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.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Back again...

When offered the chance to return to Signy for a second season, I couldn’t resist.  In my summer gap, I migrated as far North as I could get in the UK, to work for Scottish Natural Heritage, doing seabird monitoring and looking after Hermaness National Nature Reserve which is situated at the Northern-most tip of Shetland.  Hermaness lies at the same latitude in the Northern Hemisphere as Signy does in the South (about 60degrees), so I enjoyed yet another stint of long summer days, but again never really felt the heat from the sun!  I’m starting to realise what it feels like to be an Arctic Tern; these birds do the same migration every year (although they have to rely on their own wings, rather than my easy option of getting on a plane!). 

I left the UK on 11th December, by travelling down to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to catch the MOD flight to the Falkland Islands.   This is a 17 hour flight to Mount Pleasant Airport in the Falklands, with at 2 hour stop-over at Ascension Island about half way through the trip.   The RSS James Clark Ross (the JCR- our BAS research ship) was moored at Stanley in the Falklands and we were stayed on board.  We had two days around Stanley, before the ship sailed, and managed to squeeze in a night at the pub, a walk out to Gypsy Cove to see the Magellanic penguins, a partial solar eclipse and lifeboat training before setting sail. 

The JCR sailed south east, and 3 days later arrived at Bird Island (at the Western end of South Georgia).  It was the first ship call of the season so we dropped off lots of cargo (food, base supplies and scientific cargo) to keep the base equipped for the next year, and collected all the outgoing waste.  It was lovely to get back to Bird Island, as it was my home for so long.  I managed to get out and about on the island, to help replace some of the fixed ropes used to access some of the albatross study colonies, and helped out with unpacking/unloading cargo around base.  We spent two days at Bird Island, and then continued on to the base at King Edward Point, which is at Grytviken, further east along the coast of South Georgia.   Here we did more unloading of cargo, and had just enough time to visit the old whaling station and museum, before setting sail in a south westerly direction for Signy (part of the South Orkney Islands).

Three days later, after some exceedingly rough seas, we arrived at the edge of the sea ice.   Signy is locked into the sea ice each winter, which extends northwards from the Antarctic Continent.   If it has been a winter with a lot of sea ice, Signy can still be locked in when the ship first arrives.  By the time I had arrived last season, the ice was long gone, but this year, we found plenty.  The JCR is an ice-strengthened vessel so she can force her way through what looked to me like fairly dense pack ice!  Progress is made by ramming into the larger pieces at full speed, pushing the bow of the ship up onto the ice.  This causes the ship to grind to a shuddering halt, while the weight of her splits the ice into two.  It is all very exciting as the ship crashes and bangs its way through.  After a day in the sea ice, we finally sighted Signy, and the larger Coronation Island behind.  I’ll write about arriving at Signy in the next post and try and get some pictures on here.  Our internet connection is very slow this year and it has already taken me the entire evening to upload this!

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