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.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Penguins - Growing up

Well I think I had my last visit to the Penguin colony the other night (Monday). I'd just spent a happy afternoon fuel raising when I heard that there was a penguin trip going that evening, and I was on it. Very exciting! I'd almost resigned myself to not seeing them again. The last time I saw them up close was on my winter trip- so it had been quite a while (not for the lack of trying of course).

A panorama of windy bay. All the little dots on the ice are penguins. The flags show us the best abseil point. The colony has mainly been living in a group by the small peninsula on the left, but has spread out significantly since we first visited them in August.

We did the usual trip, in a Snocat. Five of us; Simon, Anto, Nic, Vicki and me. Nic drove. It hadn't taken us long to get our gear together and we were off just after dinner. An hour later we're at the caboose. Now this is where I got confused, cause the last time the drumline was raised the caboose was raised too. I knew this, but people normally just move it forward. It was at a different orientation and away from the windtail that had been building up for years giving a false horizon so I thought that the bay had totally changed. It hadn't, and the seaice was perfectly safe to walk around on. Phew!

We all got roped up and walked down to the abseil point. Well I call it that, but it's more like a walkable slope now. No rope needed! From the top was an amazing view of the seaice and the colony (a quick ob for NOAA). The colony was very spread out. There were many more chicks than adults, all with a good space between them. No more need for the huddled bunch we saw in August before the sun had risen.

Nic, Vicki and Simon leading the way on the sea ice.

We went down to the seaice and as we started to walk between the small groups a new difference was apparent. All of the penguins were very wary of us. They ran away flapping their wings telling their neighbours to be careful too. There were a few birds flying about as well. Skuas, Snow Petrels, Wilson-Storm Petrels. One skua was quite interested by us and started circling and diving. No wonder the penguins were nervous.

Monster chicks. Still as fluffy as ever.

Two penguins just chilling. Most of the chicks are almost the same size as their parents.
The chicks are just starting to moult. They won't survive in the ocean until they fully moult.

The chicks were huge. They still looked exactly the same as a couple of months ago, but much much bigger. It was like the land of giant penguins... which seems silly since Emperors are the largest type of penguin, but some of the chicks looked bigger than the adults while still looking like the tiny chicks. I guess they'll need a head-start on the feeding if they're not skilled at fishing.

After a fabulous wander on the seaice and a short sit amoungst the chicks (where I reeled off a 36 roll of black and white and another of coloured slide) it was time to head home. After a quick walk back to the shelf ice, and then the trudge back towards the Snocat I drove us all home.
A very tiring day- Lovely.

A wonderful night with the sun high in the sky.