Halley Diary — January 2009

31 January, 2009

The New Year rings in on the Brunt ice shelf

For the incoming summer and winter teams along with the ships crew the bell rings on bridge of the RSS Ernest Shackleton. 15 km to the south the 11 members of the wintering team along with Niv and Ben ring in the New Year and celebrate the last night of their winter. The summer season at Halley begins.

At 07.00 relief begins. Sea ice is groomed, the ships crane is fired up and all those not working on the ship or sea ice make their journey over the ice shelf to Halley. For many of us this is the first view of the ice shelf we will call home for the next 18 months, for others a familiar place they are pleased to see again. The station and cargo lines can be seen far before the perimeter of the base is reached. After a whistle stop tour around the base by Dave (The winter met babe) and a briefing by Agnieszka (The winter BC) it is straight to work for everyone.

During relief the base works 24 hours a day. Sno-Cats and their escorts on skidoo’s transport cargo from the ship, over the sea ice, up the ramp and onto the ice shelf. The cargo is then towed several sledges at a time to the base by CAT Challengers and unloaded onto cargo lines. Everything needed on base for the coming summer and winter seasons is delivered to the station. Food, fuel, science equipment, new vehicles, personal possessions and construction materials all arrive on base.

During relief every member of the wintering team visited the Ernest Shackleton to attend the dental surgery on board. Antarctic life has harsh effects. The high calorie, high sugar diet can take its effect on teeth. The trip to the ship offers the winterers the first opportunity for a long shower since the ship left nine months earlier. Within 5 days relief is completed for another year. The Shackleton left the ice shelf bound for the Falkland Islands. It carried with it Agnieszka, the winter base commander for the 2008 and 2009 winters. She was heading back to New Zealand for a well deserved break before returning later in the season to begin another winter in Antarctica. (Her 4th).

With a short season and much to do work begins with vigour.

Every year at Halley the build up of snow means that the garage needs to be moved to a new location to prevent it being buried the next winter. This is done by fixing skis to the front of the steel structure. (Known as “slippers” on the Drewry accommodation building but as “boots” on the garage!). The building is then cracked out of the ice using airbags and slowly towed forward using four bulldozers, two Challengers and two John Deere tractors. It is a majestic site seeing the 75 tonne structure travel across the ice, circle around and then come to rest in its new home.

The snow build up buries anything left on the surface of the snow. During January fuel depots, cargo lines for the Halley 6 build, empty fuel drums that mark the perimeter of the base are all raised to keep them above the snow for the coming year.

While work is done maintaining the Halley 5 base a team headed out to the site of the new base at Halley 6 (Roughly 20km from the current base site). A huge road train of equipment, tools, supplies, generators and cabooses rolled out over the ice. There was much to be done on the new site this year. Submerged wooden tunnels and shafts were constructed by a team of carpenters and builders. Drums of cables laid the previous summer were raised above the snow surface and placed on mounds. The work took the 7 strong team two weeks to complete returning only at the weekend for showers and warm beds.

Throughout the month the base buzzed with the sound of a Twin otter plane landing and taking off. During the summer the plane and its pilot, Mark, fly out to fuel cache sites to raise them and deliver more fuel, taking with him winterers to help with the digging. The main duty of the plane for the summer however is to deliver scientists to remote sites spread over Antarctica. This is to install or carry out maintenance on science stations. These include GPS sites reporting back ice shelf movements, LPM sites, Automatic Weather Stations and specialised projects.

During these first weeks of summer the incoming winter team received their field training (Compulsory before any flights). It was time for the ten of us to join the CIA (camped in Antarctica). Heading out on the back of a Sno-Cat to Windy Bay we practised the skills of camping in Antarctica we had learnt at the training camp in Derbyshire a few months earlier. After successfully pitching camp, cooking dinner and practising lighting Tilly lamps we roped up as alpine trio’s and headed over to the ice cliffs. A swift abseil onto the sea ice later successfully completed by everyone, we headed over the ice to visit the remaining Emperor penguins. A great sight. We then headed back to camp and enjoyed our first night camping on the ice shelf.

Throughout the month the base continually buzzed with activity. Chefs, Mechanics, Operators, Technical services, FGA’s and Doctors all working hard to complete the season’s tasks. The weather was perfect and 24 hours a day the sun shined bright over the station. A great start to the summer.

Written by John Eager
Halley Winter Chef