Letter from Lockroy - 29th January
Currently we are experiencing our busiest period with respect to ship visits this season. January is almost gone (ahhhhh, time is just flying) and in February we will be busy with more archiving, maintenance, general reporting, penguin counting and unfortunately also preparation of the end-of-season inventory. We avoid the e....-o..-s..... word as much as possible to make the time go slower. Since we have been very much involved with ship visits this past month, and often get the question of what we do besides talking to the visitors, I would like to explain a little bit about all activities related to a ship visit to show how much effort goes into just one landing. Before each ship visit we have to ensure that the batteries for the lighting of the darker rooms are charged, the visitors' book is prepared as well as the general information leaflets about Port Lockroy and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. The visit also has to be managed and aligned by Nikki with the Expedition Leader on the ships in order to be in line with the IAATO guidelines e.g. maximum number of people, their behaviour and do's/don'ts on each site. These guidelines ensure that the environment in Antarctica is well protected whilst visitors can enjoy their stay to the maximum. This creates enthusiastic ambassadors for Antarctica and its history at home. Prior to the landing of the visitors, one of us joins the ship for a short presentation in order to inform everybody about the history, the current activities and the future activities of the base and the Trust. During this period the remaining three of us check the state of the path for safety and cleanliness and have a check on the inside of the museum and shop. During the visit the four of us take turns in manning the shop/post office (two people), the museum (one person) and the outside area (one person). During any visit, all types of questions are posed to us. As well as the most frequent question of, "how long do you stay here", we have lot of inspiring questions with sparkling eyes. When everybody has returned back on the ship enjoying a nice cup of tea in a warm lounge, we are quickly cleaning the floors of Bransfield house (since penguin guano is unavoidable and carried in from time to time via rubber boots), then occupied with restocking and financial administration in the shop. A couple of days ago, after a three-ship-day, we treated ourself to a Pisco Sour at the chains landing in the evening light. What a treat at the end of a long and satisfying day!
Hannele has tried to get in contact with the Finnish station Aboa in Queen Maud Land. Up to now the connection was not too good due to the weather and atmospheric conditions. One of these days though, she came out jumping up and down since she has had a clear connection both ways (both parties could hear each other!). Now we not only have had contact with the BAS station Rothera but as well with the Finnish station Aboa.
Radio communication via HF is one example of how the weather dominates our lives down here. Our daily work is affected: needing to walk over slippery rocks in strong wind; needing decent weather for outside maintenance work; huge amounts of snow shovelling slowing our regular work down at the start of the season. At the beginning of this week we had the first steady snowfalls and we actually had to do some snow shovelling again. We were already speculating if our team would be the first to witness the start of a glacial formation on Goudier Island. Normally there would likely be no snow on the island at the end of January. However we still have snow left at several spots and with the new snowfall, speculation about the development of a small glacier is in the air! To be honest we have to say that in order for an icefield to be named a glacier, it has to move downward by its own weight which is not very likely on our small island. Our back bay is a great spot to hear and, if we are quick, also see the calving of real glaciers from the different mountains around our area. One of these glaciers off Jabet Peak has actually been used by BAS until the 1990s as a landing strip for Twin Otters to facilitate the logisitcs of their scientific operations.
Another effect of the huge amount of snow at the beginning of the season is that the penguins have been nesting and hatching very late this season. Hen is continuously monitoring the screen colony. They are very close to the target percentage for the second whole island count, which is also rather late for this season. It will depend on the weather towards the end of the season to know how strong the effect of this late hatching is on the breeding success. Not only penguins but also other wildlife is observed. One morning Nikki came running from the boot room into our living area and shouted "look at this, look at this...". She saw right in front of our chains landing several large ice floes. One ice flow was slanted sideways and had six crabeater seals and one pup resting from the rather stormy weather. It was a great sight with the dark clouds in the background. Another seal kept on poking his head out of the water trying to jump out as well....what an experience!
Although the weather was not so favourable with us this week, the work was still there to be done. We focused on inside work such as documenting the artefacts (Hen), sorting out the food stock and years of accumulated scrap wood in the boatshed (Nikki and Hannele) and getting the incineration toilet back to work (Ylva). Many tasks have already been finished while others are still waiting to be completed...we will stay busy :-). Hard work is also rewarded in unexpected ways. Ylva experienced a surprise visit from Tommi, a friend from last year's voyage on the Bark Europa. His photographs of the landscapes linked to special songs reminded all of us about the beauty of this continent that we are currently privileged to be working in.
Since we are living on a small island of approx. 200x400m without our own transportation, on the rare occasion some of the cruise ships are very considerate and offer us a short break on board their ship. Fram invited two of us on board to join them for an early morning trip down the Lemaire and a visit to Petermann Island prior to their scheduled landing at Port Lockroy in the afternoon. This time Hen and Ylva were the lucky ones and it was a real treat for them to be able to stretch their legs on a short hike up the hill. Petermann also has a colony of Adelie and gentoo penguins in close vicinity to breeding blue eyed shags. Exceptionally also one chinstrap hatched its chick amongst all the other species. It was amazing to see the fluffy black round balls stumbling all over the place chasing their parents for food. After being back at work in Port Lockroy, some of the team were interviewed by several journalists either for an article or a radio programme representing the Sunday Telegraph (Britain), Deutschlandfunk/WDR2 (Germany) and Ljuva Livet (Sweden). It is a pleasure sharing our experiences not only with the visitors directly here ashore but it is very special to be able to reach via the media people at home who do not have the opportunity to visit this vast continent. We really appreciate everybody's interest in the Antarctic Heritage Trust and hope to spread the news on its activities even further in this way. Thanks to all of you who are supporting the Trust in one way or another.