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Christmas in Antarctica

Sea ice around Antarctica. Image: British Antarctic Survey

York biologist heads to Signy Island

A University of York researcher is looking forward to spending Christmas in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey.

James Chong‌Dr James Chong, from the Department of Biology, is on his way to the Signy Research Station on Signy Island, where he will collect gas and biological samples from surface snow, looking for microbial consumption of climate gases.

The research is part of a collaborative research project with Dr Kelly Redeker - also from the Department of Biology, who will analyse the gas samples Dr Chong collects - and Dr David Pearce from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who specialises in microbial ecology.

Dr Chong set off on his 11 day journey to Signy Island on 11 November and will return in early January. One of the South Orkney Islands, Signy Island is situated in the Southern Ocean to the north of the Weddell Sea, approximately 900km south-west of South Georgia.

Dr Chong says: “This is an incredible opportunity to explore the microbial activity and diversity of one of the remotest parts of the planet and I feel very lucky to be part of this year’s BAS expedition.

“Winds blowing over Antarctica drop living biomass from far away ocean and land surfaces onto the snow throughout the year. It has been assumed that this biomass was inert but recently Dr Pearce has published papers showing that the bacteria remained viable, even after long term exposure to the extreme Antarctic environment. If this microbial community continues to metabolize, even slowly, within the packed snow, this may have significant influence over our understanding of our past climate.”

This is an incredible opportunity to explore the microbial activity and diversity of one of the remotest parts of the planet

‌Dr James Chong

Dr Chong and his seven colleagues have undertaken extensive training for the arduous conditions, including sea survival techniques, crevasse training and first aid.

He flew out of RAF Brize Norton to the Falklands via Ascension Island, where he is catching a ship to Signy, which will take around 10 days, journeying via Bird Island and King Edward Point.

“We'll actually be dropping off one of our Biology Alumni, Stephanie Winnard, on Bird Island,” says Dr Chong. “She's going to be there for 16 months looking at a colony of Wandering Albatross.”  

Dr Chong has been blogging about his pre-departure training and is planning to keep this updated while he is away. Visit

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