Category Archives: Base Operations

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

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

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.

Gash and Scrubout

Everyone on base is expected to contribute to keeping the base clean and preparing food.

Generally people will do any jobs that they see need doing, like helping wash up or clearing a path of snow. Gash and Friday afternoon scrubout are the formalised traditions that help keep the base clean and pleasant.

Food passing line into the  kitchen
Food passing line into the kitchen

Every Friday afternoon a scrubout roster is posted assigning a cleaning job that would take about an hour to each person on base. Between 5-6pm on Friday everyone on base sweeps, mops, vacuums or scrubs some part of the base. There is a bit of a vacuum cleaner shortage on base at the moment and these are highly sought after during scrubout   hour. In the tower we also use this hour to empty our bins, wipe surfaces and vacuum the floor. Moving food from the storage room in old Bransfield house across to the kitchen in new Bransfield house is another common scrubout job. This is done by forming a human passing chain so nobody has to move. In snow this is definitely the fastest method for manually moving stuff.

Gash roster
Gash roster

Gash is a long held BAS tradition. Everyday one person spends the entire day on Gash.  Gash person spends the day washing-up, cleaning the bathrooms, recycling and helping in the kitchen. An important part of the gash tradition is that at meals time gash-person is always served first. At the start of mealtime a queue has usually already formed in the   dining hall. But only after gash-person emerges from the kitchen and takes their food will the first person in the queue take their food. Newbies be warned this tradition is  taken very seriously.

Washing up gash
Washing up gash

The day following your gash day you also help with after dinner washup.  The gash job starts at 8.00am and ends at 8.00pm with a break of about 2 hours in the afternoon between lunch and dinner.