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03 Feb - 08 Mar

3rd February 2005 - 8th March 2005

The last month has been another interesting one for the MAGIC team at Rothera, but aerial photography work has again been hampered by poor weather. Whilst the highest priority work has been completed, we have been unable to finish all of the planned tasks. The area at the north of the Antarctic Peninsula proved to be impossible to reach, due to poor weather in the area itself or at Marsh (a Chilean base), where we were going to refuel in order to extend the reach of the aircraft. One key achievement this month was to finish aerial photography of the Rothera area, which included low-level photography using colour film, to be used for compiling an up-to-date map of Rothera Research Station. It has been a frustrating month as we waited and hoped for the weather to clear in the right areas, with time ticking on towards the end of the season. By 22nd February it was time for us to remove our camera system from the Twin Otter as the aircraft had to fly north before the Antarctic winter sets in. It is disappointing not to have completed all of our tasks, but in Antarctica the weather is always the main factor determining what we can or can't do.

Aside from the aerial photography, we have had a busy month with GPS and other surveying jobs. One of these was a GPS survey on Coal Nunatak, a small range of hills on Alexander Island at 72°S, 68° 30'W. This is close to an area called Corner Cliffs, which we mapped two years ago and we are now going to extend the mapped area for scientists studying lichens and mosses, who visit this area regularly. We acquired aerial photographs of the region two years ago but we now need GPS positions for georegistering the photos and compiling contours for the new map. On 21st February the weather was clear for us to go there, along with biologists Roger Worland and Kat Snell and Field General Assistant (GA) Andy Lole, flown there by pilot David Leatherdale. The pilots are able land the aircraft on ice-covered terrain in good weather, trailing the aircraft skis on the ground to check for crevasses before landing. We then set off across the glacier, from the aircraft to Coal Nunatak, roped together until we reached the rocky ground. Andreas and I went separate routes across the low hills to collect the positions of pre-planned locations. The scenery here is beautiful; from the hills you can see across the George VI Ice Shelf to the mountains on the mainland, as well as the hills to the north on Alexander Island. After a long day out, freezing mist began to come across and we made it back to the plane in time before the weather prevented us from leaving. It was 11:30pm before we made it back to Rothera, feeling happy to have completed the survey in an area that is sometimes difficult to reach. In fact we had been on standby for more than four weeks for this particular area; Antarctic weather at its best.

Coal Nunatak party Survey point on Coal Nunatak

Above: Coal Nunatak party (L) and survey point on Coal Nunatak. Click images to enlarge them.

Other GPS survey work included taking positions on mountains and islands near Rothera, to be used in creating a new map of the local travel area. We acquired new positions on Stork Ridge and Reptile Ridge, as well as many points on the small islands in Ryder Bay. As part of the new Rothera Field Equipment Management GIS (FEMGIS) which MAGIC member Paul Cooper set up last month, we also collected positions of any equipment we found whilst out and about around Rothera.

Recording information for FEMGIS Alison surveying
Boating in poor conditions

Above: Recording information for FEMGIS (top left), Alison surveying (top right) and boating in poor conditions (bottom). Click images to enlarge them.

There were many days when the weather was too poor to do aerial photography or get out in the boat, so on those we had other tasks to complete close to the base. We worked with the Meteorologists to survey a site for a new antenna array to be set up next season and measured locations of hazardous equipment all over Rothera Point (mainly masts and aerials) for a new health and safety map of the base. Other days were spent doing office work and post-processing the GPS data collected this season.

Our final task of the season was to do a GPS survey on Pourquoi Pas Island, 20km to the east of Rothera. We intend to use the aerial photographs taken this season to generate a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) to measure the surface of two glaciers on the island. This method uses photogrammetry (see our second diary entry this season for an explanation of this technique) and requires accurate positions to be taken of features on the ground. We will also use photogrammetry to generate a DEM of the glaciers in the 1950s, using aerial photographs taken at this time, which are now held in the BAS archives. Pourquoi Pas Island is too far away to be reached by boat and it is impossible for a Twin Otter to land there, so our only option was to get there by helicopter! The HMS Endurance was due to call in at Rothera in early March and it was planned that we would spend a day with the flight crew being flown to the required areas by Lynx helicopter.

So on Friday 4th March we set off on what proved to be a very exciting day of GPS surveying! Andreas and his GA, Andy Lole, set off in one Lynx to the far side of the island, and my GA, Kirk Watson and I were flown in a different helicopter to the side nearer to Rothera. The aim was to take a new position in three separate locations on each side of the island, which would be enough to position the block of aerial photos covering the glaciers. My first location was a large rocky promontory on the west coast of the island, but it was covered in Fur seals and nesting Giant Petrels and Skuas. We couldn't land there so we were dropped off on the moraine at the glacier front, to the rear of the rocky peninsula. We made our way across the moraine and found a suitable point for the GPS, away from the seals and birds! After an hour and a half, the helicopter appeared to pick us up and took us to our second site, on a beach close to Moider Glacier. It was a top spot, with spectacular views across Dalgliesh Bay to the high ice-covered mountains on the far side. The silence was only broken by the occasional cracking and booming of the ice as it broke from the walls of ice and crashed into the still water beneath. It was fantastic being taken directly to the spot we required and being collected after each one too! My third and final point was on another beach and we found a suitable rocky outcrop on the beach that will be clearly visible on the aerial photos. Andreas took another three positions on the mountains surrounding Nemo Cove. The helicopter was able to land on two peaks and a cliff, enabling Andreas and Andy to jump out and take positions of these clearly visible features. A fantastic way to do GPS!

Pourquoi Pas Island survey point Andreas discussing the next move with the pilot

Above: Pourquoi Pas Island survey point and Andreas discussing the next move with the pilot. Click images to enlarge them.

While Endurance was here, we had the annual Navy vs. BAS 'Winter' Olympics event, held at Vals (Rothera's attempt at a French ski resort!), on the glacier behind Rothera. Competitions included ski slaloms, snowboarding, sledging, curling and snow sculpturing, with BAS coming out as overall winners! A good day was certainly had by all and it was finished off nicely with a BBQ on board Endurance.

So having completed our final tasks, we are now preparing to leave Rothera to head back to BAS HQ. It has been a very varied and interesting season and we already look forward to returning here in two years time to collect more data to produce new maps of different parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. We hope you have enjoyed reading our diary entries from this field season.

Alison and Andreas