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]

Rushing around getting busy

Katie Joy | 5 Dec 2019

For the past few days we have all been busy testing the metal detection equipment, trouble shooting some issues with the system, and getting all the science equipment packed up and ready to go to the field.

There is a lot of gear needed for the metal detection part of the project — a single detector set up includes:

  • a skidoo mounted with a display box to signal when the metal detector has a response (see picture below)
  • a pulling rig
  • two solar panels coupled to two large batteries powering the communication electronic control box (all mounted on a bright blue sledge)
  • a boom rig
  • snow bashers, to flatten a path
  • five metal detector panels with embedded coils and their control system boxes
Metal detection assembly. [Credit: Katie Joy]

All of this is lashed together with various ropes so that it works as a single system, and includes many metres of electrical cables and network cables (in the photo above you can see what a right old mess this is before Romain neatly bundled them together to to help the rebuild when we’re in the field). We have assembled the two separate panel array systems in the cargo yard at Rothera to check that the mechanical setup is complete before we head to the field (i.e. do we have all the right screws and bolts and are not missing anything vital…).

For the past few days our resident electronic engineer Wouter has also been working hard to iron out a few issues with the electronic systems — a lot of head scratching to get to the root of the glitches, but thanks to his hard work (and thanks to Liam and John as well back in Manchester for assistance in trouble shooting, and the Rothera Comms team for their advice and loaning of switch boxes) all the control boxes are now behaving the same way as when we last ran the system in the UK (see here) — and they are now ready to deploy to the field.

Wouter working his magic in the lab at Rothera. [Credit: Katie Joy]

After several days of testing, we then finally boxed everything up into our transport cargo boxes so that they can be loaded onto the aircraft to travel our field site.

The fun will be rebuilding the rig and system when it is –20ºC, and then calibrating it for an ice surface rather than rock. Hopefully we have made our lives easier by labelling each component so that it will be a case of following the here’s-one-we-built-earlier approach to assembling the array.

The indicator box that flashes when we detect a signal from a metal-rich object in the ice. We will also be wearing an ear piece that will make a ‘ping’ noise to indicate that we have struck lucky. [Credit: Katie Joy]

Getting ready to head to the ice

Katie Joy | 27 Sep 2019

It only seems like we just got back from Svalbard, but the next phase of the Lost Meteorites project field campaign has reached a milestone. We have packed up all of our equipment to send down to Antarctica for the upcoming field campaign.

The plan at the moment is for four team members – Geoff (project PI), Wouter (l field engineer), Katie (meteorite expert) and Romain (meteorite expert) to get to BAS’s Rothera reserach station in late November, and then travel onto the field to meet up with our field guide Taffs for the remote fieldsite campaign.

To support our final field season we have packed up and shipped all the items we are going to need for the planned season:

  • Five of our metal detector panels – we are taking two arrays with us (with five panels per array) and all the updated design of the electronic signal processing system boxes
  • the panel array towing kit (see below)
  • ice augers for extracting ice-bound meteorites
  • meteorite collection kits to recover meteorites found and within the ice
  • ancillary field gear

All this equipment is now making its way south so we look forward to seeing it in Antarctica in November!

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Dec 2018 – Feb 2019 Field Season Plans

Katie Joy | 19 Nov 2018

An update on our field plans…

We are making two separate trips to Antarctica for our first season on the ice. Both field campaigns have different objectives, but come together to lay the ground for our main field expedition in 2019-2020.

Katie flies out to Chile on the 20th December 2018, where after landing in Santiago, she will fly down to the southernmost tip of the South American continent to Punta Arenas, the main Antarctic gateway for the British Antarctic Survey. BAS’s DASH 7 plane will then transport her to Antarctic peninsula, and she will meet up with field guide Julie at Rothera research station. After training, packing the field equipment for transport (and Christmas!) the team of two will be flying out to the deep field via a Twin Otter prop plane for a blue icefield meteorite search reconnaissance mission. The exact field plans will be weather and surface condition dependent, but we are aiming to try and visit several icefields close to the Recovery Glacier region (south of the Shackleton Mountain region). We may get the chance to fly through BAS’s Halley VI Research Station on route to the field. Four weeks of field work will involve searching these sites and collecting any meteorite samples that are found on the ice. The samples will be returned to the UK for further study next year and will provide vital information about which ice fields are productive search areas, and what types of meteorites have emerged at the surface. We will use this knowledge to plan which field site to return to in December 2019 for the main expedition. After four weeks Katie and Julie will fly back to Rothera, and return to the UK in early February.

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Close up of season plans supported by the British Antarctic Survey showing the main research station locations. Location of previous meteorites in the region is denoted by a green star. We will be visiting Sky Blu and icefields close to Recovery glacier. [Image: K H Joy]

Geoff will be heading down to Antarctica later than Katie in early January 2019 (following the same route via Chile to the Peninsula). We are hoping to have a day or so overlap in Rothera to touch base and finalise the field equipment unpacking (see previous blog post). Geoff and BAS’s Mike Rose will be heading out to the Sky Blu ice runway, which is a blue icefield used as a transport airstrip. The guys will spend a week or so at the runway site testing the metal detector panel array that was built back in Manchester and in Cambridge. This will help tune the sensitivity of the system to detect metal objects buried at different depths in the ice, to test the electronic signal processing at appropriate skidoo speeds and the ruggedness of the detector array system. We will understand a lot more about the panel performance after these vital tests, which can feed forward to improvements for the main sub-surface meteorite trip in 2019. Geoff will get back to the UK in late January 2019.

Sky Blu Melon hut and ancillary facilities, taken on approach to the runway. The hut and facilities are located about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) from the runway, pictured top left.
The Ice Blu air logistics and ice runway site will be Geoff’s field base in January 2019 [Image: Wikipedia]

Training for life on the Ice (Sept 2018)

Katie Joy | 01 Oct 2018

Fieldwork in Antarctica is a massive logistical and human challenge – from getting scientists to the continent, ensuring that they are trained to go out into the middle of the continent, and actually living and working on the ice, it takes a vast number of highly trained people. Fortunately, BAS are really good at this and have an amazing bunch of people that we are working with – from their Cambridge headquarters, on the bases we will visit and into the field.

To help get us prepared for our upcoming trip Geoff and I joined the new BAS staff for pre-season training. During our four-day intensive course we met a wide range of people from vehicle mechanics, chefs, science support crews, boat swains, base managers and field guides, seal and penguin tagging and monitoring teams, doctors – many of whom have signed up for an amazing 18 month stints down on the ice. We also met some of the other science crews who in the 2018 austral season will be undertaking deep ice drilling and hot ice drilling operations to study past climate on the continent, and others who are studying seal populations on South Georgia Island to understand communities and breeding patterns.

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Locations of the BAS bases [Image: BBC]

The training was split into several sessions. First up was and introduction to BAS history, operations, science and practice: BAS operate out of five bases – Rothera, on the peninsula, Halley, on the eastern side of the Weddell Sea, Bird Island and King Edward Point on South Georgia island and  Signy island. People on the bases, on the ships and in the field undertake different science projects – some (like ours) are very seasonal, some run all year round. We got a chance to hear from BAS scientists who run some of these longer term projects,  looked around the Cambridge BAS building and met people who run the archive facility, ice core storage facility and the geology prep and rock stores.

We also got a chance to try on our field kit and check that it all fitted – from insulating boots (very important to get the size and fit right), through to thermal underwear, outer layers and woolly hats – everything was reviewed and items swapped out as needed.


BAS issued polar insulating boots and field kit bags

The last couple of days focused on an intensive and rapid introduction to medical situations and protocols. The polar medical office (British Antarctic Survey Medical Unit ) is run out of Plymouth NHS Hospital and the team travelled up to Cambridge for the training event. In small groups we ran over recognition of life signs and medical problems through to how to bandage up a broken limb, deliver an injection (into an orange!), learn about pain relief options, and about mental health in remote, often stressful, environments. The course were rounded off by undertaking practicals where actors delivered a series of medical scenarios for our group to try and deal with (imagine fending off an imaginary seal whilst trying to deal with someone with a broken leg – that sort of thing…).  Frankly I hope that I never have to put anything I learnt as part of the sessions into practice – but it was an incredibly useful quick fire overview of what to do and how to relay information with people back on station and back in Plymouth if needed.

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Geoff and Katie practising how to get out of a Scott polar tent without creating a medical emergency

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For further information:

BAS science projects https://www.bas.ac.uk/science/our-research/research-projects/

BAS fieldwork https://www.bas.ac.uk/polar-operations/life-in-the-polar-regions/camping-and-deep-field-working/