30 January 2017
A change in the weather
It has been a wet and wild week here at Port Lockroy. Multiple days of rain have transformed our once picturesque snow covered island into a slippery, muddy outcrop of rock. The colder and windier weather has made landing operations challenging for many ships in the last few days but they have all made it, if a little late and looking rather damp. The passengers seem to have been especially grateful to have got ashore and have enjoyed time sheltering from the weather in the museum.
We have new routes on the island for the brave souls who want to experience Antarctic weather at its finest. Up on one of the highest rocks they can take in a 360 degree view while listening to the original anemometer tower creak and groan in the wind. The anemometer and wind vane were rigged on top of a 10m mast to record wind speed and direction and survived to record an 82mph (132 kph) wind, but keeping the instruments free of ice and snow was a constant problem in winter for the men of Operation Tabarin. Weather reporting was the first programme to commence at Port Lockroy in 1944 and the duty 'metman' had to brave all weathers and read the instruments every 3 hours. Meteorology has always been an unsung cornerstone of Antarctic science programmes but daily weather reports from Antarctica are fed into regional weather forecasts and also used for research into the climate of Antarctica, which has a huge effect on the weather of the rest of the world. Regular weather observations at Port Lockroy ceased after 1952 as it was realised that local conditions here were not necessarily reflective of the neighbourhood's true weather.
Many of the birds seem to have been enjoying the wind and we have marvelled as they soar and glide in the gusts, we have had regular visits from one or more Southern Giant-petrels, an impressive bird whose wingspan can reach 2m. A number of the gentoo chicks are starting to wander from the nests and are in the early stages of forming crèches as both parents head to sea to find food for their growing chicks. The Sheathbills have been mentioned in previous blogs and we estimate about 8 pairs on the island, however they are hard to count as they are very inquisitive and tend not to settle in one place for very long. They often stand on one leg, tucking the other one up in their feathers to keep it warm and they are so adept at getting around by hopping that regularly visitors ask about the 'one legged' birds. We knew they had been nesting and we had observed them collecting various nesting materials including penguin feathers, a lens cap and a $100 bill (which was successfully returned to its owner!). This week two chicks hatched in a nest under the deck outside Bransfield House and I watched one of the adults steal a penguin egg, break it and feed the contents to the chicks. As they are the only regularly occurring Antarctic bird that does not have webbed feet they seem to have been taking full advantage of the newly formed puddles on the island to take regular baths whilst still being able to touch the bottom with their feet.
Finally, it has been a good week on the food front, visiting ships and yachts have been especially generous with fresh fruit, vegetables and garlic. January 25th was Burn's Night and fortunately also Laura's turn to cook. She managed to source and put together a wonderful dinner of tinned haggis and fresh neeps and tatties. We rounded off the evening by sharing and reciting poetry, including 'A Tale of the Sea' written by Ernest Shackleton about a dream he had aged 22 which inspired him to become a polar explorer.