Having just completed my last shift on the JCR, I arrived at Rothera covered in mud, slightly damp, a bit disorientated and in a whirlwind of emotions. Since the team had worked to the very last minute – goodbyes to old and new friends was short and overshadowed by the fact that we (another scientist staying for a couple of month and one of our engineers destined on the next flight to her new assignment) were about to be craned off the ship – as usual under time pressure. So here I was at Rothera watching the JCR (my security blanket) steaming away, while everybody was busy moving the few bits of cargo we had brought with us away and, as it was Christmas evening, finish work as soon as possible – leaving me feeling a bit blue after the buzz of the cruise, slightly panicked and full of anticipation and excitement for the weeks to come.
However, after having scrubbed off most of my mud and in search of a comfort cup of tea, I ran into some familiar faces from wintering training which instantly helped to make this place feel more like home. It feels good to know that the wintering team 2019 is almost completely assembled and we are here to help each other out.
One of the first things I learned as soon as I arrived on station, is that life in Antarctica requires an intricate layering system of personal protective equipment (PPE) and adherence to station protocol to protect you from the anger of the gods (Depending on the situation, they might be represented by the weather or station management). So to start a day, you are strongly encouraged to
- Apply a layer of factor 50 suncreme (To shield you from the unfiltered UV through the Ozone hole), then you move on to
- Thin base layers (based on weather conditions and work requirements) after which you move to
- Normal wear (this could be anything from ballgown to boilersuit) and
- Outer wear (again choose according to weather conditions). All of this will be toped up with
- High visibility attire, including hard hat and vest (Because we are living on a building site for the new wharf) and accessorise with
- Steel toe cap boots and
- A handheld radio as well as
- Sunglasses (completely non ironically, as the sun may burn your eyes out) and last but not least
Once you managed all that you are then required to walk to one end of the station to indicate on a big tactical board which zone you are planning to spend your time in and come back and alter your position on the board as soon as you are going somewhere else (So that you may be found in case you manage to manovour youreself in an embarrassing situation or to make sure you do not need rescuing out of a burning house).
As my scatter brain is way too busy thinking about worms and mud and what’s for lunch I generally have trouble remembering all the necessary steps in my attire or in station protocol. So I have come up with a system to appeal to my competitive nature. Every time I manage to leave the house appropriately dressed and sticking to protocol I get one point. Every time I forget something I lose one. – Needless to say, I am not even breaking even (I moved to -0.5 points if I only forget one item – it makes no difference). Fortunately there are many kind souls on station who shout after me to wear a hard hat or sign me in and out whenever I’ve, again, walzed past the sign-in board in complete obliviation. We do have a saying in Germany: What you don’t have in your head, you have in your legs – I expect to return from Antarctica thoroughly fit.
However, once you master the art of dressing appropriately, Rothera has so much to offer: The station is surrounded by majestic icebergs and still incredibly clear waters (As plankton bloom hasn’t fully arrived yet) with a view over the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. We have two ski slopes for general use, a runway used to run or cycle on – if not occupied by planes or elephant seals, a few tracks around the area – for some peace and quiet and bird, seal and hopefully whale watching and an incredible team of people. And although turnover rate of people arriving and leaving the station is pretty fast, it is amazing how quick you can make really good friends here. Of course, the timing of my arrival was impeccable as I got here just in time for Christmas and New Years.
Although I did stick my head into my new and shiny office now and again – between the holidays – I was mostly busy with training, such as how to drive skidoos (Surprisingly easy), gaitors (- Not doing well if I need to pull a trailer) and how to tow boats with a tractor (- People actually fled when they saw me coming) as well as some recapture of first aid techniques and my field training which includes spending a night in a tent in the field (That requires a whole new layering system of sleeping bags and sheepskins which I am relying heavily on our field guides to remind me off – surprisingly warm though). The holidays, are surrounded by stations traditions and so we celebrated in style starting the day skiing, moving on to some truly sublime feasts – courtesy of some very hard working chefs – and finished with a walk up to the memorial to ring in the new year.
2018 turned out to be a brilliant year (personally – not politically), here is fingers crossed for a snow, fun and Antarctic marine ecology filled 2019