All posts by cathycolless

About cathycolless

Summer Radio Communications Officer at the British Antarctic Survey Rothera base station

Time to leave already

Time has flown.  I will be leaving Rothera on the MS FRAM.  John, the light of my darkness is making a trip on the FRAM and I have managed to hitch a ride back to Ushaia with him.  We shall be blogging our next adventure here .

The Operations Team
The Operations Team


Here comes the boat
Here comes the boat
John arrives
John arrives
John in the tower
John in the tower
John cycling in Antarctica
John cycling in Antarctica
Back together...
Back together…
Farewell Rothera
Farewell Rothera

drysuits-both kyak

Communications Tower

Each of us in the Communication team works 2 shifts a day in the tower. Today for example I worked the morning shift with Pete and the afternoon shift with Crispin then Callum and Crispin took over for the evening shift and Pete had “second night gash” in the evening.

A typical shift in the tower will involve flight following and base radio communications.

Communication Tower
Communication Tower

The computer on the left is used for AFTN flight planning. This is where we submit the AFTN flight plan intentions and update departure and arrival times for each flight. Next week we will be changing to the AFPEX web-based flight planning application instead of the UDP based installed Copperchase AFTN client software. This will make the client PC easier to administer and eliminate the  need for a dedicated established network link through to Swanick NATS centre.


Also on the left side of the desk are our antenna choosers and rotator.
We have 4 HF antennas. A North-South, an East-West, a Rotatable log periodic and an emergency HF. The emergency antenna is connected directly to our batter powered iCOM ic- 78 which we only use during power downs. The other 3 antenna we can switch between our 3 HF transmitters.

The main console of the desk has our 2 skanti HF sets and the marine and aero VHF units.


The right hand side PC we use to pickup weather observations from the internet and

On the right corner of the desk we have our Iridium and Cisco VOIP phones.

Sea Glider Recovery

This afternoon I helped out on a boat trip to recover one of the sea gliders from South Cove.

There are in fact two science teams here this year using sea gliders.  The particular glider I went out to help collect had an acoustic instrument deployed that can detect krill.  Another glider is being used to conduct survey missions underneath ice shelves.

The gliders have an internal bladder that can be inflated and deflated to displace water.  When the glider bladder is inflated the glider it is buoyant and rises and when the bladder is deflated the glider gradually sinks.  The wings and fins allow the glider to move and make progress as it rises and sinks.

Glider wings
Glider wings

The gliders transmit their position back to base via a satellite link.

We used the coordinates transmitted by the glider to find it
We used the coordinates transmitted by the glider to find it
Then manhandled the glider onto a cradle
Then manhandled the glider onto a cradle
Safely back in the Bonner Lab where the acoustics can be retrieved from the instrument
Safely back in the Bonner Lab where the acoustics can be retrieved from the instrument

Bicycles of Rothera

Not sure how they came to be here but Rothera has a few base bicycles. People use them for transport and recreation.

When there is no flying it is possible to tag-out for a recreational bike ride up and down the 1km long runway

Rothera Tagout Board
Rothera Tagout Board
Cycling on the Runway
Cycling on the Runway
Paul the Generator Mech is a regular
Paul the Generator Mech is a regular

The bikes are also used for transport down to the southern stations and occasionally for the short trip across to the hangar.

Rogers Bike Outside Fuchs House
Rogers Bike Outside Fuchs House
Base Bike Kept in the Miracle Span


There are also a few options for indoor cycling.

ridgeback-stationary stationary-bike


New Years at Fossil Bluff

Throughout the summer Fossil Bluff fuel depot/cottage is manned by 2 people out from Rothera on 2 week stints. This is typically one of the Base General Assistants (GAs) and one other random person from base.
The team at Fossil Bluff do meteorological observations for the incoming aircraft, refuel aircraft and manage the fuel depot. Last week I found my name had come up on the roster. Yipee, Paula (GA) and I would be spending new years at the Bluff.
The twotter flight to the Bluff is a spectacular 1 hour and 40 minutes up the King George Sound and the weather was dingle for my flight.

01-vbbloading-fuel 02-layers 03-melt-water

The first day we scampered up the scree slopes to Giza point for views across the sound. On the second day I clawed my way up the steep and scee-ey slope behind the cottage.

giza 10-fern-fossil 15-seat

Our baking options were limited by the lack of baking powder and having only a Reflex heater for an oven. So jammy doughnuts seemed to be the best option. Against the odds they were huge success and we sent boxes of doughnuts out to various field parties on flights stopping for fuel at the Bluff.

19-frying 199-doughnuts 25-doughnut

When the wind was calm and the sunshining the verandah was easily warm enough for a bucket bath and sunbathe.
New Years day was perfect weather and no-flying. The wonderful Paula prepared a picnic lunch on the verandah.

18-hny 22-isabelle


My stay ended all too soon. After a fabulous 10 days with the wonderful Paula I boarded the Twotter flight back to Rothera for a proper shower.

JCR Ship Arrival

The waiting is over.

The JCR arrived at the wharf at 8.00am on Saturday 27 December and the slightly heroically named process of “relief” will began. Christmas isn’t really big deal here but “relief” is.

JCR at the wharf at the South end of the runway
JCR at the wharf at the South end of the runway

The JCR is the first ship to bring cargo and fuel into Rothera this year. There certainly hasn’t been any suffering here to relieve, but we are completely out of blu-tac and whiteboard pens.  Having watched the speed and efficiency with which the boat is being stripped of it’s cargo.  If I had a boat full of food, beer and fuel I wouldn’t leave it at the wharf here.

Admirals Accommodation  Building Corridor
Admirals Accommodation Building Corridor

Earlier this week we had a special meeting after lunch to brief us all on the plans for relief. Teams have been assigned to various roles and the process explained to everyone.
The 20 members of the 2014 wintering team were be invited onto the JCR for dinner on Saturday night. The Rothera bar will be operating shortened hours and bar stocks will be minimal during relief.

James Clark Ross and VPFBQ
James Clark Ross and VPFBQ

The years food order is on the ship and this is being unloaded and moved upto the store rooms in Old Bransfield House.

JCR shot on walk around the point with ship crew
JCR shot on walk around the point with ship crew

The ship also has bulk fuel that will be pumped into the bulk storage tanks over by the hanger. The tanks in the fuel farm are split between Avtur(Aviation Fuel) and MGA (Marine Gas Oil). The Avtur can be pumped directly from the farm tanks into aircraft on the hangar and is also used to fill drums that are sent out to various fuel depots such as Ski Blu and Fossil Bluff. The MGA is used for the base power generation.

Fuel farm on the west side of base by the apron
Fuel farm on the west side of base by the apron
Admirals House Boot Room

CTD Sampling Boat Trip

This week I got out on one of the science boats Nimrod.  The marine team at the Bonner Laboratory at the southern end of the base make regular boating/diving trips in the local area to take water samples and to lower a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth(CTD) instrument.  On a morning off I tagged along on a trip into South Cove.ctd-winchThe CTD Instrument is lowered to as much as 500 metres then hand winched back onto the boat.

On our trip the instrument depth was 300 metres so we took turns at winching 100 metres of line each/

Winching up the CTD instrument.
Winching up the CTD instrument.

We also took a number of water samples from 15 metre depth into ultra -clean containers for analysis back at the lab.

CTD Instrument
CTD Instrument
Sabrina our cheerful boat captain
Sabrina our cheerful boat captain

Co-piloting Trip to Larsen Ice Shelf

The daily update of the info-screen in the dining hall which shows the co-piloting assignments for the next days twin otter flights is almost as interesting as finding out what the chefs have cooked for dessert.

Yesterday was my day off and my name appeared as co-pilot for a trip out to pickup a load from the Larsen ice shelf Sledge Quebec field party. Woohoo. After a morning of waiting for the weather to clear here at Rothera we left in the early afternoon for the one hour flight Eastward across the peninsula to the Ice shelf. We rather rapidly climbed to 12,000 feet to be sure we would clear all the peaks on the peninsular.
At the camp site the Sledge Quebec team had laid out and flag poled a skiway at their camp. We were the 4th of 6 flight loads requiredto pickup the project team, science kit and 4 skidoos.
It was fabulous to see a real-life field camp. It took us about an hour to load one skidoo and a thousand pounds or so of stuff and two scientist onto the twin otter.

ash-skidoo bb-quebec camp-setup jenny pyramid-tent-entrance quebec-goodbye skidoo-unload steve-quebec steve-quebec-team tent-and-plane

Field Party Scheds

The most enjoyable part of my job in communications is Field Party Schedules(Scheds).

In the summer there are numerous scientific and logistical support parties out in the field. Each party has a field HF radio. Typically a Codan, PRM or an ICOM IC-78 radio.  Each party is a assigned a time slot for a daily 15 minute chat on an assigned HF frequency. At the assigned time we call the field party on their frequency.

Traverse Caboose Comms Corner
Traverse Caboose Comms Corner

The first part of the sched is the business end. We asked a standard set of questions and enter the responses into the schedule log sheet and the field request system. The questions are:

– What is the HF readability ?
– Is everyone in the party safe and well ?
– Does everyone have a working CO2 monitor ?
– What are the S/W co-ordinates of your current position in the field
– What activities did you undertake today ?
– What activities or movements do your have planned for tomorrow ?
– Do you have any requests or message ?
– Are there any issues to raise with the Station Leader of Field Operations Manager ?

This part of the sched normally takes about 5 minutes. The response to the standard questions are written onto the schedule log sheet, requests are entered into the online field party request system and the coordinates are written on the field party location sheet.
Sometimes that will be the end of the sched if the party are busy with work or travel. However usually the field parties are interested in hearing some news from base and the world. So before each schedule I prepare about 5 news/gossip items from base and a summary of 5 news items from the world news.

Sometimes other people from base will popup and say hello to friends and colleagues who are out in the field.

I really enjoy talking to the field parties, there is some proper amazing science and logistics being conducted and go figure they pay me to chat for 10 minutes a day with these guys. Not bad at all…..

The field parties are called “Sledges”. And each field party is assigned an identifier which is a single letter from the phonetic alphabet. (Alpha through to Zulu).

Sledge Victor (iStar)
pisten-bullyThe first sched of the day is with the iStar Pine Island Glacier Tractor Traverse team. Sledge Victor. James Wake is the Traverse Leader and Field Assistant assigned to this very large project. The transport for this traverse is two ginormous Pisten Bullies which tow a living caboose and a large amount of science equipment.

The team retire to tents for sleeping at the end of the day.


Science experiments are carried out along the traverse route. At each site on the traverse a neutron probe is lowered into a 10m hole to measure snow density.



GPS measurement stations along the traverse route are being installed and services to measure the movement of the Pine Island Glacier. At ten sites along the traverse route ice core drilling samples down to 50m are being taken. And at seven sites seismics are being conducted by loading explosives into a 20m drill hole and measuring the echo when the explosives are detonated.



Sledge Tango (Ronne Ice Shelf Drilling Traverse)
The second sched of the day is with Sledge Tango which is also a Pisten Bully Tractor traverse. This one on the Ronne Ice shelf and is a rather amazing hot water drilling project. The drill is able to pump 90 litres of hot water per minute to create a 30cm diameter hole in the ice shelf to reveal the changes in the conditions in the lower parts of the ice shelf.
Tango is my favourite morning schedule. Jonny Yates the Traverse Leader is always a delight to chat to.




Sledge Golf (Pine Island Bay Radar Traverse)
This small team are located on a very remote part of West Antarctica on the King Peninsular on Pine Island Bay. They are using a radar (DELORES) towed behind a skidoo to look at the layers in the ice. This work makes a contribution to answering some of the biggest questions about the impact global warming will have on sea level rises.

Sledge Bravo (Soil Warming Experiment at Mars Oasis on Alexander Island)
This is the first sched in the evening. This team have setup a number of perspex cones to heat the soil and simulate climate change. DNA will be extracted from the soil under the domes and PDR will be used to analyse the microbial communities.

Sledge Quebec (Larsen C Ice Shelf Stability Assessment)
This team are based on the Larsen C Ice shelf on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsular. They are using a number of techniques including, radar, seismics and drilling to assess the stability of this large ice shelf. Other similar ice shelf in the region have recently collapsed so there is significant interest in whether the Larsen C is also likely to collapse.  This team are looking at the impact of melt ponds on the stability.
Fossil Bluff
The third of the evening scheds is with Fossill Bluff a fuel depot and small base in King George Sound.

Sky Blu
After this we have the schedule with the team at Sky Blu, which is a deep field Blue Ice runway and fuel depot.

Sledge November (Radar survey of Korff, Fowler and Skytrain Ice Rises)
This is always an enjoyable sched. Scott Webster and Jonny Kingslake are travelling by skidoo towing a rather ingenious phase sensitive radar radar (PRes) on sleds across Ice rises in the south west Ronne region.

Sledge Hotel (Geological Mapping of Werner Mountains)
This team are conducting a geological survey of the Werner Mountains. Malcy Airey is the field assistant on this project and is always fun to chat with.

Sledge Romeo
The last but by no means least sched of the day is Sledge Romeo. This is small team with Dave Routledge guiding conducting a geological survey.

It really is an amazing and diverse programme of Science that BAS undertake here in the summer. And the logistics team that make these programmes possible are enthusiatic, pragmatic, dedicated and clever bunch of people. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.

And..the other satellite dish up on the point

Rothera station is located on rocky point on the west shore of Adelaide Island.  Walking around the point is a very popular way to take a break from the fish bowl life of base.  I try to walk around every day.
The point is crammed with curious science and communication instruments.   I have been trying to find out what the various instruments and antennae on the point do.  Until today that has been achieved by me asking people who I think might know a.bout them.

Today though I found a fabulous little booklet called “Science Around the Point” that
gives a fabulous little summary of the science projects located on the Point.
Bingo, I now take this booklet along with me on my walks.

Today I stopped and looked at the second satellite dish dome that sits behind the VSAT

ARIES (Antarctic Reception of Images for Environmental Science)
ARIES (Antarctic Reception of Images for Environmental Science)

Turns out this is the ARIES (Antarctic Reception of Images for Environmental Science) dome.  This dish establishes connections to various polar orbiting meteorological imaging
satellites when they are within range. The satellites take high resolution images of the
region and the satellite dish here is able to receive copies of the images which are used
for weather forecasting and climate research.

The pilots and field operations teams are always eager to receive the latest images to get
an insight in the weather conditions at deep field sites they are awaiting a weather
window to visit.