Rothera Research Station
Rothera Point, Adelaide Island
- Lat. 67°35'8"S, Long. 68°7'59"W
- Occupied from
- 25 October 1975 to present
- Summer: 100, Winter: 22
Rothera Research Station is situated on Adelaide Island to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The site includes a crushed rock runway, hanger and wharf. Rothera is the centre for biological research and for supporting deep-field and air operations. It is the largest British Antarctic facility and
supports a wide range of collaborative science programmes.
Approximately 1,860km south of the Falkland Islands and 1,630km south-east of Punta Arenas in Chile Adelaide Island is 140km long and heavily glaciated with mountains of up to 2,565 metres high. The station is built on a promontory of rock at the southern extremity of the Wormald Ice Piedmont.
The station is open throughout the year. In summer, the population peaks at just over 100 people. In the winter months, April to mid-October, a compliment of around 22 continues the science work and looks after the station infrastructure.
The work disciplines on the station include:
- marine and terrestrial biologists
- electronics engineers
- dive officer
- boating officer
- vehicle and generator mechanics
- field assistants
- communications managers
- station management team
In the summer, temperatures are typically in the range 0 to +5°C. In winter they are more likely to be between –5°C and – 20°C. Due to the coastal location and the track taken by southern ocean low-pressure weather systems, temperatures can vary widely at any time of year. Sea ice may be present from late May to late November but it takes a prolonged period with calm conditions for the ice to form and become fast.
The prevailing wind direction is northerly. Gale-force winds are usually recorded on 70 days per year. Snow can fall at any time of year, though in recent times the main deposition has come at the end of winter. It does occasionally rain at Rothera.
Laying just south of the Antarctic circle the station receives 24-hour daylight in summer. For a few weeks in winter the sun does not rise above the horizon at all.
The coastal location means that we are able to observe a good selection of the Antarctic birds and mammals. Of the penguin species, Adélie are the most numerous, while chinstrap and gentoos are only occasionally present in the summer. The emperor penguin is seen infrequently, with a sighting most likely in September, October or November.
There are breeding populations of Dominican gull (three pairs) and South Polar skua (15 pairs or more). Antarctic terns and Wilson’s petrels are present offshore through the summer months but they chose to nest on higher mountain ridges. The blue-eyed shag will be seen whenever the sea is not frozen, as it breeds on several offshore islands. See other birds to find out more details about the birds found at Rothera.
Weddell seals are the most obvious mammal and are present all year round. In late September, pups are born out on the sea ice. crabeater and elephant seals are also present, and fur seals turn up in varying numbers at the end of each summer. The leopard seal is present all year round, but despite its size it is not actually seen that frequently.
Small numbers of Minke and humpback whales are seen in Ryder Bay each summer. Some years the minke is observed almost daily. A family of orcas inhabit the larger Marguerite Bay area and are usually seen from the station several times each summer.
See whales and seals to find out more details.
There are two ways of travelling to Rothera. Most people will arrive aboard the BAS Dash 7 aircraft, having flown from Stanley in the Falkland Islands (about five hours) or Punta Arenas in Chile (about four and a half hours). Alternatively, the BAS ships visit Rothera at least twice each summer bringing passengers as well as cargo. It is about four days’ sailing from Stanley.
Ship visits are particularly important as they are the way we receive our essential supplies. These include food, fuel, scientific equipment, vehicles, spare parts for machinery, building materials and much-anticipated personal possessions for our station staff. Since the construction of the Biscoe Wharf in 1992 it has been possible to make full use of shipping containers as the means to transport our cargo.
We take meals communally in a central dining room. Breakfast is a self-prepared meal of cereals and toast. The chefs prepare lunch and dinner. On a Saturday evening there is a more formal dinner, people dress on the smart side of casual and everyone enjoys a multi-course meal. Although we do not have access to fresh ingredients, every day our chefs prepare food of the highest standard and the possibility of putting on weight is real!
There is always plenty of work to do on an Antarctic station, so working a UK-style 40-hour week is not really practical. We often have to time our work with the prevailing weather. If it is atrocious outside then we get on with indoor work or get some rest. When the weather is suitable for aircraft operations and outdoor tasks, we put full effort in those directions.
Adelaide Island was first sighted from the brig Tula in February 1832 when completing a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent. Master of the ship John Biscoe named the land after Queen Adelaide, the wife of British monarch King William IV.
In 1909, a French doctor named Jean Baptiste Charcot led the crew of the yacht Pourquoi Pas on a voyage down the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. His expedition named many of the features they could see from Marguerite Bay. It was not until the British Graham Land Expedition of 1934–37 that Adelaide was confirmed to be an island separate from the Antarctic Peninsula.
From 1955 to 1960, the UK maintained a survey station on Horseshoe Island on the east side of Marguerite Bay. In 1957, two surveyors, John Rothera and Peter Gibbs, crossed the frozen sea ice and explored the area now known as Rothera Point.
From 1961 to 1977, UK activity in the area was conducted from Adelaide Island Station located at the southern tip of the island. For many years this proved a good base from which to undertake further survey of the Antarctic Peninsula
Rothera Station was established in 1975 to replace Adelaide Island Station where the glacier ski-way had deteriorated rendering the operation of ski-equipped aircraft hazardous. There was a phased construction programme so that by 1980 the station provided accommodation, electrical power generation, vehicle workshops, scientific offices and a store for travel equipment.
From Rothera’s inception to the 1991–92 austral summer season, BAS Twin Otter aircraft used a glacier ski-way 300m above the station on the Wormald Ice Piedmont. During that summer a gravel runway and hangar facility was commissioned bringing a more reliable air operation and the possibility of a passenger aircraft link from outside the continent. Before that, everyone coming to Rothera had to depart from the Falkland Islands by ship.
Today the development of the Rothera site continues. This is not an expansion but an ongoing programme of replacing old structures making best use of new technologies. Improved insulation and energy production and management systems can further reduce the environmental footprint of the station.
Marine and terrestrial biology, geology, glaciology, meteorology and upper atmospherics.
Rothera is the principal BAS logistics centre for support of Antarctic field science. There is a 900-metre-long crushed rock runway allowing an air link with South America and the Falkland Islands, while the Biscoe Wharf provides safe mooring for ships.
Once personnel and their equipment have arrived at Rothera they can be transported to field locations through the use of ski-equipped de Haviland Twin Otter aircraft. Additionally a de Haviland Dash 7 aircraft is able to land on wheels at the blue ice runway known as Sky Blu.
Field work is concentrated in the summer months from November through to March. Field science programmes currently being supported from the station include:
- glacial retreat
- ice coring for the study of atmospheric chemistry and climate
- collecting geological data to support computer modelling of the historic movement of ice sheets
There is also a considerable science programme being undertaken at the station itself.
With its incorporated dive facility, the Bonner Laboratory, opened in the austral summer 1996–97 , provides an excellent centre for the study of marine and terrestrial biology. The dive programme continues year round with divers accessing the water through holes cut in the sea ice during the winter.
Current areas of biological study include DNA ‘fingerprints’ of evolution, tracing the way species adapt to environmental extremes. Additionally there is an established long-term monitoring study of specific sites to identify changes and trends in populations of certain species over time. This sort of information will be useful in identifying the effect of climate change.
Since the station’s first occupation, daily meteorological records have been maintained. These are now fed directly to the UK Meteorological Office for use in global weather forecasting models. Helium-filled Met balloons are launched regularly to record temperature, humidity and winds up to a height of 25km in the atmosphere.
Physical scientists are also studying the upper atmosphere above Antarctica. Instruments being used include a medium frequency radar to establish winds and temperatures at altitudes in the range 50–80km. A SKiYMET meteor radar is also being used to deduce similar information.
A low-power magnetometer is also situated at Rothera to record variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. This is one of a chain of instruments that BAS has installed in Antarctica so that we can see what is happening across this polar region.
Ensuring our Antarctic vehicles fleet performs in extreme conditions
Supporting large-scale science missions across the ice
Bransfield House provides dining, social and recreational facilities for the people living at Rothera. It also houses offices and labs for the physical scientists. The north end of Bransfield House houses …
Fossil Bluff is a forward facility for refuelling aircraft and is operated by Twin Otters from Rothera Research Station during the Antarctic summer season between October and March. There is …
Rothera Research Station ARIES Dome
Bransfield House Hardware for general use 6 x Windows XP PCs Colour and black and white printers HP ScanJet scanner. Canon Pro9000 Mark II photo printer (requires user’s own photo-grade …
MF Radar Info to be added Skiymet Radar Info to be added
Supporting deep-field science missions
The Bonner Laboratory, opened austral summer 1996–97, with its incorporated dive facility, provides an excellent centre for the study of marine and terrestrial biology.The dive programme continues year round with …
Bomem Info to be added All-sky airglow imager Info to be added
28 April, 2016
Opportunity to partner with BAS to deliver a construction programme to modernise UK Antarctic and other research facilities.
12 January, 2016
British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is recruiting now. The smooth operation and maintenance of our research stations depends on skilled technical support teams. Check out our latest vacancies!
8 January, 2016
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28 January, 2013
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20 August, 2012
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25 July, 2012
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26 June, 2012
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20 June, 2012
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3 April, 2012
As part of an international collaboration between British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Netherlands Polar Programme — managed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Earth and Life Sciences Division …
22 December, 2011
As you get stuck into your turkey on Christmas Day, spare a thought for scientists working in Antarctica for British Antarctic Survey, where Christmas is just another working day. Around …
5 December, 2011
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15 November, 2011
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31 October, 2011
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20 October, 2011
Series starts Wednesday 26 October, BBC1 at 9.00pm, repeated on Sundays at 4.10pm. Embark on the trip of a lifetime, as the award-winning BBC team behind Planet Earth takes you …
18 October, 2011
Marking the end of the Rothera winter, Rothera had its first visitors since the departure of the Ernest Shackleton in March. On Tuesday a Kenn Borek Air (KBA) Twin Otter …
25 September, 2011
A rapid increase in the frequency of icebergs pounding the shallow seafloor around the West Antarctic Peninsula — as a result of shrinking winter sea ice — has caused the …
4 August, 2011
Staff at British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station recently raised the Union flag to mark the first sighting of the sun again after several weeks of continual darkness. The sun …
13 July, 2011
Antarctic geoscientists and ice sheet modellers get together in Edinburgh this week to investigate ways to improve predictions of likely sea-level rise as a result of future ice loss from …
21 June, 2011
Staff at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) celebrate Midwinter’s Day today. Celebrated as the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere, Midwinter’s day is the shortest and darkest day for the …
28 January, 2011
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chief Scientific Adviser David Clary visited Rothera Research Station in January to gain an understanding of the importance and breadth of BAS’s science programme …
16 February, 2010
There is a distinctly cosmopolitan feel around British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station this month (February). Science teams from eight countries enjoyed Rothera’s hospitality as they passed through on their …
17 December, 2009
New photographs of ice fish, octopus, sea pigs, giant sea spiders, rare rays and beautiful basket stars that live in Antarctica’s continental shelf seas are revealed this week by the …
12 February, 2009
Antarctic jobs offer opportunity of a lifetime Trades people looking for a career with a difference should check the national press this week. British Antarctic Survey (BAS) launches a recruitment …
4 February, 2009
Crown Prince Willem Alexander of the Netherlands and his wife Princess Maxima of Orange will visit British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station from 6-10 February 2009. The fact-finding visit …
12 January, 2009
Reuters reporters Alister Doyle and Stuart McDill are visiting Rothera Research Station to file a series of special reports about the research there. Dr Pete Convey is one of the …
13 October, 2008
Challenge to discover Antarctica”s hidden world Later this month teams of scientists, engineers, pilots and support staff from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), USA, Germany, Australia, China and Japan will join …
12 March, 2008
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27 September, 2005
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23 July, 2003
Press Statement – 23 July 2003 It is with the deepest sorrow that British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reports the death of a marine biologist at Rothera Research Station on the …
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