Halley Diary — August 2004

31 August, 2004 Halley

Sun up! by Edwyn Dodd

August is a busy month at Halley. The end of the 105 or so days or darkness arrives on the 10th-ish (debate about when the sun is actually up, when it is a mirage and such like is endless) with the sun pushing up over the northern horizon. Work that has had to be put off during the dark winter months is scheduled and the result is a spring like feeling. As you might expect, as we certainly do, things do not always go according to plan. I am sitting here writing this with a near 50 Knot blow rocking the platform like a small ship on the ocean, reminding us all that spring might have sprung, but there are some hard yards before the summer arrives.

As a rule the people who work on the bases are pro active and adaptable, as such we don’t generally like to talk of problems. However, when the waste water system bursts in the corridor, even the optimistic amongst us have to admit – there is a problem. Such incidents are typical of the endless, on going work behind the science, which enables us to live a relatively normal existence.

The environment here is rare in that we, and the equipment for both science and its support, are subject to anything up to 30°C change in temperature daily. Plumbing systems in the UK start to have problem below -1°C, let alone a 30°C change. Despite the best plans and care, and for unexplainable reasons, things occasionally go awry.

Fortunately Nigel our rotund and diligent plumber from Bristol, aka ‘Major Colgan’ (due to the permanent icy moustache that droops distinguishingly over his balaclava and the goggles permanently fixed to his head) was at hand. Several sleepless nights were had in vigil over the system following a swift (fully 15 hours repairs with the greatest technical minds on the Brunt Ice Shelf) working tirelessly to rectify the problem. Nigel, of course shares the credit with the rest of the technical services team, Gillie, GB, and last but certainly not least Tommo. These guys throughout the year are working hard to maintain normality and look after the needs of the science teams.

Importantly here, Tuesday 10th August saw the ‘Sun Up’ ceremony. It is traditional for the youngest member of the base to put the flag back up following the winter darkness. For us here, this is symbolic and important. It is great to see the sun, but it is also a stark reminder that the year is flying by and that one of the unique experiences of the year is over — the 24hour darkness. Vanessa as the youngest base member raised the flag.

The return of the light allows us to experience one of the truly unique and very special experiences of visiting the Emperor Penguin colony at Windy Cove. The site is situated 18Km to the West of the base. The temperatures are such that the ideal mode of transport to the penguins is by Snocat along a marked and known drum line. The team resists the extreme cold to see the spectacle.

The male penguins spend all winter huddled through all temperatures and winds. They incubate one egg that is nestled in a warm pouch above their feet (a few of the base members have developed such pouches during the winter months – either that or the stalwart of the BAS issue clothing, ‘the moleskin trouser’ may have developed some secret self tightening mechanism!). The female penguins are away at sea feeding; they sometimes have to walk a 100 or so Km to find leads in the sea ice to feed.

During August the chicks hatch. The males are nearly starved and I suspect a bit hacked off, having only one meal that they can feed their chick. If the female does not return within 10 days of the birth of the chick, the male will abandon the chick and head off to feed. It’s a harsh life being an Emperor Penguin. Despite this they walked half a mile to greet us on the first visit.

Graham Gillie our carpenter from Edinburgh has been placing the new floor in the garage. He has undertaken this because Gareth the vehicle mechanic (from Bristol) has been wearing the floor out as he crawls in and out underneath the numerous base vehicles that are in and out of the garage through the year. Crawling amongst the oil and muck underneath the machines, Gareth tends to get the odd splinter in his back side, which hopefully now will be a thing of the past.

It must be noted though; the most important reason for the floor is to use it as a ‘dance floor’ in the best traditions of the base so that the Sun Up can be celebrated properly with Club Nido Part 2. This is the most exclusive night clubbing event on the continent.

The real reason that we have to go the garage is to see Gareth, who spends as much time as he can at work there. We eventually got him to come to a party (by having it at the garage), we got him to dance, but we could not get him out of his overalls!

With the imminent onset of Post Winter Trips starting on the 6th September, time seems to be a rare commodity. The trips involve 6 outings, each of about 10 days. After such a long time in and around the base, the option for some travel and adventure is appetising for most people. We have been undertaking refresher training in the technical aspects of safe travel and practicing rescue techniques and the all important knot tying.

We improvised rescue scenarios utilising the wind scoop at the Drewery. The team found it enlightening, productive and tiring and some had more success than others, but all managed to rescue their partners — more or less.

Chef School has started this month which our illustrious chef Kev ‘do you want daft size pork pies or really daft size pork pies?’ O’Donnell has been running. This can be tricky. We are at the point in the year where fresh stuff has long gone. Additionally all the really tasty stuff has gone — or is being closely guarded by said chef for special occasions. Ingredients are limited and recipes therefore creatively followed.

Kev has a vested interest in the standards attained at the school. As part of our winter duties we have a rotor for ‘Monday Cook’ to in order to cook for the base allowing the chef a day off. As you can imagine, the day is one of trepidation depending on the cook. I think that Chef School is a way that Kev can try and ensure his exacting standards are maintained even when he is not in the kitchen — wishful thinking on his behalf I feel?

The CAS (Clean Air Sector) Lab and the Met ‘babes’ have been busy with the return of the sun. They monitor what are known as ODE (Ozone Depletion Events). This is ground level ozone — not anything to do with the famous hole (which was discovered using the science that has been ongoing at Halley for years). This study is in its infancy and the team are very exited about this. They inflate a small blimp and raise it 300 odd meters into the air with a sonde (science wizardry and gadgetry) to measure the air conditions through the height. The data they gather will assist in working out what may be causing the events. The ODE only really happens during springtime, and some current thinking believes it is related to ‘Frost Flowers’ (crystalline ice structures) that form on the sea ice.

The preparation for such events requires the help of others who do the ‘grunt’ work.

The science continued with the HLS (Halley Lifetime Study) taking place this month. With the situation of the base on a ‘moving’ ice shelf ‘The Brunt’ periodic monitoring is undertaken to assess the speed of such movement in various different orientations. The design and location of Halley 6 is crucially linked in to the shelf movement. The survey is undertaken on skidoos to known GPS locations surrounding the base (up to 12Km away). Undertaking the survey occasionally shows the physical evidence of the shelf movement with impressive crevasse rifting at known areas of activity. The picture below shows the extent of a slot emanating from the McDonald Ice Rumples.

Graeme Barton (aka Golden Bells) our Generator Mechanic, who accompanied the first survey, looks quizzically at the GPS system, hoping the data is gathered. It is a long cold day, but a good chance to get out and inspect the surroundings following the winter months. (Ed Dodd)

So, spring has sprung and the seasonal change allows us the focus of work to shift to more outdoor activities. Be ready for next month’s edition that will continue to chart the progress of the base

I am off on the start of 6 winter trips where I get to know the base members in a different environment. This is seen as a unique and beneficial opportunity for me by most of the other base, I on the other hand will hold judgement until my return, at which point, it is likely that I will need counselling!!

Happy Birthday’s in August to Gwyn, Rach, Col and Danno. Love to family and friends Marriage congratulations to Jim and Gwenda, and Ben and Charlotte.