Port Lockroy, off the Neumayer Channel in Antarctica on Goudier Island and Wiencke Island in the Palmer Archipelago, was used as an occasional anchorage by whalers a hundred years ago. It was established in 1944 as Base A by the British as part of a secret wartime initiative to monitor German shipping movements. That expedition was code-named Operation Tabarin, after a well-known Paris nightclub, because team members would be staying there during the darkness of the Antarctic winter. After World War II, the station continued to operate in a civilian capacity until 1964, when it ceased operations. This historic base was recently restored privately by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust and is now open to visitors as a museum. It is an extremely popular site, as more than half of the 40,000 annual visitors to Antarctica stop at Port Lockroy to visit the museum and Penguin Post Office. For more information about the Antarctic Heritage Trust, visit: www.ukaht.org
The history of Port Lockroy was described in signage at the museum by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust: “The station is of importance as the earliest example of a British scientific station in the Antarctic Peninsula region. It was established as Base A in February 1944 during Operation Tabarin, a British World War II expedition, and remained operation until January 1962.
“Initially, scientific research carried out at the station was topographic survey, geology, meteorology and botany. From 1950 the station played an important role in ionospheric research and was a key monitoring site during the International Geophysical Year of 1957. The normal occupancy of the station was 4 to 9 people.
“The original station hut, ‘Bransfield House’, still survives as the core of the main building and is the oldest British structure remaining on the Antarctic Peninsula. The main base building was enlarged in 1952 and 1953. In 1956 a separate boathouse was constructed and in 1958 the generator building was added to the main base. Other original structures included a Nissen hut [– a prefabricated steel structure, made from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated steel, known in the U.S. as a Quonset hut –] (used as a store), built in 1944, which later collapsed during the 1990s. It was reconstructed in 2010 on the original foundations to act as accommodation for the seasonal staff.
“Base A, Port Lockroy, was designated HSM No. 61 in 1995 and is conserved and managed by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust on behalf of the UK. Repair and conservation work of Port Lockroy was undertaken in early 1996 and maintenance is ongoing. At that time an annual environmental monitoring programme was established to assess potential visitor disturbance to the rookery of Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) on Goudier Island. Results show that there is no discernable impact on penguin breeding success, which is more closely linked to local environmental conditions, such as skua predation, snow cover or the availability of krill.”
Pictured above is a 1959 Mk II Union Radio Automatic Ionoscope, better known as a “Beastie” due to its size and the complexity of its components. It is identical to the one used at Port Lockroy between 1953 and 1961. A sign of explanation about the “Beastie” and Antarctic research today noted: “Long-term data from the ‘Beastie’ at Port Lockroy have recently been used by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to demonstrate that the ionosphere over Port Lockroy has been falling by more than a quarter of a mile per annum since measurements began here. The cause is increased levels of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, which is responsible for global warming.”