Since 2011, I have been spending November to April each year working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. I work as a Zoological Field Assistant on the penguin and seal long-term monitoring programme. Before this, I spent 2.5 years on the sub-Antarctic island of Bird Island, South Georgia, in the South Atlantic.

This blog gives readers an insight into my day-to-day life in the Antarctic, from my first trip south in 2008 to the present day.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Winter begins

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here so thought I’d better get on and get up to date! Mid April we all ran around madly preparing the base for the last ship call of the season. This is quite a busy time, as it the time when all of the waste from the year gets shipped back to the UK, for recycling or landfill. All empty fuel drums get sent out, and any other kit that has to go back to the UK for repair or replacement. Every box or bag has its own bit of paperwork to complete so it’s all rather time consuming. As Winter Base Commander, the paperwork all falls to me, which kept me out of mischief for several days. After several days of running around and packing things up we were finally ready. Ship calls at Bird Island are always touch and go, as the ship has to anchor offshore, and then launch small inflatable boats and a cargo tender, which are small enough to get into the bay and to the end of the jetty. If the seas are too rough, they cannot launch the smaller boats and loading and unloading cargo becomes very dangerous. This means we have to be pretty flexible, and not get too excited, until the cargo tender actually reaches the end of the jetty!

This was the case this season. The ship turned up, but then called us on the radio to tell us the seas was too rough, and that they were going to go to do Last Call at King Edward Point (another BAS base about 60miles down the South Georgia coast) and then come back to us afterwards. So we sat around and waited for another week.

The ship came eventually, but the suitable weather window was so small that everything had to be done very quickly (sometimes at ship calls, the ship will stay overnight, allowing people on the ship to come and spend the night on the Island. This always makes a nice change as we see so few people here, and usually they are people from the other bases who are going home, many of whom we know, or who we have been playing darts with via webcam earlier in the year). We all got aboard the ship to see the dentist, and visit the shop, and got all the cargo loaded.

The ship took away Derren, my boyfriend, who had been on Bird Island for 2.5 years. His leaving has been quite a change for me, but he had done his time here and was ready to go home and see new places. He seems to be happy enough enjoying the novelty of going to the supermarket and seeing trees and sunshine in the real world! The departure of the ship left only 5 of us on base. Ewan, (who has also done 2.5 years) left about a week later, on board a sailing ship, which came to pick him up. This left only the 4 winterers, and we do not expect another ship visit now until early October.

We soon all settled into just having four on base and the fact that winter is a less busy time for us for fieldwork. This gives us a little bit more time to do our own thing, and there is even time now to take an entire weekend off! Unfortunately, having only four on base means everyone now has to cook once every 4 days instead of once every 10 like in summer.

Time is moving on- we are only 4 weeks away from Midwinter, the shortest day. The base faces south, and there are high cliffs to the North- this means that although the sun shines higher up the valleys, it never reaches the base at this time of year (the sun travels round the North here as we are in the Southern Hemisphere). It gets light around 10.30am at present, which always makes getting up quite hard! We are busy making midwinter presents for each other now and making lots of lists of all the food/medical supplies/lab equipment/clothing/kitchenware/toiletries etc etc that we have on base, so we can order what we require for next season. The weather is getting more wintery. As we are the sub-Antarctic, we are not frozen solid all year and it can get quite warm in summer. We are getting to the stage now where it mainly snows, instead of raining, and the streams are frozen up for several days at a time. It will only be a few more weeks before the ground and streams freeze solid and do not thaw again until spring.

That’s all for now. I will get some more pictures on here soon. I’m going to go to the workshop and carry on with my Midwinter present. Hope everyone at home is enjoying the warm weather!

No comments: