Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rothera Point: The outside

Okay! 'Tis Thursday evening at sunny(ish) Rothera. I've been slogging away at things and stuff here since arriving on Saturday; but, as usual, we shall look back upon earlier events - my flight and first sunny day at Rothera.

Usually, pilots have to dicker for a long time on whether or not to fly out to Rothera from Punta Arenas - it's a PNR flight, a "point-of-no-return" flight. This means that after a given point, usually about an hour away from Rothera, there are no other viable locations to land, in the event that the weather craps out at Rothera. This time, however, there didn't appear to be a cloud within 100 km, and so the pilots said "go" in about 10 minutes. (Not sure what they were doing for the other 9.)

Within an hour, we were at the Punta airport, loading up the Dash.

And then we were gone. There was plenty of cloud on the way down. When it cleared up, we saw some of this:

That's sea ice, breaking up. It looked like this all the way to the horizon, which was a bit surreal. I saw lots of it on the Shackleton last year, but it's weirder from the air - more artistic, like a pseudo-random pattern. What is the sea ice trying to tell me?

However, once we got close to Rothera, the sea ice disappeared and we went in low. This was cool. Hard to convey the coolness in this picture I took out the window...

...but imagine having this blast past you at >200km/h, or whatever we were doing. Most impressive.

And then...

There we were. Back at Rothera. Here's Rothera.

Roughly describing the buildings: in the foreground is my accommodations - four to a room. Just behind that, is the work building for the scientists and operations people - that yellow thing is the control tower for airport operations. Up and to the left, in the distance, is the airport hangar, on the far side of the runway. To the right is the chippy (carpenter) shed, and in the distance is the Bransfield house, the social center of the base (and where we eat). Next blog, I'll take you in some of these buildings. In the meantime, I'll just show you my office...

...where I'm currently perched on that blue chair.

After a brief orientation - and repeated reminders that we are, actually, living at an airport and please don't cavort on the runway - we had dinner and then took a walk around the point. Here are some pics.

Just a few notes on this last one, which didn't turn out as well. This is Jenny Island, south of Rothera. Nothing beyond it but open water for quite a while. I find myself fascinated with Jenny Island, for some reason. It looks like an evil supervillain should set up a base there. Of course, they'd have to rename it. Unless their name was Jenny.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Punta Arenas, redux

And with a minimum of fuss and fanfare, I'm back to Antarctica. Two years to the day, I am sitting back in Rothera research station, where I have a few electronic bits to sort out before flying over to Halley. But now that I have time, I shall show you a bit of Punta Arenas, and talk about the flight. The first time round, I didn't have any batteries for my camera, so pictures were a bit limited. So here's a bit more.

The flight was smooth, but grueling. 20 hours in the air in a 28 hour period is never enjoyable - and I had a broken tv screen in front of me. Fortunately, I had my trusty iPhone with me, loaded up with Futurama, The Wire, Traders, and Wall Street. So time passed with minimal fanfare.

I was happy to see that we were put in the same hotel as two years ago, with a nice top-floor restaurant and central location. Punta Arenas has the definite air of a place past its prime - basically, it was -the- stop on the Straits of Magellan, and faded into obscurity with the introduction of the Panama Canal. However, many analysts have high hopes for Chile, with a relatively strong and diversified commodity base and a stable political structure. So there's hope for the Punta Arenas economy.

But I digress. Much of the city is indeed dilapidated, and there seem to be a lot of people in fatigues, but it's very safe to walk around, and there are a nice set of restaurants and hotels near the water, catering to the tourists and the transients. One of my favourite spots on my first trip deserved a re-visit: a nice wood-interior cafe overlooking the city:

There was also an impressive high-rise hotel that just opened this year down at the water, with a chic top-floor bar. I had intentions to visit it in the evening, but dinner ran late. Some random street scenes:

Clearly Punta Arena has a top-of-the-line electricity network.

We were in Punta for less than 48 hours. The first half of that was just the eight of us that travelled from the UK; we were then joined by the pilots and air mechs - a party of about 10 in total, who accompanied us to Rothera, where most of them are based.

And I believe I'll stop it there. Next post, Rothera, with pictures! In the meantime, I shall leave you with an assortment of stray dogs. Note that the second last one is the same from last post's video - he's not having a stroke, he's just chewing a roll some other sucker gave him. And the last one is clearly not homeless, but he's in the happiest place a dog can be - in the back of a pickup truck. I caught him in mid-happiness-yawn, and thought he deserved inclusion.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

In and out of Punta Arenas

I had set aside today to write a blog entry...but it seems that we're due out of Punta and down to Rothera in 15 minutes. I shall get back to discuss Punta shortly!

I think I'll give an introduction to the most civic-minded inhabitants of Punta - the stray dogs. So many of them! They run around importantly like they're shuttling between business meetings. I don't have time to upload all the dog pictures I took, but let me just introduce one who seemed happy to see me, and the pastry I just bought from the store:

He sat like that staring and wagging at me for several minutes. I broke off a piece and dropped it for him, but the 30 knot wind picked it up and blew it away - with him chasing happily after it! He could still be chasing it, as far as I know...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The game plan.

Okay. Let's lay it out for the next season. I'm going to be here, there, and everywhere.

It all kicks off on Wednesday - that'd be the 21st, which may have passed by the time you read this. I will have packed up my room here in Cambourne, and my office - which also gets moved while I'm gone. Annoying, that - I usually use the office as storage for they stuff I don't take down. But it's all boxed up now. All good.

So here's the flight path.

Wednesday is London-to-Madrid-to-Santiago-to-Punta Arenas. I imagine it'll be at least Thursday by the time I get there. It's going to be pretty much the same as my first trip there, I suspect. But I should have a camera this time. Then, once again, there should be a bit of a wait, as we look for a good weather window to cross the Drake and get down to Rothera.

Then, from Rothera to Halley - that should happen by Oct 30 by the latest. That'll give me about two months on base before getting back to Rothera, between Christmas and New Years. Then, down to a base I haven't been to: Sky-Blu. I'll be shuffling some GPS sensors around down there - away from the Interwebs, which is unavailable, as it's a summer-only base. Then back to Rothera, sometime around mid-January, and then out. So there you go.

As I might be missing relief this year, it will be a different type of year for me - no cargo, nothing going in - just digging, mainly. Equipment that's already installed, buried by this year's snow. But since the time is a bit tight, we will be very dependent on the weather.

And that's that. Next blog will be from the bottom tip of Chile!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Meteorology Boot Camp in Cornwall

Hello all,

Back in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire. Not to be confused with Camborne, Cornwall, where I have spent the last week staring at clouds and playing with balloons. And getting paid to do so.

Welcome to the Cornwall Meteorology Office.

This past week has been primarily spent in the building depicted above, where Tamsin has been drilling us on clouds. Stratocumulus, Altostratus, Nimbostratus, and the seldom-spotted Altocirrus. We would traipse out every hour on the hour and identify the clouds, then come back in and code them up with an archaic code system.

And every hour, every day, we would code up this: "Stratocumulus clouds, 90% of the sky. No change in weather conditions." Cornwall isn't exactly a hotspot for exciting weather. Eventually Tamsin had to start making up weather, so it would be more educational: "Pretend it's 40 knot winds, hailing, and heavy thunderstorms!" That, by the way, is a 99 code. It trumps all other weather codes. Not surprisingly, nobody in Antarctica has had to code it yet.

Weather obs were interspersed with weather balloon launches. Pretty cool, those. The balloons are about the size of a motorcycle, say; but by the time they get to the upper atmosphere, they grow to the size of a double-decker bus before popping. This particular factoid is often told to visiting folk at the MET office.

Outside of the office, life was good. As there was seven of us, we rented a country house for the week, with a good kitchen, hot tub, and a decent view over a valley.
We also enjoyed a dinner or two out - one of our favourite spots was a Jordanian restaurant perched up on a clifftop castle:

...and, of course, we stopped at the occasional beach in the late afternoon. I even tried surfing, once - but couldn't really see the point. Maybe the waves weren't good enough, but I can't quite understand how someone can turn this activity into a "lifestyle". Here's a sample Cornwall beach:

On the other hand, my particular lifestyle choice, pub-hopping, was well-served in Cornwall. I went back to one of Britain's top two pubs, as rated by CAMRA: The Pandora Inn, in a obscure little place called Mylor Bridge. The Pandora is a wonderful place, with fresh seafood, a rich collection of ale, and a 700 year history. Bet it's seen its share of Cornish pirates.

And then, after a nice quiet weekend in Salisbury and Oxford, back to Cambridge. Two weeks to go!