I’ve been back in Rothera for two weeks now.
Some things are just the same, while others are very different...
The first thing that is the same is the fact that I’ve been (almost) continually busy ever since I arrived. The first few days were filled with refresher training sessions – first aid, working around planes, communication systems, how to give a weather observation, and various field techniques including crevasse rescue.
|In the field you'll often be travelling on skis. Now, do they have size 4 boots...?|
The next few days were spent locating all of my kit again, charging batteries, testing equipment, modifying some of the electrical systems, pre-building kit to save time in the field, mending a few bits and pieces, and training up the people who’ll be helping me with my instrument installs.
|Testing a seismometer - one of the instruments I will install in the field|
And then suddenly it was time to fly! But more of that next time…
Many things about life in Rothera are the same as my last visit:
It was great to be re-united with the winterers, and hear their stories of hardship and camaraderie. My delivery of climbing magazines from the last six months went down well the field guides, and we were treated to a live gig by the “winterer’s band” last weekend.
|Reading material in the toilets - tractor-driving is an important skill here|
It’s also exciting to return to a place where you’re so close to all the action. There is a runway right next to the accommodation block, and people head out to wave to the planes as they take off and land.
|The beautiful Dash-7 landing at Rothera, just outside my office|
The communications tower is visible from all over base and the comms team are constantly in touch with planes and field parties all over the continent. All around base there is the reassuring crackle of VHF radio as people ask permission to cross the runway or track down items or people. There is an aircraft hanger across the way; a generator shed that ensures constant power across the base; workshops for carpenters, electricians and plumbers; a lovely crew of chefs in the kitchen keeping us all fed; a boating shed; a recycling shed (very little ends up as normal ‘rubbish’); a sewage treatment plant; and a busy garage that keeps all the tractors, skidoos and other large machinery in working order.
|Comms tower surrounded by 6-foot deep snow - care is needed not to walk off a small cliff!|
By far the weirdest thing that is the same about Rothera is the smell! I’d not noticed it when I was here before, but each building has a particular smell. In fact, different parts of the some of the buildings have a distinctive smell that I instantly remembered as I walked along the various corridors. I guess you notice these things when you are otherwise just surrounded by rocks and ice.
|Supermoon from Rothera|
Things are different too:
I was previously here at the end of the summer, and to get between buildings you had to walk across an expanse of large cobbles. Not so in November! When I arrived everywhere was covered by several metres of squeaky snow, making the trek between buildings a very pleasant experience.
|Accommodation block - the view isn't great out of some of the windows|
However, the tractors have been hard at work, and in the last week that lovely snow has largely been bulldozed away. We’re not quite down to the cobbles yet, but with the increased number of people on base traipsing around, and warmer temperatures, the whole place is now covered by sheet ice. Eek!
|Exposing those wretched cobbles!|
The other thing that is different is the sea, or lack of it. Rather than being surrounded by open ocean dotted with icebergs, we’re surrounded by some pretty stubborn sea ice that is showing no sign of breaking up. We’re due to have a ship call in to re-supply the base in two weeks, but at the moment the ice extends around 30km to the south and 100km to the north! The boating crew are looking very bored, and it means no penguins so far this year.
|Icebergs trapped in sea ice between Rothera and Porquoi Pas Island (20 km away)|
So I was just getting into the swing of changing my shoes every time I entered a building, and dealing with the contrasting temperatures inside and outside, when we jumped on a plane and headed off to do some science. Unfortunately, this was the point at which the weather turned, and a day’s work turned into a long weekend away stranded many miles from anywhere…
|Kit for the field - do I have everything I need?|