Halley Diary — September 2007

30 September, 2007

One of the great secrets of the Halley winter is that the period after the end of permanent darkness is filled with bad weather. While the fresh-faced eager first year winterers were all ready to rush out and dig, the shrewd individuals spending their second year here were not surprised when the winds picked up and plagued the month with bad weather.

The big focus of the last couple of months that has involved everyone on base in some capacity has been two science projects, studying low level (tropospheric) ozone and its depletion during the Antarctic spring both on and off base. (This is distinct from the high level (stratospheric) ozone, whose depletion in the Antarctic leads to the ozone hole). There have been plenty of late nights and weekends worked to either prepare instruments or capture these fleeting ozone depletion events.

However, the bad weather has taken its toll on both these projects- the ‘blimp’ flights and the work at Precious Bay. At the latter, 15km east from Halley on the coast, an unmanned laboratory, involving both analytical instruments and wind turbines to power them, took a battering during the prolonged high winds that plagued the month.

However, the major casualty of the persistent gale force winds was the weather haven. Every free hand on base turned out to prevent the whole tent-like structure being blown apart at the height of the bad weather. Fortunately, with a few days intensive repair work the structure is as solid if not more and a blimp (all be it the reserve one), is flying again.

Life, including all the science that goes on here, can seem very easy when things are going well and that is as much a testament to all the work that goes on both here and in the UK, along with the vast experience of BAS and many individuals to make it seem so. However, the last month or so comes as a shock as it is a reminder of how difficult weather can make living in the Antarctic, let alone running large-scale science, particularly in the winter time.

Along with all the work for the science projects, the increasing daylight and temperatures makes outdoor work more feasible. A couple of the major routes off base are marked with empty fuel drums every few hundred metres to make navigation safer in low visibility conditions, as it is now warm enough to start the Sno-Cats, it has meant a chance to get out and raise them before they bury completely.

Work is also ramping up in preparation for the arrival of the first handful of people arriving next month as the vanguard of the large influx for the summer and the start of the Halley VI build. This includes awakening the vehicles one-by-one from their winter hibernation followed by a major overhaul in the garage.

With Ant (Z-Chef) still reigning supreme in the kitchen and managing to cook great food despite dwindling ingredients (the harsh realities of living in the Antarctic kicked home this month with the demise of the stocks of tomato ketchup), Thursday and Sunday are turned over to someone else to give him a day off. These range from Tamsin’s (Z-Met) cheese based menus to Mark’s (Z-Electrician) Thai creations involving several days prep.

Bad weather also led to the resurrection of cine nights as Andy (Z-Plant Mech), dusted off the cine projector and with a couple of long days of loving care to both it and some of the films which had become so brittle they had snapped, there was a chance to watch again various films that have accumulated on the base in its 50 year lifetime.

The SHARE radar dominates the southern half of the base, keeping a 24 hour watch on the upper atmosphere as part of a collaborative network, though this month was marked by some special experiments running on it in conjunction with an identical radar at one of the Australian Antarctic stations. One evening was also given over to Science talks as the Piggott and Simpson teams attempted to explain how all the work here fits into the wider understanding of atmospheric science, leaving as Alex put it ‘most people moderately more confused as to the role of the ionosphere than before’.

The most exciting part of September has been, however, the start of the post-winter field trips. Intended partly as field training and partly as a holiday, their best aspect is simply getting away from base for a few days and a change of scenery.

Sledge Golf (Tom, Alex, Dave & Sune), made the most of the few dingle days in the month to explore the Rumples, the area of the Brunt ice shelf anchored to subterranean hills. Peppered with crevasses there were plenty of opportunities to explore crevasses and practise rope work.

While the first sledge party enjoyed clear days with the average temperature less than -30°C for the whole period they were out and spent most of it in pyramid tents, Sledge Hotel (Chris, Sune and I) took the warmer and more comfortable option of staying in the caboose at Windy.

The decision not to camp out was partly determined by the weather but we were fortunate to enjoy a couple of excellent days down on the sea ice with the penguins, whose chicks are now starting to form crèches and stray with impunity from the safety of their parents’ feet. Excitingly, penguins were not the only birds we saw, as Snow and Antarctic petrels both made fleeting appearances for the first time since March.

As ever, there were birthdays to celebrate and Halley has a reputation to maintain for enjoying ourselves. Fortunately, there were just enough weekends in the month for each party. Neil (Z- Atmospheric Chemist) celebrated his with a ‘Greek Gods’ party, leading to a surfeit of bed sheets in the bar.

September also featured my 30th birthday and missing London as I do occasionally, the theme was London tube stations, an event not quite as grand as Ant’s ice cave to celebrate his 30th last month.

However, the most talked about party night was undoubtedly Jules’ (Z- Electronics Engineer) party and the source of some particularly disturbing videos. For one night, Tamsin and Kirsty found themselves as not the only women on base or at least in appearance, with some definitely more convincing than others.

Following up on our decisive victory at darts against Rothera, we unfortunately lost equally heavily to the wintering four man team on Bird Island, though the webcam trained at their darts board was mysteriously out-of-focus.

With September and the darkness disappearing fast behind us, the nights at the end of the month see the sun disappear increasingly briefly. By this time next month, all being well the first plane should have passed through and the winter will be effectively over. With it will hopefully be post, fresh vegetables and our first outside human contact for over 8 months.

Though every group of people living together have their ups and downs, we have had a great winter on base. For when it comes time to leave here, it will not only be the place with its sense of space and uninterrupted skyline but also the people that I shall miss.

Best wishes to all at home and abroad

Richard Corbett

With thanks to all those who contributed photos (Tom- TS, Dave- DVE, Tamsin- TG, Sune- STB, Ant- AD, Kirsty- KS and Mark- MW along with my own- RWC).