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Starbase Rothera

Updated Thursday, 19th April 2007

Mark Brandon prepares to leave Antarctica

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It’s a strange thing to wake up and find the ship not rolling after so long. We had been tied up at the base for a few hours before I got up and walked into the main lab to catch up with what had been going on. Rothera is the largest British Antarctic Research station and it is about half way down the Antarctic Peninsula. It's an amazing place with research labs, accomodation, workshops, and it is the home of the air unit. Of course no air unit can operate without a runway and so Rothera is dominated by the 1 km long strip of gravel on the edge of the island. You can see what I mean in this photo. As it's nearly winter all the little red planes have headed north long ago so the gravel is started to get buried by the snow.

It's actually a strange time to be at Rothera because although during the short Antarctic summer there can be upwards of 120 people working here, now there are only about 45 - and half of those are leaving Antarctica on our ship leaving just 22 people to make it through the Antarctic winter.

There is an amazing amount of work going on. We are the last people leaving and so its the last chance to make sure everything that needs to go north is on board. Whilst some of the stuff coming out with us is obvious - for example we have a couple of mechanical diggers already loaded, some is a bit more obscure. For example I bet you would be surprised at the amount of rubbish we are bringing out. You see, people often talk about how Antarctica is under threat, but in reality compared with some vunerable areas of the planet you should be pleased to find out we have some of the strictest environmental laws on the planet.

If you think about it it seems obvious that you should take your rubbish out of Antarctica. But of course it wasn't always that way. In the golden olden days research stations just put their rubbish out on the sea ice in winter, and when the summer came and the ice broke up, that was it - gone! The first time I came south was with the US Antarctic Program and I spent time talking to writer who had dived at McMurdo Research Station. He told me how once he found an ironing board on the sea floor! I couldn't imagine bringing an ironing board to Antarctica, let alone throwing it away!! That could just not happen now. Everything comes out thanks to the most amazing set of rules.

When we leave there will be just 22 people left and entirely on their own. There are actually only three scientists on the base over winter - but it takes a lot of people to keep the operation running. You have a base commander, a doctor, a builder, a mechanic, a chef, an electrician a plumber, a comms person and some mountaineers. And that's it. The average age is I think about 26.

I'm sure they want us to go as soon as possible so they can get on with organizing themselves, but for the last couple of days they not only cope with us, but one of the mountaineers (an architect on holiday for the year) took us out into the local hills. It was great to stretch my legs away from the base, and take a skidoo ride for a few kilometers.

I really hope they have a succesful winter.

If you want to see it get dark and tough it gets for them at Rothera you can always take a look on the webcam.

Oh and I nearly forgot. I finally got some chocolate from the Base. OK, so it was 6 years out of date but after what seems like forever, it tasted great.

Next stop the Falkland Islands.

loaded sledges Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon
Loaded sledges.




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