Jun – Midwinter Mayhem

30 June, 2007

Hi everyone and greetings from Rothera Research Station Antarctica. My name is Richard and I’m the wintering Electrician. This is my second consecutive winter here at Rothera but the joys and challenges of living and working in this environment certainly haven’t worn off.

This June has been packed full of events. We have had two full moons, the official sundown, three birthdays, a major incident exercise, mid-winter week and events, the mid-winter broadcast and of course the mid-winter meal. So grab a nice hot cup of tea, sit back, relax and enjoy the events of June 2007 from our part of the world.

The reason we are all here at Rothera is for the science or the support of the science. At the beginning of the month, I had the opportunity to travel to Anchorage Island by boat with Richard Hall our resident Terrestrial Scientist. Anchorage Island is devoted completely to Science. It’s not possible to go there unless you have some scientific purpose for being there. Our purpose was to service the automatic weather station (AWS) on the island and download information from it so that it can be analysed later. It also gave me the chance to inspect and service any Fire equipment in the melon hut there that the Scientists may need during the next summer season.

The displays of colour on the horizon are at times what can only be described as breath taking. It truly is a privilege to be able to witness some of these events. On this occasion it was a sun pillar made from the reflection and refraction of light through ice crystals in the air. Amazing!

The people that support the marine science here at Rothera are Jim our Boatman and Kelvin our Dive Officer. Over the course of the winter they provide Alison our Marine Assistant and Birgit our Marine Biologist with the opportunity to collect water samples and marine specimens for scientific examination. The diving itself is supported here due to the Bonner Lab having a recompression chamber installed. Although stringent rules are applied while diving and boating, procedures have also been put in place in case any diving related incidents happen. During the course of the winter, there will be a major incident plan (MIP). This is an exercise designed to test the training and procedures put in place for the chosen scenario. This winters MIP was dive related. The scenario was a diver had surfaced too quickly, and another diver was missing. Not only did they need to be found and transported to medical care, but because one diver may need special care, a make shift surgery was set up in the Bonner Lab near the recompression chamber. Because there are only 22 people on base, these exercises involve everyone. We all have a part to play.

Remember that we are not alone during the winter on this splendid continent. There are other people on other bases run by different nationalities. As part of the celebrations we give and receive greetings and midwinter group photos. This puts the privilege of over wintering in the Antarctic into perspective. We are part of a very small group of people that actually gets to do this. So there are bonds and attachments made with other wintering teams while appreciating the challenges that they face during their winter.

Of all the months of winter in Antarctica, June holds a special significance to those wintering on this continent. Not only is it a time of almost constant darkness, bad weather and high winds, but it can also be a time of quiet reflection of what the winter means to each individual. We are physically cut off from the rest of the world for this time with no planes or ships due until October. But it also provides us with the very unique opportunity to identify what is important to us in our lives without the distractions of normal daily living. This will help us to learn and grow from the wonderful experience of an Antarctic Winter.

Mid-winter falls on the 21 st of June. This is the shortest day but it also means that we have the whole week off. Special events are planned during this week. Some of them are traditional, and some aren’t. The winter Olympics – Rothera style and the bungee in Fuchs house are traditional. So is watching the movie “The thing” and other Antarctic based films. The Base commander serving everybody breakfast in bed on mid-winter’s day morning has also become a favourite. At least it gets him out from behind his desk.

Certainty the highlight of the whole week, for me at least, is mid-winter’s day. There are preparations going on all winter for this special day. After lunch we were ready for the time-honoured tradition of watching the movie. This particular movie “ The Thing” happens to be based in Antarctica. It also happens to be is a very realistic portrayal of what life on base during the Antarctic winter can be like.

Next came the winter presents. These are presents we have made for each other on base. As you can see, the ingenuity and complexity of some of them is intriguing. We had everything from a working pinhole camera, a runway light bedside table lamp, photographs in hand made frames, to a penguin shaped wine bottle holder.

The mid-winter broadcast is another traditional occasion. We all gathered in the communications tower where Tristan our Comms Manger had tuned into the BBC World Service in London. It was great to hear the greetings and messages from family and friends so far away. A big thank you to all the effort put into this event. It really does make a difference to our mid-winter’s day.

The highlight of the whole day is of course the mid-winter evening meal itself. Cyril our Chef did a splendid job of the event. He really did himself proud with the meal. And of course no mid-winter event would be complete without decorations. It certainly was a sight to behold.

The meal and the whole day was finished off splendidly with the arrival of Santa bearing some very special presents. It left everyone with uplifted spirits and complemented the whole day very nicely.

Spending a winter in the Antarctic there is a fair chance that you will have a birthday down here. This month was no exception with three birthdays been celebrated.

Rothera and its homegrown band, Nunatak, are also involved in a ground breaking worldwide event next month. On the 7 th July 2007 they will help celebrate Live Earth by playing in front of a worldwide audience of around 2 Billion people. The band members have been practicing hard and seem pretty “cool” about the whole thing.

Another thing that is happening that involves the British Antarctic Survey Stations in Antarctica is the exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London. If you’re in the area, pop in and have a look. Some of the exhibits include photos and contributions from the current members of the wintering teams on station. It’s also Interpolar year as well. So let’s hope all these events will serve to raise the public awareness of climate change in general, but more importantly of the Polar regions so they can be preserved for future generations.

In closing this month’s web diary, I’d like to take this opportunity to send some personal greetings. A very big mid-winter hello to all the 2006 winterers. I hope the shock of going back to the “real world” wasn’t too bad. It’s my turn next.

A big NZ “Kia Ora” to all my family in New Zealand. Hi to Robyn, Gil, Mike, Barney, Delwyne, Jack & Iris, Maree and the kids and to Paul and Mark and their families too. Hello to all my friends in the UK. Jennifer, Terry, Smudge & Fudge, Jill & Eileen, with big licks to Casey.

Thank you all for the love and support and for the great presents and goodies sent during my two winters here in Antarctica. They made all the difference.

Working and living at Rothera over these two winters has certainly been an exceptional experience. Everyone here will take away with them fond memories of the people and the place. All the winterers make their own individual contribution, but the success of any Antarctic winter can only be attributed to the base personnel working as a team. And 2007 has been no exception.

By Richard Logan