School of GeoSciences

The Exploration of Subglacial Lake Ellsworth

Geophysical Exploration - The Field Team's Blog

5th February
Well, what can I say; I certainly lucked out ending up with the co-pilot seat on the final MATRIX pick up (with pilot Doug C). Instead of returning to Sky Blu after picking up Rob and Fergal at Pine Island, we flew back to Rothera via a brief refuelling stop at Fossil Bluff on Alexander Island. Even more good luck here, as Cyril the chef was in residence, so we were able to partake of virtually unlimited supplies of his bread, washed down by several cups of tea!

The brief tourist stop at Fossil Bluff was then followed by a spectacular flight back to Rothera, flying over the George the VI Ice Shelf and the icebergs of Maguerite Bay. Rothera brought the unparalleled joy of a shower, beer and a proper meal (I don’t trust myself with a razor yet - I think I might leave the beard until tomorrow). Apart from Dan, who has stayed on at Sky Blu for a day or two to pick up some master GA tricks from Dave R, all members of the Lake Ellsworth and MATRIX fieldteams are now back at Rothera only 3 days after uplift started (they flew the DASH7 down to Sky Blu and back today); a great performance from all the members of the operation (ops and comms teams, pilots, mechs etc.). It’s certainly nice to be home (sort of). All we need to do now is get all the equipment (and our clothes) back from Sky Blu and repack it for return to the UK!

That’s all for this year folks – join us next year (Nov/Dec 2008) for updates of the next field season from Lake Ellsworth!

3rd-4th February
Amazing. The whole Lake Ellsworth team is now at Sky Blu. Thanks to the pilots doing back-to-back shifts using the two Twin Otters, the 5 uplift flights between Sky Blu and Lake Ellsworth were completed in a single 24-hour period. This saw Dan and I leaving Lake Ellsworth at 5 am on the morning of the 4th February (it was absolutely freezing at this time – even by Lake Ellsworth’s standards), arriving Sky Blu 3 hours later. We were absolutely exhausted after 24 hours of unloading, loading and refuelling planes, giving weather reports, preparing the depot, taking down our tents etc. etc. It was very surreal to be sitting in the Melon Hut at Sky Blu, at a TABLE, with a cup of tea in our hands. To be honest, at one point Dan and I feared that we were going to be left at Lake Ellsworth, simply because after John and Andy had been uplifted on the fourth Twin Otter, the sky started to cloud over and we really did start to think that the weather might deteriorate sufficiently for the last Twin Otter to turn back to Sky Blu without us!

After a couple of hours sleep at Sky Blu though, it was back to work as the pilots had started the uplift of the MATRIX team from Pine Island Glacier. Aside from helping the mechs and the rest of the team at Sky Blu to load and unload the planes, there was also the opportunity to pick up a co-pilot flight on one of the runs down to MATRIX. Dan and John both took the opportunity today. At the moment I am pencilled in for the final uplift flight tomorrow morning.

The penultimate MATRIX flight set out at just before 2 am, against a magnificent low-sunlit backdrop with barely a wisp of cloud. It made Sky Blu appear quite magical!


2nd February
Two Twin Otters left Rothera for Sky Blu today, the first stage in the process of picking us up. There was a possibility that both might have flown right down to Lake Ellsworth today to start the uplift, but the weather didn’t quite play ball at Sky Blu for this to go ahead. This meant another day of packing, interspersed by having to provide weather observations every hour until we knew the planes were going to be staying at Sky Blu for the night.

1st February
The packing of camp continues. There are now 2 planeloads of equipment ready by the skyway for uplift. All we need is a Twin Otter or two to collect them! It is quite strange to see camp disappearing so quickly. Dan started setting up the depot of food, fuel and miscellaneous equipment that will be used during next year’s field season.

31st January
After a long lie this morning to recover from yesterdays seismic survey, we busied ourselves with completing the survey of the GPS stake network (John), collecting the bamboos that marked the seismic survey lines (Dan), packing away the radar (me), and making preparations for disposing of the leftover explosives (Andy). There is a possibility that uplift from Lake Ellsworth back to Rothera could start as early as the 3rd Feb.

30th January
After a Herculean effort today, we managed to complete the final seismic line at 0030 hours. Because we were shooting a multifold seismic line, with several shots fired into each geophone spread, there was a lot more standing around for the team, whilst John prepared and fired the shot holes. Combined with low temperatures and some pretty poor visibility, this meant that today was quite a struggle all round.

28-29th January
Given that we only have a few days of science left before we need to start packing up camp for uplift, and because the weather might limit what we can now do, we have decided that the best plan is to concentrate on the collection of the final seismic line. We managed to start the shooting of the line on the 28th, but the wind picked dramatically this morning (29th), making seismic shooting difficult, so instead we continued the GPS surveying of the stake network and started to pack up equipment in preparation for uplift. Before the hot water drill was packed away, however, Andy gave the team a special treat, by setting up the hot water tank so that we could each have a bath. The first time soap and water has touched parts of our bodies for well over 2 months! The bizarre contrast between boiling toes and freezing ear lobes was quite an experience!


27th January
A busy day for John, he re-surveyed part of stake network before collecting another of the GPS base stations. Andy started the drilling of the final (multifold) seismic line, designed specifically to provide us with information on the thickness and characteristics of any sediment body beneath Lake Ellsworth. The problem with the radar continued, with the final sets of spare amplifiers also blowing up, again for no obvious reason. Without amplifiers, there isn’t much point in continuing with the radar surveys. At this stage in the season, it looks like I will have to accept that we have collected all the radar data that we can and start packing the system up.

26th January
With departure from the field coming soon, Andy and John started doing some ‘tidying up’ today, by shooting the few replacement seismic shots that were necessary for existing survey lines where data quality could be improved, before collecting the offlake GPS base station. The radar seems to have a problem; two sets of amps have blown in quick succession today.

24th-25th January
Two more days of lie-up. Temperatures have been down to –28 degrees C again for the last couple of nights, and haven’t made it above –20 degrees C during the day. Brrr. Combined with high winds (particularly on the 25th Jan) this has made working virtually impossible. This is a bit frustrating given that we only have just over a week left. There will be plenty of time to relax once we get back to Rothera!