[I N D E X]
|Darkness has now descended on our world of ice. During the winter period, we expect approximately 105 days of darkness. Currently we have barely two hours of twilight around midday and if the cloud is low, there is little distinction between day and night. On a clear day, we can see a band of twilight on the horizon. Temperatures have been steadily falling, frequently below minus 40 degrees Celsius and any breath of wind in this degree of cold blows bitterly. Despite being covered from head to toe in clothing to protect us against the elements, members of Halley are still recognisable, by their characteristic walk or favoured items to wear.|
|Some of Halley's wintering team at the coast on a cold winter's day two weeks after sundown.|
The sun now only exists in our dreams. In its place on a clear day, the moon rises. The fullness of the moon allows our shapes to cast shadows and acts as a beacon, lighting the surface of the ice. Skiers and manhauling enthusiasts have been using the light of the moon to exercise in the evenings.
Earlier in the month, some members of base went down to the coast. As our Sno-cat trundled away from Halley, we could see the waking colours of dawn on crystal clear skies. The picture presented to us at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf was very different from when we had waved RRS Ernest Shackleton away at the end of February. Three months later, new sea ice had formed and large tabular icebergs stood trapped in this sea ice on the northern horizon. The harsh sunlight of summer was replaced by subtle pink, golden and blue sky in a 360 degree panorama.
|Colours on a clear day in May as the cliffs of the Brunt Ice Shelf tower over newly formed sea ice.|
Two emperor penguins in the far distance were scuttling westwards across the ice on their bellies. We followed their progress and could see the outline of two colonies of emperor penguins. As we approached, we could hear their familiar cry. They were standing in two close huddles. Their coats were thick and silken, preparing for the lean winter ahead. We watched these magnificent creatures, patiently waiting, seemingly talking amongst themselves. They regarded us with indifference, barely acknowledging us with an occasional nod. This was rightly so, for we were guests in their territory.
Just two weeks later, another trip went down to the coast. This time the emperor penguins were not immediately obvious and at first it seemed they had vanished from the area. On closer inspection, they had moved into a depression of sea ice below the towering cliffs of the Brunt Ice Shelf. In minus 41 degrees, they were huddled together in one large group. The penguins on the exterior were circling, taking turns to buffer the group with their backs against the cold wind. Others were waiting their turn, shuffling to fill another's space. Very few living creatures can withstand the conditions of Antarctica during the long winter without shelter or food. Certainly human beings do not fall into this category as I write this from the comfort of our heated building, still thinking about these patient emperor penguins shivering out on the sea ice, waiting for their eggs to hatch and for the sun to return.
|The profile of emperor penguins, silhouetted against golden skies.|
|With light fading in mid-May, emperor penguins group close together for warmth in minus 40 degree Celsius.|
The Aurora has shown its face many times this month. Each occasion is different but all occur on clear cold nights. The person on night watch has to decide if an aurora is worth waking others up for in the middle of the night. One such night I was woken to see an aurora at 5 am and it was worth getting up for, even though the temperature was minus 48 degrees Celsius at the time. A sweeping arc of fluorescent green filled the dome of stars over our heads. It was a mesmerising light with red tinges, moving and changing across the sky.
Midwinter is approaching, officially on the 21st of June. This is a significant milestone in Antarctica for it marks the winter solstice. After this date, we can look forward to the sun returning to our horizon. Traditionally, it has been a time of festivities, the Antarctic equivalent of Christmas, including the exchanging of gifts and this year is no exception. Events have been planned around the week of midwinter and members of the station are spending their time constructing a gift in secrecy, to give to someone on Midwinter's Day. The band at Halley have been practising for their midwinter concert, although this concentration of musical activity seems to disperse others to the far corners of the building.
There has been ongoing work on the station with a further session of refuelling at the end of May. This should ensure adequate fuel for the winter months ahead, until a further refuelling session is required in August. It is a large undertaking, with members of the station taking turns to empty fuel drums off a sledge into a large storage tank. In addition, there have been many hours of stocktaking and re-ordering of supplies to plan for the next year. This includes a wide range of items from tins of baked beans and toilet paper to electric drills, scientific equipment and sheets of steel. Although tedious, these tasks are important, for a shortage could mean a lean time for the team at Halley in 2001 if there are insufficient supplies.
This month Alex Gaffikin, meteorologist, writes about women wintering in the Antarctic. In the early 1900s, Sir Ernest Shackleton turned away two women applicants on the basis of their gender. If he was interviewing in the year 2000, I believe he would have employed women on his expedition for it is the quality of person that is important in withstanding the rigours of Antarctic life, not his or her gender.
Neil Farnell, one of Halley's engineers, profiles the physical science team who work on the Piggott building, one of the two science platforms. To listen to my footsteps walking on the surface of the Brunt Ice Shelf click here (MP3 soundclip, 188 KB, provided courtesy of Data Manager Jamie Keir).
The darkness here is certainly an experience, as are the freezing temperatures. Some days are more challenging than others, especially when equipment fails and breaks down in these conditions. The good humour and patience of the wintering team here at Halley make for good company as we look forward to midwinter.
Warm wishes to you all,
A vivid impression of the Halley Winter by Cat Gillies