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, 27 November 2016

The start of a new season.

Once the ship had left us it was time to start work.  Most of my early season work is at Gourlay peninsula which is about an hours walk from the research station.  To get there I walk up one of the glacial valleys.  You can see the piles of rock debris (called glacial moraine) which has been left behind as the glacier slowly melts and retreats inland over time).

Then I cross the large snowfield...

And then drop back down to sea level on the other side where there are usually some young Elephant seals sleeping on the beach...

Then I contine onwards to the huts. 

I have two huts.  The one on the left is the living hut, with two bunks, food supplies, a paraffin heater which can be lit to keep the place warm and a couple of stoves and tilly lamps for making cups of tea and for lighting.  It is a cosy place for a night out.  The other is the work hut which smells of penguin, and is where I keep all of my penguiny clothing, catching nets, and work gear.  It would be a much less pleasant place to spend the night!

At Gourlay there are lots of penguins.  Here are just a few of them!  I'll tell you about my work another time else I will end up with too many pictures here for our internet connection to cope with.

 On the way home I spotted a ship.  Down here you tend to get the feeling you are the only people for miles around so it is always slightly odd to realise that there are other people close by!  It appears to be a cruise ship but it was too far away to see which one.

 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Heading South

My journey began on Sunday 6th November.  My parents kindly dropped me at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) HQ in Cambridge, where, with a number of other South bound colleagues we piled into the minibus for RAF Brize Norton.  The aeroplane tickets stated very precisely "Distance: 7875.02miles, Duration: 19hours 30mins".  I wonder who had measured it so accurately.  It was a decent flight down, with a 2 hour stop in Ascension Island to allow the plane to refuel part way there.  We arrived at Mount Pleasant airport in the Falklands on Monday evening, taking another bus along the bumpy roads to Stanley, the capital of the Falklands.
Here we joined the BAS ship the RRS James Clark Ross, which was to take us to Antarctica.  With a couple of days to spare in the Falklands we had time for a little bit of exploring.  Although it was overcast and windy, so not good for taking particularly inspiring photographs, I still managed to find a few telltale signs of spring... 

Here are some Falklands lambs


A family of Crested Ducks


A Pale Maiden flower (the Falklands National Flower)  


This is a Rufous Breasted Dotterel

The beaches in the Falklands are vast and empty, and can look rather bleak on a grey day.  But it was a relief to be able to stretch our legs and have a good walk after being stuck on a plane for many hours. 


A typical Falklands landscape can also look pretty bleak, but there is something very nice about it too.


On 10th November we set sail from the Falklands, heading out into rough seas.  The next few days passed in a bit of a blur, involving holding on tightly to your meals to prevent them from escaping from your plate and spreading themselves across the table, battling up and down the stairways, and failing miserably to do things like have a shower with the water falling in all directions except downwards.  Even things like getting dressed are more easily done sitting on the floor because when standing, one hand is always needed for hanging on to things!  The photo definately doesn't show the pitch and roll of the ship, but it was the best I could do.

After three days we finally arrived at our destination, Signy Island, where the ship was able to get a bit of shelter and we were able to get ashore to open up the station. 

The JCR moored just off Signy, once we were ashore.


We arrived to very little snow, and no sea ice, which made opening up the station much easier than last year as we didn't have to dig our way into the buildings.  Everything was brought ashore from the ship in the small cargo tender and unloaded.  Here you can see just a few of the items- the biggest box is a new fridge, the other wooden one is a new generator, and the grey boxes are filled with random smaller items such as washing up liquid, toothpaste and printer cartridges.

Starting up the station went well, aided by lots of extra help from other people on the ship who are continuing Southwards for a Science Cruise or continuing to be dropped off at Rothera Research Station.  After three days, we had all the basics set up (heating, lighting, water, communications) so the ship sailed off, leaving just five of us to unpack and settle down to work.   


Friday, 4 November 2016

Migrating

The time has come to migrate South, back to my winter work at Signy. I fly on Sunday 6th November, from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The flight takes us directly to the Falkland Islands, where we arrive on the evening of Monday 7th. There we will join the BAS ship, the James Clark Ross (JCR), which will take us down to Signy. This year the ship is calling at Signy first, before the other research stations, so we should only be on board for about three days.

The JCR webcam can be found at:
https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/images/webcams/rrs-james-clark-ross-webcam/
The ships tracker can be found at:
http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shipposition.phtml?call=ZDLP

Once we arrive at Signy it will take about 3 days for us to get the research station opened up and ready for the season. After this, assuming all is well, the ship will leave us to get on with our season.

See you in the Spring!