Saturday, 16 February 2013

Farewell to the South Atlantic Ocean Feb. 16, 2013 (Frithjof)

Once more, I am writing a blog chapter on an RAF flight – this time, from Ascension Island to RAF Brize Norton near Oxford. There was no diving during my last day in Ascension; divers are required to fully decompress for at least a day before boarding aircraft flying at high altitudes. Instead, there was plenty of office work to catch up on, including with the Ascension Island Conservation Department. Great, our paper on bromine metabolism in Laminaria, submitted to J Exp Bot, is “acceptable with minor revisions”. That’s good news for coming home.

Aldo and I then took our rental car for going up Green Mountain, Ascension’s highest peak. Initially this was a very barren cinder cone like all others of Ascension’s peaks, and all early European visitors faced a severe water shortage when visiting this desert island consisting of mostly black, volcanic rock. This applied also in particular to the Royal Marines, who turned the island into a British base during Napoleon’s exile in St. Helena. When Charles Darwin and, a few years later, also Joseph D. Hooker visited Ascension, they suggested planting a forest on its highest mountain, in order to increase rainfall, decrease evaporation, and make Ascension more inhabitable by improving the water supply and the local climate on the mountain. For several years, tropical plants were sent to the island, especially from Kew Gardens, Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Brazil, and planted on the mountain. Within a few decades, a cloud forest ecosystem formed – totally artificial, but nevertheless, with the intended outcome.  Indeed, Green Mountain is a very pleasant place for human visitors. The downside of course is that most of Ascension’s native plants were soon outcompeted by the alien new arrivals. The Ascension Island Conservation Department is now working very hard to save what’s left to save, several species have already been lost.

Aldo and I hiked Elliot’s Pass, a circular trail around the summit of Green Mountain, which had been created by the Royal Marines to provide 360° of lookout around the island. When it was created in the 19th century, it offered indeed views to all sides of the island, but now most of it is surrounded by dense jungle. I was once more impressed by how Aldo was coping with the physical challenges of this trip. Two years ago, we had also hiked Elliot’s Pass, but got lost in the jungle since much of it had been overgrown by dense vegetation. Now much of the path had been cleared and it was a reasonably easy, 1 ½ h hike. A great conclusion to our big trip!

Georgetown Harbour was busier than usual – a large military supply vessel was moored a bit offshore (the harbour is too shallow), and lots of containers were being hauled back and forth by barge. This vessel calls at Ascension and Mare Harbour in the Falklands about every 2 months. Resupplying these remote islands with almost anything is quite a logistical challenge.

Back in Georgetown, it was time to say farewell – to Nicky, Caz, Jolene and Stedson. We went to the airport in the early evening, but learned that the flight would be around 5 h delayed due to freezing fog over southern England in the early morning. Not really a big problem, that meant another evening with Stedson in the Obsidian’s Anchor Inn.

We finally left Ascension after 2 am, for a smooth night flight back to England with a fair amount of sleep. Just after breakfast, Roscoff and the Ile de Batz in Bretagne (Brittany), where I had spent 6 years of studies, appeared under my window. I was delighted, I have a lot of nostalgia for this place!

A bit over half an hour later, we landed at RAF Brize Norton in wintery England.

 Cloud forest on Green Mountain

View fr cloud forest on Green Moutain towards English Bay

 Hiking Elliots Pass on Green Mt

Church in Georgetown Ascension

Supply vessel for Ascension and Falklands off Georgetown

Anchor Inn Obsidian last evening in Ascension 

 Roscoff fr the air en route fr Ascension to RAF Brize Norton

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