24 January, 2014 Halley
It was a strange way to welcome in the New Year, standing outside the modules at Halley, at midnight with a clear sky above us and the sun glaring down, still quite high in the sky! It is a memory that will remain with me a long time.
January is one of the busiest months in the Halley Calendar; no sooner was relief over before we had to make a start on the many summer tasks that needed to be completed before the ship returns for ‘last call’ on around the 17th of February.
The annual snow accumulation at Halley is about 2.5 m a year, which means a lot of effort is needed just to keep all the buildings and structures above snow level! One of the first jobs we all took part in was digging out the workshops — a standalone building on skis, which had become partially buried over the winter. While the digger was able to clear the snow around building, people with spades were needed to dig under the building and clear the skis, a job that took a lot of effort, but was very rewarding when done — and justified the many excellent meals the two summer chefs provided for us!
Raising the modules is a big job and took over a week. First all the legs were extended to their full height, before being lifted up, one at a time, while snow was piled underneath. Then repeat — 34 times!
Part of my job here is looking after all the meteorological instruments, most of which are attached to the Met Tower, which like most other structures on base needed to be raised. This year some sections were getting replaced, which meant all the instruments had to be taken down and reattached, for which we used a MEWP (Mobile Elevated Working Platform, or cherry-picker).
BAS also have a number of AWSs (Automatic Weather Stations) situated off base, in order to get a broader view of the weather systems. These need to be visited every year in order to check everything is still working ok, collect the data, and finally dig them out of the snow and raise them as well. Four of us – Al, the Field Assistant, Mike, the wintering data manager, Holgar, last year’s Meteorologist and myself — went out on skidoos to service the AWS at the Halley V site (~15 km away) and the AWS at Windy Creek (~35km away, where the Emperor Penguin colony is). It was great to have a day away from base, even if it required a lot of digging!
The other half of my job is to look after the CASlab (Clean Air Sector laboratory), which contains a set of instruments to continually measure the concentrations of various chemicals, such as ozone, carbon dioxide and methane. It is about 1.2 km from the main base, so it is not affected by the station’s generators, and of course no vehicles are allowed there, because the area is to be kept clean. This means all the new equipment and supplies that arrived have to be transported the old fashioned way — man hauling!
This year, there were three University scientists working at Halley as part of a two year project, BARREL, to study incoming particles high up in the atmosphere. There instrument was carried by giant helium-filled balloons that can reach a height of 38 km and then get blown west by the upper atmospheric winds. The instrument is solar powered and so can last a number of weeks. One balloon managed to make a full circumnavigation of the continent!
In and amongst the busy work schedule there was time for some relaxation. On Sunday the Field Assistant, Al, organised an ice climbing trip. A dozen of us went down to Creek 3, where there is a slope down onto the sea ice. We set up some ropes on the edge of the shelf ice, giving us a 60 ft ice face to climb. It was the first time many of us had used crampons and ice axes, and we all had a good time hacking our way up the face. As an added bonus there was even a lone Emperor Penguin nearby, and it was amazing to see one so close!