Sunday, January 14, 2007

R.R.S Ernest Shackleton and Signy Research Station

A grand title for two fascinating places. I spent two months on the Ship on my way South to Halley originally in 2004. I learnt then that I loved being at sea and I'd gladly call the Shack my home (be it a temporary home). I found myself on it 2 years later and nothing much had changed. The crew has more familiar than unfamiliar faces, the layout and setup the same. The daily routine is much the same, but as outgoing FIDS the expectancy of us to do as much around the ship is lower - which is just as well since we're not half as keen as we were when we were brought in. The ship's crew of 23 people generally work 4 months on, 4 months off working 7 days a week while they're on the ship. They're a jolly bunch who enjoy taking the mickey out of us, but work hard and deserve to be left alone most of the time. So we do, and that means it's a quiet ship.

So that's it, Anto, Me, Vicki and Charlotte are the only passengers on the ship until we get to Signy. I was expecting the journey to take a lot longer, but with the delays in the ice when the ship came in to Halley, the Captain ordered that both engines be put on as we make a quick dash to the Falkland Islands with a brief stop in Signy to pick up two more passengers.

First we had to break through the ice again. Not too much trouble for this ice-strengthened ship; we had 2 days of sailing through glassy waters with a bit of ice in the way. We only had a couple of hard nights sleeping through the noise of ice on hull, the noise from the smallest bergy bit seemed to reverberate around my cabin. I was, as usual, bouncing about the ship not knowing which way to point my (many) cameras, and am pretty chuffed to have seen so many penguins and seals as they slowly realized that the Ship was bigger than them and so they'd better move out the way - fast. It's the number of birds that surprised me. We don't get that many birds at Halley - it's too far away from the sea. But on the ship there's millions and I'm afraid I don't know many of their names... (alright Jeff, how's it going Bert?)
The ship ramming the ice, creating a small crack, waiting for it to get bigger and then sailing through the gap.

A couple of Crabeater Seals discussing which way they should head.

A couple of Adelie Penguins porpoising.

We arrived at Signy after a couple of days of 'finding my sea legs'. Signy Research Station is a small summer-only base. There's a Base Commander, a Generator Mechanic and the rest are Biological Scientists (please write in with corrections). They live in a very small building, but with what seems a lot of storage space spread around the base. The base is surrounded by huge icebergs, towering mountains and glaciers. It's what Antarctica is supposed to look like. Magnificent.

Signy Research Station, on Signy Island which is one of the smaller islands in the South Orkneys.

Me braving standing near sleepy Elephant Seals round the back of the accommodation building.

Rocks, mountains, icebergs and the Shackleton.

At Signy we picked up two summer scientists who were there for 6 weeks. We picked up a bit of cargo as well but it didn't take long and us tourists had to get back on the ship again.

We're now just over 12 hours sail from Stanley, Falkland Islands.
Civilisation here I come!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Relief #5

Well, the ship did eventually get here. We heard on New Years Eve that it was at N9, had tentatively checked out the creeks and was preparing to moor up. After the most christmassy Christmas I'd had here we had a pretty uninteresting New Year's Eve. We were all expected to be up and about the following day (7am), so we brought in the new year with a bit of Argentine radio, champagne and then quickly and quietly went to bed.

The ship loading cargo onto a Snocat drawn sledge at the N9 relief site.

The next day I was up to do the weather balloon and then left for N9 on the plane. I seem to keep on getting a good deal on this, only having travelled the 65km or so 3 times by snocat. I think I've flown it more often - at least 5 I can think of.
We met the new people. A ship crammed with very enthusiastic, bright eyed people that haven't been chewed up through the system yet and who were desperate to get off the ship and get to their new home.
After a 4 hour kip I managed to hitch a lift on the snocat convoy heading back to base. I got back just after 9am and went straight to doing my job for relief- Met. Now, my job isn't boring - we collect world class scientific observations. But, doing it in 12 hour shifts by yourself for a week - well that's boring especially when most other people get to do something different, something a little more exciting than their normal everyday job. Still - I had a brand new removable hard drive and lots of paperwork to keep me entertained.

Elsewhere on base lots of things have been going on - most of them I only pick up on the busy and frantic radio calls. Two new types of vehicles have come in for the big reliefs over the next couple of summers for the Halley 6 build. Two Challengers (formally Cat) and two John Deere tractors have bigger pulling power than our Snocats, but also seem to travel the same distances in half the time. Very impressive by all accounts (though they do guzzle up the fuel).

A John Deere tractor taking the old AIS container away.

Still most of relief is box moving. Moving the boxes from the ship's hold to a sledge, from a sledge to the plane, then the plane to another sledge, then the sledge to the Laws - on no, we need those boxes somewhere else...

Unpacking - not a very glamorous job, but a necessary one none the less.

The Shackleton at N9.
You can see the vehicle tracks that lead into the distance towards Halley.

On the final morning of relief I said my goodbyes and left Halley. I caught the plane to N9 (via the rumples) and then got on board the Shackleton with Vicki and Anto, meeting Charlotte (the old KEP doctor) on board.

Goodbye Halley.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Awaiting the Ship's Arrival

The RRS Shackleton is on it's way to relieve the base. The ship will take away our rubbish and empty fuel drums and give us (in order of importance) post, food, fuel and spares. Oh and new people. Lots of them. At the moment there's 19 people on base (3 managers flew in with the Germans last Saturday), and the ship is teeming with people - lots of people.

So, where is it and when's it going to get in?
Well - it's due in on the 21st of December, but there's a lot of sea ice about at the moment.

Click on the picture to see a larger image.
This is an image picked up by our satellite imager the Dartcom HRPT. It was taken around 5pm (local time) on the 17th of December. The image is made up of 3 channels recording at 3 different wavelength bands and are represented by blue, red and green. In this image white and light blue is cloud, the yellow & peach is ice and snow, and the black is open water. You can't distinguish fast ice and shelf ice on the Satellite image but we actually have around 5km of fast ice (thin 1st year sea ice) around our iceshelf. That's what the Penguins are living on. Beyond this is open water, which is promising for the ship. The problem is the build up of seaice against the Stancomb-Wills ice shelf (blue arrow) which is where the ship normally finds open water. There's a bit of cloud over this bit of the picture, but we think it's pretty dense icepack. Beyond the open water is a lot of pack ice. It's difficult to tell how thick or solid it is or to guess how well the ship will get through it.

This all of course depends on weather. If we get a strong Easterly wind it will blow all of the sea ice out of the way, but then there's a risk that it destroys the fast ice that the Penguins are living on and the chicks all die - again.

You can track the ship by clicking here, and the latest webcam out the rear of the ship here.

This is one of the pros/cons of living in such a remote place. All we can do is place bets and wait for post.