Tuesday, 25 December 2007

What a relief that relief is here!

Merry Christmas everybody, I hope you are all enjoying the festivities.

Apologies for taking so long to get this entry out, but I have only managed to snatch an hour or so per evening on the laptop to type out the draft. And every day there’s something new to write about. It's like some perpetual endless cycle.


This is going to be one f-ing LONG entry.

But it has been eagerly anticipated for a while. And to think I was adding the finishing touches to this entry on Christmas Eve! Well, what else was there to do after finishing off my evening quota of two alcoholic drinks by 2200hrs this evening?!?!

Here goes...

Right, before I start let me get a couple of things clear:

My last entry was made quite late in the evening...0100 to be precise. I was tired and in a rush, and due to which I made a couple of slight errors in my grammar and spelling. For this I apologise. I actually am not a naturist nor naturalist, contrary to what I alluded to in my last entry. I still can't remember which is which though.

And you can click on any image to get a larger view of it if you wish to see more detail or to grab a copy.

Sat 8th December - Club Nido

After the fun of seeing the penguins and getting to grips with the first week of my role as science hero/meteorologist, it was soon the weekend again.

And with the weekend came ROCK n ROLL...Halley style.

During a fruitful and productive winter, several of the 2007 winterers had managed to coordinate themselves into a rock band, and named themselves Z or Dead. (Z being the callsign for Halley...don’t ask me why it's Z. I don’t know. It just is).

In an attempt to entertain the new 2008 wintering team and the summer season personnel, the band decided to serenade us with a live gig. And what venue can possibly host a live band and an audience of a potential 60 revellers? Well, the garage of course. The mobile 60tonne sled / fully kitted out garage and workshop was for one night turned into the biggest party at 72degrees south of the equator.

Imagine the scene...The wind had gradually picked up over the course of the day that Saturday. Snow was being blown to a height making visibility beyond a distance of 700m very difficult. The sun, obscured by this vertical wall of blowing snow, just barely penetrated the white haze which engulfed the station. The howling wind, turbulent from the torrents and eddies produced by the legs of the raised Laws building, was the only sound to be heard save for a distance rhythmic beat barely audible above its angry roar. And then, out from the white haze, orange clad figures emerged. Human figures. The only inhabitants on this lonely desolate cold sheet of ice. As if on some pilgrimage they trudged onward towards a giant red metal box, an unnatural sight in the mysterious beauty of the white landscape, and as they did so the rhythmic beat grew subtly louder. On the side of the giant red was what seemed to be a door. It opened slowly, admitting the pilgrims. And upon the subtlest crack in the otherwise seemingly impenetrable steel skin of the red metal box came the sound of


The pilgrims had reached their destination, and they worshipped the Gods of Rock...Mark Wales, Dave Evans, Dean Evans and Alex Gough.

And rock they did.

Halley Bay was in for a good night that evening.

Supporting the main act was DJ Tom on the decks with his warm up dance/trance act. A class act with a set of wooden decks...yeah, a pair of hand-crafted wooden record decks for authenticity. (He was actually cheating by using his laptop computer). DJ Tom was on the mezzanine pumping out the tunes.

Birthday boy Jimbo was enjoying himself, going wild with the prop no rave is complete without - a glowstick

And then came the boys with their class act of rock covers. They had decked the garage out with glitter ball, black lights and disco lights. It was just so much like a cheesy pub act you’d find back in the UK, but tonnes better.

BAS policy is that everyone is restricted to 4-cans of beer on Saturday nights. Hardly enough to get anyone drunk. But as a testament to the feel good factor these boys were producing, everyone was getting into the fun of it. Some more than others, for I was unable to stop myself hitting the “dancefloor” and busting some of my more refined dance moves to the rest of the base staff. Unfortunately no one was joining me, so I danced harder to make up for the lack of others. Rock and Roll.

Sunday 9th December - The Blow Beginneth

The blow of the previous evening continued through Sunday, getting bigger in multitude. As a result most people stayed indoors for the day, playing games, reading, watching movies or fannying around on their laptops.

Monday 10th December - The Blow continueth

The blow, relentless and ceaseless continued through Monday. As science sleeps, not even for the weather (particularly if you’re a meteorologist), I had to go to work. This meant walking to the Simpson platform in 35knot winds and a visibility of less than a kilometer. Winds at this speed blows fine snow grains from the surface right up to overhead height. And it gets everywhere. No matter how well you wrap yourself up, it still finds it way inside the hood of your jacket, round the back, down your neckie and inside your micro-fleece top. By the end of the 5min walk, it’s all inside your boots, down your neck and encrusted on your overalls waiting to melt and make all your outdoor clothing soggy for when you put them back on. At least I can satisfy myself by reminding myself of the fact that it’s all in the name of global science in the Antarctic context, and that I chose to be here. Sarcasn aside, I still wouldn’t give up the opportunity to be here for the world...well, maybe I would ‘cause if I owned the world I could come and go as I please! And I would legalise bigamy too!

A view of the Laws from the Simpson during the blow (the intensity of the blow had calmed down a lot by the time this shot was taken, but it gives it some scope)

Note: the two men in the left picture are not actually holding hands for comfort from one another. It just looks that way. Things haven't got that bad yet.

While we were hard at work, the majority of the base staff were laid up, unable to work with the vehicles outside. And so they stayed indoors for the day, playing games, reading, watching movies or fannying around on their laptops.

Tuesday 11th December

The blow continued. Tuesday was the first day of my training for setting up, launching and tracking the daily weather balloon. It goes up...whatever the weather...everyday...without fail...at 1100GMT, as it is done all over the world. As Halley is presently at GMT-3, this means prepping the balloon for an 0800 launch. The process has to start at 0700.

The rest of the base stayed indoors for the day, playing games, reading, watching movies or fannying around on their laptops. Cabin fever was starting to take hold.

Wednesday 12th December - The Blow stoppeth

Hark...the winds stopped!

Always a pleasure to see a view like this after a 4-day blow

Saturday 15th December - the Winterers's Meal

Another Saturday, another cause for celebrations.

Why? Well, no reason particularly...I think we just make them up as we go along. This Saturday was to be the last time the outgoing ’07 winterers and the incoming ’08 winterers will get to spend an evening together before people start departing when the ship arrives.

So, we had a special dinner just for said wintering teams, (which obviously includes myself, as I would not be typing this blog if I was going to be here for just a couple of months). With three chefs, each trying to prove ones worthiness in creating a culinary cavalcade, we were treated to the most extraordinary 4-course meal. A meal produced on the dregs of 2007 stocks...the chefs (Ant Dubber, Paddy Power and Alan Sherwood) had outdone themselves. My hat goes off to them.

And we ate like Kings that evening, and a couple of Queens too. (The queens DID NOT include me before anyone makes a comment...Mr Schollar jumps to mind).

A few of the summer staff butled for the evening, but they were not that particularly good at it.

I have broad experience in the butlering industry and could spot a phoney a mile off. I did, after all, give the best butler act ever to grace the stage in the south of England. I have many testimonies to this claim.

I can imagine Steve Schollar ejaculating at the thought of this right now!

By which I mean he’s uttering suddenly and vehemently to the suggestion that I am the best butler, etc, etc, etc.

But, I digress!

We finished the meal and then word was out on the street that there were cigars being smoked on the platform outside. Richard, the ’07 doc, had thoughtfully decided to get a box of cigars out for us to smoke. It was a pleasant conclusion to a splendid dinner party. We all mingled outside, enjoying the Antarctic summer evening sun, smoking cigars. Dave, (Dave Evans of the rock n roll), brought out his pipe to enjoy the smoke-fest with us. Another sophisticated addition to a sophisticated evening.

Dave brings a touch of class and sophistication to Antarctic exploration

Three things dear to me:
a glass of wine, a cigar, and the Union Flag hoisted above the plains of the British Antarctic Territory

Myself and Joe, showing how it's really done

We finally went indoors to join the rest of the staff for some socialising and shooting pool.

Scott and I enjoying our 2 rations of alcohol

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dave Evans for the B&W shots, and Joe Corner for the colour shots

Relief - 20th December onwards

The following few days were relatively uneventful. By now I have managed to settle into my met role here at Halley, and so can confidently continue with the work unaided without panicking. The ship was originally penned in to arrive on the Saturday just gone (15th), but these plans are always subject to change. When it comes to docking in a natural creek off an ice-shelf in Antarctica, it is always left to fate. With the accumulation of sea-ice around the continent and the constant changing of the ice-shelf topology, the arrival of the ship is always going to be based on how quickly it can battle through nature to reach its destination.

At the moment, a lot of the chaps on station are waiting for the arrival of the ship so that they can crack on with their work...namely relief operations. Relief is the process of shifting cargo off the ship, transferring it across the sea-ice to the ice-shelf, and then transporting it to Halley. At Halley, a team of hands are used to shift kit and items to their final destination on base. The cargo can include science equipment, materials for maintenance, food, drinks, etc. Relief also involves the returning of any cargo and waste from the past year to the ship for transportation back to wherever they are destined. It’s a long process, consisting of a lot of hard work.

The ship finally arrived 5 days later than planned on Thursday 20th. From that point the base went into action stations. People leapt into action. The base went into 24 hour operation mode. We all have to work 12 hour days (although we have been doing so since the official start of the summer season). Twelve hour days, SEVEN days a week, ongoing until relief is over. Relief usually takes 7-10 days for the Shackleton, but will now be near like 20+ days due to the Russian ice-strengthened cargo ship “Anderma” docking a few days later with all of the Halley VI kit on-board.

My role was originally going to be “sea-ice drivers mate” for Halley V relief. This role would involve me handling the cargo on a sled behind a sno-cat, and acting as his buddy. If anything was to go wrong, such as the sno-cat falling through the sea-ice, then I would be the one to attempt to rescue the driver! Well, that’s apparently what is supposed to happen! As it happens, the plans were changed, and I now join Kirsty in providing met support for the aircraft, (along with the usual met responsibilities).

One of such responsibilities involved taking a snow sample every week. This is a delicate procedure requiring a sterile shovel taking snow from a sterile area away from any buildings and vehicles. The operation requires taking a slice of snow just a few centimetres thick and filling a sterile bucket. The snow is left to melt, where the resulting fluid is decanted into sterile bottles for shipping back to the IAEA. The reason for this sample is to allow the IAEA to monitor for the precipitation of radionuclide’s from the atmosphere within a clean area. It’s a legacy from all those naughty people who work in the nuclear weapons industry! Oh, the swines!

I was decanting such meltwater into a sterile bottle last week, only to find that somehow one of the hairs from my chest had made its way into the sample water!

“Good lord” I exclaimed to myself. “those little buggers get everywhere”. And they do. As most of you reading this blog know all too well, they appear in the most inappropriate places. Lee-Ann’s dinner on many occasions is a good example. *titter*

Don’t worry, it didn’t get into the sample bottle.

Normal procedure is to tip the remaining melt water from the bucket into the Simpson building melt tank (the tank which provides all the water for the building...including the drinking water). Now, I can’t quite remember if I removed the offending hair or not. Hmm, I wonder...

Other weekly procedures include measuring a network of snowstakes. This is so that the weekly, monthly, and therefore annual, snow accumulation at Halley can be calculated and recorded. See the Antarctic Monkey giving me assistance by holding the tape measure to the stake.

The Antarctic Monkey, measuring snow accumulation

A Grand Day Out - Saturday 22nd December 2007

As it is summer, it is the season for a lot of science to be conducted in, around and outside of the base. For example, Ryan is conducting a project entitled the Life of Halley. It’s essentially a project monitoring the flow and changes to the ice shelf in an attempt to predict if and when the ice-shelf will carve. And if it does carve, how close will this event be to Halley, and will it be on the seaward side of the base or not.

Other science includes remote sites monitoring and logging the magnetic field of the earth at those locations. These are called low power magnetometers (LPMs), and require an annual visit to swap out the data card which has been collecting data for the past 12 months. These sites can only be reached via aircraft, and some are quite a distance away. At these sites a fuel depot is usually installed so that the aircraft can refuel before it heads back to base. These depots require regular restocking, which is done by the very aircraft which requires the fuel in the first place.

Sounds bizarre huh? Well, the only way to get fuel out to these depots is to set up depots on the way so that the aircraft can hop there in steps to drop off the fuel. It can then return to base by refuelling at the depots which have been dropped on the route to the site being restocked. Agh...it’s a nightmare to explain. Basically, to drop off 4 drums of fuel at a depot may end up costing the equivalent of 4 drums in fuel to get them there. Maybe more. A very expensive and time consuming process, but it is essential if you want an aircraft operating in the Antarctic to return to base. Remember, the whole of the Antarctic continent is larger than Europe, and it does not have a network of airports to call upon.

Anyway, I’ve digressed.

I was lucky/fortunate enough to be asked to be co-pilot for one of these depot refuelling sorties. When asked, I took all of two nanoseconds to agree.


My brief was that I’d be helping the pilot drop off 4 drums of fuel at the depot, as well as acting as an assistant in case anything goes awry with the flight, the weather, or with the overall operation. It’s also a chance for people to go out on a bit of a jolly.

And what fun I had.

The day began by refuelling the Twin Otter and loading the drums of fuel we’d be dropping off into the hold. The weather was good at the start of the day, but cloud cover was soon coming over the station from the coast...a lot of low stratocumulus clouds. Then the one of the most magnificent phenomena occurred. The low cloud droplets were sinking to the ground, being frozen into tiny crystals of ice suspended in the air. It’s called diamond dust, because it looks exactly as it reads. Little twinkling specks of light all around. But that wasn’t the phenomena I’m going to describe.

If the diamond dust occurs on a bright sunny day, then the ice crystals will refract the sun’s rays, creating a halo around the sun. This is accompanied by sun-dogs and, if it’s really clear, a parenhelic arc emanates from the sun stretching around the sky 360degrees. An extraordinary sight.

Being a meteorologist, I naturally saw the potential of one of these occurring when I spotted the diamond dust! (damn, I'm good). I got my camera out ready, and just as I did, the thing appeared. It was so prominent. It’s impossible to capture it in its full glory unless you witness it for yourself. I took some shots with pleasing results. Note the image is nothing to do with camera lens glare...it is exactly what can be seen in the sky.

Halo, sun-dogs and paranhelic arc.
The picture really doesn't give it justice


We set off soon after loading the plane up. It was my first time sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft and so it was all an experience to me. Once airborne we headed due south to the site known as A80...a remote LPM site on the continent proper, 350miles from base. For the whole day I saw some of the most amazing views of Antarctica I could have ever asked for (well, all views of Antarctica are amazing, as you have probably guessed from my descriptions of my awe).

We flew along the coast of Precious Bay with a clear view of the ice-shelf cliffs and the sea-ice beyond. And beyond the sea-ice was pure blue sea with the odd ice-berg here and there. Crevasses depicting the flow of the ice-shelf as it runs off the continent towards the sea could be seen clearly. And the hinge, where the ice shelf flows from (the actual edge of the continent) was also to be seen clearly. It was amazing to see these crevasses, which from the air looked like stretch marks where the ice was flowing over rocks and being stretched as it did so.

Precious Bay

After flying for some time we came to a series of mountains. In actual fact, the peaks of a series of mountains known as the Shackleton mountains. Peaks poking up through the snow at a height of 500feet. As we were flying at an altitude of 3000feet (above sea level) and the snow surface was only 500 feet below the aircraft, it just goes to show that the mountains are probably up to 3500 feet tall, and only the top 500 feet could be seen. Makes you realise there is a f***ing shed load of ice and snow on this continent.

Shackleton Mountain tops (nunataks)

The pilot, (Mark), took us for a quick swoop over the Shackleton mountains, flying over a range. It was an amazing manoeuvre giving a breathtaking view of the mountain tops from a few hundred feet above them. At the foot of the peaks several rocks could be seen on the pristine snow surface. It was apparent that these had been dislodged from the rocky peaks and had rolled down the side onto the snow.

Flying over the Shackleton range

During the flight Mark had to fill in some of the necessary paperwork and so asked me to take the reins for him while he did so. After quick crash course in basic aircraft handling I was let loose on the controls of the Twin Otter, and was flying the beast! A little tweak here and the aircraft would bank to the left. A little touch there, and it would point upwards and climb a little higher.

With all that power in the palms of my hands and the yoke in my grip, I had this overwhelming urge to pull the aircraft into dramatic loops, twists and turns and pull my finger on the imaginary trigger I was just itching to squeeze. I felt like I could just strafe a few icebergs and stuff. At was this point I realised that I had spent too much of my youth playing WW2 fighter pilot games.

But...I was flying a mother f-ing plane for the best part of 3 hours that day!!!

How cool is that?!

Oooh, I say!


After flying for a while longer we reached our destination. A tiny speck of black on the landscape was where we would be stopping. It had the appearance of a few fuel drums just haphazardly dumped in the middle of a pure pristine white vista...which essentially was what it was. But the site also had a couple of automatic monitoring stations which had been quietly logging away the level of the magnetic field, undisturbed by anything. We landed, unloaded the fuel drums we were to drop off, and then I had lunch.

I ate my lunch sitting on a fuel drum looking at the Shackleton range in the distance. The sun was beaming down, the air was still and the entire area was so peaceful that it seemed unnatural. And it was a beautiful moment to be on my own here. Myself and Mark the only two humans within a 350 mile radius, two of a very few number of people who have laid eyes on this sight before.

The Shack range and the twinkling snow in the sunlight

After digging a lot of snow and hauling the fuel drums into place and after completing lunch, it was soon time to go. Mark had to make a quick call of nature (requiring a shovel) I had a sudden panic...the Antarctic Monkey had disappeared. He always travels with me, using my pocket as a kind of carriage. But we wasn't there. After frantic searching, and worries that he'd be stranded in the middle of nowhere, I found him. He looked as if he'd been caught in a mini-avalanche.However, he'd only jumped out of my pocket when I was digging snow.

I gave the Antarctic Monkey a good hiding for giving me such palpatations as you can see in the picture below.

After approximately 45 mins, we were back in the air again and heading back to base.

Die, monkey, die

Proof that there really was a plane (plus a heroic pose from yours truly).
If you look closely, you might see the Antarctic Monkey...but where???

Again, Mark and I shared the controls for the long flight home. Not to be left out, the Antarctic Monkey enjoyed a few minutes at the controls of the plane too.

Good Lord...a flying monkey!

The views on the way home were equally amazing, but going over the hinge zone before arriving at Halley gave a most impressive scene with the sun reflecting off the sea under the cloudbase in the distance. I tried to capture this also.

Precious Bay on the return home

The Endless Relief part 2 - Relief Continues (Mon 24th December)

Goodness me! The work involved in relief is endless and very physical, but it’s also fun. Every day throws up a new task and a new challenge. My day today:

0630 – get up and have brekkie

0700 – do a quick met ob for Rothera so the forecaster can get a brief out to the BAS pilots. Prepare a radiosonde for a balloon launch

0800 – launch balloon. Do another met ob for Rothera. Go to Simpson building and fill in met log book for morning obs. Do daily checks on the science data loggers

0900 – 1200GMT met observations. Measure ozone layer quantity. Daily checks on the met instruments.

0930 – Help with unloading the latest sledges from the ship full of food.

1030 – Morning break

1045 – Unload more sledges full of food

1200 – 1500GMT met obs and ozone hole measurement. Prepare for a flight to swap 2 LPM modules at remote stations

1300 - 1330 – Dinner. Stand down from flight preparations due to weather

1400 – Melt-tank duties (digging loads of snow into a big heated tank 30m below the surface. This provides water for the base and is filled twice daily)

1430 – Load sledges with empty fuel drums from the fuel raise last month.

1645 – Early tea break

1700 – Load more sledges with fuel drums

1830 – Go to optical caboose (a big bit of kit used for monitoring upper atmosphere physics in the mesosphere and ionosphere) to clear it out for transition to Halley VI.

1930 – Dinner

2000 – Drink (2 portions of alcohol) and play pool and chat to colleagues

2130 – Boot up laptop to send/receive emails (most people with a brain go to bed early, leaving more bandwidth on the internet for the night owls of the group)

2200 – Blog

A busy day...but typical of the madness that happens here this summer. And it's only going to get worse before it gets better. But then, why else are we known offically as the Extreme Team within BAS?! What isn’t mentioned in this blog is the manly way I was hauling empty fuel drums around and chucking them onto the sled like a true Antarctic hero! With all the testosterone in the air, it was tough to keep up the image. It was as if all us men on the fuel depots were all in competition with one another for the title of "king fuel drum chucker".

Adios for now. Hope you enjoyed the read.

Merry Christmas


(I have more stories developing whilst typing up this one, hopefully the next installment will be sometime in early Jan '08).

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Cool chicks live here in the Antarctic.

Ski-Joring...ouch, ouch, ouch. Oh, the pain!
(Weds 28th Nov)

A popular sport here is ski-joring.
Snowboarding is popular here at Halley. But we live on an ice shelf, which is as flat as a pancake with white featureless landscape as far as the eye can see. Therefore, an alternative form of propulsion than the usual gravity often used by snowboarders is required. This is where ski-doos come in handy.

Ski-joring is an activity which involves using a ski-doo to tow someone on a snowboard. As it is my plan to take up kiteboarding (propelling oneself on a snowboard with the power of the wind), coupled with the fact that I have never set foot on a snowboard, I thought it would be a good idea to learn the hard way. Basically, launching myself into ski-joring with no prior training! Genius!

Well, I can safely say I spend more time flailing on the snow like a rag-doll been thrown to the floor. But I wasn't going to give up, damn it. Time after time, after only reaching a distance of less than 5m, I would fall off, unable to control the board. But, time after time, my technique improved a little. After three goes consisting of falling over an average of 15 times I was completely b****cksed. It was the end of the day anyway.

I had another go last night also (4th Dec) and I can confidently say I am beginning to get there. Although I still fell over a shed load of times and I completely shagged my arm muscles with all the straining of holding onto the rope and getting up in snow, I was starting to tame the board as my bitch.

Thanks to Dave Evans for the photography. He clinged on for dear life at the back of the ski-doo to take shots of us.

Work...in the Antarctic context (yes, we do work here as well!)
(Fri 30th Nov)

I'm at serious risk of showing to everyone that working in Antarctica is just a great big jolly. Well...it isn't. We do good old fashioned hard work every day, working in our respective trades as we would in the UK, and often a lot more too.

Since arriving I have been familiarising myself with the role I will be taking on here at Halley station. The existing metbabes have been doing a fantastic job of training me and telling me what to do.
And to be honest I have no qualms with two attractive girls telling me what to do! None whatsoever. (Dave, the other metbabe, has been doing a grand job also. But he has a willy!).

One of the annual jobs is to calibrate the cloud base recorder.

Officially known as a "Ceilometer", the cloud base recorder measures the heigh of the cloud layer(s) directly above it using a low powered laser and analysing the backscattered light reflected by the various clouds above. It's a handy device in meteorology and conducting weather observations in that it allows us to see the change in cloud height over time and what height the clouds are directly overhead. The information helps in forming the synop code (a global format for recording met obs) which gets transmitted back to the UK Met Office.

Geeky huh?

I had the privaledge of clambering on the Laws platform roof with Tamsin to help calibrate it while Dave sat at the computer
in the office below sending us commands over the radio. The window of the ceilometer had to be covered with a delicate and specially formed cover to aid the process...Affectionately known as the witches hat!
Once the cover was on, and after several tweaks of the calibrating screws on the circuit board, we had nailed it.

Co-Pilot Training Field Course
(Thurs 27th Nov)

It's called co-pilot training.
If out on a field trip with the aircraft we need to know how to act as a "co-pilot" in emergency situations (field trips in the Twin Otter may involve just the pilot and an extra).

The idea of the field training is for introduction to camping in Antarctic field camps, both for the recreational field trips and in the case of an emergency situation.

Those of us of the new winterers who were already on station were on this initial course...myself, Joe, Bryan and Scott.

Scott and I were paired up, and Bryan and Joe were teamed up for the other tent. Scott is our veteran Antarctican. Our wintering mobile plant mechanic from NZ (south island), has wintered with more bases of other nations than I can shake an icicle at! With so many secluded winters, he's a bit more eccentric than the rest of us wintering "novices" (in a good way, as Scott is a good laugh). He knows what he's doing, and so it was a safe option teaming up with him. And a good choice it was too.

We pitched our field tents, which requires a lot of digging to set the ground, set out our sleeping systems and the cooked our evening meal .

In pitching the tent, the outer and innter door flaps had to be tied back. Halfway through the process, the opening to the tent started to resemble an opening that I am not going to be experiencing for 15 months or so...something that also has an inner and outer set of flaps *snigger*

See me acting like a baby in the opening to said tent.
Oh, how I sniggered.

With the limited supply of 7 year old rations in the field man-food boxes, Scott cooked up a real treat of spag bol with chedder cheese topping washed down with a good ol' English cup of tea. Like I said, he knows what he's doing...We ate like kings while the other two struggled on a prepack freeze dried sachet of macaroni cheese! Oh, how I felt so humble in the presence of those peasants.

After dinner, we had a little fresh air to "relieve" ourselves. Camping in the Antarctic has the same problems as camping anywhere else secluded from the home comforts. What goes in must eventually come out, and in this case the evening's meal had forced the conveyor somewhat, requiring the previous evening's intake to be expunged!

With food over, and the evening drawing in, we returned to the warmth and comfort of our respective tents. But not before Scott took advantage of the time to attack the enemy encampment as they were settling for the evening.

Fuel Raise
(Mon 3rd Dec)

Every year, a big activity on base is to do the fuel raise.
Halley station runs on generators fuelled by avtur (a kerosine and anti-freeze mix). Every year the fuel tanks need refuelling, as do the fuel tanks supplying the vehicles operating on site. Fuel is delivered to Halley in drums which are stored in four depots of 200 drums, about 1km away from the main buildings. And every year the depots get buried by the annual accumulation of snow...usually between 1m - 1.5m.

Volunteers are asked for each year to assist in the operation of the fuel raise. The process involves digging away the snow from the depots, lifting the drums three at a time with a crane onto a sled, setting the drums upright and into a neat position on the sled, dragging the sled to the station fuel tanks, and pumping the drum contents into the underground tanks called "flubbers" (cos they're made of rubber and they're fuel tanks).

All of this is a very labour intensive process, requiring people to man-handle fuel drums, use shovels to dig snow from around the drums, people to be underground with the flubbers to assist in the pumping, etc, etc, etc. Things in the Antarctic have to be done somewhat different to the way they would be done in the UK where all the right facilities, equipment and support infrastructure is available.

I helped to load the sleds up with fuel drums, taking turns in fitting the chains from the crane to the drums and working on the sleds to upright the drums once deposited.
It was good to be doing some real physical work outside in -8C. Beats sitting behind a computer in an office in the UK looking at a rain-sodden road below!

Unfortunately, the crane broke down halfway through our session, with a burst o-ring in the hydrauic system. (I'm proud to admit that I spotted the leak with my engineering experience and knowledge, realised the danger and informed Lance the operator immediately, hence adverting disaster and catastrophe and basically saving the lives of all those on station and generally fulfilling my role as an Antarctic hero and hunk!!).

While we waited for the replacement crane, we relaxed for a while and had a small snowball fight. Unfortunately the snow here is either as powdery as talcom powder or as compact and hard as ice. So, we resorted to playing cricket with the shovels and ice instead.

Joe prepares to return a lob by Richard...

At the end of the morning shift on fuel raise I was completely knackered. However, science never sleeps in the Antarctic, and I resumed with my met work in the pm. Hero.

And for the main feature... Penguins!
(Sun 2nd Dec)

I was privaledged and honoured to be asked if I would like to go on a trip to the penguin colony (emporer penguins...the only ones near to Halley).
After mulling the idea over for a couple of nano-seconds, I accepted.

The chance of visiting the penguin colony is always on the cards for winterers, but I was surprised that an opportunity was going to be available so soon. And my God, what an amazing sight to behold it was.

One of the greatest advantages of Halley is that the penguin colony is only approx 18km away on the coast where the sea ice ajoins the ice sheet. The penguin colony is always at the same or nearby location.

After stocking up for the day, we hopped aboard the sled, (of same sleds used in the fuel raise) and took the hours drive to the colony.

As we walked from the stop-off point and arrived at the cliff edge, I was met with an awsome sight. After experiencing nothing but flat whiteness for a week or so, I was suddenly confronted with a sea, cliffs of ice and an amazing floating expanse of sea-ice covered in a mass of black dots. But this mass of black dots was the most amazing thing of the view. Thousands of penguins spread out across the sea-ice and around the bay.

A slope provided easy access to the sea ice from the shelf cliff and hence straight into the colony.

These birds are amazing. And they were not afraid of us at all. More curious than afraid. The only explanation for this I guess is that they have no reason to fear humans. We were able to get quite close to them, but even so, they would just walk up to us timidly to get a closer look themselves.

I was busy taking shots of a small group of penguins from a distance. When I finished I turned around to find I had been surrounded by a group of them, just motionless and silently staring at me! I jumped a little at the unexpected sight, (but supressed a girly scream). It was quite surreal to find a group of penguins had quietly scuttled up behind me to have a look at me when I was struggling to focus on some in the distance. I took a shot of them also.

And look, the chicks are still growing.
Apparently, the chicks were hatched only a few months ago (maybe 3 months). Some are huge and fat, and others are, what women would call, small and cute. Truth is, the small and cute ones are the little runts and are the ones that are most probably going to die!!!
(Okay, I was joking...I'm not a naturist, how would I know).

The chick in the above shot is cool...I've named him Fonzy as he's doing an impression of The Fonze from Happy Days. "Eeeeyyyyyy!"

We spent a good 3 hours or so with the penguins. Once all the initial photography was over with, I just sat down surrounded by the colony taking in the atmosphere of the place. And sitting down, I was joined by more of the wildlife. Beautiful.

In true Dave style, I must take an action shot with me posing. And look, I seem to have been joined by a special friend!

The Antarctic Monkey, not one to miss on the action, has also made an appearance. Has he been enjoying the penguins too?

So, did he enjoy himself?
I think so!