Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's getting darker...

With only three weeks to go till mid-winter's day, the days are definitely drawing in. Daylight, or twilight, to be more specific, starts at about 10:30 and is all gone by 15:30. Even at it's brightest, the sun doesn't have the strength to cast a shadow, especially at the moment the full moon casts an eiree blue glow over everything.

The Laws at noon

Today I'm cooking, as we take turns to cover Ant's days off (Thursday and Sunday). Lunch was a success, fresh pizza, using the same recipe as for normal bread. Dinner continues the bread theme, being lamb curry, rice and Nan. I'm good at curry, but this is the first time I've tried my own nan bread. Finger crossed.

On a completely different note, as I've mentioned to a few people, BAS offered me a second year at Halley. After a battle of head vs wallet, head won and I turned it down and enquired if there was anything at Rothera instead. There wasn't, so I'll be finishing early 2008 as before.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Surveying the masts

I meant to put this one up ages ago, but forgot all about it.

Anyway, over the last few weeks we've had to check and adjust all our masts and aerials, as the build up of snow on the stays pulls them off centre. As ever, it was good to get outside, although operating the theodolite in thin gloves froze my fingers very quickly!

Jules surveying

It's way darker than this now, so I'm going to try some moon photos.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Doc School

The extensive first aid training we started in Plymouth has been kept up, on the ship en-route and now at base. In the summer we ran through a major incident senario and since then, Richard our doctor has been running weekly first aid classes.

Based around the "Airway, Breathing, Circulation" mantra, last week we reached "C" and after a lecture and practice on surogate veins made from old weather balloon and rubber tubing, willing victims were sought for practice.

One method of coping with the darkness!

As one of the advanced first-aiders, responcible for assisting Richard if necessary, he was keen I should get some practice and donated his arm. The canula I'm inserting in the photo* gives intraveinous access to a patient, allowing the dispensing of drugs or the taking of blood samples.

After carefully lining up, I popped the canular in, withdrew the needle and taped everything in place without too much discomfort to the patient. To my surprise, I wasn't at all squeamish. I guess I must be de-sensitized after all the bike crashes!

*Cheers to Pete for the photo.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Busy busy

Had a top day. The afternoon was spent adjusting the radio masts with Dean - the guys need slackening to relieve tension built up by snow accumulation. Was nice to work outside after being stuck indoors for a while.

After dinner the wind picked up and a golden quarter moon had popped over the horizon, so I took the kite out for some night time action. Aided by a headtorch, I set up and made a few runs as a fantastic green aurora filled the sky. It was fantastic, and I only stopped as the wind fell.

As I headed back to the laws, Tams, Dean and Richard had the telescope set-up with a clear view of Jupiter. A fantastic end to an interesting day.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Trip Down The Tunnels

Services for the buildings such as bulk fuel storage and waste water processing are buried under the snow to protect them from the elements. Every week, James or Brian visit the tunnels to check their condition and fix any problems. Today I tagged along and popped down the Piggott tunnels with James, our builder.

Ice Crystals in the Piggott Tunnel

Accessed by a 30m vertical shaft, the Tunnels are classified as Confined Spaces, so we filled in the relevant permits and donned fall-arrest harnesses prior to setting off. Once inside, Jim pointed out the stunning ice-crystals hanging from the ceiling, then disappeared to make his checks while I indulged in photography. Crystals are hard work. Of over 100 shots, about three were any good and I cursed myself for forgetting my remote flash (which would have made great back-light...).

It was still great fun. (Click below for more photos)

Tunnel Photo Album

A Big Blizzard

A weekend of weather!

After the coldest April on record, the latter half of last week saw brisk winds and a heat wave of a tropical -5C! Saturday was fairly indifferent - too little light for kiting, so plenty of work done on the Winter Present. That evening we celebrated Brian's 40th birthday, but I retired early having to be at work for 9:00 on Sunday.

The day started with a moderate breeze, but this rose to gale force (34 knots) by lunchtime. By the time I struggled from the Simpson for dinner, gusts were peaking at nearly 50knots and whirling snow reduced visibility to about ten metres! Naturally, I suffered in the name of art and dug out the camera.

Stills images don't really capture the full power of the storm, but the video did. It'll be on MySpace soon. In the mean-time, there's this:

Storm Force Winds

This was the strongest storm I've seen so far and it really gave an idea as to how inhospitable this continent can be. Although the buildings were baking hot from the recent heatwave, the rocking motion and vibrations were a constant reminder of what was going on outside. I was grateful to see clear skies and a dropping wind at the midnight met-check.

in total contrast, today was cloudless, cold and still, so I enjoyed a complete ski round the perimeter in the noon twilight.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Z or Dead!

One benefit of the dark evenings is plenty of time for the Halley bands to practice. There are two groups down here, Samba drums on Thursday (not my cup of tea) and Sleazy Rock on Friday (pass the pot!).

Z or Dead, Halley's loudest band, comprises Mark (Lead guitar and vocals), Alex (bass), Dean (drums) and me (rhythm guitar and vocals). We play simple no-nonsense rock and roll, including Black Sabbarth, Oasis, Snow Patrol and The Mighty Quo! Our set-list is currently 12 songs strong and we're working hard to get them all wired for Mid Winter Festival. The debut album, Frosty Reception may be uploaded to trouble your ears soon.

I really, really, wanted to form a band called The Antarctic Monkeys. I envisaged returning to the UK to tour student unions, baffling and disapointing the youth with our slighty dodgy Monkeys covers. Gladly, I've been talked out of the idea...

Who's Who?

Having been at Halley for getting on five months, I suppose I'd better introduce the rest of the team and explain what they do. I would have done this earlier, but getting everyone together for a group photo was much like hearding cats.

From the left, we are:

Me (Met); Andy (Generator Mechanic); Alex (Data Manager); Tom (UAV Meteorologist/Engineer); Pete (Base Commander); Neil (Atmospheric Chemist);
[Back] Sune (Field Assistant); Ant (Chef); Mat(Vehicle Mechanic); Brian (Plumber); Mark (Sparky); Tamsin (Met); James (Chippy); Chris (Radar Engineer)
[Front] Richard (Doc); Dean (Coms Manager); Jules (Piggott Engineer); Kirsty (Met)

Phew. As you can see, there's about a 50/50 mix of science and support staff. In the past there has apparantly been some clique-iness, but that's not the case this year as we all get along well. The only time division between the departments becomes evident is at the Monday night pubquiz, where teams "Met", "Piggott", "Tech Support" (the trades) and "Life Support" (Chef, Doctor, Field Assisant (holiday planner) and Coms (Internet provider!)) do serious battle. It's a close run thing, with each team having a different specialist in their ranks. Brian's football knowledge in unsurpassed, my music is pretty good and Dean's "general crap I read on the internet" is bottomless. This always makes for a fun evening and we look forwards to playing Pete's local once the coms are sorted.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Night Life

It's been ten days since the last post, sorry for being slack!

So what's changed? Well, last week had clear skies giving beautiful twilight for about 6 hours around noon and stunning star-filled nights. Sadly there were no aurora as the conditions were perfect. It's now clouded over making it pretty much pitch black outside for most of the day. this is a less impressive.

Work has continued as usual with the fixing of a troublesome precision barometer the highlight of the week. We've also started soaking our weather balloons in Avtur (Aviation Turbine Fuel) to increase their resistance to popping in the extremely cold upper atmosphere where temperatures drop to -70C!

Doctor Richard has started his contribution to a long-running study on sleep patterns at Halley. One's waking habits are usually driven by external triggers, daylight, but without this trigger the body clock tends to over-run. By replacing sunlight with special lamps, the body clock can be reset. In theory. This week we have been wearing activity monitors and recording our sleep quantity and quality as a base reference. The special lamps will be used every other week, for the next two months, giving Richard a good dataset to test the theory.

Sports wise, I've completed a personal kite challenge - a complete tour-de-Halley, following the Northern half of the perimeter. The tricky part was getting past the parked up vehicles without getting stuck in a large hole between snow drifts. With a careful bit of tacking, I broke through to the larger west side of the base and had a fantastic flat-out run for about 2km! My jumps are getting better too, helped by the fact the kite provides a lot of the lift, so the knees don't get the same hammering on landing as say on a bike.

Evening activities are centered around the making of midwinter presents. At the start of the season we drew the name of our recipient from a hat, so have had time to design appropriate gifts. The metal and wood workshops are busy most evenings with people making parts with great secrecy, to surprise not only the receiver but the whole base. Naturally, I can't say what I'm making, but it's coming on well.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

They Say It Changes When The Sun Goes Down...

I feel quite happy pinching an Arctic Monkeys song title for this blog entry, since it not only fits perfectly, but I’ve also bought their excellent new album. So, what’s the deal? Well, it figured that after three months of daylight, we would eventually get the opposite. When asked in my interview how I thought I’d cope with the Antarctic winter, I replied “nowhere can ever be as dark as Birmingham”. In three months’ time I’ll compare Austral and Acocks winters, and see if I was right.

Pete lowers the Union Flag

Yesterday the sun disappeared over the horizon for the last time for about one hundred days. It was a beautiful day that was marked with number of celebrations starting with the ceremonial lowering of the Union Flag by Pete, the base commander and oldest member of the team. (The youngest member gets to raise a new flag in the spring.) With years of Arctic and Antarctic experience, Pete was ready for the calls of ‘speech!’ with words of praise for everyone’s efforts and comments on the excellent base morale.

Taking a break in the Simpson

The afternoon continued with a bit of an office party at the Simpson with games including feet-less entry into the hammock, flying Tom’s aircraft simulator and riding my 18” tall monkey bike. Meanwhile, back on the Laws, Ant and Richard had got the barbeque going and the streaks marinating. This BBQ was a far more civilised affair in the mild (-18C) still air. After dining, we retired to the bar for Halley themed sun-downer cocktails, expertly mixed by Tams and Kirsty.

Ant and Sune start the barbie

How am I going to cope with the dark? I don’t know. But I do know, like many ‘hardships’ down here, the real extent is subject to the individual’s perception at the time, and their descriptions later. To start with, the sun still lights the sky for a good 6 hours a day – enough for kiting and skiing outside. Which as far as I’m concerned, makes everything fine.

More photos, including a parorama, in the gallery.