Nacreous clouds

June 27th, 2006

Well, you wait three months for a video and then two come along at once! Today we had our first sight of nacreous clouds – beautiful bright white clouds that form in the upper atmosphere and reflect the low sun. When viewed with the naked eye (though sadly not in any photos) they have an iridescent colouring, like mother-of-pearl.

Nacreous clouds
Nacreous clouds – the bright white clouds in the centre of the picture

Anyway, I took advantage of a nice day with interesting clouds to take a timelapse video from the Ops Tower. This is just over five hours, starting at 1120 in the morning, sped up to last two-and-a-half minutes. There’s no sound. Enjoy!

nacreous clouds timelapse

As well as the clouds, if you look carefully, you should see blowing snow, a brief drop in visibility, two people skiing on the sea ice, two people digging out the door of the Miracle Span (the building that looks like an overgrown pigsty) and at least two skidoos.

Like all my videos, this one is MPEG-4 AVC (aka H.264) – if your chosen media player won’t play it, try QuickTime, Media Player Classic or Nero ShowTime.

Blowing Snow

June 27th, 2006

I’ve been a bit slack in not posting any new video postcards during the winter, but here’s one I shot back in May but have only just got round to editing. It shows a bright clear day with a strong wind, and how the wind blows the snow into interesting patterns. blowing snow

Sea Ice

June 27th, 2006

In the fortnight or so since I last posted pictures of Rothera Point the weather’s been cold enough and calm enough for the sea ice to form. Just before midwinter our intrepid GAs drilled the ice around the point and proved it to be more than thick enough to walk on, so on the Friday of Midwinter’s week we all had sea ice training. Most of it is common sense – you face two risks, one of falling through a gap in the ice and getting wet (unlikely) and the other of the whole lot breaking up and blowing out to sea with you on it(also fairly unlikely). The latter is a particularly nasty way to die slowly, so the travel regulations say that you don’t go on the ice in windspeeds of over 10 knots unless the ice has survived a strong blow. The former happens sometimes, so you wear synthetic clothing instead of cotton (cotton is more breathable, so we wear it for travel on land, but it doesn’t keep you warm if it gets wet) and a harness belt around your waist. You carry an ice axe, some piton-like things called “warthogs” and a throwline, and share a bag of emergency dry clothing with your partner – as you don’t go on the ice alone.
Having done all this, and having reported on the radio that you’re going on the ice, you just walk calmly off the beach, taking care around the tide-crack that forms where the ice meets the land, and go and stroll around. Walking up to icebergs is quite a novel experience, although you have to watch as they tend to have big cracks close to them.

Me and a big iceberg

A large iceberg with an arch in it, and me. Tom Spreyer took the picture

There are lots more photos here


June 27th, 2006

Well, our midwinter celebrations are nearly over, and we’ll be back at work on Monday morning. In many ways, this is the week we’ve been looking forward to since we came South, and it hasn’t disappointed. For the last month or more people have been scurrying between the various workshops on base (the Chippy Shop, the mechanical workshop and the Sledge Store) frantically and furtively manufacturing a gift for one other lucky base member to receive on Midwinter’s Day, so Mark the carpenter and the mechanics and GAs have been busy teaching various novice craftspeople how to use saws and sewing machines and many other tools.
I ran late with my present (although not as late as some!), partly because of hurting my back sometime in May – I’m fine now – and I was concerned that my project, a wooden director’s chair, was a bit ambitious. Anyway, it was all finished and ready a day or two before the Big Day.

Director's chair, in the carpenter's shop

The week of celebrations began on Friday night, with a pub crawl. Lots of different people took it upon themselves to set up bars in different buildings around the base, so we started in the kitchen, with hotdogs, chips and Kir Royale In An Antarctic Context (cheap sparkling wine and Ribena, not nearly as bad as it sounds!) in Riet and Tim’s French-themed bar, complete with the two of them in blue stripy teeshirts, comedy moustaches and garlic necklaces. Then to my bar – the “Sky View Bar” – in the Ops Tower, with an airport lounge kind of feel – we had arrivals and departure boards and a big billboard full of adverts, including some spoof Ryanair posters (“South Pole [Sky Blu] from £0.99 one way”), and we all enjoyed a glass of G&T. After that we headed to the Sledge Store, which had its traditional Extreme Sports theme. This majored heavily on the bungee-running contest – run down the corridor and reach for the beer before being thrown backwards into the crash mats…

After that, it was on to the Bonner Lab (a scientific theme, naturally!) and then to Giants “no frills” bar, the Chippy Shop’s “World of Sport” and then the newly-refurbished Garage Office and the Met Team’s “Spirit in the Sky”, which had a novel bar carved out of a snowdrift that had formed behind an external door. Finally people staggered into the surgery, rebranded as the “Plastered Penguin” for some medic-themed drinking games.

Saturday was mostly spent recovering! Other entertainments put on during the week included a pool competition, a darts match against Bird Island (we lost) and the Rothera Midwinter Olympics – featuring slalom skiing (I was slow, but not the slowest), ice climbing and skidoo trials-riding. Midwinter’s Day itself follows a fairly traditional formula – it began with Tim (the winter Base Commander) bringing people tea and bacon butties to their rooms, and then people gradually surfaced and gathered in the dining room for a light lunch. After lunch we settled into the bar to watch The Thing, a 1982 film in which an Antarctic base (a US one, naturally) gets destroyed by a shape-shifting alien creature which kills the base staff one by one. This isn’t nearly as horrifying as it sounds, as a) the world of violent film special effects has moved on a long way since 1982 and b) the film is full of little inaccuracies that make you laugh. In particular, the fact that the base has a flamethrower (obviously!) and a big rack of rifles near the main door, and that the base commander wears a pistol with a belt full of bullets (which he uses to shoot a Norwegian pilot in the opening scene). Also, they go out in some “bad weather” which looks like a windspeed of no more than 20 knots!

After the film ended, we gathered in the bar to distribute the presents. As it happens, Soup and I were the last two people left after everyone else had drawn names from the pot, so we exchanged gifts. He received the director’s chair, and I got a rather fine hammock, made from ventile tent-fabric, which I’ll rig up on the Ops Tower balcony in the summer for those no-flying days!

Then came the Midwinter Broadcast – which is a special programme put on for BAS by the BBC, and which contains mostly messages from people’s family and friends back home. Even though we all make phone calls home, it’s still very emotional hearing your family talking to you over the crackly HF radio.

Finally we came to the main event – dinner! Riet had pulled out all the stops, and he and Mat (who was sous-chef for the day) laid on a multi-course extravaganza:

  • Smoked salmon and asparagus with herby dressing
  • Carpaccio of beef with parmesan shavings and granary toast
  • Salmon en poupiette with tagliatelle
  • Bloody Mary sorbet
  • Fillet mignon with mushroom sauce, with gratin dauphinoise, cauliflower and brocolli
  • Guinness ice-cream
  • Coffee and cocoa cream

After all that the later part of the week was a bit subdued – we had some sea-ice training on Friday (of which more later) and then on Saturday Lowri and Tom S had organised a Murder Mystery dinner party, which had a 1960s theme. I had to be a snobbish and patronising wine critic (some might say that didn’t require any acting!) and found out that I was the murderer… shock horror!

On Sunday night we rounded off the week by skiing down the ramp by the light of torches and out-of-date distress flares, and had a barbecue on the beach, which was more successful than we’d anticipated, despite the temperature being -18.

Midwinter BBQ

Not the Great Polar Workers Strike of ’06, but the Rothera midwinter barbecue!

Rime ice

June 24th, 2006

It’s turned colder and calmer in the last few weeks, which has given us lower temperatures (routinely lower than -10, and down to -18 as the lowest so far) and some interesting weather effects. The prettiest of these is rime ice – ice crystals that form on exposed surfaces. With the right weather conditions these can get pretty big.

Rime ice on a shovel handle
Rime ice on a shovel handle

The most striking place that rime ice forms is on our masts and antennas. In extreme cases the weight of the ice can cause them to collapse, but it this stage it just shows them up clearly against the dark sky, allowing them to be easily photographed!

Rime ice on a guy wire

Rime ice on a guy wire

Lots of my radio-buff friends have asked to see pictures of the antennas, so here they are – and they’re unusually pretty!

East-West antenna with satellite domes and NDB

This is a general view of the masts on the South end of Rothera Point. From left-to-right we have the large VSAT dome (which provides our satellite internet link) and behind the “East-West” wideband dipole array, which is used for aircraft and field party communications in the summer. The smaller dome is the ARIES system, which receives weather satellite pictures. At the far right of the picture is the non-direction beacon (NDB) which is an aeronavigation aid – it works on a low frequency (136kHz) and so the transmitter is a radiating tower with a large earth mat.
The low masts in the foreground carry feeder and power cables strung on catenary wires to the main antennas and to a couple of scientific instruments on the point. The dark mast to the left of the NDB is the base flagpole, showing that it’s completely calm day.

East-West antenna

The East-West antenna from other side.

RLPA antenna

The RLPA antenna – Andy Barker and I assembled this last year

North-South antenna

The North-South wideband dipole – also used for aircraft comms

World Cup fever

June 11th, 2006

Yes, the general excitement over the World Cup even reaches to Rothera. We have about half-a-dozen committed football fans on base, so we’re expecting a lot of discussion of Rooney’s metatarsal and the offside rule for the next month or so.
Thanks to the magic of the internet (and the committed efforts of my former housemate Steve) we were able to watch the England-Paraguay game last night, after a tense day of threatening to tell the fans the score (one-nil, in case you hadn’t noticed).

The other thing that happens with this kind of major event is that the media get interested. A phone call from the Press Office – do you have a St. George’s flag? Yes, we do. Can you take a picture with some people, a flag, and some icebergs to send to The Sun?

Of course we could.

Polar Hero England supporters
The original picture – left-to-right: Helen, Jamie, Mark S, Kai and Richard H

When the paper came out, we found that they’d cropped Richard Hall out of the picture, much to many people’s amusement!

clipping from The Sun

How it appeared in The Sun

Moonlight skiing

June 10th, 2006

Last night we had a calm clear evening with a full moon, so on the spur of the moment a whole bunch of us piled into the Sno-Cat and went skiing! It was eerie, skiing in the half-light, but the snow surface was lovely and the visibility surprisingly good.

Moon and Sno-Cat

I took some pictures, mostly of people mucking around sliding down the windscoops – although they’re very grainy and a bit blurred as the camera was on ISO 1600 and a long shutter speed.

Around the point again

June 10th, 2006

We’re now down to about two hours of usable daylight, which makes the sky go interesting colours with the low sun. We get some stunning cloud formations, too.

clouds over the sea

When you get a nice day, it’s good to go around the point at lunchtime and take some pictures!


June 4th, 2006

This is a month or so late – I’ve only just found the pictures!

Every week if the weather’s good, Helen (who’s the Marine Assistant) goes out in one of our small inflatable boats (named Discovery by last year’s boatman Andy Wilson, but known to everyone at Rothera as the Flying Mattress as it’s rather saggy!) to do a CTD cast and some water sampling.
CTD stands for conductivity-temperature-depth and is a standard measurement made all over the world by physical oceanographers. The probe measures its own depth by measuring water pressure, and then measures the water temperature and conductivity (which tells you how salty the water is) continuously whilst you winch it up and down through the water.
I got a morning’s trip out on the boat with Helen and Richard to lend a hand, as our boats are fitted with a mechanical winch, and winding 500m of cable out and back takes a lot of effort!

Helen winds the CTD
Helen winds the CTD winch

Whilst we’re out doing the CTD, we also take water samples at different depths, which are then analysed and sent back to researchers in Cambridge and at universities all round the UK. The scientists are looking at variations in trace metal content in the water, and seeing how this changes with water temperature so that it can be used for further studies on climate change.

Curious seal
A curious seal

Going out in a small boat is good fun if you get a nice day (and if it isn’t a nice day, you don’t go!) but you also get see some of the aquatic wildlife in their element – we saw a curious seal nose around the boat and take a good look at us, and other CTD crews have seen whales come close to the boat, which is both exciting and a touch scary!

Not alone

June 4th, 2006

The other morning (Tuesday, I think) my radio crackled into life – “Rothera Base, Rothera Base, this is Lawrence M Gould” – which was somewhat of a surprise. The L M Gould is an American research ship, and they explained to us that they do a winter science cruise on the upper part of the Peninsula, but had come further south this year as they could see from satellite pictures that there was no sea-ice. They’ve been hanging around in Ryder Bay yesterday – we could see their lights from the base – but despite our invitation they haven’t dropped in for a cup of tea or a beer. I’m sure they’ve got a busy scientific programme to stick to!

On Friday night we played darts against Halley – by the magic of VoIP phones and webcams, we were able to see and talk to our colleagues at Halley, and confess that we had temperatures of +4 degrees, whilst they had -38 outside!
And they beat us at darts, but only just. We already have fixtures lined up with Bird Island, King Edward Point, and our American neighbours, Palmer.

Traditionally, bases played darts over the radio, which required a certain degree of honesty. Damoy station (a British transit station north of Rothera) once won an inter-base radio darts competition some years ago, for which the prize was a keg of beer. When their beer was delivered, they confessed that they didn’t actually have a dartboard!