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The Exploration of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth

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Field Preparations at Rothera

8th November
An extremely hectic day! Dan and I have taken all the basic equipment that we need to survive on top of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (tents, food, radios, fuel, lots of warm clothes) to the hangar in preparation for our flight into the field (probably tomorrow). I have now sorted and resorted my personal bag several times to make sure it is within the weight allowance we have left for the Twin Otters after all the essential equipment has been loaded. The DASH-7 has been delayed in the Falklands so no sign of John yet. He will have to undergo a rapid fire refresher field training course here at Rothera before he and Andy will be flown out to Patriots to sort out the several tons of equipment which will hopefully arrive there in the next couple of days.

7th November
I am going to have to start thinking about getting my clothes together and putting them in a bag. There is the distinct possibility that we will be heading out earlier than our original schedule of the 12th Nov. Dan and I have already taken quite a few petrol jerries down to the container by the hangar in preparation for loading them onto one of the next set of planes to go out.

6th November
Preparations for fieldwork seem to be going well. Because 95% of our scientific cargo is heading in via Patriot Hills we seem to have very little to actually do here at Rothera. Unfortunately, however, this means that I have to sit in front of a computer and plan radio-echo sounding lines for most of the day. Andy and I set up the gravimeter today to allow us to measure one of the two gravity reference points here at Rothera.

There has certainly been an elevated sense of urgency since Andy arrived. Dan has finished the modifications and repairs that were necessary to make our sledges ‘field ready’. All we are waiting for is the planes to return from the current programme of deep-field inputs (bad weather has meant that several of the Twin Otters have had to overnight at the field camps), and for John to arrive from the Falklands.

Weather permitting, there appears to be a distinct possibility that Dan and I will be put into the Lake Ellsworth field site earlier than the original plan of the 12th November. This means a busy few days ahead!


4th November 2007

Andy Smith has arrived, and quite remarkably he is a day early! Because the weather was expected to deteriorate tomorrow, the DASH-7 flew down from Stanley a day early. All we are waiting for now is for John to arrive (hopefully on Thursday) and then we can start thinking about getting out into the field. There have been lots of personnel movements in the last few days. The Pine Island Glacier and Rutford Ice Stream deep-field parties are now all out there. There have been a few false starts though.....


Sometimes you can get on a plane down here with the engines running and a last minute weather forecast can mean that rather than what you can create yourself from some melted snow, a 'manfood' packet and a primus stove, you are instead sitting at dinner that night with a fillet steak cooked by a chef! Rob and Fergal were particularly pleased by this development yesterday. They got out of Rothera today however, and even made it all the way out to Matrix, the first field site of their campaign, on the same day! A lot of their equipment will take a few more days to be flown out in the Twin Otters, however, simply because they have lots of boxes and they are a long way south.

Because it is so early in the season there are consistent reports of temperatures around -25 degrees C in the deep field. I am pretty glad we aren't scheduled to depart for about another week!

A group of us took another after-dinner stroll round the point. A rather more bracing one than the others I have taken since I arrived - darker and windier. An awful lot of the sea ice has already broken up and there are now large swathes of open water. No more whales to report unfortunately.


1st November 2007

I had my last piece of outdoor field training today, getting the opportunity to practice linked travel (basically 2 skidoos linked by tow ropes with a sledge between them). The idea is that should the first skidoo fall into a crevasse, the second one stops it (and the driver) from falling too far! Linked travel can require quite a bit of concentration from the second skidoo driver, however, as you have to make sure that the tow rope isn't too taut, and that you don't drive the skidoo tracks over it! Thankfully there shouldn't be too many crevasses in the area around Lake Ellsworth.

Took a walk round Rothera Point after the evening meal. Another spectacular sunset, and, thanks to Rob's keen observation skills, I saw my first whale (probably a minke) just offshore! Fabulous. Some rather nice icebergs too. It is light now, even here at Rothera, until after 11pm.


It has been a busy couple of days with people leaving for the field (Pine Island Glacier team + GAs manning refuelling depots, Sky Blu etc.), the first transfer to Halley Station, and one or two of the winterers flying north to Punta Arenas on their way home. I think this means that there are now less than 20 people on base. This will all change tomorrow, however, when the DASH-7 returns with 12-13 passengers.


31st October 2007

I have been helping Julian, Ed and Rob with their preparations for the field (putting hot water drill pumps together, weighing and moving boxes etc.) over the last two days. This doesn't necessarily sound like fun, and it isn't much, but it does provide the opportunity to drive around base on golf buggies.

30th October 2007


My job during the geophysical exploration of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth is to undertake a detailed radio-echo sounding (RES) survey of the lake using the BAS DELORES (Deep-Look-Radar-Echo-Sounder) radar. This is an incredible bit of kit, which, to allow its signal to penetrate through 3-4 km of ice, has antennas which are 80 m long! Once it is rigged up behind a skidoo, this means that its total length is about 300 m (40 m from the skidoo to the tip of the first antenna, followed by 80 m of receiver antenna, 100 m of rope, and then another 80 m of transmitter antenna). The tiny black dot on the snow in the picture to the left (taken from a skidoo towing the system) is the transmitter sledge, found half way along the transmitter antenna, after which there is another 40 m of antenna!

The reason that I came down to Rothera so early in the season was to allow Ed to demonstrate how DELORES operates before he heads into the field, and for me (as well as Rob - working on the Pine Island Glacier project) to get some practice in driving the system. So today we got DELORES out of the box and went up onto the ice.


Given its length, you would imagine that DELORES would be a rather tricky system to control, but, apart from the turning circle (a couple of hundred metres), it is reasonably easy (at least on soft powdery snow). The hardest bit is ensuring that the transmitter and the receiver, both towed on sledges halfway along their respective antennae, are inline. This will be difficult when surveying the high-resolution grid pattern we have planned for Lake Ellsworth, at least at the start of the season.

I also figured out how to use my new SLR camera today, rather than the pocket digital I have used for pics so far. Chose a good day to do this too - the weather was fabulous, lots of bright sunshine and wispy cloud followed by a breathtaking sunset. Had better make the most of the sunsets, there won't be any once we get in the field; 24 hours of daylight for 2-3 months!

The DASH-7 arrived from the Falklands this afternoon with cargo. Onboard were items that we need here at Rothera before we depart for the field as well as some fragile scientific equipment that couldn't be sent directly to the blue ice runway at Patriot Hills in the Ellsworth Mountains.


29th October 2007

Contrary to popular belief, I am actually here to do some work. Dan and I have sorted out my 'deep-field' clothing today (there are definite advantages to getting down to Rothera early in the season - it allows you first pick of the best stuff!). Tomorrow we concentrate on collecting goodies to supplement our food boxes from Cyril the excellent chef here at Rothera. 3 months supply of chilli peppers is essential.

I was also able to help Ed King out a bit today. The DORIS beacon at Rothera needed some modification and we had to make sure that it had been re-aligned absolutely vertically. This provided me with the opportunity to add to my ever expanding collection of pictures of me surveying in unusual settings.......

28th October 2007

Despite feeling a little bit worse for wear I have finished a draft of my paper. Hurray! It's amazing how productive you can be when you don't have to commute to work!

Just in case you are wondering what life will be like whilst undertaking fieldwork at Lake Ellsworth. BAS staff have provided a little taster of what life is like in the 'deep field'

Useful links for both school kids and their teachers, and some places you could visit if you are interested in knowing more about Antarctica and what it's like to live there:

1. Discovering Antarctica
2. Polar Extremes Exhibition, Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh
3. Ice Station Antarctica, Natural History Museum, London
4. A virtual trip to Antarctica
5. Antarctica - resources for teachers


27th October 2007

Although it is a Saturday, I spent a hard day working on a paper from my PhD that I have been trying to write for about a year. Work hard, play hard, however, and even here in Antarctica there is the opportunity for a bit of Saturday night revelry. Since it was our first Saturday night on base, the Rothera band, formerly known to the world as 'Nunatak', and which seems to comprise just about every single one of the staff that over-wintered, put on a gig in the Sledge Store. It is now quite clear what they did all winter, as they put on a mighty fine show!! The highlight of the show had to be the show-stopping cover of “Danger, High Voltage”.

26th October 2007

After a hard days work in the office preparing our GIS plans for fieldwork, it was time for a bit of weekend relaxation! So, along with two of the other beakers (local term used by the Field Assistants for scientists) Rob and Julian, I put on a pair of skis and headed up the Ramp towards the caboose.

skiing2 Sunset1

The caboose is basically an all weather emergency centre on the Wormald Ice Piedmont near to the ski-way where the aircraft used to land before the runway was built at Rothera, and which is now used mainly as a place to make a cup of tea after skiing up the Ramp! Whilst Rob and Julian carried on up to Vals (the slope above the caboose) to ski down, I made some tea (a rather good excuse to avoid putting any more pressure on the blisters I had acquired on the way up from base). We made it back down the hill, skiing down the Ramp into a fabulous sunset, before it got too dark and the search parties were sent out to look for us.

25th October 2007

NEW: Picture Gallery


24th October 2007

My first night under canvas in Antarctica!!

As part of the BAS field training I was dragged kicking and screaming up the Ramp (a not insubstantial piece of ice to the west of Rothera Station) and made to do exciting things in the outdoors on (and in) snow and ice. This involved learning a) how to get in and out of a crevasse to rescue a member of your field team; b) how to put up a pyramid tent and feed yourself; and c) miscellaneous other useful things important for the field (i.e. how to set up and use the radio – essential for communicating with base).

Neil_in_crevasse Rothera_icebergs

The pyramid tents are quite small, but if you set them up in the right way they are remarkably comfortable, cosy places to live in (although after I am stuck in one for a week due to bad weather I might very well change my opinion on this). Being small means that they are a lot easier to keep warm. The morning view is pretty good too....

There are two important pieces of news relevant to the Lake Ellsworth Project to report:


1) The Twin Otters flew people south to open Sky-Blu, the blue ice runway used as a staging post for inputting field parties into the deep field.

2) The DASH-7 has returned from the Falkland Islands with equipment for the other deep-field parties heading to Pine Island Glacier and the Rutford Ice Stream. More importantly for the Lake Ellsworth project, the plane was also carrying the second member of the Ellsworth field team, Dan Fitzgerald. You should feel sorry for Dan, because a) he is the Field Assistant who has been given the unenviable task of looking after me in the field; b) during this period (nearly 3 months) he will be sharing a tent with me. He really did draw the short straw!

22nd October 2007

Greetings from Rothera (67 34' S, 068 08' W, currently -0.1C). After 3 days of travelling from the UK, we (the 2nd contingent of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) personnel and visiting scientists to fly South this season) finally arrived at Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctic Peninsula.

Antarctic Peninsula

The series of flights south from Santiago (commercial airliners down to Punta Arenas and then on the BAS DASH-7 to Rothera) provided spectacular views of the South Patagonian Icefields and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. Unfortunately, bad weather meant a delay of one day in Punta Arenas, caused by poor weather over the Peninsula. However, this provided ample opportunity to check out Punta, it's surrounding areas and watch the Rugby World Cup final!

DASH-7 @ Rothera

After the enforced R&R in Punta, it has been back to work pretty quickly upon arrival in Rothera, mainly because of things I didn't manage to finish before I headed down here, but also relating to induction training and the start of field training/preparations for those of us departing for the field in the coming weeks. It will certainly be difficult to leave the comfort of Rothera with it's en-suite accomodation and great food (particularly the cakes and treats served during morning "smokos") for 2-3 months in the rather less comfortable deep field!

16th October 2007

The first member of the field team is about to depart for West Antarctica!
Once he gets settled in at Rothera, Neil Ross will be updating this page with news and images from the Geophysical Exploration of Lake Ellsworth.

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