28 February, 2012 Halley
February at Halley this year, despite being the shortest month, seemed much longer. Everything was about timing. Do we have enough time to make the station ready for wintering? Do we have time to get all the science working, to do all the necessary training, to have a bit of fun, for lunch?
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” — Douglas Adams
Many people had very short weekends (if any) as things started to kick in, finally putting an end to the many frustrations of the beginning of the season when people were waiting on each other or working on seemingly endless tasks.
The decision to winter in Halley VI was taken one month later than expected but arrived just in time to give extra motivation to everybody. Motivation but also responsibilities: it also meant that the point of no return had been reached as vital equipment was to be moved from the old station to the new one, such as the surgery and the satellite link to the outside world.
Work in the science “cabooses” made good progress as the data network became available allowing us to monitor the various experiments in real time, and collecting the produced data. Halley has a strong reputation for data continuity and quality, without which the Halley VI project wouldn’t be what it is today. So after years of effort and a partial but unavoidable interruption of science at Halley V, it was really pleasant to see the data flowing again, allowing scientists all over the world to do their job.
Not only does the science have to work, but 14 people will be wintering in the new station which means that the place must be liveable and safe. At the beginning of the month the place still looked like a construction site. Under the hood the core facilities such as electricity, heat, water, sewage, and fire detection and suppression systems, were mostly working but nothing looked finished: walls, floor, ceiling and rooms were pretty bare.
Nevertheless, the transformation, especially in the very last week, was astounding. The station now looks really good and comfortable, the A (or “Big red”) module looks amazing. Hence, it was with quite a satisfaction that most of the summer staff left the station on the RRS Ernest Shackleton at the end of the month, leaving only the winterers and a few other people behind.
The 2012 winterers arrived at different dates, and some stayed at Halley V while the others went directly to the new station. Moreover, because of the hectic character of this summer season, it wasn’t easy to socialise with the people whom we were going to spend a year with. So, the management, in its great wisdom, decided to organise a fancy dress party in the old station with all the winterers.
Only highly select people were invited, and the least we can say is that we indeed got to know each other better.
A few days after, a more traditional social event took place in the form of a field course training at Creek 3, the same creek the Shackleton moored in a month before.
These few days were used to practice the skills we learned in Derbyshire: erecting the famous pyramid tents, lighting a Primus stove or a Tilley lamp, roping, climbing, abseiling etc. In a nutshell: the minimum you need to know if you want to have a chance to survive in the forbidding nothingness of Antarctica.
Nothingness can be quite dangerous, for one can fall into more nothingness: a crevasse. Being one of the greatest dangers of Antarctica, we took our first group picture defying one of them.
Starting from the top left hand corner: Frenchy, Nigel, John, Dave, Sam, Ian; Sanna K, Ant, Gareth, Rob, Paddy, Cas, Ollie, Matt.
Following an epic half marathon won by Matt (the one with long hair, the mighty one finishing only second) was the customary Folk Night, celebrating the approaching end of the summer season.
For the occasion, a hundred people gathered in the Logistics tent for a night of entertainment: people sang, gave speeches and played music until very late.
Halley research stations have always been built on the Brunt Ice Shelf, never on the continent. This means that we are on a moving and unstable world. The ice shelf is known to have calved in the past and huge lumps of ice (many miles across) have detached and drifted afloat as gigantic icebergs.
Since the first station was established, many minor calving events have occurred. Consecutive stations have been built further and further away from the coast, to compensate the natural motion of the ice shelf which moves toward the sea at up to 2 meters a day.
A major calving event could have severe repercussions for the station. The Lifetime Of Halley (LOH) project intends to monitor the movements of the ice shelf using 10 GPS stations strategically placed on the Brunt Ice Shelf. Data is collected 24/7 on sites powered by solar panels and wind turbines and transmitted twice a day to the station via HF modem.
For the first time at Halley VI, the Union Flag was raised on the station and, as a symbol of continuity; it was the flag from Halley V that was used.
Jonathan Shanklin, as a veteran and dedicated Antarctic scientist, was given the honour of raising the flag on a desperately windless day. It was an occasion for him to give us a speech, and probably setting the record for the longest lasting flag rising in Antarctica.
As the Summer was very busy, two ships, the RRS Ernest Shackleton and the RRS James Clark Ross came to take the summer staff back home.
The first ship to arrive, at the end of February, was the Shackleton where the winterers were kindly invited to have dinner by the Captain.
This was a great night for which we are all grateful. We had a very good time with the crew and eating relatively fresh fruits and vegetables was an event in itself!
Ollie and I came back to the station with slightly rectified haircuts but that kind of detail only matters the day after.
I dedicate this page to the memory of my father Bernard Guerraz who died on the 4th of March in an accident.