Halley Diary — August 2010

31 August, 2010

August already and according to the Halley planners, as it stands, we will soon see our winter finish in just shy of 2 months, but all is not lost! Our small community still has plenty to offer the isolated guest on this vast magnificent Continent. Unfortunately, one such activity was out of reach — the Emperor Penguin colony at Windy. With no ramp and all the edges appearing to be cracked and over hanging, even abseiling appeared to be out of the question. But on the upside there was a vast colony of healthy birds forming on the sea ice below, all free from penguin paparazzi.

Still, if we can’t go down and see the penguins, we can always rely on a good old base Fondue night. With my apprentice Richard, more than eager to deep fry stuff, a night of crispy beef fillet, breaded Brie & homemade raspberry marshmallows, all washed down with a selection of eloquently matched beverages, it was enjoyed by all.

Among the many Halley traditions in August is Sun up, and the raising of the flag by the youngest winterer. Richard, our ever enthusiastic Met guy, thrashed around with equations, plotting graphs and charts trying to pinpoint this yearly occurrence, with sceptical uncertainty. He found his only saving grace from the Sun Up gamble was the wayward weather playing into his hands and throwing a hooley, resulting in us barely being able to see the signpost, let alone the glimmering fireball on the horizon. Anyhow, it evidently came out of its lazy slumber on the 11th and turned August into an ever brighter month, reminding all of us what the summer is like, give or take a few more helpful souls around the place.

With the light returning more and more each day, so did our outside workload. Usually, you can bail a sinking ship, but alas, not this one. “Several hands required”, read the notice, little knowing what to expect, apart from a select savvy few, the salvage of the Laws — jacking. Another winter had unleashed the turmoil of snow deposits around the Laws. Resulting in it sinking and scooping itself out and forming huge wind tails with precarious slopes for its inhabitors, not too reminiscent of Rock Hopper penguins struggling from the waves onto slippery rocks.

Keeping up with traditions, was the customary Birthday celebrations, a little reminder that the small comradeship of friends you have acquired, and that they are thinking of you and are there to celebrate with you, when your nearest and dearest cannot. Mine, the Halley chef, was a night under the stars. Bivvying in the tranquil surroundings of Antarctica. Somewhere on the perimeter! In reality, a bitterly cold and cloudy sleepless night fidgeting in a rustling sack with a broken zip, contemplating if −42° and a chilly breeze was too cold to struggle out of my body strangling bag like Houdini, empty my boots now filled with drifting snow and finding that one of my socks is misplaced somewhere other than my foot, just for a brief 2 minute toilet stop. Yeah, great night’s sleep!

The next day!

My Birthday was a very pleasant affair, taking up most of the weekend and some sly organising by my fellow winterers. With the rules of 2 minute showers as soon as you step foot at Halley, due to the fact we dig our own water, they surprised me was offered a BAAATTHHHH. With my particulars covered and an audience waiting, an unused oil spill drum was steaming away on the platform, complete with bubbles and a tasty drink for me. Luckily for me, the stars were glittering and so I volunteered for Aurora watch while I soaked in sheer comfort with a radio by my side for Aurora call. Once satisfactorily prune like, I returned inside to my own surprise party of Blind date. An extremely scary prospect, considering it’s an all male base and the nearest bird is weathering the elements just 15 km away.

August, gave us a chance to view the world above us. With barely any manmade light pollution, the night sky twinkles from every horizon. One such view was the lightning show of the Aurora Australis — charged particles from the Sun channelled by the Earth’s magnetic field, which collide with atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere at altitudes above 80 km. These charged particles are energized, and as they collide with atoms of gases in the atmosphere, the atoms too become energized. Shortly afterwards, the atoms emit their gained energy as fluorescent light.

Another phenomenon seen regularly on clear sunny days are mirages. As light passes from colder air across a sharp boundary to significantly warmer air, the light rays bend away from the direction of the temperature difference, thus making our eyes appear to see a false image of something real.

Halley Science is always at the forefront of why we are down here, and helping out becomes part and parcel of life on base. Craig aiding Richard in Science, launching a weather balloon, which helps monitor wind speeds, pressures and temperatures, all valuable assets in forecasting the worldwide weather. These balloons are released everyday and gain in size from 1 metre in diameter on the ground, to the size of a double decker bus high up in the stratosphere, some reaching heights of 28km, and temperatures of −91.7°C.

Ant Dubber