Difficult Year for BAS

The British Antarctic Survey's Annual Report for 2001-2002 emphasised that the season had been a difficult one, and that despite the adversity, the programme had responded well.

On 29 September 2001 the Bonner Laboratory at Rothera was totally destroyed by fire (see Antarctic Vol 19, No 2, p. 117). Wintering staff used a snow-blowing machine and a small fire engine in an attempt to dowse the flames, but the foul weather forced them to withdraw.

In November a team, led by an independent forensic fire investigator, inspected the burnt ruins, which had become buried under 2m of snow, and concluded that the most probable cause of the fire was an electrical fault. In January 2002 a team of five contractors removed the wreckage. Except for the large concrete slab forming the base of the aquaria and dive facilities, all other materials were lifted out and

packed into 11 large containers. The contractors also prepared the ground for the rebuilding of the 2 million biological facility, which began last season and is due for completion during the 2003-4 season.

The 2001-2002 season was the first time that a ship could not get in to relieve Halley Base since its establishment in 1956. The RRS Ernest Shackleton made two attempts to reach the base, returning to the Falkland Islands to refuel in between, but met impassable sea ice on both occasions. When conditions seemed unlikely to improve by January, it was decided to use three of the BAS Twin Otters to ferry passengers and essential cargo from the ship to base. Despite being hampered by some of the worst

weather on record, 32 sorties by the planes successfully moved light cargo, food supplies and people. The ship left with the winterers on 18 February 2002. This was the first air/ship resupply undertaken by BAS, and despite its success, several key elements of the 2002-2003 summer programme had to be delayed. These included construction of a Clean Air Sector Laboratory and a drilling of the Berkner Island ice core.

Trials and tribulations have continued to hound BAS. In July 2003 a British woman scientist was killed by a Leopard seal at Rothera and in November 2003 BAS lost one of its Twin Otters after it was wrecked landing at Rothera, fortunately with no loss of life.

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