Preparation – Rothera, 19th November 2012

Six days at Rothera, the UK base on the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and we have completed our field training, assembled the field equipment, arranged communications, tested and fitted cold-weather clothing and boots and are ready to go. We have taken the chance to run over our plans in detail and to integrate the working arrangements of the two main groups of scientists – John Woodward and Stuart Dunning on the geophysics, and Andy Hein and David Sugden on geomorphology and exposure-age dating.  It has also been good to meet up with our field assistants.  Malcolm is on base and has helped out with the training, clothing and logistics, while Scott is out in the field with another group and we will meet up en route to our field site.

The base has become much larger and more sophisticated than when I (David) first saw it in 1989/90.  The airstrip has been completed with a hangar and there is a Dash-7 and several Twin Otters coming and going.  The old base hut, now containing science offices and accommodation, has been supplemented with a new base, New Bransfield, with spectacular views over the fjord and mountains. The latter is the hub for eating, lounging, email, library etc.  We have strict eating times with breakfast at 0730-0830, lunch at 1200-1300 and dinner at 1830-1930 plus a couple of coffee breaks called smoko, a name inherited from the 1960s when a cigarette ration was allocated to everyone!  Saturday dinner is smart-casual.  There are two biological labs, one operated jointly with the Dutch research council.  Then there are garages, workshops, field and food stores, and a phalanx of snow ploughs, Sno-cats etc.   About 90 people are on or passing through the base at present.   Accommodation resembles Travelodge with comfortable bunks, showers and laundry.

I (David) have survived the training courses!  I was an old hand on the primuses and Tilly Lamps which are identical to those I used in the South Shetlands in the 1960s, but the plethora of ironmongery used on the crevasse rescue exercise was bewildering to someone who predates even the use of a climbing harness!  There was a medical refresher, acquaintance with complicated radios which are used for coms, vehicle training, aircraft training and an overnight camp with some exhilarating skiing.

One opportunity from working with BAS is the chance to pass through the Falklands.  Leaving Brize Norton at 2300 hours on Sunday 11th Nov, stopping for two hours in Ascension Island, we arrived at Mount Pleasant airfield in the Falklands 19 hours later.  Lodged overnight at Port Darwin in brilliant sunny weather and temperatures of 23 degrees, it was a chance to see the memorials to the battle for nearby Goose Green in the 1982 war- all very thought provoking.  A delay meant a day in Stanley where I (David) was struck by the number of union jacks, the arrival of supermarkets, the plethora of land rovers, all a significant change from the past.   The new road from the airport to Stanley runs across some magnificent stone runs – periglacial stone stripes. The combination of quartz-rich tors on hill crests and soft shales on surrounding slopes may explain the large size of the boulders, the width of several metres and the km length of individual stripes.

We cannot end without mention of the scenery. The base fills a promontory  jutting out into a fjord dotted with ice bergs and patches of broken sea ice.  Steep snow and ice-covered mountains surround us and make a spectacular backdrop. Weddell seals lie up on the ice sunbathing and yesterday the first Adelie penguins arrived, following break up of the sea ice last week.  Even the temperature is balmy with the sun melting the snow around base.  Mind you there is a lot to melt since the drifts go up to the roof line of most buildings. News of minus 30 degree temperatures in the Ellsworth Mountains gives us pause for thought!