A quick update to say that we arrived safely back at Rothera Research Station around 9 pm last night. Vicky put in an amazing effort to get us back from Halley on the Twin Otter all in one day with bad weather swirling around. Goodbye to Halley and the fab team of people who are working really hard there to wrap up the end of their season of work. Thanks so much to all for making our field season a success and for your hospitality looking after us so well.
The views on route as we winged our way west were amazing out of the window (when I wasn’t snoozing) and we got a great view of the mountains close to Fossil Bluff through the mist and also saw a glory in the mist layer (see photo and caption for more). On flights like this, you realise how big Antarctica is and how flat and white and expansive most of the landscape is — just miles and miles of sastrugi-covered snow surfaces, with the occasional crevasse or rocky nunatak to break the horizon.
Rothera has changed somewhat since we were last here, with the new wharf works ongoing, but there are a few seals swimming around in the bay. Today has been a day of sorting out shipping and items to get back home before I am due to fly back tomorrow on the Dash 7 back to Punta and then onto the UK over the weekend.
After 11 days in the tent at the end of our season Julie and I arrived back at Halley this afternoon (via a great stop en route close to the mountains). It is so warm here compared to our field camp — it feels like the tropics. Captain Vicky, our Twin Otter pilot, has done an amazing job of making use of weather windows to get us home and to a very much needed warm shower. We will start to wing our way west to Rothera in the next day or so, and then onwards to the UK.
Mike Rose, who has been helping Geoff with the panel setup at Sky Blu is also at Halley and we have had a quick catch up about that part of the project. We also have caught up with the team here who have been doing our nightly scheduled chats (thanks very much Sarah, Alan, Barney and Rich — it has been really good to talk each evening through the season) and those who have helped co-pilot our flights all season (thanks Josh and Tom for doing the last two). We have even had time to do a bit of washing and drink a few more cups of tea before the bag repacking starts all over again. Pizza for lunch was amazing.
I am looking
forward to having a proper bed for the night, although will miss both the quiet
and the loud of being in the field.
We are waiting for a break in the weather for pilot Vicky to come from Halley research station to bring in a plane load of equipment to be depoted for next season, and then make another flight to pick us up and take us back to Halley to start our journey home. It has been cloudy and snowy the last couple of days – down to –18 ºC yesterday with 5 to 10 knot winds, we have had a couple of inches or snow that has drifted to be 6 inches or so in some places, and at night it has been below zero in the tent with our water bottles freezing up. The weather is forecast to continue to be cloudy and snowy with some occasional cloud breaks for the next couple of days, and we are not sure when the surface contrast will be good enough for the plane to get in. We are waiting for satellite pictures and are doing local weather observations to help planning.
In celebration of Burns night, we listened in via radio to Halley’s folk night the other night where staff on station came together to play music they have written and covers of bands. Thanks guys for helping us listen in, we are sad not to have been able to join in person and enjoy the music and haggis. We sent over a meteorite search themed prose that James (thanks for stepping up!) read out for us – inspired by the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet:
Meteorite, meteorite wherefore art thou meteorite, Do not hide in the ice and refuse thy seekers, Come to the surface and be collected by giant tweezers And you’ll no longer be a forgotten rock. Tis but a hard landing that is the enemy, Thou art a hunter, but a scientist also. What’s a meteorite? It’s not granite nor sandstone, Nor basalt nor limestone nor any other rock belonging to earth. Oh be not a meteorite wrong. What is a meteorite? That which has a fusion crusted by any other appearance would not be as sweet. So a meteorite core is full of surprises With crystals, chondrules, and clasts a plenty. Meteorite doff thy hiding place and for the sake of science, show us thy secrets. And give all thy self.
Also we would like to thank vehicle mech Jack for sending us his own meteorite inspired poem:
Searching for the smallest trace Of rocks that fell from space But you knew where to go And under the snow You would find them all over the place
Hopefully the next blog will be from Halley as I am not sure how many more updates from the field can involve the words tent day, cloudy and snowy… In the meantime, we are sitting tight keeping warm with lots of hot drinks and food and are doing a lot of reading and watching some TV series and dreaming of when we will able to have a hot shower. The biggest worry is that we have only three teas bags left… 😦
Arriving back in the UK, here’s some final thoughts on this year’s field season – plus a peaceful soundscape from the Antarctic peninsula. Recorded with binaural headphones / microphones, I encourage you to find a quiet room to get the best listening experience.
Two days ago we managed to get out and about over to one of the icefields we had visited before (our big blue ice wave area) to finish off exploring a couple of places. We set off just as it was getting cloudy following our previous traverse route. Upon arrival the contrast was pretty low, which on the blue ice surface is pretty good for spotting dark coloured objects. We drove around and managed to find two small meteorites — one on the open ice and one along the firn edge. We also found a route into a nice new area of ice we hadn’t been to before which had some large sediment bands snaking across the surface where we could see up to mm sized particles of dust trapped within the ice. We have seen lots of sediment bands before in places we have driven — some are very obvious brown coloured like moats 50 cm to 1 m wide, others are much more subtle changes where the blue ice suddenly turns a bit brown for a few tens of metres and then back to clear and blue (these wide bands are also easy to see on satellite photos).
However, by early afternoon some snow showers were threatening and we headed back to camp. By the time we arrived home the air felt pretty damp, it had started snowing, and it was –13 °C air temperature — inside the tent was –2 °C. The snow showers really set in, although the wind has completely dropped off (it is strange to see our flags around camp hanging down rather than flapping around), and we spent yesterday in the tent.
With so much snow and little wind it has really settled on the icefields by now covering up the surface. It looks like as soon as the clouds lift and we get some good surface contrast we will be heading back to Halley with our 36 meteorites secured for the season, feeling pretty good that we have explored some blue ice new areas and have some great — and hopefully of diverse types — samples to be studied, and their origins unlocked.
Before we go there is work to be done and we have been out with the shovel and ice chopper for the past couple of hours digging to try and loosen a few bumps in our skiway and to dig out the tent from some of the snow drifts that have formed. A lot of Antarctic field work is digging snow, moving stuff from one place to another (and sometimes back again), and watching the weather… Julie has been working with the field teams at Halley and Rothera to prepare for bringing some more kit into the field for our next season — it will be depoted for the winter so that we are ready to go next time we come down with the detector panel array.
In the meantime, it is just a case of hurrying up and waiting for the clouds to clear — we can see a break on the horizon to the northwest and until it clears near us we will be having some more tent days drinking hot chocolate and watching a couple of movies.
We had a full tent day yesterday — it was gusting 25 to 30 knots and the snow was a blowing along the ground creating some nice drifts behind the tent. The noise was pretty loud, both the wind rushing around the tent and snow pelting against the side. We spent much of the day reading, playing suduko and staring up at our boots hanging at the top of the tent as they danced around as the tent shook in the wind.
The one upside of a tent day is that we have longer to prepare meals, and Julie cooked us some pan bread which we enjoyed with a baked Camembert for dinner. Normally for dinner we have the rehydrated ‘man food’ meals – which I mentioned in an earlier post. They are not bad actually with flavours ranging from sweet and sour chicken to chicken tikka and chicken korma, chilli con carne, lasagne , salmon flavoured with dill and mash potato, and Mediterranean pasta. We have worked our way around all the flavours twice now I think, so a break for something a bit different is pretty welcome.
The winds stayed high over night, finally dropping off by about 10 am this morning to the point where snow was no longer blowing and it was good enough contrast to go out and search. We visited a new icefield we haven’t been to before and revisited a couple of others — the advantage of a couple of days of high winds is that it has swept away a lot of the recent surface snow. We managed to find one meteorite this afternoon of a nice size and rather lozenge shaped, about half buried into the ice, which required a bit of ‘negotiating’ to get out. Only one ‘find’ after quite a bit of driving, so hopefully we will have the good weather for another full day out and about and we can find some more. The count is now at 34.