Halley Diary — May 2013

31 May, 2013 Halley

So it’s May, the flag has gone down, days are dark, it’s cold and yes winter is well and truly here at Halley. What on earth do we do on these cold dark days and how do we keep motivated you may ask. I’m sure regular readers of these diaries and those researching our prior years will be familiar with the activities on station. Generally these are fairly much the same year to year. Of course the fancy dress nights differ and opportunities for a great photo of an aurora is as erratic as herding cats.

One significant difference however is that Halley VI is still in its infancy and we have additional buildings this year. As with any new house things take time to settle and believe me I have moved the crockery so many times I really don’t know anymore the best place to put it! A workshop has been added this summer to our collection of buildings and the Field Assistant and Technical Services team are still settling into the facility. I have a foggy memory of having more time in previous winters but we are all still very busy around station and I can see this now as a pattern for the future. You could say therefore that the month of May has been full of work which consists of job specific duties, cooking, cleaning duties, evening watch, training activities and other random ‘all hands on deck’ jobs the WBC dreams up. No one has complained of being bored yet! Another factor in the back of people’s minds is the ever-famous winter present and much scurrying and hiding is occurring in the evenings as we all frantically try to shape a piece of wood or some other material into an object of beauty to present to somebody at Midwinter.

We often talk in these diaries about the activities on station but may forget to mention the people. Winter teams at all the stations are a mixture of people who are here for a number of reasons and will endeavour to make the most of this chance to work in such an extraordinary environment and help deliver world class science. I would like to take the opportunity to paint the picture of how a Halley winter team operates to give an impression of the significance of all those involved in being on this station.

In the past but less so now, it was common for winter staff to sign up for a 34 month contact and hence you would be expected to stay here for 2 winters and 3 summers without a break away from the ice. All of our winter team here this year at Halley are looking at just one winter and two summers (except our Field Assistant and Doctor) so a shorter period but still by no means an easy feat. Leaving in Oct/Nov/Dec of 2012 we don’t expect to be back in the real world until Feb/March 2014 and this is a big commitment to make. So what is a winter team made up of? Well for Halley we have 13 here this winter as follows; Andy (Chef), James (Doctor), Ian (Field General Assistant), Nick (Vehicle Mechanic), Mark (Generator Mechanic), Jon (Electrician), Jimmy (Plumber), Paul (Communications Manager), Jonas (Data Manager), Holger (Meteorologist), Hamish (Science Engineer), Christoph (Science Engineer), Agnieszka (Winter Base Commander).

Each and every one of these individuals is essential to keep the station and the science running 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. If a problem arises we have the team here to fix it. We can’t call in a service technician (can you imagine the call out charge!) or pop into your local store to get a part so we are fully reliant on the skills and knowledge we have within the team. With a variety of backgrounds here on station we have a great resource to problem solve and many discussions during meal times will revolve around trying to find solutions by getting input from others. Most of it goes over my head when it’s highly technical but I am still learning lots by listening.

The science team have a number of experiments to look after and with 6 cabooses, a laboratory, an underground shaft, various arrays of antennas, towers and stakes they are constantly on the move keeping everything running and feeding the data back to Cambridge. Weather here in the winter plays havoc with many of the instruments and build-up of rime or hoar frost requires a visit to remove it. This doesn’t always fall between Monday to Friday in work hours and often in the weekend there is plenty of activity. The same rings true for the science alarms. Frequently these will go off just as one sits down to eat lunch!

Life support as you may imagine is quite important. With no power we would struggle through the winter to survive. Living in tents for 9 months doesn’t really appeal though we could do it. Food is not an issue and we have fuel for stoves and lighting but I suspect the mental/emotional/physical challenge would be extremely testing. But we are lucky to have a generator mechanic who looks after our 4 generators on station and we have a couple of spares out on the winter storage line. Thanks to our power supply we can melt snow for water, light, heat and vent the buildings, power the science and communications, and run the external buildings such as garage and workshops amongst other things. The Technical Services team are also kept busy with overseeing the running and responding to any faults that occur. Again, like the science equipment, technical faults are indiscriminate and will occur at any time day or night and we are not likely to leave a leaky tap until morning. Not when you have had to dig the snow for water!

As I sit here and type I am able to drink my tea (from water made by snow) melted, treated and pumped to the urn. The urn, the fridge, the lights to light my way to my office, the heat, my computer are all powered by our generators. The intranet pages I can look at to see the weather at present and other science experiments is maintained by the science team. Allowing the contact with the outside world and importantly in emergencies to Cambridge is given by the Comms and IT facilities. Pushing snow into the melt tank to give me my cup of tea is done by the bulldozer and in these cold conditions the vehicle mechanic has his work cut out. Oh and the diggers too! Of course I am sitting here with a full belly and our chef not only produces a variety of food to keep us healthy and happy but also has to delicately manage our food stocks to ensure an even spread throughout the winter and minimise any shortages. As you can see, we aren’t all just sitting around and any travel or field orientated activities leads me to our experienced Field Assistant who in the cold dark months is stuck with the maintenance of kit.

What do we do in the cold months and how do we keep motivated? I’m sure now you have some answers. We are busy with our jobs which can be at all hours, we are busy keeping general upkeep of the station and we take the time to socialise, relax, go the gym or simply soak up the experience.

Thanks to all the winterers present and past.


Agnieszka Fryckowska