Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Planes. More People.

Over the last week the new crew are settling in well and the base has taken on much greater air of purpose with skidoos and bulldozers buzzing around getting everything ready for the ship's seemingly imminent arrival.

The weather is playing along too and has laid off the ceaseless-wind/drifting-snow combination we know so well. For now, at least. On the work side of life, all our instruments are now on the main Laws building and after a few days calibrating and checking, they're working well. If all goes well tomorrow I should be popping upto the Halley VI site to sort the troublesome weather station, then all will be done!

Hand-overs are starting in earnest, forcing me to think back to last year and try to pitch my explanations at the right level: There's a lot to take in and Halley is full of local names and TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations). I remember wondering why I would need to enter a Horsebox to get to an Onion? And what was the difference between a PWD and AWS? And why oh-why is the Creek2 caboose actually at Precious Bay? It seems that times may change, but names stick. In spite of it all, Dave (who's taking over the science for next season) is picking it up well.

There's is, of course, far more than just work to learn at Halley.

Joe (New Sparky) stylin the board

Neil reflects on the evening

Dave picks it up fast

Tom carving under the midnight sun

Doo View

Ever suffering for my art, I thought sitting backwards on the doo would make for great photos. More like a dead arm from hanging on, and a full memory card with about three decent pictures. He who dares, my son...

Doo's parked up

When all the fun was over, we briefly retired to the bar only to find the first BAS aircraft of the season was heading in. Pulling boots back on, we headed down the skiway just in time to see Brave Lima arrive.

Permission to buzz the field? Granted

Although the other planes received a good greeting, out own aircraft somehow felt a bit more special. Running a little late from having to dig up barrels of fuel from a glacier somewhere between Rothera and here, the little red plane appeared on the horizon at about 23:00. To waves and cheers from the snow, the pilot passed low with landing lights blazing before circling and touching down.

Twin Otter approaching the crowd.

Welcomes and unloading

Forming a chaingang, we piled bags onto a sledge while the pilots and air-mechs lashed the plane down. This is vitally important at Halley, as a good wind can easily exceed the aircraft's take off speed!

Pilot Mark making final shutdown checks.

The last load has brought number up to about 30. This weekend winter will officially end, bringing the summer madness of 12h days and limited beers. I cant wait.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nearly a full house...

Another plane arrived yesterday, this time at a far more sociable hour as our clocks have gone back to GMT-3 to synchronise with our sister station, Rothera, on the peninsular.

Halley International reopens Novelty penguin giftshop just out of shot.

The plane was another Basla. Like the Twin Otter, it's an old design based on the 1940-something DC3, but with modern engines and navigation aids. Like everything in Antarctica, there are no frills - just proven reliability.

The Basla

Once the engines were shut down eight BAS staff, the crew and two German scientist heading for the next stop at Neuamayer station jumped off. As the crew refueled, we started unloading straight away.

Off comes the cargo

While the newcomers headed for a meal, we started figuring out exactly how Sune's field equipment would fit! Sune has spent the winter taking us on field trips. Now he's familiar with the terrain he'll be spending three months in the field undertaking a massive geological survey
on the main continent. And down here there's no such thing as packing light!

In goes the skidoo

And the sledge

Sune ready to rock and roll!

Packing all the kit took a fair bit of pushing and swearing, but it all went in eventually and after lunch the plane headed on, hoping to get another two stops in that day,

Ready to go

It's good to see familiar faces from the Cambridge office, plus new staff who will be taking over for next year. Last night most were tired from the long flight, but hopefully tonight we'll crack open the wine and get to know people over Ant's usual Saturday night excellence. Although we're only at about 50% capacity, the place is feeling very full. Lucky then that Met shifts start early so there's no queue for the tea, and that my room-mate doesn't snore!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ceaseless wind....

The blizzard's stopped now, but I'm still struggling to describe just how white this place can get when the snow starts flying around. This was the Quad at midnight last night. Kinda gets the idea across.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Skijuring movie clip (Now fixed)

While the blizzard rages outside I've been busy on the video editor and have got the sizing right.

So here we go. Skijuring video take two...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Penguins, spindrift and tractors

We got lucky on Saturday. The weather was meant to crap out, but we decided to chance a run to the coast to see the neighbours. This time transport was a sledge towed by the big fast Challenger tractor. Pulling on thick down jackets, we sat on kit boxes with a ghetto blaster booming as Lance pointed the Challenger west and powered up.

Getting covered in spindrift on the sledge

Within seconds snow was flying everywhere forcing me to hide under the massive hood for the rest of the short trip.

Flying snow gets everywhere!

On arrival the light was very flat, but Toddy (our new field guide for the summer season) declare contrast was sufficient to head onto the ice.

Crap light. Great wildlife

The first thing that hit me at the bottom of the rope was the smell. On previous visits the cold had kept this down, but the recent warm temperatures had melted the penguin muck. It reeked! The poor contrast played hell with the camera, so I put it away for a while, sat on my bag and just watched, realising how lucky I am to see such amazing sights.

Penguins as far as you can see

The second thing we noticed was the spread of birds. As the colony no-longer needed to huddle for warmth, they had spread round the headland as far as the eye could see. Within an hour the clouds lifted and the light changed, giving the cliffs a fantastic glow.

Although there were a number of casualties, the surviving chicks had grown loads, now standing at about 3/4 of their parents' height.


They were also adapting more adult behaviour, flapping their wings and trying to slide on their bellies. This made to laugh, as no matter now hard they paddled with their legs, their fluffy coats were too sticky to allow much movement, causing the bored chick to give up, exhausted!

There was much less activity compared with last time. Creches had opened up as the chicks became strong enough to survive by themselves and no-longer needed to huddle for warmth. They were still inquisitive enough to come and see us though.

Penguin with Jules for scale

The sun finally came out and the hours flew by in the summer warmth. All too soon it was time for home.

Ant and Toddy on the way home

Even the journey home was an event! Vehicle driving is now very much encouraged, so Lance gave five keen faces a chance to indulge in their school-boy heavy plant daydreams.

Ant playing with the Big Toy

The last tractor I drove didn't have a roof, so the £150k Challenger was quite different! It's got more of a bridge than a dashboard, with computer readouts for everything from engine stats to track tensions. Driving it was surprisingly simple. Revs up on the hand throttle. Select third to move off, then push the gear selector forwards to engage drive. Clutching is automatic, gear selection on push-buttons and steering on a standard wheel. Hanging on tight as we bounced over the sastrugi, Lance kept saying "next gear" so I rattled up the box to a mighty 14mph! The speed of these machines on rough ground is incredible and will be crucial for moving the masses of supplies for the Halley VI build. It's also great fun!

The day rounded off with a fantastic curry, a few drinks in the Weather Haven bar and then an acoustic set from Mark in the bar. What a top weekend!

For more penguin photos, click here.

More movement

It's been another flat-out week. The vehicle team have dug up and moved the Drewery building, which was getting do buried snow was almost up the windows. Team Met have been on the move too - all the remaining instruments are now bolted securely to the Laws roof, so we headed up the the Halley VI building site to relocate the weather station.

Jules starts digging out the weather station

Only 15km away, the Halley VI site looks a lot like Halley V. It's flat, white and snowy. Very snowy. The weather station had about 1.5m built up around it!

Jules and Simon recovering the solar panel

In the hole!

The weather station was a survey reference point for the build project so we had to find a suitable replacement. Could this be Antarctica's first pole-dancing venue?

Penguin Party memories...

After an hour or so sweating it our with shovels, the weather station popped out and was loaded onto the sledge. Like the reference point, the station's new location had to be precise as vehicles are banned from the upwind section of the site to keep that area ultra-clean for future snow-chemistry experiments.

Weather station on the move

Driving on a compass bearing and GPS track, we found the new site just under a kilometre away.

The final setup

This was the last big "science" job. Next week we'll start pulling the office apart and packing up ready for summer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Moving more instruments

The Big Simpson Move is nearly complete. Last week the temperamental balloon system survived the relocation and yesterday it was followed by the Cloudbase monitor and new weather logger.

The new science room takes shape

Cloudbase is an upward pointing laser that determines cloud height by measuring back-scatter, giving us a graphical display of the sky above the station. This tool is essential for aircraft weather reports, as pilots need detailed observations every hour while in flight. Moving it was a complex job involving cranes, cherry-pickers and a gang of people to run the complex cable routing. I was a little concerned the extra cable length would be too long for the transmitter, but it fired up straight away.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Flooding!? In the Antarctic?

The problem with a heat-wave is that snow melts really fast! The last few days have had an ambient temperature of a stifling -2C, which with the sun beating down warms all dark surfaces to well over freezing.

Mind the puddles!

By this morning most of the snow that was going to melt has done so, but not before making the Laws roof more slippery than ice and dripping through the Simpson ceiling like my old flat in Cardiff. But Dean and I measured up the cable-runs unscathed and a squeeze of silicone will sort the hole out, so all's good.

Work has picked up loads. With Kirsty away and Neil on nights, Tamsin and I are battling to keep the met programme and CasLAB running, as well as relocating experiments to stay and packing the ones to go. This week we have dug out the remaining weather station, relocated the balloon system and planned the more complex instrument move for next week. Tom's been flying the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle at every opportunity and Ryan, our new glaciologist has filled every spare space with loggers ready for the field. But that's ok as he's also brought some damn good Canadian music which is pumping on the Simpson Stereo.

It's a busy time, but a good run-up to the 24h madness of Relief and the subsequent 12h days of summer. "Relief" is another old BASism that will crop up lots in the next few months. It describes the process of the wintering personnel being replaced by the summer crew and those due to stay the following season. Some years it takes on a literal meaning as aircraft have had to pluck people from the station when the ice held fast and refused the Shackleton passage. This season we'll unload not just the Shackleton, but also the massive Russia "Mothership" bringing cargo for the Halley VI build. She's a big girl measuring 177 metres and grossing 34,000 tonne, and I wouldn't like to be an iceberg in her way.

MV Amderma with RRS Shackleton to show size
(Image pinched from BAS)

The best thing about this work is, after the winter's lethargy, it's getting me fit again!

Monday, November 05, 2007

To those about to rock...

Last week we started planning how we'd entertain the new comers in typically Halley style: Z or Dead live in the Laws Lounge. Many hours slipped by at the bar discussing what we needed to "make it as a band", but we eventually decided microphone stands that didn't fall over and a drum kit that wasn't propped up on chairs would be a good start.

At the last minute (as the aircraft was still in flight!), Mark and I knocked together a drum pedal, drum stand and Mark's best effort - two mic stands with music holders. Most of this was made from 20mm galv conduit, making us the only band to offer a 10 year rust-warranty.

As Saturday night came, we set up to a packed house of over 20 people!

Z or Dead go Gothic

Sticking with the tried and trust formula of Jeremy Clarkson-esque pub rock, we opened with a surprisingly tight Metallica's Nothing Else Matters, picked up the pace with some Dire Straights and wrapped up the first half with a bit of ever popular Elvis.

After a quick re-tune, the second half romped away with Sweet Home Alabama, got all moody with Floyd's Wish You Were Here and finished loud and heavy with some Slade and Black Sabbath!

Galvanised mic stands, an upside-down cross and inflatable globe.
What every good rock band needs.

Mark came back on later and did a fantastic solo set, complete with Brian and Tom making guest appearances on the drums. As the refreshment flowed, we all got back up for a few extra numbers, and even coaxed Tamsin into singing Echo Beach!

Marks Wales. Pub Rock veteran

It was a great night. We played for over three hours, had people singing along and my fingers still haven't recovered. Roll on the summer festival season!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

All Change!

So the plane's arrived, bringing with it the excitement of letters, fruit and new faces. I've gone through my post, the earliest of which was posted in January, but the latest left the UK in the middle of October! Big thanks to all who mailed me stuff, as good as email is, you can't beat a tangible card or letter. The oddest thing in the bag was a copy of Aberystwyth's local rag the Cambrian News - Helena in Austria wins a pack of limited edition Halley "Diana Princes of Wales" stamps for that one!

More local news!

After eight months with just 18 people on base, the extra ten have filled up the place significantly. Luckily my fear of queuing for the morning cuppa has so far proved unfounded, but what it'll be like when the full 100 strong crew arrive I dread to think.

So Ant, do you remember what do do with this?

Like sunlight, I didn't really notice the disappearance of fruit from the table, but boy am I glad it's back, although we're all taking a few days to re-adjust to the new diet...

Things have changed at work too. The Blimp season is officially over, so I spent most of yesterday on the roof removing antenna and measuring the remaining met instruments which will be relocated to the Laws. We've gained a new colleague in the office - Ryan, a glaciologist who's running a project studying the movement of the Brunt ice-shelf.

The final thing the summer crew seem to have brought is the weather. In spite of terrible forecasts, it's been warm, still and sunny. After a winter with my face behind goggles and balaclava, it feels (and smells) a whole lot better to be out in just a hat and sunglasses.

Summer's here. And it's good.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Winter's Over

Yesterday buzzed with excitement and uncertainty. There was a plane coming, but we didn't know that it would make Halley till about 9pm.

Leaving Rothera at 23:30, the pilot estimated six hours flying time. I went to bed and grabbed some sleep, then joined the queue for a lift to the skiway. Foolishly I thought such a major event could pass without digging a load of snow, but I was wrong and soon sweating my guts out clearing a sledge to transfer luggage.

Landing an aircraft on snow takes a lot of preparation. Mark and Jim manned the fire-sledge, Mat had spent most of the night leveling the snow with a piste-groomer and Richard had a massive paramedic kit in case it all went wrong.

A week late, but spot-on time

But all went to plan and the Basla touched down at exactly 05:30.

Taxiing back to meet us

Shutting down

New faces, fruit and letter beckon...

Busy now. More later when I open my post!