Saturday, 23 February 2008

Summer hits its peak

The summer science programme draws to a close, Halley VI construction winds down, the sun starts dipping lower and lower in the evening skies and temperatures begin to drop. The summer season has peaked and is now nearing it's end.

Regardless of having an extremely sweltering afternoon at +3.4C on 15th Jan, a sudden noticeable drop in the daily temperatures mid-Jan gave us newbies an insight into what it’s really like to feel cold. Evening temperatures dipped to -15C to -20C as the sun got lower on the horizon in evenings.

Towards the end of January we started to see an average daily daytime temperature of around -15C. But it’s amazing how quickly one adapts to these conditions...and also how quickly one learns not to put things like metal fittings and bolts between ones lips when working outside.

Needless to say, it is my pleasure to report as the Halley meteorologist that we experienced the coldest January at Halley on record (since 1956). Average temp -6.5C.

22nd Jan 08 – Snowblock samples

“I have to do what?” I exclaimed, “Dig a couple of blocks of snow, pack them up and send them back to Cambridge?”

I was sitting in a meeting in an office in BAS HQ, Cambridge, UK in late-September 2007 when I was requested to dig blocks of snow for analysis in Cambridge. As part of my training I was meeting with many scientists and taking notes of the tasks and jobs I would be doing for them once I was at Halley.

The job of digging uncontaminated blocks of snow seemed like a simple, relatively painless and somewhat fun task to add to the list. And now here I was, at Halley, performing said task, dressed head to toe in a clean suit and other paraphernalia to protect the precious snow from contamination.

And it was not simple, nor was it painless but at least I was having a little fun though.

The preparation and physical nature of the job meant it took a solid 4 hours to complete. Assisted by our winter field GA Rich, and summer admin and general station lynch-pin Nicola, we cleaned all tools and items which would be used in the dig and donned our beautiful outfit.

The only boxes available for the samples were very large metal Zarges boxes. Large boxes meant large samples. And large sample meant large weights. As the samples were to be dug in the Clean Air Sector, these large, heavy boxes had to be manually hauled the 1.5km to the freezer store.

The curses streaming out of my mouth as we man-hauled a pulk with 170kg of carefully dug snow over the 1.5km were not ones to be repeated to man or beast. I was knackered.
But the satisfaction that yet another task completed in the Antarctic for the sake of global science made up for all the hardship.

Apologies for the quality of the pics. It got quite overcast and the contrast dropped making photography difficult.

23rd Jan ’08 – (more) Field Training

The 2008 wintering team were given the day off normal base duties to head to the coast and revise the skills we learnt on the field training in Derbyshire, UK (all those months ago in September ’07). It was good R&R and a chance to escape the base for the day. It was also the first time that the ’08 winter team had been together as a group like this since the field training.

It was also the first time that the ’08 winter team had been together as a group like this since the field training. Although we all live and work on the same small base, it is a very rare thing to have all of us together in one place at a time. The chance to work together and enjoy one another’s company was just excellent, and enabled us to bond together again and refocus ourselves as to why we are doing what we are doing.

Ags: winter base commander (BC),
Lance: vehicle operator/mechanic
Scott: vehicle mechanic
Joe: electrician (sparky)
Bryan: generator mechanic (genny mech)
Rich: field assistant
Hannah: doc
Paddy: chef
Les: plumber
Dean: comms manager
And myself: the beaker

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was sunny, it was warm, it was calm, and it was fun. It was in all essence, generally a beautiful day at the seaside.

We practiced skills such as roping up, walking over steep inclines, climbing up and abseiling down ice cliffs, performing crevasse rescue, among other things. Such as stomping up and down a cliff in single-file.

We were told we were going to learn to walk on snow
(photo courtesy of Agnieszka Fryckowska)

(photo courtesy of Agnieszka Fryckowska)

...finishing big.
(photo courtesy of Agnieszka Fryckowska)

We stopped for lunch on the cliffs and watched the calm Southern Ocean below silently glistening in the afternoon sun. In the second half od the day we roped ourselves up and done some linked glacier travel before chucking weighted bags over the cliffs and practicing crevasse rescue.

We finished the day with a BBQ at the caboose. Splendid.

25th Jan ’08 – Burns’ Night

Another excuse to celebrate was upon us, and it was proposed that we shall celebrate Burns Night.

Considering the short notice of 2-days to prepare and the fact that everyone were still on long days, it was amazing how quickly things were organised, providing a true example of how people pitch together to make an evening out of the basic materials we have to hand.

Jimbo spent the spare time in his day creating a “Toss the Caber” / welly-throwing range.
It was a Friday after all, and gospel that we have our fish and chips (as resident Kiwi Scott would put it) shark and tatties, but the chefs bravely forfeited our usual battered fish and chips dinner and fed us a hearty Scottish dinner complete with Haggis. Rich, wearing kilt, gave a recital of a Burn’s poem during the dinner while we all enjoyed a shot of whiskey each, setting the evening off.

And then the games begun.
It was cold and it was crap visibility, but we still came out in our droves to have a good ol’ toss together!

Wellies and cabers were flying left, right and centre.

Someone’s mukluk boot was liberated from the boot room and used as a substitute welly. The wind was cutting perpendicular across the range and made accurate throwing difficult. Nonetheless, people learnt to throw into the wind to correct for wind shear. However, some people over corrected. Ant (’07 chef) unfortunately miscalculated somewhat and sent a mukluk “bomb” careering from the heavens into the crowd standing behind him. Calls of “incoming” and “run away” rang out and the crowd dispersed in blind panic to avoid mukluk induced coma. Oh how we laughed.

Maniy, one of the South African labourers on Halley VI, snapped the caber in half. With no replacement caber, he caber tossing was abruptly stopped as a result. He’s a big chap is Maniy.

And finally the evening was finished with a good ol’ fashioned tug together!
A tug-of-war contest was fought (best of three making the winner). After playing in one I gave up. I was too knackered and my hands were frozen. Besides, my skills as referee were required.

And that was the end of the evening entertainment.

29th Jan ‘08 – Major Incident Plan

“All station, all stations. We have a major incident between the garage and the Drewery. A doctor is required.”
Was the call on the radio, Tuesday 29th Jan at 1630.

But don’t worry. We were expecting it.

It was just a simulated exercise, the purpose of which was to test the operation of the base staff in response to a big incident.
Read on, and comfort yourselves in the knowledge that if things were to go awry here at Halley, we have the properly trained people on station to deal with it...

The scenario:
a crash involving a sno-cat, a nodwell crane and a skidoo pulling a happy sledge, resulting in a series of broken people. One with a head wound, another with a broken arm, someone with a serious compound fracture of the leg and finally...a dead person with missing legs!

Of course, a scenario completely unlikely to occur, but all the same, it was a good idea to plan for the worst case. The big test was of course to see how the new doctor would cope in such a situation. And I have to give it to Hannah, she performed admirably.

Hannah attends to an "injured" Shaggy
(photo courtesy of Pete Milner)

As soon as the call went out on the radio, we all leapt into action. The plan for a major incident is to muster at the signpost outside the Laws, unless you are on scene or (of course) part of the incident itself.

Hannah kitted herself out and headed straight to the incident site while the rest of us calmly proceeded to the signpost outside. Being one of the first to arrive I was given the roll call list to account for everyone and to determine who may be involved in the accident/incident. Imagine my horror when I had accounted for all, even those who were injured, and found out over the radio that there was also involved the incident an “unidentified” female.

Oh, the questions running through my mind at the time.
We all know each other here and there aren’t that many females on station, how come you can’t identify her? Are you sure it’s female? Has her face being completely mangled by the crash? Have we got a stowaway on station smuggled in by some randy chap who gets his sexual needs tended to? Had the Basler flight which stopped off earlier in the day left one of its party behind? I was in a bit of a panic. Who was she?

It turned out to be Annie.
Resuscitation Annie.
The standard basic life-support dummy had been dressed up in a boiler suit and thrown under the tracks of the sno-cat to act as one of the casualties.

I was insulted. I had previously approached Rich C (the 2007 doc) offering my acting prowess to help in the incident exercise. He turned me down. And instead opted for the lifeless, limbless plastic dummy? Had it come to this? Was my career as an actor to be overshadowed by an inanimate object?

Truth be told, I actually wasn’t allowed to be a “casualty” as I am a winterer and I need to participate in the exercise proper.

Turns out that the dummy was wrongly regarded as a fatality. In the debrief afterwards, it was explained by Rich that the idea was for “Annie” to be treatable too, but everyone just assumed it was a fatality and zipped it up in a body-bag and stuffed it in the freezer! Heh...I hope that wont happen in a real life crisis. It wouldn’t be easy to explain oneself out of that situation.

The makeshift hospital in the Drewery
(photo courtesy of Pete Milner)

All in all, the exercise was a complete success. Everyone played their respective roles very well indeed. In a scenario such as that, the first people on the scene take the coordinating roles. And Ags (our winter base commander) and Paddy (our wintering chef) did an outstanding job running the resources and the makeshift hospital respectively. And of course Hannah fixed everyone in time for dinner.

3rd Feb ’08 – Tractors and fun

The 3rd of Feb was a Sunday and for a change I had a completely relaxing day. I had a lie in and got up the latest I have done all summer. I then watched a movie or two which were being played in the lounge. And then I drove some of the big vehicles we have on site: The John Deere and the Challenger.

As a bit of afternoon recreation, Martin, our summer chief plant mech / logistics manager type guy offered people the chance to learn to drive the big machinery. I jumped at the opportunity, purely as a chance to relive those moments of playing with the little John Deere tractor in my grandparents garden as a toddler, and put closure to the sadness endured all my life when it was thrown out.

Within minutes I was churning huge troughs in the snow by whipping the Challenger into tights donuts going round and round in circles. You can do amazing donuts in those things as they can turn on the spot. And, yes, I was feeling like a great big kid...all over again. Whoopee!

7th Feb ’08 – Tunnel Rescue Scenario

Another week and another day of training for the doc and for the ‘08 winter team. This time we were stage a tunnel resuce.

The scenario:
to tend to and rescue someone who was seriously injured in the service tunnels 30m below the snow surface.

You see, when Halley V was constructed, service tunnels providing power, comms, plumbing, fuel tanks, etc between the Laws, Simpson and Piggott buildings and the and melt-tank were built. These tunnels were designed to bury over the years as the snow accumulated. They are now approx 30m below the surface with tons of pressure pressing down on them from the ice above. Space within them is tight and they are gradually collapsing under the pressure. And there is always the risk that fumes within them could overpower someone.

So...they have a significant level of risk and we, as a wintering team, need to be prepared to handle a rescue situation if ever the need was to occur.

Hannah had prepared a beautiful dummy as our victim, and he/she/it was a good weight. This was essentially lobbed down the access shaft to the tunnel systems (ensuring that any medical attention was a necessity) and we set to work.

Preparing to place the victim in the tunnels
(photo courtesy of Pete Milner)

Soon we were all kitted out with whatever rescue gear we needed. Rich was coordinating the rescue operation up the shaft, Hannah was coordinating the medical side of things down below and Ags was coordinating the crew up top (winching, belaying, etc).

And then the operation commenced. I’ll spare you the boring details of the step by step process. What is important to tell you is that we managed to successfully rescue the victim (whom only had mild concussion and a broken leg) out of the tunnels. Unfortunately, his head got snagged on a rung of the ladder up the shaft as we hauled him up and thus his neck snapped.

Hannah’s urgent screams to stop went unnoticed by us up top and so we just kept on winding the winch.

Although we did manage to get him out of the tunnels, he was quite dead.

Oh dear. The irony.

However, the theory worked and in the wash up afterwards it was concluded that many lessons were learnt. As I said to the group, I was glad things went wrong because we learnt from it. If it all went perfectly, then we would never know of the extra risks like ladder rungs and unsecured lolling heads.

Heroes -Paddy, Hannah, Me and Dean (on floor)
(photo courtesy of Pete Milner)

9th Feb '08 - GEF data collection

Flying to A80 and A77 yet again.

This time I was joining Joan in collecting the recent data logged on the new GEF (Geo-Electric Field) monitoring stations he and Jules installed in January. I was to observe the process in servicing and checking the system on the premise that I might be requested to do it next season.

And, damn, those sites truly are getting bloody cold.

Joan and Jules were living in a field camp for almost 2 weeks setting up the two systems, and so there was some evidence of their time at the sites.

Igloo, built by the GEF team, complete with armchair.
It was successfully tried and tested by Jules one night too

The GEF measures the electric field of the earth through some magical whizzy science.
One of the detectors is a big shiny globe suspended in the air.

Joan checking the GEF globe

And then we returned to base landing approx 2300hrs.

14th Feb ’08 – Valentines Day

Another year, another valentines, and another day lacking in romance.
Once again I did not receive any cards. But this is probably a good thing when it comes to an Antarctic research station comprising of 95% males. However, I am always hoping that several cards will be arriving with the post when the ship returns in November. *subtle hint ladies* :o)

The 14th also brought the very first setting of the sun of 2008. All 2 hours of it.
It was predicted by the helpful computer programmes at my disposal that sunset would occur at 0103GMT on 14th Feb. As we are currently on GMT-3, it wasn’t too late to stay up and witness it.

Quite a few people were out that evening to witness it. I myself was on the Simpson platform preparing my masterpiece for the Folk Night on Saturday. But, I stopped and stood on the balcony all alone with thoughts of romance and love, watching that sun dip below the horizon. The weather was kind to us, and gave us a perfectly clear evening sky in which to see the spectacle unfold.

We've also been experiencing some low mist on some evenings, which freezes on the cold surfaces outside and forms crystals. It's called rime. It can give some amazing effects, and will no doubt get better as temperatures drop even more.

After the sun set, I returned to the office and continued compiling the extravagant performance I was piecing together for my moment on stage for Folk Night the following weekend!
More on this to come


Anonymous said...

Dave, your blog just gets better and better. The humour is great, and even miserable old me laughed out loud at several points. Keep up the excellent work mate.


vicky said...

Yay! Another fix from Dave's adventure series - makes my Sunday! Thanks Dave, keep up the good effort.

Anonymous said...

Good one again son, but your tractor was not thrown out, it was buried by one of your brothers, along with Geoffrey............!

Mum xx

Dave (UEA) said...

Cool; you might even say 'cold'. See what I did there?

Anonymous said...

Spectacular sunset ....

Dave Stephenson said...

Thank you. It's a pleasure to write it knowing that the entries get appreciated by people such as yourselves

e-bone x said...

ah hello boar! just been reading this in nuneaton library...trying my best to stifle my giggles...failing spectacularly! especially reading about snapped necks on ladder rungs!

Anonymous said...

instead of looking at this maybe you should play your scrabble go you twit