Halley Diary — December 2003

31 December, 2003 Halley

Planes, cranes & snowmobiles by Mark Maltby, SHARE Engineer

December has mainly been a month of Planes, Ships, Snowcats, Cranes, Dozers and doos.

Plane loads of cargo and people continued early in the month following the first flights in November to double the contingent on station and brought the pre summer prep work to a conclusion and the start of summer work to a head.

One of the first jobs to conclude prep for the arrival of the ship was to move the Garage and the Summer Accommodation Building, The Drewry. These are ski based building that due to snow accumulation need to be raised out of a hole each year. This is done by preparing an area in front of the building Then breaking the building free from the ices frozen grip with air bags and winching the building forward to its new home with the use of two D4 dozers. Care was taken to get the building levels with careful dozeing and confirmation was from theodolite and the all important drain test of cup of water down the urinal. Generators were then towed into place at the Drewry and fired up, a spring clean was carried out and the first two eager punters moved in.

The first science-ish flight of the season was to decommission an Automatic Geophysical Observatory (AGO). These are sites that are dotted from Halley onward to 84 degrees south. Some of the sites have now served their purpose. Also due to high levels of maintenance and low percentage of annual data collection a program of withdrawal is under way. Russ Locke and Myself made first visit to take apart the a hut on a site at 77 degrees south and make ready for uplift whenever a twotter was passing through as the weights of equipment have meant lots of plane loads.

The Piggott team have also visited all the remaining operational AGOs and Low Power Magnetometer (LPM) sites for annual data collection. I personally have been lucky to have now visited all remote site accessible from Halley and clocked up 22 hours in the air in the space of a few days. The highlights of the trips was to set foot at 85 degrees South and to visit A80 which is set with the awesome backdrop of the Shackleton Range. Neil Cobbett (Cambridge based Engineer) and Lez Kitton (Pilot) also had the privilege to fly to the South Pole to perform data collection of the furthest South LPM using the American Station at the pole as their base.

The Simpson team have been out to maintain their weather stations on the plateau with Elaine Cowie and Russ Ladkin camping out at one site. They raised equipment, withdrew some kit and got in some fun kite flying. There was a day trip to another site to raise equipment in the eternal fight against nature due to accumulation of snow. Kathy Hayes has been continuing her work on the Halley Lifetime Project. This is aimed at finding how long it will be until the ice shelf calves. Kathy and Toddy have been out measuring the GPS locations of lines of snow stakes that enclose Halley. These are measured throughout the year and variations monitored by Kathy back in Cambridge. This year Kathy has also travelled the lines with ground penetrating radar to see what is going on under the surface. The work this year will end with seismic work once her kit and explosives arrive on the ship.

Christmas Eve brought celebrations for Martin Bell’s Birthday and due to the ship not being able to get close to the ramp celebrations continued into Christmas Day. Christmas Day at Halley is normally time for the first call of the ship RRS Ernest Shackleton and the start of relief. This year though was a time for relaxing watching festive Star Wars and Bond. The day was finished off with a superb Christmas Dinner of Turkey with all the trimmings followed by after dinner drinks and a showing of Charlie’s Angels 2.

RRS Ernest Shackleton arrived at the coast on the 22nd. The ship comes twice or three times each summer to bring an influx of personnel and perform relief. Relief is the resupply of the station. This year prep started weeks before with raising of the drum line to the coast, dozing and grading of the creek ramp and the GAs went out onto the sea ice to survey its quality and amount. This year there was found to be a vast amount of good quality ice but there were several cracks that where too large for vehicles to cross.

On arrival RRS Ernest Shackleton found there to be in the region of 8km of sea ice. She started breaking ice but was only able to cut a small channel. Essential personnel were moved to Halley by skidoo using ladders to bridge the main crack. It came apparent that the ice was too good for the ship to break. The GAs searched to no avail for a creek closer to the ship with a ramp that could take vehicles. Their attention then turned to finding a route across the ice. It was found that there was a route that with some grooming and bridge building vehicles would be able to reach the ship. Bridge making materials were gathered on base and a team set about the task of making a bridge.

Relief started proper on the 28th. This was the start of twelve hour shifts with the station and ship working 24hrs. Everyone on each side are given jobs from unpacking boxes to driving. Everything the station needs for a year is craned off the ship onto sledges, driven across the sea ice up onto the shelf, across the shelf 11km to Halley and then is placed on a long cargo line with its position (meterage) logged so after relief it is easyish to find your boxes. Waste then goes the opposite way. Relief took in the region of a week and then the ship headed back to the Falklands and left us to get on with the Summer.

This Month we also finally came to an agreement on the Winterers’ 2003 pic. It is traditional for a picture of the wintering team to hang in the dining room. This year we had a few attempts at different compositions and now the final choice has been made. This is the picture now hung.

We also bid farewell to two winterers that left on the ship, the Doc and Chef, Gavin and Craig. Hope Gavin soon finds new employ and Craig doesn’t find his new place of work too warm on the Island of Carriacou, Grenada.

Hi to family and friends back in the UK. See you in 2005.

Cheers Mark