Nearing season’s end

Some recent comments have finally inspired me to write up another post.  We have, you see, been very busy on station getting everything squared away for the season.  Not only do we need to make sure that we’ve finished everything we’ve started (and perhaps some things we haven’t), we also need to make ready for resupply.

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Resupply is the busiest time of year for the stations.  In less than a week (if we manage to do it as quickly as last year) we’ll have unloaded 500 tonnes of cargo and a few hundred thousand litres of SAB (Special Antarctic Blend diesel) onto the station.  We will also have loaded up all of this year’s rubbish, decommissioned equipment and other goods no longer required on station.  And all of this is conducted on the thick fast ice that covers the ocean for a few kilometres from the shore.

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The first sign of summer having arrived is the appearance of water.  Even at -8C, the sun is able to heat up anything dark and accelerate the snow’s disappearance (remembering that water can undergo sublimation, which means that during winter the snow is constantly evaporating into the air without having to melt first).  Since these photos, the air temperature has reach just above zero for three days in a row, and melt streams are forming in a few areas around station.

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I did manage to find an afternoon to head out and have a look at the Weddell seals pupping, however.  The hut in the distant background of the first seal photo is Brookes Hut.  Brookes is the most popular hut to visit once the sea ice blows out, owing to its proximity and the relatively flat walking to get there.

It was very interesting to see life come full circle down here.  When I first arrived last year, we saw a lot of curious penguins after they’d completed their breeding.  We don’t get much of a chance to see them with their chicks as the sea ice tends to blow out before they hatch.  We also saw the elephant seals in the wallow on the beach, but those too were in breeding limbo.  I will finally feel like I’ve been here for a full cycle of life in a few months when the elephant seals return.

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And speaking, of course, of penguins, we stopped on the way back to station to watch their breeding behaviour in one of the rookeries near station.  They’re quite comical for two reasons.  Firstly, they can be rather cheeky about stealing rocks from other penguins to make their little display pieces.  And second, their little courtship movement and sound look quite like they are first pumping themselves up (with their head upright and their wings moving rhythmically back and forth) before making a vaguely melodious ‘grunt’.  I’m sure it’s all for show, but it really does look like they’re pumping up some manner of internal bellows.

Well, this has been a slightly briefer update than usual, and I expect that will be the case for the following weeks.  Our resupply preparations will only speed up over the next week and a half as all of the last minute jobs (like ‘de-winterising’ the summer accommodation buildings) continue.  Thanks for reading.

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