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Brightening skies are ever increasing as we leave the darkest of the winter months behind. The dark stretches of ice have been highlighted by some stunning colours on the wide horizon. This has had an illuminating effect on visibility, which has increased markedly, allowing us to see mirages of icebergs at the coast just twelve kilometres away. Clear days sometimes light up the ice an eerie magenta. The golden hues hint that the sun is advancing but gives only the illusion of warmth. There is no reprieve from the freezing cold, with the minimum temperature being minus 47 degrees Celsius this month.
The Piggott Building in early afternoon, 10 July
Cold days have been punctuated by moderate winds of thirty to forty knots. This has blown a fair bit of spin-drift about the place and has created ice sculptures on stationary objects such as parked Sno-cats and the various masts around the station. Heavy crusts of ice have formed on the steel beams of the buildings. The view is the same ; a huge uninhabited expanse of ice around us. This will give you some idea of the wind whistling under the beams of the Piggott building, (366 KB and you will need a MP3 player such as Winamp or Windows media player)
Looking north from behind the SHARE antennae
Work has continued as usual. Lighter days have brought us out of hibernation and outdoor work has resumed with the raising of the drum lines to the coast. Dan Carson, one of our meteorologists, took moon observations around the time of full moon, measuring its spectrum of light. The moon almost seemed like daylight at this time, and our shadows were visible under its brightness. The meteorologists are calibrating the Dobson spectrophotometer, which measures ozone levels. This is a time consuming job as it requires thousands of accurate measurements. This is in addition to the ongoing kite launches and daily meteorological observations. Alex Gaffikin has created a web page to enable you to read about meteorological work at Halley.
Erny Duston, writes about his job as generator mechanic, a vital job that keeps the generators running in order to supply power to all of the platforms. Dave Glynn has been busy repairing the SHARE antennae, which measure activity in the ionosphere. Cat Gillies has been assisting him in erecting the scaffolding under the twelve metre antennae towers so Dave can get to the damaged parts. Overall the antennae are still functioning, though not at 100 percent. The repair work has been a little hampered by strong winds.
Steve White, field general assistant has been repairing pyramid tents with help from base members. There is a shortage of indoor space for this job so he has been sharing the garage with Pat, who is conducting maintenance on skidoos. Steve has also been down to the coast testing sea ice. There is visible sea ice from the bottom of the ice shelf and the group that went down could see penguins roaming about on the sea ice. By all accounts it was a phenomenal sight. We have been having some revision of crevasse rescue techniques, setting up pulley systems in the gym and hauling up punching bags. This is in preparation for upcoming field trips in the next few months.
Steve White, testing sea ice with a bog chisel
Neil Farnell and I recently took our turn at what is known as the "gash run" at Halley. Each fortnight waste bags and drums are cleared from the platforms. These are loaded onto a sledge attached to a bulldozer and deposited at specific locations around the station. This was not an easy task in the dark but our night navigation has improved considerably. There are comprehensive regulations which govern waste disposal in the Antarctic, under the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, in order to minimise any impact on the environment. The majority of waste will be removed from Halley when RRS Ernest Shackleton returns next season. Recyclable and hazardous waste are returned to the United Kingdom and non-hazardous waste is transported to the Falkland Islands for landfill. The only waste that remains in the Antarctic is biodegradeable. Food scraps are buried in ice pits and sewage runs downward into a storage system deep under the ice shelf. The ice shelf flows towards the sea at a rate of 800 metres a year and this biodegradeable waste eventually decomposes in the Southern Ocean.
Waste drums on the platform, awaiting removal
Other happenings apart from work...
Around the time of full moon Andy Cope, Gary Wilson and I headed down to the caboose at the coast for a weekend break. Apparently there was a lunar eclipse on the 16th. Unfortunately, we were eclipsed only by a 35 knot wind and blowing snow which obliterated our view of the moon and confined us mostly indoors for a couple of days. The caboose gave us fine protection against the elements and there was a plentiful supply of food. Some time was spent contemplating the best method of going to the toilet to avoid frostnip to vital appendages. Modern technology has invented a device which enables women to urinate standing up, which is a continual source of conversation for the lads on base. After the wind abated, the drift had buried parts of the Sno-cat and some work was required to clear the tracks of snow and to prepare the engine for starting in cold conditions.
Lil Ng & Steve White next to the Creek 4 caboose (in May)
I used to wonder how people managed to occupy their time during the long Antarctic winter. Those wintering here have plenty of projects after working hours and time seems to run away as the end of month arrives all too quickly. Alex Gaffikin has been teaching Spanish at a weekly night class to over half of the wintering team. Some are making plans to visit South America next year so are taking advantage of Alex's expertise. There is an excellent library on base which contains a huge range of fiction and an impressive polar section and a well-equipped darkroom which is used on a regular basis.
Manhauling continues to be a popular form of exercise and figures have been seen trudging around the station with sledges in tow. Richard Turner, our chef, often uses this method to haul back food items from various sites around the station. The skiing conditions have been excellent on clear days. I own a pair of telemark cross country skis with fish scales underneath which are ideal for the flat ice shelf of Halley. There has been good glide on the ice surface and the increasing light has highlighted uneven sastrugi so there is even less excuse for falling over.
Aspiring guitarists have been heard strumming in the chef's food store which doubles as a music room. This room is known as " The Crevasse" ; a long enclosed space with a lot of noise and echoes. Gary Wilson has been practising his electric guitar which comes with a distortion box. I am making some progress on the electric guitar as well, although my version of Hendrix doesn't sound quite the same as the original. Fortunately for everyone else, there is a set of headphones that plugs into the guitar.
Although I've enjoyed viewing the night skies and aurorae, I'm glad to see the light returning in the sky. The absence of the Sun has made me reflect on how vital it is for our existence. It is due to make its appearance around August 11th and should be quite a show.