Halley Diary — August 2009

31 August, 2009 Halley

Halley 89022, Antarctica

89022 is the international weather station number for Halley, a figure I write several times a day in the meteorological register and various other places. It has not got much to do with August, but I type/write ‘Halley 89022’ nearly automatically so thought I had better explain.

August is a very special and important month at Halley. After a long holiday in the northern hemisphere, providing Britain with lovely summer weather (supposedly), the Sun finally decides to head back down south and show its face to us again. But other things happened first.

Saturday 1st and Halley(wood) became Holly(wood) for the day. The eleven winterers took up the challenge to write, film and edit a 5 minute movie, in just 48 hours and thereby enter the annual Antarctic film festival, organised by the US base McMurdo.

‘Coldfinger’ is the latest adventure for James Bond (now an elderly gent and renumbered 00ap) in which he has to avenge the gruesome murder of 00clown (Robbie, also our chief cameraman and video editor), by the notorious Black Hand Gang (Nick, Colin and Karen). All the normal Bond-like scenes were included, Miss Moneypenny (our bearded chef), Z — often known as M (our own boss Agnieszka, also in charge of the second camera), Q (Ben) with a disappearing skidoo, two temperamental chefs (Niv and our real chef) and of course it included Bond’s love interest/side kick, played by the talented Doc as 00shamrock ‘our man in Ireland’. The finale was a fantastic skidoo chase, involving several explosions and the destruction of an old Alpine 2 (don’t mention this to the vehicle department in Cambridge — we are hoping they won’t notice!)

The filming of the casino scene started at 0930hrs (so our croupier Rob — who was on nights — could go to sleep) and was the beginning of a long, tiring, but highly entertaining day. Robbie edited the film over night and through Sunday, before its premiere on Sunday evening — to much laughter from us all. It was then entered into the competition and for some reason did not win as many votes as expected; it seems that Rothera might have fixed the voting — we are thinking of calling in the UN election committee — or are they too busy in Afghanistan! Seriously congratulations to Rothera for winning again.

Agnieszka, our winter base commander, is of Polish and New Zealand extraction. This is her fourth winter in Antarctica (she gets her passport any time now) and she has a tradition of providing a Polish feast at some point during the winter months. Preparation had been going on for some time, costumes were made and then we all assembled in the lounge for vodka.

The Doc had set the table in the lounge and we sat down to a feast of delicious food including:

  • Barszcz Czerwony
  • Zupa Grzybowa
  • Bigos
  • Bigos Orgrodowy
  • Pierogi
  • Ktlet Schabowy
  • Kotlet Mieloni
  • Figowy w boczku
  • Placki Ziemniaczane
  • Flasolka
  • Czerwona Kapusta
  • Salatka ziemniaczano
  • Makowiec
  • Faworki

It was a really great night, great food, great company and silly costumes. Anyone in Ags’ next winter team is in for a real treat — it might even be worth coming back for!

Tuesday 11th August was indeed a very special day. The resident Meteorologist having analysed much data, triangulated positions (and looked it up on the internet) decreed that the Sun would finally (after over 100 days) show its face again (at 1321 gmt). A quick and early lunch was had by all, before we assembled on the platform for the raising of the new flag. This job fell to Colin, the youngest member of our gang. After many photographs, he ventured onto the roof and tied on the new flag. He hoisted it as the sun appeared from behind him. The momentous occasion was celebrated by a quick glass of Champagne or Pimms. Although I think we have all enjoyed the fairly unique experience of the lack of sun and the total darkness — we are also all excited to have it back and be able to see the beauty of the Ice Shelf again.

No sooner than Colin had raised the flag and it was his birthday; fancy dress again hit Halley. This time with a bit a twist, everything had to be made from scratch, no last minute digging around in the fancy dress cupboard and just chucking something on this time. Much work went into the costumes; new skills, mainly using the sewing machine, were learnt. Many curses were audibly heard, usually aimed at Colin (the Chef is never usually that temperamental), but all was worth it in the end. Turning up for the night were Jesus, the Pope, a Bumble Bee, DaftVader, Mr Strong, a cup of Latte, House (as in the US TV Doc), Cleopatra, Grumpy (the skidoo), Mr Bin and a Dalek. It was without doubt the best set of costumes of the year. After yet another fine meal from John (including Duck that Robbie refuses to eat because they look ‘cute’), we all headed to the garage where Club Nido was open for the first time this year. The Doc took to the dance floor and as is normal the boys did their best to stay out of trouble clinging to the walls!

Optical phenomena are a major part of the stunning beauty of Halley and with the return of the sun we have had some great SunDogs (the bits to the sides) — one with a very unusual Circumzenith Arc (the bit at the top) so I thought you might like to see it.

It may seem that all we do at Halley is party, but that is far from the truth. As there are only eleven of us on base we are highly dependant on one another for our safety. We regularly have fire drills and refresher training to ensure we know how to use the breathing apparatus, and fire alarm tests happen every Wednesday morning. These are all essential, but the most fun — and hopefully never to be used — skills we learn are during our weekly ‘Doc School’. Susie has spent every Thursday afternoon reinforcing and building on our first aid knowledge. We have learnt about such things as Airways, Breathing, Circulation, Splinting, Burns, Blood Testing, X-raying, I/V injections, Anaesthesia, to name but a few. But, this month’s highlight was Suturing. With no less than three tonnes of chicken breasts on base, it was not difficult to find some victims. They may have been dead, but we are amateurs, so local anaesthetic was injected and then the sewing began. The needles are very sharp, but trying to stitch using forceps and long tweezers is not easy. Soon, however, we were all in full swing and wounds were mended. I hope to never have to do any of the things we have learnt in Doc School ‘in anger’, as it were, but it is very reassuring that we all have the skills needed in the case of an emergency.

With the coming of the light, activity around base has stepped up a pace, to ensure that we are ready for the coming frantic build season. Work outside is much easier (even though we had an average temperature of just −31°C in August) and everyone is busy. From my point of view the coming of the sun means that August is the start of the ‘Ozone Season’. As I am sure you all know, Halley is famous for discovering the ‘Ozone Hole’ above Antarctica in 1985, caused by, and leading to the banning of, CFCs that were commonly used in aerosols and fridges at that time. During the early part of our spring, as the sun comes back, the ozone levels are at their lowest. This is because chemicals from residual CFCs in the upper atmosphere have built up in the very cold dark months and start reacting with the ozone, using the sunlight as a catalyst. Therefore readings at this time are vital for scientists with very big brains to work out whether ‘The Hole’ is getting bigger, staying the same or beginning the slow process of repair. It is too early to know exactly, but ‘The Hole’ does seem to have reached its limit and to have plateaued in size; if it has started to repair then it is very slow and still has a long way to go. This will keep the August to October ‘Ozone Season’ a very vital part of the Halley science programme for many years to come and it is probably the most important part of my job.

I nearly forgot to mention we had a highly entertaining night playing darts against the reigning Antarctic champions Bird Island (who have won the title for many years, even when they did not even have a dart board — or so the myths and legends tell us). We now use a video link, so no cheating this year. Halley stormed into a 2–0 lead mainly thanks to Rob (formerly of Bird Island who joined Halley on a ‘Bosman’ type transfer last summer). Bird Island, mainly thanks to Stacey, then made a well deserved come back to make it 2–2. Tension was high, the quality of darts was low. The final leg, both teams on double 1, eventually Ben hits it and Halley celebrated a famous victory late into the night.

Well that just about wraps up August 2009 at Halley 89022. Oh and contrary to popular rumour I am not 102 years old — well not yet anyway.

All the best

Giles Finch
Meteorologist & Electronic Engineer (ie chief scientist — or only scientist)

P.S. just in case your Polish is not up to scratch here is a translation of the delicious feast we had:

  • Barszcz Czerwony — Beetroot soup
  • Zupa Grzybowa — Wild Mushroom Soup
  • Bigos — Hunters Stew
  • Bigos Orgrodowy — Gatherers Stew
  • Pierogi — Potato Ravioli
  • Ktlet Schabowy — Pork cutlet
  • Kotlet Mieloni — Pork & Beef Meatballs
  • Figowy w boczku — Fig & Bacon
  • Placki Ziemniaczane — Potato Pancakes
  • Flasolka — Green Beans
  • Czerwona Kapusta — Red Cabbage
  • Salatka ziemniaczano — Potato Salad
  • Makowiec — Sweet Poppy Cake
  • Faworki — Pastry twist