Rothera Research Station

Map showing Rothera research station, Alexander Island and Palmer Land. Note George VI Ice Shelf.

Our November 2012 field season to Alexander Island (Ablation Point Massif and Fossil Bluff) operated out of Rothera, a research station of the British Antarctic Survey. We flew to Rothera from Punta Arenas airport in a Dash-7 aircraft, and were quickly inducted.

You can explore Rothera Research Station through the Google Map below.

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Fieldwork training

Our first task was to complete the mandatory training for deep fieldwork. This involved spending a night camping out at Vals as well as walking Reptile Ridge with our field assistant, Ian Hey. This meant that we could practise using crampons and ice axes, get to know each other, and Ian could assess our fitness and abilities.

Wildlife at Rothera

When we arrived at Rothera it was still ice-bound with no wildlife. However, when we returned in mid-December, the sea ice had blown away and the seals and penguins had returned. You can see them in this video showcasing some of the wildlife around Rothera:

Working at Rothera

Many people conduct science and research from Rothera research station. There is a long-term environmental monitoring and research project, investigating marine ecology around Rothera Point. In December, the divers were out in full force.

Recreation at Rothera

Rest and recreation on your days off at Rothera includes skiing, walking, or persuading a field assistant to take you down a crevasse.

Wildlife at Rothera

Wildlife at Rothera

Belinda Vause is a marine biologist at Rothera

Rothera sees a wide variety of wildlife throughout the year. All of the large animals around Rothera rely on the ocean and particularly on krill as a basis for their diet; there is very little that grows on land.

Seals, penguins and whales form the majority of the wildlife seen at Rothera during the short summer season. During the winter, Rothera is ice-bound with very little wildlife. Continue reading

Flying through the air

An interview with a pilot

A twin otter (note two propellors) lands on the runway

Rothera has four twin-otter aeroplanes and one larger Dash-7. The twin otters land on skis and are the robust little landrovers of the Antarctic. They can land anywhere that is flat and snowy, and they can raise their skis to land on blue ice or gravel. Versatile and compact, they also have an extremely short take off and landing. They do, however, have a smaller payload when compared to the Baslers used by some other nations. Continue reading

Interview with the Doctor

Many people are needed to keep base life running smoothly. There are mechanics and electricians, chippys and project managers, chefs and field assistants, radio (comms) operators, meteorologists and weather forecasters, pilots and plane engineers, base assistants (who drive the heavy machinery) and so on. And in order to keep all these people happy and healthy, there are two doctors on base in summer. This summer, Rothera has Dr Rose Drew and Dr Jen Hine. In this blog post, I conduct an Interview with the Doctor at Rothera Research Station. Continue reading

Down into the Dark

Crevasses open up when the glacier is stretched (under tensile stress)

On Saturday, the field assistants Cheese and Roger laid on a recreational trip down our local crevasse. Crevasses open up as glaciers move, and are the result of brittle failure of the ice as it slips downslope. Crevasses are a significant hazard on any glacierised terrain, and can extend all the way down to the bottom of the glacier. They also trap surface water, and can divert surface streams to the base of the glacier. Surface streams aren’t, however, too much of a problem around Rothera at the moment! Continue reading

Part 2: Training and preparation

Thursday 1st November

We use skidoos to get around. This one is named after my sister Sian!

Today our training for deep field began in earnest. We were given a more extended tour, taught how to safely drive skidoos, how to avoid being eaten by aeroplane propellers (Rothera is a busy airport with one of the few gravel strip runways in the area), how to use the items in the field medical boxes, and how to light and prime a tilly lamp and primus stove. Continue reading

Wildlife

Wildlife photographs from James Ross Island and around the Antarctic Peninsula, taken by Bethan Davies during the 2011 and 2012 field seasons.

See also the Wildlife at Rothera blog post.

Chinstrap penguins at Point Wild, northern Antarctic Peninsula, March 2012.

Wildlige at Rothera

Living and working in Antarctica

Introduction | Rothera | Research ships | Working deep field

Introduction

Research bases around the Antarctic Peninsula

There are many bases across Antarctica; around 30 countries have around 82 bases. Some of these bases are open only in summer, and others are operated all year around. The summertime population of Antarctica is around 5000 people (not including those on ships), but this drops to just 1000 people continent-wide during the long, dark, cold winter.

The relatively accessible Antarctic Peninsula has numerous bases operated by the British, Chileans, Argentinians, Czech Republic and more. Some are permanent, like Rothera, and some are operated only in summer time, like Fossil Bluff.

Rothera

Rothera is the British Antarctic Survey’s main research base in Antarctica. From here, people depart via twin otter and Dash-7 aeroplane all over the Antarctic Peninsula and into West Antarctica. Rothera is a permanent research station. Further south, on Alexander Island, Fossil Bluff is a summer-only research station.

Explore Rothera Research Station

You can explore Rothera Research Station through the Google Map below.

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Overwintering at Rothera

Some thoughts on overwintering at Rothera by Iain Rudkin (aka Cheese).

Overwintering in Antarctica is a special experience. Childhood storybooks of Scott and Shackleton lend an almost mythical status to the earth’s most southerly landmass and inspire the adventurous streak in all of us. To be able to not only visit this amazing continent but to spend a winter there is a privilege that few get to experience.

Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island is not the most southerly base by far in Antarctica lying at only 67 degrees south. However it still lies within the Antarctic Circle, the line of latitude below which 24 hour daylight or night-time occurs. Due to the mountainous northern horizon, Rothera is subject to a period of about 2 months in which the sun doesn’t rise. The low parabola of the suns trajectory during and around this time results in the most amazing skies. Around midwinter the sea starts to freeze and the scenery is transformed from that which greets Antarctica’s summer visitors. The birds head north in flocks of thousands and as the cold starts to grip, most marine mammals also depart. A calm falls over the continent…apart from the frequent northerly storms which also rip through the base!

Life during these winter months is exciting and fun; the highlight being midwinter – an ‘Antarctican’s’ version of Christmas. Feasts, games and presents make these days, during the period of maximum darkness hours, some of the most memorable. As the light starts to return, so does the increasing awareness that soon tranquillity will no longer be yours. The multimillion pound government building you’ve called home for 7 months will once more revert to its function as a research station and with it comes an influx of summer staff.

It is hard to convey in so few words exactly what it means to winter. Whether it be the extended alpenglow over distant peaks, or the savage beauty of a storm. The unique splendour of Antarctica during its winter is something to behold and stays with you long after leaving.

These photographs courtesy of Iain Rudkin from his time at Rothera from 2009-2012.

If you’re hungry for more, check out these videos from Rothera.

Research ships

The British Antarctic Survey also use ships to deploy scientists into the field. The red and white icebreakers used include the Royal Research Ship Ernest Shackleton and the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross.The British Antarctic Survey also uses the Royal Navy’s ship, HMS Protector.

These ships must break ice as they sail around the Antarctic Peninsula. They can only break ice that is less than one year old (not multi-year sea ice), and this can be a significant barrier to scientific operations. However, with their flat, sturdy hulls and thick steel, these ships are at the forefront of Antarctic cruising.

Wildlife is often visible from the ships, and can include seals, penguins or wales. Beautiful icebergs drifting past entertain the scientists for hours.

I made this video while on the HMS Protector in March 2012.

Working deep field

Scientists in the field live in tents, and explore the surrounding territories by foot, quad bike or skidoo, depending on the territory. Life is very simple in basecamp, where we cook on primus stoves, eat dehydrated food, and plan the next day’s working.

Working deep field can mean lie-ups for days, where you hunker down to avoid the worst of the storm. Scientists need to melt ice for drinking water and to cook their dehydrated food- and of course for endless cups of tea. This short video shows what an Antarctic blizzard can be like! Video by Sam Doyle, starring Iain Rudkin.

For geologists, fieldwork normally comprises field mapping, taking rock samples, and logging sediments and ice exposures. Standard equipment includes a hammer and chisel, compass, clinometer, binoculars, pointing trowel, sample bags, tape measures, and so on.

Antarctica is an environmentally sensitive place, so we aim to leave the site as we found it, taking away as little as possible!It can be cold, so it is important to wrap up warm, wearing plenty of layers and good outer wear. The sun can be strong as well, so UV and sun protection is also essential!