31 August, 2004 Rothera
August began with what was to be our last under ice dive before high winds broke the sea ice out. The objectives were photographic and specimen collections in Hangar Cove, a small cove created by the runway to the north west of the station.
It is important to keep the divers and the equipment as warm as possible before they go into the water. We kit everything up inside and the divers get fully dressed with their diving mitts and hoods on before going outside. Once ready we load up onto our transport, which in winter are two skidoos and a sledge and then head of to the dive site.
Once we arrive at the site the first thing we need to do is remove the wooden covers that we have placed over the dive holes. These covers slow down the rate that the holes would re-freeze, although we do usually have to break a thin layer of ice and clear the hole so that the divers can get into the water.
Once this has been done the divers don their equipment and are connected to a lifeline that is tied off on the surface. Once through the hole and into the water the contrast is unbelievable, compared to the bare white and harsh environment on the surface in Antarctica, under the water is vibrant with colour and full of life.
The water visibility at this time of year is crystal clear and better than anywhere else in the world, however the water temperature is as cold as it can get at minus 1.8°C. When you look through the dive hole from the surface it looks very dark and uninviting, but once you under, there is far more light shining through the ice from the surface than you would expect.
Once the tasks have been completed we head up to 6 metres below the surface where we make a mandatory 3 minute decompression stop. During this time we can really marvel and appreciate the sheer beauty that surrounds us from icebergs that have been frozen into position and the different shapes that the ice has formed on the sea surface. We then head back to our dive hole along the underside of the ice. Once back on the surface in the snow and wind it doesn’t take long for the bitter cold to freeze and mould your dry suit onto you. Then as at the beginning we pack up our stuff quickly and head back to the warmth of the dive store in the Bonner Laboratory.
Unfortunately the majority of August was dominated by bad weather and resulted in the loss of all of our sea ice around the station. The temperature stayed very low throughout the month and the ice has started to reform well. This didn’t stop our intrepid boatman Andy Wilson, who did manage to breakout his boats and get some boating in during the clear days.
On one day our met guys recorded a mean wind speed of 59 knots with a gust up to 75 knots, this is only 4 knots below a Hurricane Force. Therefore a lot of our activities this month were confined indoors, however this is not a problem for us Rotherites as someone somewhere always has a good idea!
To start us off a few base members gave some talks on the work that they conduct here.
Meteorologist, Adam Thornhill, explained to us what weather information is recorded and how this is processed via satellite into the world weather information model. In the words of Louis J. Battan 1979, ‘ Long Term Monitoring of our weather gives us a better understanding of weather systems and Climatology.’ He went on to explain about the Ozone Hole, how it developed, the reasons behind it and what may be in store for the future.
Terrestrial Biologist Kat Snell told us about microclimate and biodiversity. Considering that less than 2 % of Antarctica is under snow or ice, bare rock does not guarantee life, and that life needs water, light and food to flourish. It’s amazing that anything lives here at all.
Lidar Research Engineer, Dr Graeme Nott, (aka The Professor) described his work with the Lidar, ‘Light Detection and Ranging’. This involves firing a laser into the upper atmosphere and then collecting through a telescope some of the rebounding photons. The Prof explained the make up and functions of a laser so well, that afterwards we all thought that we could build and fire one. However it didn’t take too long to be forgotten once we remembered how technical it looks in the Lidar lab.
Our chef in the knowledge that his winter trip and a week of night watch duties were on the way gave us a talk on cooking. This covered the basics such as cooking methods: concentration, expansion and mix. The correct and the incorrect ways when in the kitchen as well as a history of food.
One of the big successes of the month was Rothera Open Mike night when we were given the full musical talent by a number of the base. This was started off by Obe Dan who is still harbouring dreams of discovery and international fame as a serious rock singing and guitar-playing icon.
There were strong performances from Hamish, Agent Miller, Adam, Tim, Cyril, Andy Porte, Dougal and Scotty. However I have to make some special comments for my personal favourites: Paul Booths rendition of ‘Burning Ring of Fire’ was out of this world and I have to admit that I’ve been humming it ever since: Diamond Geezer Andy Sylvester was always able to grab the mike and fill the gap between acts with his latest jokes.
The star performance without doubt goes to the man who has surprised most over the winter. Always quiet with his skills, he never gives anything away until the time is right. Those who first played him in our badminton ladder found this out rather quickly, as did those of us on the opposite team in our football league; he was soon compared to Beckham and even Pele. The skills soon showed through in more than sport, when he easily stole the fancy dress and dancing competition in Bar Revulsion during midwinter, you could say he’s been a nose ahead ever since.
Open Mike night was no different, he came out of nowhere and he conquered again. I only say this Gareth Gates, Will Young, Robbie Williams step aside, come next year the new king of pop will be setting foot in the UK, the one and only silky voice of the south, Rob Jarvis!
Unfortunately these were again dogged by the weather. Both Fin O’Sullivan and myself were able to scrape some away days from base. Fin together with Rob managed to get out and about in the local area and had some good days of climbing and skiing.
I managed a couple of fantastic days on Reptile Ridge under the superb guidance of Toddy, Paul Torode. This included my first real ‘proper’ climbing experience, which will be something never to be forgotten. Considering that I have always thought twice about ascending the dizzy heights of a stepladder this was no small matter in my eyes.
Andy Porte and Andy Miller were both a little more successful and managed to camp off base for a few nights. They successfully made ascents of N2 and Stokes Range as well as explore the wonders of a crevasse.
Cyril Millet our intrepid chef made the most of any good days during his trip with an ascent of Stork and skiing in the local area.
The biggest success of the month has to go to Sledge Juliet, Adam Thornhill and Steve Hinde. They succeeded in getting to the other side of the Island and visiting Carvajal Base, (Chilean Summer Station). This was Adam’s forth and final attempt over two years to reach Carvajal.
That’s about all I’ve got from Rothera this month. Just a final mention and congratulations to Hamish Campbell and Andy Miller who both passed their Rescue Diver exams this month.
Big hello to Jack, Jeremy, Debbie, Jason, Ed, Jamie, Mum, Dad and the rest of the family see you all next April!