Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pee Collecting and Exhibitions

A friend excitedly rang me up the other day to tell me that she'd just been around an exhibition of our base (Halley V) on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh. This was showing art work produced by Simon Faithful (follow the link for his website) on the Artists and Writers program.

All of these drawings were done by Simon Faithful and so any copyright belongs to him. Please contact him if you want a copy. 1. Snow at Halley 2. Someone walking to the Simpson platform (something I do two or three times a day).

He came down from the Falklands on the ship (the Shackleton) with me in my incoming summer (04/05). We stopped at Signy on the South Orkneys and Bird Island, KEP, Grytviken, Husvik and Stromness on South Georgia. Then he stayed at Halley during relief doing various 'artist type' things like letting a balloon off with a figure attached to it, wandering around and drawing. Then he left with the ship again for the outward journey. I quite enjoyed having him with us, with all the 'working' men like the ship's crew and the steel erectors about it was nice to have someone else sitting, reflecting and taking it all in and then seeing what was of note to him from his drawings.

3. Post on the pool table (I look forward to December when they'll be our next post due in) and finally... 4. A drawing of me lying on the ship deck asleep- very hungover. While we were on the ship, he showed us a lot of other really cool projects that he'd worked on. They'll all be linked from the site too.

The artist and writers program is when two artists win a grant to come down to one of the bases for the Austral summer. They do various things like from writing symphonies using seal farting noises to strapping a GPS to themselves and walking around a base. For anyone that's interested in applying for the grant here's the link, but I think the date's up for this years applications. Next time though?

So that brings me nicely onto pee-collecting. This is to do with the doctor's MSc who has chosen to study the relationship with sleep patterns and light. The opportunity to study human behaviour here is very unique and I'm surprised that BAS doesn't push for more done. It is all voluntary and this one isn't too intrusive so most of us are taking part. We wear 'actiwatches' which measure the amount of light and movement to our wrists. I think it must measure the acceleration and not total movement. Every week we have the data downloaded and Vicky can work out which days we slept in. We also keep a sleep diary so she knows if we were dozing, sleeping or drunkenly unconscious. On this one we give a subjective view of how well we slept. So what's this got to do with urine I hear you ask??
Well, every month we need to record our levels of ???? which you can measure in the pee. So first we have to pee into a jug and record the total amount, then every 4 hours we take a 5ml sample of that and throw the rest down the loo. We do this for 48hours every month. What we're assaying for in urine is 6-sulphatoxymelatonin (aMT6s) - a metabolite of melatonin, the day/night hormone. It's to do with circadian rhythms and all that.
We also do an intense pee sampling campaign when we're going onto, are on and coming off nightshift (once every 16 weeks) to see if the ease of which to come on and off nightshifts is different here than in the UK. We'll have our blood sampled later in the year, as well as a few psychological questionaires to determine if we're night or day people and if we're getting more low through the year.
It's all very interesting and isn't too troublesome. Can't wait to tell if I'm a early or late person... genetically I mean. See if I'm going with or against the grain.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sledge Buttercup

I've just come back from my annual 'pre-winter' trip. This means 10 days of Antarctic Travel, camping, skidooing about, abseiling, crevasses and all that. Excellent fun and sanity saving.

Photo of Anto, Simon (eating ice-crystals) and me inside a crevasse. Photo taken by Nicola.

Unfortunately it's weather dependent. Need I remind you that I live on the windiest, coldest, dryest continent on Earth (though it DOES snow here).

DAY 1: Stuck on base. Very windy. Gale force winds. A small amount of inside packing done. Go through some rope skills.

DAY 2: Still stuck on base. Not so windy, but still too bad to drive in. More rope work done. All sledges packed and ready to go.

Photo of Nicola finishing tying up the sledge.

These are Nansen Sledges, made of Ash and are very flexible. We tow one sledge each behind our skidoos (doos). We then link pairs of skidoos up to increase our safety in crevassed areas. On them we carry everything we need including food, medical suplies, sleeping units, radios, tents, fuel for cooking, warmth and the skidoos and spares for the skidoos. We have a lot more stuff than we need- but you never know how long you might get stuck out there for.

DAY 3: 9am rise and leaving by 10:30. A gorgeous 4 hour ride to 2nd Chasm camp. There we spend a couple of hours putting up our tents, refuelling doos and then putting them under tarps. Then we had a cup of tea and some dinner. Then we went through another small amount of rope work, and retired to Simon and Anto's tent for the radio sched.

Photo of Simon and Anto's tent at night, taken by Anto.

DAY 4: A great day out to the local wind scoop. This location offers a few small crevasses, an overhang and varying slopes to practice our rope, boot and crampon work on. It was all good fun and it's great to have a refresher on everything. Anto and I have done most of this before but Nicola hadn't so she did really well to learn so much in a day. Just doing stuff like this is fun- it doesn't matter how many times I do it. We went back to the tents for bacon sandwiches and a warm up at lunch, and were absolutely exhausted by the evening radio sched(20:00).

Photo of me just after I'd abseiled down, taken by Anto.

Nic ice-picking out a ladder for herself. The campsite is in the background.

Series of Anto jumarring out of a crevasse. Click on the image to make it larger.

DAY 5: The plan (now that we were all trained) was to go out the next day into the wilds of the hinge zone (only named since I haven't ventured that way yet). But alas- the weather wasn't favourable. It was Nicolas Birthday so we spent the afternoon in the boy's tent playing cards, chatting and drinking various warming beverages.

DAY 6: Leaving day... but the contrast was bad again!!! So another day of lazing in tents... it's some life- but someone's got to do it. A 10 hour bridge game went on today- 13:00 till 23:00, with regular dinner, tea, radio and pee breaks.

DAY 7: Awoke to good contrast (alas) and the full moon out beautifully framed by the door (07:15). We quickly put on the water for breakfast (hot musily) and tea (coffee for Nic), and cooked the rest of the bacon while we were at it.
There's a dilema when you're camping in the field that, since we were only alotted 7 days to fit our holiday into (including 2 days of travelling there and back) you could be out there for months- worst case. I think the record's 40 odd days. So do you eat all of your bacon straight away, or save it for days you'll actually be at base for?
Anyway, it was a beautiful morning. I didn't take any photos since it was one of those 'couldn't do it justice' moments. Low ground fog in the chasms between the frozen in bergs, diamond dust everywhere, a big sun pillar, halo and sun dogs. Just had to be there I'm afraid.
It took us until 10:00 to be ready to leave, which is pretty good going. Then it took us only another 3 hours to drive back to base. We only just beat the looming altocumulus that crept in from the west. Which was good- can you imagine having to stop and set up camp all over again, just after taking it all down? Not fun.

So- Sledge Buttercup (not sure who came up with that name)- excellent fun. Only away for 5 days- was wanting more....

Contrast Explained: The ease with which features on a snow surface can be defined. eg: footprints, skidoo tracts, sastrugi.
Reduced contrast is generally caused by thickenning cloud. The cloud diffuses the available sunlight as the light bounces up and down and all over the place making it impossible to distingish features in the snow. It also reduces with falling snow. If the snow is drifting or blowing we won't be travelling either.

You can describe it as nil contrast, poor, moderate or good.
Nil: Footsteps and undulations are indiscernible at more than a few paces.
Poor: Skidoo tracks, etc become indistinct at more than 50 meters.
Moderate: Skidoo tracks, etc become indistinct at more than a few kilometers.
Good: Surface features clearly defined as far as the eye can see.

We were looking at somewhere between nil and nil to poor while we were tent bound and moderate to good when we left.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Beginnings of Winter

The winter has begun, everyone else has left, we are all on our own....

If someone gets hurt- the Doctor is here to fix them. If they need more help we'll have to ask other countries who might still have planes/ships running. I suspect it would require a US Hercules.
If a building burns down we have others to live in.
If the ice-shelf breaks off.. well there's plans, but none of them are ideal. Lets just hope it doesn't happen.
And we are on our own.

We are 16 winterers. A mixed bunch, all from different backgrounds and we've all done a unique set of jobs and qualifications to get here.

The 2006 winterers. Photo set up by Bob Pratt (we're not in the right order for my list).

We are an Electrician (Mark), Carpenter (Liz), Plumber (Brian), Generator Mechanic (Bob), Vehichle Mechanic (Anto), Chef (Nicola), Field Assistant (Simon), Communications Manager (Dave), Base Commander (John), Doctor (Vicki), 2 Electronic Engineers (Julius and Chris), Data Manager (Alex) and 3 Meteorological Observers (Andy, Kirsty and Myself, Frances).

We are the 2006 Halley Bay Wintering Team.

Winter Meal

Our winter started with a fantastic meal prepared by Nicola, who was (and still is) trying to strike a fine balance between keeping the fresh food as long as possible, and not letting it go to waste. It was on a Mexican theme since we'd been sent so many peppers and avacados.. and it was tasty.

The dinner table with Andy, Jools, Dave and Vicki.

It was a good introduction to each other and was a lot of fun. Most of the team had trained in Cambridge together- on various courses and meetings. Simon and I had not been in the UK during this time (Simon's just come from Rothera), so we hadn't really met as a 'team' before now.
Saying that we've got 10 months to get to know each other.

During the day we had had the famous 'room swap' to deal with. Fortunately for me, tradition says that 2nd winterers get first pick of the rooms. But to my dismay it's previous owners had left it in a bit of a state! It took me three days of cleaning and fumigating before I moved in... and it still smells...

We also picked who we would be making Mid-winter presents for. This tradition is quite fun, since everyone has to make something for one other person and we give them to each other on Mid-winter day (June 21st- essentially our Christmas). Who you have is also a big secret - so don't tell anyone, but I have to make something for *******.

Melt Tank Party
Another tradition that we have here is to have an annual Melt Tank Party.
This involves a bunch of drunk, de-hydrated people sitting in what was the summer accommodation's water supply. It's a lot of fun- and very cramped. And it happens to be my annual bath as well.

Kirsty, Vicki and Nic. She's trying to open a bottle of wine with steamed up glasses. Good effort all round.

We managed 13 in the 5'x5'x7' tub.

I suppose I should mention why we're able to do this. Well- first of all instead of the 70 or so people in the summer season, there's only 16 of us now. This means that the summer accommodation building (the Drewry) can e shut down over the winter to save fuel. It's been designed for this. But- since it's left to get cold all of the water needs to be drained out of all of the systems. So the meltank would have needed to be cleaned and emptied anyway.

So the winter begins...