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Rothera Diary — September 2010

Diving and music

As the marine biologist at Rothera, I had an unusual start to my career here. I flew in late in February this year and after a whirlwind introduction to the Antarctic, it was suddenly the start of winter. It wasn’t until after midwinter that I finally felt I had found my feet.

The month of September started quietly but ended with a lot of activity. I spend my time working down in the Bonner lab (see photo), between the aquarium and diving.

Bonner lab and boat shed looking towards South cover (Photo: Colette Mesher)
Bonner lab and boat shed looking towards South cover (Photo: Colette Mesher)

My work revolves around testing the respiration rates and temperature limits of different animals we collect while diving. We often find out interesting things accidentally during our work. The marine assistant, Terri, and I were looking at the temperature limits of brittle stars and sea cucumbers. These animals release their young into the water column and it is often difficult to see them while diving because they are so small. During this experiment we found these animals had released their young in the tank and we were able to collect some to photograph (see below). These are perfect replicas of the adults, just much much smaller!

Sea cucumber and brittle star young (Photo: Colette Mesher)
Sea cucumber and brittle star young (Photo: Colette Mesher)

Diving has to be one of the best things we get to do down here. It’s cold, so the suits are thick and can be very restrictive but it’s worth all the preparation to get under the water. Over winter, the normally murky summer waters which are full of algae, are clear and very blue.

Colette Mesher under water at Killingbeck (Photo: Terri Souster)
Colette Mesher under water at Killingbeck (Photo: Terri Souster)

Even more challenging can be diving through the sea ice. We managed to get 9 dives through the sea ice Hangar cove, with 2 in September. In order to get into the water, we first have to cut two dive holes. It can be very physical work and despite the cold, it can get very hot while wearing boatsuits. Andy Wilson (boating officer), Jon ‘JJ’ James (diving officer), Matt von Tersch (laboratory manager) and I had to work together to free the dive hole. The ice was up to 60 cm deep which meant some heavy lifting (see photos). Despite the hard labour, it was an exceptionally beautiful day to be on the sea ice.

Jon James, Andy Wilson and Colette Mesher on the sea ice (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Jon James, Andy Wilson and Colette Mesher on the sea ice (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Andy Wilson and Colette Mesher removing a block of sea ice with Jon James looking on (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Andy Wilson and Colette Mesher removing a block of sea ice with Jon James looking on (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Jon James cutting into the sea ice with Andy Wilson and Colette Mesher (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Jon James cutting into the sea ice with Andy Wilson and Colette Mesher (Photo: Matt von Tersch)

In order to maintain some variety over a long winter I have tried to get involved in some different activities. One of these has been the Rothera band, Snow Rhythm (pun intended!). I play the cello back in the ‘real’ world, but as this is not the easiest instrument to travel with, I decided to leave it in the U.K.. When the band started, we didn’t have a bassist, so I decided to give it a try as it is an instrument similar to the cello. Our first gig was at midwinter and we decided to end the winter with another gig for Ian Strachan’s birthday (vehicle mechanic — see photos). We put together a 12 song set list and even managed a somewhat disturbing Marilyn-inspired rendition of happy birthday!

Ian Strachan with his crane birthday cake (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Ian Strachan with his crane birthday cake (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Darren Skinner (singer), Jon James (singer), Colette Mesher (bass) and Justin  Boulton (lead guitar - just seen) (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Darren Skinner (singer), Jon James (singer), Colette Mesher (bass) and Justin Boulton (lead guitar - just seen) (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Alan Hill (guitar), Justin Boulton (guitar), Tom Weston (singer) and Colette Mesher (bass) (Photo: Matt von Tersch)
Alan Hill (guitar), Justin Boulton (guitar), Tom Weston (singer) and Colette Mesher (bass) (Photo: Matt von Tersch)

With the end of winter fast approaching (the first BAS planes due in October), I’m trying to mentally prepare for seeing people other than the 21 winterers, but looking forward to meeting the new recruits, post and summer sun!

Colette Mesher