Geoff and Romain are currently on a plane with field guide Rob starting their journey to the field… the plan (as always with Antarctic fieldwork) is complicated and they will now be transiting to the Outer Recovery ice fields, first, via Sky Blu field station (where Geoff visited last year), and then, by way of BAS’s Halley research station (where Katie visited last year).
The preliminary plan at the moment is that Wouter will fly out next with a lot of our science kit, and Katie will go on a final plane load, and we will reunite with field guide Taff at the field site. More updates when the next one of us catches a plane! For now happy flying to Geoff and Romain — the weather is stunning today so they should get a good view out of the window.
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.
We are nearly in the field and hope to reach our first field locality tomorrow if the weather is ok. Hopefully next time I send a blog it will be via a satellite phone directly from our field camp — but let’s not get too carried away as everything is adaptable in Antarctica…
We left Rothera three days ago on one of BAS’s twin otter planes. These lightweight hardy twin prop planes have both wheels and skis meaning that they can land at remote snow and ice runways. We knew that to make the trip from Rothera to Halley research station it would require two, possibly three refuels and we headed south first towards Fossil Bluff field site to the south of Rothera via some spectacular views of sedimentary cliffs and debris flows cascading down their steep flanks.
After a quick refuel we ventured on to Sky Blu which is a blue icefield at about 1200 m above sea level and on the day was fairly warm at around –2°C. Sky Blu will be Geoff and Mike’s field site when they come down south to Antarctica in a couple of weeks. I had a very quick look along some rocks close to the runway area, didn’t spot any meteorites, but many of the local rocks have clearly sunken into the ice (known as a cryoconite hole), suggesting relatively warm local melt conditions.
There are three staff stationed at the runway, meeting field parties as they come through, refueling planes, and maintaining the field camp in the summer months. We had anticipated flying on from Sky Blu, but the weather at Halley (still some 5–6 hours flight away) closed in and was misty. We stayed the night at Sky Blu and had a great dinner and sat up chatting in the mess tent.
The next day brought better weather news and we headed off from Sky Blu around 9 am, taking a refuelling break at a site on the Ronne Iceshelf and then onto Halley research station, reaching here around 5 pm. The weather at Halley is cooler than at Rothera – currently at –5°C, with windchill it is around –10°C — but in the sun it doesn’t feel bad at all.
Halley station is actually number 6 in a series of BAS stations located in the area. The current incarnation is a spectacular space-station like series of interconnected modules that are on skis and that can be jacked up each year to rise up from the accumulating snow (there was a BBC Horizon show about the station in 2017 you can catch up on and if you want to take a 360 tour inside the station visit here). The station currently is only a summer lived in station — it used to be all year around, but a spectacular fracture (nicknamed the Hallowe’en crack) opened up about 5 km from the station, and for safety the station is only occupied at the moment in the summer months — there are currently about 38 people on base. Halley serves as an atmospheric observation science centre, including ozone measurements and a lightning detector network, and also is at the heart of space weather (interaction of the solar wind with our magnetosphere and upper atmosphere) observations. The engineers are currently working on developing a new automation system to try and run some of the experiments through next year’s winter months.
The staff here have been amazing working hard to prepare our snowmobiles and field equipment – thanks to Richard for the tour of site, and to the engineers explaining the experiments they are working on. Whilst being at Halley we have been checking over our field kit to make sure it is all in good order and is weighed correctly for the flights, and working with Vicky our BAS pilot to prepare put in and collection sites for the field, using high-res imagery to try and find a range of places to be dropped off. We think it will take three flights of about 3 hours each way to get us and our two skidoos and sledges and kit to the field. Fingers crossed the skies will be clear tomorrow and we get out to some blue icefields to the south of the Shackleton mountain range to start our field campaign.