Royal Navy ship HMS Protector digs deep to help snowbound Antarctic scientists 04122022 CREDIT Royal Navy
The Royal Navy team had penguin spectators as they got to work on removing snow from the post office (Picture: Royal Navy/ MOD).
Arctic/Antarctic

Royal Navy helps dig out snowbound Antarctic scientists

Royal Navy ship HMS Protector digs deep to help snowbound Antarctic scientists 04122022 CREDIT Royal Navy
The Royal Navy team had penguin spectators as they got to work on removing snow from the post office (Picture: Royal Navy/ MOD).

Sailors from the Royal Navy ship HMS Protector shifted several tonnes of snow to dig out the staff of an isolated Antarctic scientific base.

Located on a small island near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, Port Lockroy is both an important historical site and a key base for scientific research.

The site was hit by heavy spring snowfall – between two and four metres deep – which buried some of the buildings and damaged the roof of one key structure.

A team of sailors and Royal Marines from HMS Protector spent two days clearing snow and also carrying out temporary repairs alongside the small UK Antarctic Heritage Trust team who look after Port Lockroy.

Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton, Natalie Corbett and Lucy Bruzzone beat a record number of applicants to become the team responsible for managing the historic site Port Lockroy on Goudier Island – home to the world's most remote post office.

The team, who share the island with a colony of gentoo penguins, were setting up the base, assisted by three other staff who are leaving shortly, ahead of the austral summer (summer in the Southern Hemisphere).

Royal Navy ship HMS Protector digs to help snowbound Antarctic scientists 04122022 CREDIT Royal Navy.jpg
Penguin spectators watched the sailors and Royal Marines from HMS Protector shift several tonnes of snow and carry out temporary repairs (Picture: Royal Navy/ MOD).

HMS Protector is the Royal Navy's ice patrol ship, paying regular visits to international bases on the frozen continent.

It delivers supplies, supporting scientific research and conducting her own, from monitoring climate change including glacial retreat and melting ice to updating seafaring charts using her hi-tech sensors.

The weight of snow on Bransfield Hut – home to the base's museum, gift shop, and post office – caused the roof to sag.

Protector's marine engineers used traditional naval damage control methods using wooden stakes and blocks to stabilise the structure, similar to how they would support a deckhead or bulkhead on a damaged warship.

Royal Navy's HMS Protector digs deep to help snowbound Antarctic scientists 04122022 CREDIT Royal Navy.jpg
Port Lockroy on Goudier Island is home to the world's most remote post office (Picture: Royal Navy/ MOD).

"It is good for the ship's company to step ashore and help out, WO1 Lee 'Rattler' Morgan, Protector's Executive Warrant Officer, said.

"The sailors were all smiles and happy to get cracking on with such a worthwhile task."

They added: "I was taken aback by the sheer amount of snow and how the buildings had all but disappeared.

"When I left here at the beginning of the year, the penguins were lying on bare ground of rocks and mess – at least the snow got rid of the smell."

Port Lockroy was the first stopping point for HMS Protector.

The ship has also delivered vital supplies to Uruguayan scientists at Artigas, following an agreement between London and Montevideo. The Uruguayan capital was the icebreaker's last port of call before heading to the Antarctic.

With no port at Artigas, just a sheltered bay, Protector's small Zodiac boat was used to deliver the kit onto a rocky beach, despite a strong, cold wind and breaking waves.

From there, crew worked with the scientists to shift the deliveries – including fire extinguishers, paint, electrical components, half a dozen bulk containers and a quad bike – into the base.

The deliveries were well received by Artigas's Commander, Colonel Jose Fonsecca, who told Captain Milly Ingham, Protector's Commanding Officer: "My team and I really enjoyed your visit, everything was successful and I appreciate your support."