2012/13 Antarctic Field Season

I’ve been back at Rothera for a couple of weeks now after spending the previous two and a half months “deep field” working on two different scientific project in the Ellsworth Mountains. I left base at the start of November shortly before things got really busy and the bulk of the summer staff arrived and since arriving back I have been reminded of how painfully slow the internet is during the Antarctic summer with the increased number of people on base, hence very little activity on my blog.

So my season comprised of two separate projects…the first was on the Fletcherpiedmont, 50km North of Mount Vinson (the highest mountain in Antarctica - 4892m). I was at this site for two weeks, working with Icelandic Glaciologist Gudfinna Adalgeirsdottir (known as Tolly). The job was to carry out a re-survey of the glacier using groundpenetratingradar equipment to determine the movements and changes occurring under the ice. The area was very benign in terms of crevassing so my role was that of camp manager and general assistant to Tolly in her work.

Fletcher was also the site of a large ice core drilling project last year and as part of the on-going data collection we carried out temperature measurements of the 650m drill hole. This was a very slow process whereby we lowered the instrument 5m, waited an hour for it to settle, then began reading that took half an hour to complete, before lowering another 5m and repeating the process. The first thing to do however was to raise the depot of kit that had been left at the site from the previous year, including our skidoo. There had been over 1m 20cm of snow accumulation since last season so there was a fair bit of digging to do.

We had a lot of work to do in a short space of time so it was a very intense couple of weeks but with a successful outcome. Thank you to Tolly for being a fantastic companion for the project, and for all the delicious Icelandic chocolate she brought with her and kindly shared with me!

The second project that I was working on was deeper into the Ellsworth Mountains in The Horseshoe Valley. This project was a joint Edinburgh and Northumbria University collaboration with BAS providing the logistical support. There were six of us working together; David Sugden and Andy Hein from Edinburgh University, John Woodward and Stuart Dunning from Northumbria University and Malcolm Airey and myself as Field Assistants with BAS. The aim of the project was essentially to identify and understand the formation of blue ice morraines and then to use this information to work out how stable the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is.

The guys used a variety of different skills and techniques as part of the data collection including ground penetrating radar, un-manned aerial vehicles (UAV), laser scanning, detailed GPS measurements and rock sampling.

We carried out the above work in 3 core locations: Patriot Hills, Independence Hills and Marble Hills. During the 2 month project we kept the same camp site and commuted to the various areas. Patriot hills was the closest with a 10km round trip, Independence was 20km round trip and Marble was 30km round trip - just to give an idea of the daily travel involved.

I was also lucky enough to be able to summit several stunning peaks in the area in the search of rock samples. This included ascents of Mount Simmons, Mount Fordell and an un-named, and potentially un-climbed peak next to the stunning Minaret Peak (seen at the far right of the photo below).

Rather than write a massively detailed account of the season I thought it would be better (easier!) to put up some photos. Malcolm also made a short video of our time at Horseshoe which gives a nice insight into our time there.

Finally a massive thank you to all those involved in the season,particularlythe four scientists David, John, Stuart and Andy for being such good company for two months and for providing me with a reason to work in such a beautiful place!