Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Goodbye Shackleton

On Saturday the ship arrived at N9, moored up to the ice and was ready for the second relief of the Summer season. The last time the R.R.S Shackleton visited Halley was over christmas time when we had a long N9 relief. N9 is 50 or so km away and is rarely used (though it's been used for the last three reliefs now). Normally we would use one of the creeks which are much closer to the base (18km max), but there was no sea-ice and so the ship couldn't moor up to anything.

My last view of the R.R.S Ernest Shackleton.

For the ship time is money, as is all of the fuel that the snocats burn to and from it. When there's not enough money for fuel or the prices rise then money is taken away from the science projects. This all means that the lack of sea-ice isn't just bad for the Penguins, it's bad for science too.

Most of the cargo due to go North was put on the ship at first call. I think there were 14 sledges of cargo (mainly waste produced over the summer) to go this time. Mostly it was people that needed delivering, all of the summer staff and the outgoing winterers. A convoy of 7 snowcats set out from Halley for the long journey to N9 twice, once on Saturday and once on Monday.
I was on the first wave which meant I got a night on the ship. Halley is amazing, a great place to live- but the ship is somewhere else, anywhere else. It also happened to have been my home for 2 months in 2004 (October 23rd until December 22nd), so I love getting the chance to go on it. As soon as the call was made that we were staying for the night I turned on the sauna, got in and sweated. Not because I was working hard, but because I was hot... that was a strange feeling. I then had a very long shower (we have severe water restrictions on base), and then went up to the red room for a few drinks. Another amazing thing was salad! I'm not a big fruit person, but salad I like- tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber!!! wow. It was all fantastic.

The sea ice is forming again. This produces seasmoke (the same way that sweating cools your skin down). With the sun sitting low in the sky it was quite breath-taking.

The seasmoke made some fantastic patterns on the surface... quite mesmerising to watch.

The next morning 9 of us took the 7 snocats back to base for another convoy run. This was great fun- four hours of snocat driving.. I was in K14 which is the oldest of the bunch. I spent my time overtaking and getting overtaken by the other ice-shelf users.. taking photos of them and listening to Craig's MP3 Player... great fun (or is it just me that enjoys motorway driving?)

Me snowcat driving. Self portrait.

Just snapping the camera behind my head- not too bad a photo.
I wanna ride that Convoy!!

We would normally have a good old wave off of the ship from one of the nearby creeks, letting off all of the out of date flares and getting thrown abuse from the outgoing winterers.. but alas bad weather prevented this. Before the new Base Commander (BC) could make his first difficult descision of whether to go or not the ship had already left- with a new course set in... KEP, South Georgia.

This brings me on to goodbyes... or rather see ya laters. I've already said goodbye on my blogs to four of the wintereing team (two went on the first plane out, and two on the ship's first call). As I've mentioned before I'm the only one staying from last winter to this next one. It's strange, almost like being at a different base- but it's the same, but it's different, but the same. It's really the people that make (or break) a winter (or rather how you interact with everyone else), so I expect this next winter to be very different and I hopefully will never compare the two.
Anyway, I hope to stay in touch with many of the people I wintered with. You're invited to one of my parents un-christmas BBQ's- but preferably once I'm back in the country.
See ya- it was fun.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Plane Leaves

The Twin Otters made their final fly-over yesterday as we said goodbye to the two planes that were here. We generally have one plane here for the summer season to get to remote sites like the AGO (Automated Geophysical Observatories) sites and the LPMs (Low powered magnetometers). We also use it for sea-ice recognisance and cargo and pax movements throughout the distant N9 relief. The BAS Airunit are part of the Dronning Maud Land Air Network where all of the bases in the area help each other out when needed. This means that as well as our own aircraft, Halley international airport is open to foreign visitors (who, though didn't stay for long were great to have around). It also meant that our skiiway opened a good month before the BAS planes started coming in. This was a tiring time for the Comms Manager, who was still on winter compliment of one and had to do all of the flight following for the planes in Halley airspace. But it's alright, he had at least two days off during the summer!

As winterers who are trained for off-base survival we are given the chance to 'co-pilot' to most of the sites that the planes visit. This co-piloting is a safety position not a flying one, since if the plane would have to land somewhere that didn't have a base (due to fog at Halley for instance), it is impractical for one person to put up a tent and is against safety regulations to have one person operating a Tilly Lamp (heat and light) or Primus stove (cook). I was lucky enough to get two flights this season (although one was in exchange for working New Years day, and the other involved 6 hours of manual labour at the site, I loved every minute) see past blog entries.
Some people were more, or less lucky. Of the 28 outgoing and incoming wintering compliment one person got 5 flights (though he had had a stressful year as WBC (Winter Base Commander)), 2 got three flights, 4 got two, 13 got one and 8 didn't get a flight at all. Of the 8 that didn't get a flight 4 didn't want a flight (or at least would prefer to let someone else have a go or were not prepared to be stuck out in the field (again!)). Two of those 8 were keen on a flight- but didn't ever have the opportunity.
For myself, the opportunity to leave base for a day or so is amazing and well needed after having the same familiar 4 walls for a year and preparing for another 15 months of it.

The plane's require hourly airobs (meteorological observations specific to aircraft needs), which were provided by the met team. So, now that the planes have left we've been given a bit more time to concentrate on our other equipment/experiments. Also, the base Doctor is the other fire hand on the skiiway (air mech) - incase anything were to go wrong. The job also requires re-fuelling the planes and loading them with drums of fuel. As the base Doctor, Vicky wasn't permitted to leave the base on a co-pilot flight. This arrangement of jobs means that day-in and out the Doctor is at the skiiway- seeing the excited look on the co-pilot's faces - all the while knowing that they themselves can not go on a flight.

We didn't have the same plane the whole time, they were constantly being swapped and changed (for various reasons), so we had the AZ (alpha-zulu), BB (bravo-bravo) and the BC (bravo-charlie). As well as the extra planes, we had visiting pilots and a visiting air mechanic. We also had a visiting chippie from Rothera (Glen), who stayed with us for a while on a fantastic, and unexpected co-pilot flight. In exchange Steve, the outgoing sparky got a once-in-a-lifetime flight to the Elsworth mountains, Rothera, Bluefields, Berkner dome, Fossil Bluff... is there anywhere you didn't go Steve? A few lucky people had the opportunity to visit Neumayer (3 separate visits), and Novo (another German base with a much longer name). The Novo flight required flying (and landing?) at quite a high altitude, so the Air Mechanic has to co-pilot that one.

Ian has been our pilot here for the season putting in a lot of flying time, and general hard work around base. See you next season?
Photo by Ian Potten.

Dave, the air mechanic has been our resident Crazy Canadian. Get some floor space ready in your new condo for a visit from me.

Ness and Me just about to wave the plane off.
Photo by Alex Gough.

One of the planes over the Simpson Platform with the Laws and Piggott Platforms to the right of the photo.
Photo by Alex Gough (guess who fogot her camera that day)

I know that this has been a long blog- but I like planes... and flying

Monday, February 20, 2006

Blimp - Test Flight and Dismantle

It was a Saturday afternoon. Because of the way we cover the met to include 24hours of meteorlogical and ozone observations I was at work. The wind was low (less than 5knots) and so was a perfect day to test the blimp and it's sondes. The ohter 4 members of the summer met team weren't on shift- but this is a perfect example of our not-so-typical, un-officelike job where if something breaks you fix it. No matter what the time of day. If there's an ob that can only be done in the middle of the night, you do it then. Everyone here is on 24 hour call, and I doubt that there's been a day gone by (at least this year) when I've check that all the data are coming (at some point during the day). It may sound harsh but I wouldn't swap it for the world.

There was an aircraft due in today and because of safty reasons, regulations say that we aren't allowed to fly the blimp on one hour either side of the aircraft's ETA. This meant that we wouldn't do a proper flight all the way up to the boundary layer (400m or so), but we did do a good test of the entire system. It was a little slow to begin with, we had trouble with the regulator from the Helium banks to the tube, and then some of the tubing was blown off- but we got it all sorted. Inside the sonde setup was a little slow aswell, but this will just take practice. Eventually we were at the point where the blimp was full (the tail will never be as rigid as the body Jools) and the sondes were transmitting data... we were ready to fly.

Kirsty with the two sondes. The one on our left is the ozone sonde. This measures local ozone concentrations, the one on the right is a Rusonde and measures general meteorological data like wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity and pressure. Photo by Alex Gough

Taking the Blimp out of the weatherhaven. A bit of a sqeeze, but we managed.
Photo by Alex Gough.

Me and Ness faffing with bits of blimp string.... careful to not let go now...
Photo by Alex Gough.

The blimp in it's resting place with the Laws behind it.
The manual winch is behind Craig on the left and the automatic winch in in the foreground infront of Liz. The BART (where we launch our balloons is on the right of the picture). Photo by Julius Rix.

The blimp had to squeeze out of the weatherhaven but there were many curious hands to help, so there wasn't any problems with that. We put the blimp on it's resting rope before contacting comms to notify them of our flight (however brief). Then we set the automatic winch off, had someone at hand on the manual winch and put it up 10m or so. Then we attached the sondes which were happily wirring away. The flight went well. Very well, there were hardly any hiccoughs and was all good practice for the real data flights this spring. Watch this space... this is ground breaking Global Science in the Antarctic Context... or is it Antarctic Science in the Glabl Context- I always forget which.

The blimp with the sondes attached. Photo by Julius Rix.
In the spring when we're (hopefully) measuring an Ozone Depletion Event we will be doing all of this in the bitter cold for hours on end. We will be measuring windspeed, windirection, pressure, temperature, humidity and ozone concentration.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Blimp Flight - weatherhaven construction

So here in Antarctica my official job title is: Meteorologist/Physicist/Electronic Engineer. I thought it was about time to include some science and a little about what my job entails.

Though we have a lot of day-to-day work such as; the daily weather-balloon launch, doing three-hourly Met and Ozone observations, collecting air and snow samples, changing air-chemistry filters over, measuring snow-accumulation and generally checking on all logging instruments including the satellite pictures, we also do some more intensive science campaigns.

This year we're trying to collect data from an 'Ozone Depletion Event' (ODE). This is when the formation of sea-ice destroys low level ozone. We hope to fly a small blimp through the ozone-depteted air and measure how thick this layer is. We will attach a normal sonde and an ozone sonde to the blimp line. A sonde is a small, light piece of equipment that measures windspeed, direction, pressure, temperature and humidity. The ozone sonde will measure the amount of ozone. We will fly the blimp during our springtime- September/October, when the sea ice is breaking up and reforming again. But first we have to practice using the equipment.

To save helium and preparation time we will keep the blimp inflated between flights. To keep it from flying away (it gets very windy here) we have a weatherhaven to store it, and the helium that will inflate it. We've borrowed this particular weatherhaven from a site in Berkner where some other BAS scientist were drilling a very long ice-core for studies on past-climate. Fortunately our intrepid Field Guide (GA- don't ask), Simon spent a season there and instructed us in putting it up.

Two banks of 16 helium cylinders each are kept inside this box-on-a-sledge. The box also has light and heat. We will be doing these blimp flights at very cold temperatures so the area surrounding the helium banks needs to be warmed up before they're used. This box will also go in the weatherhaven but for today's exercise we kept the box outside of the tent.

The bottom frame. We've labeled all the bits up with different coloured electrical tape to help us do it in the cold and dark. The whole tent is 14x28foot.

Constructing the frame. The whole operation took 2 hours. The Bart (where we launch weather balloons from) and the Laws (main platform) are in the background.

One end of the weatherhaven has a large door that the blimp should easily fit through. The other end has a small door.

The team outside the finished weatherhaven. Craig, Ness, myself, Simon and Kirsty (Andy had gone in to do a Met ob).

Next... a test flight.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Well tonight seems like it's going to be the night. Our first sunset in 3 months. It signals the end of the summer season- the return of the Ship and a significant reduction in the number of people on base.

The sun's been threatening to set for a few days now, here's a photo from the 9th of Feb, and a couple from the night of the 10th.

It's quite strange for me to live somewhere with such definite seasons. The only other place I've lived with big changes in weather is Colorado, otherwise it's just been coastle places- all a bit mild.

This is great.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Major Incident Scenario

Yesterday the whole base got involved in a Major Incident Scenario. We 'pretended' that the plane didn't have a good landing on the skiway and there were four pretty serious casualties.

The injured inside the plane.

At around 14:45 local we got a call from the skiway saying that the plane had hit the deck and there was a major incident. Everyone gathered at the Laws' muster point and were delegated jobs. As a first aider mine was to help get the Drewry building (summer accommodation) ready to be used as a hospital. This involved collecting Medical supplies, oxygen and entinox cylinders from the Laws (Main building) and the Piggott platforms (our place of refuse and upper atmospheric science). The Laws was decided not a good place as a hospital since there are a flight of steps up to it- so would be more difficult for stretchers. We cleared the Drewry dining area and collected 4 mattresses from upstairs for the victims (sorry- I mean casualties). Then there was a lot of waiting. The skiway is 2km away from base, clothes need to be put on, skidoos need to be started, people need to bring the correct equipment with them (radios with charged batteries) and be aware of what their jobs are. This all takes time. Fortunately one of the Doctor's duties is to assist the aircraft on every take-off and landing. So Vicky was ready with her grab bag of goodies and she was able to start giving the casualties first aid.

Vicky and many helpers treating a 'pretend' casualty.

Vicky's job in this sort of situation would be (with the help from other first aiders) treat the casualties at the scene and the rest of the base concentrate on getting everyone out of the cold. There were a lot of difficulties in the exercise, and one was getting four people out of the plane and onto stretchers. The two in the back were the easiest (I believe, I wasn't there- I was at the Drewry). But Ian the Pilot proved difficult since the plane is so tiny and sits high off of the snow surface. Fortunately there were many hands to help and they managed fine.

Lots of helpers trying to get the casualties out of the Twin Otter.

One thing to think about is how much easier it's proved to do difficult tasks with lots of people. When the first planes come in in December (October even for foreign visitors) there are only 16 winteres on base to greet it. If an incident as major as this occurred then, the situation would have proved to be much more difficult to handle. As it happened there are 60 people or so on base at the moment and everyone did their bit to help (including photographers and official observers to record the day's events (which reminds me- none of these photographs are mine- Bryns and Simons I believe, but thank you who-ever they are)).

The hospital in full swing

Meanwhile in the hospital things were getting a little busier as the first two casualties arrived - makeup and all. The first was the one I was charged with- Hugh (Halley 6 architect) who played the part of unconscious man well. He had had a full drum of avtur land on his stomach and had major internal injuries. We (pretended) to give him oxygen, IV fluids through one arm and his rectum and eventually set up a blood drive to give him extra blood. It was hairy for him for a while and by the time the Doctor got to the hospital with the other two casualties we were at a loss of what to do next. Fortunately for Hugh the doctor asked us to transport him to the Laws ready for a full scale operation. This involved another stretcher move.

A casualty being taken upstairs to the Law's surgery using one of our many stretchers.

So Hugh was the first casualty. The second was Martin who played a very good loud not-too-serious casualty with a broken arm. I'm not sure what else to be honest, I was a little pre-occupied with Hugh. When the next two came in -Ian the Pilot and Peter (of Halley 6) I was totally uninterested in their injuries, but I seem to recall two broken legs. Once Hugh was brought into the surgery and the kit for the operation brought out the scenario was called off as a successful response. I think we can congratulate ourselves for doing so well- it was all done very professionally and also for giving up an afternoon off. I think we learnt a lot- both as individuals and as a team. All in all- a good day.