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Last Antarctic Blog

Pearl’s Final Blog

Hello everyone! I am sorry I have not written for so long, I have been very busy at Rothera this last summer season, and I am afraid I sort of forgot to do it. Now I am home, back in the UK. It all seems a long way away, but before I leave this blog I want to share one last experience with you. So I will tell you about a trip away from Rothera.

A lot of the science that is done from Rothera is done hundreds of miles away “in the field”, although with no grass around there are no actual fields. What this means is that one or more scientists take all their equipment and Antarctic survival experts (field guides) and get flown to where they need to work.

Some need to go on top of sea ice, some need to explore mountains and others might need to look at glaciers. Sometimes just two people are left in the middle of no-where with a tent and two skidoos.

However some of the groups are big, with about 15 people and some bigger vehicles. I went out with Bryony to visit some of the people working out in Antarctica. We had some long flights and had to stop at a place called Sky Blu to get more fuel. Here I am with Stuart the mechanic:

Stewie and Pearl refueling

Stewie and Pearl refuelling

We went to one of the big camps, they had lots of little tents for people to stay in. Here I am in one:

Tent

They also had quite a big toilet tent, you have to wee in one point in the snow, and poo in a bucket which is taken back to Rothera to burn. We can’t leave any pollution in Antarctica.

Loo

We spent over a week flying around Antarctica, staying at the bigger field camp and going with a couple of field guides to set up a smaller camp. This meant digging up a depot that had been left there last winter:

Do you know the main thing I noticed after flying for 4 hours on the main bit of Antarctica? It is very very white and very very flat.

Snow

There are some lovely mountains in some bits, but a lot is just massive areas of flat white. It made me think people who walked over these areas for months on end must be very brave. Or mad!

I had a wonderful second summer season and cannot believe the 18 months is now over. I was very sad to leave Rothera and Antarctica. I hope to go back one day, but for now I have some fantastic memories.

 

 

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An Antarctic Doctor

Hello again, Did you all have a great summer holiday? Did you and your penguins get up to anything nice? I sometimes wish I could be back in England for the warm summer, even though I am a penguin.

After mid-winter and the darkest day of the year the sun has slowly been returning here and we now have 12 hours of daylight every day. I suppose you could call it spring, but it is still a very cold spring, most days are -15 C, sometimes below – 20 C. Bryony went camping again last week and everything froze – the water, the food, even her breath as she slept.

We have had a lot more wind and snow than before, sometimes the wind is strong enough to nearly knock us off our feet (or flippers). Bryony has been doing a few different jobs these last few weeks, so I have followed her around to see what an Antarctic doctor does over winter.

As there are only 19 people here she doesn’t have a lot of medicine to do. However everyone is doing lots of hard work and so there are sometimes injuries for her to deal with. One thing we don’t have here over winter is coughs, colds and ‘flu. Although it is very cold here these are viruses and if no-one has them on the station then they can’t spread around.

The doctor is also the dentist and in winter she checks everyone’s teeth to make sure they have been looking after them. Here I am getting my mid-winter dental check:

Doctor and dentistDoctor and dentist

The doctor has a few jobs around the station, one of them is dealing with all the rubbish. Most of it is separated for recycling, it has to be packaged up and sent back to the UK. This is me in the building where all the rubbish is sorted:

The Span - rubbish recycling Me in The Span, the rubbish recycling building

The food waste will go very smelly if it is sent on a ship, so we have to burn that. It is stored in a fridge or freezer until there is enough of it and then Bryony burns it in the incinerator. It might seem odd that it needs to be stored in a fridge when it is so cold outside. In fact the temperature out of the fridge, and sometimes the freezer, is colder than in it. Bryony has to mark up the waste with spray paints and she keeps them in the fridge to keep them warm!

The incinerator is a giant oven that gets really hot. It is hard work for a day, and very smelly, but good fun piling up wood and burning everything. Here is Sid throwing in some waste with Bryony:

Sid incinerates Sid and Bryony burning food waste

All the people on the station have to do a couple of weeks of night duty. Someone needs to be awake all night to keep an eye on the station. They have to check on all the buildings, look for alarms, and wake up people to fix things. Bryony did a week of nights recently and Sid and I kept her company. It was a really windy and snowy week and she had to put on a lot of clothes to protect her when she did her station rounds. She also had to dig a lot of snow to get into the buildings. Here we are in the night checking on the buildings:

out on rounds in the wind Bryony and me on night duty rounds

When the rounds are done and everyone else is in bed it is a nice quiet time. You can do work, watch TV or learn a new skill. Sid wanted to practice his pool:

Sid playing pool Sid playing pool

My next update will probably be when the winter is over and everyone starts to come back to the station for summer. It will be very different then.

I hope you are all enjoying the blog, I would love some photos of what you and your penguins are up to.

One final photo from me. Remember when I learnt about the ozone layer hole with Rosie? She said there was a special type of cloud we get that is very pretty but means ozone is being destroyed? Well we saw one a few weeks ago:

Polar stratospheric cloudPolar stratospheric cloud

Lots of love,

Pearl xxx

PS. Congratulations to Mrs Pointon and PC Pointon (teacher and blog help) who have had their first baby, Freddie x

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Midwinter

Hello everyone, gosh it is getting cold here, even for a penguin. It is -24 C most days now, which has meant that the sea has frozen over so much we can walk and drive on it. All the icebergs in the sea have been caught in the ice and it looks very bizarre and beautiful.

Winter means Antarctica gets much bigger. Well, the land doesn’t, but the sea ice reaches out for many miles. This is part of the reason why we are so isolated here, ships cannot sail up to us anymore. Here is how different it looks over the months:

Antarctic sea ice

Antarctic sea ice

Our boats have been put away for the winter but the scientists still need to dive to get samples of all the life under water. Now the ice is thick enough they can walk on it so they use a chainsaw to make holes in the ice to dive through. Sometimes a seal looking for an air hole then pops its head through the dive hole! Brrr, it looks freezing.

Bryony is very pleased she doesn’t have to jump in. She did have one go, when we all did our sea ice training to make sure we knew how to walk on the sea ice safely. Here I am at  the ice hole which Bryony jumped in to, but she had a full dry suit on so didn’t get too cold.

Digging a dive hole

Digging a dive hole

The sea ice has also meant we could drive in a skidoo over to one of the island huts and spend the night there. It is nice to get off the station for a little holiday. This is the hut, it was built just so people could enjoy some time on the island, or stay there if they couldn’t boat or skidoo back. We cooked dinner and made a fire outside. Here we are in the bunk beds.

Inside the island hut

Inside the island hut

Can you see Sid and me in this photo?

Lagoon Island hut

Lagoon Island hut

The biggest party of the year happened two weeks ago: midwinters day. We all got dressed up and ate much too much food. It is a bit like Christmas, but in Antarctica it is even bigger than Christmas. We also have presents, but without shops we have to make them ourselves. Everyone makes and receives one present. Here are all the presents we made, there were some amazing things, you can see a small table, a deck chair, some picture and a gramophone iPod player made out of copper. Everyone was very happy with what they got and we all had a great day. Now it is going to start to get a bit lighter again, we may even see the sun next week.

Mid winter presents

Mid winter presents

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Winter has come

It has been a little while since my last blog, and lots has changed down here at Rothera. The winter season has started. Yes, that’s right, winter and summer are upside down here, just like other southern places like Australia.

In the Antarctica winter the sea ice, darkness, extra snow and wind means that we can’t have planes and ships down at Rothera for 6 months of the year. We are completely isolated. Only a few humans stay at Rothera to keep it running. This year it is 19 humans, Sid and me. All the other penguins leave too, so I am glad Sid is here to keep me company.

The Shackelton, a British Antarctic Survey ship, took away the last of the summer staff. We all stood and waved them off, letting off flares and shouting goodbyes. Funny to think that for the next 6 months we will only see the 19 people that are left. We have a few scientists, some people to keep the station working (plumber, electrician etc.) a chef and the doctor. Here is a photo of Bryony and a couple of others waving goodbye:

Farewells

Farewells

At Rothera they don’t have 24 hour darkness, but the sun does not come above the horizon for about 2 months. We have just had the Sundown Ceremony, when the sun dips below the mountains for the last time. The oldest person on base, our chef Issy, takes the flag down. In July, when the sun comes back up behind the mountains, the youngest person on base puts a new flag back up. Here are all 19 humans at Rothera with the old, battered flag:

Sun Down

Now the sun doesn’t make it over the horizon, but is isn’t too far away. So we get some wonderful sunrises and sunsets. This photo was taken this morning at 11am, two of the boys are flying a machine that can take photos and films from the air. It is pretty cool:

sunrise

sunrise

Before it got too dark we were all allowed a week’s holiday off the station. Each person goes with one of the field assistants – survival experts who work here – and can camp, go climbing or skiing if the weather is good. Bryony and I went with Caspar and camped in the north of the island. Here is our tent:

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It was pretty cold outside, and hard working putting the tent up and down, especially on windy days. But inside it was warm and cosy once the Tilly lamp had been lit. In the mornings Caspar fried bacon for some sandwiches, so it wasn’t too tough living there for a week:

Making bacon with Caspar

Making bacon with Caspar

We climbed a small mountain, here I am at the top:

At top of mountain

At top of mountain

We also went down a crevasse, which is where there is a crack in the ice. For safety we all had to be roped together, in case one of us fell down an unseen crevasse. We drove around on Skidoos, which were also roped together. Here I am with Emily, the dive officer, in the crevasse. Emily and another FA were camping next to us.:

Cravasse climbing

Cravasse climbing

It was a fantastic week, to be able to camp in Antarctica is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

I have had some questions from you guys, which is great. Laila Waise asked if we live in tents here, and if it is cold. Well, at Rothera we live in nice buildings. There is a photo at the beginning of this blog of the room I share with Bryony. As you have just seen, we do get to go out in tents sometimes. In the summer some of the scientists and field assistants live in tents for about 3 months at a time. I am glad I don’t have to do that.

The Rainbows in Thorner have asked if we have spring or autumn here, and how many months there are in an Antarctic winter?

Working at Rothera we have a definite “Summer” and “Winter” period, but that is decided by when the first and last planes come. As we don’t have trees or flowers spring is very different. But the seasons do change slowly, the sea freezes up, the animals change and have babies in some parts of Antarctica. So that makes spring and autumn. Here at Rothera we don’t really talk about spring and autumn though, just summer and winter.

How are all my penguin friends and their carers? I would love to hear from you all. If you have any other questions please do ask,

Love

Pearl xxx

 

 

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Windy weather balloons: Meteorology in Antarctica

Bryony releases the weather balloon

Antarctica is the coldest place on the planet, but it is warming up. At the peninsula (the pointy bit), where Rothera is, this is happening faster than anywhere else in the world. So most of the science that happens at, or from, Rothera is looking at climate change and its effect on the marine wildlife and ice.

The people who actually look to see what the climate is doing all over the world are the meteorologists. Here at Rothera there is a lot of meteorological work going on. I met one of the forecasters a few months ago, who looks at what the weather is going to do for the next new days. Meteorologists look at what it doing now and can use this data to looking into the distant future.

Every day they record what the weather is doing several times; they have to go outside and record things like the type, number and height of clouds, whether it is snowing (or sometimes even raining). Here is Rosie on the windiest day of the year seeing if it is raining outside (I stayed inside in the warmth to take the photo).

Rosie does a very windy weather observation

Rosie does a very windy weather observation

At the same time instruments check the temperature, humidity and pressure. Meteorologists all over the world are doing this to collect data.

One of the main ways of collecting data about the atmosphere is to launch weather balloons. So I went along with Rosie the meteorologist (or as they call them here “met’ babes” – even the male meterologists!) to see how this was done.

They launch balloons 4 times a week at about 8am. At the same time, all over the world, about 800 other balloons are being released, and then all the data is put together.

First we had to go and blow up the balloon. This is a huge balloon, so luckily we didn’t have to blow it up ourselves. They use helium (like in party balloons) that comes out of a canister.

P7540596P7540597P7540598

Then the small computer that the balloon carries is loaded up with some information. This will transmit its height and position, as well as all the meteorological information like temperature and pressure. Depending on how cold it is the balloon can take the computer up to about 25 km.

I am shown the computer that goes up with the balloon

I am shown the computer that goes up with the balloon

Down here in Antarctica they are very interested in the temperature high up, as this is connected with the hole in the ozone layer. Ozone is when three oxygen molecules join up to make O3. This is not good for breathing down here where we need O2, but up high up it forms a layer that protects us from the harmful UV rays from the sun, the ones that give us sun burn.

In the 1980’s meteorologists working at Halley Station (remember I went and visited Halley) discovered that this layer was very thin above Antarctica and the “hole” was getting larger. This was a very big discovery, especially as it turned out to be human’s fault. In lots of aerosols, like spray on deodorants, were chemicals called CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). These combine with clouds that are only created in the extreme cold of Antarctica called polar stratospheric clouds; add in sunshine and ‘Boom!’ – the O3 is destroyed.

The whole world came together to stop this from getting worse; everyone agreed to stop using CFCs. Because CFCs last so long it is going to take a few more decades for the hole to go completely, but it has stopped growing. This is great news, and scientists working at Halley for British Antarctic Survey discovered it.

When it gets very cold here I will try and get a photo of these special clouds, as they are the only type in the world made as high as the stratosphere, and they are meant to be very beautiful.

So what happened to our balloon? As Rosie was getting it ready to launch Sid tried to hitch a ride. As they don’t get the balloons back I am glad we stopped him.

Sid nearly gets to go on a balloon ride

Sid nearly gets to go on a balloon ride

Bryony and I got to release the balloon, which rushed up into the air and out of sight very quickly.

Bryony releases the weather balloon

Rosie checked on the readings a couple of hours later. It got to 25km high, the lowest temperature it read was -57oC and the pressure up that high meant that our balloon had expanded to the size of a double decker bus!

I did all this a couple of weeks ago. Last week the ship RSS Ernest Shackleton came to Rothera. She brought lots of food and supplies for the winter and took all the waste and unwanted bits, as well as a lot of science, away. She also took most of the people away. There had been 60 people at Rothera for the past 2 months. Now there are just 19. These 19 people will keep the base running and some science going for the next 6 months. We are going to be completely isolated, with no ships, planes, post or anything for the Antarctic winter. Remember winter and summer are upside down here.

I will write more about the winter next time.

Here are some of my friends waving off the ship:

DSC_7976

Finally, I had a question from Louise and Alice O’Boyle, who are looking after Petal and Pricilla Penguin, “How many different types of penguins have you seen now? And how many species haven’t you seen yet?

Well almost all the penguins here are Adelie Penguins, you can see photos of them in my last blog. We had a couple of lost Emperor Penguins a few months ago, and one Chinstrap Penguin a few weeks ago. There are a lot more species of penguins in Antarctica, but they don’t come to Rothera. So I think I have seen all the species that I am going to while staying here.

Now there are only 19 people at Rothera the internet is much better – so now Bryony and I can actually look at the blog! Thank you to Philip Pointon for helping out for the last few months, and I am sure we will need your help again soon. For the winter any photos and questions can be sent to Bryony and me to put on the website. Another update will be on soon.

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Cooking in the cold

Things are getting quieter here at Rothera. All the scientists who were camping out for weeks or months have flown back to the UK and most of the aeroplanes have gone too. There are now 60 people working here, so there is still a lot to do.

For this blog I thought I should visit some of the most important people in the station: the chefs. In the summer there are 3 chefs working here. Then, in couple of weeks (when our winter season starts), we will only have one left to cook for 19 of us.

At the busiest time of the year they have to cook lunch and dinner for up to 100 people. Also make bread, some soup in the mornings and cakes in the afternoons. They are always busy. Despite having to make food in such large amounts, our chefs make absolutely amazingly tasty food for every meal. Many people go home a little heavier than when they came out.

In the summer (now) we still have lots of ‘freshies’ – fresh fruit and vegetables. This will get less and less over the winter, as we will not have any new deliveries for months. We have to have enough food on station over the winter to feed everyone for more than 6 months. That is a very big grocery delivery!

Here I am with Chris, he is frying some chicken in ginger for a Thai meal. I don’t know what Sid is doing, I am sure he shouldn’t be in that pan.

cook1

This is Izzy; she is going to be our winter chef. Everyday they make fresh bread from scratch – yum.cook2 cook3

Everyone comes to eat together. Most days it is help yourself, here are some of the Rothera people eating lunch.

coo4

On Saturdays it is a three-course sit down meal, when people dress up a little bit more and the chefs make even more effort. My favourite food day is Friday. We have fish on Fridays.

Most of the food is in big storage containers and needs to be moved every few weeks by one of the vehicles and a human-chain to carry it, like this:

cook5

This food was being moved to the big freezers, yes, even in the frozen Antarctic we need freezers. Here is Scott trying to fit just one more box of chips into the freezer :

cook6

We don’t need to make our own ice, as we can use blocks of it that are floating around in the sea. It is completely pure and thousands of years old. It’s great to have in your coke!

Some of the food is stored near the kitchen, for the chefs to use day to day; here are some of the shelves.

cook7

So that is the food news.

Sid and I have also been keeping an eye on all the animals around the station. The penguins have started to moult. They look very unhappy and are a real mess. Often they will have a non-moulting friend or relative next to them, keeping guard.

Here we are chatting with a young Adelie penguin (it doesn’t have the black bit under its chin yet). He said he was just about to moult and was looking for a good spot. The other photo is of me with a moulting penguin, she was feeling very scruffy and wasn’t too happy having her photo taken.

cook8 cook9

That is it for this blog, I hope you are getting more of an idea about life down here. I will put another blog up in a couple of weeks, as there is going to be a big change down here: everyone will be leaving apart from the 19 winterers. As well as Sid and me of course.

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Adventure to Halley

Hi there,

After my fantastic visit to the South Pole I soon got itchy feet again and I really wanted to go to the most southerly of the British Antarctic Survey stations – Halley. On this map you can see where the stations are:

bas map

Lots of people at Rothera would like to visit Halley (not quite as much as the South Pole, but nearly) so I had to hide in one of the Twin Otters to fly there:

halley1

When Bryony realised I was missing she guessed where I had got to. So she phoned up Nathalie, the doctor at Halley, to come and find me. Here I am at Halley:

halley2

That is a bit of joke, it isn’t really an airport, the planes have to land on an ice runway and not many can get this far south, it is not like Gatwick or Heathrow.

I spent a few days at Halley. There have been several different buildings over the decades. The problem here is that Halley is build on an ice shelf, with no solid land underneath. So it is constantly moving. It is also a lot more cold and windy down here, and so permanent, low buildings, like they have at Rothera, would soon be buried and lost. The new building at Halley VI is made up of several pods or modules built up on legs. The legs and pods can be moved and all the modules are joined together, so you don’t have to go outside if the weather is really bad. Over the last winter the snow built up around the legs, so now it is just the pods you can see. Here I am outside some of them:

halley3

Nathalie showed me all around the base. She has lots of jobs here. Here we are providing fire cover – not really like the fire engines in the UK:

halley4

I also had a go driving a skidoo myself:

halley5

One day I got to go out with one of the scientists. Halley is surrounded by just flat, white snow and ice, so it was nice to see a few mountains. This place is called mkrzysztofowicz! I am not sure how it got that name; maybe you could try and find out for me?

halley6

After meeting everyone at Halley, learning about their discovery of the hole in the ozone layer in the 1980’s, and seeing how remote they are, it was time to go back to Rothera. So I helped refuel the Twin Otter and I am now safely back with Bryony and Sid, keen to learn more about everything happening back here, let me know if there is anything about life and work in Antarctica that you would like to know more about.

halley7