Not yet fully recovered from Christmas we had to worry about the next big event which, for once, was not New Year but a far more exciting thing…. the arrival of the James Clark Ross. The JCR is a scientific ice breaker of BAS and was due to arrive on the 28th December. But day after day we got a message from the ship that it would be delayed a bit longer as it was struggling to get through the pack ice North of Adelaide Island. Until the last moment it was unsure when it was due to arrive so the whole base was kept on standby for a couple of days. A lot more preparation was needed in order to receive the JCR compared to the Palmer that visited us earlier on in the season as this large vessel is loaded with cargo for the base and brings new occupants including Nikki and Libby, the last of the Dutch science projects to arrive who are looking at the CO2 system in Ryder Bay.
As the ship was already quite delayed it had to be unloaded as soon as possible upon arrival and so unfortunately there was no time for a big New Years celebration. However, we made a healthy exit to the old year with a 10km San Silvester run around the runway on New Years eve.
Completely exhausted we hit the showers and then joined the rest of the crowd for dinner followed by drinks up at the cross on top of Rothera point. The cross is a memorial to all those who have lost their lives in British Antarctic Territory. Although no music, dancing or rave parties, counting down the New Year under the midnight sun looking out over an icy bay is definitely hard to beat!
When the JCR finally moored in the evening of New Years Day, relief started immediately.
Four days of solid hard work for everyone on base was required to unload all the ship’s cargo. All of a sudden we had to watch out for traffic as all vehicles on base were racing around moving bits and pieces. It is absolutely stunning to see how much a ship can transport. It seemed like there was no end to the cargo load. All the food and drink supplies had to be moved inside buildings and human chains were made from containers outside all the way into the store to move box after box after box. After moving a whole winter supply of food and drink you definitely don’t have to hit the gym to get your workout!
Once the JCR left it was time to go back to our science. The Bonner and Gerritsz lab were never so busy with all the scientists arriving on the ship. It was clearly the peak of the summer season!
With many people and only a few boats, it was a race to get out sampling and several projects had to share boats and go out together or sample for each other. But, with lots of meetings and good planning, sharing the RIBS worked out quite well and on top of that the weather was in our favour. We were able to go out almost every day so January turned out to be a packed and busy sampling month.
January was also definitely the busiest month in terms of visitors. We had the pleasure to host the new BAS director (Jane Francis) and other VIPs for a week to show them life and science on base. Furthermore we got a visit for the day from a German cruise ship, The Hanseatic, with 170 tourists. A camera crew also joined us for about two weeks to shoot footage for a Krill documentary, exciting days with this constant new input of people.
One of the best days of the month is for sure the day that the Laurence M. Gould appeared on our horizon. This American scientific research vessel is part of the United States Antarctic Program and performs research each year at the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Palmer site along a section of the Western Antarctic peninsula (WAP). One of the main reasons for the Goulds visit is to inter-calibrate the BAS CTD with that on-board the ship.
This inter-calibration also gave us the opportunity to sample 2 different sites beyond the limits of the base boating area. So after being lifted on to the ship by crane we cruised off admiring beautiful mountain ridges on a very sunny day. The CTDs and niskin rosette were hoisted into the water by crane, very different from the manual winching we have to do to get our water on normal sample days.
Not only was it splendid to see different scenery after all those weeks on base but it was good to find out a bit more about the research that is being conducted on-board which happens to be quite complementary to our own. It is a very interesting year for WAP biological oceanography as the Gould has experienced the highest chlorophyll levels all along the LTER site that have been recorded in the 20 years it has been running. This ties in well with the huge amounts of chlorophyll in Ryder bay (<20ug/L) which has been consistently high since the ice in Marguerite bay started breaking up not long before Christmas. Once the mini cruise was over, the shipped moored up back at the Wharf where the annual football match was played, the US vs The rest of the World. The evening was then celebrated with live concerts in the garage into the early hours of the morning. It is not only people that have increased their visits to base but also more and more frequently have whales appeared.
A pod of at least 10-15 Orca’s appeared several times in the bay impressing everyone with their huge back fins and in-between them we counted at least two calves. Minke whales have also been sighted regularly and whereas the Orca’s tend to be curious and come to check out the boats, the Minke whales are quite shy and keep their distance. Nevertheless, it is still unreal to see these mammals swimming by when you are collecting water. The penguins certainly know their whales as with Minkes, they are quite happy to keep on swimming around but as soon as an Orca is noticed, they are all straight out of the water on icebergs.
And now all of the sudden it is February and the peak of the season went as quickly as it came. People are leaving every week as more and more field parties complete their work and the base is becoming more and more quiet again.