Girton College Pre-Deployment Conference has a freshers-week atmosphere.
A lot of work and organisation has clearly gone into organising this complex event. I was warmly greeted on arrival then directed first to the college porter who gave me a key to my single bedroom, then towards the registration desk where I picked up my information packed conference badge, bag and wifi password. My tensions eased when I opened the conference bag to see in big red letters the words “Don’t Panic”. Then a quick ID photograph before moving to the coffee/tea room. Because I am only going for the summer I was excused from the blood type testing.
The evening kicked off with a welcome from Jane Francis the Director of BAS followed by a breakout into Base specific groups. Each of us had to introduce ourselves and explain what we were off to do. Then it was dinner at the Girton College banqueting tables.
Monday started with a session on the logistics of travelling to Antarctic. The 3 gateway ports are Capetown, Punta Arenas and the Faulkland Islands. And from these gateways the final hope will be either a ship or a Dash 7 flight. My travel will be on the 5 hour long flight from Punta Arenas on 21 October.
The Antarctic clothing and working session was next up. Lots of sensible advise about layering clothes aiming for a sustainable day-in-day-out system. The recommendation for sunglasses is for category 4.
The HR session was next and was very nicely facilitated. We broke into small groups and discussed some case studies around issues such as bullying, responsible use of alcohol and dignity in the workplace.
After a quick coffee break we were into the aircraft session which explained the types of aircraft and work that the air unit undertake. The Twin Otters always fly with an assistant (co-pilot) and the Field Operations Manager runs a roster of base staff assignments for this duty. Predictably all the questions focused on who and how to bribe people to get co-piloting opportunities.
The Science sessions were exceptional, my chest grew 2 inches with pride just knowing I was going to play a small part in the delivery of these inspiring science projects.
Over lunch we had the opportunity to visit a range of information/poster booths setup by the Polar Data Centre, HR, MAGIC GIS and Information Services.
Safety and personal responsibility were a constant theme across all of the sessions. Two of the first days sessions focused on the procedures and expectations regarding safety.
The hour before dinner was spent in our “base groups”. For me this meant I was with by far the largest group, for Rothera. This was the point in the conference I really started to appreciate what an adventure this summer will be. There are so many incredible field expeditions leaving from Rothera this summer and I will be the friendly voice at the end of the radio for these field parties. Each day I will spend 15 minutes speaking to each party. Initially I will give and take meteorology reports, ask if they have an requests and log these into the field request system, ask whether they need anything notified through to Base Commander, Doctor or FOM and check the status of their CO2 detectors. Then free-chat, where I will relay any news or points of interest, or just make them listen to me waffle.
After dinner I joined the Field Party job specific group meeting. This session talked through the operation and systems for supporting field work. We also got a walkthrough of the new Operations GIS system being developed by the MAGIC GIS team at BAS.
And bed !
Tuesday breakfast at 7.00am then back to the sessions.
Henry Burgess from the Foreign Office was the first person I had seen wearing a tie at the conference. Henry kicked off Tuesdays schedule of sessions, reminding us that we are a presence as well as a scientific base. And that at all times our behaviour needs to be professional and respectful of the environment.
Rachel Clarke took us through our important environmental responsibilities while living and working in Antarctica. Rothera is covered by the Antarctic Treaty so strict rules, fines and reputational damage could result from any breaches. Plants and animals cannot be disturbed without a scientific study permit. Strict procedures needed to be followed to prevent the introduction of non-native species. We were advised to thoroughly clean all our footwear and outerwear before leaving. We will need to keep a 5-10m distance from and not feed any wildlife. We can remove pretty much nothing from Antarctica, no plants, eggs, rocks, fossils or meteorites . Moss grows so slowly that footprints could last for decades, so walking on moss is a very strict non-no. All waste except treated sewerage and food waste must be removed from Antarctica.
And importantly this session explained poo-bins, solid human waste cannot be left in the field. This means that we will need to carry and use little plastic poo-bins. Fuel spills are a significant issue so the other point that was emphasised was never-ever to leave re-fuelling of aircraft or vehicles unattended. We must stay and watch any refuelling process from start to end un-distracted.
A particularly useful session was the one run by Pete Bucktrout the BAS photographer. Condensation is the killer of cameras in Antarctica. Bringing a cold camera directly from a cold environment into a warm most tent or building will kill it with moisture from condensation. He suggested that after using a camera in the cold we should remove any frost from the camera with a soft shaving brush then seal the cold camera in plastic bag before bringing the camera into a warm environment, leave the camera in the plastic bag until it reaches inside temperature. Also worth noting that Pete recommended using UV lens covers and said it is worthwhile considering bringing a go-pro video camera. He also noted that a manual view-finder is useful as LCD screens don’t work below -20 and manual contrast control is useful. Craking good session !
The final practical session was about the two BAS ships the Ernest Shackleton and the James Clark Ross. Many of the conference delegates (not me) will travel to the conference on a ship and this session explained what to expect onboard.
At lunch we lined up in the courtyard for the traditional group photograph.
The afternoons sessions were about team work and motivation. The activities involved a stick lifting exercise, an auction of team attributes and some fun sessions on managing conflict. This was followed by a more sombre presentation on HR requirements. Adam Bradley then gave an amazing presentation about his trips to Antarctica followed by some jaw dropping footage from Pete Bucktrot’s work.
Jane Francis the Director of BAS closed the conference by asking us all to take away three key messages from the conference:
- Be safe and responsible
- Be excellent
- Have the time of your life
I shall certainly try.