Science in the Sky: Ella Gilbert
2 December 2017
We’ve only been here for about a week, but Rothera already feels like home.
I’ve settled in to the daily routine – up early to squeeze in some gym time (necessary to combat the 5 meals a day), then breakfast before work starts at 8.30. We work until 6.30, though with a break for food and/or coffee every two hours. I usually collapse into bed not long after dinner, read a bit, rinse and repeat.
Mostly we’ve been getting the aircraft ready for the campaign of flights we’ll be doing as part of the ORCHESTRA project. So far that has meant a fair amount of time in the hangar, fitting instruments through holes in the side of AZ, BAS’s atmospheric research plane (also known as MASIN when she’s in science mode).
Hopefully we will be able to run a test flight today or tomorrow, as soon as the weather clears. Once that’s done and we’re confident that the instruments are working correctly, the three other members of my team will fly to the Chilean base Escudero, which is further north on the peninsula, on King George Island.
There, they will be flying over the gliders that BAS’s research vessel (the RRS James Clark Ross) will deploy. The gliders will be looking at the exchange of gases and energy, or fluxes, over ocean fronts, where different water masses (volumes of ocean water with different characteristics) meet.
MASIN will complement these observations by measuring the same fluxes using a different method. This requires a much higher volume of data to be collected over the same time period (the aircraft’s instruments sample the air 50 times per second).
These data will help us understand the processes that are going on at the boundary between the atmosphere and ocean. These processes are critical to get a handle on because they affect the way that the Southern Ocean sucks up and stores heat and greenhouse gases like CO2.
While the others are at Escudero, I will be supporting the flight campaign by keeping an eye on the weather forecast and satellite imagery, and helping with flight planning from Rothera. Once they have completed the flights from King George Island, they will return and we will do more flying from here.
The flights from Rothera will examine air-sea fluxes in the Bellingshausen and Weddell Seas, on the western and eastern sides of the peninsula, respectively. Because the characteristics of the atmosphere, ocean and sea ice zone are different in the west and east, this will enable us to explore the reasons for any differences we observe in the exchange of heat, energy and gases.