October – The End of Winter

30 October, 2006 Rothera

The End of Winter by Jamie Fletcher

Well, it’s almost the end of winter and a very busy time both for work and socially. I have asked several of my colleagues to write parts of this diary to give you different perspectives of the last month and hopefully explain what new challenges they will undertake in the coming summer season!

The Planes

The month began with a briefing – due to some regulatory difficulties with the planes, their arrival would be delayed. This would mean not only no fresh food and mail from home but it will also affect the science field programme.

Fire and Rescue Exercise

Every few months here on base we have a training exercise to hone our new found skills in fire fighting and first aid in the hope we shall never have to use them for real. This month Lowri the doctor and Richard Logan arranged a mock fire with Richard and I playing the roles of the injured casualties. Lowri was masterful with the false blood and make up giving Richard a broken leg and me serious burns, (thanks to Richard Hall for supplying the makeup Hmmm!)

A room in one of the empty buildings was filled with smoke and then the fire alarm set off. We waited only 2 minutes after the alarm was sounded before Mark Maltby arrived with a fire extinguisher to check on the alarm. He quickly called for more help.

The casualties were rushed to the surgery where Jade and Mike had set up for their arrival. The doctor quickly assessed the patients and 2 teams attended to the injured.

Happily both casualties made a full recovery, aided by tea and biscuits.

Keep it secret, Keep it safe!

This month also saw the annual Rothera film festival, organised by Kirk with help from Agnieszka and Riet. The Dining room was set out so that everyone could watch the films between the courses of a lengthy and delicious meal. All the films were made by the wintering team and the quality was fantastic.

Nine Songs

After several months of relentless rehearsal the ‘Band’ also known as 9 Songs made their debut on the Rothera social calendar. The venue was the sledge store loft. The group consisted of lead guitar +singer Mat Richardson, bass guitar and sax Tom Spreyer and finally Riet on drums and second guitar.There was a mixture of several songs written by Mat and a few old favourites from the base jukebox . Several of the crowd attempted to lend a hand in singing the old favorites thank you! Agnieska, Lowri I think!?

The First Visitors

On the 18th we welcomed 2 groups of visitors to base 3 non-flying and 8 flying ones. The non-flying ones were 3 Emperor penguins spotted by Tom Vintner and as always they got the VIP press treatment.

The other visitors were 2 aircraft from Kenn Borek, flying to the American base at the South Pole. They stopped to refuel and make some alterations to the aircraft before carrying on. They were greeted by all on base not only because it was the first real contact with the outside world for 7 months but they had also brought FRESH food.

The Contest

Antarctica is possibly the most beautiful place on earth – the emotive surroundings are amazing and so most on base try to capture the vast beauty on camera. Because of the large number of excellent subjects we have the annual photo contest, not for the glory more so all on base get to see the photos that have shaped and inspired your, our winter!

Agnieszka organized the judging and everybody got a chance to vote. There were 4 categories, including best wildlife picture, people and general plus of course the scenery.

The overall winner was Jade’s picture of the Sun’s halo.

Mark Maltby won the wildlife section with his emperor picture.

More Visitors

On the 24th we found out that we should expect some more visitors when another 4 planes from Kenn Borek would be stopping off on their way to various bases around Antarctica. For everybody on base this meant a lot more hours work to prepare the base. The runway had to have the snow removed again!

The bedrooms needed airing and new linen. Mike and the met team had to work from 6 am until late at night to update weather reports. All the GAs got involved in moving fuel to the skiway in case the Borek aircraft landed on there, lights had to be checked and fire cover maintained. Everybody on base assisted without exception to ensure the arrival went smoothly and on the 29th it did, and with them they brought more fresh food hmmmm!


Well, at the end of every season the base needs a spring clean and this season has been no exception as the snow clearing has started in earnest. The walls have been wiped and floors mopped all ready for the summer staff. Kai (the plumber) has reopened the empty buildings, Mike(Comms manager) has fixed the radios and Mark(the carpenter) is making the finishing touches to the Bonner Lab, so now we are ready for the planes and the busy season ahead. I will now pass you on to some of my friends on base to explain what they have in store for the coming season and explain some of the science that goes on here on base and in the field.

To all my friends and family at home, especially my wife Joanne who has been so supportive of me and has taken care of our beautiful children while I have been here in Antarctica and hopefully cut the grass! That I love you all very much and can’t wait to see you all soon all my love Jamie (Daddy)

Greetings from Bernard

Hi, I’m Bernard the boating officer here at Rothera. My duties are to provide boating facilities for the marine and terrestrial scientists. This also includes the diving activities and of course recreational boating when schedules permit. I am also a diver so I’m very lucky to get to dive in this hostile but pristine part of the planet. The underwater life is phenomenal when it is not vulnerable to ‘ice scouring’ or in other words where the ice doesn’t scrape along the bottom, the sessile life is very abundant, colourful and truly amazing. A photographer’s paradise!

There is a saying that ‘a boat is like a marriage’ they both need constant love and attention, and, as you can imagine, with four RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) and two non-rigid inflatables here, the routine maintenance is an ongoing affair. There are eighteen engines to keep me busy and also very important to us all, safe when we are out and about on the sea.

Speaking of sea. Presently it appears to be on the horizon, approaching and receding in tantalizing regularity, and in between there is sea ice up to a metre thick. So as you may gather, no boating at present, and this will remain so until the ice leaves us and that welcome blue sea laps against the wharf once more. I am not alone in my wishful thinking, as boating is an essential element in many of the scientific activities here and of course, not forgetting the opportunity to take photos amongst the icebergs, of seals, penguins and lots of other fascinating things that make working and living here such a special experience.

Thank you for reading our web diary. Without you reading there would be no point in writing.


Beaker Stuff by Mark Maltby

Hi I’m Mark M, Jamie has asked me to write a little about what I do down here. I think this is mainly a chance to rebuttal his constant friendly jibes that I don’t do anything and he needed a science bit. Well my job title is Electronics Engineer & Data Management. So one on the geeks then.

Physical Sciences employ me to maintain and repair their various bits of instrumentation and make sure that the data makes sense and is saved on the server and backed up properly. Most of the pieces of kit I look after collect data for research into the mesosphere and lower thermosphere, which is located about 50 – 90 km above the Earth’s surface. This is a poorly understood region of our atmosphere as it is above the altitude planes fly at and below the altitude of most spacecraft. It is only directly accessible using sounding rockets, as a result the mesosphere and lower thermosphere have been jokingly referred to as the ignorosphere. At Rothera we have a collection of instrumentation, the MF Radar which masts and antennas are found on North and East beaches is a coherent spaced-sensor radar system used for the observation of Mesospheric partial reflection echos. From these we can work out a wind profile for the mesosphere.

The Skiymet Radar is another radar system on North beach. This looks for meteorites, when a meteor enters the atmosphere it rapidly vaporises in the mesosphere leaving a trail of ionised gas along its path of travel. We transmit short bursts of very high frequency radio waves in a pattern to illuminate a large amount of the sky. The short lived meteor trails form a reflecting target and some of our radio burst is reflected back. We listen for these reflections and can work out the nature of the meteor, its orbit and speed of travel on entering the atmosphere. Also by watching how the meteor trail drifts we can deduce speed and direction of the atmospheric wind at the altitude the meteor was observed.

At Rothera we see approximately 5200 meteors a day, so we get a comprehensive picture of the wind. Watching how long the trail lasts we can determine the temperature of the mesosphere which is about -100C. Also we have an Aardvark not a pet but part of a network of radio receivers location in polar regions. These listen to very low frequency radio waves and are used to gather data on geophysical events that influence the lower part of the ionosphere 70-80 km altitude. Particularly of interest to BAS scientists is energetic particle precipitation from the magnetosphere or directly from the sun.

Another VLF piece of instrumentation is TOGA this is part of a worldwide lightning location network. TOGA listens to VLF radio frequencies and picks up impulse signals from lightning discharges. Using the network, lightning strikes can be plotted on worldwide maps. Our optical instrument Bomem is a spectro radiometer, this measures the intensities of bright emissions of Hydroxide (OH) and Oxygen (O2) in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere. This is used to investigate dynamics, chemistry and thermal structure of these parts of the atmosphere.

The final piece of kit is a Magnetometer which measures the Earths magnetic field very accurately in two horizontal planes and one vertical plane. The Earths magnetic field wobbles due to currents in the lower thermosphere which change due to solar activity. So my job is to keep this all running 24-7 365 days a year, of course there is always the point that if its ain’t broke I can’t fix it! Studying this relatively unknown but highly active part of the atmosphere will give scientists a bigger picture of our atmosphere and may improve atmospheric models improving weather forecasts.

Also part of my job is to help Agnieszka with the metrology bits and pieces. The last few weeks have been very busy now we have had planes passing through. There have been several early morning calls, by that I mean 05:00 and 06:00 ( and the 0 does mean oh my god it’s early and oh my god I’m grouchy) making weather charts and getting satellite pictures for the pilots to chose whether to fly or stay for some more Rothera hospitality. Also when planes are in the air we increase our three hourly observations and make hourly observations of weather conditions whether the plane is inbound or outbound as problems may make the plane turn back. This has also meant some late finishes of midnight and two in the morning. Well there you go Jamie, it may not be keeping the lights on but all this kit creates a need for a base that needs its lights on.

Hi to friends & family back home, see you all in April.