Monday, 3 March 2014

Rothera International Airport

A mid-season visit. The plane crashed on take-off last year and was repaired in situ before being flown out
ALCI Basler C-GEAI after repairs
BAS Twin Otter leaving northbound (no skis)
The view from the lab window
BAS Dash 7 landing
Borek Basler in Canadian colours
Borek Twin Otter
Perhaps a tad on the snowy side
ALCI Basler
AWI Basler
Ken Borek Twin Otter. The nose is stubbier than the BAS Twin Otters.
Two transiting Borek Baslers
Rothera is the hub for BAS air operations across western Antarctica. As such Twin Otter flights are regular, delivering or collecting people and kit and restocking fuel depots. With wheel-skis they can land on the solid runways and on snow. The Dash 7 also flies south to Ski Blu, landing on the blue-ice runway with wheels. Early and late in the season, and sometimes in between, many planes from other operators transit through Rothera. Stopping here allows them to take off their skis before the long haul to Punta Arenas in Chile. Planes with board-skis can land on the snow skiway just off base, change to wheel-skis, hop down to base and the change again to wheels.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Fossil Bluff - the surroundings

Belemnite Fossil, fairly common in some areas
Frost-shattered rock. Fossil Bluff includes many glacial and periglacial featured that you're encouraged to imagine on geography field trips happening 10-20,000 years earlier in the Lake District.
The glacier feeding into Belemnite Valley. The aspect makes it asymmetrical, with greater loss from the north-facing side
Lots of Belemnites
A light dusting of snow near the cottage
Looking towards Pyramid (750m high, mostly scree). A horseshoe walk is possible around the corrie glacier
Lichen, other than a single skua this was the only other living thing we found (mould in the kitchen excluded)
Looking towards Pyramid
Looking over the base (hidden) towards Succession Cliffs
Bivalve fossils
Glacier, largely covered in debris from the slopes
The view from the veranda

The stunning surroundings around Fossil Bluff. It certainly lives up to
its name.

Fossil Bluff - base and planes

A transiting plane taking off from the skiway
Bluebell Cottage, Fossil Bluff.
Inside the cottage, water tank and sink. Warm water is from the kettle
Bunks, cooking and eating area
The radio area
Cooking and food area. There used to be an aga where the reflex stove now is
Remains of two muskegs - predecessors of skidoos but too heavy
Plane arriving for refuelling

Fossil Bluff is now a manned fuel depot about 200 miles south of Rothera. It was first occupied, including for several winters, as a base for geological fieldwork on Alexander Island and the Peninsula across the sound. Work for those staying (normally two or three people) is hourly weather obs for flying and refuelling planes passing through to or from further afield. The skiway is just some firm snow (unless it gets too warm, it has gone soft in summer some years), there are no vehicles to groom it.

Other than that there is some good walking and domestic cooking and cleaning jobs. There is a reflex stove that runs on the dregs from the barrels and a couple of primus stoves. Water is collected in gerry cans from the stream (a perhaps surprising thing to find at 71S)

Fossil Bluff - the flying

Fast ice, southern Marguerite Bay
The controls and dials from co-pilot seat
Alexander Island

Cargo for the fuel depot (up to weight limit for the plane)
The cottage
George VI Sound and Alexander Island
Glacier flowing into the ice sheet
Glacier going one way meets ice sheet going another
Chris co-piloting on the way north
Empty oil drums and a P-Bag (sleeping bag, mats, thermorests and sheepskins)
Jenny Island, as we approached Rothera
I finally got to fly off station, for a six day stay at Fossil Bluff mid season. The Twin Otters are fantastic pieces of kit, flying out from base to either manned fuel depots (Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu) or to unknown areas of snow where the pilots fly low to check out the area for crevasses and strasugi and, if happy, land.

On the way south I was co-pilot so flew the plane most of the way (except take-off, landing and a break for photos) while the pilot did the paperwork. The cargo was five oil drums, to maintain the depot for planes going further afield. On the way back I was a passenger, so more chance for photos. It also allowed me to check the ice conditions for my ocean glider (basically a remote controlled submarine) so I could send it further afield.

Adelie Penguins, Rothera

Ever-present and ever-amusing companions