Halley Diary — February 2007

28 February, 2007 Halley

February is usually an odd month at Halley. The summer ends, the crowds depart, and Halley is left in the hands of the wintering team once again. A huge amount of work is packed into a short summer season; teams of specialist steel erectors, carpenters, builders, plumbers and mechanics descend on the base to refit old buildings. This year the garage has been given a facelift, with an office and store added to the back.

Experiments like the Superdarn radar (which used to be called the Share) living in cabooses (containers on legs) are raised and leveled by the steel team. This keeps them well above the rising snow level. These containers keep the delicate electronics and electronic engineers warm throughout the winter. Chris, who looks after the Superdarn, is currently working to increase the output power of the radar which will improve the quality of data collected.

As well as the cabooses and buildings, Halley is home to a number of masts. Each year these also need extending. This work is mainly carried out by mast erectors that we borrow from the RAF. John and Paul have been busy straightening masts and extending stays.

An intensive campaign has begun on the CASLab. This is built away from the rest of the station to ensure that no smoke from our generators or vehicles interferes with the air measurement instruments. Neil will be running these over the winter. Along with this work, the Simpson team of Kirsty, Dave and Tamsin continue to take regular samples of air for analysis of its constituents.

Coupled with the static measurements made at the CASLab, which must wait for the wind to bring the air to it, we’ll be operating a series of UAV flights equiped with turbulence and heat flux probes. As the winter progresses these small automatic aircraft will fly out over forming sea ice to measure the way heat leaves the ocean as the ice forms. For the time being, though, we’re in a testing phase to make sure we don’t loose too many of the aircraft into the sea.

Halley has been blessed with a whole new fleet of field skidoos this year. Apart from the usual teething troubles giving Mat, our vehicle mechanic, lots of work, these should provide a comfortable ride on our winter trips. These skidoos also get used by field parties, often deploying by Twin Otter, so the air unit had lots of fun working out the best way to drive one onto a tiny plane.

All this hard work makes for hungry mouths. During the second call of the Shackleton we received a cupboard full of fresh vegetables, quite enough for Ant, the chef this year, to wonder how he’s going to get through them before they start to go off…

It’s not all work at Halley. Even in the busy summers we get Sundays off and can go out to play (not to forget evenings and lunchtimes too). The kiting contingent this year is larger than ever, with twelve people out zipping about some days.

And then, just as everyone is getting used to having seventy people squeezed onto the base, the Shackleton returns and takes them all away. There’s eighteen of us left, though, and we plan to enjoy every moment of the winter that awaits us. We started by shooting flares at the ship as they sailed away into the mist, then had a spooky drive back to base as dusk descended and a thin fog rolled onto the ice shelf.

We then had a fairly quiet week when everyone recovered from the summer and worked out quite what it was they were meant to be getting on with for the rest of the year. First up was tidying up after the summer and turning off the Drewry, including the infamous and slightly soapy party in the melttank. It’s the only bath some of us have had for about 12 months, so we all stay in until we’re as wrinkled as the last few prunes left over from the summer.

Then on Saturday the first field trip left the base. Sledge Awesome (Tamsin, Dean, Jim and Sune) headed out to the hinge zone, put up their tents, watched it get windy outside, then amused themselves for six days as a blizzard raged about them. The wind blowed a steady and somewhat chilly 30 knots for the whole week and the skies slowly snowed. Back on base the buildings started to grow their windtails, and everyone stayed inside unless they had something important to do.

Finally the winds abaited and the clouds cleared. Sledge Awesome managed to go for a walk and a climb around the hinge zone, everyone else went kiting or skiing or just stood outside for a time and looked into the distance.