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?!?!
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.Remember:
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
ROCK AND ROLL
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.
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)
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!
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
We finally went indoors to join the rest of the staff for some socialising and shooting pool.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(I have more stories developing whilst typing up this one, hopefully the next installment will be sometime in early Jan '08).