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Oct 31 - Signy Island

Update 31 October

Noon Position : lat 60 41.4S, long 45 30.8 W

Air temperature @ noon today : -3.0 degrees C

Sea temperature @ noon today :  0.9 degrees C

Wind: Direction NW, Force 4

Signy Island

This week we have arrived at Signy Island.  When we left Stanley the weather was chill and blustery and the ship was full of people new to the ship.  Needless to say, sea-sickness became a significant topic of conversation!  Fortunately, it was a very short journey, only three days, to our destination. We cruised up the strait between Coronation Island and Signy Island at 5.30 am on 28th October.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the view was spectacular.  The strait is quite shallow and, as a result, is full of grounded icebergs, which were glinting in the morning sunshine.  We 'parked' behind an iceberg and the first party went ashore to start opening up the base.

  The James Clark Ross anchored off Signy Island; photo J. Keys

There were several objectives to meet during our time at Signy.  The base party of nine people was landed and began to open up the base.  This required a lot of digging snow!  The generator was started, buildings were opened up and we started to unload supplies for the summer.  Unloading cargo is an exercise in co-operation at all of the bases.  If you can imagine, the tons of food and equipment are brought to the jetty in a small cargo tender.  Here, they are lifted by crane onto the jetty and then moved by hand up the hill into the store sheds.  This is two days hard graft and everyone chips in, the most challenging item in this case was a carton weighing 750 kgs!  Many hands make light work and even that was shifted in the end.

Another objective was to take the materials for a new hut at Gourlay point ashore.  Gourlay point is the site of a penguin colony a couple of miles south of the main base on Signy.  The materials and person-power were loaded into the cargo tender and a short boat trip later, the mission was accomplished.  There were only a few penguins at the colony this early in the season, in a few weeks there will be many thousands nesting here.

  The old hut at Gourlay Point.

  The materials for the new hut being crane lifted ashore.

  The materials being carried up the hill by people-power; all photos A. Geach

Science Bit in the Middle - Diving for clams, rocks and fish

AFI 2/34 is a project investigating differences in thermal tolerance of Antarctic animals living in a latitudinal cline from South Georgia in the north, through Signy and then south to Rothera. Even though all of these bases lie within the Southern Ocean, summer temperatures are warmer in the north (at South Georgia) than at Rothera and it is expected that animals from South Georgia will be adapted to cope with these higher summer temperatures. A team of 6 divers (Simon Morley, Matt Brown, Keiron Fraser, Dave Barnes, Katrin Linse and Peter Enderlein) are onboard JCR to collect populations of a clam, a limpet and a fish species, which will be transported to Rothera in order to investigate the mechanisms underlying these differences.

On the day of arrival at Signy, dive kit was prepared, divers prepped and the plan for the first dives was initialised. Once the first few runs of cargo had been taken ashore the call came for diving to commence. Gear was checked, suits were donned and excitement levels were reaching fever pitch, especially for those Antarctic novices who had not submerged in the icy waters before. Then imagine our disappointment when diving was called off due to a leopard seal being spotted swimming near the dive site.

Fortunately, over the next three days there were enough “clear” periods when seals were not present that diving got well underway. Working as a team with the officers and crew of the JCR, divers were shuttled back and forth from the ship to the dive sites. One hundred clams, a hundred limpets and ten fish were collected in just six dives. There was even time to fit in two dives to investigate the animal communities living and competing for space on the rocks and boulders, which added to both a 10 year study by Dave Barnes and the PhD project of Cath Waller. We look forward to similar success at South Georgia

  Dive boats in the water, looks a bit chilly for swimming!

Simon Morley and Katrin Linse ready to dive.

Writing by Simon Morley, photos P. Enderlein

Trips Ashore

Of course, as well as the hard work there was time for some people to get ashore and look around the island.  To the north of the base was Waterpipe bay, where there is a hut and the remains of some whaling boats.  Not far from here is Cemetery Flats, the graveyard for five whalers and also the home for many Elephant seals.  A shorter walk was to go up the hill just behind the base.  Here, there is a large cliff supporting an enormous nesting seabird colony.  At the top of the hill is a sea-ice camera, this takes a picture of Borge Bay everyday.  At the beginning of the season the photographs are downloaded  and analysed for sea ice conditions over the previous winter.  Mike, the radio officer even found the opportunity to get his skis out!  Though he did miss the ski-lift.

  Mike Gloistein at the most picturesque ski-resort in the world; photo M. Gloistein(!)

For me, the most magical time of the whole trip was sunset.  Standing on the bridge of the ship surrounded by icebergs and snowy mountains it's hard to belive that the view can get better than this.

  photo L.Handcock