Monday, April 30, 2007

Daylight at last!

After a hard week of feeling like a zombie, I'm glad to have rejoined the ranks of the living and be working days again. This is made a lot easier by being on Melt Tank digging duty, meaning a good bit of exercise after breakfast.

Filling the Melt Tank

The melt tank provides all our water. It's set in a tunnel complex buried under the snow with a half-meter diameter pipe into which we chuck snow to fill it. Once a week Andy or Matt build a large cone around the hole with a bulldozer. This makes life easier as we just have to chip away at the top and let gravity do the rest. With four people it takes about half an hour to fill.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


The good part of nights of baking. Ant gave me a simple bucket-cookery recipe and behold!

Mmmm. Fresh bread!

Radio Dave

Just when I was starting to feel a little down - being on nights with a mucked up body clock and a load of mopping to do isn't fun, the Cardiff crew sent me something that made me smile. An hour long taped 'radio show' - Radio Dave.

I've had it blasting from the kitchen as I baked bread, grinning from ear to ear. Exactly what I needed. Thanks All.

Radio Dave DJs, RocDok and RedFive, at The Penguin Party

Monday, April 23, 2007


My first Aurora

Not one but two Auroras tonight!

The first was utterly disappointing. Looking a lot like high cloud with a bit of back lighting, I woke up other aurora fans but didn't stay out too long.

But the second blew my mind. It's difficult to describe without sounding like I'm trying to be poetic, but this really is what it was like! Curtains of green light danced from west to east across the sky, starting on one horizon and moving right over our heads to the other. Occasionally a shooting star added to the show.

-42c and 12 knots gives a windchill factor of nearly -60c, but the trusty Nikon kept clicking long after my fingers forced me back inside.


Night Shift

I'm on the night train...

From Thursday gone to Friday coming, I'm on nights. Down here, there's someone awake each night, mainly to ensure a fast responce to any fire alarms, but also to check the running of experiments and do some cleaning.

Although I've worked nights before, the last job was a call-out role that required quick reaction to the 'phone, but not a complete shift in body clock. To change over, I stayed up till 04:30 on Friday morning, then slept through till 12:30. After a quick brunch I popped out skiing to knacker myself out, followed by a power-nap from 16:30 to 19:30.

Friday night went fine and though I slept easily through Saturday, last night was bizarre. Towards the end of the shift I felt so tired it was almost as if I were drunk. When Richard took over at 08:00 I grunted something incoherent and collapsed into my pit, completely broken. I guess this is a similar feeling to flying to Australia!

After almost ten hours sleep, I got up feeling a lot better and managed a quick ski in the evening gloom before taking over this shift. Tonight's gone a lot better. I've shifted my feeding times round and have baked some bread which was well satisfying.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I'm on gash today, cleaning and helping Dean with the cooking. Right now I'm taking a break and reading about early Antarctic expeditions. The book's thrown up the origins of some of the terms we still use today.

"Ski-juring" Current use - to be dragged behind a skidoo on skis or snowboard. Originally a Norwegian term meaning to be dragged by a dog team when on skis.

"Caboose" Current use - metal container with primitive living facilities - bunks, stoves etc. Originally a Canadian word for the workmen's train wagon.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Ice Cave

After a lot of digging, Kirsty, Jules and others found The Ice Cave.

It's about 4m below the snow, accessed via a tight squeeze and a short ladder.

From Autumn

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Launching a Weather Balloon

Every day, weather balloons are launched from sites across the globe. The helium filled balloons carry miniature electronic instrumentation to measure temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed and direction.

A radio transmitter sends back data directly to the ground station - trying to find a small white box on the Antarctic icesheet would be more trouble than it's worth, even though they cost about £150 each!

Data from our balloon flights is sent directly to the Met Office in Exeter where it is used to check the output from global weather models, helping to answer the all important question - "is the weather doing what the model says it is?". Data from the flight is then used to fine-tune the model for the next 24 hours.

This is how we do it.

1. Open the box, check the Sonde and put the battery in to soak

The Sonde Kit

2. Configure the Sonde to local conditions. The computer calibrates all the on-board sensors to local parameters. We also enter the cloud cover and weather conditions.

Configuring the sonde

3. Wrap up warm and walk over to the BART platform. Here we fill the weather balloon with helium and attach the sonde using a hi-tech piece of string. The balloon is filled with just enough gas to lift a 1kg weight. This controls its rate of assent such that it passes through the important 100hPa at 12:00 GMT.

Tying the sonde on

4. Launch! At 11:00GMT precisely, the door is opened and the balloon launched. This is easy on a still day, but when the wind gets up a vacuum is formed across the top of the container, dragging the balloon out. Flights often reach over 22,000m, the balloon expanding to the size of the container before popping!

Ready to launch!

Data is send back to the configuration computer throughout the flight. When completed, we check it's looking sensible, add error bars and local parameters and send it off to the Met Office.

That's a day in the life of a weather balloon.

Oh, while on the subject of weather, it's a new record low for the season at -38.0C !!

Exclusive - The Concept of Contrast

Again and again, people are asking "what's the big deal about contrast?". While walking over to the balloon shed to make the daily launch, I nearly stumbled into the Simpson Snowman.

Here's why:

No Contrast

Contrast! (from flash)

Hopefully this explains why I occasionally fall down holes and walk into snowdrifts!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Some new links

For the 'official' take on what's going on, BAS keeps Web Diaries for all bases. I've cobbled together Halley's March entry by asking people what they've been up to and liberally paraphrasing their replies. Check it out here.

Side view of the RRS Shackleton. Image linked from ALIAS

Another interesting website, Arctic Logistics Information And Support (ALIAS), contains the full technical details of the RRS Shackleton. I wish I had found this during the voyage as it answers every geeky question about the ship. If you asked me technical questions I was unable to answer at the time, click here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Bank Holiday

I didn't expect bank holidays down here, but in keeping with Civil Service traditions we've got a long weekend. Well, most people have, but due to the need for constant meteorological monitoring, the Simpson Team has a more scattered range of days off. Still, I've skied round the perimeter (7km) and am enjoying a good mooch about before working tomorrow.

Sunday Update

Extreme Barbequeing

Friday night brought holiday spirit in the form of the most extreme barbeque I'm likely to attend. Donning Canadian goose-down and wolf-fur jackets, we huddled round the flames, minding our lips on beer cans as metal sticks to skin at -32C!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

We've got nights now

The Piggott Platform at sunset

We're losing a hour of daylight every three days and there's only a month left before the sun vanishes below the horizon for weeks. As you'd expect, the temperature has dropped too. Minus 30 is quite common, but doesn't feel too bad and there's a pile of even warmers jackets to wrap up in.

Techno Techno Techno!

The dark nights were a good thing for the lighting effects at Tom's birthday rave, where Dr Thomas Spiess revealed his alter-ego as DJ-Tom, blasting out four hours of banging techno. Glow-sticks, strobes and the sort of dancing Bez would be proud of all featured, but sadly the party was broken up in the early hours of April 1st after three people were found possessing a substance they described as 'snow'...