MSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology graduate, Nadia Frontier, set off for the British Antarctic Survey base on Rothera, Antarctica, on 2 November 2020, where she will be working as a marine biologist for the next 15 months.
On the journey to Rothera, the JCR had made a number of stops in South Georgia, Coronation Islands and the South Shetland Islands, but Nadia was really in true Antarctica when she stepped off the boat at her new home (at 67 degrees South).
“I could not help imagining all the experiences and memories I would have on base whilst I walked across the snow-covered paths and into the dining room.”
Her first cup of tea was drank whilst spotting elephant seals amongst the icebergs, Weddell seals on the waters edge and a group of Crabeater seals swimming through the icy water.
“The station and its surroundings have by far exceeded my expectations. I had looked at many photos/ read blogs before arriving to Rothera but no photo can do the 360o view surrounding the station justice.”
There’s a real community feel to the base, with meal times all happening together, and Nadia feels she has really connected with the colleagues she has been getting to know. Nadia has been amazed at the facilities on offer to her and the team; there’s an indoor climbing wall, a music room, and even arts and craft store to keep them all entertained whilst they’re not working.
“I am amazed at the availability and accessibility of extracurricular activities. I did not expect to maintain the varied lifestyle which I used to. Some days are so hot I am running in shorts and a thin long sleeved top outside!“
Christmas at Rothera
Image credit: Alex Wallace
Having arrived slightly earlier than expected, on 23 December, Nadia and her team got to spend both Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the base.
“Having 24 hours of daylight during the Christmas and New Year celebrations was certainly an experience.”As they were still meant to be sailing on Christmas Day, Nadia had planned a Secret Santa for those on her boat, so that morning they all got back onto the JCR where the captain distributed their presents.
“My present was a plaster cast orca (using old material from the doctor’s surgery) – it has certainly livened up my room. And, sure enough, the day before we saw a group of orcas in the bay.”The Christmas celebrations were a great opportunity for Nadia to meet the current wintering team, with everybody setting up the dinner tables and getting into the Christmas spirit. They had a banquet of good food, followed by a football game on the tarmac of the runway.
Nadia then went for a run with some of her fellow staff to prepare for an evening buffet and then a ski around the local ramps.
Within an hour of arriving, Nadia and her team were given a comprehensive tour of the station, with an induction period continuing until the older wintering team have fully handed over to the new staff.
“We have been attending various training modules from field inductions (understanding the local areas, crevasse rescue, ski binding) to learning how to drive a skidoo and gaiters (small vehicles to transport equipment around station).”
Nadia now needs to focus on working with the current marine biologist to learn the varied operations of the marine team.
There are only four of them within her team and they all need to be well acquainted with different machinery and operations to conduct their dives. This ranges from knowledge on how to drive a tractor to a crane and operating a decompression chamber.
“In terms of my research, I have begun experimenting with methods of tagging sea cucumbers and testing for the retention rates. In tandem, I am trailing different metrics to accurately measure the weight of animals with high water content as their mass can largely vary depending on their behaviour.”Nadia’s aim is to collect data spanning a full year, so she needs to plan her projects as soon as possible so they are ready to start at the beginning of the summer. To accomplish this she has collected algae, which are being maintained in aquaria and an isotopic solution which will label them.
"During this initial period, I am familiarising myself with the local diving sites and getting to know the species, substrate and different diving procedures."
These include maintaining constant communication with topside, giving air pressures every five minutes, maintaining constant seal watch and collecting samples for subsequent scientific experiments: all very hard to do, as Nadia says, whilst trying to contain her excitement about diving in the Antarctic.
The most exciting thing I’ve seen so far!
During one of our deeper dives at 24 m, I was amazed to see the seafloor carpeted with sea cucumbers. Their feeding tentacles were fully open and it was thrilling to see them feeding one arm at a time.
Image credit: Nadia Frontier
We will be having another catch-up with Nadia in a few months’ time to see how she is getting on with life in Antarctica.
To find out about her journey getting there, read Travelling to Antarctica.
Unless otherwise stated within the article, all image credits go to Nadia Frontier.