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Rothera Research Station

Position: 67° 34’ S, 68 ° 08’ W, Rothera Point, Adelaide Island.

Occupied: 25th October 1975 to present.

 

Adelaide Island lies approximately 1860km south of the Falkland Islands and 1630km south east of Punta Arenas in Chile. The island is 140km long and heavily glaciated with mountains of up to 2565m height. The station is built on a promontory of rock at the southern extremity of the Wormald Ice Piedmont.

Latest Weather

Temperature Last Update Wind Speed Wind Direction
0°C 21 Oct 2014 at 01:00:00 20 knots 30 deg

Station Personnel

The station is open throughout the year, in the summer the population will peak at just over 100 people. In the winter months, April to mid October, a compliment of around 22 will be continuing the science work and looking after the station infrastructure.

The work disciplines represented on the station include marine & terrestrial biologists, meteorologists, electronics engineers, dive officer, boating officer, chef, doctor, vehicle and generator mechanics, electricians, plumbers, builders, field assistants, communications managers and of course a station management team.

Science

Marine and Terrestrial Biology, Geology, Glaciology, Meteorology and Upper Atmospherics.

Rothera is the principal BAS logistics centre for support of Antarctic field science. There is a 900m long crushed rock runway allowing an air link with South America and the Falkland Islands, the Biscoe Wharf provides safe mooring for ships.

BAS Twin Otter aircraft and row of pyramid tents at an ice core drilling camp

Once personnel and their equipment have arrived at Rothera they can be transported to field locations through the use of ski equipped de Haviland Twin Otter aircraft. Additionally a de Haviland Dash 7 aircraft is able to land on wheels at the blue ice runway known as Sky Blu. Field work is concentrated in the summer months from November through to March.

Field science programmes currently being supported from the station include glacial retreat, ice coring for the study of atmospheric chemistry and climate as well as the collection of geological data to support computer modelling of the historic movement of ice sheets.

There is also a considerable science programme being undertaken at the station itself.

The Bonner Laboratory, opened austral summer 1996-97, with its incorporated dive facility provides an excellent centre for the study of marine and terrestrial biology. The dive programme continues year round with divers accessing the water through holes cut in the sea ice during the winter.

Current areas of biological study include DNA “fingerprints” of evolution tracing the way species adapt to environmental extremes. Additionally there is an established long term monitoring study of specific sites to identify changes and trends in populations of certain species over time. This sort of information will be useful in identifying the effect of climate change.

A scientist launches a meteorological balloon at Rothera Research Station.

Since the stations first occupation daily meteorological records have been maintained, these are now fed directly to the UK Meteorological Office for use in global weather forecasting models. Helium filled met balloons are launched regularly to record temperature, humidity and winds up to a height of 25km in the atmosphere.

Physical scientists are also studying the upper atmosphere above Antarctica. Instruments being used include a Medium Frequency Radar to establish winds and temperatures at altitudes in the range 50 to 80km. A Skiymet meteor radar is also being used to deduce similar information.

A Low Power Magnetometer is also situated at Rothera to record variations in the earths magnetic field. This is one of a chain of such instruments that BAS has installed in Antarctica so we can see what is happening across this polar region.

Station facilities

Bransfield House provides dining, social and recreational facilities for the people living at Rothera. It also houses offices and labs for the physical scientists and at the north end is found the operations control tower.

Air operations control tower at Rothera Research Station Accommodation at Rothera Research Station.

Bedrooms are situated in, Admirals House (en suite rooms for two people) and in Giants House (rooms for four people with communal wash rooms). The names are taken from the lastRothera sledge dog teams.

The Bonner Laboratory at Rothera Research Station

At the southern end of the site you will find the Bonner Laboratory, the boat shed and the Biscoe Wharf where ships can safely moor in ten metres of water for the transfer of cargo and personnel. The boat shed provides covered space for the storage and maintenance of our small fleet of rigid inflatable boats.

Aircraft inside the hangar at Rothera

To the west of the runway lies the aircraft hangar, this will snugly accommodate the Dash 7 and three Twin Otter aircraft protecting them from the harshest weather. Within the shelter of the hangar mechanics carry out all the necessary servicing of the aircraft.

To the west also are the bulk fuel storage tanks, these are re-filled from ship each summer. The tank farm is surrounded by a bund wall that would contain the fuel if ever there was a spillage.

Well equipped workshops are to be found in the centre of the site, being in such a remote part of the world we have to be able to maintain all the station buildings, vehicles and equipment without outside help. There is a garage, and separate work areas for electricians, plumbers and builders.

The generator shed houses three Cummins engines that produce the stations electrical power need. In recent years improved management and use of new technologies have allowed us to reduce our overall electrical demand. There is currently a study into the use of suitable renewable energy sources compatible with the Antarctic environment and endemic wildlife.

Our water supply is provided through the use of “reverse osmosis” filtrationtechnology to convert sea water into potable fresh water. In the past fresh water was produced by melting snow but this was always an energy hungry solution.

A sewage treatment plant handles all the human waste and grey water produced on site with only cleaned water being discharged to sea. Solids from the plant are disposed of through a high efficiency two stage incinerator with residual ash contained and removed from Antarctica by ship.

Station life

There are two ways of travelling to Rothera. Most people will arrive aboard the BAS Dash 7 aircraft having flown from Stanley in the Falkland Islands (about five hours) or Punta Arenas in Chile (about four and a half hours). Alternatively the BAS ships visit Rothera at least twice each summer bringing passengers as well as cargo, it is about four days sailing from Stanley.

Ship visits are particularly important as they are the way we receive our essential supplies. This includes food, fuel, scientific equipment, vehicles, spare parts for machinery, building materials and much anticipated personal possessions for our station staff. Since the construction of the Biscoe Wharf in 1992 it has been possible to make full use of shipping containers as the means to transport our cargo.

Meals are taken communally in a central dining room, breakfast is a self prepared meal of cereals and toast. Lunch and dinner are prepared by the chefs. On a Saturday evening there is a more formal dinner, people dress on the smart side of casual and a multi course meal is enjoyed by all. Although we do not have access to fresh ingredients every day our chefs prepare food of the highest standard and the possibility of putting on weight is real!

There is always plenty of work to do on an Antarctic station, so working a UK style forty hour week is not really practical. We often have to time our work with the prevailing weather, if it is atrocious outside then we get on with indoor work or get some rest. When the weather is suitable for aircraft operations and outdoor tasks we put full effort in those directions.

Climate

In the summer temperatures are typically in the range 0 to +5 deg C, in winter they are more likely to be between –5 and – 20 deg C. Due to the coastal location and the track taken by southern ocean low pressure weather systems temperatures can vary widely at any time of year. Sea ice may be present from late May to late November but it takes a prolonged period with calm conditions for the ice to form and become fast.

The prevailing wind direction is northerly.Gale force winds are usually recorded on seventy days per annum. Snow can fall at any time of year though in recent times the main deposition has come and the end of winter. It does occasionally rain at Rothera.

Laying just south of the Antarctic circle the station receives twenty four hour daylight in summer, conversely for a period of a few weeks in winter the sun does not rise above the horizon at all.

Wildlife

The coastal location means that we are able to observe a good selection of the Antarctic birds and mammals. Of the penguin species adelie’s are the most numerous, chinstrap and gentoos are only occasionally present in the summer. The emperor penguin is seen infrequently with a sighting most likely in the months of September, October or November. There are breeding populations of dominican gull (three pairs) and south polar skua (fifteen pairs or more). Antarctic terns and wilsons petrels are present offshore through the summer months but they chose to nest on higher mountain ridges. The blue eyed shag will be seen whenever the sea is not frozen, it breeds on several offshore islands.

Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) Adelie Penguins on an ice floe close to Rothera Point, Adelaide Island, Antarctica.

Weddell seals are the most obvious mammal, they are present all year round and use their teeth to keep access holes open when the sea surface is frozen. In late September pups are born out on the sea ice. Crabeater and elephant seals will also be encountered, fur seals turn up in varying numbers at the end of each summer. The leopard seal is a large predatory animal that hunts penguins and seals, it is present all year round but despite it’s size it is not actually seen that frequently.

Small numbers of minke and humpback whales are seen in Ryder Bay each summer, some years the minke is observed almost daily. A family of Orcas inhabit the larger Marguerite Bay area and are usually seen from the station several times each summer.

History

Adelaide Island was first sighted from the brig “Tula” in February 1832 when completing a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent. Master of the ship, John Biscoe, named the land after Queen Adelaide the wife of British monarch King William IV.

In 1909 a French doctor named Jean Baptiste Charcot led the crew of the yacht “Pourquoi Pas” on a voyage down the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. His expedition named many of the features they could see from Marguerite Bay. It was not until the British Graham Land Expedition of 1934-37 that Adelaide was confirmed to be an island separate from the Antarctic Peninsula.

From 1955 to 1960 the UK maintained a survey station on Horseshoe Island on the east side of Marguerite Bay. In 1957 two surveyors John Rothera and Peter Gibbs crossed the frozen sea ice and explored the area now known as Rothera Point.

From 1961 to 1977 UK activity in the area was conducted from Adelaide Island Station located at the southern tip of the island. For many years this proved a good base from which to undertake further survey of the Antarctic Peninsula

Rothera Station was established in 1975 to replace Adelaide Island Station where the glacier ski-way had deteriorated rendering the operation of ski equipped aircraft hazardous. There was a phased construction programme so that by 1980 the station provided accommodation, electrical power generation, vehicle workshops, scientific offices and a store for travel equipment.

From Rothera’s inception to the 1991-1992 austral summer season BAS Twin Otter aircraft used a glacier ski-way 300m above the station on the Wormald Ice Piedmont. During that summer a gravel runway and hangar facility was commissioned bringing a more reliable air operation and the possibility of a passenger aircraft link from outside the continent.Up to this time everyone coming to Rothera had to depart from the Falkland Islands by ship.

Today the development of the Rothera site continues, this is not an expansion but an ongoing programme of replacing old structures making best use of new technologies. Improved insulation and energy production and management systems can further reduce the environmental footprint of the station.