Rothera Facts & History (Taken from the Rothera Information Manual, BAS)
Rothera sits at latitude 67 º34’ south, longitude 68º08’ west on Adelaide Island to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is at an ideal position to provide logistical support to the BAS science programme. Temperatures may rise to +7ºC in summer and drop to -25ºC in winter. In an “average” year gale force winds are recorded on around seventy days, snowfall or sleet on up to 200 days. Unfortunately it does occasionally rain, but only occasionally. Meteorological records show that sunshine averages at 1100 hours per year, that is, for 27% of the possible maximum.
Land in this area was first sighted in February 1832 from the brig Tula during a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent. Master of the ship John Biscoe named the island after Queen Adelaide wife of British monarch King William IV.
In 1909 the area was visited by French doctor Jean-Baptiste Charcot and the yacht Pourquoi Pas, this expedition gave names to many islands and geographic features. The British Graham Land Expedition of 1934-37 was the first to confirm that Adelaide was in fact an island and not connected to the Antarctic Peninsula.
In the winter of 1957 John Rothera and Peter Gibbs working out of the UK Horseshoe Island Base surveyed the land that has become known as Rothera Point.
An attempt was made to establish a base at Rothera Point in the summer of 60/61, however due to the prevailing sea ice conditions this attempt had to be abandoned. Instead, as a compromise, Adelaide Island Station was established at the southernmost tip of the island. This remained in use until 1977; it is still in existence as the Chilean Carvajal Station.
In 1975 the Rothera skiway was first used by BAS aircraft. In 1976 the first building was erected on Rothera Point and four people overwintered. This building is still in use and is now the joiners’ workshop. The buildings material store known as “Bingham” was disassembled at Adelaide Island base and re-erected at Rothera Point. Bingham was the surgeon commander leader of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey 1945 to 47.
In 1977 the beginnings of what is now part of Old Bransfield House were erected. Upon successful occupation of these all operations at Adelaide Island Station were brought to an end. Old Bransfield House served as the main building until the 2007/08 summer season when the new Bransfield House was officially opened.
Construction of the gravel runway commenced at the start of the 1990’s, it was completed and fully commissioned in summer 91/92. Up to this point all personnel and cargo came to Rothera by ship. The infrequency and unpredictability of sailings meant that scientists were fully committed to being away for home for many months even if their work on the continent was only to last a few weeks. The runway enabled the establishment of a direct air link to and from the Falkland Islands and Chile. The BAS Dash 7 aircraft was specifically purchased for this purpose.
At the same time as the runway construction the Biscoe Wharf, hangar and fuel farm were all extremely valuable additions to the infrastructure. The wharf improvements have enabled ships to moor directly at the station and for shipping containers to be brought into service for the movement of cargo. This in turn has considerably reduced the time for start and end of summer relief operations.
In compliance with the Antarctic Treaty the last sledge dogs were removed from Rothera in 1993, by this time ski-doos had replaced them as the preferred means of transport. Two of the last teams at the station were The Admirals and The Giants, the dogs were still used for recreational journeys and for some people the station would never be the same without them. The dogs were found new homes in Canada.
Further building works have included the Giants House accommodation block and the Bonner Laboratory both of which became operational in 96/97 season. The latter was named after W N Bonner (1953 – 88) a biologist and Deputy Director of BAS 86-88.
The standard of living for station personnel took a change for the better with the construction of Admirals House over the summers of 99/00 and 00/01. In Old Bransfield House the old “pitrooms” were each shared by four people, most of these rooms did not even have a window; they were no place for the claustrophobic! Washing facilities were minimal, two showers one for men and one for women had to be shared between forty inhabitants. The new rooms in Admirals have two beds per room, every room is en suite and every room has a window.
As mentioned previously in March 2008 a new main building, Bransfield House was officially opened and occupied. This is the first of two planned buildings that will completely replace Old Bransfield House as the hub of Rothera Operations.