Kirk of the Antarctic!

editorial image

For many, the routine of a day’s work is monotonous, but for one former Deeside man whose job is to lead scientists on field trips and film the construction of a new research base in Antarctica - work is anything but.

Kirk Watson, 34, grew up in Torphins, but has spent five of the last seven years working for the British Antarctic Survey - currently based on the Halley V Research Station in Antarctica.

He has been filming the building of a new research station on the Brunt ice shelf, called Halley VI which will be the sixth base built on the site since 1956. Halley is the station where the ozone hole was discovered, which consequently led to the ban on CFCs.

The former Aboyne Academy pupil said: “I’m out here half as a mountain guide - taking scientists out and about - and the other half as a film maker, making documentaries about the new base which is being built.

“Halley is ideally situated to undertake upper atmospheric science. It is a perfect location for studying the earth’s magnetic field and how the solar winds interact with the field. The winter nights at Halley are both dark and long enough to enable this science to be carried out.

“I came here in early November and will be back home at the end of March. At the moment, it is summer time and there is 24 hour daylight. It is strange having to apply sun lotion at 1am!”

There have been five Halley bases built so far. The first four were all buried by snow accumulation and crushed until they were uninhabitable. Halley V has the main buildings built on steel platforms raised annually to keep them above the snow surface. There are skis on the bottom of these legs, which allows the building to be relocated periodically.

Home for Kirk is now Aviemore, where he works as a mountain instructor, doing freelance work all over Scotland. His parents Mary and John Watson still live in William Street, Torphins, and his fame even features on the village website (www.torphins.org).

Kirk has spent time at the various British bases, including the Rothera research station - the biggest of the British bases - and 1860km south of the Falkland Islands.

“Rothera, where I’ve done my winters, has two people to a room, with ensuite. “The building is centrally-heated, has a living room, dining room and library. The Halley base is the same but much smaller with shared bathrooms.

“I go out with scientists as a field assistant and can be away for weeks, living in a tent. I did a season in South Georgia with just me and a scientist in a tent for three months!”

He said his love of the outdoors led him into such a job.

“My dad was into the outdoors,” said Kirk, who attended Torphins Primary School. “At Aboyne Academy, my PE teacher Jas Hepburn, was a mountain instructor and he still works in the outdoors.

“I had some friends that had come down here (Antarctica) as field assistants who had done it before and I saw their pictures and applied for it. I got the job in 2004. Halley would normally have 16 people here for the winter, but there are 60 in the summer. Because of the construction work, there are 109 here at the moment - only three of which are women.

“There are a few things you do miss. We don’t get much fresh fruit and salad here. However, the chefs are pretty amazing at making stuff last. They can make potatoes, onions and carrots last for the whole season!

“We have a colony of emperor penguins, around 20km from base. There can be 8,000-10,000 pengins with chicks, none of which are scared of you because there are no land predators here. They often stand and stare and then circle you! “There are also lots of seals - leopard seals, orca whales and birds.”

A film blog following Kirk’s winter last year can be found at: http://kirkoftheantarctic.wordpress.com/.