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Rothera Diary — August 2009

Spring

As I sit here waiting to leave base and head out into the field for my week long winter trip, I thought now would be a good time to write the diary for August. I have spent the last three days peering out the window hoping for the weather to improve, because as it stands 30 knot winds, snow and very poor contrast makes it dangerous to travel across crevassed terrain.

My name is Terri and I am the wintering Marine Assistant and I will be living and working at Rothera until March 2011. I am 1 of 21 that makes up the 2009 Rothera wintering team. I am part of the marine team carrying out marine research on SCUBA throughout the summer and winter periods. This involves collecting invertebrates for reproductive studies, photographing newly colonised plates and retrieving underwater loggers. The other part of my role as Marine Assistant is oceanography-based. I collect water samples and carry out CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) measurements of the water column to 500m depth out in Ryder Bay.

Terri winching the CTD. (Photo by Terri Souster)
Terri winching the CTD. (Photo by Terri Souster)

August has been a strange month for the weather (shown in the graph) as we had a very cold spell with little wind, which allowed sea ice to form.

Adam Clark, Head Field Assistant and Celine Nyhan, Meteorologist walking on sea ice. (Photo by Matt Edwards)
Adam Clark, Head Field Assistant and Celine Nyhan, Meteorologist walking on sea ice. (Photo by Matt Edwards)

But then the wind increased, temperature dropped causing the sea ice to break up again. The first rounds of winter trips set off at the start of the month and were experiencing temperatures of −25 degrees out in the field. Trips towards the end of the month were experiencing blows up to 50 knots but warmer temperatures.

Graph by Celine Nyhan Meteorologist
Graph by Celine Nyhan Meteorologist

Ice Diving

Throughout the winter we have had sea ice come and go. This has made getting marine work done difficult as the ice has been too thick for a boat but not thick enough (ie 20cm) for us to walk on. There was a brief period of low temperatures and little wind when the sea froze enough for us to walk out and cut dive holes. Diving through ice is a truly amazing experience. The difference in the ambient temperature (−20 °C) and the sea water (−1.8 °C) causes steam to rise out of the dive hole. So sitting on the edge, it looks as though you are about to enter a hot tub.

Looking into the water it is completely dark. We carry torches with us on all our ice dives but I haven’t needed it so far. As you enter the water it takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to what is actually amazing visibility (+/− 30m). We dive on a life line and are therefore in constant contact with the dive hole and the dive officer. Wearing multiple layers of clothing and a dry suit means we are very warm. It is often preferable to be in the water than standing at the surface.

To see more about diving under the ice in Antarctica visit http://kirkoftheantarctic.wordpress.com/ for a short video.

Melissa Langridge (Marine Biologist) walking upside down under the sea ice. (Photo by Terri Souster)
Melissa Langridge (Marine Biologist) walking upside down under the sea ice. (Photo by Terri Souster)
Brittle star Ophionotus victoriea, Cushion star Odontaster validus and Urchins Sterechinus neumayeri. (Photo by Terri Souster)
Brittle star Ophionotus victoriea, Cushion star Odontaster validus and Urchins Sterechinus neumayeri. (Photo by Terri Souster)

48 Hour film festival

Rothera took part in the Antarctic 48 hour film festival at the start of the month. It is a film festival which involves all the wintering Antarctic bases who would like to take part. The criteria is the film has to be 5 minutes long, include a list of mandatory props, noises, lines of dialogue etc. and it must be filmed and produced in 48 hours. Friday evening we sat in the dining room as Kirk announced the film’s mandatory elements. We had to make a film involving; a toilet roll, a funny head piece, a temperamental continental chef, the sound of a can opening and the quote ‘do you want to buy a dog?’ You can imagine what we all were thinking “How do we make a 5 minute film including all these weird items and get a good story? This is not going to be easy”. It did not take long before the doctor said it has to include mummies made of toilet paper and then everyone’s creative juices started flowing. Danny Edmunds, the boatman and director, worked into the early hours on a plan for the next day. Saturday morning sharp we all met, costumes were put together, filming commenced and continued for 12 hours non-stop. I think it’s clear if you watch the film, that everyone had great fun making the “Quest for the golden roll”. It can be viewed at http://kirkoftheantarctic.wordpress.com/ along with the hilarious outtakes.

On Saturday evening we had a 70s party (it was my birthday and I love cheesy music you see). I must say I was impressed, after making costumes all day for the film, everyone still managed to put something together for the party. The 70s party gave Kirk the idea of a Bollywood ending for our film, so that explains the dance routine in the credits. There were just a few bits to film on the Sunday, notably the scene with a giant rolling rock down a corridor. An expert team of prop makers had struggled through 3 prototypes to create the end result. Then it was up to poor Kirk (with lots of people trying to ‘help’ him over his shoulder) to frantically edit and squeeze the footage into 5 minute movie together by Sunday night. You may know the film was a huge success. Rothera won the film competition by miles with 112 votes to the second place’s 38 and the story was splashed across the front page of the BAS magazine.

Matt Edwards (Rothera Doctor) plays a Bogroll Mummy. (Photo by Terri Souster)
Matt Edwards (Rothera Doctor) plays a Bogroll Mummy. (Photo by Terri Souster)

Wildlife

There are certain animals we worry about as divers in Antarctica. On every dive someone will be watching the coastline for us and we won’t dive if they spot killer whales or a leopard seal. Leopard seals are one of the top Antarctic predators and they hunt round the ice edge. The sea ice edge has advanced and retreated throughout the month of August which has meant we have had more Leopard seals patrolling the area.

Leopard seal spotted on an ice flow just prior to a dive. (Photo by Alan Homer)
Leopard seal spotted on an ice flow just prior to a dive. (Photo by Alan Homer)

A sign that spring is here is the return of many birds to the base making for some great bird photos around the point. However we have not had any penguins around base for some time. You can imagine the excitement when a penguin was spotted at the wharf. Even more excitement when it was found to be a gentoo penguin, a species we do not often see this far south. He had taken refuge around the boatshed waiting for a huge leopard seal to lose interest. Poor little guy was too scared to go back in the water for three days.

Gentoo Penguin and Terri Souster at The Wharf on Base. (Photo by Andy Webster)
Gentoo Penguin and Terri Souster at The Wharf on Base. (Photo by Andy Webster)

Weekend Activities

On the weekends, if the weather is good, i.e. no wind, we make the most of it by getting off base. Normally there will be a group of us who jump on skidoos and drive up to ‘Vals’. Vals is an easy uncrevassed ski or snow board run in the local travel area just 5 minutes from base. Some of the more enthusiastic types will walk or even run up which takes about 45 minutes. The views from the top of the run are spectacular.

The morning view from the top of Vals. (Photo By Andy Webster)
The morning view from the top of Vals. (Photo By Andy Webster)
Al Homer (Mechanic), Shaun Scopes (Carpenter) and Terri Souster (marine Assistant) at Vals near Base snowboarding. (Photo By Al Homer)
Al Homer (Mechanic), Shaun Scopes (Carpenter) and Terri Souster (marine Assistant) at Vals near Base snowboarding. (Photo By Al Homer)

The ‘technical’ travel area lies just beyond the flagline and allows for some great mountaineering and climbing. We have 5 wintering Field Assistants who are usually more than happy to go out on the mountains over the weekend. The views from the top of the ridges are amazing with every peak a new challenge.

James Wake (Field Assistant) at the top of Stork Ridge in the technical travel area (Photo by Terri Souster)
James Wake (Field Assistant) at the top of Stork Ridge in the technical travel area (Photo by Terri Souster)

Here on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel I have to pinch myself. It’s truly a dream to be living and working in such a magnificent place.

I do hope you have enjoyed the August Diary and it has been interesting to read what we have been up to. As we head towards summer, and back in the UK, you head into Autumn, think of us here at the bottom of the world where the bright summer will still be colder than the dreary British winter (most of the time).