Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My commute

Driving the quad back from the Simpson in a bit of a blizzard.

Sorry about the poor quality. I kept dropping the camera when I had to change gear and haven't edited it out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Last Supper

Winter's nearly over. The plane gets in later this week bringing new faces, letters and fresh fruit. Last night we had what's probably going to be our final meal as the winter team.

Final Saturday meal of winter

There was a massive dump of snow over night. Knee deep powder is a pain to walk in, but excellent fun on the board.

Me having fun

Winter practice shows!

Cheers to Tom for the photos.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What's with the weather?

Yesterday started at -20C with 30 knts. It finished with light wind and a -4C heatwave. It felt really odd outside, with big snowflakes falling from grey cloud and melting against the windows.

We popped out after dinner to take Team Life Support's year photo. The name was thought up to group everyone not involved in science or trade work. It came from a pub quiz early in the year, and stuck.

Team Life Support

From the left, these Antarctic Heros are:
Richard (Doctor, Binman, Seamstress); Dean (Coms manager); Sune (Field Assistant and Antarctic Tour Guide); Ant (Chef and Chief Digger).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Normal service resumes

The famous Halley weather is back! Ceaseless winds. Driving snow. Fogged goggles.

I thought I was getting a bit melodramatic about the weather, so checked the statistics: So far this month we've had 14 days of drifting snow and visibility under 1km.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Penguin Movies

Taken on a little pocket camera in crap light, but hopefully they'll give you an idea of how noisy and funny they are!

#1 - Penguins wandering about

#2 - Creche of chicks

The Penguin Curse is broken!

The week's glorious weather was forecast to stay for the weekend, so Ant, Dean, Richard and I eagerly booked a Snocat and packed our bags, hoping to get away early on Sunday morning.

Traveling in Antarctica requires three elements of weather to play nicely: Temperature, wind speed and visibility. Sunday morning was warm, windless...
...but cloudy with zero contrast. Was my curse going to strike again?

Thankfully we could see enough to drive, so loaded the Cat and headed to Windy bay. As we arrived the weather cleared and after a quick weather check with base, we abseiled down to the colony.

The first thing I noticed with the numbers. About three times more than before, with a new colony right at the foot of the abseil.

The colony gets bigger

The chicks were a lot bigger and more confident, running free of their parents.

Chicks and father

But still coming back for a good feed...

Mmmm. Partially digested krill

A few were still thinking they could fit in their parent's pouch. It wasn't going to happen, but made us laugh.

Too big!

Towards the back of the second colony, a number of large creches had formed. Adults group their young so they can get out to sea for a much needed feed. The chicks huddle together for warmth, protected by a number of adults who occasionally wade in and reorganise the huddle so all chicks get time in the centre as well as the edge.

Adults organising the creche


Of course, not all survive. But after the storm force winds we've had since my last visit, there were far fewer casualties than I had expected.

Survival of the fattest

Very very fluffy

Both the adults and chicks were far more confident with our presence. Some wandered up to within a metre of where I was sitting and looked at me inquisitively, then waddled off with the look of having far more important things to do!

Creche with larger chicks behind

We spent about three hours on the ice, then headed home.

Richard coming back up the rope

After so many failed attempts it was great to get to see them again, and to see how fast they grow.

More larger photos, click here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Official (and un-official!) Photos

Being keen with the camera got me the dubious perk of organising this year's official team photo. To be framed on the dining room wall (and pass before many critical eyes over the years) this image had to capture not only the people, but a little piece of the year too. After thinking for a few months, I settled on an informal gathering on the Melt Tank snow mound. This feature has dominated life since the very start of Halley over 50 years ago. Every day, a gang of three or four shovel snow down the chute to be melted into water for our every need. However, this "bonding" experience wont be a feature of Z6 as a larger, bull-dozer filled tank will replace it.

Looking at the number of days will everyone on base started to get me concerned. There were less than ten suitable slots on the calender. Determined to beat the notorious weather, I took the first opportunity the get people together. Thankfully, it worked.

(Click photos for larger)

Halley Winterers, 2007

A number of years also did a silly picture to stick on the back of the frame. And why not?

I get snowballed!

As the weather held, we also did Team Met's picture.

The Met Team: Tom, Kirsty, Tamsin, Me

Met Team's fun photo

It was good fun, but I'm never going to do weddings!

A quick weekly round-up

And another week has gone! Looking at the wall chart I see only one week of "winter" remains before aircraft arrive and the summer season starts in full swing. A little more concerning is the ship will arrive in only eight weeks and there's still a massive list of jobs to be done. But we're working well and if the weather holds, it'll be fine.

This week's been good. As part of decommissioning the science programmes, we headed out to recover a remote barometer about 8km off site. Blinding sunlight made the horizon shimmer with mirages, causing the small weather station to occasionally vanish from view. Thankfully I had a GPS with the position memorised kept tucked down my boot to keep warm (LCD screens don't like the -20Cs). The coordinates were spot on and with a kilometer to go, the mast popped back into view dead ahead.

Ant and Dean preparing to recover the Radio Barograph

I had hoped to dismantle the mast at site, but the winter has given our clothes such a trashing my hand popped straight through my jacket pocket where the allen keys should have been! A bit of a problem, but nothing a bit of imaginative lashing and careful driving couldn't cope with.

The rest of the Simpson team have been flat out too. Tams and Kirsty have taken the quarterly snow samples from the Clean Air Sector (which we'll send to NOAA in America for chemical analysis) and Tom's been grabbing every opportunity to fly his UAV (more on this later).

We still found time to relax though. The Ice Cave was opened for the last time before the area is leveled - the perfect place to relax after a busy day.

Ant rediscovering the Ice Cave

As more snow has built up on top of the cave, the entrance has got more and more interesting with each visit. To get in, you step under a tarpaulin (to keep the snow out), squeeze through a hatch, climb down a ladder then slide on your bum down a ramp, bursting through a draft curtain into the cave itself!

Relaxing after a busy week

As I've said before "science never stops", but when Tamsin bounced into dinner and announced ozone levels were dropping, I wished it would take a break! Grumpy thoughts soon left my head as we pulled the blimp out into a perfect evening.

Sending up the instruments in fantastic evening light

I'm shall have to make the most of these sunsets, as from November we wont get them anymore. The sun will just dip, circle south and then rise to the north again. Good news for midnight kiting!

Tamsin checks the lines

After almost a month of appalling weather, I'm really enjoying the spring.

Tamsin, Dean and a top sunset

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

YouTube test

Ant's been making loads of videos and has pointed me towards You Tube.

Here's a little test.

The view on a white day

A Photo Tour of the Laws

Gash Day. Now the delights of toilet cleaning and sink scrubbing are done, I've uploaded some "general photos of the place I live" that people have been requesting for ages. At first I thought "why would anyone be interested", but from chatting about the place on MSN I found my self looking at old photos of previous bases and found it was quite fascinating.

So, I'll take you on a Hello Magazine style photographic guided tour of the Laws.

Coming in through the front door, you are in the entrance hall. Work harnesses live in the cupboards and there's a massive stash of suncream to the right.

Doors, from the left going clockwise, are: Immediately left, fuel room; Straight ahead, the main corridor; Ahead and right, Mechanical workshop; Right, the boot room.

We turn right and enter the boot room. Outdoor clothes and boots are left here. It's hot, cramped and smells. With anymore than three people in the room, you've got to take care not to hit anyone when pulling on a wind-proof top. Gloves and hats are kept in the pigeon holes on the left. Getting fully kitted up and then not being able to find the last glove often leads to what's comically known as "Boot Room Heat Stress".

Changed and relaxed we now walk down the Main Corridor. Through the first door, turn around and drop skis in the rack. From the left are: Chippy's and Sparky's workshop; Entrance Hall; Plant room.

Now we turn around and gasp in awe at the length of the main corridor. More utility rooms are to the left and freezers to the right. Yes, we have food freezers in the Antarctic as food regulations require stable, regulated temperatures.

The first interesting room, on your right, is the kitchen.

The kitchen and dining room are linked. This is where we eat.

The photos on the wall show every wintering team right back to 1962. I took this year's photo last night and will hopefully get it printed and framed today! The computer screen shows current weather, forecasts and aurora predictions.

At the head of the table are portraits of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, just to remind us who we work for. They're signed original prints from '62, handed down from base to base.

Across the corridor from the dining room is the bar and lounge. This is the social hub of the base, used for films, relaxing, after work drinks and parties.

Beer is almost exclusively in tins, drastically reducing the weight of waste materials compared with bottles. Posters from theme-nights and birthday cards adorn the walls, along with, bizarrely, a signed photograph of Kate Bush....

Further along, there's the Gym / Music room to the right....

...and the library to the left.

The library is well stocked, quiet and a nice place to relax with some personal time. There's also a phone to the UK if you're feeling flush.

We're nearly at the end of the main corridor. More to come soon.

Nice day, but no penguins...

Yesterday was bright and sunny, so we headed down to Windy Bay to try and see how much the chicks had grown. Apparently they've now started leaving their parents and are gathered in big creches while the adults leave the colony to feed.

The Beast

The journey to Windy takes about half an hour by Skidoo, but about twice as long in a SnoCat. It's many many times warmer, but I'm not sure more comfortable as the body rolls erratically over the sastrugi making the sideways facing rear seats quite nauseating.

By the time we arrived the wind had increased to 20 knots, way over the safe limit for traveling on sea ice. As we discussed options and drank tea, a fantastic halo with sundogs (the mini-rainbows to the left and right of the sun) appeared.

Sno Cat and Sun Dogs with buried caboose to right

Rather than waste the journey, we set to digging out the caboose and pulling it free of the winter's snow. It was hard work as much of the snow had melted, then frozen as solid ice. We dug with shovels, hacked with ice axes then "encouraged" it with the Sno Cat. The Cats might be slow, but they've got loads of power - the caboose popped straight out of its hole!

Brian guides Tom to Windy Caboose's new position

So that's one successful penguin visit from four attempts. I hope no-one else has noticed my average as I'm starting to think I'm cursed by bad weather!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Go Go Go!!!

When a blizzard stops, people shoot from the Laws like pop from a bottle. The couped up feeling is replaced by a massive list of jobs, both those delayed by the weather and plenty more created by it. Sixty knot winds move a lot of snow about, so Matt's been busy with the bulldozer, Neil's been poking all the CASLab vents and Kirsty and I have dug out the Blimp winches.

Today the wind dropped to nearly nothing, meaning Frisbee, running and, more importantly, two ozone-studying flights for Tom's unmanned aerial vehicle. The heat of the sun is now obvious, even through a balaclava which we now wear to protect from UV blasting through the open ozone hole. Although air temperature is still in the -20Cs, the buildings absorb enough heat to melt snow, giving the an end-of-season ski resort look.

Traces of winter slide away

Melt water on the Simpson stairs

Feel the heat!

More photos here.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Back on Days

I'm back in the land of the living at last! Well, nearly. My body clock's still not quite fixed, but we're nearly there. Saturday was fairly pleasant. Got out kiting in the morning and running in the afternoon. Set a new personal best of a lap-and-a-half which my legs are still reminding me about.

After a few false starts with high wind, we eventually completed a blimp flight on Sunday afternoon bringing the season's total to eight. Hopefully we'll get a few more in before the sea-ice breaks up and the depletion events stop. (Tamsin's writing loads of science articles at the moment, so check out her blog for more details on ozone depletion).

In true Halley style, the weather soon returned to taunt us and from Sunday evening till about a hour ago, we were back in blizzard mode. This one set new records for the year, with the wind speed tracking steadily upwards and peaking at over 60knts before the anemometers begged for mercy and gave up. Thankfully the weather haven survived!

Must stop now as the wind's dropped enough to head to the lab and sort the wind instruments out.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What were the skies like when you were young?...

...They were purple and red, and they went on forever...

Sunrise over the Simpson

All these blizzards make me forget how amazing this place can be, when it's not all white.

Things went well in the kitchen too.

Mmmmmm, fresh bread

Monday, October 01, 2007

The advantage of nights....

...Is there's no-one around to see me indulging in some very pretentious photography!

Where next?

It all helps the hours tick by...