Monday, February 26, 2007

A little about the weather

The weather here is cold, as you'd expect, but it's a very different type of cold to the UK. The thermometer only tells half the story. Last week it was -20C, with cloudless skies. We took coffee outside on the balcony and basked in the sun, being sure to wear factor 30 as it's damn strong down here.

Today it's a normally sultery -10, but the 25knot wind drives straight through if you've not got a windproof on. Any exposed flesh cools quickly and thin thermal gloves are essential under the usual work mits.

It's too windy for kiting and too cold for skiing, so today I used the gym. Exercise is the only way to keep on top of Ant's superb cooking.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Settling In

After the Shackleton’s departure, we took a couple of days to transform the base from a box to something resembling a home. Rooms were allocated by lottery and I got a pleasant east facing number – I’ve certainly paid more for less in the UK!

Things have also changed in the office on the Simpson platform. There’s now four of us in the office: Kirsty (Met, 2nd year at Halley); Tamsin (Met, also joined this year); Tom (Met engineer from Germany with unmanned aerial vehicles!) and myself. We all have different backgrounds, the girls with physics and earth science degrees, me with instrumentation and Tom with a meteorology degree and engineering PhD. Between us, we should have all bases covered.

Playing dice in the bar

I've been busy in the workshop too. A broken camera lens is now working again and I've built a remote flash., so there's more arty shots to look forwards to.

The technical staff have been busy closing down the Dewery summer accommodation building, making a number of conversions for next year’s season of building work. The highlight of this was Friday night’s hot-tub party! Before the water tank is drained, the temperature is cranked up, bubbles and music are installed and beers are cooled on the snow! Naturally, jumping out of the hot water and rolling in the snow had to be done. The contrast between the hot water and -15c air was shocking! After I got out, I left my shorts on the ground while I took some photos. They froze solid within a couple of minutes.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Departure of the Shackleton

Week seven has brought a lot of changes. Outside, the sun’s getting lower in the sky, giving us definite mornings, evenings and nights. Inside, summer staff have departed and we’re down to just the 18 who will be running the station over winter. The summer crew departed in two waves, calling for two enjoyable nights in the bar to say fair-well. Most were only on short contracts, but a few had reached the end of nearly thirty months and were very much looking forwards to the sound of rain, the colour green and other little niceties we get by without down here.

Ten of us made the bumpy three hour journey back to Creek N9 to see the Shackleton depart. Her engines were already running as we popped aboard to briefly say our goodbyes - the sea had started to freeze and the Captain was eager to get moving. As the gangway was pulled up, we lined the ice with flares as the ship span on her axis and edged slowly away. Slipping into the mist, the Shackleton’s fog horn echoed off the ice-cliffs as sailors and Fids lined the aft decks and officers waved from the bridge.

Within minutes the fireworks had burnt out and the ship had gone. For the next eight months, we're on our own.

Click for photographes

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Circus Leaves Town

Last night the Shackleton returned to N9 to make her third and last call of the season. This spells the end of the 'summer' and the departure of more than half the personel. I popped down to the Drewery for fairwell drinks and all seemed pleased with the work done. This morning there's a good atmosphere about the place as a convoy of sledges and SnoCats rolled out under a cloudless sky.

I'm now manning the met-platform by myself, kept company by high spirited Smokie-and-the-Bandit style radio chatter and booming mullet rock.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Scotland hits Singletrack

If you've been reading this from the start, you'll know mountain bikes are a big thing for me. Before I left the UK, a mate and I took a weekend trip to Scotland to find some propper mountains. For something to do on the ship, I pitched the idea to a magazine and they accepted it. So, if you're interested in riding in the Cairngormes, go buy a copy of Singletrack.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Life in Wales continues as normal

Today I'm chained to the computer in a most un-heroic manner, doing data entry. This is boring, but does mean I get to look at my email and send a few messages back home. As friends who've been away for a year told me, "the thing that will surprise you is how little changes". It seems they're right: A little bit of snow has broken British Transport, the Bangor crowd have had their annual dinner and the Cardiff crew are enjoying the weather and taking bikes where they're not supposed to. Good stuff.

Rich, somewhere in the Beacons
(photo - Rich)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Tour De Halley

Here's an aerial photo labled up to give you an idea of what's where. (Click to enlarge)
Briefly, the buildings are:

Laws: Main winter accomodation
Drewery: Summer accomodation
Garage: Does what it says on the tin
Simpson: All Meteorological science (my office)
Piggott: Upper Atmosphere science

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We built this shelter last week. It houses an inflatable helium filled Blimp, but rather than a banner for a Golf Sale, this one carries instruments to study ozone levels in the tropopause. We tested the system, but wont be flying until August when ozone depletion is at is greatest.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Loneliness. Isolation. Despair.

Shock horror! The internet has been down for a whole day, plunging us back into the dark days of the 1990’s! This isn’t due to dodgy wiring, but to having to raise the satellite dish onto a new mound of snow to prevent it getting buried in snow over winter. Dean and Dave, the coms managers needed only 8 hours to move the dome, but another 8 to scan the cosmos for our link to humanity. After a few false starts the satellite was located sometime after midnight. Nice work lads!

Playing on the new tracked Quad

Back outside, the new Honda Quads (“A great toy… sorry, scientific research vehicle” (Top-Gear Magazine)) are proving useful and reliable. Martin wanted a few photos so two ‘Antarctic Hero’s’ posed in the low sun. Jealously guarded by the garage, I managed to grab a go and went exploring the mounds and wind tails on the tracked quad. The grip is unbelievable.

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Wheeled Quads go sideways

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Post Arrives

Cheers for the post everyone!

Some of it's taken two months to get here, but it's been worth the wait.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Kite of Doom

I’d heard a lot about the kiting at Halley. Colleagues at Cambridge raved about the sport, so a few weeks before leaving I rang Antarctica for advice on what to buy: “Everyone’s riding Flysurfer down here. Beginner? 6 foot? Hmmm, ok - I’d look for about 10square meters... ” came the reply. Ebay provided a used Flysurfer Spirit from a surfer in Newquay, who was a little surprised at my purchase of a 10m as my first kite. Out of kindness (or concern about liabilities) he dug out the manual and instruction DVD. Other mates joked about a quick flight back, whether I wanted it or not! Were the Southern crew having a game of “let’s mess up the new-guy” I wondered?

I watched the DVD, read the manual and tentatively laid the bright yellow wing out on the snow. Checking the lines were clear, I hooked the control bar onto my harness and pulled hard to take off. And… Nothing. The lines needed sorting, a job that would be a pleasure on the beach, but took a finger-freezing hour on the snow. Job done, I tried again. This time the wing inflated and the lines whistled as the Spirit took off.

It would now be tempting to lie about how I manfully fought to overcome the sheer force of nature, struggling with my lines like a red-neck fisherman with a shark. But I didn’t. The kite simply sat above me, perfectly still. Gently pulling on the bars would drop it into the powerzone, dragging me along on my feet. In fact, it handled a lot like a stunt-kite.

After a couple of stationary flights, I was beginning to feel the need for speed. My snowboarding is coming on, but needs more practice, so I strapped on a pair of skis and launched the kite into a pleasant 12 knots. Whoooaa! Facing the wrong way, the acceleration whipped me round and a binding popped! I careered across the snow for 30 metres on one ski before pulling the beast back onto the deck. Trying again, I faced the right direction and launched at the edge of the wind where there’s less power. As the kite slowly rose above me, I moved off, sliding effortlessly over perfect fresh snow. After a couple of turns my confidence called for a faster run. Dropping the wing into the more powerful wind, my speed increased and I edged the skis hard to counteract the pull. Skimming the snow with one hand on the bar, I was pleased with how easily it had come together and relieved that I’ll have a good sport to occupy me for the next year.