Dec 23 - Rothera....or not
Noon Position : lat 51 41.3 S, long 57 49.6 W
Air temperature @ noon today : 13.9 degrees C
Sea temperature @ noon today : 12.0 degrees C
Wind: Direction NW, Force 5-6
Well, I have no idea if this web-page will be put out before Christmas day, but I hope you all will have/ are having/ had a very good Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year. In Stanley it really doesn't feel much like Christmas at all. In fact it is positively summery, so much for an Antarctic Christmas! The sun is shining, the wind drops in the evenings and sunset is just after 20.30. The crew have been working extremely hard, so much has happened during the last week and we are now playing catch-up with cargo and mobilisation.
When I last wrote we were entering the sea-ice and all was excitement. Navigation in the sea-ice is a true adventure. No map can tell you where to go or which the best route through is. It is an ever shifting maze of leads and pressure ridges. Seemingly trying to thwart forward progress but then suddenly relenting and allowing a good run through a channel of inky black unaturally calm water. All of a sudden we would be pulled up short again only to have to recommence backing and ramming. This is when the ship backs up and accelerates at a particularly stubborn bit of ice, ramming it to make further progress. Over a four-hour period during one night, we travelled 13 nautical miles back and forward to move a total of 1.6 miles forward. And at one stage we were being taken back with the movement of the pack ice at a rate faster than 2 knots! Making progress through the ice requires persistence and patience. At any point if the wind changes it may ease the pressure on the pack ice by blowing it out to seawards, or alternatively cause it to compress against the coast and entrap the ship.
As we moved slowly through the ice it became apparent that getting to Rothera was going to be really quite difficult. For the three days that we were moving towards Rothera in the ice they sent aircraft to fly over looking for leads and trying to advise us on the best way through. Each day they gave us optimistic reports of large leads heading towards Adelaide Island......
Eventually it was apparent that we were not going to be able to get through the pack ice to Rothera in the current ice conditions. The decision to remain and try further or turn around and return to Stanley involved a number of factors. There had to be a balance considered between how likely it was that the ice would eventually yield, how safe it was to proceed against the need that Rothera has for our supplies, scientific cargo and personnel, and what committment of the JCR could be made to Rothera in comparison to the other planned tasking of the ship for the next months. When the decision was reached there were many disappointed people on board but all could recognise that safety was of prime importance. So we turned round, but even then it wasn't easy, many of the leads that we had been following had closed up and we had to struggle against the ice to make our way home again.
One of the benefits of turning round and heading north, is that we were able to return through the Neumayer Channel again. This time the weather was clear and we had blue skies and good views through this most spectacular scenery.
It had been decided to use Marsh airport as a point to pick up passengers who had priority requirement to go to Rothera from the ship. Marsh is a Chilean Base like a small town on King George Island, in the South Shetland Islands group. Their airstrip is used by BAS occasionally as an alternative landing point midway between Rothera and Stanley, if the weather at Rothera has deteriorated sufficiently during a flight to prevent the aircraft completing the flight to that Base. It had been arranged that the Dash would fly north from Rothera to Marsh and we would take personnel there to be picked up. For once the weather was kind to us and both the ship and the Dash were able to rendezvous as arranged. This was a rare opportunity for people to see Marsh, but in the end the boat crew literally stepped ashore to help load baggage and we weren't able to gain more than an impression of neopolitan-coloured houses, and streets climbing up the hill into the distance, before we headed back to the J.C.R.
As soon as we had dropped off those going to Rothera it was northbound for JCR. During all of these shenanigans there was still time for science. Unfortunately some of the science programs had to be cut short or postponed, especially the moorings deployment, sediment cores and CTDs planned for within Marguerite Bay. However, we did find time to look for some mud! Using a box corer lowered by winch over the side, undisturbed samples of sediment can be retrieved from the sea bed. This is a messy process as Ros Rickaby will agree....
After an uneventful trip we arrived in Stanley where it seems summer has arrived. The gardens are festooned with flowers; lupins, broom, daisies and gorse vie for the most attention. A very short but colourful display. Meanwhile the hard work is just beginning. All of the cargo which hasn't got to Rothera is to be discharged, sorted into one pile of priority cargo to be taken by aeroplane to Rothera over the next few days, the remainder to be stored in containers until we return. Later in the season we will have to reload this cargo and retrace our steps to Rothera, but not until the ice conditions have improved! As the cargo work progressed, our last team of scientists have left and the new team for the Biosciences cruise has arrived. Most of them are old hands at this work, and they set about preparing the equipment they will need during our next run towards South Georgia.
So now we are ready, and as I type this we are once more heading through the Narrows and out of Stanley. Wish us luck! A spell of good weather will mean that the science will go smoothly and we can stick to our plans this time. More importantly it means that the Christmas lunch will stay on the table whilst we eat it! A very happy Christmas to you and I will write again in the New Year. Here is a cheerful face to show you how much fun we're having and a beautiful view to make you wish you were here.