Halley Diary — January 2008

31 January, 2008

This months diary is more of a snapshot of life at Halley from a couple of authors: David Stephenson and Agnieszka Fryckowska.

We have tried to cover many of the activities that have been occurring but how can one fit it all in! It has been exciting and very busy with the addition of the new Halley VI build beginning.

David begins. After a somewhat arduous journey from the UK, we were finally approaching our destination: Halley station. As we circled the base from the air I was hit by the sudden realisation that this collection of buildings in the middle of the vast white expanse of the Brunt Ice Shelf was to be home for the next 15 months. It was a humbling thought. From the way my fellow winterers were silently looking out of the windows with the same looks on their faces I could tell they were having the same thoughts.

Upon landing we were greeted by a welcoming party waiting at the Halley airport terminal. It’s really just a couple of cabooses, but one soon learns that one must have a big imagination when living at Halley. Introductions were made, hugs were exchanged (with the females of course), and hands were shaken (men to men). It was odd that I almost felt I already knew the met team as I had been corresponding with them for so long and living their experiences through their blogs, etc.

A couple of days were spent getting orientated around the base and settling in, and soon it was time for the new wintering team to shadow those who they will be taking over the responsibilities from. I myself was to be taking over the meteorology and the science that will be remaining at Halley during the Halley VI build and transition phase.

Us newbies soon settled into life on station and enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere with little commotion. It was akin to the calm before the storm, for the Ernest Shackleton was en route with supplies, cargo and the majority of the base summer complement. And its arrival would announce the start of a busy and crowded summer indeed.

But before the arrival of the ship a special dinner was prepared for the two wintering teams (the outgoing ‘07 team and the incoming ’08 team). It was probably going to be the last time we would all be enjoying one another’s company together in a single location and the same time. The chefs outdid themselves in providing a delicious four-course meal from the remaining supplies of the ’07 food stocks. The meal was completed with Rich the ’07 doc breaking out a box of cigars for us to enjoy outside.

January began with the Halley VI relief still continuing, having completed the cargo discharge of the Ernest Shackleton focus was turned to the Amderma.

The base was a hive of activity with teams working on the sea-ice unloading the ship, trains of cargo being hauled from the cliffs to the base, teams of construction crew building the temporary accommodation, mechanics maintaining the fleet of vehicles, sno-cats grooming the Halley VI construction site, people working the depot lines, and those working behind the scenes ensuring all the hungry mouths were fed.The nose cones for the Pods came last, delivered on specially built sledges. Martin Bell took great pleasure in delivering them to base. Never far away was Kirk Watson our cameraman for the season, capturing all the best footage.

While cargo was being discharged from the Amderma the Morrison’s team were busy on site. A large white logistics tent appeared, providing a space for work and also a smoko area so that the team could have an area out of the weather for their breaks. The cargo line was being attacked with a vengeance as the team started works on the space frames. We saw the beginning of the process with the first frame put onto its hydraulic legs. I (Agnieszka) can’t help but thinking that at the moment they look like a cross between a jungle gym and an alien.

The Cargo line for the construction of Halley VI was also rather large – extending two kms. This was to become a major road of sorts with the BAS vehicles team grooming it everyday as well as around the site and Halley V to keep it workable.

It has been interesting to see the Halley VI modules take shape from all the boxes and containers I (David) helped unload from the ship during relief. The construction of Halley VI has had a major impact on the base…the skyline around Halley has changed significantly with the removal of the SHARE array and the AIS masts, the Clean Air Sector now has daily vehicle movement within it (something unheard of for the many years it was in operation).

With the Anderma successfully unloaded attention was then turned back to the Ernest Shackleton as we back loaded her with outgoing waste and remaining cargo. Just in time it seemed as she departed her moorings due to ice and began the journey north to Cape Town. All in all a very successful relief and boy it was a big one! This was followed by a well deserved BBQ Antarctic style. Lots of orange overalls, chefs with gloves on and the best burgers this far south!

Work around base and on the construction site carried on in earnest, space frames moving through the construction line having their hydraulic legs attached and tested. Slowly gathering some sort of shape as the team build on the inside. Though it is summer, thoughts are already looking towards winter and preparation for winterising the base and construction site are under way. Winter mounds are popping up for containers, vehicles and other materials.

Adrian Fox who came to do the aerial photography had a very successful day. He appeared, got his equipment organised went out the next day and achieved all his work. A fantastic result and surely quite a relief to have it all done in one shot. To top it off he also got to stay at Halley for a week with John Pye and Fiona Brazil as the weather did not allow travel back to Rothera. An opportunity to feel the Halley buzz that should never be missed. Melt tank digging and skiing, it’s the best keep fit program and gets one outside!

The new Halley VI site which is located some 16km away began to receive attention. Steve Canham, Karl Tuplin and Simon Coggins spent some time earlier in the season surveying at the site and laying out flags. Interestingly some of these flags are not what one usually expects as most of the ones we are familiar with are black, red or green. These chequered and striped flags seemed a nice change.

The reason you ask. Well it helps those folk who are colour blind to differentiate the flags with greater ease. With the foundation process beginning, consideration must also be given to the science interest in the area. Halley VI will also have a clean air sector as Halley V and Simon Coggins has marked out this area which will kept as pristine as possible during the build process.

So the first teams headed out to start the cabling and foundation work, digging lots of holes and channels. A small village was seen to form over the next weeks as the site was set up for the team to stay during the week. The crew lead by Phil Moneypenny spent Monday to Friday at the sight, living on tinned sausages (not very nice but if you are hungry and want food quick) and came back to the warmth and showers of Halley V for the weekends. Don’t worry they were provided with other meals too. The chefs made up ‘TV’ dinners for them so it was a matter of reheating and bingo a meal in no time.

Summer at Halley is normally quite short, and the working days are long. This summer the difference is that we were able to input people quite early and will continue much later into the year than we normally would. We have been fortunate to have a lot of good weather and the stunning evenings entice people to stick planks on their feet and scoot around the perimeter line. Many who have never skied before took up the challenge and gave it a try and much to their surprise many found it relatively simple. We have no hills at Halley, just undulations so there is no panic of going down a slope and losing control. That’s not to say that we never fall over. Even the most experienced have been seen to topple.

Sundays are a day off so when the weather is good many will take advantage of other goodies on offer. Three Field GA’s on base this summer (well Kirk was still a camera man but wore two hats) allowed opportunities to try new things. They kindly took groups of people climbing ice cliffs at creek 4 and to see the penguins at Windy Creek. I guess we are prone to forget the beauty that surrounds us here and the special location we are in. Having the chance to see the penguins, and to soak up the stunning views at the coast would lift the spirits of the most hardened person. I’m sure most people returned from these days out with a smile on their face even if they were a little cold. We are in Antarctica after all.

That’s the wee snapshot of January and there remain some busy months ahead.