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Antarctica is a changeable place. The weather can rapidly shift from clear blue skies and sunshine to snow blizzards and fog. It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth snow fields but lurking just below the surface may be crevasses (cracks in the ice) hundreds of feet deep.

In recognition of these risks some of the first training that a visitor to Antarctica receives is how to look after ourselves in these conditions.

Snow vehicles

For travelling around base and in the local area we use a combination of gators (when there is little snow - predominantly on base) and skidoos. One of our first lessons is how to check the health of the vehicles and drive them.


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A Skidoo and sledge - fully laden for a nights camping.



Whenever we venture off base there is always the possibility that the weather may close in and we may be stranded for hours or days - in order to be prepared for this our next lessons are in campcraft. We are taught about the use of the stove and lamps, how to put up the tent in potentially stormy conditions, using the radio systems and using the field medical kits. As part of the training, we are fitted out with all the gear we might need including the all important p-bag (a cosy, layered sleeping bag system including base mats, sheepskin rugs and cosy sleeping bags) and large amounts of manfood (dehydrated high-energy meals) before it is time for us to head up the glacier for a night under canvas.



Our tent - these have changed little in design in the last hundred years and are dug into the snow to secure them.

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View from our tent in the morning


The risk of crevasses is very real here in Antarctica - in the current warm weather many of the previously solid snow bridges that covered the crevasses are softening and exposing these deep cracks in the ice. In order to prepare ourselves for this we spend a day with our friendly GA (general assistant), Scott, learning rope-skills. We spend a morning on base learning how to abseil, climb back out from a crevasse and many, many knots. When walking on snow we are always roped together for safety.


Then we head off base and get used to the exhausting work of trekking through deep snow. We are taught how to construct a strong snow anchor to secure our roped buddy should he fall into a crevasse, and how to stop ourselves sliding down snowslopes using an ice-axe. This is an afternoon filled with fun as we slide down the snow in order to practice stopping ourselves.

These lessons have been great fun but the serious message behind them has also hit home - never underestimate Antarctica.


Jen's research is being undertaken as a collaboration between:
Heriot Watt University, Natural History Museum, UMBS, Millport, and the British Antarctic Survey.




Jen is funded by the NERC Collaborative Gearing Scheme and Heriot Watt Alumni Fund and sponsored by Catlin Group Limited, Apeks Marine and O'Three.