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2002-2003 Part 3

Mapping and Geographic Information Centre (MAGIC) Diary
February 2003

Following completion of our aerial photography project in eastern Palmer Land on Sunday 26th January, we had two days at Rothera before we were off again. We had a GPS survey to carry out in western Ellsworth Land, in the SW of the Antarctic Peninsula, and on Wednesday 29th January the area was cloud-free and had a good weather forecast.

This part of the Peninsula seems to be notorious for bad weather, so we were keen to get in to the area at the earliest opportunity. We would be surveying 10 peaks in order to geo-locate the Landsat TM images covering this area, and also to complete the BAS survey point network spanning the Peninsula. It is a bleak area with only a few nunataks (mountain peaks exposed above the icecap) across 10s of km of ice, but these peaks show up well on the satellite images and were ideal for positioning using GPS.

Our team consisted of Adrian and myself (Alison), plus two Field Assistants (Dave Routledge and Andy Chapman) and pilot Doug Pearson. We flew via Fossil Bluff and Sky-Blu and arrived at our destination, Henkle Peak, in the late afternoon. We set up our camp and prepared for an early start the following morning.

Field camp at Henkle Peak - Click to enlarge
Field camp at Henkle Peak
Click to enlarge

On Thursday 30th January we set off at 7:30am in the Twin Otter in cloudless skies. Adrian and Andy remained at the camp and set up the Trimble GPS to be used as the base station for the differential GPS survey. This would collect data all day whilst the remote receiver recorded data from new survey points at each mountain. They also climbed the nearby Henkle Peak and recorded the position from the summit.

Meanwhile, Dave, Doug and I flew to the first peak, 'Erehwon Nunatak', landed beside it and set up the GPS on a rock outcrop on the northern side of the nunatak. Although our height above sea level at this point was approximately 900 m, the peak itself was only 15 m high! We ran the GPS for an hour before flying to a further four peaks: 'Un-named Nunatak', Mount Peterson and two peaks at Mount Rex, all of which were considerably higher. Some areas contained crevasses, so it was necessary to rope up and wear crampons on the ice slopes to reach the rock outcrops. After a long day we arrived back at the camp, where the others had prepared dinner for us. The image on the right shows Dave and Doug standing next to Erehwon nunatak. Click the image to enlarge it.

Dave and Doug standing next to Erehwon nunatak - Click to enlarge

GPS antenna on rock outcrop of Mt Peterson - Click to enlarge View of one of the Mt Rex nunataks - Click to enlarge

Above: GPS antenna on rock outcrop on Mt Peterson (L) and a view of one of the Mt Rex nunataks. Click the images to enlarge them.

The following day we were hoping to move our camp to a peak to the north (Mount Harry) in order to complete a further 5 peaks. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, however and we were unable to continue with the survey that day. In the meantime, Doug and Andy decided to fly to a field camp to assist with bringing equipment out of the field, since we couldn't continue with the survey work ourselves. Unfortunately the Twin Otter developed a problem on the way, and it had to return to Rothera to be fixed! This meant that Dave, Adrian and I had a 3-day lie-up in the tent while we waited for the weather to improve and for the aircraft and the other team members to return. There wasn't much we could do, but we whiled away the time by reading, chatting and drinking lots of tea!

On Monday 3rd February, Doug and Andy were able to return to us. The weather had improved considerably and we were able to pack up the camp and fly north. Mount Harry was still in the clouds as we drew near, so we landed where it was clear and waited until the clouds had moved sufficiently to enable Doug to land on the ice near the mountain. We decided to make the most of the clear spell in the weather and this time Adrian and Andy went off with Doug in the aircraft to achieve as many survey points as they could before the weather closed in again. Dave and I set up the new camp and set the base station running. After having dinner we climbed Mt Harry and let the GPS run for an hour to collect positional data. We could see the Twin Otter from the camp as the rest of the team surveyed a further three peaks: Fitzgerald Bluffs, Schwarz Peak and Marshall Nunatak. The wind gradually became stronger throughout the evening and the others returned at about 3am after successfully completing the survey. It had been another long day, but it was very satisfying to have finished the work.

View of Schwarz Peak with Twin Otter in foreground - Click to enlarge Adrian on Marshall nunatak - Click to enlarge

Above: View of Schwarz Peak with Twin Otter in foreground (L) and Adrian on Marshall Nunatak. Click the images to enlarge them.

By the following morning the winds had reached 40 knots. The weather was forecast to become worse, so the decision was made to pack up the camp and leave as soon as the fog had cleared from Sky-Blu, where we would need to re-fuel. It involved teamwork to take down the camp in gale force winds, with all 5 of us holding down the pyramid tent as the snow was whipped violently through the air, stinging our faces and making us work as quickly as possible.

Finally we were off, leaving Ellsworth Land behind us and heading for Sky-Blu. Once there we were able to catch the Dash 7, which had been on a fuel run to Sky-Blu, back to Rothera. Once back at Rothera it was good to have a few days to sort out all the equipment, download and post-process the GPS data files and re-charge the batteries. We were then able to pack up the GPS equipment since we had completed all the planned GPS surveys for this season.

Jones ice shelf - Click to enlarge

We had one remaining aerial photography mission to complete, this time of the area close to Rothera. On Thursday 13th February the skies overhead were cloud-free, and despite some cloud that was creeping in from the north we decided to go ahead. We had less than two weeks left and the weather was already showing signs of deteriorating as winter approached, so we had to take the opportunity when we could. We had a number of areas to photograph, including the Müller and Jones ice shelves, which are done every 2 years by MAGIC to monitor the changes in the ice fronts. We also took aerial photographs of Horseshoe Island and areas of the mainland to the south for work being carried out by BAS geomorphologists, and McCallum Pass, the Rothera ice ramp and Rothera base itself. The cloud stayed clear of these areas sufficiently to allow successful completion of all the photography. The image on the left shows the Jones ice shelf, which has recently broken up. Click the image to enlarge it.

Horseshoe Island - Click to enlarge
Horseshoe Island
Click to enlarge

On our return to the base we spent the evening removing all of our equipment from the Twin Otter: the film magazine boxes, the camera, the mounting ring and ICC box, and the navigation sight from the front of the aircraft. Over the next few days we sorted and packed our equipment into boxes, which were then painted and labelled ready to be loaded onto RRS Ernest Shackleton at the end of the season. The exposed films were unloaded from their magazines in the dark room; these will be brought back on the ship and then developed in the UK. We will then be able to use the photographs in conjunction with the GPS data we collected this season to compile maps of the areas we visited, which will be carried out at BAS HQ in Cambridge over the next 18 months. The image on the right shows the view from the aircraft as we returned to Rothera. Click the image to enlarge it.

Returning to Rothera - Click to enlarge

So we have reached the end of a very successful season. We are packed and ready to leave Rothera on the Dash 7 on Friday 28th February, due back in the UK on 2nd March. The MAGIC team will be returning to Antarctica in November 2004 for further fieldwork in different parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, but for this season our diary entries are now complete. We both hope you have enjoyed following our progress!

Alison Cook and Adrian Fox