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28 Nov - 02 Jan

28th November 2004 - 2nd January 2005

The MAGIC field season 2004/5 began on 28th November, when Andreas Cziferszky and myself, Alison Cook set off from Cambridge on the long journey south. In previous years, the MAGIC team has arrived at Rothera on the BAS Dash-7 aeroplane, which makes the crossing of Drake Passage from the Falkland Islands in only 5 hours. This season it took a little longer - we arrived 2 weeks after leaving Stanley!

After flying on the MOD flight from Brize Norton to Mount Pleasant in the Falklands (via Ascension Island) we only had two days before joining RRS James Clark Ross (JCR), which became our home for the next two weeks. We were going to Antarctica by ship because we wanted to do a GPS survey when the JCR called in at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, near Anvers Island (64°49'S 63°30'W) on its way to Rothera. Since all of our equipment was being transported on the JCR, the plan was to begin fieldwork when it was offloaded at Rothera. In Antarctica however, you can't always stick to your original plan, as we soon discovered!

We crossed the Southern Ocean in calm seas and good weather (contrary to the reputation of these notoriously rough seas) and consequently a lot of science was successfully carried out en-route by the oceanographers on board. We arrived at Port Lockroy on 9th December where we had a successful and interesting day doing our GPS project amongst the hundreds of gentoo penguins on the islands! You can read an account of the MAGIC fieldwork that day on the JCR diary for that week.

MAGIC at Port Lockroy

Above: MAGIC at Port Lockroy. Click image to enlarge.

The ship continued southwards but soon hit sea-ice just south of Port Lockroy. The JCR is an ice-strengthened ship but not an ice-breaker and it was hoped that the ice would be thin enough to enable to ship to push easily through to the area of open water surrounding Rothera. The ice became thicker however and had the consistency of porridge, making it almost impossible to move through it at all. By the end of the second day in ice we had reached our limit. It had become too thick to continue, so rather than risk a repeat of Shackleton's adventure in 1912, we turned on our heals and edged slowly out of the pack-ice, slowly retracing the path we had forged. It was a disappointed crew that returned to the edge of the sea-ice and began the journey northwards to Stanley. It was the first time a ship had failed to reach Rothera due to sea-ice for over 25 years.

JCR in sea ice Sea ice

Above: JCR in sea ice. Click images to enlarge.

We traveled north through the fantastic scenery in the Neumayer Channel and Gerlache Strait and as we neared the South Shetland Islands 15 of us were told that we would be collected from Marsh, a Chilean base with a gravel runway, by the Dash-7!

The next morning (16th Dec) we had re-packed and were ferried over to the shore, where some friendly Chileans greeted us. It wasn't long before we had loaded the Dash-7 and were on our way southwards again! The views across the peninsula were stunning; some parts of the coast looked quite familiar to us by now!

We arrived at Rothera after 2½ hours and were very glad to have finally made it. Adrian Fox, Head of MAGIC, awaited us at Rothera having arrived on the Dash flight from Stanley 4 days before us. He was here for a short while to assist with fitting the aerial survey camera on the Twin Otter and to train Andreas on aerial photography techniques. Since most of our equipment was on the ship (20 boxes of surveying kit altogether, including the large Zeiss RMK aerial survey camera) we had to wait until the cargo was offloaded at Stanley and then some of it flown down on the Dash-7.

Ice cliffs at Rothera

Above: View west from Rothera. Click image to enlarge.

In the meantime we had training to do before starting our field season. The training is carried out by Field General Assistants (mountaineering guides) and includes techniques we will need to help us travel across glaciers for some of our GPS tasks. We covered rope work techniques indoors, such as walking roped together as a pair and abseiling and jumaring (climbing up a rope) for a crevasse rescue. We then put these skills into practice up on the glacier behind Rothera, where we learned how to do an ice-axe arrest if your partner falls into a crevasse and how to set up a pulley system to pull them out if necessary. Other useful skills learned included how to break a fall using an ice-axe, how to walk on steep slopes with crampons and how to camp out on a glacier in a pyramid tent.

Training at Rothera

Above: Training at Rothera. Click image to enlarge.

Having finished the training we were able to begin our work planned for this season (see map of target areas for 2004/5 season). This began with a number of GPS survey tasks while we waited for the aerial camera equipment to arrive. I was flown down to Fossil Bluff, on Alexander Island on 22nd December to participate in a Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) GPS campaign at a survey point near there. This involved setting up the Trimble GPS station to run continuously for at least a week in order to monitor small movements in the earth's crust. This international collaborative project began in 1995 and aims to improve the geodetic infrastructure of Antarctica and to monitor crustal deformation from 25 sites across the continent. Fossil Bluff hut is situated on the eastern edge of Alexander Island (71°19'30"S 68°17'W), at the foot of a glacier that flows into George VI ice shelf. It's a beautiful location, with views across the ice shelf to the Batterbee Mountains on the mainland. The GPS site is about 2km from the hut, in Belemnite Valley, so it was a pleasant walk along the scree slopes to the site each day. The landscape here is covered in fossils (hence the name!) and free time was often spent searching for interesting ones. Other time was taken up with duties such as refueling the Twin Otters as they passed through on their way to field camps. Christmas and New Year were certainly different for me this year, with only 2 (or 3) of us staying in the isolated hut throughout the festive season. It was a very memorable experience to bring in the New Year where Fin (Rothera Doctor) and I were the only 2 on an island the size of Wales!

GPS at Fossil Bluff New Year at Fossil Bluff

Above: GPS (left) and preparing for a BBQ at New Year (right) at Fossil Bluff. Click images to enlarge.

Meanwhile, Adrian and Andreas had been doing some other GPS surveying back at Rothera. Existing survey points near the base are being updated with more accurate positions and they will be used for new large-scale maps of the area and also added to a new GIS of the site. The MAGIC team visited a number of points on the nearby islands, Anchorage and Lagoon, assisted by the Rothera boatman Andy Wilson.

Andreas doing GPS

Above: GPS survey on Lagoon Island, near Rothera. Click image to enlarge.

This work was put on hold however when the aerial survey kit arrived on the Dash-7 on 29th December. Adrian and Andreas spent the evening fitting the camera into the Twin Otter and loaded the film magazines ready for the first photography opportunity. On 30th December they were able to go out on a test flight, with pilot Geoff Porter (our pilot assigned to the aerial photography this season) in order to check that the camera equipment and new GPS attachment were working. A number of lines were flown at different heights over the base and local travel area, with GPS events tagged to each frame as they were taken. This new system will reduce the amount of GPS ground control necessary for our maps and therefore increase the amount of aerial photography tasks we can cover. The method worked well and after Adrian and Andreas had hand-developed a few frames from the test-flight film, it was confirmed that the photography equipment was also in order.

We hope to complete a large number of aerial photography tasks throughout January, since after this time the weather usually worsens and the aircraft will be used for uplifting field parties. One task has been completed already; Geoff, Adrian and Andreas were able to go out on New Year's Day to take low-level photographs of penguin colonies on islands in Marguerite Bay, which will be used for a regular penguin census by the Bioscientists at BAS.

Adrian has now departed for the UK and I have returned to Rothera from Fossil Bluff. Andreas and I now await the good weather we need to complete our aerial photography missions.

MAGIC Target Areas

Above: MAGIC Target Areas. Click image to enlarge.

You can read about our progress with these projects in next month's MAGIC diary....