Monday, September 11, 2006

Tour of The Simpson

The Ice and Climate Building is otherwise known as The Simpson Platform. It was named after Sir George Clarke Simpson who was a meteorologist with Scott (1910-1913) and later the Director of the Met Office (1920-1938).
The Simpson Platform looking North with the two Met Masts on the left.
This platform has four jackable legs, one set of stairs and a ladder at the back.
On the roof are various domes and antennas which we use to collect a variety of data.

It is where Kirsty, Andy and I work. We are the Met Team.

A Tour of The Simpson
As you come up the wobbly metal staircase you reach the small open platform. This has a wooden floor which we sweep regularly so the snow doesn't build up too much. On the platform we store a large collection of metal poles (you never know when they might be useful), a spare dome for tracking the balloon, unused air sampling flasks (MAKS), a few empty boxes (got to be careful they don't blow away), spare balloon dipping mix in a jerry can and a few other odds and ends. Also on the platform is the crane (which we tend to only use during relief), and an fuel tank which will be used to heat the Simpson during it's decommissioning.
The Simpson gets it's power and heat via a tunnel in the ice (30m) which links to the Laws Platform (main platform). Each of the platforms have a wooden horsebox which can be used to acess the tunnels. We also have ladder access to the roof from the platform.

Going through the door you'll see a corridor with the fire exit at the other end (11.5metres away). In the corridor are some quick Met equipment, Safety equipment and our jackets, boots etc.

Entering the Simpson.

If you were to turn right straight away you'd get to the Ozone Lab- so called cause this is where we keep the Dobson Ozone Spectrophotometer (or the Dobson for short). This is the instrument that discovered the hole in the ozone layer. Because the instruments (this one and the one at Faraday) are on the ground (ie. not on a satellite), the metbabes of old were able to do extra checks on the instruments to check that the readings they were getting weren't erroneous. It turns out that the instruments were fine and there was indeed an ozone hole appearing over Antarctica during every spring which then closes up before the summer. This is still happening and you can see this season's ozone measurements using this link.

The Ozone Lab with the Dobson Ozone Spectrophotometer (did I mention the Ozone hole?)

We also have a few other projects based in this small room. The first is turbidity. We get a few measurements done a year on very clear days during the summer. It measures stuff in the atmosphere that isn't water based, like volcanic dust.
The second is snow sampling. We dig a bucket of snow every week and wait for it to melt. Then we decant it into various bottles and send them to places around the world (NOAA) for them to have a good 'clean base level' of precipitation.
Then there's MAKS which is air sampling. We don't do it inside but keep the flasks in this room and recharge the battery. This is the same deal as the snow, the air is assumed to be the cleanest in the world- so when they start to measure (and they do) increased levels of Methane and Carbon dioxide then...., well try and use the car less.

A little further down the corridor is the Met Office. This is where the three of us (and a few more in the summer time) sit and do work on the computer (like updating blogs). We also famously have a hammock (not in photo) which is primarily used by visitors while they sip on their lovely cups of tea.
The Met Office: We have 5 PC workspaces and a wee tea area.

The last room on the right of the corridor is the Met Lab. This is a large room with lots of PC's and equipment. We measure the stations lateral movement using a GPS logger, measure the amount of cloud, the present weather, a host of other meteorological data that we send back to the Met Office. We also set up and record the data from the daily weather balloon, and look at the day's satellite images tracked and received by our Dartcom satellite (this has been brought in for the winter since it's important that it's intact for the pilot's return and our strong winds keep on blowing it off the roof).
The Met Lab 1: Most of our 'Met' loggers live here; Cloudbase recorder, Present Weather Detector, GPS position and the Milos Met Weather Station (we enter our observer met in here too).

Met Lab 2: The weather balloon is in the far left corner and the HRPT satellite dome is to the very left. This room is also used by any wondering summer scientist who need a place to call home.

The FOCAS Lab (or Space lab) is right across the corridor and is a small room used to house the boundary layer loggers. We also use it to set up the sondes (a sonde is a met instrument that can be attached to a weather balloon, blimp or kite) and we receive the data from any blimp flights we do. There's also a large fridge freezer in this room which we store the snow samples and air filters that we change in the CASLab.
Focas Lab 1: There are a number of instruments around the base (and beyond) that we keep an eye on from these loggers.

Focas Lab 2: This equipment is part of the Focas and Cefac projects. We send these sondes up on our blimp around 400 metres. In the past these sondes have also been flown on stable kites. The spare sodar electronics box and speaker are under the desk.

At the end of the Focas Lab is the Wet Chemistry Lab. This is a special lab which has a large oven, a laminar flow hood and an emergency shower. This is a lab where chemicals can be mixed, stored and disposed of cleanly. Every three years or so BAS try to send down an overwintering atmospheric chemist to do intensive short term studies of the air and snow.

Wet Chem 1: The Wet Chemistry Lab is filled with all sorts of equipment. It only gets used intensively every three years when an overwintering chemist is here.
This is where we prepare the ozone sonde for blimp flying.

Wet Chem 2: The flow hood, sink, water distillation unit (and emergency shower pull cord in the distance).

North of these rooms is the Met Workshop. We have a lot of electronics gear as well as some basic mechanical tools (hammers, saws etc.). I tend to only saw things in here, or look for tools for things elsewhere, but Andy is the qualified electronic engineer this year and he's been spending a lot of time in here.

The workshop: Well used and well loved - be it a bit messy.

Next along this side is the storeroom. This is where we keep all of our spares for each experiment as well as enough balloons and sondes for a year or so, a lot of spare cables, mast equipment and ??** well, we're in the middle of going through it and we've already found a few gems.

The storeroom. Andy's sorting out the cables today (that's why the room's a bit of a mess). This room is always full- no matter how much you take out or put in.

The last two rooms aren't very interesting. One is the plant room where all of the services come in and are monitored. Brian the plumber does his daily checks here, we have a small meltank of our own water in this room and a lot of emergency medical equipment.

The Plant Room: The meltank on the very left, emergency medical equipment on the very right, pipes with a lot of water going through them to warm the building on the far left, electricity, transformers and things on the far right.

The incinerator toilet and sink.

At the end of this corridor is the toilet. We have a urinal (that I use with help from my trusty pee-funnel) and an incinerator toilet which burns the waste. Lovely.

I hope you've enjoyed the tour and your tea.
If you're actually in the area and would like a proper tour with a bit of science thrown in don't hesitate to drop in.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Blimp Flying


September/October is Ozone Hole time. There's a big misunderstanding about what this is: What happens every year is that the very cold air in Antarctic in the stratosphere somehow 'eats up' or destroys ozone. And as we all know the ozone layer keeps harmful UV rays out of the atmosphere. But this only lasts a couple of months, and is greatly effected by the weather. So every year by November the ozone levels are back to normal again.

Our schedual was down for doing Blimp flights throughout September. I've talked about the science behind this project before (follow link). Bascially this hasn't much to do with the ozone measurements we take with the Dobson Spectrophotometer which measures the stratospheric ozone levels, but is local tropospheric ozone which is in the air at ground level (and just a little bit higher).

The Flights
We managed to get the helium box moved, weatherhaven constructed, winches dug in and blimp blown up before the beginning of September. To this date we've done 3 flights, 1st September, 7th September and th 15th of September. The beginning of September we had a number of ozone depletion events and were able to get the blimp up and do a couple of good flights. Not too much has gone wrong, besides a lost signal, wires getting uplugged, we got very cold and batteries not lasting very long (because they get cold) but those were all expected and we're doing our best to get round these problems.
We were then asked to do another flight- this time without an ozone depletion event. We did this on the 15th and it went very well.

Andy clearing snow from the motor of the electric winch. This is the primary winch, it used to be used for icedrilling and once appeared on Blue Peter (1986).
Our perfect accent/deccent rate is 5meters per minute.

Kirsty and the manual winch. This is attached to the blimp at a different point to the electric winch and is backup incase anything goes wrong.

We've still got another couple of weeks to do more flights and collect more data. Once I get a bit more feedback from the scientist at Cambridge about what sort of exciting conclusions they've come up with I'll post them here too.

The blimp flying with BART and the weatherhaven below. Mirages of the edge of the iceshelf in the background. Photo by Jules.

During the 2nd half of September the weather conditions weren't good enough for a flight. The next chance was one Saturday night, a bit blowy but within flying limits. Alex and I went out to set up the blimp before dinner (I was officially on my holidays at this time) but we found a tear in it. We took it into the Simpson and started repairing it, meanwhile we went to have dinner. The weather ended up being misty and gusty and just not pleasant (I know it's Antarctica etc), so we decided to try again tomorow hopeing that the ozone conditions would hold. No such luck.

It was the 10th of October that we managed our next flight (weather and Ozone levels have to be just right). But we weren't quick enough (or rather the wind speed and ozone levels conspired to give us a very small window) and the levels recovered before we were able to complete the flight.