Going South Part 2: Signy Relief… by PhD student Rowan Dejardin

Rowan on board
As described in my previous blog, I’m travelling south with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to collect samples from the South Georgia shelf, as part of my PhD (jointly funded by the BGS and the University of Nottingham, and within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry).

A couple of hold-ups (to fuel the ship – important, and to get a replacement chef – very important!) meant that we were a couple of days late leaving the Falklands to head south. Whilst this was a bit frustrating it did mean we had a couple more days to explore the Falklands and see some more penguins. It also meant that we missed a big storm in the Drake Passage that had looked like it was going to make the crossing interesting, therefore our trip through some of the roughest seas in the world turned out to be quite peaceful!

The trail through the sea-ice left by the JCR,
seen from the stern of the ship 
The first job for this cruise was to drop off the BAS team who will be working on Signy through the summer, with their supplies. As we gradually got further south icebergs started to sporadically appear, becoming more and more frequent until the whole horizon turned white – we had reached the sea-ice ! Up until this point we’d been making good time and might have made up some of the time we’d lost earlier but the ice had been threatening for a while on the satellite images, looking thicker than is usual for this time of year.

A rare sunny view of Coronation Island
At times the sea-ice slowed the ship to a crawl and at one point we virtually stopped. Eventually we made it to Signy, nestled in the lee of Coronation Island, this is the most southerly place the ship would reach on this trip and at one point we were the second most southerly ship in the world!. The cloud lifted and the sun shone on an incredibly rugged landscape of jagged peaks and blue glaciers, surrounding the ship on all sides. The next couple of days were spent unloading the supplies for the Signy summer season and digging out the base form the winter snow, with a chance for everyone to set foot on proper Antarctica and get our passports stamped! The science that the team will undertake on Signy includes a census of the Adelie penguins on the island, the continuation of long-term monitoring of a specific Adelie penguin colony, and a study of lichen community structure. We also had a mini-expedition to collect some seaweed for another of the students on the cruise, which was very intrepid!

Leaving eight of our former ship-mates on the remote island we then set off back into the sea-ice to begin out journey north towards South Georgia. On the way north we’ll have the opportunity to conduct some of the first science of the cruise, deploying the CTD at a number of stations on route. The CTD takes a range of measurements, including conductivity, temperature, and depth, as well as collecting water samples from a range of depths. These water samples will mean that one of the other PhD students on the cruise, Jenny Freer from the University of Bristol, can start conducting her analyses, looking for the DNA of lantern fish.

The tender delivering people and supplies to Signy 

Rowan is supervised at the BGS by Melanie Leng, at Nottingham by Sev Kender and George Swann, and at BAS by Vicky Peck and Claire Allen.