Facing unfavourable sea conditions whilst navigating the most remote and bleakest islands on the planet

Meet the Royal Navy’s icebreaker ship HMS Protector as it ventures across the Antarctic

The Navy’s sole Antarctic research ship, HMS Protector is on a five-year mission to support international research into wildlife, the changing climate and shifting waters of Antarctica.

As autumn draws nearer it will rule out Protector’s ability to move safely through the icy waters.

Having completed her first stint of the year around the frozen continent, Protector has completed the first of three work packages as part of their operation.

Over the festive period and into the first days of 2022, Protector started to work around the South Sandwich Islands, supporting the research into the penguin populace. She then moved deeper into the most remote and bleakest islands of the Antarctic region and the planet.

🌋🧊 Forced to spend two days sheltering inside a caldera

With the mission being difficult enough as it is, naval charts in some of the waters around islands such as Southern Thule and the Cook Islands have not been updated in nearly a century.

The narrow entrance to the Lemaire Channel.
The narrow entrance to the Lemaire Channel.

Facing unfavourable sea conditions and grounded icebergs, Protector was forced to spend two days sheltering inside a caldera — the hollowed-out innards of a volcano — waiting on a weather window to put a landing party ashore.

Whilst there the ship surveyed an uncharted portion on the west coast of Cook, as her motorboat surveyed the east coast of Thule protected from the wind by glacial cliffs.

🏝 Moving deeper into the most remote and bleakest islands on the planet

Traveling a further 600 miles of the Scotia Sea, the ship got stuck into work in the uninhabited British archipelago South Orkneys.

Roughly 750 miles from the Falklands and 350 from the Antarctic Peninsula, the Sunshine Glacier on Coronation Island has retreated three-quarters of a mile over the past 30 years because of global warming. This has revealed uncharted waters in what is dubbed ‘Iceberg Bay’ for Protector to survey.

HMS Protector holding position in Marguerite Bay near Horseshoe Island.

🧭 🗺 The time capsule of a bygone era of Antarctic exploration

A lone Gentoo penguin is the only welcome at the abandoned Argentinian Decepcion base.
A lone Gentoo penguin is the only welcome at the abandoned Argentinian Decepcion base.

Supporting the work of the British Antarctic Survey, Protector’s Commanding Officer Captain Wood led a team landing on Signy to mark the beginning of the ‘summer season’; the research station is only occupied in the austral summer.

The Main Hut, Station Y.
The Main Hut, Station Y (‘the research station’).

Sailors found no damage had been caused to the base by the harsh weather during the winter, meaning it was ready for scientists to move in, so they can study the penguins, petrels, and the island’s rich biodiversity.

Signy was the first in a series of bases and research centers, built-in 1955 and abandoned five years later, becoming a time capsule of a bygone era of Antarctic exploration.

A zodiac inflatable boat navigates small growlers of ice to return to the ship from Station Y.
A zodiac inflatable boat navigates small growlers of ice to return to the ship from Station Y.

✅ 🌏 Completing her first stint of the year around the frozen continent

In the Lemaire Channel, Protector found navigating the strait tricky with significant concentrations of ice and icebergs which almost completely blocked the southern entrance.

HMS Protector sails through the Lemaire Channel.
HMS Protector sails through the Lemaire Channel.

Visits led by Protector’s second-in-command Commander Boeckx to Spanish and Argentine bases brought the curtain down on the first work period of the Antarctic summer, as Protector headed back to the Falklands to restock before returning to the snow and ice.

“It’s been a far-flung, survey-intense and photographic-rich circumnavigation of UK territories in the Scotia Sea”

— Protector’s Commanding Officer Captain Wood

A team lands on Saunders Island, South Sandwich Islands to collect drone imagery to be used to calculate the numbers of penguins on the island.
Captain Mike Wood and some of HMS Protector’s ships’ company with the ship in the background.
Captain Wood and some of HMS Protector’s ships’ company with the ship in the background.

Find out where else the UK Armed Forces are deployed here👇

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Stories from the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the UK Armed Forces around the globe.

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