Jan 31: Rothera Station

VIMS researchers aboard the Laurence M. Gould visit the U.K.’s Rothera Station and earn their first-ever victory in the annual soccer match.

Post by VIMS graduate student Kate Ruck

Rothera is a well-known British Antarctic station on Adelaide Island in Marguerite Bay and acts as headquarters for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS, for short), which is an active partner in LTER. For decades now they have been carefully maintaining long-term environmental data sets that are a huge contribution to our knowledge of the area.

The Gould makes a stop at Rothera about mid-way through our cruise every year to help maintain this international endeavor. It’s a welcome break in our now efficient routine and a definite highlight for all on the boat.

The morning starts with a passenger transfer where the American scientists are left on station and the British scientists take charge of the boat to sample waters around Marguerite Bay. They don’t have access to a boat as large as the Gould and are limited by how far out into the bay that they can sample from their small, rubber zodiacs.

Walkabout near Rothera Station.
The scientists and crew from the Gould take their 'walkabout' near Rothera station. Picture by Kuan Huang.

The U.S. scientists are treated to tea and snacks and a tour of station. Rothera is situated in a pretty sweet spot. They have a large glacier on one side of the station that provides access to the mountains further inland and also allows for recreation, providing the perfect place for summer skiing and snowboarding.

The other side of the station is ringed with shoreline that draws wildlife out of the water to bask in the sunshine. Our morning ashore starts with a ‘walkabout’ that includes views of ample wildlife (mainly skuas and weddell, crabeater and elephant seals), giant icebergs floating in the bay, and a stop by the memorial to the few, unfortunate people who have lost their lives while working down South.

After the walkabout, the Brits generously allow us to roam freely around the station. Some people relax in the lounge or library, use the rare access to the Internet, chat with other station workers in the galley, or wander back to the trail around station. We linger until the boat gets back to dock and we can change clothes for the upcoming festivities.

One highlight of the Rothera visit is our barely friendly annual soccer match. The Brits rarely get any outside competition and the LTER is one of their few recurring Antarctic visitors, so quite a rivalry has been built up over the years. The match takes place on the apron of the airplane hangar right before dinner. The apron is a gravel lot where they prepare airplanes for flight and is not ideal for what promises to be a contact game, but it’s the largest stretch of open, flat space on the whole base.

The U.S. soccer team after their historic win.
The U.S. soccer team after their historic win. Picture by Lihini Aluwhihare.

Trash talking begins promptly on our arrival, with the Brits casually mentioning how they’ve been practicing for about 3 weeks now. We counter with entirely fictional accounts of the new first mate that left semi-pro status in the U.S. to experience the beauty and wonder of Antarctica. But, in reality, no one expects it to be much of a competition. With their innate enthusiasm for U.K.’s national sport and their mostly male team the Brits have a long history of easy victory. In fact, LTER has not won a single game since the tradition’s inception. Until this year! Throwing off the conventional rules of the sport, each team was allowed 17 people on the field and we Americans managed a goal about midway and then tenaciously held on to the lead for victory! Needless to say, we were completely ecstatic. Our South African post-doc Kim Bernard had brought down her vuvuzela from home and we trumpeted our way back to the boat to get ready for dinner and then the party that the station hosts.

The party, affectionately dubbed “Gould Night’” by the Brits, is an event that’s highly anticipated at Rothera Station. The Brits put a lot of effort into the party. They transform their garage into a dance hall, complete with sound system, a stage, and lighting. They also black out all the windows to give it a dance hall ambiance by warding off the late night sun. There’s usually a station band that performs for the first half of the night and then a DJ that takes over until the end of the party. The opportunity to relax and dance is very welcome to the scientists and crew of the Gould. We’ve been running the boat 24 hours a day for about three weeks now and while everything has gone smoothly so far, the constant work and the routine nature of stations are beginning to wear everyone down. The one day ashore re-energizes everyone to push through to the end of the cruise.The party lasts until the wee hours of the morning, usually about a half hour before the boat prepares for departure at 6 am.

The next few weeks promise to be busy ones as we continue south on our sampling grid, to the colder, ice laden waters that have been less affected by the rapid regional warming and are more representative of the historic Antarctic ecosystem.

Author: David Malmquist

David Malmquist is the Director of Communications at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.