Saturday, 29 October 2016

Ready to go!

Somehow I've made it through the last few weeks! I've had a lot of fun learning about ocean circulation and atmospheric chemistry with the undergrads, I've submitted a paper, contributed to a couple more, attended some really productive project meetings, enjoyed shaping the progress of PhD students old and new, hosted some great speakers at Durham, spent some time discussing how we can support our colleagues through the next REF exercise, sat on an interview panel, been patched up by my physio, survived the annual round of freshers' flu, tied up fieldwork odds and ends, got linux running on my laptop, and fielded those emails from all time zones that begin "if you have time before you go away...."

So as you can imagine, I'm looking forward to heading south - away from convenient internet and a packed diary. But this also means heading away from my friends and colleagues, who keep me smiling even when things get a little crazy. My husband, Duncan, has tidied up the chaos that I've left in my wake as I've rushed around these last few weeks, and I will miss his amazing ability to make me laugh every single day.

While I'm away I'll make new friends, and catch up with old friends who have been overwintering at Rothera. It's difficult to step into another community, especially when the work I'll be carrying out can be stressful at times, but I know from last year that Rothera is a special community that instantly makes you feel at home.

My final important achievement this week has been to get my two piece of hold luggage under 23kg. Now I just need to get them safely to Newcastle - Heathrow - Madrid - Santiago - Punta Arenas, and eventually Rothera. I can't wait to step off the last plane into a biting cold wind...

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


There’s less than a month to go before I head back south to Antarctica and everything is …well ... nearly ready. It’s a little more complicated than just packing my warmest clothes and jumping on a plane, so here’s a run-down of what I’ve been up to preparing for this field season.

The instruments I installed last season have been sitting out the Antarctic winter. We expect there to be some interruption to the measurements since our main power source is solar, but now the sun has risen again everything should have powered up and we should be recording data again ...although, in reality, we have no idea whether anything is working!

At the moment our instruments aren’t transmitting data to the outside world, and chatting to BAS staff last season it became apparent that this puts a big strain on their resources. These sort of instruments currently needed to be visited every year to check everything is working. But if everything is fine they could just be left to record data for a couple of years without going through the hassle of trying to get a plane out to these remote locations (although I suspect the pilots secretly enjoy the challenge!).

So over the past few months I’ve been liaising with other scientists who run remote instruments, including my colleagues on the UKANET project, to find a solution. We’ve managed to pull together just enough in the budget to purchase five XI-202's - clever little yellow boxes that can be programmed to send updates via satellite, letting us know that everything is working as we expect.

This isn’t the end of the story though. Ideally we’d like to install slightly more sophisticated (and hence more expensive) systems that won't just transmit 'state of health' messages, but also all the raw data straight to our computers back at home, thus removing the need to ever visit the sites again… well so long as the electronics and power supplies survive the Antarctic weather. Watch this space!

New toys
A box full of instruments and cables arrived in Durham a few weeks ago, and with the help of the patient folk at UNAVCO I’ve been trying to work out how everything fits together. I think I’ve got everything sussed...

let's just get everything out...

and this should go in here...

or maybe...erm...

...perhaps it goes in here?

I wonder what the instructions actually say?

ah! It goes in here :-)

The next step is to make sure all our paperwork is sorted so we make it smoothly through customs on the journey south. Some of the equipment we’ll be installing this season has already been shipped direct from Australia to Chile, although apparently some of it ended up in Belgium!! Why is nothing ever simple?

There won’t be much time spent dreaming of penguins and snow over the next few weeks as the undergrads are back in town and somehow all my teaching has to be packed in before I leave. But with the crack across Larsen C having grown significantly over the austral winter it's even more important to get the final few instruments installed and recording the background rate of land uplift before this ice shelf potentially goes the same way as Larsen B.

To help get a better handle on the changes that are happening in the Antarctic Peninsula I’ll be accompanied by Antarctic addict Mike Bentley, who will be piecing together the glacial history of the region. This will be his 12th(?) trip to Antarctica, so I’m sure everything will go smoothly…

Thanks as ever to everyone who has provided training, equipment, advice, and funds. This project is led by Matt King and funded by the Australian Research Council, with logistical support from the British Antarctic Survey.