Blog: Science in the Sky – Pt 1: Packing

Science in the Sky: Ella Gilbert

14 November 2017

Last week I got emailed a very exciting travel itinerary, and realised that I’m going to Antarctica next week. It shouldn’t be a surprise, having been planned for months, but it’s only just started to sink in.

I’ve been thinking about the science we’re going to be doing in detail, but I hadn’t given much thought to the practical things (like: how am I going to fit my whole life into a 23 kg bag? How many pairs of socks do I need? How much space are my boxing gloves going to take up? Who’s going to water my plants?).


Ella beginning to pack for her trip to Antarctica. Photo credit: Ella Gilbert

One thing I have been thinking about though, is how amazing an opportunity this is. I’m so incredibly excited to see the environment I’ve been studying during my PhD, and which has captured my imagination for almost as long as I can remember.

Antarctica is a land of extremes. It is the driest, coldest, windiest and most remote continent on Earth. It is also critical for regulating Earth’s current and future climate. That’s why I, and many other scientists at BAS, are interested in collecting data there.

I am going South to help with the ORCHESTRA campaign, which aims to understand the role of the ocean in regulating the climate. As atmospheric scientists, my team are especially interested in the exchange of energy between the atmosphere and ocean, particularly in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, called the ‘boundary layer’.

To understand this, we’ll be flying on MASIN, BAS’s meteorological aircraft, kitted out with all manner of instruments to measure lots of atmospheric characteristics – temperature, pressure, humidity, winds, radiation – you name it, we’ll measure it.


British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter (AZ) with MASIN turbulence probe fitted. Photo credit: Rod Arnold.

This field season, we’re going to be flying out of Rothera research base on the Antarctic Peninsula. Some of the flights will be over the western side of the peninsula, while some will be over the east, in the Weddell Sea. The idea is that we will be able to coordinate with scientists on board the RRS James Clark Ross, one of BAS’s research vessels. She will be deploying ocean gliders which collect data in the sea, as well as taking direct measurements as she steams along.

If we can fly over the ship, our measurements will be complementary. We will be able to determine how much energy is going in and out of the surface of the ocean using observations from above and below the surface. This will be vital for understanding the processes that are occurring in the Southern Ocean and the seas around Antarctica, which are very poorly understood. With luck, we’ll come back with data that will improve our knowledge of this fascinating region.

Watch this space for more blog posts and videos of what we’re up to at the bottom of the world.

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