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Welcome to the first diary of Halley for the millennium. Part of being here in Antarctica is sharing the experience for it is like no other place. I have spent just over two months living at Halley Station. Although I will never make a significant impact on Antarctica, it has already made a significant impact on me.
|Lil Ng, Halley doctor at the point 14255 km away from London, 6912 km away from her home in New Zealand and 1602 km away from the South Pole.|
I sailed south on RRS Ernest Shackleton, on its first season for the British Antarctic Survey, which arrived at the Brunt Ice Shelf on 20 December (the webpage for the voyage south is on this website). After nearly ten weeks of sailing from the UK, it was quite an arrival, with a vista of sea ice leading up to sheer white cliffs. A Sno-cat drove to meet the ship, as it moored next to the sea-ice, containing the wintering team of 1999. For them it was a population explosion from sixteen to seventy - seeing old and new faces, receiving news of home, fresh fruit, Christmas parcels and post and for some, a step closer to going home.
Thus began the busy period of relief at Halley. This was a twenty-four hour operation, taking advantage of the perennial daylight, with all base members rotating in twelve- hour shifts. It involved the craning of boxed cargo from the ship's hold onto sledges, which were driven by Sno-cat on the sea-ice for six kilometres and up the ramp to the Brunt Ice Shelf. Another Sno-cat would take the sledge another twelve kilometres to Halley. From here, the cargo would be tallied and sorted to their final destination.
If you can imagine the amount of food required for a family of sixteen for year, you get an idea of the huge amount of logistics required to keep Halley supplied. Other important cargo included scientific, medical, mechanical and field equipment and construction materials. The work continued through Christmas Day. Although some did manage to stay up and exchange gifts and sing Christmas carols, for many it was another long day of working.
Relief finished at the end of December and this was another reason to celebrate the dawning of a new millennium. I can think of no better place to have spent the millennium, with a crowd of fantastic people in an incredible place. Our chefs prepared a feast and our thoughts were with our loved family and friends at home and we raised many a glass that night. We celebrated in fine style with a live band and dancing well into the early hours.
A great many skilled staff were brought to Halley for the summer season to complete specific tasks. The Brunt Ice Shelf moves an average of two metres a day and each year the legs of the buildings sink into the surface of the ice. Carpenters have extended the buildings to allow for more storage and living space. Electricians have been working hard to keep the base supplied with power and the mechanics have carried out maintenance work on sno-cats and skidoos. Steel erectors have raised the platforms on the three main buildings and the melt-tank, from where we receive all our water. As we are twelve kilometres away from the coast, snow has to be shovelled each day into here for drinking and washing with. More recently, two Adelie penguins have been camping around the melt-tank and we have had to discard green deposits on the ice!
Scientific staff have been testing and maintaining equipment on base and at remote sites from Halley. To such sites, they have been flown on Twin Otter aircraft. Our meteorologists have been working around the clock to collate weather and climate data and ozone observations. The upper atmospheric scientists have been been learning to use new and complex instruments. All this has made me appreciate what is required to keep an Antarctic base running.
It hasn't all been work here. Recreation has an important role and we have had regular trips down to the coast. Our field general assistant is an experienced mountaineer and using his experience, we were able to abseil down a big crevasse near the coast.
|Cat Gillies abseiling down a crevasse at Creek 6, near the coast of the Brunt Ice Shelf. The light is ultraviolet inside and Cat's boots and shoelaces glowed bright fluorescent green!|
If conditions are favourable, we can ski out on the sea ice. It is a magnificent sight to see these huge ice cliffs with large icebergs which have broken off from it into the sea. There is an Emperor penguin chick colony which we can ski out to each week and on each visit they appear to have grown. Their coats are fluffy and they have been moulting this month. Two Emperor penguins have walked to Halley from the coast. They are a long way from home and have been spotted at various sites around base. They also like mounds of snow around the melt tank and the fuel depots. They are inquisitive creatures and seem to regard us with some curiosity. If I sit for long enough, sooner or later they wander up to inspect!
Emperor penguins at Halley sheltering behind a fuel depot - undemanding and considerate Antarctic neighbours
The weather is getting colder here, in the minus twenties (Celsius) and it is getting darker in the evenings. The sun set below the horizon for the first time in February and we have had stunning sunsets with red and orange hues in the sky. RRS Ernest Shackleton left on 21 February with the summer staff. It was quite a sight to see the ship sailing away from the Brunt Ice Shelf. Those of us left waved them off with smoke and signal flares until the ship was a small dot in the distance. It was a strange feeling saying goodbye, knowing that we will not see the ship again until December. I wonder what thoughts were running through the minds of those leaving on the ship after two years of living at Halley. For us left behind, it heralds a new change as we move into the winter period.
Some of the Halley winterers farewelling RRS Ernest Shackleton as it leaves the Brunt Ice Shelf
The last week of February has very much been a week of transition of moving into a room of our own, of adjusting the tables in the dining room and of getting used to just the sixteen of us. In addition, there has been a lot of work to do around the base, laying fuel depots, clearing out the summer accommodation building and raising the drum line as we prepare for the winter ahead. Our most recent celebration was the start of winter barbeque at the garage. We have some half-cut 45 gallon drums specifically for this purpose. At minus twenty, it is the coldest place I have ever had a barbeque. If you can imagine us sitting on picnic tables, in hats, gloves and warm jackets, eating steak and drinking beer, that's how it was!
Snow falling on the barbeque outside the garage - a warm start to the Halley winter
Antarctica is the only place I have experienced such extreme silence. Today I walked out past the line of the drums which marks the perimeter of our base. It was so quiet and the sun was reflecting glittering crystals on the ice. There was no rustle of trees, no bird song and no sounds of motors running. It is days like this that I feel extremely privileged to be in Antarctica, where life is easily put into perspective without many material things to complicate it. As I write now, I can only see ice from my window, out to the horizon as far as I can see. It is an image I will carry in my mind forever.
The wintering team of sixteen are:
|The wintering team of 2000 at the Halley bar, also known as the Hard Ice Cafe. In front of bar, left to right: Neil, Lil, Cat, Ricky, Dan, Gary, Jamie, Erny. Behind bar, left to right: Steve, Mark, Andy, Alex, Dave, Rich, Pat, Simon.|
During the coming year we hope to share parts of life at Halley with you. There is so much to look forward to with changes in season, the first night sky, upcoming winter trips and seeing the Aurora Australis.
Best wishes to you all,