Sunday saw a large weather window with a cloudless sky spanning from the north of Arrowsmith Peninsula to George VI Sound. We were off the ground by 0900 aiming to complete a variety of projects in the area. Our aerial photography team consists of the pilot (Giles Wilson) and two camera operators (Adrian and Olivier). While the periscope operator ensures the plane is on track by communicating with the pilot, and feeds ground speed and drift information to the camera's central processing system, the second operator records the parameters and settings of the camera and location of each photo run. The operators frequently switch positions as operating the periscope can prove quite a strain to the eye -and stomach (depending on weather conditions...).
Olivier operating the camera, Adrian operating the periscope and the view through the periscope.
During this seven-hour sortie we were able to complete all our work for the UK Hydrographic Office around Marguerite Bay; we carried out some regular monitoring of the Muller and Jones ice shelves -during which it became apparent that Jones Ice Shelf has now collapsed; we completed the McCallum Pass project, as Florian was able to travel down to the pass in time to set up ground targets for photo-control (prepared during the ground survey we carried out in December); we did some routine monitoring of Rothera Point as well as an extra ad-hoc project at the GAs' request, for crevasse mapping of the glacier traverse leading from Rothera Station to Wormald Ice Piedmont.
February 4 to February 7: The weather finally cleared in southern Palmer Land and Ellsworth Land after a full month of instability. This was to give us our first and possibly last opportunity to complete our aerial surveys over these areas, as well as finalising the GPS survey in eastern Palmer Land. We set off that morning and headed straight for FitzGerald Bluffs, via a refuelling stop at Fossil Bluff, where we also dropped off Florian who would prepare our equipment for the upcoming ground survey. After both vertical and oblique photography of FitzGerald Bluffs were completed, we went on to survey the Behrendt Mountains before refuelling at Sky-Blu. On the way we also kept a look out for an ellusive, isolated nunatak, (appropriately named Erehwon Nunatak, being in the middle of 'nowherE'...), but which turned out to be hidden by local cloud cover. From Sky-Blu we covered Mount Vang before ending the day back at Fossil Bluff.
The next morning we found that the weather in eastern Palmer Land, around the Beaumont Glacier was just good enough for aerial survey. It took two sorties and a refuelling trip back to Fossil Bluff to complete, with an exhausting seven hours spent at 15,000 ft, but we managed to make the most of the weather window and fitted the whole project into a day.
The next two days were spent further south in eastern Palmer Land, revisiting the GPS survey site which we'd had to abandon the previous month due to weather. This time, the weather held just long enough to survey a sufficient number of ground control points for a successful georeferencing of two satellite images of the area. A new network of survey points was generated, linked into two established base point sites.
On Wednesday afternoon, Giles and Adrian returned from their last point just in time to pack up base camp, pick Florian and Olivier up, and get off the ground, Rothera-bound, before a heavy weather front closed in on the area. This marked the end of four exhausting 12-14 hour days which, as the end of season nears, leaves us with just a one-day sortie over Brabant Island left to complete. This will hopefully be accomplished before the February 20, when we are due to fly north out of Rothera, UK-bound.