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Dec 13 - MAGIC at Port Lockroy


Noon Position : lat 68 01.7 S, long 70 26.0 W

Bearing:  variable

Air temperature @ noon today :  1.0 degrees C

Sea temperature @ noon today :  -0.2 degrees C

Wind: Direction variable, Force 2

A MAGIC day out at Port Lockroy

On thursday, 9th December there were a dozen or more people on the bridge at 4.30 am.  Collective insomnia?  No, we were due to arrive at the Gerlache Strait and then proceed through to Neumayer Passage. Some of the most photogenic scenery travelling south along the Antarctic Peninsula.  So there we were, all bleary eyed and dopey, where were the sunshine and the glorious views?  Who knows, but they weren't with us.  The cloud was well and truly down, we could just make out the base of the cliffs on either side of the ship as we passed through the narrowest part.  Despite that it was hard to be disappointed, the atmosphere was  eerie and there was quiet on the bridge except for the navigator calling out the distances to and the new bearing of the next course alteration. Just as we approached Port Lockroy on Goudier Island the cloud started to clear, the sky became blue and the water started to sparkle.  Then, out of the channel behind the point appeared a tall ship (the Europa, a dutch ship).  Quite a surreal sight after the morning of grey, horizontal snow.

Europa at Port Lockroy The Europa and Port Lockroy; photo H Guly

Port Lockroy is a site of historical interest.  It was the original Base A when the UK decided during the war that a British presence was required in the Antarctic.  Since being reopened in 1996 there have been three people staying over summer.  They maintain the property and man the post office for the tourist ships that visit.  Last year there were 10,000 visitors to the island, which is tiny.  Whilst we were there we were needed to drop off the three people staying this year, supply cargo and allow the mapping team to do their project.  I will leave it to Andreas Czifersky and Alison Cook to tell us about the mapping project....

The Mapping and Geographic Information Centre began their field season with a GPS survey at Port Lockroy. Several known survey points were to be re-visited and surveyed using highly accurate GPS equipment, which will then be used for making new maps of the area. These survey points make up part of a geodetic network of known positions across the Antarctic Peninsula, which have been collected by BAS and FIDS surveyors since the 1970s. This network is updated with more precise positions when possible; they contribute to control for georeferencing aerial photography used in creating new topographic maps and they are used as checkpoints when mosaicking satellite images for smaller-scale maps.
Three survey points were located on Goudier Island, where Port Lockroy is situated. MAGIC members Andreas and Alison were brought over to the island from the JCR in the Humber inflatable boat and then set about finding the survey points. We have two Trimble 5700 GPS kits so one was set up as base station and left running all day while the other was set up on the other points. By leaving the GPS running for an hour on each point, very precise positional information is collected from the satellites.
Our main difficulty at Port Lockroy proved to be the gentoo penguins, who did their best to prevent us from doing our work. There are large colonies on Goudier Island and surrounding islands and since it was breeding season they were all sitting on nests guarding their eggs. Unfortunately some of our survey points were right in the midst of the rookeries, so after setting up the antenna on the tripod we had to guard it closely! At one point when our backs were turned, a strong peck from a penguin had sent our base station tripod flying! It was righted again and securely fastened with string to the nearby flagpole for the rest of the day.
After completing the points on Goudier Island we set off to find two other points, which we knew would be trickier to locate. We had a crowd of willing helpers who came armed with shovels in case the points were buried under deep snow. The first was on Casablanca Island, and being such a small island it didn’t take long to follow the description and locate the point. Alison set up the GPS and stayed with it whilst Andreas (and co.) went off in the cargo tender boat in search of the point on Tombstone Hill at Damoy Point. Snow was not the problem however, but about 20 years worth of penguin droppings! All the exposed rocks on top of the hill were swarming with penguins, and after over an hour of searching it was concluded that the 2cm diameter brass survey nail must be somewhere under the penguins’ nests or under the slimy mess. The team admitted defeat and headed back to Port Lockroy. When Alison arrived at Tombstone Hill with the survey kit, we found a new (unoccupied!) spot and hammered a survey nail into the rock. The new position was recorded and this time very detailed notes were written about the exact position. We just have to hope that when the spot is re-visited in the future it won’t be occupied by a penguin nest! All in all it was a successful day and the MAGIC team returned to the JCR feeling very happy with what was achieved. We will be constantly reminded of our trip to Port Lockroy by the very smelly penguin guano that is now ingrained on our clothes and equipment for the rest of the season!

Alison and Andreas will be writing their own diary each month, if you are interested in more mapping adventures then click here.

Andreas setting up a GPS locator  Andreas setting up a GPS locator; photo A Liddell

Looking for the trig point  Looking for a brass pin in a penguin colony!  photo H Guly

Sea Ice!

We must have reached the true Antarctic now!  We have reached the edge of the sea-ice, which is between us and Rothera.  Moving into and through the ice is a unique experience and I can't describe it.  Fortunately, we have a writer on board, John McGregor.  He is with us to collect experiences for his future work, I have asked him to try and put into words just what it's like going into the ice for the first time.

Into the ice.
The birds have gone.  The sun no longer sets.  The sky and the surface
of the sea are a seamless blinding white.  Massive fragments of
ice-floes scrape and slush against the sides of the ship as we grind a
fractious path through the solid pack, splitting a way through the
frozen desert landscape of windblown ridges and faultlines and trapped
icebergs, juddering to the occasional halt.  The mountains of Rothera
are faintly visible on the horizon, eighty miles away, the other side
of unusually thick sea-ice which still might prevent us from reaching
our destination at all.

We are moving much slower than yesterday, the floes taking their time
to move apart as they fracture under the weight of the bows. The
fragments of ice which turn over are much thicker, and the dark jagged
creeks of open water have almost disappeared.  Eventually, the ship’s
momentum is halted, and the clanking grinding churning sound is
replaced by an abrupt silence, broken only by the waddling patter of a
panicking penguin escaping from this unknown madness bearing down upon
him.  He glances over his shoulder, vaults a pressure ridge, and is
gone.  The ship slips back into the brash.

Edge of the ice photo H Guly

JCR in pack ice  photo A Clarke

The different types of ice have different names, appearences and resistances.  These were all outlined in the diary a couple of years ago by Jo Cox. At that time she was cadet aboard the ship and she is currently sailing with us as third mate.  The link above will take you to the web page and then you will never confuse growlers with bergy bits again.

For Rosies' Brother, Peter

To finish this week I would like to answer a few questions for Peter Welter.  He wrote to Rosie (one of the scientists on board) and we were so delighted with the questions we thought we had better write a reply.

"When you go to the toilet do you rush to the side to see it fall out the side and land on the ice blocks?"
No.  We're not allowed to put anything over the side whilst we are in Antarctic waters.  Anyway, if the toilets went straight out of the side then the water would come straight back in when the sea was rough.  You could drown whilst sat on the loo.

"Does the food on board taste nice or is it like a mouldy candle?"
I'm glad to say the food is excellent.  We have two cooks who work very hard to make sure we stay well insulated against the cold.  What does a mouldy candle taste like?  Can candles go mouldy?

Is it so cold that your or someone elses butt gets frost bite?  Even if it is not their butt has anyone frozen any part of their body off?"
The temperature is 1.0 degrees Celsius. You could only freeze your butt if you pulled your trousers down whilst on the deck and that is generally not encouraged.  I'm  glad to say that no-one has frozen anything yet, but a few people have become sunburnt.

"If you get stuck in the ice, how long will the food supplies last?  Or will you have to eat each other?"
We have enough food to last weeks and weeks, although it would get a bit boring when we run out of fresh vegetables.  I don't think we would reach the stage of eating each other but we have been trying to decide how to choose who to eat.  Pull names out of a hat?  Fattest first because they give a bigger meal?  Or thinnest first because the fatter people will last longer anyway?

"If you fall into the sea will you turn into an ice block straight away?
If you fell into the sea in normal clothes you would be unconscious in about one and a half minutes, and an ice block pretty soon after that.  That is why you're not allowed to go swimming!

"Does penguin poo really smell?"
Penguin poo REALLY, REALLY smells.  And it's pink.

Hope that helps!  Speak to you all next week - we could be anywhere by then.