Halley Diary — November 2007

30 November, 2007 Halley

Thump – Thump – Splash’ > Good
‘Thud’ > Bad

Leaving aside the strange title of this diary, November has been a pretty eventful month for the Halley crew. We have had a great winter and so it is with a tinge of sadness, mixed with excitement, that we came to the end of our winter season. I was going to spend some time writing about ‘Winter 2007’ at Halley, but so much has happened, where would I start. The web diaries we have written over the last eight months hopefully give you some insight into our lifestyle at Britain’s most remote Ice Station. Inevitably it cannot come close to painting the whole picture. For a true impression of the Antarctic you have to be here. Each station is different and each season has its own characteristics. The work, the laughs, the friendships, the cold, the winds and the amazing optical phenomenon, are all special to those of us who have wintered over in Antarctica. We wear our ‘Winter 2007’ badges with pride. Well we will when the ship comes in, bringing the T-shirts and badges the winter team designed.

I cannot put into the words how proud I am of this winter team, so I’m not going to. They know how it was and will tell their own stories in their own way to friends and family. What I am going to try and do is to write about how we adapt to the new season. Wintering is tough, no doubt about it. Mentally you are isolated with a team who initially were strangers, now no longer. Physically the outdoor jobs always seem to require more physical action with a shovel than you planned for. Most tasks need more than one person; you need a pal to help. We have been through the change to 24 hour daylight and that can affect your ability to rest and recover. The summer work this season will be hard too. We have the start of the Halley Six build. Regular readers of this web page will hopefully follow the story.

Personally as the Antarctic winter comes to a close, I owe a great debt of gratitude to those of my friends who stayed in touch, supporting me via email. They know who they are, and I will thank them all in 2008. I’m sure the rest of the Halley team feel the same. It seems entirely appropriate that my god daughter featured in the operation that ended ‘Winter 2007’ at Halley.

People say that it is proper for a lady to turn up fashionably late for a party and make a grand entrance. We were looking forward to the arrival of Vicky, the Halley Base Commander; she might be bringing fresh fruit and mail after all. I’m sure there were good operational reasons why the arrival of the first plane was delayed by a couple of days, but it would be nice to think that it was designed to heighten our excitement and sense of anticipation. There is a slight complaint about her turning up at 0530 in the morning, when it was -30C and bitter, but we are the Halley winter team and we can cope with anything. Nearly all of us were out of bed and heading up to the prepared skiway to meet the aircraft. As this occasion was the first time for eight months we have met any one else, the whole day was pretty special. What especially made me smile was the name of the aircraft, ‘Lidia’. Named after Lidia Meadows obviously, so it was great to know that she was with us on the day.

The next few days for me were taken up with the detailed business of handing the station over to Vicky. Then I move out of the BC’s small office and try to find a smaller corner of Dean’s radio room to work in. Further aircraft arrivals have brought in the rest of the summer staff and so we are all being eased out of our winter roles. Then we start struggling with the novelty of other people taking over our work spaces and sharing our rooms.

The science work continues through the transition period, I managed to escape the paperwork and head out to help the Met team dig up the Automatic Weather Station which was becoming slowly buried by the snow accumulation. Tom sensibly headed off station to continue his UAV project at Windy Caboose. He takes up the story:-

“November was also the month for UAV operations. After a long period of modifications and tests during last summer and a lot of patience during the winter, when the weather was too cold for flights, operations began at the end of October again. The UAV team (Tom, being supported mainly by Richard and Alex) made very good progress and acquired more and more meteorological data. Flights were performed on base for calibration but also to compare the UAV data with the sodar and mast data. The advantage of the UAV is that it can cover a larger area over a short time and can so provide representative area averages of meteorological values.

Flights were also performed off base using a Sno-Cat which was modified by the BAS vehicles section to act as ground station for the flights. In total 6 successful flights were done at Windy Bay to study turbulence and the energy transfer within the lower atmosphere over sea ice and shelf ice. The last flight was on 2nd of December leading to a total of 23 successful flights with meteorological data. Finally, the whole project became a great success and made BAS the first ever organisation who used autonomous UAVs in Antarctica to get meteorological data.”

Our other winter project studying atmospheric chemistry at Precious Bay has also finished and the instruments and caboose have been fetched back to the station. While there was the chance several people travelled out to examine the Halley Six site in preparation for summer projects.

Of course the continuing work by the technical services lads Jim, Mark and Brian keep the station operational, we also need to eat and Ant now shares his kitchen with Paddy and Alan. I’m still smiling after finding out that our new wintering chef used to work in a top gentleman’s club in London, the obvious choice for Halley then.

The daily work of digging snow for our water supply continues whatever the conditions. The lads driving a bulldozer help the digging teams now that the temperatures are generally warmer. Once in awhile the process goes wrong, I was out when the access tube to the melt tank blocked. Before we realised what had happened we had snow right up to the top. Strong language resulted. Blocking the melt tank usually occurs when the winds are strong and you cannot hear the ice and snow dropping into the water. Normally we always drop a hard chunk of snow down the shaft while listening to the sound. The shaft bends through two corners so you hear “Thump – Thump – Splash’. This means the tube is clear, if you hear just a ‘Thud’ the snow has hit a blockage, not so good. The only thing to do now is to get kitted up to head underground and clear the blockage. The technique is to start at the bottom of the shaft, opening the hatches and clearing the snow with shovels and ice chisels. It turned out to be a three and a half hour job, thanks to Jim, Neil, Tamsin and Ryan for helping.

For me there were a few things that really marked the change of season. Firstly and most important for the winter team we had to split up the big table in the dining room to accommodate more folks. We no longer sit together, which is quite significant. Now the clocks have been changed for air operation reasons. The result is that Halley is now three hours behind the UK. Our summer field science program has started and Sune the wintering Field GA headed out to lead an expedition to Dronning Maud Land.

We are all insanely jealous; he will be seeing rocks and mountains. These just don’t exist at Halley. Tamsin was rostered to assist the operation. How exciting are rocks Tamsin?

“ROCKS RULE! Sune and I were both jumping up and down in our seats at the first distant glimpse of a summit sticking up through the clouds on the horizon. That was nothing compared to the whole rocky ranges we were yet to fly through!

As if it wasn’t enough of a shock to see mountains rising up above the endless flat landscape I’ve become so accustomed to, I was even more taken aback by the scattering of colours other than white. I’d forgotten how the light catches the sides of peaks from different angles, painting them each a different shimmering shade of pink orange or yellow. Mountains, cliffs and crevasses flew past the plane window too fast for my camera to capture. As we swooped low between summits to recce Sune’s summer route, it was hard to believe it was real. I’d seen photos of scenes where the tops of mountains pierce the vast ice sheet of the Antarctic continent as if they were poking through the icing of a cake but to be in amongst it with a breathtaking panorama on all sides and knowing that hardly anyone had been there before was something else.

Luckily our mission involved getting up close and personal with a few of these stunning vistas. We had to lay depots of fuel and food for Sune to visit later during his summer to be spent meandering through mountains and criss-crossing his way across one of the largest ice streams in Antarctica, guiding a geologist giant. I couldn’t help but take photos of every nook and cranny. As you can see I got a little bit excited about being let loose in paradise:

I could easily go on for hours and I haven’t even touched upon my visits to Halley’s neighbouring Antarctic bases: Neumayer (German), Troll (Norwegian) and a fly by of Sanae (South African). When we arrived at Neumayer two lonely Emperor penguin chicks were wandering about right by the front door! It was fascinating seeing another way of life in the snow although more than anything though I was struck by similarities rather than differences. Thanks to our neighbours for welcoming us, see you at Halley soon I hope!”

Now the winter team has split up, Sune is gone; others leave on the first ship. The season moves on and new faces arrive. Les describes his first impressions.

A Fresh Winterers View!

“Having stepped cautiously off the aircraft hoping not to slip and be on the front page of the Halley Times before I had even got on the station, we were greeted by several enthusiastic members of Halley V. “Time for the BAS group hugs”. After being transported to the station on the “Happy Sledge” with baggage in hand we clambered up the steps of the Laws building, which was to be our home for the next 14 months or so. Walking through the building I was surprised at how warm, compact yet seemingly quite spacious it was at the moment! Having found my bunk and settled in, it was off to join the others. It was Saturday and party night. EXCELLENT! Time to chill out on Sunday, have a walk around and get my bearings. Having seen the videos, YouTube and various info dished out by BAS, the expanse of the Halley V amazed me, I expected the site to be more condensed than it actually was, the reason why was to become more apparent when we had our first white out later in the week. Wind tails!

Monday and the start of brain overload on building systems, handovers and essential tasking, to be completed before the ship’s arrive. By the end of the week my head is buzzing but I’m still grinning. I am fulfilling one of my dreams – I’m living and working in the Antarctic.”

The next diary will be describing a new season, the new folks will tell their story over the next few months, a warm welcome to them. Looking forward, there are adventures and travels to come. As for the 2007 crew our winter is over, we are proud of a job well done. If you meet someone who has wintered at Halley buy them a beer they deserve it.

Pete Milner
Winter Base Commander
Halley 2007

Thanks to Dave Evans, Sune Tamm-Buckle, Tamsin Gray, and Richard Burt for the photos.