The traverse begins

Anna Hogg

Anna Hogg

We have just received the update below from Anna Hogg, written on 18 November during a brief rest in the caboose because of bad weather! Anna is a PhD student at the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, and is working on radar measurements on the iSTAR traverse this season, as part of Ice Loss (iSTAR D).

After one day of bad weather layup in British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station and four consecutive days of howling wind out in the field, the forecast finally gave a 50:50 chance for a successful flight onto the traverse. This season a 50:50 chance is good enough so we took to the sky.

From Rothera there are three legs on the flight south, first to Fossil Bluff; a refuelling base nestled alongside a ridge of mountains, second to Sky Blu; a blue ice runway, and finally to our deep field site on Pine Island Glacier. I co-piloted the first leg and it was really exciting to sit up front in the cockpit for take-off and our first landing on skis, but what was truly awesome was the terrain below us. Rothera to Fossil Bluff gives arguably the ultimate bird’s-eye view as we flew over laced networks of sea ice with a scattering of giant icebergs frozen in, the coastline with glaciers spilling out to sea, and peered down into jagged crevassed ice which would otherwise be impassable. From Fossil Bluff south the terrain transitions from the mountainous peninsula to a flat, featureless ice sheet, occasionally punctured by a solitary nunatak.

The weather played ball right up until we came in to land at our final destination, the depot just east of iSTAR traverse point three. We lost all contrast and with a white cloudy sky and white snow to land on, identifying the horizon was challenging to say the least! The 30 knot winds didn’t help much either. Despite the poor conditions, Al, our pilot, picked out the runway flagged by James, Johnny and Tim, and skilfully landed the Twin Otter plane as gently as if we were landing anywhere else in the world. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for me is just another day in the office for the BAS pilots it seems! The second Twin Otter, piloted by Andy on his first deep field landing, touched down 20 minutes later, thus successfully completing the deployment of the first batch of scientists into the field for the start of the iSTAR traverse.

For me, every day since I arrived in Antarctica has been full of firsts: first walk around the point, first encounter with an elephant seal, first successful testing of my science kit up at Vals, first penguin (finally they arrived!), first flight in a Twin Otter, first night in a tent on the most southerly continent on Earth… The list goes on but as I sit rocking about in the caboose as we drive over wind-hardened sastrugi on the way to point one on the iSTAR traverse, I look forward to the adventure that has only just begun. Life is exciting!

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