9 Minutes

Updated Wednesday 28th March 2007

The loss of daylight during the Antarctic winter makes everything harder for Mark Brandon, our man in the Antarctic.

I can do a lot in 9 minutes on this ship. I could have a few showers, I could go and do some hand washing (no the laundry still isn’t fully operational because of water shortage!), I could eat dinner, I could even go to the gym.

But right now I choose to spend my 9 minutes a different way – I stand out on deck and stare at the sky.

Today is poor weather. I couldn’t see the sun for the clouds. It was grey and cold – like a UK November day. The sea was steel grey with 3-4 m swells rolling past. The only colour in the whole scene was the white of dozens of icebergs scattered around the ship, and a few of my favourite bird – the snow petrel.

I like the snow petrel for three reasons – the first of course is because it is a true Antarctican. You know you are south and amongst the ice when you start seeing the snow petrel. Once you head north – that’s it, snow petrels gone until you come back next year. My second reason is because it eats fish. Everyone knows that real birds eat fish! My third reason? The snow petrel is for memory not photography. I mean anyone can take a picture of a seal on a beach, or a penguin. But standing on a moving ship trying to take a picture of a fast moving white bird, on a white background …. Sure its lots of fun, but the results are less than spectacular.

snow petrels [image © copyright Mark Brandon] Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon
Snow Petrels

I know that they are not so impressive, but this is my best attempt in 9 minutes yesterday.

Can you see the two snow petrels?

It's better to just enjoy them.

 What was I saying? Oh yes, 9 minutes….. why do I keep going on about that?

We have just passed the spring equinox and in the UK the clocks have just gone forward. You have summer coming. But because of the tilt of the Earth's axis a northern hemisphere summer obviously means a southern hemisphere winter.

Now winter traditionally brings two things doesn’t it. The first is it gets cold – but where I am working it is not going to get too much colder. Remember last week we were working in -18°C, and whilst being a bit uncomfortable – its OK. Actually the problem with working in those conditions for me isn’t the cold – its overheating. You see you have to wear enough of the right clothes to not be cold when standing around, which of course means once you start working you end up sweating a lot.

No winter doesn’t mean cold to me, it's the second thing that is the problem.

We are losing daylight.

Every day since the equinox we get 9 minutes less Sunlight per day down here.

And the loss of light makes everything harder. It makes the science harder, but it even makes travelling harder.

Imagine: You are driving at night through a blizzard with three torches and two radars to see where you are going.

  Ice-breaking at night Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon Ice-breaking at night

You have to respect the skill of an icebreaker captain don’t you?


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