Halley Diary — February 2013

28 February, 2013 Halley

February, the shortest month of the year and probably the most jam-packed one, here at Halley VI. 28 busy days with almost every day filled with an event, the station was like a beehive as everyone tried to make the most of the little time left. The days were counted down with last year’s winter and summer staff preparing to leave for warmer climates by the end of the month. February marks the end of the Antarctica summer; therefore, this month was all about getting things done. And not just finalising work, but doing all the things which make living in Antarctica special: seeing the sun setting first time after weeks of eternal sunshine, having a folk night, running a marathon in Antarctica, exploring the vast rough whiteness in a tent, by climbing a wall of ice or by starting a BBQ at −10°C.

As if that would not be enough, this year was also the official opening of Halley VI on the 5th of February 2013. Representatives from Ed Wallis (NERC), Jeremy Clayton (BIS) and Mike Pinnock (BAS) were flown in to mark the occasion. They were given the opportunity to experience the station, get to know the people who make large commitments to live and work here and learn about the science. The celebrations took the whole day, many photos were taken, a Halley VI station plaque was uncovered, speeches were held and glasses were clinked – to honor all the people who helped to make this possible. For more information, please see the official reports about this event via the BAS homepage.

Two days prior to the official opening a couple of guys attempted, and succeeded to finish a marathon, running 8 times around the new station. Not only was this a brave and heroic act, it has become something of a tradition occurring almost every year on former stations. Many others followed and joined them for one or two laps on the freshly groomed perimeter on a nice and sunny February day. It is stunning how people still manage to find the strength to shake out a marathon during the busiest time of the year. Similarly remarkable is the organisation of a folk night with incredible and well prepared acts two weeks later. Halley VI featured a boy-band, literate poems, V&DJs, juggling, a stunt-man and last but not least “The Lenny”. This folk night, another tradition originating most likely for Halley’s sister station Rothera, coincided roughly at the same time with the first sunset on the Brunt ice shelf, which took place on 13th February. The bright shape of the sun disappeared in twilight, however, even two weeks later the night still could not take over and no star was seen. Sunsets are very pretty though, everything gets a red glow and the clouds become incredibly beautiful. The full moon presented itself right opposite the setting sun and stood out as the most dominant object on the horizon. It felt a bit as if you were on another planet.

The arrival of our new wintering generator mechanic was an equally significant event some days before the sun marked the end of the summer season, he will ensure we have enough power throughout the whole winter! Straight from the plane he was transported by snow mobiles to our winter training camp, which aimed to prepare us for our winter trips in March and made us aware of the people we will spend the next 7–8 months with. It also made me aware that BBQs at −10°C can be rather successful, however, snow takes an awfully long to time melt to get a descent amount of water!

On the 21st, the previous winterers left the station by plane. This group was the first to ever overwinter on Halley VI (which was in transition between a construction site and a modern tool for polar science) and they left behind an incredibly big hole in the station, which is rapidly becoming our station now. Although just 18 people left and about 60 seasonal workers remained in the station or the newly finished Drewry, it immediately felt empty and unaccustomed. We slowly realised that the backup has left and it is our turn to make the place ours.

The following weekend was the last chance for the summer staff to do something ‘Antarctic’ and fortunately our field assistant managed to organise a trip to the Creeks. A place where the ice-shelf drops into the ocean and joins with the sea-ice, perfect for ice-climbing and almost perfect for mooring a ship. The weather could not have been better with the sun beating us with its warmth. The Creeks’ ice-walls were steep with slight overhangs and as everyone reached the top, or just tried hard to get a step further, shouts and cheers came from the audience at the bottom. At the very same place, a week later, the JCR moored to exchange fresh food and fruits with our seasonal workers, cargo and waste.

February vanished with a foretaste of what to come.