Travelling to Antarctica

Nadia Frontier, a BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology graduate, has almost finished her 56-day journey, by ship, to Antarctica, where she will spend 15 months living and working as a marine biologist, on the British Antarctic Survey Base, Rothera. 

She has been keeping busy by spending time on the monkey island (the highest point on the ship) where she and her colleagues have been on the lookout for marine animals. 

“We have been GPS recording our sightings with additional information about behaviour, group structure and environmental variables. We aim to share our data with citizen-science platforms and hope this will contribute to distributional knowledge about relatively illusive and hard to study marine mammals.” 

Nadia has also been spending time with the ornithologists on board, who have been teaching her about different birds and the subtle characteristics that help differentiate between species. 

The Journey

Nadia’s journey to Rothera is quite different to previous teams who have made the nearly 9000 mile trip before her, due to coronavirus and restrictions with flying into certain countries. 

It has meant that wintering teams (the small teams that stay at bases during the winter) from British Antarctic Survey bases in Rothera, Halley and Bird Island, as well as a summer team from Signy, have all been travelling on the James Clark Ross (JCR) Research Vessel since 2 November 2020. 

Rothera will be the last stop for the JCR, reaching their destination on 27 December. The Halley team will then fly the rest of the way to their research station, due to it being positioned on a moving ice shelf.

Image credit: Nadia Frontier

Studying at Plymouth

Nadia has wanted to go to the Antarctic to work since the start of her University journey. 

“Antarctic research captivated me.” 

She wanted to learn more about the biodiversity that thrives in such cold environments

“I first heard about the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) after one of my lecturers gave a presentation about his 3-month research project. He had just returned from his stint in Antarctica and I distinctly remember his overview about life on base which enthralled me.” 

Throughout her University career, Nadia’s desire to work on a BAS base grew stronger as she met more people who had returned from similar positions. 

 
Her degree gave her the essential skills that were required for the position of a marine biologist. 

“I have taken away transferrable skills such as experience in taxonomic identification, gained practical skills during field trips to Roscoff and South Africa, developed my report-writing skills through various assignments and most importantly, taken-away a critical approach to scientific work.”

During her degree, Nadia took advantage of being able to learn to dive at the University, and gained her scientific diving qualification which allowed her to take part in underwater scientific surveys and assist with different diving projects run by local organisations. 


Nadia also profited from the Marine Biological Association, which is close to the University and accessible to students. Through this she managed to get a taste of what it is like to work as a marine scientist in the real world. 

 
She also got a lot of extra-curricular diving experience through the University’s Plymouth Marine Station

 

“I volunteered as much as possible helping collect data for dissertation projects, assisting with staff projects and helping with installation of underwater structures.” 

 
Nadia also reaped the advantages of being next to Britain’s biggest aquarium and volunteered as a diver to maintain the show tanks and helped with their project to monitor seagrass in and around Plymouth Sound.

<p>Nadia Frontier diving</p>
Photo credit: Nadia Frontier
<p>Nadia Frontier training</p>
Photo credit: Connor Richardson
<p>Nadia Frontier survival training</p>
Photo credit: Nadia Frontier

Preparing to move to Antarctica

Since August, Nadia has been sent on a range of training courses to help prepare her for life in Antarctica. She has had job-specific training, such has power-boat handling and diving, as well as more general base-life training including lorry-loader operating, breathing apparatus training for fighting fires and preparations on how to respond to an oil spill. 

 
As she will be living on base for 15 months, all of the staff have been given a large crate to fill with personal possessions to keep them entertained through the long winter. 

“I hope to take this opportunity to learn new skills, such as a language and re-awaken my past musical self!”

Photo credit: Nadia Frontier

“Saying goodbye to friends and family really helped with the process of leaving because they offered so much love and support. Their overriding feelings was joy that what I was going to do would make me happy and the start of fulfilling a long-awaited dream.”

Expectations

“I expect to live a completely different lifestyle.” 

Nadia expects a full schedule whilst she is on base, as this year she is one of only two marine biologists who will be at Rothera. 

“As a Marine Biologist, I will be part of the marine team which will consist of four staff; myself, the marine assistant, the boating officer and the diving officer. We will all be working closely together to conduct scientific research on Antarctic habitats using diving as our key tool to access our study sites.” 

Her main aim is to implement novel research projects, from deploying long-term underwater experiments, to repeatedly surveying tagged species and monitoring species physiology over the seasons. 

 
Although the bulk of Nadia’s work will be done in the natural environment, she will also be conducting studies in the laboratory using microscopes to analyse gut content of different species and installing aquarium system to replicate natural conditions so she can monitor certain species. 

“Ultimately, the aim of my research will be to obtain growth rates of seafloor organisms in order to understand how they respond to the strong influence of seasonality.”

As well as working as a marine biologist, Nadia will also be expected to contribute towards the running of the base, such as helping with night watches four weeks of the year and helping with cooking duties now and then so the chef can have a day off. 


Nadia is also part of the search and rescue team, so will be expected to act as part of the emergency response team when planes come onto base. 

“The beauty of station life is that people from a range of disciplines will be bought together to achieve a common goal. This will give ample opportunity to gain an insight into more practical work such as generators, plant operations and woodwork.”

It’s not all work though, and after the morning fire training on a Saturday, Nadia is looking forward to taking part in a range of different activities, such as skiing, ice climbing and hiking. 

<p>Dolphiins by Mark Whiffin</p>
Dolphins on the journey, Mark Whiffin
<p>Elephant Seal South Georgia</p>
Elephant seals in South Georiga, Nadia Frontier
<p>Penguins in South Georgia</p>
Penguins in South Georgia, Nadia Frontier

Looking to the future

“As a young scientist, I expect that working as a Marine Biologist at BAS will be a springboard into my carer where I will have the opportunity to manage my own research and obtain scientifically, sound data.” 

As well as the skills Nadia has learned at University, she also did various internships and hopes to be able to put all of these skills into practice on the BAS base. 

She’s also keen to learn and gain knowledge about the logistics of running a polar research base and is looking forward to the interpersonal skills she will acquire from working and living with a range of different personnel across the base. 

“I expect that taking on the responsibilities of leading my own research whilst working closely with scientists in Cambridge and forming collaborations with other institutes will help me pursue the route of academia."  

“Generating high quality scientific data and communicating this effectively in publications will be a fantastic experience that will hopefully set me-up well for further studying such as a PhD.” 

Learning the safety clove-hitch, photo credit: Ed Luke

 

To find out more about Nadia’s journey to Antarctica, and the training she has had to get ready for her new role, check out her blog 'Breaking the Ice'. 

Study marine and coastal ecosystems in a global context

In this hands-on degree, one of the best in the UK and with an international reputation, you’ll tackle big questions, such as why are coral reefs so diverse, how do we best manage and conserve marine life, and how will climate change impact biodiversity? Fieldwork will be a key component of your studies, using the excellent marine and coastal habitats on Plymouth’s doorstep, as well as on residential courses in France and South Africa.

BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology