[I N D E X]
December has been a time of transformation at Halley and certainly the busiest month of the year by a long shot. The warmer weather has melted all traces of snow on the buildings and the temperatures have even risen above freezing to a maximum of 1.9 degrees Celsius. This can give a false sense of security though as the minimum was minus 13.8 degrees Celsius and with a breeze of just ten knots it can still be bitterly cold. Earlier in the month it snowed, dumping a layer of fresh powder on the surface of the ice. On one outing to the coast, several of us made the twelve kilometre journey back to the station under our own steam, walking or skiing. This was a peaceful mode of transport back as now the sound of Ski-doos, Sno-cats and plant machinery can be heard constantly, the vehicles criss-crossing the surface of the ice with a multitude of tracks. The consolation in this is that the next time Antarctica blows, it will obliterate traces of our footsteps and vehicle tracks, just as if we had never walked or driven on the ice.
Anticipation has been increasing over the course of the month, awaiting the arrival of planes and hearing the updates of RRS Ernest Shackleton's progress on its voyage south to us. Our clocks have been set back three hours (GMT minus three hours) to allow easier co-ordination of flights from the Falkland Islands and Rothera station. After a few days delay, two Twin Otter aircraft arrived on 5 December, immediately doubling the number of people on the station. This brought a few well known faces to Halley; pilots Andy Alsop and Lez Kitson who have each clocked up thousands of miles of flying time in the Antarctic; Tom O'Connor, air mechanic, in his fourth season with the BAS and Mike Pinnock, veteran of three previous winters and multiple summers. Steve Marshall, Halley's Base Commander, arrived at this time relieving Simon Prasad of his role as the Winter Base Commander. Simon has not had to use his role as Magistrate and has now passed this duty back to Steve as well as the organisation and administration tasks of the station.
Views of the geologists' campsites in Dronning Maud Land
A team of geologists also arrived at this time to conduct MAMOG (Magmatism as a Monitor of Gondwana break-up processes) field work. This is a seven-week geological project located in Dronning Maud Land. The field area lies within the quadrangle 72 to 74 degrees south and 1 degree east to 5.5 degrees west including parts of the Kirwanveggen, Sverdrupfjella, Straumsvola and Ahlmannrygen ranges. Four geologists are examining the structure and geochemistry of the volcanic rocks in the field, with assistance from two field assistants with a mountaineering background. The volcanism they are studying is part of a large province in southern Africa and Antarctica which formed during Jurassic times, at about the time when the supercontinent Gondwana started to break up. The work involves taking field observations on, and sampling igneous rocks. Sampling in several localities will be analysed for chemical composition, age and magnetic fabric. After a lot of preparation at Halley, the geologists were flown to Dronning Maud Land with enough food, equipment, skidoos and sledges to keep them self-sufficient for months.
In the 1960's a fair amount of geology work was conducted fom Halley. Looking back through the sledging reports of Halley's archives provides interesting reading. In those days the scientists used dog teams, not aircraft or skidoos, to wind their way across hundreds of miles, and on some occasions these dog sledging trips would last for as long as one hundred days. Included here are some excerpts from the December journal of a sledging trip in 1964/65 as well as part of an entertaining dog report from a bygone era. Now the dogs are gone. It is obvious from reading the reports from past years that they were much loved and a major source of focus and morale for base members.
Aerial view of nunataks and of the McDonald Ice Rumpleswhere the sea ice meets the Brunt Ice Shelf at Halley
Air operations enable scientific staff to conduct their field work as well visit remote project sites to maintain and upgrade equipment and facilities. The pilots have made numerous trips to refuelling sites such as "Wilson's Depot" (named after Gary Wilson, one of the wintering team of 2000) and the Theron Mountains to drop off drums of avtur fuel. This has enabled some of us to view the spectacular Heimifromfjella, Shackleton and Theron mountain ranges, co-piloting the aircraft. I was fortunate enough to co-pilot a flight to A80, a site for an Automatic Geophysical Observatory (AGO) at eighty degrees latitude south. This is part of a network of unmanned AGOs also at seventy-seven, eighty-one and eighty-four degrees south, which observe the atmosphere and space. We stopped to refuel at the Theron Mountains, which is a very beautiful area with multi-layered striated rock, and flew over Precious Bay and the Hinge Zone. It was pretty special to see nunataks emerging above seemingly endless stretches of ice as both mountains and rocks are non-existent on the ice shelf. Halley station may be our whole world while we're on the ground but flying makes one realise that it is but a tiny portion of the Antarctic continent.
Work around the station has been steadily increasing throughout the course of the month, preparing for the arrival of the ship. The Drewry Building, which houses many of the summer personnel, has been brought out of hibernation. At the beginning of winter, the electricity was turned off and the building has been used for food storage over the year. The technical services team have been working on essential maintenance to get the Drewry Building running and it required all hands to scrub it out. In addition, it had to be moved forward, an annual ritual which ensures that the massive mound of snow which has collected on the westerly side does not become unmanageable. Piles of waste around the station have had to be prepared for movement to the ship. The ramp at Creek 4, which inclines down from the Brunt Ice Shelf to the sea ice, was bulldozed into a gentle slope before the ship arrived. This ramp takes a lot of traffic in the summer as numerous vehicle trips are made to transport all cargo to and from the ship.
The ship, moored against the sea ice and a view of well-travelled sea ice looking up to Creek 4
RRS Ernest Shackleton arrives at the Brunt Ice Shelf and 'relief' begins...
On 22 December, Captain Lawrence, the Master of RRSErnest Shackleton and his crew sailed into the Brunt Ice Shelf. Captain Lawrence is a legend to many of us at Halley. He has been sailing this route for thirty years and his experience and cracking sense of humour are valued highly. We have driven to the coast many times this year, with the view of icebergs frozen in sea ice and at times, the distant sea. But the view of the yellow crane of the ship on the skyline above the line of the ice shelf was quite a sight to behold. As we clambered aboard the gangplank, with the ship moored alongside the sea ice there were greetings and handshakes for both old and new faces. The atmosphere was buzzing with conversation. Fresh fruit, post and Christmas parcels were plentiful from the ship (as a result some of the winterers had slightly runny bellies the day after but in balance I would say it was probably worth it) although Christmas was a quiet affair as is usual at Halley. This is because the arrival of the ship heralds the beginning of 'relief'....
Captain Lawrence and Lil Ng on the bridge of RRS Ernest Shackleton
Relief started the day after the ship arrived and finished just before the New Year. This term may seem slightly obscure but describes the period of operations when cargo is unloaded from the ship and transported up to the station. This is a massive operation which takes advantage of the twenty four hour daylight and requires everyone on the station. So we work in shifts around the clock until all the cargo is unloaded off the ship. We are all delegated tasks at the station or on the ship; some are Sno-cat drivers on the sea ice or the ice shelf, driver's mates on the sea ice, crane operators or cargo handlers. Vehicle mechanics are on call to help with problems, the chefs are working to keep everyone fed (including roast turkey and trimmings for Christmas day) and the communications managers are on line continuously to co-ordinate the vehicles as well as following flights made by the Twin Otter aircraft as flying continued during this period. Low fog encompassed the station for two days during the period of relief. This presented some navigational difficulties for some drivers but did not hamper proceedings significantly. Down at the ship side, an interested audience of emperor and Adelie penguins viewed our progress from a distance.
Cargo handling at ship-side and removing Golly's Folly from Halley Station
Cargo takes various shapes and forms. There are a large quantity of fuel drums (avtur, petrol and paraffin) which are laid in depots on the ice around the station. Large wooden boxes contain every imaginable item to keep the base operational. These include engines, steelwork, furniture, domestic items, medical, scientific and communications equipment, computers and personal effects of incoming wintering staff to name but a few. When the boxes arrive on the station they are marked by a tally system; the boxes are opened and items are distributed to the four corners of the station. In addition, all waste which has been stored on the station during the year is transported back to the ship. This included over one thousand empty avtur drums, over a hundred drums containing metal and glass for landfill and over one hundred bags containing paper and plastic waste. This gives you an idea of the sheer consumption of our human activity.
I think relief is also the term we use to describe when it is all over...
Wendy Scott is the dentist aboad RRS Ernest Shackleton. She has been giving the winterers a dental check-up and providing a few fillings for some unfortunate folk. Her role is important as people still spend two consecutive wintering periods at British stations. In a medical report from the 1960's one of my predecessors had to fill thirty-nine fillings in one year. I've had a bit of dental work to do this year but am very glad that Wendy is doing all the fillings this time.
After two months on the ship, people have moved up to the station to settle into the summer work period. There is much yet to be done. Incoming wintering staff are undergoing all sorts of training as part of their sojourn south. This orientation includes familiarisation with base equipment, vehicles, communications, meteorological observations, air operations, field equipment and medical training. Some of the buildings will be raised by means of automatic jacking, to accommodate for the snow accumulation on the ice shelf. Foundations are being laid for a new building, a clean air facility to the south of the station. Both these tasks involve a team of steel erectors, mast erectors, fabricators and engineers. To accomodate the clean air facility, the skiway (the landing site for aircraft) has had to be moved to the north-east of the station. The carpenters are hard at work, replacing floors and panels with a long list of other jobs to be done and engineers are working to upgrade underground water lines to the science platforms. The ice resembles something like a building site with plant machinery driving about and equipment being craned about. Annual mast work and scientific data has been collated and packaged to return to Cambridge for further analysis. Outgoing cargo, including equipment requiring service or maintenance in the United Kingdom also has to be packaged with a mountain of paperwork to fill out. For those of us leaving, packing lends a rather transitory feeling as we make space for equipment and for the belongings of the new wintering team.
Big foot in a backslab plaster of Paris
Thomas Rieley, the new doctor for 2001, and I have had our fair portion of work lately. Hazards exist in every corner of the station. At the end of the month, one of our patients sustained fractured bones out on the ice. In a normal hospital environment, ambulance staff package the patient to the hospital and technicians take x-rays and often plaster limbs. In this case, we and a fine team of first aiders were the ambulance staff, the technicians and the nurses. Earlier in the year we had practised a scenario involving evacuation from the ice in a stretcher up to the Laws Building. This practice proved invaluable when it came to the real thing. Our patient will return for ongoing care in the Falkland Islands when the ship leaves in January.
It's been hard work at Halley this month. But we had a cracking celebration to see in the New Year with feasting, dancing and counting in the chimes of Big Ben through the radio waves. Some Scotsmen even appeared in kilts for the occasion. The Halley band was revived for a second performance this year after about thirty minutes of practice. With a fair amount of over-indulgence on the ice, I suspect there were not too many New Year resolutions made except the old favourite of never touching another dram again.
There is rather a lot of work going on at the moment, but after hours, energetic folk are able to fit in skiing (some with quadrafoil kites), circuit training and snowboarding. Although the summer season has just begun, time is spinning along and soon enough it will be my turn to leave Halley and head for a warmer clime. When the sun shines, the ice seems to dazzle in the bright light, reflecting millions of crystals on its surface. Throughout the changing seasons of the year, the thing that never fails to impress me is the incredible beauty of the place. I will miss the sound of ice crunching underneath my mukluks.
To finish with, I leave you with Antarctic poems from Class Six at Milverton School in Somerset who have been studying Antarctica this year. Their impressions of the ice are vivid and capture some of what it is like to be here. Happy New Year to you all.
The World Of Ice
by Jonathan , aged 11 years
My spine tingles with excitement,
Ice all around me glinting,
White, nothing else just white.
The cliffs echoing all around me,
The sky blue, gold and orange,
As orange as an orange.
Blizzards blasting snow at my face,
But I've got to keep going.
The tops of mountains are barely visible,
Wind throwing snow at me, cold, harmful.
Shadows darting round in the dark.
New Year at the coast with the moulting colony of penguin chicks