2014/15 Antarctic field season

Better late than never...

I am flying back to Antarctica for another season of work on Sunday and just realised that I still haven't written anything up about my work last season!

So the 2014/15 field season... I was tasked to a project on the Ronne Ice Shelf, code named 'Sledge November'.  In short the projects aim was to investigate the ice dynamics of the ice rises on the Ronne Ice Shelf using radar equipment to gain an insight into the ice and the bed-rock beneath the surface.  

 Antarctica with the area we worked in circled in red.

Antarctica with the area we worked in circled in red.

To explain a bit more about this first you need to know what these terms mean... an ice shelf is a very thick floating sheet of ice joined to the land.  Ice rises are bumps on this floating sheet caused by land mass underneath the floating ice, or in other words an area of elevation on the sea bed.  The presence of these high spots under the ice causes the floating ice to essentially run a-ground forcing it up 100 - 200m above the flat expanse of ice shelf.  This creates interesting ice dynamics as where the ice is floating it moves relatively quickly and where it is grounded it is virtually stationary.  So you get fast moving ice meeting with slow moving ice.  

 P-RES radar in action - many hours spent watching and moving this machine, sometimes in lovely weather like in this image...other times not so much!

P-RES radar in action - many hours spent watching and moving this machine, sometimes in lovely weather like in this image...other times not so much!

For this project I was working with Dr. Jonny Kingslake, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey.  For the field work the team consisted of Jonny and myself.  Jonny obviously being the super intelligent scientist in charge of data collection and analysis and me being the field guide in charge of travel safety, logistics and camp management.  In order to traverse the Ronne via the main ice rises we travelled by skidoo, towing all of our living, safety and scientific equipment on six sledges behind us.  Our journey had been carefully planned by Jonny and myself back in Rothera and we had identified various locations for 200 litre drums of petrol to be deposited using aircraft along our route as it would not have been possible to carry all the necessary fuel with us in one go.

 Noble steed, the faithful V800 skidoo.

Noble steed, the faithful V800 skidoo.

 

BAS has a strong history of operating small travelling teams like this in the Antarctic which allows a huge amount of work to be carried out for considerably less money than a larger team with more equipment who often need re-located using aircraft.  It is an incredible feeling to be dropped off in the middle of such a pristine environment with only one other person and very limited back-up should something go wrong.  Obviously BAS operates with safety as the primary concern however it is important to recognise that when out in areas such as the Ronne help is days away not hours.  Bad weather can and does close in for prolonged periods making it impossible for aircraft to access teams out on the ice - this is part of the appeal and the challenge of work like this.  

Our journey started on the Fowler ice rise where we were dropped by Twin Otter.  On each of the ice rises we visited we had a grid of pre-planned points to survey using the radar equipment and as we travelled overland between the ice rises another radar system was used to gather on-the-go data.

 The twin otter is the backbone of Antarctic field work, it has an incredible load capacity for an aircraft of it's size and can land almost anywhere!

The twin otter is the backbone of Antarctic field work, it has an incredible load capacity for an aircraft of it's size and can land almost anywhere!

We spent a total of 53 days in the field and covered a distance of 3000 km's!  There were some challenging moments during the season with harsh travelling surfaces making progress slow some days and causing damage to some sensitive scientific equipment, but overall the many days spent planning the field work paid off and we achieved what was set out and more.