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2002-2003 Part 1

Mapping and Geographic Information Centre (MAGIC) Diary
17 November - 31 December 2002

MAGIC team members Adrian Fox and Alison Cook left the UK for Antarctica on 17 November, with a busy season of aerial photography and GPS surveying ahead. David Leatherdale, the pilot allocated to our project was already at Rothera, having flown a Twin Otter aircraft there from the UK in October.

We flew on a RAF Tristar transport aircraft from RAF Brize Norton and had a smooth journey to the Falkland Islands, via Ascension Island. A three day stop on the Islands allowed us to enjoy the sights near Port Stanley, including a walk to the lovely white beaches on the east coast and also across the moorland to the west.

On the 21 November the BAS Dash 7 was ready to take us, and 8 others, south to Rothera research station. After about 4 hours' flying across the Drake Passage we could spot the mountain peaks of the Antarctic Peninsula in the distance above the clouds. As we drew nearer we looked down on brash-ice directly beneath us, formed in fascinating white patterns against the black sea. As we travelled further south, the cloud cleared and we could see the glaciers and mountains along the coast just north of Adelaide Island, which looked spectacular beneath the blue sky. The landscape surrounding Rothera base is really breathtaking; it was difficult to take it all in when we landed!

Following our arrival at Rothera we underwent training for a week. Before we can go into the field we have to practice glacier travel techniques, including moving as a roped pair and crevasse rescue methods. We all had a go at abseiling and jumaring (climbing up using a device which grips the rope) indoors before heading up to a windscoop (ice cliff) on the glacier above Rothera to have a go for real. We each took turns to jump into space down the ice cliff whilst the person on the other end of the rope 'saved' us by holding the fall using an ice axe. A pulley system was then set up to hoist the person out of the 'crevasse'. We also practised recovering from a fall down steep snow-covered slopes using an ice-axe, which was a lot of fun! We spent a night in the pyramid tents up on the glacier with the camping equipment we will be using in the field and cooked ourselves a delicious meal of curry and pasta on the primus stove. Further training involved learning how to use the base vehicles, the HF radio and how to give weather reports. We will be heading into the field in Ellsworth Land and on Alexander Island for GPS surveying, so these techniques will be very useful.

After we had finished our training we had a week to wait before our equipment arrived on RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) when we helped out around the base, doing jobs such as shovelling snow, painting and shifting boxes. The JCR arrived on 04 December, much to everyone's relief! We watched as it smoothly ploughed through the sea-ice that was still occupying much of the bay. Following a few days of intense relief work helping to unload the ship we were able to unpack our boxes and test the equipment after its long journey. We had 17 crates altogether on the ship, consisting of the camera system and film, GPS equipment, and various tripods, battery packs, chargers, generators and laptops.

On Tuesday 09 December we did a test GPS survey around the base area, using the Differential GPS method planned for our later fieldwork.

Alison with GPS receiver at Rothera survey Cairn - Click to enlarge
Alison with Trimble GPS receiver at Rothera survey cairn
Click to enlarge

On Wednesday 10 December we were able to install the air camera to one of the Twin Otters which takes about 3 hours. Panels in the floor and skin of the aircraft are removed, then the mounting ring is bolted down and the camera is fitted on top looking vertically downwards. Cables connect the camera to the aircraft power supply and to the navigation periscope, which looks down and forwards and through another hole in the floor at the front of the aircraft.

Adrian and Dave fitting the camera - Click to enlarge Alison with the navigation sight - Click to enlarge

Above: Adrian and Dave fit the camera to a Twin Otter (left) and Alison inside the plane with the navigation sight. Click the images to enlarge them.

After loading some panchromatic film into a magazine in the dark room, we were ready to go for a short flight to run some film through the camera to check that it was all running smoothly. So on 11 December we flew two photographic runs over Rothera at 5000 ft and 2000 ft. Later that day we cut off the exposed film in the dark room and hand-developed the pictures. They all turned out very well, which confirmed that the equipment was working normally after its 9000 mile journey and we were then ready to start our planned programme.

Aerial photo of Rothera - Click to enlarge
Aerial photo of Rothera - note the sea ice still surrounding Rothera Point
Click to enlarge

The map below shows our planned work areas for this season:

Target areas for 2002/3 season - Click to enlarge
Target areas for 2002/3 season
Click to enlarge

The first areas that we wanted to photograph were in Eastern Palmer Land. The aerial photography, and maps made from it, will be used by BAS geologists during a fieldwork programme in the area during 2003-04. This part of the Antarctic Peninsula is notorious for poor weather and for over a week the area was too cloudy for any aerial photography work to be done. David Lee, a weather forecaster seconded to Rothera from the UK Meteorological Office showed us the latest weather satellite imagery of the area every few hours, but we had to wait until it showed definite signs of improving. Then on Sunday 22 December the 'satpics' finally showed signs of high pressure and clear skies over our survey area, so we packed our bags and flew south to Fossil Bluff, where we re-fuelled before continuing to Eastern Palmer Land.

When we reached our destination there was quite a lot of patchy cloud in the area. We achieved 4 flight lines before being forced to turn back to Fossil Bluff and wait for better weather.

The team at Fossil Bluff - Click to enlarge
The team at Fossil Bluff; Adrian, Alison and David
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As it turned out the cloudy weather continued for a few days, until Christmas morning, when we were given the all clear from our forecaster at Rothera! We achieved 10 hours of flying on Christmas day and photographed most of the intended area so it was a successful, if unusual Christmas day! We enjoyed Spam on dry biscuits for Christmas lunch at 15000ft! The views beneath us were spectacular. It was great to come back to a big Christmas dinner at Fossil Bluff after a long but satisfying day.

We remained at Fossil Bluff for a few more days in the hope of completing the northern section of Eastern Palmer Land, which we had abandoned on December 22 due to cloud-cover. A weather front closed in however on 28 December meaning that we wouldn't get to this area for a few more days, so we came back to Rothera to wait. The aerial photography aircraft is currently being used to transfer equipment into the field for a field party, but as soon as the weather improves in Eastern Palmer Land we should finish the photography in that area. Following this, we plan to fly to Halley research station to photograph the Brunt Ice Shelf, upon which Halley is built, as part of a programme to monitor the long-term stability of the ice shelf.

Alison Cook and Adrian Fox

Part 2, January 2003