Friday, December 30, 2005

Relief 05/06

I know relief is over now, but I thought I'd write a little about it since it's the busiest and perhaps the strangest time on base.

The RSS Ernest Shckleton at N9. Photo taken by me.

It's the time when the RRS (Royal Research Ship) Ernest Shackleton visits the base to deliver the cargo and pax (people) needed for the following summer and winter seasons. The ship normally comes in around Christmas time, purely because that is generally the optimum time for the sea-ice to still be there for the ship to moor up to- but not too much that it has to take a lot of time and fuel to break it's way through. I should mention at this point that it has been known for the ship not to get in at all (because of too much sea-ice). This year there wasn't enough... The ice all broke out a couple of weeks before the ship got here, but we always have a fall-back plan of N9. No-one knows why it's called N9, but this is a place on the Brunt Ice-shelf where the ship can moor up on the sea/shelf ice (ie. a permanent bit of semi-sea-ice that has a gradual track down to the normal sea-ice). 2nd Relief (end of February) last year was at N9 too. The problem with N9 is that it's 50km away, which takes 6 hours to drive by sno-cat. Ideally relief is at Creek 2 (see ice-climbing blog) which is only 12km (or 1 hour) away.

During relief there's a bunch of people at the base end (winterers + management + essential pax like radio ops, chefs and pilots), and a bunch of people at the ship end (field assistance, new winterers + summer pax + all the ship's crew). The objective of relief is to move all of the incoming cargo (fuel, food, steel, equipment, personal boxes, tea, beer, envelopes) off the ship onto base, and move all of the outgoing cargo (waste, old equipment, ex-winterers belongings) from the base to the ship. So everyone goes onto either a nightshift 2000 -> 0800 or a dayshift 0800 -> 2000 and there's a number of different jobs you could be assigned. Because of my job (Meteorologist) I didn't get much of a choice. There always needs to be a MetBabe (as we're known) on standby at the base- for air-observations for our plane or incase a foreign plane comes in, so we need two people to cover the 24 hours. Ness took days and I took nights, (though we have 24 hours of sunlight). Normally I would have an opportunity to help with unloading the sledges etc, but because of the lack of sea-ice a 2nd call for cargo isn't guaranteed. Infact we've all assumed that when the ship gets in in late February it won't pick anything up bar all of the ex-winterers and summerers ready to go home. So I had the newly refurbished Dobson Ozone Spectrophotometer to deal with.

Two Dobson Ozone Spectrophotometers. Out of focas photo... taken by me.

The one on the ceiling- the 103 is outgoing, the one on the trolley - the 073 is incoming. These instruments are passive optical instruments that measures the total amount of ozone in a column straight up through the whole atmosphere. A measurement requires sunlight (either direct or scattered light at the zenith) so only observations using reflections off the moon can be done during the winter months. Measurements are made by comparing the intensities of pairs of wavelengths of ultra violet light. This is the part of the electromagnetic spectra that ozone absorbs. This instrument, and others in Antarctica were the reason we found out about the hole in the ozone layer 20 years or so ago. The 073 has been totally (electronically) refurbished and so doesn't take half of the PSU's and other electric faff that the 103 required. It's also been re-aligned and is generally at the peak of it's performance (all oiled and squeak free). I found the noise reduction from the 103 to the 073 so welcoming that I (Simon helped the tinniest amount!!) replaced the noisy hard-drive that's been driving me made for the last few months with a normal noise free one. So, this new Dobson (as it's called) has to be calibrated and tested to make sure it wasn't damaged in the sail down from Britain. Fortunately we had a few days of totally cloud free skys (not very common), so myself on nights and Ness on days took an observation off each instrument every 30minutes (obs take 5 mins each, so we got pretty bored of this pretty quickly). I also spent two nights running various lamp tests using lights with known, fixed wavelengths to check each instrument. I'm happy to say that the handover went well- and I look forward to reading the next handover report on someone's weblog in 15 years time.

So relief this year (for everyone else anyway) was mainly about sno-cat driving. We had 3 cats going from here to the half-way mast (not really half-way) with two people in each, and then another three going from the ship to the mast. That's not including the slightly older cats and more experienced drivers on the sea-ice taking the sledges up onto the ice-shelf. A lot of people put in some very boring driving hours for 8 days. Having said that I'm going to volunteer for that job next relief.

The Sno-cat convoy taken from the air... who by? not me.

Christmas was during relief again this year. It was very much uncelebrated by most- I had a few presents to open that had very nicely timed come in from the ship that day (thankyou), and we all sat down for Christmas dinner - even though it was at 8am... but still. Christmas is great.

Christmas dinner 2005. Taken by Simon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Flying to A80

On Saturday I got to go flying!!!
DJ Max, Simon and of course Ian the pilot and I flew 3 hours to the AGO (Automated Geophysical Observertory) site at A80 (it's at 80degress and 57minutes South). Our job there was to decomision the hut that had previously held all of the Geophysical loggeres for the instruments around the caboose.
The best thing about going there was that I got to co-pilot. In Antarctica we always fly with a co-pilot (whether we've got any flying experience or not). The co-pilot is there incase we have to over-night in the field so there would be two people to put up a tent and such. The best thing about co-piloting is that you get the best view.

Photo of me in the co-pilot seat with the Shackleton mountains in the background... Photo by the Pilot Ian Potten...

So, we were there to do a job. That is- to decomission a caboose (hut) that's been holding scientific equipment, which is now unfunded... and here we leave only footprints. Though the question of how much polution was caused by the two flights needed to carry all the waste back isn't a factor that the Antarctic Treaty Board (or whatever they're called) thinks about.

The Caboose before we emptied it and tore it appart bit by bit.

During decomisioning. The caboose was designed especially to fit into an aircraft. The walls all came off in sections.

The job done. Well we ended with piles of waste and a big hole. Only one plane though, so it'll take a few trips to take it all back.

The Shackleton Mountains taken from the back of the plane on the way back... perfect light... beautiful!!!

So, after 3 hours flying there, 6 hours hard labour and then 3 hours on the plane back I was quite happy to sit down to a saved plate of Christmas dinner. Halley's great.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Getting Warmer!!!

Summer is well and truely on it's way. It's been so hot that we've been recorded temperatures as high as + 1 deg C!!! The first BAS plane got in on Monday the 5th of December, and we all greeted the new FIDS with great big smiles.
Below: The Twin Otter taxi-ing from the ski-way.

Above: The passengers greet the base members for the first time in 10 months.

The best thing about this plane coming in was that it brought fresh food and post. It was great receiving the small packages and letters I got, Ta very much. (Thank you Lizzy and Mike for the wedding invitation, but I don't think I could make it).

As for the fresh food- I think it was Rothera's left-overs, though we can't complain.... there's nothing like a fresh crunchy apple... yum.

The next day another plane came in (the same type) with Ian the Pilot (who will be with us all season), and Simon who's next year's wintering GA. He's just done a winter at Rothera and, I'm happy to say, is very enthusiastic about next winter (he's also attempting to teach me how to play Bridge).

But alas with such happiness as news from the outside world and new faces to talk to, it meant that it was time for Gareth (the outgoing wintering Vehicle Mechanic) and Jamie (the outgoing wintering Plumber) had to leave on one of the planes. It was a horribly mank day when they left, but Gareth looked pretty pleased (he's been here since January 2004- and wasn't expecting to do last winter).

Below: Gareth in the Happy Sledge... looking happy. And surprisingly not driving for a change.

Above: Jim Co-piloting his flight home via Sky Blue, Fossil Bluff and Rothera. Then taking the Dash-7 to the Falklands and then a RAF flight to the UK via the Ascension Islands).

Last week we had a blow (windspeeds up from 20knots blow the settled snow up and about so you can't see very much). This combination of high windspeeds and relatively wam weather meant that all of the sea ice surrounding our ice-shelf as been blown away. It's good and bad news all round (mainly bad).

1: It means that the ship can't moor nearby, so we have to do a relief from N9 (more than 6 hours of snowcat driving each way).

2: No more ice-climbing this season.

3: All this year's chicks will have died.

Jeff was able to take some photos of some Penguins at Windy Bay (on his way back from A84 (a remote site at 84degrees South))- just think... a few weeks ago Sledge Geriatric were walking about on the sea-ice... we watched the chicks grow up from eggs, and now they'll all be dead.

Below : A few adults resting in what is left of the coast.

Above: A pack of Emperors doing their best to stay out of the seal infested water. Photo by Jeff Cohen from a moving aircraft

So, I'm getting busier by the day. There's heaps of things I want to get done and dusted before the ship gets here (both personal stuff, like pack a box of things to go home, move pit-rooms for the summer, and finish off my winter projects) and for work (de-commission MAWSON (done), and get the rest of the out-going cargo ready for the ship).

I hope to write more, but now you know my excuses.... keep emailing.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ice Climbing

Originally uploaded by BrynJ.

Jamie, Simon, Bryn and I were taken out for a suberb day of ice climbing by Ian (our qualified field guide).

We drove an hour in a snowcat to get to creek 2 caboose only to find that the wind was stronger there than back at base. The wind was above 10 knots and coming from the East so there was risk of the sea ice being pushed out by the wind. This means we weren't alowed on the sea-ice, so we couldn't wander about and have a look inside ice-caves and visit the penguins... but I've seen penguins before, and that's not what we were here to do. I was interested in ice-climbing and we could still legally do this, as long as we were always tied onto a rope.

So, 100foot cliffs, two ice axes a set of crampons and a rope attatched so you can be b-layed from the top (just in case- ice is slippery!!). We had two ropes set up (held by a series of snowstakes wedged into the snow at the top). One rope was for abseiling down on, and one was for ice-climbing up. That's how Bryn was able to get this awsome photo of me. Ta.

The climb was a bit of an effort, I didn't have much confidence in my crampons holding, but I managed it... and am eager to do it again, another day.
(L) Simon making it look easy.

(R) Me at the bottom, the sun's been shinning on the cliffs to improve their iceness. In the background is a pile of snow that used to be on that slumping ice-cliff.

(Top Right) Me making it look difficult.... great fun!