Fieldwork logistics in the Antarctic, and excavating Holocene penguin sites.
Nigel Larkin was employed as a 'Field Assistant' by the British Antarctic Survey for a nine-month season during the austral summer of 1999-2000. Whilst in the Antarctic his main responsibility lay in training new staff in health and safety awareness, mountain safety and travelling through glaciated terrain. This necessitated putting people through an intensive three-day course familiarising them with alpine mountaineering techniques. This is the highlight of many trips to the Antarctic, when visitors get to use ice axes, crampons, harnesses and ropes and can jump into crevasses whilst simulating accidents and practicing rescue techniques. At the same time training is given in route finding, map reading, what clothing to wear and how, and in health and safety matters appropriate to Arctic conditions. Training is also given in the deployment of camping and survival equipment – putting up tents, using the Tilley lamps, paraffin stoves, short wave radios, and skidoos, and learning how to maintain and fix them.
When not training others, Nigel spent time organising logistics and equipment for a variety fieldwork ventures. He undertook fieldwork all over the Antarctic Peninsula, including erecting weather stations on the Ross Ice Shelf, collecting specimen samples of lichens at Charcot Island and collecting “soils” from nunataks on the edge of the Antarctic Plateau itself. He also assisted in collecting sub-fossil remains (penguin bones and remains of squid and fish) tens of thousands of years old, on Ginger Island, where the residues from a small excavation were sieved in sea water (wearing a dry suit and waders) as icebergs floated by and penguins swam between his legs (see below). On such fieldwork, it is the prime duty of the field assistant to collect together all the necessary technical equipment and, more importantly, all the emergency survival gear (spare clothes, tent, sleeping bags, stove, food, water, radio and spares etc) even for what is only supposed to be a single day’s trip.
Duties also included writing reports on completed field trips and updating site records, taking regular meteorological readings, maintaining the emergency survival shelters and caches and participating in emergency response procedures. Also, maintaining the mountaineering, camping, first aid and emergency response equipment. Nigel is a trained Alpine mountaineer (American Alpine Institute) and has climbed in the Rockies, Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Antarctica, the Alps, Dolomites, Pyrenees and the Atlas mountains. He is also an experienced rock and ice climber, pot-holer, canoeist, cross-country-skier and snowboarder and whilst in the Antarctic was trained in shortwave radio communication and maintenance, skidoo-driving and maintenance, piloting powered boats in extreme conditions and co-piloting light aircraft.
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