Halley Diary — September 2013

30 September, 2013 Halley

With the ever-increasing light and (occasionally) improving weather, September felt like we were truly beginning to leave winter behind. Although the true start of the summer season is not until the first people arrive in November, we found ourselves with a lot of work to do outside recovering from the ravages of winter weather, and beginning to focus more and more on preparing ourselves for the summer season.

A lot of this is simply dealing with all the snow that has accumulated over the winter. For example, the catenaries that provide power and signals feeding many of the science experiments (such as the SuperDARN Radar, MF Radar and VLF antennae), slowly get closer and closer to the snow surface throughout the year and have to be raised before they completely bury.

Similarly, all the flag lines that run from the station out to the science cabooses and other distant areas of the site are also slowly buried by accumulation. The flags are simply bamboo canes with a small flag tied and taped to the top, and the strong winds throughout the year cause a lot of these to become a little rag fluttering in the breeze. As the flags are essential for finding ones way out to (or more importantly, back from) the cabooses in poor visibility conditions, these have to be raised and replaced regularly.

A storm earlier in the year had also caused significant damage to the Very Low Frequency (VLF) antenna, an experiment which, among other things, studies what is happening in the upper atmosphere by listening to how it effects the transmission of electromagnetic pulses created by lightening around the world. Strong winds cause one of the looped antenna to break, and the improving light and warming temperatures of September brought the first chance we had had to start repairing it. As the Nodwell crane was being de-winterized and entering into operation again, the ‘man-basket’ could be attached to give us access to the top of the antenna. Christoph, the science engineer in charge of this experiment, could then begin preparing the new antenna and fittings for installation.

Between the 9th and 11th of September we had the strongest blow of the year; winds approaching 70 kts, with gusts nearing 90 kts! Unsurprisingly, this had a reasonably effect on base life with travel restrictions causing an interruption to our normal working routine (not that any of us would really have wanted to be outside in that — even if we could stay standing, the visibility was a matter of just a few meters). Even crossing the bridge to the ‘science end’ of the station had to be stopped.

Fortunately, it didn’t disrupt work for too long. Many of us could continue with a lot of our work remotely, and those that couldn’t busied themselves with station duties. Or watched Columbo.

Speaking of Columbo, for a number of us, he has featured prominently this winter having slowly (or not so slowly) working our way through every single episode, including the pilot shows! Our mechanic, Nick ‘Curly’ Gregory, decided to share his appreciation of the disheveled detective by organizing a Columbo-themed murder mystery night. After weeks of preparation, which left us very worried Curly was close to cracking under the strain of keeping secrets and plotting murders, he presented us with our characters and we turned up in fancy dress. Amongst others, we had a warlord of indistinct nationality, a Russian temptress/assassin, a churchman with an interesting reputation, and a doctor of dubious training and morals (whereas our actual doctor, of course, has excellent training…).

As the night progressed, secrets were revealed, motives examined, and people accused, all watched over and guided by Columbo himself, thanks to some clever editing. Accusations often lead to duels to allow the accused to defend their honour, played out at the dartboard or on the pool table. The plot took numerous twists and grew in complexity and deviousness, revealing why Curly was showing signs of strain during its creation. The night culminated in a chaotic spree of poisonings, shootings and stabbings that left just a few people alive. One of the better Saturday nights of the winter!

The end of September also brought the first of the second round of winter training trips, where we head out into the field to explore, and also to increase our knowledge and experience of living and working away from base. Here, once again, we had to deal with the effects of a long winter, with much of the equipment we needed being buried by blowing snow.

Christoph and I were led by Ian to visit the McDonald Ice Rumples, a heavily crevassed and interesting area. The winter weather had not quite left, and for the first two nights in the tent the temperature was close to −40°C! We kept warm enough in our sleeping bags (and numerous layers of clothes), but we all experienced being woken up by incredibly cold noses! We had an excellent trip, walking at the bottom of large chasms and picking routes through large jumbles of ice, but Ian himself will describe the trips in more detail in the October diary.