The Journey Home – Rothera.

Rothera. The tropical paradise so beloved by my fellow tech team-mate Nick. Nick had done two winters at Rothera and was often wont to wax lyrical about its beauty – especially when compared to Halley. Now although I was initially disappointed to leave Halley via a different route the silver lining was the fact that I got to spend a short amount of time in Rothera.

Way back in 2013, when I was a bright-eyed newbie getting ready to head south, I spent a bit of time with quite a few of the people heading off to winter there and I looked forward to saying hello as well as just wanting to see the place. Before getting the post at Halley I’d obsessed about all the BAS bases and I’d love to visit them all.

So first on that list – Rothera, what’s all the fuss about?

Well first off it is pretty much as beautiful as folk had said. Snow covered peaks surrounding a bay full of ice bergs and wildlife – what’s not to love about that?

Rothera

Rothera

As well as it being pretty scenic (bit of an understatement) it was really nice just to actually walk on solid ground after so long floating on ice.

Rothera

Rothera

Not a bad old view if you’re living at Rothera eh?

As well as some cracking views the place has its other attractions.My personal favourite has got to be the wildlife – you know stuff other than humans that are alive. This was something that, apart from the coolest animal on the planet – The Emperor Penguin, has been in short supply during my time south. On the whole I’ve been in a world where, apart from visiting skuas or petrels or seemingly lost and confused Adelie penguins there’s not so much as a bacterium. Rothera however, even during a bit of a quite spell, is full of all sorts of stuff flying, swimming, waddling or just sleeping.

antarctic fur seal

The gravel  and rock beaches surrounding the base have the appearance of some sort of after party with various seal party casualties sprawled all over the place.

antarctic fur seal

antarctic fur seal

antarctic fur seal

antarctic fur sealThe fur seals, especially, appear to be recovering from some sort of crazy weekend.

weddell sealGot to see a serene looking Weddell seal too.

The other seals lazing around everywhere are the Elephant seals. If you’ve heard anything about elephant seals then you’ll know that they are big. Really big. You still don’t get just how big though, until you’ve seen one. The bigger males seem to be roughly the size of a long wheelbase van.  The ones I saw were females and younger adult males – so none of the full size beach-master monsters unfortunately.

elephant seal

The smaller females (still pretty big by the way) are much more photogenic than the males and also seem to be better mannered.

elephant seal

elephant seal

elephant sealThe males seemed to be quite a bit less gentile. Growling, burping and farting pretty much constantly – you don’t need to get too close before you can smell them. Stench aside though they are fairly impressive animals. Hopefully one day I get to go see a full breeding colony of these giants, complete with the colossal mature males and their proboscis like noses and dramatic, violent disputes. I could live without smelling them again though…

imperial shag

They have other stuff in Rothera too. Birds. Lots of em.

Like the Imperial Shag shown above.

adelie penguinPlenty of pingus knocking about too. Lots of them moulting and looking none too dignified.

Antarctic birdNo idea what the young fella above is.

There you have it. Rothera is quite good. Alright it’s fairly spectacular. Obviously more classically scenic than the desolation of the Brunt ice shelf but still pretty good.

It was nice to see the contented look on Nicks face too!

next up: The RSS James Clark Ross

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The Journey Home – the first flight out.

Towards the back-end of February it started to become a little touch and go as to whether the Shack would actually get in to Halley and pick us (summer staff and outgoing winterers) all up. The sea ice in the Weddell sea was really starting to form thicker and thicker and every day it was going to be harder and harder to get through.

So, as two ALCI baslers were due to fly through Halley on their way back to Canada BAS booked as many of us as they could to get on board and fly out to Rothera and my name came up on the list.

To be honest I wasn’t the happiest camper about this turn of events and I was wandering around base with a bit of a scowl on my face for a few days. First of all I’m still not overly enamoured with flying – and going out this way meant a lot of that! Secondly I felt really disappointed to miss out on going out in the traditional manner – on the deck of the Shack, waving goodbye to the 2015 winterers who would be waving us off on the ice shelf – the same way we did the previous year and I was keen to see out the whole experience with my fellow 2014 winter team – or the eight of us that were left with ten-day cruise through the sea ice and a visit to the Falklands.

As it turns out I was a little bit wrong! Wrong to be such a mardy-arse about the whole thing and wrong because I actually got the sweeter deal than those left behind. The twenty or so left at Halley ended up having to come out in a similar way to us, flying to Rothera and then going up to South America. So sorry to all those who had to put up with being grumpy!

First part of the trip involved getting into one of these beauties:

ACLI Basler DC3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACLI Basler DC3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALCI – or Antarctic Logistics Centre International run a number of planes down here in the summer months carrying goods and people around the continent from on base to another and then they spend the winter back home in Canada.

The two Basler planes are updated versions of the DC-3 which have been flying since 1936! The plane I flew out on saw service during WW2 and was involved in the Normandy landings! They really are cool looking aircraft, when talking about them to people back home I described them as “Indiana Jones” planes.

Despite having the chance to fly a Twin Otter earlier in the season I still had a residual bit of “flying freak out” going on (though this seems to now have gone thanks to the “immersion therapy” of the trip home) In spite of this I was still aware of just how amazingly cool it is to fly in one of these aircraft across the Weddell sea and some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet on my way to Rothera.

So I wouldn’t go as far as saying I enjoyed but it was pretty bloody amazing!

next up: Rothera – otherwise know as the promised land!

Flying!

A while ago I got the chance to go out into the field in a BAS Twin Otter. This is a pretty rare treat for us at Halley but for me it was a bit odd. I’m not too fond of flying (in fact it freaks me out completely) but there was no way I wanted to pass up the chance to fly across Antarctica!

So, setting aside my nerves I got ready to head out and see my first bit of solid land for over a year. A field party was on the way out to the Shackleton range of mountains about two hours by plane further into the continent. Two Twin Otter aicraft were set up to do a couple of rotations out to the site taking out all the kit for the camp, skidoos and sledges and the kit needed for research. The journey out would be with passengers and then the trip back would need an extra person as a co-pilot – me!

antarctic twin otter pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The take off and quick flight up to around eight thousand feet gave fantastic views of the area surrounding base with some of the features I’ve been out to visit such as The Gatekeeper immediately obvious from the air. We flew off to the east and the views down onto the continent were spectacular. Glaciers spilling down to become ice shelf and huge areas of crevassing many kilometres long were all clearly visible. Some of the areas of ice, with long dark rents in the surface looked like an image taken by an electron microscope.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, after a few hours flying I spotted land, actual land, away in the distance!

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shackleton mountains, where the group of scientists we were dropping off were staying in pyramid tents for the next few weeks. They were taking rock samples from the exposed slopes of these mountains. Most of the mountains were buried under two thousand metres of ice,  with another two thousand feet left sticking out above.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the mountains had peaks and valleys with small glaciers flowing downhill. Also dotted around the landscape were smaller, more isolated Nunataks. Then in some areas of the range were huge plateaus, themselves covered with ice, like a miniature version of the Antarctic plateau itself, rising another few hundred metres above the rock.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far so good but now the journey gets cooler. For the trip back I was the co-pilot. This meant I actually got to fly the plane back to Halley!  Mark, the pilot, put me at my ease and was quick to point out that there wasn’t anything I could do that he couldn’t take care of immediately, gave me a quick lesson and handed over the controls. Now, I’m not going to pretend I was doing anything complicated, I was just keeping the aircraft at the right height, right speed, flying in the right direction (most of the time) and was the right way up in the sky but bloody hell – flying  a plane over Antarctica! That’s not something you get to do everyday is it?

On the way back we flew closer to the coast on our approach to Halley so I managed to get a good view of the rumples and the creeks before coming down into Halley and seeing the base and the surrounding area once again.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you go, another anecdote that I’ll be telling over and over when I get back because it’s  bloody awesome – “this one time, I piloted a twin otter across Antarctica….”

 

Speaking to Meadowlark Elementary, Kansas

Last month I had the chance to speak to the fifth grade class at Meadowlark elementary school in Andover, Kansas, after some of the teachers there got in touch with me. They were keen to know about life down here, about climate change and about how it affects things in Antarctica. This is not something I’ve not done much of and I was both thrilled and a little bit nervous about talking to a big group of people and telling them about what I’ve been up to.

kansas1Before our talk they sent through some information about Kansas, with some history, things to do and places to visit such as Dodge City and the Space Museum – somewhere I’d like to visit if I got the chance. They also sent some really cool facts – such as the fact that Amelia Earhart was from there, Kansas is right in the centre of the U.S. and more bizarre things such as the fact that it was one illegal in Kansas to eat ice cream on cherry pie!

I managed to send some pictures through and arranged a time to call. Richard the Halley metbabe and resident climate expert joined me to provide some scientific knowledge to go along my enthusiastic but slightly less knowledgeable rambling.

So, with a slideshow of pictures and an audience to speak to we both sat huddled up to the telephone, excited but hoping that things would go smoothly – we both have strange accents (though mines cooler than Richards apparently!)and we are on a satellite uplink thousands of miles away that can sometimes have quite big delays, so we hoped we would come across nice and clearly.

school2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We showed them some pictures of our crazy looking house, talked about the history of Halley and told them a little about what we get up to both at work and when we get chanced to head out into the great white beyond. And of course we showed them some cute penguin pictures!

school3

 

 

 

 

 

 

school1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spoke a little bit about why it’s so cold here and why everything here is dominated by ice.

The questions we got from the kids were great. Some really intelligent ones and some that made Richard think quite hard for an answer! They also laughed at some of my jokes, which was nice.

Richard and I had a great time and before we knew it well over an hour had passed and we had to get off the phone and back to work!

To say it was cool chatting away was an understatement. It was great being able to share what we’re up to.

To Mrs Moss, Ms. Hoopes, Mrs Loy and Mrs Smokorwski thank you for getting in touch and then listening to the two of us waffle on and show off a bit!

And to the kids in the fifth grade we spoke to – thank you so much for the great questions and for making it such fun. It was a real highlight speaking to you guys. Hopefully in a few years one of you might be down here in this insanely beautiful place chatting with another group of kids far way across the planet!

 

Why is Antarctica so Cold?

A very special treat now with a guest post on the climate of Antarctica from the resident Halley MetBabe (atmospheric scientist) Richard “Captain Awesome” Warren.

 

Just why is Antarctica SO cold?!

A common question to ask is “Why is Antarctica so cold, even so much colder than the Arctic? North Pole and South Pole should both be as cold as each other right?” Wrong!

To understand why Antarctica is so much colder, we need to first know why places are warm or cold in the first place.

Hottest and Coldest Places

Look at the image below. It is a map that shows the mean global temperature, with the equator drawn in the middle. Based on the fact that the sun warms the equator most and the poles the least, you would expect the equator to be warmest and the poles to be coldest. As you can see this is generally true, however, note exceptions to the rule. Canada, Greenland and North-eastern Russia are much colder than the ocean between them, and there is a very cold patch to the North-east of India. Antarctica too is exceedingly cold, whereas India itself, North Australia and parts of North Africa are even warmer than the equator.

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Atmospheric Circulation

2So what makes these places warmer or colder than they should be? There are many reasons, but the first thing to understand is how heat moves around the earth. If you stand next to something warm like a radiator, you’ll notice that you can feel the warmth much more by putting your hand above it, rather than below it. This is because warm air rises, and cold air sinks.

 

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If you warm air up it becomes less dense than the air around it, and this causes it to rise, exactly how a hot air balloon rises by trapping a balloon-full of hot, and therefore less dense, air. As air rises and moves away from the source of heat, it cools and becomes denser, and sinks. This circulation from a heat source is called convection. The picture of the radiator in the room is very simple but the principle is exactly the same with the Earth.

The equator is warmed by the sun; the air rises into the atmosphere and moves away from the equator. Here it cools, and descends back to ground level and makes its way back to the equator. The circulation is actually more complicated than this, but it gives you the basic idea of how air moves heat around the Earth.

Based on this, Antarctica should be as cold as the Arctic, as they are the same distance away from the radiator, or the heat source at the equator. As we know however, Antarctica is much colder. Now we’re going to have a quick look at other places that are different too, and once we understand why these differ, we will look at Antarctica again.

 

 

Land vs. Sea

So why are Russia, Canada and Greenland colder than the ocean between them?

Unfortunately, here it gets more complicated! There are other factors at work besides just the circulation in the atmosphere.

Land vs. Sea

  • Have you ever run a bath that was too hot, left it for a while to cool down, yet half an hour later the water is still really warm? Yet if you take a tray out of the oven, 10 minutes later it is cool enough to touch?
  • Water takes much longer to warm up than a solid. If you leave a pebble and a bowl of water in the sun for 1 hour, the pebble will be much warmer than the water.
  • Again, simple principle, but the same with Earth. An ocean will take much longer to warm up than the land, yet it remains warm for longer when the heat source is removed. Warm water in the ocean flows from the equator to the pole, similar to the air in the atmosphere. Whereas the air will be cold by the time it reaches the pole, the water will still be quite warm.
  • Therefore, large land masses such as Russia and Canada get VERY cold in winter when the sun disappears, but can actually be quite warm in summer when the sun warms them up.
  • In comparison, the UK is a small country surrounded by the ocean. Based on how far away from the equator it is, we could expect it to have a mean temperature of between 0 and -10oC, such as central Russia or Canada which are the same distance away. However, the ocean that surrounds the UK warms up slower than the land in summer which has a cooling effect, and cools down slower than the land in winter, having a warming effect. This gives the UK a fairly mild mean temperature of +10oC (thank goodness!). Central Canada and Russia are too far from the sea to feel this moderating effect, and therefore have much more extreme temperatures.

To demonstrate this point, let’s compare the winter temperatures of London and Calgary which are both at 51oN, i.e., the same distance from the equator. London, as I’m sure you know, sits on the Thames estuary where it meets the North Sea, which will be quite mild in winter. On the other hand, Calgary is 600 kilometres from the nearest ocean. The coldest ever recorded temperature in London is a chilly -10oC whereas in Calgary, the coldest temperature is a frost bitingly cold -45oC. Yes this  -45oC was a one off, but still the average low temperature for the winter months in Calgary is -12oC, meaning that on average, every December, January and February in Calgary gets colder than London has ever been.

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The works in reverse too, as shown with countries such as France on the right. The north coast is influenced by the next-door and quite mild North Sea, which also influences London. Compare this to the much warmer southern coast which is in contact with the Mediterranean Sea, a very warm body of water. Notice how quickly the average temperature changes when you move away from either coast.

The temperature difference of Calgary with London is partly due to proximity to the ocean, but there are other factors involved too. London is basically at sea level, whereas Calgary sits at 1100m. Looking at the map of France as well, those cold pockets in the south east stand out from the warm temperatures around them. You may have realised that these are the mountains of the Alps and the Massif Central. Let’s see how altitude can affect temperature.

 

Low vs. High

So, close to a warm ocean and close to the equator are the warmest places? Nope, not exactly. Don’t worry I haven’t lied; we just haven’t seen the whole picture yet. Meet Cotopaxi, not only less than one degree from the equator but also within sight of the warm central Pacific Ocean. It is however, covered in snow. How does this work then?

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A snow covered mountain seems like such an ordinary thing yet when you think about it, why are mountain tops cold enough to be covered in snow when the land around them is so      much warmer? It is due to something called the Lapse Rate.

 

 

Remember our friend convection? Well it happens all over the place; air doesn’t just rise at the equator. Quick recap on atmospheric convection:

12The rate at which the air cools is called the lapse rate. Generally, this is about 0.6oC per 100m. What that means, is that for every 100m higher you go, it will get 0.6oC colder. When you consider that Cotopaxi is almost 6000m high, that means the summit of the volcano is roughly 36oC colder than the air at sea level. Quite a change in temperature!

The most striking examples of this from the mean temperature map are the Himalayas, and the Andes mountain range which runs down the west coast of South America. Look back at the mean temperature map at the Himalayas and note how warm next-door neighbour India is, or look at the Andes, and note the warm ocean to the west, and very hot rainforests of Peru and Bolivia to the East.

Putting all this together, let’s consider what we have learnt so far:

  • It is warmer near the equator.
  • Coastal areas are influenced by the temperature of the nearby ocean.
  • Coastal areas have less extreme temperatures than continental areas.
  • The higher you are, the colder it is.

 

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The two plots above show the mean daily temperatures, and the topography of the United States of America. Compare the two, bearing in mind the lapse rate, and notice how the mid-western states are much colder than those around them. Conveniently, this is where the Rocky Mountain Range is located which has many peaks above 4000m. With a lapse rate of 0.6oC for every 100m, how much colder would it be at 4000m that at sea level?

Look even closer and you’ll notice that apart from the very north, almost all of the coldest mean daily temperatures occur where the large mountain ranges are located. Notice also the warm yellow strip poking north in California (south-western most state) that correlates to a deep valley running between two mountain ranges?

Last thing to spot, is that the south east has a warmer mean temperature than the south west. Yes the south east is generally lower than the south west, but there is something else going on here to. The south east coast is on the shore of the Caribbean; a warm shallow sea, compared to the cooler, deeper Pacific Ocean on the west coast. As we saw before, the sea can have a noticeable effect on the temperatures, especially in winter, when the land cools down quickly yet the sea remains warm. Therefore the winters in California get much colder than the winters in Florida, which has a warmer adjacent sea. There is another way in which the sea affects the land, which is the last thing we are going to have a look at.

That just about wraps up altitude, so the last thing to look at is humidity.

Dry vs. Wet

OK, so one last look at the annual mean temperature graph. Until now, we have gone on the assumption that the further you go from the equator, the colder it gets. The equator gets the most intense sun, and therefore should be warmer. Look at areas like the Sahara desert in North Africa and you’ll see there is actually a belt of the warmest mean annual temperatures in the world at 30oN and 30oS.

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The other figure shows the mean cloud cover, or how much of the sky is on average, covered by clouds. Look at the similarities, because they are striking.

Where are the hottest and coldest temperatures? North Africa, North Australia, Saudi Arabia are the hottest, Greenland and Antarctica are the coldest.

Where are the driest places? North Africa, North Australia, Saudi Arabia, central Greenland and Antarctica.

There is a remarkable correlation between cloud cover and mean annual temperature. To understand why, we need to recall the process of convection, and understand a new one called humidity.

Humidity refers to how much water the air is holding. The warmer the air is, the more water it can hold as invisible water vapour, and the colder the air is, the less water it can hold. When the air is “full” of water and cannot hold anymore, it is at 100% humidity, and known as “saturated”.

You will have noticed this in the past but maybe not known that humidity was to blame. Every time you breathe out, you breathe out water vapour. If you don’t believe me, breathe on a window and you’ll see water droplets form on the glass. Normally, you don’t notice this because the air is not saturated and the moisture in your breath stays as invisible water vapour. However when it is really cold outside, the air cannot hold very much water, i.e., it is nearly saturated or full of water. When you add more water vapour to the air, it condenses, and you can see the tiny water droplets hanging in the air.

The same happens in the atmosphere; as air rises from convection, it cools and suddenly cannot hold as much water vapour. Any excess water vapour then condenses to form clouds. The air above the clouds has therefore lost part of its water content, and is drier than before.

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Remember when I said that atmospheric circulation is actually more complicated? Well we’re going to understand a little more about it now, but don’t worry, we’re almost done!

True to convection, the equator being where the most intense solar heating occurs, this is the area where most air begins to rise into the atmosphere as you can see on the left. As it rises, it cools and cannot hold as much water vapour; hence it condenses and forms clouds. Remember the cloud picture from before? There is a nice strip across the equator of high percentage cloud cover to confirm this. Now this cloud has an interesting effect, as it actually cools the surface below, since it keeps it in shade. It feels hot though; that sort of horrible, sweaty, muggy heat that you associate with rainforests and tropical countries, which is due to the humid, saturated air that is very hot, and therefore is holding lots of water. The high water content is what makes it feel very muggy.

 

 

When the air that rose at the equator descends which is typically at 30oN and 30oS, as it has lost some of its water it is much drier, and therefore clouds are much less common in these areas. This allows the sun, although it is less intense than at the equator, to burn down without any clouds blocking it. Very hot, dry air at the ground without clouds above to provide much rain gives us deserts, and where are the biggest deserts? All 30oN or 30oS of the equator, where the hottest mean annual temperatures are.

If you look at the boundary of the Ferrel and Polar Cells in the picture above, you’ll see that there is another area of rising air which, if you follow the arrows, descends over the North and South Poles. Using what we know from the deserts nearer the equator about what happens when air descends, this is very dry air that is arriving at the poles. However rather than allowing the sun to burn down without any cloud blocking it, since the poles face away from the sun and therefore get very little sunlight anyway, it actually allows heat to escape. View clouds as like a moderator; when it is hot they cool things down by blocking direct sunlight, and when it is cold they keep the heat in like a blanket.

Think of a frosty winter morning. The sky is almost always clear right? If there were any clouds over head during the night, they keep the ground warm and frost doesn’t form. If there are no clouds overnight, heat from the ground can escape so that it is cold enough for frost.

On a global scale then, we have bands of relatively humid and cloudy weather where the air rises, and bands of very dry and cloudless weather where the air, having cooled so that it is denser than the air below, sinks back to surface level. Antarctica is located at the end of one of these “Polar Cells”, where the air is very dry.

Conclusion: Antarctica vs. The Arctic

So let’s review:

  • The further from the equator you go, the colder it gets.
  • The further from the ocean you go, the more extreme the temperatures get.
  • The higher you go, the colder it gets.
  • The drier it gets, the more extreme the temperatures get

Both the Arctic and the Antarctic experience large periods of the year when, due to the tilt of the Earth, they face away from the sun and experience total darkness for months. This is key, as both are as far as each other from the heat source at the equator, and receive the same amount of sunlight each year, which continent gets colder in its winter, and stays cold in summer?

 

Factor The Arctic The Antarctic Which is colder?
How far from the equator? Centred on the geographical North Pole, as far north as you can go Centred on the geographical South Pole, as far south as you can go Draw
Influence from land/sea? The Arctic is not land; it is floating ice on the Arctic Ocean which grows in winter and shrinks in summer. The ocean, although very cold, retains some heat without the sun in winter. Large continent with huge masses of ice on top of it. Has a coast but the centre of the continent is hundreds of miles from any ocean, especially as the sea ice in winter grows up to 400km away and doubles the size of the continent.. No additional warmth from the ocean, loses heat very quickly without the sun. Antarctica
What is the altitude? Virtually sea level, the sea ice doesn’t rise more than a few feet above sea level. Elevation at the North Pole is 2 metres of ice. On average, is the highest continent. Elevation at the South Pole is 3000m of solid vertical ice, sitting on bedrock 100m thick. Antarctica
How humid is it? Air typically descends and therefore is dry, although the surrounding Arctic Ocean does provide some moisture in the air. Air typically descends and therefore is dry. Due to the higher elevation and distance from ocean, this air is very dry indeed. Antarctica

 

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We know that Antarctica is the coldest continent, and hopefully now, we know why it is the coldest. For final confirmation, look at Greenland. Despite being in the Arctic Ocean and very far north, it has many of the characteristics of Antarctica such as it is ice on top of land not sea, and that the ice reaches a very high elevation.

As with everything in meteorology, there are always more factors to consider. For further influences on the temperatures or overall climate of Antarctica, consider looking up “The Albedo Effect”, and “The Polar Vortex”.

Winter Trips. The Sequel. Part Five.

Yes. Yes it is this Blue!

 

Didn’t bother with the symbol.

Yay, it’s the fifth and final part of my winter trip tale. Dragged it out a bit I suppose! As is traditional I’ll leave my favourite bit till last – though you may not agree (penguin chicks are hard to beat).

After a layup in the tent we awoke to a fairly reasonable day – not perfect by any means, with a cloudy sky and a touch of wind. But good enough to get out of bed and get outside. About a kilometre away from the tent heading down into one of the creeks was an ice cliff with a huge wind scoop in front, quite far back from the tide crack between sea ice and shelf.  This was a good spot for a bit of ice climbing.  It was also a perfect place to practice using our crampons and axes., climbing up the steep but not vertical walls of the wind scoop using the different techniques, with Al providing tips and instructions on the correct use. Some of these were pretty basic such as how to use the toes of the crampons to dig into the ice and how to descend back down again with your feet in different positions and angles to the ice. We also practiced fall arrest techniques using ice axes. It was a good place to get a feel for the ice itself – some of which is solid, some really brittle and the different methods you would use when dealing with each type – some will let you smash the axe or your crampons straight in and give a good solid hold, other bits will shatter and huge chunks will fall off and skitter downwards. We also used some ice screws, long threaded bits of steel that from anchors in the ice for you to rope on to.  After quite a while down in the wind scoop and on some of it’s gentle sides – where we learned loads, we set up the ropes and began climbing the cliff.  I mentioned it before after the last time I did a spot of ice climbing but you use muscles that don’t often get a workout. Your forearms quickly end up exhausted. This, coupled with the fact that your arms are always above your head (and heart), you are gripping the axes tightly and the extreme cold mean it can quickly become very difficult. The blood flow and circulation in your arms and hands is limited by all of the above factors.  About six feet away from the top and I could no longer feel my hands at all – which is a bit of a disadvantage when trying to hold your bodyweight on the handle of an axe. I did manage to get to the top though! Upon reaching the top Al asked how my arms were to which I replied “numb”.  His answer – “You’ll feel em in a minute”

 

Feel em I did. From being held above me, working hard and freezing to the point of numbness your muscles then fill back up with blood, getting pumped up in the way muscles do after a hard workout. Let me tell you. This really hurts!  The hot aches or screaming barfies as they are known in North America (because they make you want to scream and barf at the same time) are a bit like when you are a kid and you’ve been playing out in the snow, making snowballs and then you come back inside and your fingers warm up too quickly giving you a painful pins and needles type of feeling. Well, like that but times a thousand. I was, a bit pathetically, on my knees at the top of the climb trying to “find a happy place” for about five minutes afterwards.

 

I didn’t take any photos of all this climbing malarkey because I was either having too much fun or  a hundred foot up an ice wall (or both). So you’ll just have to imagine that bit.

Once we’d packed up our gear though we decided to have another little jaunt out onto the sea ice and head off in a new direction to see what we could see. As I mentioned the weather wasn’t bad but it was really cloudy. The sun was attempting to shine through but it was really overcast. This made the whole place spectacular. Monumentally spectacular.  Everything you could see, from the cliffs to the ice to the cloudy sky was a shade of blue. A few people have said that the pictures I’ve posted don’t look real – well the ones I took here are even more so. I wish I could post up the high quality photos but the bandwidth just wont let me!

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

 

Yes. Yes it was this blue.

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

Travelling round this lot just takes your breath away. I got all excited about the sea ice as I travelled through on the ship coming down and I’ve been blown away by it’s other-worldliness  each and everytime I’ve been out for a look around but this is just something else.

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

I could try and explain how I was just walking around in a trance staring at all this but the words wouldnt do it justice – the pictures are better but they are still a long way from what it feels like to stand out on the sea looking at all this.

You can see the colour but it was o much more than the pictures show – like thye blueness was was coming from everywhere at once. Then you add the immense scale and the eerie scilence and words don’t stand a chance.

 

So loads more piccies then!

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

 

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

sea ice antarctica

In the words of Rutger Hauer “I’ve seen things you people wouldnt believe” Unlike the Blade Runner replicant though – I took pictures.

 

And lastly – just a little hint of penguin.

sea ice antarctica

 

Well, that was all about my latest excursion out into the great blue yonder!  I’ve been pretty lucky – the two pairs before us didnt really get much of a trip out to speak of and the two after me have only got a few days at windy caboose. Fingers crossed for the next lot. Hope they get to see what I’ve seen!

 

 

Winter Trip. The Sequel. Part Three.

Next installment!

After a night in the sweat-box Windy Caboose we had breakfast, tidied up and made plans for the day. John, my partner on this trip had missed his last one and still (after being south a few times)  had still not seen the Hinge zone on any of his trips.  Hinge zone it was then!

We set off on the long journey that would take us back up to the base and then beyond. The route from windy to base is a well-travelled one and we were riding the doos un-roped. Once past base and away southwards towards the continent we stopped, harnesses up and roped all our sledges and skidoos together. This form of travel is a lot less relaxed for a few reasons.

Firstly you need to concentrate a lot more – you don’t want the rope too slack or it will be pointless (if a skidoo fell through into a crevasse it would fall further, meaning more shock-loading) or it can get tangled up in the skidoo itself. Too taut a rope and you end up getting a tow from the doo in front – pulling all that extra weight will quickly damage it.  It’s a fine line between the two and you have to constantly match you speed to the doo in front, something that’s easy on a flat road, slightly harder on a sastrugi laden ice shelf.

The second reason this method of travel is not as relaxed is the actual reason we have to rope up – crevasses. Huge slots in the ice that can be covered over with just enough snow to be hidden, or be completely open yet still impossible to see until you’re right on top of them!

The first big feature you come to when travelling to the hinge zone is Gatekeeper. A known large crevasse  with a section in the middle that narrows and has a very large and stable snow bridge across. Well, that was the last description of gatekeeper from the last visit there about five months ago. Things change!

gatekeeper crevasse

We got within ten or twenty metres of where the crossing was, Al stopped and did a bit of a recce. I sat about twenty metres or so back and really couldn’t tell what he was looking at all.  He turned back with a funny look on his face, waving his arms…

 

 

I roped up and walked down towards whatever Al was looking at, tied to a skidoo.

gatekeeper crevasse

 

From the pic above you can tell that there’s not much to see right?

gatekeeper crevasse

This was the view once I looked in. The photo is deceptive – this thing was deep!  Also, the bottom is definitely not the bottom and could be just one of numerous false floors going down.

 

gatekeeper crevasse

This is the view straight across, I couldn’t see any of this  from less than ten metres away! The far crevasse is where the bridge used to be. This has now slumped in as the gap widened. Another slot has opened up in front leaving an island in the centre. The whole thing is a good fifty metres wide!

gatekeeper crevasse

Above is the view to the right.

gatekeeper crevasse

And to the left!

 

The photos just don’t look that impressive compared to the real thing. This whole feature was stretching out for kilometres making it virtually impassable.

Late last year Al had been down with one of the previous years wintering crew and abseiled down in to Gatekeeper. They had thrown in eighty metres of rope and still not even been able to see any bottom!

So sadly the Hinge was not to be for John. The whole area will have to be looked at in the summer and a new route found to get to the hinge.

We turned around (very carefully!) and set off back down towards the coast. Time was moving on and we decided to get back down to the creeks area, set up a base camp and venture out from there to other destinations.

Setting up camp takes a few hours and this then left us a bit of time to once again venture out onto the sea ice.

antarctic sea ice

antarctic sea ice

antarctic sea ice

A small crevasse from the side (still big enough for a human to disappear and die in mind you).  Small cracks can quickly turn into something the size of a valley given the forces that are acting on the ice – moving along at a rate of four hundred metres a year, with trillions of tonnes pushing it.

 

antarctic sea ice

All this ice will of course break off when it reaches the calving face and any weakness or lines of stress in the ice will be right where it breaks. Sometimes this will lead to icebergs as big as small countries breaking off in one go – something that could well have left the old Halley V base floating away on a berg if a known fault line had actually split (this is one of the reasons BAS needed a new Halley). In other cases the ice might just get to the front and just break apart in small pieces and drop down on to the sea ice like a landslip or rockfall. Of course when I say small you have to bear in mind that some of the “little” blocks of ice that fall off will weigh thousands of tonnes!

antarctic sea ice

 

antarctic sea ice

The shelf ice breaking off in winter will fall down onto the sea ice. Some of the huge falls will then smash into the sea ice, either causing it to break and then reform or send out shock waves across it making huge cracks – like someone hitting safety glass with a hammer.

antarctic sea ice

These cracks can be pretty big too. They can pull apart and re-freeze like this. Or, the ice can be smashed back together again Leaving great chunks sticking up.

antarctic sea ice

 

Some of the ice though looks more like volcanic rock and seems to flow  rather than fall into the sea ice.

antarctic sea ice

DSC_0767

Some areas look like they’ve been whipped up like ice cream.

antarctic sea ice

or been chipped away an shaped with a giant chisel or adze.

antarctic sea ice

 

Then there’s the merangue-like over-hangs (overhangues?) Some of these are thirty metres tall – made of just blown snow and ice sticking together. Sticking out quite a way from the cliff tops these must end up weight huge amounts, some of them actually look impossible – like that are defying gravity. ALthough they look quite fluffly when your trying to get through one from below when climbing, or trying to break one from above looking for a place to abseil they actually seem more like concrete!

antarctic sea ice

antarctic sea ice

And lastly of course…. more of the locals.

antarctic sea ice

 

 

 

After a trip out eastwards on the sea ice we still had explore the west. And also fancied a trip to the Rumples!

That’s all coming up next in the winter trip sequel!!