Two UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) chiefs have been finding out more about the vital survey work being carried out in the inhospitable Antarctic.
UKHO Chief Executive, Mike Robinson, and UK National Hydrographer, Rear Admiral Ian Moncrieff, spent time on the ground and at sea in this remote part of the world, with its own particular Safety Of Life At Sea problems, to see the problems and challenges of surveying in this region.
Their visit, which offered opportunities to cover several objectives at once, was made in conjunction with other key stakeholders including our principal user - Commander-in-Chief Fleet - Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, KCB OBE, Commodore of Portsmouth Flotilla Andrew Cameron, Director of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Professor Nick Owen, and Deputy Head of the Polar Regions Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Rob Bowman. They travelled together via the MoD airbridge to the Falkland Islands and then a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) DASH 7 aircraft to the BAS Base at Rothera.
The Falklands en-route afforded a valuable opportunity to discuss chart user perspectives with the Commanding and Navigating officers from HM Ships Nottingham, Clyde and RFA Grey Rover, before heading to Rothera in Antarctica.
They embarked in HMS Endurance at Rothera. She is currently on an 18 month deployment and in the austral summer months of this period simultaneously supports our national Antarctic Treaty obligations, gathers survey data for UKHO, and supports the scientific research of the BAS.
Endurance is equipped with the latest hull mounted Multi-Beam Echo Sounder and produces and processes high volume high fidelity data while her two Survey Motor Boats work with field parties closer to shore. Her field parties are supported logistically by her two Lynx helicopters which also carry out vertical and oblique aerial photography in support of the survey work
Mike and Ian were able to see the onboard survey work and that being done offshore by the field survey teams and their boats. They were also updated on the BAS work at Rothera Station, the science base built in 1975 to support research work into Antarctica's delicate marine and terrestrial environment.
Mike valued the opportunities to spend time with our key stakeholders and the ability to achieve a longstanding objective to understand at how survey data is collected and the controls that are required to reduce errors, and then to see the processing work done onboard before rendering to UKHO. In this it completed his witnessing the missing jigsaw piece for him in the end-to-end process that delivers ‘The Work' that is signed off at UKHO
Mike said: "This was the first time I was able to see first hand how field survey work is achieved and the problems our surveyors face. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the excellent work being done in this difficult environment and to provide input into how the data gathered will be used by UKHO. It also provided the ideal platform to have very meaningful discussions about operations in the area with our stakeholders"
For Ian, who previously commanded HMS Endurance, the visit updated him on recent developments in region and to gather presentational material for a paper he is preparing to present to the Antarctic Treaty Convention later this year on behalf of the International Hydrographic Organisation and the Hydrographic Committee on Antarctica.
He said: "Antarctica is poorly charted to modern nautical standards yet it is becoming an increasingly popular place with tourist ships. Currently 45,000 people visit every year and the survey work being carried out by Endurance, amongst others from other nations, is playing a crucial role in reducing risks and to improving the safe conduct of navigation in this area. It also provides data in support of Antarctic science. The key issue is getting this data into charts as quickly as we can - a task likely to take many years"
During the visit Mike and Ian also joined in an onboard seminar of stakeholders into the future replacement of Endurance and discussed the extension of a MOU with BAS for better data exchange. Both Mike and Ian have subsequently followed up on some issues and ideas that came to light in their visit.