July – The Third Quarter

30 July, 2006 Rothera

At the start of this month’s diary I feel obliged to warn you this entry is long (probably befitting of 3 female writers!). So if you are not already sitting comfortably, I suggest you reach for an extra cushion take a good gulp of tea and fix your glasses for an interesting read!

And so Rothera enters the infamous third quarter – the time of year where the ten foot stare in a three foot room is cultivated. Or did we…? Well, I guess that the answer’s an emphatic no. Despite the weather’s insistence of penning us all inside for days and the continuing saga of sea ice, no sea ice, sea ice…. (get the picture….) folk found other things to do.

Despite the weather’s best efforts it could not conceal some of the most amazing skies and clouds. As my knowledge of such phenomena is nil, I will defer to one of my special science correspondents.

Hi everyone! It’s Agnieszka here and as the resident meteorologist on base I have been asked to give a little addition to this month’s diary with a bit of a meteorological angle. The main reason for this is that we have been seeing recent displays of Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSC) the odd morning. Put into your mind that we have had quite poor weather of late, with low cloud covering the sky in addition to wind and snow obscuring our visibility between buildings. It’s no surprise that when we get a slight break we often look to the sky in wonderment, especially when we saw the sun for the first time! So you may be asking, ‘what are these crazy clouds you mentioned?’ and you are quite right. The picture below shows one of the examples of a nacreous cloud display that was seen on 27th July.

These clouds are the lower of PSC occurring in the stratosphere at altitudes above 30km and are best viewed in the polar latitudes during the winter months when the sun, being just below the horizon, is able to illuminate them because of their high altitude. Their exact composition is not known, although they appear to be composed of water in either solid or liquid (supercooled) form. All I can say is that they are beautiful to watch and change quickly. Many a day has been full of ‘bing bongs’ on the intercom with me constantly telling people of another great display that must be captured on camera. Often the pictures do not do justice to the sight and hopefully many will keep the picture in their minds eye. As I mentioned this is just a little addition to the diary, but the weather is constantly changing here and is a delight to experience no matter what the conditions.

Thanks folks, lots of love to all my friends and family. Happy 1st birthday to Lucy and Emma Halford.

Love Agnieszka.

July was launched watching live coverage of the discovery space shuttle going into orbit thanks to Mark Maltby. And, what better way to kick start a month than with two birthdays. Both significant ones at that. Tommy V reaching the quarter century mark and needing the most enormous cake I have ever seen to hold all the candles, and Tim reaching the big 30. Never mind Tim – you are still 2.3333 years under the average Rothera age this year!

In fact there might have been a direct link between the giant birthday cake and the recent gym-going. With new appearances by Mark S and Bernard, along with the established attendees a supermarket cheese counter ticket system would be highly advantageous as all jostle for time slots!

Still on the subject of improving appearances there was a record breaking 11 haircuts in one day by the Kiwi cropper extraordinaire – Agnieszka. No two cuts were the same and a whole array of spikes, bobs and short back and sides were churned out!

A spontaneous idea to spend a girly night away from base was hatched (surely as a result of the new chic look we are all sporting), so there was minimal planning and even less organisation involved with a Friday night jaunt. However it is lucky that camping in a Caboose in the Antarctic is extremely straight forwards – or is it?! Having picked up the sleeping bags and snowboards we set off up the hill for a quick getaway. A slight mishap with towing the sledge, followed by blowing up a skidoo on the way there saw us ridiculed by most of the XY fraternity (esp. the mechs – oops, sorry Mat and Tom). Undeterred we reached the Caboose with our stocks (Camembert, crisps and chocolate) not to mention being quick enough to gain some wine and beer from the weekly fridge re-stock.

The temperature dipped to -18 celsius so we moved on to reheating the evening meal take-away we’d secured from Riet the chef, and then it was down to serious business. Plenty of stories and wine were shared, as well as quite successful games of jenga. Although it was 4 girls on their holidays I can assure all that very little make-up, knitting and shoes were discussed and Helen’s minnow bottle opener was a great topic of conversation – you had to be there!

The best part was waking up the next morning away from base and in the great white outdoors! After a breakfast of fried egg and sausage sandwiches, we headed up the hill for some snowboarding action. We were soon joined by Kai, Jamie and Rich Hall – all making the most of the best weather since midwinter. The evening was rounded off with the usual base Saturday gourmet meal.

By request, a slightly puzzled Belgian created the sumptuous starter of beans on toast, followed by the main of bangers and mash and then the piece de la resistance spotted dick (many thanks to Tom’s mum for the recipe!!) The significance of the mash? Well the last of the real potatoes finally used up leaving a few wrinkly apples and cloves of garlic as our only fresh produce until the planes arrive in October – not that we’re counting or anything!

July was a month of training. The how to be a director and cameraman (Hollywood here I come) was very popular, covering all aspects of shooting a film. Many thanks to Kirk ‘Tarantino’ F.Watson and Mike ‘technical guru’PJ for that. Rich Logan set up the breathing apparatus (BA) fire training, deliberately filling the post office with smoke. Then by donning the B.A. gear a mock casualty needed to be rescued from the room. I will have to check up on the stamps to make sure none were snaffled during the event!

Doc school continued with budding paramedics placing i.v. drips successfully. Partner choosing was interesting with Tom S out to exact revenge on Soup for last time! I can happily report that there were no faints and everybody left with the same amounts of limbs as when they arrived! The state of Tom’s arm being very important as he is currently the Rothera chess representative taking on the full might of the French polar chess team – yes all 20 of them at Dumont D’Urville. At the moment it’s all to play for so fingers crossed! On the subject of international relations special mention should go to Miguel Prior-Jones with his weekly Spanish chat over the radio to San Martin (the Argentinian base) and our closest neighbours. They have promised to pop round for tea and matte if the sea ice becomes bombproof!

On the 22nd of July there was a ceremony for changing the flag. It also fell on the same day the sun was due to return to us. Well, chance would be a fine thing to see anything in the blizzard of snow that dominated the day. The old, battered flag was duly dropped by Rich Logan, and the brand spanking new one hoisted by Tommy V. The old flag was put in a draw and the lucky winner was Tim (he must be on a good winning streak as he managed to win the World Cup sweep as well – the £250 winnings kindly donated to Parkinson’s Disease Society Charity).

This month saw a Simpson’s evening of fancy dress and frivolities held. There was a great array of many innovative and well made costumes. Particular mention should be made of Bruce and his ‘bumble bee’ man attire – sting and antennae all featured.

The yellow hue theme continued with the following day being one of the most memorable in July. Nothing particularly special, well apart from it being -21.4C (the coldest yet), a brilliantly clear day with a fine dusting of powder, oh yes, and that yellow glowing thing that rose above the peaks of Stokes. Yes, the sun has returned to Rothera, bathing us in light and creating magical moments that both Jade and Mat were anxious to capture on their cameras. I managed to see the sun in its entirety from the vantage of Stork Bowl. Thanks to Soup and Tom S for taking me, Kai and Riet there to ski the powder and the chance to put down some new tracks. Most of base managed to get to Vals for some sunshine skiing – even Tom M who was on Sunday cook.

However its not just fun and frivolities at Rothera, apparently big things are afoot at the Bonner scientific establishment. I will defer to my second scientific correspondent for further information! However, that is it from me, so just a quick Shwd Mae i Mam, Dad, Daf, Dawn, Leusa, Nana, Teulu Awelon a pawb o fy ffrindiau a teulu nol yng Nghwlad y Gan. Cariad Mawr Lowri.

Hello! It’s about time that the web diary contained a bit of information about the marine and terrestrial science at Rothera, so here are a few words from me, Helen, the marine assistant.

July has been a fairly quiet month at the Bonner lab so first I thought I tell you about an exciting event from June – the first deployment of the Amphipod trap.

This was a project that involved many people from base. The parts were provided by Kai, major construction was carried out by Mat, the trap was deployed (thrown off the wharf) by myself and Bernard the boatman and recovery (due to the sudden arrival of the sea ice) was carried out by the field assistants under the watchful eye of Lowri the Doc.

The trap was a great success and over 100 amphipods were caught and taken to the aquarium where they happily snacked on a nice piece of luncheon meat (a high quality version of spam).

Just recently a lot of field work has been restricted by poor weather and the arrival of sea ice. For much of the month we had sea ice that prevented boating but was too thin for travelling on, so much of the work carried out has been lab based. Luckily at the beginning of July, strong northerly winds had blown away the sea ice and we had a small window of opportunity to get out on the water and do some serious science.

Dickie, our friendly terrestrial assistant, and Tom S managed a trip to Anchorage, one of the local islands, where a rain gauge was in desperate need of some attention.

Agnieszka, Kirk and myself finally managed to get out and do a RaTS (Rothera oceanographic and biological Time Series) sampling event. This involves taking a CTD cast through the water column. The CTD is a piece of analytical equipment that is lowered through the water column and measures the Conductivity (which gives the salinity of the water), the Temperature and the Depth of the water down to 500m.

Water samples are also taken at 15m for later analyses back in the laboratory. These sampling events take place throughout the year at Rothera and give an indication of both seasonal and annual changes in the marine environment. In these harsh winter conditions sampling is never simple and was not without its difficulties on this occasion but it is always nice to get outside and collect some data that contributes to the bigger scientific picture.

Also this month Jade, the resident marine biologist, has been busy continuing her research into Antarctic sponges. This is a group of marine animals that very little is currently known about so her work is truly ground breaking.

Towards the end of the month we finally had enough sea ice (approximately 30cm) to fit a second CTD event into the month. With Tommy V’s starting skills and Jamie’s handling ability we soon had the chain saw roaring happily away and a neat little hole was cut thorough the sea ice.

A few days later, with great excitement, the CTD team (this time Bruce, Lowri, Dickie and myself) were able to get out on the ice and carry out the first CTD event through the sea ice this year.

So, that’s a small insight into the type of work carried out at the Bonner Labaratory and it’s goodbye from me. But first I must say hello to family and friends in Norfolk, Norway, Manchester, Isle of Man and everywhere else – hope all is going well.