Friday, 4 April 2014

There's A Storm Coming...

As if things weren't bad enough, weather reports show a polar low forming up in the neighbourhood. We've seen the satellite pictures, and it looks nasty. We may lose communications for a while if it hits us.

(Photo courtesy NOAA)

But life goes on here at Zodiac. Pity the poor souls who have to go out and check the instruments in this.

(Photo courtesy Miriam Iorwerth)

Thursday, 3 April 2014

All Staff Confined to Base

Following an alarmming series of accidents, all staff are confined to base with immediate effect, until further notice. This is in compliance with the Zodiac Station and BSPA Health and Safety policy. No exceptions will be made.

I understnad this is difficult for scientists with experiments running in the field. In light of recent events, I have no other option. We will make every effort to return to normal normal as soon as possible.

Until then, I ask for your patience and understanding in this difficult time.

Dr Francis Quam
Base Commander

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Martin Hagger
16.4.55 - 29.3.14

It is with profound shock and sadness that we announce the death of Professor Martin Hagger.

Martin Hagger was one of the finest biologists of his generation. He first came to Zodiac Station two years ago, and was a much-loved member of the team. The experiments he conducted here were instrumental in his demonstration of the concept of 'cold genesis', which was reported around the world and earned him the Biotechnology Heritage Award, one of many prizes earned during a distinguished career. 

Professor Hagger died doing what he loved best - pushing back the boundaries of science.  Tragically, he appears to have fallen into an unmarked crevasse on the Helbreen glacier while sampling ice cores.  His body was found by his assistant, Thomas Anderson, who recently joined him on Utgard.  It is indicative of Professor Hagger's wide academic legacy, and the affection he inspired among those who worked for him, that Anderson was himself a one-time graduate student of Hagger's who leapt at the chance to work with his former mentor.

Dr Francis Quam, Base Commander at Zodiac Station, said, 'Martin Hagger was a great scientist, a respected colleague, and a good friend. The best tribute to his memory will be to continue the valuable scientific work we do at Zodiac Station.  At this time of grief, we remember the words of Captain Robert Scott.  "I do not regret this journey.  We took risks, we knew we took them.  Things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint."'

Professor Hagger is survived by two children by his first marriage, and one by his second. His funeral will be held in Cambridge once his body is repatriated.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

A Day in the Life...

We get a lot of questions about what an 'average day' at Zodiac Station is like, what sort of science we're doing here at the end of the world.  So to give you a snapshot, here's what the team are doing today.

(Photo courtesy Bob Eastman)

Dr Eastman will be checking his instruments on top of Mount Olsen.  He's running a series of experiments examining the electromagnetic properties of the Aurora Borealis.

(Photo courtesy David Ashcliffe)

Professor Ashcliffe is taking out the helicopter, looking for polar bears to tag with radio collars. Females should just be emerging from their winter dens around now with their cubs. Although globally the polar bear population is under severe threat from melting sea ice, here on Utgard Prof Ashcliffe reports it's never been stronger.  Though we haven't seen so many around Zodiac this year.

Flying the helicopter is our pilot and resident Australian, Stuart Jensen. Who says he never gets tired of views like this:

(Photo courtesy Stuart Jensen/Polar Rotary Aviation)

Meanwhile, Professor Hagger and Dr Kobayashi are leading the team at Camp Gemini, our home-away-from-home up on the ice dome.  Dr Kobayashi and her students are currently drilling the deepest ice core ever taken on Utgard, while also trying to map drainage flows through the glacial system (pictured). Professor Hagger is sampling the sea ice around the Helbreen Glacier front for evidence of early life.

(Photo courtesy James McIntosh & Annabel Kobayashi)

And the rest of the team will be staying at Zodiac: checking instruments, maintaining equipment, analysing data in the labs, and preparing for the supply flight due in from Tromso this afternoon.

(Photo courtesy Miriam Iorwerth)

So as you can see, everyone's keeping busy. And tonight we'll all rendezvous back at the platform for movie night, a Zodiac institution. Tonight's movie is Alien, which we'll be washing down with plenty of beer and popcorn. 

All in all, just another average day in the snow.

Friday, 28 March 2014

USCGC Terra Nova

A big Arctic hello to the scientists and crew of the US Coast Guard cutter Terra Nova, which will be in the neighbourhood for the next couple of weeks on their spring deployment. The sea ice where they are means they won't make it to Zodiac this year, but we'll be thinking of them.

They've promised us a photo soon.  Meanwhile, here's a clip of her sister ship, the USCGC Healy.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Statement on Recent Leak of Confidential Data

It is a matter of concern that confidential Zodiac Station scientific data has been published without our consent on a third-party website.

The data, which relates to ongoing studies of climate variation, was published on the website of the Planet Climate Action (PCA) group. PCA is well known as a campaigning organisation sceptical of global warming and human-induced climate change.

Contrary to PCA's assertions, the data does not show evidence of a marked slowing in climate change, nor that Zodiac staff used any untoward methods to 'hide' this 'evidence' with statistical trickery.

We have contacted PCA repeatedly asking them to remove the data from their servers, and to inform us how they obtained it. At the time of writing, they have not responded to our requests. We will pursue all avenues, including legal options, to gain redress.

Dr Francis Quam, Base Commander of Zodiac Station, said, 'Scientific progress depends on the free and open pursuit of knowledge. This leak strikes at the heart of the trust which is the foundation of scientific endeavour, and of the Zodiac Station community. We have launched a rigorous internal enquiry to discover how these confidential data were leaked, and will prosecute the culprits to the utmost of our ability. Any Zodiac personnel found to have been involved will be summarily removed from the station.'

Friday, 21 March 2014

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Hopefully by now you'll have gathered that we work pretty hard here at Zodiac. Time is short, and budgets are tight, so we have to use our time here as efficiently as possible (it's amazing how 24-hour daylight encourages long working hours). But that doesn't mean we never have any fun. 

(Mine 8 - photo courtesy Martin Hagger)

Since Utgard was only discovered a hundred-odd years ago, there isn't a lot of history or culture. But we do have a genuine ghost town in the north of the island - the old Soviet mining colony of Vitangelsk, and the abandoned mines around it. They've sat derelict since the Russians withdrew in 1991; a spooky place for a day out. If it's tourist attractions you want, this is pretty much it. But be aware: the Utgard Treaty forbids taking souvenirs.

(Photo courtesy Tom Forshaw)

Some of us have to climb down crevasses and moulins for work. And some of us do it for fun! Above, a picture that shows the weather's never too bad for a spot of snow caving. Below, a crevasse on the Helbreen glacier. Come on in, the ice is fine!

(Photo courtesy Miriam Iorwerth)

And when it's too cold to go out, we have regular movie nights and themed dinners on the Platform, a pool room which has to be seen to be believed, and state-of-the-art entertainment technology in the radio room.

(Photo courtesy Miriam Iorwerth)

Monday, 17 March 2014

Howling at the Moon

Full moon this past weekend - the last one we'll see until September, with the Arctic summer approaching.  Professor Hagger and Dr Kobayashi took a moonlit stroll to check on some instruments.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Echo Bay

Everyone's busy settling in - but we've still got time to help the neighbours. Yesterday, Professor Hagger flew up to Echo Bay, where Deep Arctic Exploration are drilling a test well for oil. He's not saying what he did there, but he did bring back this lovely photo of Echo Bay at sunset.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


A fresh contingent of scientists has successfully deployed at Zodiac Station, the British South Polar Agency announced today.

The new arrivals were welcomed by the Overwinterers, a five-man crew who have kept Zodiac Station running through the long Arctic winter.  Four of the crew will remain at Zodiac for the next two months to hand over operations and ensure a smooth transition towards the summer season.

The new Base Commander is Dr Francis Quam, a veteran zoologist, who relieves Dr Sean Kennedy.  Dr Kennedy remains at Zodiac as Station Doctor.  Other scientists on the Spring Crew include Professor Martin Hagger of Cambridge University, renowned author of the 'Cold Genesis' theory of early evolution; Professor David Ashcliffe from the University of Bangor, a world leader in polar bear conservation efforts; Dr Annabel Kobayashi, Dr Fridtjof Torell and Dr Robert Eastman.  They are accompanied by thirteen lab technicians and students. The experiments they will conduct at Zodiac over the coming months include work on the shrinking Arctic ice-pack, glacial retreat, and atmospheric physics relating to the aurora borealis.

Base Commander Dr Francis Quam said: 'It's an honour to be taking charge of Zodiac Station. Although I have over fifteen years' experience in the Antarctic, this is my first expedition to the "other end", and I relish the challenge. I'm certain 2014 will see another successful season at Zodiac.'

Christian Mellor, Chief Executive of the British South Polar Agency, said: 'Although new to the BSPS family, Zodiac Station has a venerable history, and is a key part of our mandate to deliver excellence in polar research. In the coming months, these world-class scientists will be addressing some of the most important questions facing our planet.'


Notes to editors:
Zodiac Station is a scientific research station on the Arctic Island of Utgard. It was founded in 1957 to take part of the International Geophysical Year.  In 2012, responsibility for Zodiac Station was moved to the British South Polar Agency in Norwich, following a governmental reorganisation.

The station is on the island of Utgard, the most northerly permanently inhabited land on the planet. Due to an historical anomaly, the island exists outside of national borders and is guaranteed by international treaty. Britain administers the station on behalf of the scientific community.

For immediate release

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Overwinterers - We Like the Dark!

While the Spring Crew are getting ready to ship out, we thought we'd introduce the Overwinterers. From October to March, the Station pretty much shuts down, but a small band of hardy souls stays on to keep the lights on and the experiments ice free. This year your intrepid overwinterers are Danny (cook), Greta (mechanic), Doc (um, the doctor) and Rob (tech) - joined by a very special guest, Professor Martin Hagger, who must have taken a wrong turn on his way to the office Christmas party.

Anyone who volunteers for overwintering gets asked a lot of questions. So here, for your convenience and edification, is a handy cut-out-and-keep guide:

Are you all crazy?
There's no significant proven correlation between insanity and overwintering at Zodiac. At least, that's what our psych reports tell us.

Do you ever see the sun?
Contrary to what you might have heard, even on Utgard at circa 83 degrees north, we don't have six months of total darkness.  The sun goes down in October, but we can still see a glow over the horizon into November.  Then it gets really dark - but on a clear night, you'd be amazed how much you can see by starlight. At the end of January we see a red glow smouldering on the horizon, and in February we get our first sunrise. Come the first week in April, it won't set again for five months.

But what do you do up there?
Play a lot of cribbage. Also, make weather observations, collect data from ongoing experiments, prevent ice building up on the equipment, remove snow accumulations from around the facility, and practice origami.

You spend six months locked up in a frozen dark wasteland at forty below, with only four other people for company. Do you ever want to kill each other?
We make regular checks on all the fire-axes to make sure none are missing.

Friday, 14 February 2014

2014 Season - Update

As these pictures show, sea ice is forming much more slowly this year around Utgard.  We're taking advantage of that to send supplies in by boat (usually it's an airlift job) - we'll dock at Longyearbyen on Svalbard, then follow the large lead you can see on the map north-east as far as we can go.  If we get stuck, we'll offload the supplies onto a Sno-Cat. This also means we won't have to extend the runway at Zodiac to accommodate larger aircraft.

(Pictures from

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Northern Lights

Clear skies last night - and a chance to see the northern lights! Greta and Dr Hagger were out in the astronomy caboose half the night getting these photos.

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome to the new and improved Zodiac Station website! Right now, we're at BSPA base camp in Norwich, checking equipment and packing all our gear for a long season on Utgard. Over the next few months, we'll be using the blog to keep you updated on the important science we're doing at Zodiac, as well as giving you a peek 'behind the scenes' at life on base. We look forward to welcoming you to Zodiac Station.