Dive trip

Day #38 in Antarctica ·

  • Putting the boat in flickr
    The dive team boats from Biscoe Wharf, which involves winching the boat into the water and then climbing down a 10m rope ladder.
  • Topside flickr
    Ash and Mairi comprise the topside team for this dive.
  • Dive prep flickr
    Dan and Pete finish getting into their dive gear. The wooly hat is usually kept on until the last possible moment!
  • A. Cordingly flickr
    Ash, the summer boatman and marine biologist, is the boat skipper for this dive.
  • Mairi flickr
    Mairi, one of the marine biologists at Rothera, acts as the dive cox for this trip.
  • Dan flickr
    The incoming diving officer for Rothera 2013/14, Dan, gets ready for his inaugral Antarctic dive.
  • Pete flickr
    Whilst there's a general rule of no photos with hoods on, this was waived in view of Pete's epic moustache for Movember.
  • Mask check flickr
    Mairi assists Pete with the fitting for his mask.

Following my recent introduction to boating, earlier this month I was able to join the dive team for one of their regular trips.

Marine biology and oceanography make up a major slice of the science conducted at Rothera, with the dive store backing onto the Bonner Lab. The Bonner provides decent bench space for three dry labs, one wet lab, and also houses a cold water aquarium for specimens - looking at the newly collected “beasties” is a popular attraction for folk on base.

In addition to having one of the longest running CTD datasets in the world, extending back several decades, other research highlights for the dive team include a heated-plates experiment – observing species migration as plates laid on the seafloor are heated 1ºC above ambient temperatures – and ongoing assessment of the scouring effect of icebergs on the seabed.

Dan, the incoming diving officer for this season was due to take his first Antarctic dive with Pete, his outgoing equivalent. The dive team and doctors enjoy a close working relationship, as the doctor is often recruited for seal-watch1 and with a hyperbaric chamber onsite, both medics and divers train regularly together.

Supporting the divers is a topside crew: Ash, the summer boatman and marine biologist, was behind the helm for this trip, with Mairi, another marine biologist, assisting the divers.

After winching the boat into the water, some 10m below Biscoe Wharf and clambering down a rope ladder into the boat, we shoved off and motored gently round to the south of Rothera point. After having their final pre-dive checks with Mairi, Pete and Dan rolled backwards into the water and made their way back to the wharf underwater.

With the water being a frosty -1.5ºC, the divers wear thick drysuits, mitts and hoods with full face-masks, complete with an underwater comms system, which helps the divers communicate with each other and also the topside crew on the boat. Bottom time is as much limited by the cold as it is by air supply or no decompression limits, with dives rarely exceeding an hour in duration. BAS maintains a conservative safety margins with all diving: no mixed gases, no decompression and divers are attached to a safety line.

Despite these sensible limits, Antarctic diving seems to be a breath-taking experience (if you’ll forgive the expression), as evidenced by the footage from the divers’ GoPro cameras - hopefully the subject of a future post.

  1. Owing to a previous fatality from a leopard seal attack, the dive site is observed for 30 minutes before a dive to ensure that there are no leopard seals or orcas in the vicinity.