Polar Experience

In my career I’ve been very lucky to visit the Arctic and the Antarctic multiple times. Here is a list of the polar trips I’ve been on.

Polar experience by date

1989 MV Sea Searcher North East Atlantic, Greenland-Iceland-Norwegian Sea experiment (NEAT-GIN) This trip was organised by the Admiralty Research Establishment. Much of the oceanographic work was classified and working on the Arctic Fronts. I managed to find the unclassified data. (Cruise dates 26 August to 4 October 1989).

1992 Nathanial Palmer Voyage NBP92-01 This was maiden voyage of the Nathanial Palmer and we sailed to the Antarctic in the Austral Winter. As a Scott Polar Research Institute person I was conducting sea ice research in the Weddell Sea, and I deployed an ice-ocean environmental buoy (the fore runner of what are now ice tethered profilers). The cruise was also to change personal at the ground-breaking Ice Station Weddell (ISW-1), and you can see in the picture above it was a joint American and Russian expedition.

Deploying the ice-ocean environmental buoy through the sea ice of the Weddell Sea. April 1992.
Deploying the ice-ocean environmental buoy through the sea ice of the Weddell Sea. Late April 1992.
Deployment of the Ice Ocean Environment Buoy in the Weddell Sea in 1992. Mark Brandon on the left, Bill, and Barry Lopez.
Deployment of the Ice Ocean Environment Buoy in the Weddell Sea in 1992.
From L-R: Mark Brandon, Bill, and Barry Lopez.

ISW-1 remains the only drifting ice station experiment conducted in the Weddell Sea. (Cruise dates 16 April 1992 to 16 May 1992).

1993: MV Northern Horizon, to the North Greenland Sea This was part of my PhD research and we were surveying the development of the Odden Ice Tongue so I could understand how the formation of sea ice changed the ocean just beneath. (Cruise dates: 27 January 1993 to 19 February 1993).

1993: Polarstern Cruise ARK IX/1a and ARK IX/1b to the high Arctic Ocean. Again this was part of my PhD research, and this was the hardest trip I did and the ship sailed up into the Arctic ocean, frozen into the pack and then drifted south towards Svalbard. It really was exhausting, but quite the polar education with air temperatures typically around -30°C with wind chill on top of that.

Mark Brandon and Peter Wadhams drilling sea ice in the Arctic Ocean to measure the thickness. March 1993.
Peter Wadhams (L) and Mark Brandon (R) drilling sea ice in the Arctic Ocean to measure the thickness. March 1993.

"The air temperature was -37°C (wind chill -65° to -70°C).

Eicken, H. and Meincke, J. (1994): The expedition ARKTIS-IX/1 of RV "Polarstern" in 1993 , Berichte zur Polarforschung

It was so cold that ice froze to the superstructure of the ship and we had to break it off with mallets and axes. Desperate work, and I can only imagine what that activity would have been like on a sailing ship back in the heroic age.

Breaking ice from the forward crane of the RV Polarstern as it steams northwards into the Arctic Ocean, March 1993.
Breaking ice from the forward crane of the RV Polarstern as it steams northwards into the Arctic Ocean, March 1993.

Polarstern frozen into the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and Drifting south with the pack ice on ARK IX/1. Peter Wadhams is crossing a crack in the ice to get back to the ship.
RV Polarstern frozen into the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and drifting south with the pack ice on ARK IX/1. Peter Wadhams is crossing a crack in the ice to get back to the ship.

Yes I did get burnt by the cold a few times on my face, toes and fingertips. (Cruise dates 26 February 1993-17 April 1993).

1996: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 11 (JR11) to South Georgia. This was my first cruise as a member of the British Antarctic Survey, and I led the physical oceanographic program on the two month voyage. (Cruise dates 1 January 1996 to 27 February 1996).

1996: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 16 (JR16) To Rothera and Antarctic Peninsula as part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment. Oceanographic measurements were made across Drake Passage, and were reported by the Southampton Oceanography Centre. (Cruise dates 13 November 1996 - 5 December 1996).

1996-7: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 17 (JR17) to South Georgia. Once more I led the physical oceanography program in the ex whaling grounds around the polar island. (Cruise dates 12 December 1996 to 5 January 1997).

1997: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 25 (JR25) to South Georgia and I led the physical oceanography program for the “Spring Processes Cruise”. My personal diary talked about the "challenging conditions", but I have great memories of this one. (Cruise dates 21 October 1997 to 14 November 1997).

1997: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 26 (JR26) to the South Georgia, The Scotia Sea and Antarctic Peninsula Project GeneFlow. Once more I led the physical oceanography program and this was a hugely memorable trip with both brilliant work, and some amazing scenery. (Cruise dates 17 November 1997 to 14 December 1997).

1997-8: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 27 (JR27) to Rothera and the Antarctic Peninsula as part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment. Once more we were making measurements of the strength of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current across Drake Passage. (Cruise dates 17 December 1997 - 8 January 1998).

1998 RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 28 (JR28) to South Georgia, leading once more the physical oceanographic program around the island in the 4th year of the 5 year British Antarctic Survey Marine Life Sciences Division program. (Cruise dates 14 January 1998 to 7 February 1998).

1999: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 40 (JR40) ALBATROSS - Antarctic Large-scale Box Analysis and The Role of the Scotia Sea. This was a wonderful cruise that involved a circumnavigation of the Scotia Sea, work around South Georgia and across Drake Passage, and a visit to Rothera to replace a faulty CTD wire. I was a member of the physical oceanography program. (Cruise dates 15 March 1999 to 22 April 1999).

2000: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 47 (JR47) The CCAMLR Synoptic Survey studying the krill distribution in the Scotia and Bellingshausen seas. This was a large four ship multi nation survey of the Scotia Sea and was the physical oceanography lead.

At the Shackleton waterfall at Stromness, South Georgia. You can see the RRS James Clark Ross just offshore. From left to right people are unknown, Mark Brandon, Lizzie Hawker, Andrew Brierley and Richard Bridgeman.
At the Shackleton waterfall at Stromness, South Georgia. You can see the RRS James Clark Ross just offshore. From left to right people are (unknown), Mark Brandon, Lizzie Hawker, Andrew Brierley and Richard Bridgeman. February 2000.

The other three ships were the R.V. Kaiyo Maru, the R.V. Yuzhmorgeologiya, and the R.V. Atlantida. (Cruise dates 13 January 2000 - 17 February 2000).

2001: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 58 (JR58) Research cruise to the Weddell Sea. This was the first time we used the AUV Autosub beneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea, as part of Under Sea Ice and Pelagic Surveys (USIPS): fisheries- and plankton-acoustics, and oceanographic investigations of otherwise-impenetrable environments project. I admit it is not the most catchy grant title but the work we published in Science showed the first evidence of large krill swarms beneath the Antarctic sea ice.

Preparing Autosub for deployment in poor conditions. In these early AUV missions there wasn’t any cover on deck for the vehicle, or the people working on it.
Preparing Autosub for deployment in poor conditions. In these early AUV missions there wasn’t any cover on deck for the vehicle, or the people working on it. February 2001.

I led the sea ice and oceanographic work. (Cruise dates 22 January 2001 - 15 February 2001).

2003: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 84 (JR84) After our success with JR58, we once more took the AUV Autosub south on the AUTOSUB Under Ice (AUI) Pine Island cruise. I was co-scientist in Charge leading sea ice and oceanographic investigations at Pine Island as a component of the Autosub Under Ice programme.

Mark Brandon on the deck of the RRS James Clark Ross close to Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier.
Mark Brandon on the deck of the RRS James Clark Ross close to Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier. March 2003.

Whilst the AUV work wasn't as successful as we would have hoped, the oceanographic work was extremely successful. (Cruise dates 28 February 2003 to 4 April 2003).

2004: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 96 (JR96) to South Georgia. I won a research grant to deploy moorings at South Georgia, and so I was once again south to lead oceanographic work and a mooring recovery and redeployment. (Cruise dates 30 December 2003 to 20 January 2004).

On a rare day off, boating in front of the Harker Glacier at South Georgia.
On a rare day off, boating in front of the Harker Glacier at South Georgia.

Then things got a little complicated! Cruise numbers were allocated before actually going, and sea ice problems meant that JR115 came before JR112.

2005: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 115 (JR115) To Rothera and Antarctic Peninsula as part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment. One can never miss an opportunity to measure the strength of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and we made oceanographic measurements across Drake Passage.

Breaking through the sea ice of the Bellingshausen Sea on the RRS James Clark Ross. Photograph taken from the bridge wing. December 2004.
Breaking through the sea ice of the Bellingshausen Sea on the RRS James Clark Ross. Photograph taken from the bridge wing. December 2004.

We had intended to work in Marguerite Bay, but were stopped by sea ice. (Cruise dates 1 December 2004 to 19 December 2004).

2005: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 112 (JR112) Antarctic Peninsula and working in Marguerite Bay. I won a research grant to deploy moorings to measure the physics and biogeochemistry beneath the sea ice.

A sediment trap just about to enter the water from RRS James Clark Ross during a mooring deployment. January 2005
A sediment trap just about to enter the water from RRS James Clark Ross during a mooring deployment. January 2005

I was Scientist in Charge on this one. (Cruise dates 20 January 2005 to 30 January 2005).

2007: RRS James Clark Ross Cruise 165 (JR165) Marguerite Bay, King George VI Sound and along all the ice shelves south-west to Lambert Island. I think this was one of my favourite research cruises and the research and scenery were amazing. At the end of the cruise we tacked on cruise JR174 which was a mooring deployment and recovery that I led. (Cruise dates 26 February 2007 to 16 April 2007).

The RRS James Clark Ross in the sea ice of the Bellingshausen Sea. I was part of a team working on the sea ice as the sun went down.
The RRS James Clark Ross in the sea ice of the Bellingshausen Sea. I was part of a team working on the sea ice as the sun went down. March 2007.

If I add up all the polar days I've spent 624 days in total in the polar regions, 142 in the Arctic and 484 in Antarctica.

Other non research polar projects

2010 BBC Frozen Planet. Because of my field experience from 2008-2012 I was the lead academic advisor on the BBC series Frozen Planet, and this meant that in 2010 I spent time with the BBC in Svalbard filming. It was a wonderful trip and I did lots of filming for the Open University Course that I won the Innovative Teacher of the Year award. (Dates 12 April 2010 - 22 April 2010).

Mark Brandon and Sir David Attenborough
Mark Brandon and Sir David Attenborough whilst filming for the BBC series Frozen Planet.

Antarctic guiding and site exploring

When I work with broadcast companies it is very helpful to have an up to date understanding of the conditions and subjects available at at various accessible Antarctic sites, so I have taken the opportunity to work with tour companies to allow access.

Gentoo penguins, Petermann Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Gentoo penguins, Petermann Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.

On MS Explorer

2002 Antarctic Peninsular and South Georgia. (Cruise dates 3 February 2002 to 24 February 2002).

2003 Antarctic Peninsular and South Georgia (Cruise dates 4 January 2003 to 5 February 2003).

On MS Island Sky

2019 Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. (Cruise dates 1 December 2019 to 22 December 2019).

2022 Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia (1 December 2022 to 22 December 2022).

2023 Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia (12 November 2023 to 1 December 2023).

And when I add everything up, that's 750 days. A long way from the east end of London.