Monday, 31 December 2012

Elephant Seals, Rothera

Some photos of the Ellies from around the base and the point. This is the first year they have regularly come onto the base but numbers have been building up on nearby Lagoon Island in recent years. They are smelly, noisy and get in the way but definitely add some fun to base.




Saturday, 29 December 2012

Vernadsky/Faraday base call

The trip down the Antarctic Peninsula included a stop at Vernadsky, a Ukranian base that used to be the UK's Faraday base. A stop is required to service the tide gauge, that dates back to the days of it being Faraday. Good weather and a not very tight schedule (we were half a day late for Rothera and had to make it a full day) meant we all got ashore. One of the guys coming down with us to help with the gliders, David White, was especially keen to get ashore as he wintered at Faraday in 83 and 84

 David behind the famous bar, built by a disgruntled wintering carpenter who was supposed to be doing something else with his time (and wood). The Ukranians made us very welcome, with plenty of food and homemade vodka.

 Vernadsky (formerly Faraday) base

 Someof the Gentoo Penguins. There were none here in 83/84 but the population has increased rapidly as the sea ice extent has reduced along the Peninsula

The first load getting ferried back to the JCR.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Drake Passage and Antarctic Peninsula

The Drake Passage crossing was unusual on two counts. Firstly it was extremely calm, in stark contrast to its reputation as one of the most fearsome sea areas in the world. Actually [satellite data hat on] it isn't anywhere near the windiest bit of the Southern Ocean - that is the Indian Ocean sector - but to sail around the world you have to go through the Drake Passage whereas you can avoid the other areas, unless you want to go to Crozet (my PhD islands) or Kerguelen.

The other unusual aspect, for me, was not stopping. Unlike my normal research cruises where we stop frequently (we will rarely steam for more than a couple of hours at a time) we quickly dropped a couple of landers over the side at the north side of Drake Passage and then set off to the Peninsula. This, combined with a light tailwind (cross winds get the birds to ride the updraft along the ship), meant there wasn't much chance for photography, but there was a good series of Fin Whale sightings and a breaching Mesoplodon whale was photographed by one person, but I missed it.

The Peninsula was its usual calm and ridiculously scenic self. Photos don't really do it any justice, but here are some anyway:

 Cape Petrel

 Southern Fulmar

 Smith Island, the first bit of the Peninsula we saw, due to our slightly unusual approach route

 "Penguins on an iceberg!" was probably the theme of the trip

 Elisabeth, a PhD student from Florida State University seeing her first snow ever. Quite a way to do it!

 Gentoo Penguins, increasingly common along the Peninsula as the ice retreats

 Entering Lemaire Channel

 Lemaire Channel gets quite narrow...

 Humpback Whale fluke

 Another Humpback tail.

 Minke Whale

Quadcopter being "tested"

Thursday, 20 December 2012


Catching up on the trip so far (we are now almost at Rothera). We unexpectedly (well, it wasn't planned, but delays are no surprise) had a day free in the Falklands before sailing, while the ship was alongside at FIPASS. A walk out to Gypsy Cove and back via the Narrows was appreciated by everyone, especially the new guys who hadn't seen penguins before.

The Dolphins (Commerson's and Peale's) were less co-operative, but still good to see:

Monday, 10 December 2012

South Georgia rat eradication

Good news recently that the rat eradication on South Georgia will continue. The plan involves spreading poison from a helicopter on very tightly controlled and checked paths to ensure there is poison everywhere. More poison will be spread by hand on cliffs and in caves and buildings, supported by small yachts. The first phase around King Edward Point has been successful and more small birds are already being seen in the area.

If this work isn't done soon the glaciers will retreat further leaving a beach in front of them that rats could get along. This means that larger areas would have to baited at once and the changeable weather on the island mean that windows for helicopter flying are often short.

More details here and more general details of this and other rat eradication projects here

Rusting whaling station, Grytviken was last operational 50 years ago

Some areas of Grytviken whaling station have been removed to make it safe for tourists. It was initially abandoned with nothing removed as the whalers expected to return.

Some photos of Grytviken whaling station, in the area of rat eradication, I didn't get round to posting in April when I was there.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Disco's Last Dance

After 50 years and one extension of life (and hull) refit, RRS Discovery is on her last research cruise. A blog for the cruise is

It is being replaced by another RRS Discovery, extending the lineage to four ships, going back to Captain Scott's ship.

Discovery in Cape Town at the start of my first research cruise(s), two back-to-back cruises to the Crozet Islands, between November and January 2004/5

Discovery at the Crozet Islands (following year)

CTD coming out of the water. One of many thousands carried out over the years, gradually furthering our understanding of two-thirds of the Earth surface.
Feeding a skua on the back deck. Many fond memories of the ship.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Ascension Island

I didn't get round to this when I got back, so here are some photos from the four days we had on Ascension Island (just south of the equator in the middle of the Atlantic) at the end of April. The flight back from the Falklands stops on Ascension, hence the opportunity. See this post for my previous visit.

Early morning Green Turtle. The beach is a few minutes from the hotel and there are very few people there. There are visitors to the island for various reasons, but very few tourists.

 Turtle track

Immature Ascension Frigatebird

 Ascension Frigatebird. Endemic to the island. They patrol the beach at dawn looking for late hatching baby turtles.

 The geology of the island is from relatively recent volcanism.

White-tailed Tropicbird.
 The breeding seabirds are mostly confined to offshore stacks. Until 2001 there were feral cats on the island and there are still rats, though the sparse vegetation in many areas reduces their presence.

 Green Mountain. 800m high and a cloud forest (now). When Darwin arrived on the Beagle towards the end of his famous voyage he recognised the potential to increase the vegetation (older islands in the Galapagos are more vegetated than the more recent ones). He asked a friend who ran Kew gardens to send various species with each supply ship until vegetation was established. This had the feedback effects of capturing cloud vapour and creating thicker soil that could hold more water from the occasional heavy rain. This increased the water supply on the island, which until then had been a limiting factor to habitation. See
 Massive contrast to the low ground.

 Fairy Tern
 Rats are common in the well vegetated areas

 Lowlands, with an old lava flow still clear

The main beach by Georgetown

 The colonisation continues, almost entirely by non-native species.

Green Turtle on Ascension
 A tardy turtle just starting to go back to the sea

 The way looks clear but is blocked by rocks exposed by the falling tide. In the end we had to steer it back to the sea.
 Sooty Tern.
By breeding synchronously and in large numbers they managed to keep breeding on the mainland despite the cats. They are doing better now the cats are gone. There are ongoing measures to control rats locally to the colonies, known as Wideawake Fairs after the local onomatopoeic name for Sooty Terns

Brown Noddies are now breeding amongst the Sooty Terns.