Esperanza and Maria

Steve and I were on Maria duty again today (i.e. in the kitchen) and with the additional forty-seven members of Esperanza base we spent almost eight hours helping out today. In between this we logged samples and started freeze drying some samples in the lab, although the power shutdown when the generators were changed over made this challenging.
While helping out in the kitchen I met the Esperanza second in command and his wife (the commander is still at Esperanza) and some of the teachers at the Esperanza school. The school accommodates children from the age of two to eighteen and this year had fifteen children taking lessons there. Living on an Antarctic base for a year is hard but once you have done it a few times you are allowed to take your family. However, it can also be hard for them, though the children (as in Chilean Villa de las Estrellas) always seem to enjoy it, especially being part of the Antarctic scouts. Christian (Jubany mechanic) is going to Esperanza in 2013 and looking forward to being able to take his wife and two small children. He has already done 3 overwinters in the Antarctic without his family, effectively meaning his children have only seen him for half of their lives so far. I mentioned that we had visited the school in Villa de las Estrellas and was quickly told that the La Esperanza school was the first school in Antarctica, being set up as long ago as 1978 and the Las Estrellas school came later when the Chileans copied Argentina. I was also later told by the La Esperanza school teacher, when discussing our peat findings, that because there is peat here we are not really in Antarctica. La Esperanza is true Antarctica because there is no peat. My Argentinian Spanish and mood wasn’t up to a heated debate but I still think if the teacher would be outnumbered in a discussion with everyone else I have met from eight nationalities from over ten bases we have now had contact with during this field campaign.

Goodbye, hello, penguins and seals

This morning we said farewell to the members of Jubany crew who are heading back to Buenos Aires and beyond. However, we then heard that, due to the bad weather, the plane coming to pick them up could not land and so they would stay a little longer. In addition, the Castillo had picked up forty-seven men, women and children from La Esperanza base and they needed somewhere to stay until the plane arrived and so came ashore too. Since Jubany cannot accommodate so many people most had to camp in the casa principal on the dining room floor. They have no idea how long they may need to stay but there might be a flight window in a couple of days time. Weather permitting ….
We visited our next field site at the penguin and seal colonies at and around the Refugio Elefante and Stranger Point today. The whole area is covered with numerous colonies, both current and former and we are interested in what information about former colonies might be stored in the lagoon sediments here. It was a long and strenuous walk to get there but incredible once we made it – walking amongst the penguins and seals and seeing the Gentoo (papua) and Adelie penguin chicks peeking out from their nests, plus the cheeky gentoos blatantly stealing nest pebbles from under their neighbours but ignoring any protest knowing that if their neighbours left their nest in protest the skuas would dive in to steal their chicks. Penguins might look cute but they are pretty mean underneath!

We also saw chinstrap penguins and earlier today some of the penguin research group saw a lone king penguin which had stopped off here for a rest. In addition to the penguins, the coast is littered with elephant seals, from huge two-tonne males smacking and pounding against each other fighting in the surf, to the younger seals of one to two years, and the young pups which are now about two months old but already weigh much more than me. They look up wide eyed and cute faced as you pass but you know they will soon grow up to be huge and terrifying. All around is the noise of chirping penguins, crying chicks and penguin pattering feet, interspersed with the resounding echo of elephant seal belching.

Grey and wet and melting

Today it was incredible to see how much snow has melted overnight. It was a grey and wet day and we wanted to walk across our field site to the glacier but it was raining too much and with visibility decreasing we decided to return. The whole landscape below about 20m down to sea level looks so different now – grey, gloopy glacial rocks and mud and there is so much meltwater rivers and streams have formed and now we can see the lagoon areas and former beach levels really clearly. It is amazing how quickly the snow melts once the temperatures hover around zero.

Warming up

The warmer weather over the last few days has meant the snow has started to melt which is why we had to be sure to finish our lake work on the ice before it was too late. Once the weather starts warming the snow disappears amazingly quickly. When it’s wet and warm the caleta quickly fills up with ice from the glaciers and we can hear it cracking, sounding like gunshot from the other side of the water, the ice eventually being broken up and washed up on Jubany beach. With the surface snow melting, the crevasses on the once pure white snow covered glaciers also become very distinct and outside the mouth of the cove we have also seen huge iceberg islands drifting in the sea. The weather also gets more stormy as the temperature increases which makes it difficult for those working in the bay as well as us on the ice.

Mateus and visits from Russia, Chile and Uruguay

Today, despite the grey,windy and wet weather, we were happy to continue and complete our work on Lake Mateus. We went back to the base for lunch and met members from the Argentinian Navy, plus our old friends from Bellinnghausen (Russia), Frei, INACH (Chile) and Artigas (Uruguay) bases for lunch. They had come across on the Castillo and for many it was their first visit to Jubany. It was nice to see them again and we had an amazing spread of food – including roulades and a whole jamon. Unfortunately Steve, Tamara and I couldn’t hang around for the cake at tea time as we still had some work we wanted to complete on the lake today so had to make our apologies and leave the festivities early. But the cake was huge so there was plenty left in the evening which we ate to celebrate our days efforts.

Antarctica day and peat sampling

December already! And today was Antarctica day, how appropriate (
Today we continued with our peat, and more water, sampling. We were also visited by an Adelie penguin which had clambered all the way from the Jubany beach to over 50m up the tres hermanos scree, waddling over the rocks and then sliding on it belly across any patches of snow it could find. The weather was very windy so this must be the preferred route to the other side of the headland rather than swimming in the sea. Many seals had also stopped for a sleep on the beach. It was not a good day to be in the water apparently, though sample collection on land was very successful.

Water day

Today the weather was still bad so this was mainly a lab (water filtering) and office day. We did, however, also manage to get out for several hours to have a look at and start sampling some local peats. It’s amazing what can grow out here and what you can find once the snow starts to melt.

Fieldwork in a blizzard

Unfortunately it was not possible for the caleta sailing team (aka Christian, Nina, Anne and Dolores),or Ilona and Jule to go out to work today. The wind was too strong. Steve, Tamara and I, however, braved it back to GPS Lake 15 to continue some lake coring. Despite a few issues with gravel and bedrock (not a friend to our coring equipment) we managed to collect some really nice cores. And despite the wind the weather was actually okay until late afternoon when the horizontal blizzard started to set in. Bang on time as forecast. Very quickly the caleta and tres hermanos (either side of us) became obscured in a blustering cloud of snow, even the Castillo ship which had earlier manoevered gracefully into the caleta was now barely visible. Steve had said earlier that if anyone on board was watching us dig holes in our lake in the wind they must think we were mad. Luckily now they would not be able to see us to think such thoughts as we battled on against the wind and added snow.

Steve and Tamara have both worked in Antarctica before, but this is my first time and, before coming here, I never really thought I would be coring a frozen lake in Antarctica amidst a horizontal blizzard, battling the elements all in the name of science. But today it didn’t really seem that unusual – it isn’t something I would particularly consider doing back in the UK but out here it becomes part of a fairly normal day’s work. When we returned to the Dallmann and sorted out our outdoor freezer store to accommodate our fresh cores we even ended up standing around discussing things for a while before I suggested we might want to move inside, away from the snow, to finish our discussions over a nice cup of tea. It was almost as if we had forgotten it was snowing. Now we are inside a short while later we cannot even see out of the windows on the caleta side. We were wise to come back when we did!

Heatwave (relatively speaking)

Due to some technical issues with our coring equipment our research team multi-tasked this morning with Steve collecting water samples while I worked back at the base in the laboratories and Tamara negotiated with the mechanics and chief about repairing our damaged core tube.

In the afternoon we went back to GPS Lake 15 to take some Russian cores. The weather was noticeably warmer, almost a heat wave hovering around zero. By late afternoon the caleta was like a millpond much to the delight of Christian, Nina, Anna and Dolores who were able to go out to collect more samples and data.