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Rothera Diary — May 2011

It’s been two months since the RRS Ernest Shackleton left us, and left 20 of us alone at Rothera Research Station to look after the facility and maintain the science program. For someone like myself, taking part in his first over winter experience, it quickly becomes apparent how important it is to maintain morale by setting up a good social group. To this end, many of us have actively been organising events for everyone on base to take part in.

The start of May saw two birthdays: Dave Smyth’s (affectionately known as Dave Dive!) and Tamsin Gray’s. The ages of both will remain a secret! For this, a Wild West night was organised, to great effect.

Our base commander, Rod Strachan, putting great effort into cultivating relevant facial hair (Photo: Ross Harper)
Our base commander, Rod Strachan, putting great effort into cultivating relevant facial hair (Photo: Ross Harper)
Sat around the campfire for evening meal (Photo: Terri Souster)
Sat around the campfire for evening meal (Photo: Terri Souster)

In addition there have been two key events that have been important in May. The first was the tradition of the lowering of the flag. Every year, around the time when the sun finally dips below the horizon and stays there, the wintering crew at Rothera head up to the flag pole, where the base commander makes a speech, the Union flag is lowered, and given to the oldest member of the base. When the sun rises into the sky again sometime in July or August, the youngest person on base will raise a new flag. We followed this ceremony with a very excellent tea and cake party.

The lowering of the flag... (Photo: Ross Harper)
The lowering of the flag... (Photo: Ross Harper)
...followed by a very British tea and cakes! (Photo: Ross Harper)
...followed by a very British tea and cakes! (Photo: Ross Harper)

The second key event was one of the few experiences that we share with the folks back up north. I refer to, of course, the Eurovision song contest. Mike Brian took up the role of Terry Wogan / Graham Norton, and organised a great evening. Our Eurovision night was a week delayed from the actual one because, despite our excellent communications systems, our internet access speed is not good enough to allow us to stream live TV. We downloaded the program the slow way, and watched it a week later, after some very cosmopolitan Eurofood.

Eurodinner (Photo: Ross Harper)
Eurodinner (Photo: Ross Harper)
Our host for the evening, Mike Brian, and 'friend' (Photo: Ross Harper)
Our host for the evening, Mike Brian, and 'friend' (Photo: Ross Harper)

The wildlife on base is slowly dwindling as the temperature drops. Until recently, we had a few fur seals lying around the point, growling at anyone who came near, and lots of tiny Adelie penguins, curious as ever. It was amazing then, to see this fella turn up:

Emperor Penguin at Rothera (Photo: Ross Harper)
Emperor Penguin at Rothera (Photo: Ross Harper)
Tamsin Gray gets a new perspective! (Photo: Ross Harper)
Tamsin Gray gets a new perspective! (Photo: Ross Harper)

It’s not unheard of to find emperor penguins at Rothera, but it is quite rare. This emperor seemed to be lost. We observe a minimum five metre limit when approaching wildlife but being down here often presents fantastic opportunities to take some snapshots of unusual wildlife, especially when they’re as photogenic as this emperor.

My role on base as Electronic Engineer is to maintain a suite of science experiments, mainly gathering data about the upper atmosphere. Normally these experiments run well with little interruption from me, except for the periodic planned maintenance work. It’s fantastic then, when I can just stop what I’m doing, look around and realise what a fantastic environment I am in. For all the isolation, the cold, and lack of certain home comforts, there is nothing I would change about this place, and the group of good friends that inhabit it.

Rothera Research Station e28093 67 degrees South, 68 degrees West (Photo: Ross Harper)
Rothera Research Station e28093 67 degrees South, 68 degrees West (Photo: Ross Harper)

Ross Harper
Electronic Engineer