Meet the team: 10 questions with Andrew ‘AJ’ Jones
We chat with field operations manager Andrew ‘AJ’ Jones about his time in the Royal Marines, the beer in Namibia and why he has a soft spot for Detaille.
1. Tell us about yourself.
I spent 10 years as an officer in the Royal Marines where I was lucky enough to live and work in some incredible places, like the jungles of Sierra Leone, the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan, the US and the Arctic Circle.
After the Royal Marines, I pursued a personal goal and studied Human, Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge, before joining an early-stage Artificial Intelligence startup, in London, to build their operations from the ground up into four multi-disciplinary teams.
AJ was in the Royal Marines (Credit: Andrew Jones)
In my spare time, I love travelling and learning from other cultures and have lived in, or travelled to, over 50 countries. I also love reading. I’m currently devouring Between The Sunset And The Sea by Simon Ingram, a wonderfully written and personal book about the best 16 mountains in the UK. For the last 12 years, I’ve been volunteering with Crisis over the Christmas period – a national charity dedicated to ending homelessness.
After three years in London, I now live in Cambridge with my partner, Lizzie, and our busy little Cocker Spaniel, Saffie.
2. What does a typical day at UKAHT look like for you?
It’s my responsibility to deliver all our field operations safely, effectively and sustainably, which means no two days are the same and I’m away for a few months of the year in Antarctica.
Remote field operations in Antarctica are operationally and logistically complex and expensive to deliver. Success requires a lot of funding, coordination, forward planning and adaptability to changing events.
When in the UK, I’m often deep planning which involves operations, logistics and contingency meetings with our internal teams and our BAS, IAATO and Royal Navy colleagues; buying and testing kit and equipment; working with scientists, experts and suppliers; preparing for and managing health and safety; and delivering and supporting training.
AJ will be managing this season's field team (Credit: UKAHT)
Outside of this, I’m the company lead for developing the Trust’s environmental policy and carbon reduction plan (Net Zero) and the lead for delivering our volunteer programme – as a side note, we’d love to have you volunteer with us in the UK. If this is something that interests you, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
When deployed, I’m responsible for the conservation team’s overall safety and success by making sure everyone’s safe, fit, healthy and focused regardless of the conditions. I’m also the wildlife monitor and carry out targeted studies to collect data on different species and their nesting habits in the areas we operate to inform wider, longer-term studies.
3. What made you want to work for UKAHT?
I’ve always been driven by a desire to work in conservation and have been captivated and inspired by the history of expeditions in the polar regions, especially Scott’s Terra Nova expedition from 1910 to 1913. In my opinion, one of the best travel books ever written is The Worst Journey In The World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a survivor of Scott’s team. UKAHT uniquely operates at the intersection of these two worlds and was the perfect fit for my experience, allowing me to travel abroad and work in the UK.
4. What's your favourite UKAHT site?
Base W, Detaille Island. It has such a rich history of human endeavour and scientific discovery. The site was occupied for three years as a working research station before the team had to evacuate quickly by sledge and foot after encroaching sea ice risked cutting off the team from any form of resupply for at least a year.
AJ's favourite site is Detaille (Credit: BAs Archives)
They were forced to leave the site in a matter of hours to reach a ship in the area and in doing so, left a literal time capsule of their lives and experiences behind. There’s also the wonderful story of canine endeavour, ‘Steve the Dog’.
5. What's your favourite species of penguin?
My favourite species of penguin is the emperor. They’re incredibly resilient, dealing with temperatures as low as -50C° and winds as high as 200km/h. I love that the mother lays a single egg and then hands it to the father to care for whilst she hunts at sea for months at a time before returning to the nest to feed her chick. The father doesn’t eat at all during this time and will lose half his body weight.
Fun fact: they can dive to nearly 600m and can stay underwater for over 30 minutes!
AJ's favourite species of penguin is the Emperor (Credit: Vladsilver/Shutterstock)
6. If you were working at Port Lockroy for the season, what luxury item would you take?
Just one item? Then a good sleeping bag. It can make the difference between a great night’s sleep and a terrible one and set you up for a good day the next day.
7. Tell us about a travel experience that changed you.
Namibia really touched my heart. Some friends and I took a 4x4 and tents and went off exploring for two weeks. We tracked lion footprints in the sand along the Skeleton Coast, slept under the clearest night skies I’ve ever seen, watched the sunrise over the famous ‘Dead Valley’ and watched wild giraffes roam the Namibian plains. The beer’s pretty good as well! I didn’t want to leave.
AJ loved his time in Namibia (Credit: Andrew Jones)
8. Tell us about a dream trip you still want to take.
To visit the Danakil Depression, a desert in the Afar Region of Ethiopia. It’s one of the lowest points and hottest places on the Earth’s surface and resembles how I’d imagine an alien exoplanet to look: volcanoes, lava, salt lakes and vibrantly coloured acidic springs.
9. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would love to see everyone do one good thing for someone else every day, whether that’s holding the door open for someone, buying a stranger a coffee or sitting and listening to someone more disadvantaged. The act of considering others is such a powerful one but is often understated and can have such a positive impact on someone’s happiness; imagine if everyone in the world collectively did this and what the combined positive effect would be on overall well-being!
10. Could you tell us about something you have learned while working at UKAHT?
I’ve loved learning that women played a subtle but important and enduring role in Antarctic history. I believe that we can’t discuss feats of human endeavour in the harsh Antarctic environment without talking about the sacrifice, dedication and support of the wives, mothers and family members left behind. Although women were prevented from joining the earliest expeditions and are largely invisible in the narratives of the earlier days, they enabled every expedition that left home shores and no claim to Antarctic achievement can be made without reference to these ‘heroes in the background’.
In No Shops and No Hairdressers Alok Jha talks with travel writer Sara Wheeler and UKAHT CEO Camilla Nichol to find out the untold stories of the first women to engage with Antarctica — from the first explorers to the undocumented wives of whalers, and the struggles of women scientists, who were not allowed to conduct research there until the 1970s.
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