Blog: Science in the Sky – Pt 2: Settling in

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.

The view from my office window (on a good day!). Photo credit: Ella Gilbert

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).

Fitting the wing pylon for the cloud probe

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.


Russ screwing the infrared thermometer into the downward-facing panel underneath the plane’s floor.

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.



Blog: Science in the Sea – Pt 1: Journey to the JCR!

Science in the Sea – Ryan Scott

29 November 2017 – RRS James Clark Ross

Thursday 16th November and finally the time had come for me start my journey south to Antarctica! It was time to set off on the long trip to the RRS James Clark Ross, which is affectionately known as the JCR.

The taxi from Cambridge to Heathrow seemed relatively short, compared to the next two steps on my travel itinerary. First, we caught a 12 hour flight to São Paulo in Brazil and then a 4.5 hour flight from São Paulo to Santiago, Chile.

Our next flight wasn’t until early the next morning, so after checking into our hotel a group of us went to explore Santiago. This turned out to be more complicated than we’d imagined as none of us spoke Spanish and the driver (understandably) didn’t speak English!

At 4am the next morning we were up to catch a flight to Punta Arenas in Chile. At last, the final leg of our journey was upon us, just a short 1.5 hour flight to the Falkland Islands. Arriving at the military airport, we were greeted by weather which was surprisingly similar to the UK – rain and temperatures around 12°C. We travelled by taxi to the Falkland Islands capital, Stanley. The route was mostly along a gravel road which took us through old minefields and moorlands; the experience very much reminding me of Dartmoor!

After roughly 9505 miles we had finally finished our conventional travelling and most importantly managed not to lose any luggage!

A group of Magellanic penguins on the beach at Gypsy Cove, Falkland Islands. Photo Credit: Ryan Scott

Although Stanley is a small place, the walk along the main street is only about 5 minutes, it is known as the “Gateway to Antarctica”. The Falkland Islands capital is the main port for the JCR, therefore, it is very important for BAS and the scientific community!

Seeing the ship for the first time I was awe-struck, in front of me was the world-class research ship that was to be my home for the next month. I feel excited to start the cruise and proud that I am one of the lucky few who gets to go and do science in Antarctica.

Scientists admiring their home for the next month. From left to right: Rachael Sanders, Dafydd Stephenson, Ryan Scott. Photo Credit: Rachael Sanders.

On this cruise, the science party is made up of three teams. I am part of the underwater glider team on the cruise, onboard the JCR we will be deploying ocean gliders to collect data as part of the ORCHESTRA project. We will work closely with the hydrography team, who are also collecting data as part of ORCHESTRA. The biology team is working towards the ICEBERGS project, which aims to look at the response of sea life to glacier retreat along the western Antarctic Peninsula.

I think the two projects are both really interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how the science progresses… stay tuned!

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.

Blog: Science in the Sea – Pt 2: Busy Biologists

Science in the Sea: Ryan Scott

12 December 2017 – RRS James Clark Ross

First thing I learn as I begin my trip aboard the RRS James Clark Ross is that, scientist on research cruises need to be able to adapt quickly!

Within two days of setting off from Stanley our original itinerary was completely reshuffled. With a large storm heading our way, it would have made surveying and deploying gliders in Drake Passage almost impossible. So instead, we began heading straight to the two biology sites along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Our first destination was Marion Cove, which is close to both the South Korean base King Sejong on King George Island and a Chilean Base. As we travelled towards the cove I picked up both Korean and Chilean phone signals within an hour – there aren’t many places in the world where you can do that!

Looking out of Marion Cove at sunset. If you look closely you might just be able to see the Korean base King Sejong on the shore (centre-left). Photo credit: Ryan Scott.

During the survey, the biology team worked almost continuously over 48 hours collecting data using a variety of methods. Measurements included the depth to the seafloor and the temperature and salinity of the seawater. A shelf underwater camera system, deployed off the side of the ship, recorded live footage of the seafloor and samples of seafloor sediments and creatures were collected.

The trawling net being deployed at the back of the ship. This net is used to collect creatures from the seafloor. Photo credit: Jennifer Foster Davidson.

Photograph of sea star, collected using the Shelf Underwater Camera System. Photo credit: David Barnes.

All this information was collected as part of the ICEBERGS project and will help scientists understand what lives on the seafloor in areas recently exposed due to glacier retreat along the western Antarctic Peninsula. Scientists will be able to observe how abundant various species are in the newly uncovered regions compared with areas that have been uncovered for much longer. They will also be able to gain an insight into how much carbon gets stored in sediments when sea creatures (unfortunately) die.

Sampling at the second site, Börgen Bay on Anvers Island, went ahead in a similar manner to Marion Cove. The bay itself was breathtaking, I thought that Marion Cove had amazing scenery but Börgen Bay blew us all away!

The scenery at Börgen Bay was amazing and provided pleanty of photo opportunities. Photo credit: Ryan Scott

Next up, glider deployments!

Blog: Drake Passage Cruise

Drake Passage – Yvonne Firing

24 November 2016 – RRS James Clark Ross

Follow ORCHESTRA project scientist Yvonne Firing’s amazing fieldwork blog from the Southern Ocean here.

On the 2016/2017 Drake Passage cruise on the RRS James Clark Ross, we sail south from the Falkland Islands across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, repeating the measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made here since 1993. We also deploy some new autonomous floats, which will keep making these measurements as they drift through Drake Passage, the Scotia Sea, and onwards, and recover several moorings that have been monitoring temperature and pressure at the seafloor. All of these measurements help us better understand how much heat and freshwater the Southern Ocean contains, how it moves them and other substances in the water around, how this changes in time, and what role it plays in the global climate. In addition to the science at sea, Yvonne and the cruise volunteers describe some of our adventures visiting Antarctic field stations to support research based there, and the spectacular scenery we see along the way.

The JCR bow, heading into the seas in Drake Passage (Image: Y. Firing)