Rothera, under and over

Geoff Evatt | 15 Jan 2020

Good morning from a rainy (yep) Rothera. Romain, Wouter and I have been here since Friday, occupying our time as best we can before we head home. To keep myself busy I’ve been out helping on the boats, which has involved holding on to the leashes of the BAS divers (doing wildlife survey work on the sea bed in the general vicinity of Rothera), should they need ever to be hauled back to the surface. Clearly this need is very unlikely, which affords the opportunity to do some wildlife spotting and take pictures of the glorious scenes. The highlight of which were a pair of feeding Minke whales circling around us, and at one point came within 10 m of the boat. Alas my lack of photographic skills (and general excitement) got the better of me, but at least the picture below captures the jist of things.

Fishing for divers [Credit: G. Evatt]

In addition, I undertook the herculean task of waking up before 730am, to help launch a weather balloon. Balloons are launched all around Antarctica at the same time, with the aim of collecting comparable atmospheric data from similar elevations. I am pleased to announce that I currently sit in second place of highest elevations reached (28,939 ft), behind only the Radio 4 team…

Weather balloon launch [Credit: G. Evatt]

And other than these we have been packing our bags and running around the airstrip (in so doing I have had the additional joy of seeing two humpback whales and a pair of chinstrap penguins) to burn off the vast quantities of food we’ve consumed.

It will be very strange to leave Antarctica after all this time, and after all the fantastic support we have received from the British Antarctic Survey. It is hard to understate just how complex the project’s logistics have been, and BAS have led the way brilliantly in ensuring we achieved as many of our aims as humanly possible. So thank you everyone for your help and support, it is very much appreciated and has been a privilege experiencing it first-hand. Next stop… the Falkland Islands!

Minke whale [Credit: G. Evatt]
Crabeater seals [Credit: G. Evatt]
Adélie penguins [Credit: G. Evatt]
Antarctic shag [Credit: G. Evatt]

Half the team is back at Rothera

— Romain Tartese | 10 Jan 2020

Hi there, quick update to let you know that Wouter, Geoff and myself have made it back to Rothera yesterday evening. On Wednesday evening we were told that the plane was coming to uplift the first 3 people the next day, so it was all a bit of a mad rush to move camp from the blue ice a few kilometres up to the skiway where the plane is able to land. Fortunately we had already started packing some of the kit away — all in all we finished setting up camp at the skiway at around 3am Thursday!

Packing up camp on the edge of the blue icefield [Credit: R. Tartese]

Pilot Dave and co-pilot Tom arrived around mid-day to pick us up, and soon we were on our way to Rothera. Flying north we had great views over the Shackleton Range — there are loads of blue ice areas there (see photo below), who knows how many meteorites are sitting there at the surface waiting to be picked up…

Flying north over the Shackleton Range [Credit: R. Tartese]

Antarctica being Antarctica, soon after having passed the Shackleton Range we diverted to Halley rather than Rothera as the weather had degraded over the ice shelf. It was nice to spend a last night in Halley (huge thanks to all the folks there for all their help throughout this project!), and we did make the most of hot shower, which was more than welcome after 4-5 weeks in the field!

We finally managed to get back to Rothera yesterday evening after a nice day flying over the Ronne Ice Shelf and up the Peninsula. Katie and Taff are still in the field, and should be picked up in the coming days. In the meantime, there is a fair bit of laundry to do, sorting out the science kit and getting things ready for being shipped North, and getting some rest!

Bon réveillon a tous !

Romain Tartese | 31 Dec 2019

Une fois n’est pas coutume, voici un blog en français pour les quelques 3 ou 4 francophones qui suivent notre périple Antarctique ! Ça fait maintenant une dizaine de jours que nous sommes réunis tous ensemble sur notre zone de recherche de météorites, par 81° de latitude sud. En général la météo a été plutôt clémente jusqu’à présent, avec de belles journées ensoleillées accompagnées d’une légère brise venant de l’Est, et des températures généralement entre –10°C et –15°C. Jusqu’à maintenant nous n’avons été ‘coincés’ au camp que deux journées, et on croise les doigts pour que cela dure.

Nous avons donc pu arpenter en motoneige une bonne partie du glacier à côté duquel nous sommes basés, et avons collectés une cinquantaine de météorites à la surface (à ajouter aux 15 météorites collectées sur ce glacier l’année dernière par Katie et Julie). Il a pas mal neigé ces derniers jours et malheureusement la glace est maintenant couverte par 5-10 cm de neige, ce qui rend la recherche de météorites a la surface impossible pour le moment. On espère donc de bonnes bourrasques de vent pour dégager la neige du glacier, et continuer notre collecte.

Une belle pièce ! [Crédit : Katie. Joy]

Dans le même temps Wouter et Geoff ont fait face à pas mal de problèmes avec les détecteurs de métaux que nous trainons derrière nous sur la glace — les vibrations ne font pas bon ménage avec les boitiers électroniques. Mais à chaque problème il y a une solution, et au jour d’aujourd’hui nous avons 2 systèmes qui fonctionnent. Il nous reste deux grosses semaines pour couvrir le plus de surface de possible avec les détecteurs de métaux afin d’essayer de trouver une météorite ferreuse enfouie a quelques dizaines de centimètres sous la surface (nos estimations prédisent quelques météorites enfouies pour une surface d’environ 10 kilomètres carrés !).

Si on dégote une boite de thon on va se faire une ‘gueuleton’ ce soir pour le réveillon, à base de pates, thon et sauce tomate ! De votre côté, n’abusez pas trop sur le foie gras ! Nous vous souhaitons un bon réveillon a tous, et un très bon début d’année 2020 !

Update from 218

Romain Tartese | 18 Dec 2019

Hi there, a few words from 218 — which is the British Antarctic Survey name for the depot site where we have been with Taff for a few days now. A few flights are still needed to bring south some more fuel and finish moving us and some kit to 119 — the site where the boys are about 100 km East, and where we want to deploy the metal detector arrays (in addition to flying Katie down from Halley). I have heard that they have found a few meteorites on the surface there yesterday — well done guys!

Weather has been mostly sunny at 218 except on Monday, so we have been exploring the surroundings a bit with Taff, going back to some ice fields Katie and Julie reconned last year. We believe we have found a few small meteorites, in the ice field closest to where we are camping. 🙂 Unfortunately we had snow a couple of nights ago, so the blue ice fields we drove to yesterday were covered by a fine layer of snow, making spotting meteorites impossible. But nevermind, driving around this amazing landscape was fabulous!

Short break for weather observations. [Credit: R. Tartese]

Life is good at the depot site!

Romain Tartese | 14 Dec 2019

Hi there,

Quick update from the field, or rather the spot where Katie and Julie ended last season meteorite trip. Taff and myself flew from Halley yesterday morning to the depot site, via this year’s meteorite search site. After having dropped some cargo close to where we are going to search for the lost meteorites, pilots Dutch and Mark dropped us at last year’s depot site. There we dug out everything that Julie and Katie left behind, so that we can ferry all of this to the new site about 100 km west. We got a first load, including a skidoo (which is interesting to try to fit on a Twin Otter), shipped to this year’s site last night, and Dutch and Mark came back this morning to load a second cargo. I believe the guys that have been in the field at the new site for a week now were pretty pleased to see an aircraft stop by!

Digging last year’s depot [Credit: R. Tartese]. [Note from Katie: the green objects are two skidoos covered by tarpaulins]

This afternoon after having finished setting up the camp and digging everything out, we went out for a little bimble with Taff to the closest blue icefield just underneath the nunatak that pop out on the horizon. And it was simply gorgeous, it’s hard to describe how surreal this place is! We may be on our own for a few days now before we can finish transferring all the stuff to the new site, because the weather, which has been very good so far, is meant to turn cloudy and foggy. Let’s hope it’s not too bad and we can still explore the area around us. Hopefully in a few days we’ll have all our kit and ourselves at the new site, and Katie sent over from Halley, so that we can start searching for the buried meteorites!

Camp set up at last year’s depot [Credit: R. Tartese]

The cliffs of the Theron Mountains

Romain Tartese | 9 Dec 2019

Hi all, I thought I’d write a quick update on where we all are at the moment. Geoff, Wouter and field guide Rob have made it to our meteorite search site south of Halley, and have some of the kit with them. I am at Halley, where I should be joined by Katie later tonight (Monday) as she is flying from Rothera right now.

A few Twin Otter loads of fuel drums are still needed to be transported nearer to our field site before we can all head off there and start searching these lost meteorites!

And this morning I went on such a fuel trip with pilot Andy. We headed off from Halley toward the Theron Mountains, which are located at the northern end of the Transantarctic Mountains, north of the Shackelton Range (see map below).

Location of the Theron Mountains [modified from Leat (2008) On the long-distance transport of Ferrar magmas, Geological Society, London, Special Publications 302, 45-61].

And after about an hour and a half flying, I finally got to see the the Theron Mountains.

Approaching the Theron Mountains [Credit: R. Tartese].

The cliffs of the Theron Mountains display sub-horizontal Jurassic (~180 million years old) basaltic lava flows, which are part of the Ferrar large igneous province, intruded into flat lying Permian (~250-300 million years old) continental sedimentary formations.

Cliffs at the Theron Mountains, with patches of blue ice at the bottom [Credit: R. Tartese].

But flying the Twin Otter for a little while during the journey was surely the best bit of it all!


Half the team is at Halley

Romain Tartese | 6 Dec 2019

After a bit more than a week there, Geoff and I left Rothera yesterday after lunch to start making our journey down to the meteorite search area. We boarded the AZ Twin Otter aircraft with field guide Rob and mechanic Tom (who is going to Halley where he’ll spend the next year or so!), and pilots Dutch and Mark (always better with pilots!). Between Rothera and Halley, we made several stops on the way, notably needed to refuel the Twin Otter.

The views leaving Rothera and Adelaide Island behind were fantastic. A couple of hours after leaving Rothera we first stopped at Fossil Bluff for a quick refill. Landing at Fossil Bluff was truly fantastic as you follow spectacular cliffs all the way down – see photo below.

Spectacular layered cliffs on the way down to Fossil Bluff [Credit: R. Tartese].

We then stopped at Sky Blu, where the Twin Otter lands on a blue ice runway. It was actually my first steps on the Antarctic continent, since both Rothera and Fossil Bluff are on islands off the coast.

Happy chaps having just landed at Sky Blu [Credit: G. Evatt].

After landing, we were met by three BAS colleagues that are stationed at Sky Blu for a few days or weeks. Readers who followed the blog last season will probably remember that Sky Blu is where Geoff spent some time last summer trying to break the metal detector assembly we will be towing on the ice, and perfecting his ice coring skills. We had a great dinner (thanks guys!) and a good night of sleep in our cosy (and very orange) pyramid tent.

Midnight sun at Sky Blu – the Twin Otter can be seen on the far left [Credit: R. Tartese].

After breakfast this morning, the weather forecast over the Ronne Ice Shelf and onto Halley was promising, so we set off at around 0830 to finish our journey to Halley station. And we were once again greeted by fantastic views all the way. After just under 3 hours, we stopped at the Three Ronne Depot (TRD) on the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf to top up the Twin tanks with about 800 litres of fuel! It involved a very limited amount of digging to access the barrels – and as suggested by the photo below it was very balmy!

Refuelling at the Three Ronne Depot [Credit: R. Tartese].

The final leg of our journey took us from the Ronne Ice Shelf to Halley VI station that sits on the Brunt Ice Shelf , flying over spectacular patches of open sea and broken sea-ice, and as a bonus over a large colony of emperor penguins!

The edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, viewed from an altitude of 3000 m. [Credit: R. Tartese].

After a long day flying we arrived in Halley where we have just enjoyed a great fish and chips dinner. Plans for the coming days are fluid, but it seems one of us will head off to the mountains tomorrow if the weather is good to start shifting some fuel around. In the meantime, Wouter might hopefully make his way down to Halley with the first half of the kit, then followed by Katie with the rest of the kit. Stay tuned!

The main module at Halley VI station [Credit: R. Tartese]

Life at Rothera research station

Romain Tartese | 02 Dec 2019

The Bransfield House, where we have our office set up [Credit: R. Tartese]

We’ve now been at Rothera for almost a week, so I thought I’d update readers on what life at an Antarctica research station is like. Most people on base work from 0830 until 1800, and so do we. At the moment there are more than 100 people living on base, doing all sorts of jobs such as electricians, carpenters, electrical engineers, weather forecast, mechanics, divers, field guides, pilots, scientists, doctors, etc.

Geoff, Wouter and myself are sharing four people bedrooms that contain two bunk beds, whilst Katie has been provided with a luxury 2 people bedroom with en-suite bathroom. Life here revolves around aircraft taking off and landing, and meal times. It’s been cloudy for the past few days, so aircraft activity has been reduced dramatically — on the other hand, eating is going well! We tend to go for breakfast 1 at around 0730. I wrote breakfast 1 because at 1030, it’s smoko time, which consists of a second breakfast / early lunch with bacon, sausages, soup, etc. Lunch is at 1300, there is another tea break at 1630, and dinner is at 1900. The food is awesome, big thanks to the chefs for keeping everybody well fed and happy.

In between the various bits of training we’ve had to do (see Wouter upcoming post on this), we have also started putting together the whole metal detection systems that we will be dragging on the blue ice fields in the coming weeks.

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During free time, people enjoy doing all sorts of activities, from reading, watching movies or playing board games, to going out for a walk around the point or skiing down the ramp above the base.

The Ramp, above Rothera, which acts as the local ski slope [Credit: R. Tartese]



Made it to Punta Arenas

25 Nov 2019

Hi there, it’s Romain! We made it to Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of Chile, last night after a few flights that took us across the Atlantic to Sao Paulo and then Santiago in Chile.

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We were welcomed by a very Manchester-like weather of 7-8 degres accompanied by drizzle! This morning after breakfast we’ll be updated on whether the weather is good enough  for our Dash flight to take us to Antarctica! As a newbie whom has never been to Antarctica, I am very excited!!