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.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Signy 2014-15 season

Well, here is the usual promise to try to keep my blog going more successfully this year- lets see how we get on.  I arrived at Signy earlier in the week, and yesterday we finally got the internet up and running and I have managed to find a little bit of time to write something on here.

We left the UK on 11th November and flew to Punta Arenas in Chile, where we joined the BAS ship the James Clark Ross.  We spent 3 days in Punta before finally setting sail southwards, towards Signy.
The Jetty at Punta.

The crossing of the Drake Passage was fairly calm and uneventful and time was spent onboard the JCR doing lots of eating, lots of crosswords, chatting to the new Signy team and watching the albatrosses circling around the ship.

Satellite images had shown large amounts of sea ice around Signy and the South Orkney islands so we had no idea how easy it would be to get to the research station (or base).  But on arrival, the sea ice all moved out and meant we could access it with relative ease.  A few big floaty lumps of ice at the end of the jetty meant a lot of our cargo had to be dropped further along the beach and then man-handled around to the base, but this didn't cause too much trouble.  Upon arrival at a base that has been closed through the Antarctic winter since we left it last April, there is much to do.  Luckily, the JCR was calling at Signy first, before going on to Bird Island, KEP and doing a science cruise.  This meant there were lots of eager bodies on the ship, all keen to dig snow and lug heavy boxes around.
Opening Signy- Digging snow and hauling cargo.

First tasks include digging out mountains of snow to clear the walkways and allow access to the buildings.  After this, shutters can be removed from the windows, and once the cargo starts coming ashore, food can be unloaded into the freezers, shelves, and store rooms, and all the rest of the cargo can start to be unpacked.  This year, we have 3 new freezers, and a large amount of high fencing pannels, to keep the elephant seals from taking over the base.  Getting these to where they were meant to be was no easy feat and we were glad of all the extra hands.  While this was going on, any techies aboard were kept exceedingly busy, first with getting the generators running, then the heating system, followed by the water system and finally communications (email and phone).  This all takes quite a while as all systems have to be drained down and emptied for the winter, and everything then has to be warmed up slowly to prevent things from going wrong. 

Finally, yesterday (24th), everything was up and running and the JCR headed off in the direction of Bird Island.  It was a good job they left when they did as this evening the sea ice has filled the bay and it would have made getting out rather tricky now!  The 7 remaining Signy folk settled down to unpack boxes and start getting things into some kind of order.  Tomorrow I will head over to my penguin study site at Gourlay and start laying out my plastic bricks in my penguin colonies, to mark out the nests I will be monitoring throughout the season. 

The JCR sets sail from Signy for Bird Island.