Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cook for the day

Ant, Sune and Matt have gone to see the penguins, so I'm cooking today!

So far it's French bread pizza for lunch (with beans and side stuff).

Torn between casserole or curry for main. Will check the fridge...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bank Holiday Weekend

It's not just the UK that had a superheated bank holiday: Down here the temperature soared to a sultry -15C! Saturday afternoon's run felt warmer than ever, so good in fact that Richard set a new record of two perimeter laps. The bar has been raised.

Saturday night brought depravity in the form of Alex's Rocky Horror themed birthday party. My camera had a flat battery, but no doubt there's some horrific photos lurking elsewhere in blog-land...

I worked Sunday, but did manage the afternoon CASLab commute by kite. A solid 20knots made the 1 mile journey a matter of a few minutes. Coming back upwind, I was surprised how much easier it felt to keep the board on edge. As the scales are back the right side of 90kgs, I must be getting better! Yup, that's definitely it!

Yesterday brought good enough weather for Neil and Tom to head to Precious Bay and assemble the new Ozone loggers. The wind had dropped a touch from Saturday's levels, but there was plenty to kite-commute to the Lab again (I'm covering while Neil's away).

On returning, rather than follow the straight hand line, I picked up the circular flags marking the perimeter. Trying to follow a circle on a wind powered craft is harder than it looks, and the dinghy racers on base probably got a good laugh from my tacking efforts. Once sussed, I popped round the masts onto the open West Side and zoomed along happy again. After lunch more people came out to play and with six kites in the air, it almost felt like summer. After six hours flying yesterday, I'm really aching. In a good, "I've done some sport" kinda way. About time too!

To finish the holiday with a bang (and celebrate Notting Hill Carnival), the Halley Samba Band "Drum Line" banged out a few rhythms on the snow. I don't play drums, so took some photos:

"Drum Line" - The Samba sensation...

...and Halley's loudest band!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Antarctic Essentials

This time last year we were frantically buying toys on Ebay and wondering what would enhance our lives down south. So, to help our replacements (and for general interest), this is what I'd bring if coming again.

Snowboard and kite. (Outdoor sports are the key to having fun down here)
Two decent cameras. You can get away with just a pocket jobby, (Canon Ixus (Ixii?) are quick and even work in -40C!), but if you're thinking of a DSLR, then it's well worth the cost. Nikons and Canons both work well down here.
Laptop and music.
Winter present / personal project materials. There's fantastic workshops, so if you feel like making something, bring the bits!

Magazines. Other than Q, there's not been a restock for a few years, and it's getting familiar. Order a year's back issues of your preferred volume and ration carefully.
Indoor entertainment - projects, models etc...
Nice treats - chocolate, sweets etc

Don't bother
Everyday chocolate / toothpaste / shampoo etc. It's all here.

To answer some questions...

Dave asked:

1) It appears as though the staff at your base changes on an annual basis? Are there any processes in place to ensure experimental continuity year to year? I know what it can be like when one set of experiments is repeated by another person!

Traditionally, science contracts lasted two years, ensuring a one-year overlap between outgoing and incoming staff. Most knowledge was passed on in this way, but there are also sizable manuals with (nearly!) everything written down. And of course, the Cambridge staff (who designed and set up the experiments) are only a phone-call or email away.

2) Any more info on those survival bags and general practices for survival when you are out and about working.

Working on site is different to field travel. For site work, we wear PPE developed for the Alaskan oil industry and dress to the weather. For instance, yesterday when flying the Blimp it was -35C with 8knts wind. I wore: Thermals top and bottom, moleskin trousers, fleece jumper, and thick boiler suit. Because the work involved either a lot of movement (when setting up), or standing around (when in flight), I added the thick Canada Goose down jacket when I felt chilly.

The main secret is good glove selection:Dexterity Vs Warmth is an on-going battle, with at least 10 different gloves vying for supremacy. Personally I favour thin thermal liners (worn with my thumb poking through a hole in the thermal sleeve to prevent bare patches) with either leather/thinsulate work gloves or the massive Bear Paw mitts over the top.

The bivi-bags are standard Goretex examples you'd find in any UK supplier.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bring out the Blimp!

We've had a busy and interesting couple of days running the first ozone experiments of the spring season.

Experiments at Halley monitor both the 'ozone layer', the concentration of gases about 20km above us and 'surface ozone', which is found in the first 500m. The two are completely separate, although frequently (and sometimes deliberately) confused by the media.

All ozone absorbs energy in the infrared to ultraviolet frequency range. The higher 'ozone layer' absorbs short-wave Ultra-Violet light coming from the sun towards us. UV is harmful to us, so this is a Good Thing. When the 'ozone hole' opens up, Aussie cricketers dig out their heavy sunscreen and pigs get burnt.

Surface ozone, however, absorbs longer-wavelength infra-red energy being radiated out from the earth back into space, in effect trapping this heat near the earth's surface. This is a Bad Thing, as it causes local warming over the highly temperature sensitive ice shelves. This was commonly seen as Smog in cities, and is still a problem in places such as Los Angeles.

Read more about the science behind the blimp on BAS' site, here.

So, how do we do it?

We know ozone depleting gases (in the Halogen series) are released by the formation of new sea ice in the coast some 15km from Halley, so we monitor wind speed and direction, looking for a sudden shift to an on shore direction. Once the wind has changed, we watch the CASLab's ozone instruments until we see levels drop at the base. Then we bring out the blimp!

Tamsin steadying the Blimp

The blimp is a small helium filled airship, of the sort seen advertising used cars dealers and golf sales across the UK. We blow it up, attach it to a winch, send it up until it settles into stable flight, then attach the instruments and wind it up into the packet of air we're interested in.

The Blimp over its hanger

Every 10 seconds the instruments sample temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction and ozone levels. We raise and lower the blimp and about 5 metres a minute, slowing down when we reach an interesting height. This height is determined by a Sodar (an upward looking sonic sounder, working on similar principals to a RADAR) which reveals temperature differences in the air above the station, revealing warmer 'layers' that have arrived from the coast.

Kirsty shows Dean the controls

The Blimp can reach about 500m! Yesterday we flew for about three hours, reaching 250m and got good results.

Phew, that was probably the biggest post so far! Tune in next week for more climate saving antics...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ant's IceBar

The old ice bar is too well buried to use anymore. But Ant, Dean and Richard have been busy digging in secret, and created this little venue for Saturday night refreshments!

The Ice Bar

Inside the lounge

Got the colours right!

After a good play with RAW on the Nikon, this is what the sky really looks like in the mornings.

Orange horizon, purple sky.


Click here for more

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Spring Morning

Nice moody mist

Work picks up

One of the main reasons for having over-wintering teams based in Antarctica is to study changes in the local climate that take place in the Austral spring. My department is interested in two media favorites - global warming and the hole in the ozone layer. Global Warming is studied by analysing trends in long term records (which we've kept ticking over through the winter), but Ozone levels stay pretty much constant across the year, save for a big drop in the southern spring. One research area is the chemical interaction between the southern ocean and the lower atmosphere (more here).

What this means to us is a busy time getting instruments ready for deployment. Most of this falls to Neil, our atmospheric chemist, but I've been covering for Jules by preparing the solar/wind generator power system. It's an interesting and well built little system comprising a controller/data-logger for each of the three wind generators, all sending data back to a central logger. This lot will be deployed at Precious Bay, about 10km away to monitor ozone levels at the coast.

Wind generator controllers (L) and logger enclosure (R)

We're also chasing Ozone on the Simpson. But rather than looking across, we're going straight up using a set of mirco-instruments mounted on a helium filled blimp. This experiment begins with setting up the Weather Haven, where the kit is stored between flights. A nice day made for plenty of volunteers.

The weather haven goes up

It's been flat out, but there's still been time for a laugh. Ant, our ever cheerful chef, turned 30 last week and wanted to go camping. Un-deterred by the cold, seven of us grabbed survival bags and headed into the grounds.

Ant celebrates his 30th

It was about -40C with a bit of wind, but nowhere near as much snow as the photo suggests (the flash picks up on really tiny particles in the air). It was a bit cold when we toasted Ant's birthday with some perfectly chilled champaign, but I soon warmed up when wedged in the down-filled warmth of the survival bag.

Bivi-ing in the garden

Today is gash-day, bringing the delights of domestic chores at the weekend. And so life swings back from Polar Hero (TM) to housewife!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nice days again

The day after a blizzard is always the best. Lots of soft snow, perfect winds and warm temperatures make for great kiting. I was also woken up by sunlight for the first time. That made me happy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Blizzard. Two nice days. Blizzard again... It's getting samey and it's getting annoying!
  • Battling out to the melt tank, goggles misted and frozen seconds from the door!
  • Picking up a shovel and getting whacked by so much static electricity it flies from your hand!
  • Having to dig out more snow to find the hatch than would actually be required to fill the tank!
  • Jarring arms by hitting rock hard ice (coz frozen goggles reduce visibility to something like a steamed up car)!
  • Overheating!
It's not all Club 18-30 on ice.

Some things really annoy me.

Rant over.

Here comes the sun!

After over 100 days absence, the sun is back!

After 100 days, it's back

No two computer models agreed on the exact date of 'sunrise', so we held a sweep-stake on the time of its exact return. Yesterday, last week's blizzard had settled down bringing excellent visibility and a defined glow on the horizon as I walk back from the Simpson for lunch. After the meal, a heated argument arose between those still in the bets as to whether a mere glimpse of the sun was enough, or did the whole disk need to be visible for a win? Eventually astrophysicists and meteorologist agreed that a glimpse would suffice, and Tamsin won.

Freezing for Queen and country.

Being one of the last outposts of the British Empire, we couldn't let such an occasion pass without some pomp and ceremony. So in BAS tradition, Jim, the youngest member of the team, made a short speech about surviving the dark period and best wishes for the busy work ahead, then hoisted a new flag.

Festivities continued into the evening, with Ant putting on his most extreme BBQ yet, grilling steaks in the -40s. It's not worth risking beers outside - they freeze in seconds!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Damn Weather (Updated)

After a few nice days, the weather's back to its old gale force, snow everywhere self. I guess this is the Antarctic equivalent of having a few nice days in March, only for April till July to be miserable and wet.

C'mon sun! I've got a bet on you showing by the end of this week!


What a night. The maximum (10min average) wind speed reached just short of 60 knots, rocking the building enough to upset both sea-sickness sufferers and the fire alarm! But, as I lay trying to get back to sleep after the 3am alarm, I thought the building's motion more like a train than a ship.

It's dropping off now.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The guitar is finished!

Had a great weekend. Saturday was my Met Day, but as a visit to the CASLab was called for, we incorporated it in a pleasant run round the perimeter. We covered the 8ish Km in 52mins including a 10min stop, making a new record thanks to the firm snow. Hopefully we'll get it under 40mins as the light improves.

Sunday was a good kiting day with many people venturing out for the first time since before winter. There's been a big buildup of snow forming wind-scooped trenches behind barrels to test the skills. A gentle 13knots blew from the east, but the hard snow made for quick enough riding. Unluckily Jules suffered an annoying skis-crossed-when-taking-off mishap meaning a nasty twist to his ankle and a trip to Richard's X-ray machine.

Today I've been a busy boy and have finished the guitar. Here it is:

The world's only dog-sledge guitar?

One Happy Rocker!