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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.

 

Camp-skills

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.

 

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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

Snow-skills

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.

UTAO-logos-funding.jpg

 

 

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.

UTAO-logos-sponsorship.jpg

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The long journey South

Posted by Jennifer Loxton Jan 17, 2012

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Antarctica is a long way away from the UK. In fact flying down there covers a distance of approx. 16,000 km/10,000miles! (London, UK to Rothera, Antarctica via Chile). For a journey this lengthy tracking the passing of time in hours or miles can seem daunting. I choose to instead track my journey progress by meals:


Day 1 - lunch: London, UK

The journey begins. After checking in I start my hunt for the rest of the British Antarctic Survey group travelling South. I decided the best way to identify Polar travellers was to look for a group, predominantly male, with a greater than average tendancy towards fleeces and beards. After terrifying a few innocent skiing stag parties with my rictus grinning I thankfully found our group (just the one beard!) and after introducing ourselves we head to the plane.

 

Day 1 - dinner: Madrid, Spain

A short lay-over in Spain. Long enough to get a little lost in the rainbow coloured airport, find everyone again and enjoy a relaxed dinner. Our next flight was ready to depart shortly before midnight.

 

Day 2 - breakfast: midair Argentina/Chile

After a great sleep I get woken to breakfast over the mountains.

 

Day 2 - lunch: Santiago Chile

We battle our way through the ever confusing Chilean immigration and customs at bustling Santiago airport before checking back in for the next leg of our flight. Once we are through the red-tape it is time for us to settle down to some nice Chilean delicacies for lunch. From here the planes get progressively smaller.

 

Day 2 - dinner: Punta Arenas, Chile

Dinner time finds us in Punta Arenas - a bustling frontier town with a long history as a gateway to the Antarctic. More about Punta in a seperate post

 

Day 3 - breakfast + lunch: Punta Arenas, Chile

Unfortunately the weather in Antarctica slightly delays our next leg so we get an unexpected breakfast and lunch in Punta Arenas while we wait for more favourable conditions. Thankfully a "weather window" pops up for us late in the afternoon and we head to the airport to board our smallest plane yet, the twin propeller, dash-7.

 

Day 3 - dinner: mid-air over Antarctica

Travel on the dash-7 is a little different to commercial airlines. It is a small, friendly plane with only twenty passengers. The pilots fly with their cabin door open and once the seatbelt sign is off we are all encouraged to pop up for a visit to the cockpit. Dinner is a picnic with supermarket bought delicacies from Chile although I find it hard to eat with the excitement of finally arriving in Antarctica.

 

Day 3(just) - midnight snack: Rothera, Antarctica

Suddenly the cloud starts to clear and peeking through the gaps are spectacular mountains, glaciers, and sea-ice all lit by the glow of the midnight sun. Our ever thoughtful pilots take us for a flyby so that we see Rothera and the surrounding areas from all angles before we draw in to land.

 

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I have arrived ar Rothera, Antarctica - my home for the next couple of months.

 

 

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

UTAO-logos-funding.jpg

 

 

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.

UTAO-logos-sponsorship.jpg

 

1
Just how do you go about packing for a scientific diving trip to the Antarctic? Well, for me, it all started nearly 6 months ago with a visit to the British Antarctic Survey clothing store in Cambridge and a very warm dress-up session.

 

Get your kit-bag

Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent on Earth. In these conditions, it is important to be properly dressed! I was led through this first challenge by the kindly guys at the British Antarctic Survey Clothing Store. On a very warm July day they selected everything i might need and even managed to keep a straight face while I tried it all on. My kit-bag is filled with all kinds of outdoor clothing for every eventuality - everything from socks to sunglasses and the all important layers.

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Jen trying on Antarctic outdoor gear in the BAS clothing store

 

Box up your cargo

This is all of my scientific gear which could be sent out on the boat to Antarctica.The Natural History Museum and Heriot-Watt university equipped me with everything I could need to complete my scientific work including packaging for up to 4000 bryozoan specimens!

 

My cargo sets sail

Both my kitbag and cargo have already started their adventure - they were loaded onto the RRS James Clark Ross in July and carefully packed away for the following months at sea. The "icebreaker" was set to experience the whole range of temperatures during its journey South - travelling through the heat of the tropics as well as the icy temperatures of an Antarctic Spring. To stop my scientific liquids from freezing solid or exploding in the heat many of my packages were, perhaps counter-intuitively, safely stored in the onboard "fridge". They have arrived safely and are waiting for me in Rothera, Antarctica.

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RRS James Clark Ross

Gather all the rest of your stuff together

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The fun bit! Time to get all the new gadgets I need for my project, and of course thoroughly test them out. I have been well provided for by my generous sponsors and have fantastic dive equipment,scientific and camera gear which I have been trying out in recent months. I think I have pretty much figured out how it all works...

 

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Shiny new dive equipment from my sponsor, Apeks

Pack everything else..

 

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

UTAO-logos-funding.jpg

 

 

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.

UTAO-logos-sponsorship.jpg