Pack it up and ship it out!
February was a busy month, not only with cruise ships visiting the base but also trying to squeeze in a few last seawater collections whilst at the same time packing all the samples and equipment into boxes.
Not only the decreasing amount of people on base give tone to the end of the season but also the weather was changing. It became colder, the winds were picking up and blizzards arrived once more. Winter is coming!
During the past month the Dutch science team tried to spend a night out on a nearby island called Lagoon, but constantly thwarted by the weather. Lagoon is an island which lies in the entrance to Ryder bay upon which is an old field hut that now contains supplies in case of emergency strandings. It is also an ideal place for a night off base!
Finally the weather looked good for a Friday evening and Saturday morning so we rounded up the troops, packed the boats with supplies and headed over to the island.
After anchoring the boat on the rocky shore we paused for a moment to take in the breath-taking scenery then dragged our stuff up to the hut, all under the watchful eyes of the Elephant seals.
Whilst we were arranging the inside of the hut an Elly seal seized its opportunity for a comfortable nap and took refuge in between our P-bags. The Elly was just as surprised as I was when I walked round the corner and we both made each other jump!
Once the camp was set up it was time to relax, explore and BBQ!
Exploring the island was quite an adventure. Not only do you have to keep your eyes on the ground for Fur seals camouflaged in between the rocks, but the entire island was covered with nesting Skuas.
As soon as you got away from the hut the air filled with circling Skuas dive bombing and smacking you around the back of the head with their wings. It seems you get two types of attacks, the Ninja skuas who stealthily sneak up on you and smack you round the back of your head, and the front line Skuas’ who fly just above your head screeching as loud as they can before attacking you. This screech send a shiver down my spine as you know an attack is pending. This is when it’s best to go walking with the really tall Frenchman (Johann) as the Skuas always go for the highest point!
Even the copepods know that winter is on its way. The Calanoides acutus are getting nice and fat and starting to collect below 200m deep; a sign that they are starting to enter diapause or overwintering phase.
During our last net hauls of the season we had a nice little surprise in our deep net, a snailfish! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked into the net and saw this pink fish all curled up at the bottom. By far the largest thing we have caught all season!
Although probably not a new species, this fish has rarely been caught and has been sent to the Natural History Museum in London (UK) for genetic identification and addition to their private collection!
The wind, the cold and the ever advancing darkness has been hampering our packing and progress, however, there was just enough time to collect water for one last time! Whilst we were out though the wind picked up which cut our sampling short and also made the journey back quite interesting! Sea Rover is a heavy boat which smashes through the waves throwing freezing salt water into your face, making it more difficult to navigate. This was the one and only time I was truly glad of my beard which was heavy with ice on our return!
The poor weather gave us the opportunity to try some activities which I had not had time to before. I finally managed to put on a pair of mountaineering skiis and ski around the flag line, a 14 km journey in the wind and thick powder which was quite the challenge.
Then Folk night arrived, which signifies the end of the season! All the field expeditions have been completed and the logistics facilities in the field which support Rothera have been closed. This year however we had guests on Folk night, a Chilean navy vessel. In true spirit on Folk night a group of the ship’s crew were invited who performed a Chilean national dance.
The last week has all been about packing, packing and more packing. Finding all the equipment and then finding somewhere to store it was the biggest challenge! Two seasons worth of science equipment and samples takes up a lot of space and anything that is left outside instantly gets covered in snow and so every corridor, room, fridge and freezer is completely full.
This year I was fortunate enough to be put on one of the last flights out of Rothera on the DASH 7. This saved three weeks compared to going out on the ship like last year.
So now it is time to say goodbye to Rothera. As I tagged out for the very last time a feeling of sadness swept over me. This was the first opportunity I have had to let the reality sink in that the season is over! You don’t quite realise how much you miss the green of home (the grass, trees and flowers). But I certainly won’t miss sharing a bedroom with 3 other guys.
So yes…. it is time to say goodbye: there are tears and laughter in the air as our group is hugged out of the dining room and we make our final journey through the snow to the plane.
I have seen and done some pretty spectacular things. I will miss jumping into a RIB every morning, cruising around giant ice bergs and pushing my way through broken up sea ice whilst surrounded by the crackling of melting ice and the distant booms of falling glacier pieces. I will miss the wildlife, the curious penguins who waddle over to see what your up to, the smelly Elephant seals who just laze around base all day and the Orcas and Minkes that swim by as your taking your water samples.
So from all of the Dutch science teams at Rothera we wish you farewell! as I continue my story back in the lab!