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The presence of daylight has been a refreshing change from the perennial dark of winter. Earlier in the month subtle pink and lilac hues on the horizon indicated that we were getting closer to seeing the sun. Outdoor work around the station takes more time in the darkness so the renewing pattern of day and night has made life easier. The task of 'flubbering' involved most people on the station, taking turns to siphon fuel into flubber tanks in the tunnels 17 metres underground. This ensures that there are adequate fuel supplies to run the generators on the platforms well past the next session in October.
Dan Carson preparing to refuel with 45 gallon avtur drums
The tunnels, which comprise a maze of interlocking metal panels, insulated copper pipes and electrical wires, have seen a fair amount of action this month. Andy Cope has spent some time there finishing the testing of small appliances, fixing heat traces and checking fire extinguishers. Richard Borthwick and Cat Gillies have been drilling holes down into the ice to create a new sewage outlet. Cat has also been surveying the platforms in the increasing light and continues to manually jack the platforms with assistance from base members. This is not an easy task as the metal plates and bolts are covered in frost and cumbersome to handle while wearing thick mitts. Steve White has had a busy time preparing gear and taking out field trips . This season he will spend approximately 100 days in the field so a hot shower is appreciated by all when he returns to base.
The Piggott team have had a few challenges with data storage on their computer system which has given them quite a few extra hours of work. The settled weather has enabled the team to repair half of the damaged SHARE antenna. Simon Prasad has had some early mornings to change digital tapes as part of an experiment run by NASA in conjunction with their new satellites. Mark Stewart and Neil Farnell have taken advantage of the fine weather to conduct some mast maintenance. Mark, the communications manager, usually talks with other Antarctic stations on high frequency radio when the ionospheric conditions are favourable. This year we have had contact with Bird Island and Rothera (other British stations), SANAE (South Africa), Neumeyer (Germany) and Troll (Norway). The latter has enabled Erny Duston to practise some of the Norwegian language in a Yorkshire accent.
I have had my turn on nightwatch this month, keeping an eye out for any fire and alarms. I would spend 3 am and 6 am doing the overnight meteorology readings by observing cloud cover, visibility and noting any significant weather. This was also an opportunity for me to get a taste of my own medicine as I completed the medical research protocol which willing volunteers have undertaken during the year. This looks at adaptation to night watch and involves blood tests, urine collection, recording diet and sleep diaries, filling in questionnaires and undergoing a period of light treatment. In addition, participants have a monthly blood test so I shouldn't complain that some of the others are only too happy to poke needles into me.
Sun-up through the silhouette of platform beams and masts
The sun appeared as a golden disc low on the horizon on the 11th, right on cue according to Dave Glynn's RedShift astronomy program. In just three weeks its low rays have transformed the ice into brilliant white defining features which have been in darkness for months. Neil Farnell hoisted the Union Jack above the station and we celebrated the sun's return with barbequed steak and frozen beer. That night a massive aurora streaked across the starry night above us.
The meteorologists finished the painstaking calibration of the Dobson
spectrophotometer in time to start taking taking ozone observations as
ultraviolet light filters into our atmosphere once more. In 1985, BAS
scientists discovered a spring-time depletion in the ozone layer above the
Antarctic with the same Dobson instrument that our meteorologists are using
now. The instrument normally uses the sun as a source of ultra-violet
light so it is not possible to make regular measurements of ozone during the
dark Antarctic winter. Currently the meteorology team are taking ozone
measurements five times a day and this will increase as the sun rises higher
above the horizon. Their daily balloon launches provide more information
about the state of the ozone layer. For us, this means protecting ourselves
against the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays; sunglasses and factor 50 suncream
in the very near future.
Minus fifty degrees Celsius was experienced at
Halley just after sun-up for the first time since 1997. Some of us went out
and stamped about on the ice watching each others breath become a mask of ice
with beads of condensation frosting quickly. Cold is the only description for
it. Richard Turner, our chef, had a pan of water boiling on the stove and
threw it out the door, which vaporised on impact with the cold air, exploding
into a cloud of tiny ice particles. In the next few days the minimum
temperature dropped to minus 53. This brought a few out of hibernation as
some naked bodies were seen streaking past the building. Fortunately everyone
at Halley still has their fingers and their toes intact after the cold
Steve White, with Richard Turner and Erny Duston preparing an anchor for abseiling off the Brunt Ice Shelf
We have taken the advantage of the settled weather to visit the colony of emperor penguins near a spot called Mobster Creek, 25 kilometres away at the coast, a good opportunity to have a break from routine on the station. Fortunately it warmed up to minus 35 for the trip I went on. I was inspecting my digits beforehand hoping I would not suffer any frostnip in view of the cold temperatures we had been experiencing. From the top of the ice shelf we could see emperor penguins huddled in a large group with steam rising from the centre. The outermost penguins were circling taking their turn to buffer the group against the wind. We abseiled down the ice cliffs and walked out to them on the sea ice. On closer inspection there must have been at least a few thousand penguins. They did not seem to be particularly bothered by us and some inquisitive members of the group would come up to inspect us periodically.
Some of the penguins had tiny newly hatched chicks concealed beneath their
fold of fat ; others were lifting this to inspect or tap an egg. At times we
were allowed brief glimpses of a chick as one would receive a regurgitated feed
and be gently prodded back into the warmth of its parent's underbelly. The
experience of visiting this huge colony is certainly one of the unique
features of wintering at Halley. Andy Cope videotaped our nearest neighbours
on his recent trip (you will need an MPEG player, 1.3 MB clip
Emperor penguins huddled together on sea ice.
Dave Glynn, Mark Stewart and Gary Wilson man-hauled sledges loaded with their camping gear and emergency supplies a 12 kilometre distance to the coast and spent a weekend at the Creek 4 caboose. They seemed to be little the worse for wear and returned unrecognisable in thick coverings of frost. They had put some training into man-hauling around the perimeter before their trip. Ice volleyball has had a resurgence with one of Steve's old climbing ropes doubling as a volleyball net. The ball suffered the most as the combination of our volleys and the cold left multiple small cracks on its circumference. Although work continues on the station, it's great when we can get outside for exercise and enjoy the sunshine.
Each day the sun moves like a molten ball of fire further across the horizon and dusk and dawn are now definite entities. The light is very beautiful at this time of year and very different from the harsh light of summer. Visibility has increased dramatically and for the first time in months it is possible to see the whole perimeter line of the station which is marked by empty 45 gallon drums. The sun has undoubtedly revitalised our physical environment and indeed us, with its energy. It has been often mentioned that there are only two seasons in Antarctica - summer and winter - and that what falls in between is merely the interlude between day and night. Long dark days seem as if an age ago; I guess our subjective experiences are all a matter of perspective.
The frost on the inside of my window has melted away and my neighbour no longer complains that his clothes are frozen to the floor. The rime is slowly receding from the masts and it is a novelty to see long shadows and golden glints reflecting off the surface of jagged sastrugi. The thaw is on its way, as much as it ever will on this frozen continent that we live on.