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British Antarctic Survey Q&A Session


Sally from the British Antarctic Survey called us on Wednesday 29th November, directly from the BAS ship upon which she works: the James Clark Ross Survey Ship. We were so excited! It was as if she was next door: there was no delay on the line and the sound was perfectly clear!


Sally is a research scientist in marine life, with a particular interest in krill. This is a transcript of our Question & Answer session with her. We all had the opportunity of asking her a question. We were thrilled!


EG: Hello, is that Sally in the Antarctic?

Sally: Yes it is, hello!

EG: Welcome to our school Sally. We have our Y5 & Y6 pupils here eager with a whole host of questions for you about you, your work and your life in the Antarctic. Are you ready for us?

Sally: I certainly am. I am here to answer any questions you may have!

EG: OK. First question then please.

Q: What is your job?

Sally: I study krill. Do you know what krill is? It is a small crustacean and I look at its movement on the ocean currents and its behaviour. Krill is very important for the survival of larger antarctic animals, being a main part of their diet. So for whales, seals, penguins, squid and large fish.

Q: Where do you live in Antarctica?

Sally: I live on the RRS James Clark Ross research ship. I also go and stay on the continental ice every so often, for about a month at a time.

Q: Which animals do you mainly see?

Sally: I am very lucky to see penguins, in their colonies, leopard seals which wallow in muddy holes, killer whales. I study other sorts of sea life of course. Penguins are brilliant but they are SO noisy and of course, very smelly as they eat lots of fish! We also see here albatross and lots of other interesting bird life. Krill is the most interesting for me of course! So tiny and so much to learn about them still!

Q: What are the most dangerous animals you have seen?

Sally: Killer whales and leopard seals are the most dangerous. I have never come into very close contact with them, I love seeing them, but scientists and divers do need to be careful when close.

Q: Have you ever been bitten or hurt by an animal?

Sally: No, but some sea-biologists have been yes. We have doctors with us who can attend to us if necessary.

Q: What are the strangest fish you have ever seen?

Sally: Do you know Angler fish? They are very unusual. You see them very deep. Tiny squid as well!

Q: Have you found plants?

Sally: Yes, absolutely and they can be very interesting. Phyto plants are what I look at as they are what krill feed on. We use satellite technology to photograph them and study them. There are also lots of seaweeds. Animals such as krill hitch a ride on them so we study their journeys!

Q: What is the temperature outside right now? (11am GMT)

Sally: I am on the ship so it is quite warm compared to being on the continental ice. Right now it is 1/2C, which is about the same as it is there now with you I understand?! Compared to the Arctic, we are warm.  We are 3 hrs behind your time so it is 8.00am here now. On the ship, we can be in T-shirts. The nearest island here is South Georgia, and the climate there is very similar to at home with you.

Q: How do you get to the Antarctic?

Sally: For us from the UK, we fly from RAF Brize Norton, which I think must be near your school, to Ascension Island in the Atlantic where the plane refuels, we then fly on to the Falkland Islands. From there we travel by ship to the research ship. The whole journey takes about 24 hours.

Q: Why did you want to do your job?

Sally: When I was small, I had posters of penguins and polar bears and icebergs on my bedroom wall and I just always wanted to go to the ice to see them. So I went to school of course and then on to university. I studied Environmental Science which includes maths, physics, so science, and geography.

Q: If for any reason, the Arctic didn’t exist any more, would polar bears be able to exist on the Antarctic?

Sally: What a great question! Yes, they would be able to exist on the Antarctic. It would, in fact, be great for them as there are lots of penguins on the Antarctic, but of course the penguins would not like it! It would be too difficult for the polar bears to get to the Antarctic as too far, but they would survive there, yes.

Q: Are there any crabs on the Antarctic?

Sally: Not under the continental ice no as too cold, but in the ocean around the continent there are as its much warmer. There is also lots of oxygen so very nutritious and they grow well!

Q: Are there any other crustaceans and insects there?

Sally: Yes. Krill, of course, and midges. They don’t fly but we see them.

Q: What vehicles do you use in the Antarctic?

Sally: Well we are on research ships of course. On the ice, we use snow cats and skidoos (for moving equipment on sledges). We use snow ploughs for clearing the runways for aeroplanes to land.

Q: How do you get hot water?

Sally: We have a generator on the ships and on the ice bases so that we can use kettles. Our energy is wind-powered or solar-powered as we have a responsibility to remain eco-friendly. Scientists who have to camp as part of their work use ice to melt down when in their tents.

Q: Do you have any pets there?

Sally: We used to. We used to use huskies as sleigh dogs but we are no longer allowed to bring non-indigenous animals to Antarctica. Again, we have a responsibility to keep the region disease-free.

Q: What clothing do you have to wear?

Sally: We have proper clothing to keep warm. Layers are important and thermal/fleece clothing is recommended. Goggles are very important as the sun is so bright so it means there is a lot of glare. We have to protect our eyes.

Q: What do you do for entertainment?

Sally: We have a gym on board for exercise, as its important we keep fit. We don’t have an area to run around! We have a cinema, board games and sitting room areas for us to get together and chat. We have parties when there are celebrations to be had and we have great dinners. We have a chef who cooks for us.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

Sally: I use all the amenities I have just told you about. I also like to read, I bring lots of books! I also love taking photographs from the ship. I send emails home and of course I have to do my jobs like my washing! I enjoy hanging out with my colleagues too.

Q: Do you have Wi-Fi?

Sally: We have the internet but it can be very slow because of our location!

Q: What is the best food there on your ship?

Sally: Roasted penguin? No! Christmas dinner is always amazing! I won’t be here for Christmas this year as I am coming home, but Christmas Day is always a lot of fun. And of course, puddings are always good!

Q: Do you have fun?

Sally: YES!! We have wonderful friendships here!

Q: How long are daytime and nighttime?

Sally: On the ice continent, it is light in summer for 3 months, and dark in winter for 3 months. In Spring it is generally dark for 2-3 hours a day. On the Halley base on the ice, they don’t experience light in the winter.

Q: Do you swim or dive?

Sally: I don’t, no, but our research divers do. They go under the sea. Its difficult work but valuable.

Q: How long have you been there Sally?

Sally: I have been here a while. I do trips from the ship to the ice. I spend about 6 weeks on the ice at a time, and I have done 8 trips to the ice. Some stay longer on the ice, depending on their jobs.

Q: Has the landscape in Antarctica changed much with global warming?

Sally: What a good question. We measure glaciers to look at the amount of ice melt and we can see that they are not as long as they once were. We are definitely seeing changes.

Q: How big is the biggest glacier?

Sally: BIG! Lets say, bigger than football pitches. We study them from South Georgia.

Q: Do you see different species at different temperatures?

Sally: Yes, as some creatures can only survive ice-based or water-based. Seals can adapt to both.

Q: Do you see icebergs?

Sally: Yes, and I always get excited! When I first arrived in Antarctica, I first saw an iceberg from a very long way away so I took lots of photos. I didn’t imagine we would get up closer and closer to them! So I have hundreds of photos of icebergs miles away in the distance! I can’t tell you how many photos I probably now have of icebergs! It is difficult to understand how big they are if you don’t see them. Because of course they also go far far down too.

Q: What is the most interesting iceberg you have seen?

Sally: Well, believe it or not, you see the typical icebergs which are beautiful and white. You also though see blue icebergs which are of old, very packed ice. And then you see green, stripy icebergs which have plant life growing on them and you see black icebergs where they have been coloured from volcanic ash! Who knew there were so many colours of icebergs?!

Q: Does it snow a lot?

Sally: On the sea yes, but not on the ice as incredibly, it is very dry on the continent.

Q: Have you ever made friends with a penguin?

Sally: Yes I suppose I have! On the island of South Georgia, there is a breed of penguin called Gentoos. They are very inquisitive as they don’t see many humans. I had one come up to me and pull on the toggle of my jacket!

Q: What is life like there?

Sally: I am very lucky to be here. It is different of course, but it is very special. I am very lucky.

Q: What is the furthest you have ever been from land?

Sally: Probably about 500km. On the ship we are about half way between the Antarctic continent and the Falkland Islands.

Q: What is your ship’s name?

Sally: I am on the RRS Jack Ross. The new ship will soon be coming into service. Did you hear about it? They wanted to name it, after a survey in the UK, Boaty McBoatface, but thankfully they are naming it the much better, Sir David Attenborough!

Q: How much do you know?

Sally: I know a lot but there is always so much research to do. We can gather information from what we see, to information on the past. Geology tells us that, the rocks we look at. We are learning every day. Scientists ask questions every day.

Mrs Goodes: Thank you SO much Sally. Our time is up sadly. We have so loved listening to you. To be able to ask you questions is thrilling and will add so much to our topic on the polar regions. Shall we give Sally our special Great Milton School thank you?

GMS: Thank you very much! The Best!