Rothera Diary — November 2010

30 November, 2010

On 2nd November BAS’s first aircraft of the season arrived, the DASH 7. The October weather had been somewhat inclement, and there had been delays in flight arrivals. For the over-winterers this finally heralded the end of the winter season. The base was about to be inundated with people! It would be great to have new folk to talk to, but I think we all felt some regrets at the splitting up of our small group of winterers. Bruce Maltman, our head Field Assistant, was the first to leave, heading back to his home in Scotland.

The winter band, Snow Rhythm, played its final gig. Justin Bolton, our mainstay, was soon to leave, and Field Assistants Tom Weston and myself Alan Hill, would be heading out on field projects later in November, so this was to be our swansong. It was a little nerve-wracking playing in front of a lot more people than we’d been used to, but we’d like to think it was our best performance! It had been a lot of fun practising throughout the winter, and we were quite proud of our efforts considering some band members had never played instruments before or done any singing outside of the shower!

The Field Assistants were among the first arrivals. Dave Routledge and Crispin Day were BAS regulars returning for the summer, and there were four new assistants. Mike Brian and Malcolm Airey were from Scotland, Ian Hey based in North Wales and Marty Benavente from Australia. Marty had worked with the Australia Antarctic Division for a number of years, and was doing an exchange with BAS Field Assistant James Wake. For the next seven days they were put through an intensive training programme. Although they were all very experienced in the outdoors, there were many new skills which needed to be mastered before they could safely head out on field projects.

The planned training schedule underwent several “on the hoof” changes due to the vagaries of the weather; winter seemed loathe to loosen its grip. Fortunately we were able to do indoor sessions with meteorological and communications staff, who were able to fill in at short notice. Thanks guys! When the weather cleared we were able to go through crevasse rescue using the steep slopes at East Beach on Rothera Point.

This was followed with a flare session, using flares nearing their expiry date: our own slightly late Bonfire Night display!

In the crevasse-free local travel area around the caboose we went through linked travel training. This involves connecting up two skidoos with high strength 20mm rope, and with a laden sledge between them. This safety chain has been devised so that if one of the skidoos breaks through into a crevasse, the other skidoo and sledge will hold the fall. It’s a tried and tested system, but there is quite a knack to driving together and keeping the link ropes under just the right amount of tension.

We spent some time driving around but the weather was less than ideal; full marks to the new Field Assistants for maintaining high levels of enthusiasm! The session was postponed until later in the week. We had planned to venture further afield beyond the flagline which delineates the safe travel area, but weather conditions were never good enough. The training week was finished off with sledge maintenance, rope splicing (thanks Clem!), an examination of the search and rescue gear, and the new FA’s were then ready to start putting their gear together for their field projects.

Science projects began heading out into the field towards the end of the month. The first to leave was Sledge Hotel (Iain Rudkin and Mike Curtis), flown into Palmerland for a ten-week geology travelling project. They immediately hit bad weather and were tent-bound for the next few days. Sledge November (Mike Brian and Hamish Pritchard) was flown to Lataday Island for ground penetrating radar work. Later they would be uplifted and moved to Alexander Island. My two scientists, Dan McGrath from Colorado, USA and Jose Rodriguez from Chile, arrived in mid-November. Our Sledge Yankee project plan was to spend a month camping on the Larsen C ice shelf servicing and raising three AWS’s (Automatic Weather Stations), and skidooing some 450km towing a ground penetrating radar. Unfortunately the weather was continually poor on the Larsen, with low cloud preventing aircraft access, and the scheduled month was reduced to just three day trips to the AWS’s. There had been a lot of snow accumulation during the winter and we had to dig down almost two metres to locate the batteries and recording equipment. A large tripod was used to lift the structure, and a new section of tubing inserted. This would leave the AWS clear of the snow and transmitting data for another year. A deep snow pit was also dug and snow density measurements taken at each location.

Towards the end of November the large arched iceberg collapsed. This had been grounded for many months and had become something of a symbol of our winter, dominating our view of the bay to the north. It crumbled during lunchtime and we all rushed to the window to watch its demise. The resulting waves caused some consternation among the seals which were basking on the flows, and a few were flipped into the water. Winterers felt a twinge of sadness when the berg disappeared; summer had definitely arrived.

Alan Hill