Monday morning starts early. Before breakfast, I nip up to the operations tower to chat to the remote field parties on the radio, collect a meteorological observation from them and make sure they haven't blown away during the night. Then there is just time for a quick coffee before heading off to the morning ops briefing to find out what flights are planned for the day. Our small fleet of Twin-Otter aircraft is worked tirelessly during the short, hectic summer season, inputting scientists and their piles of equipment into the field before the grim twenty-four hour darkness of winter sets in.
The weather is looking pretty good this morning, with rare blue skies and light winds allowing most of the flights to go ahead as planned. Flying operations therefore kick off immediately, and this is my cue to return to the ops tower, where the rest of my day is spent hunched over a bank of radios. My primary concern is keeping track of all of our aircraft, making sure that they are aware of each other and passing us regular position reports, so that in the case of an emergency we know exactly where to go and look.
The day runs smoothly, but is busy and requires constant concentration. By the time I finish my shift and hand over to one of my colleagues I am feeling exhausted and ready to slump in front of a film for the evening.
Down here we are at the mercy of the notoriously fickle Antarctic weather. As soon as I've rolled out of bed and looked out of the window, it is clear that it is going to be a quiet day – snow showers and low, heavy cloud mean that all flying ops are cancelled. My day is only livened up by a couple of boats braving the chilly wind to head out into the bay so that the marine biologists can gather data. As with the aircraft, I keep track of them over the radio, ensuring that we can pinpoint them exactly if anything went wrong.
The base is a hive of activity today, as we prepare for the arrival of a Dash-7 air-bridge flight from South America. This is one of two ways in which new people and equipment can be delivered into Antarctica – the other being by ship – and holds the excitement of both adding new faces to our small team, and bringing in those rarest of commodities, fresh fruit and vegetables! An errant penguin causes me some concern when the plane is only a couple of minutes away from landing at Rothera. It decides to waddle out into the middle of the runway with complete lack of concern for its own well-being. I have to urgently dispatch a runner to shepherd it to safety before it gets squashed flat.
Once the plane is on the ground and my shift is complete, I head over to the bar to have a welcome drink with the newcomers. Some of them I met back in the United Kingdom during our pre-deployment training. Others are new to me, so there are lots of introductions to be made. Somebody has carefully preserved a newspaper all the way from the UK, so we fight over who gets the front page, the crossword and the sports pages. I lose on all counts.
I have today off flying operations, to catch up on some of my other responsibilities. First job is to give some induction comms training to the newcomers – making sure they are able to contact friends and family back home, and trying to explain to them just how incredibly slow our satellite internet link back to the UK is. I think I've got the message across, when someone asks me whether they can watch videos on YouTube. I sigh, and patiently start explaining all over again. Then it's onto a bit of maintenance. One of the portable HF radios used in the field has been returned to Rothera with a fault, so I spend a happy afternoon in the workshop with soldering iron and multimeter to try to fix the problem.
My day off. I take advantage of another clear morning to ski up the hill alongside the base. By the time I've reached the top, I am sweating so much in the bright sunshine that I have to strip down to just salopettes and a t-shirt. Once I've caught my breath, I silently resolve to take more exercise in the future. I've just about recovered after a hearty lunch, and summon the energy to grab my camera and head off for a walk around base. During the summer there is plenty of wildlife to photograph – this time I manage to get some snaps of juvenile elephant seals scrapping away in the shallow bay.
Operations carry on as normal over the weekend, so it's back into the tower for me and a hectic morning of following planes around the skies of Antarctica. In the evening I am on the rota to have the daily 15 minute radio chat with each of our remote field parties. This is a fun job – as well as checking that they are all safe and well, it is a good opportunity to pass on news from Rothera and the outside world, and also just have a bit of banter with my distant colleagues. They can often be stuck in small tents out there for months at a time, so really appreciate the contact with our slightly more normal world.
The good-weather window holds out for another day, so the planes are up again and my frantic summer season ticks on. However, I always try to make time to go to our little climbing wall on Sundays – so once work is complete, and dinner is digested, I head over there with a couple of friends to pass the evening with some gentle bouldering. Once our muscles are tired and aching, we draw the session to a close and head over for a quick drink before bed. In the short time since dinner, the wind has started gusting hard and there is snow in the air – it looks as though our brief spell of good weather is over, and the true Antarctic conditions are back. Oh well, at least it means a quiet day tomorrow.Adam Bradley is a wintering communications engineer at the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Research Station