[I N D E X]
Here we are at the end of our second full month of winter and it's been a month full of events, with the most prominent coming right at the end with sundown. This is where the disc of the sun no longer reaches completely above the horizon, although part of it is still visible for a few days. When we first arrived at Halley back in December we were in 24 hour daylight and now, just four months later, we are to be without the sun. With the days rapidly pulling in, the remaining outside jobs are being finished off, and building, equipment and people are being prepared for the winter.
|The Laws building shortly after sunset|
One of the jobs that is ongoing here at Halley is the moving and moving again of full and empty Avtur drums. The large flubbers that feed the main generators need refilling. The drums must first be loaded onto a sledge, and then the sledge is positioned at the top of the shaft that leads down to the tunnel where the 25,000 litre flubbers are. A hose with a special nozzle is placed in the drums one at a time until they are empty, and a couple of hundred drums later the flubbers are full. The empty drums are then placed on a "dump" to wait out the winter until they are taken away by the ship when it returns.
Some of the empty drums are used to mark out routes to places that are used frequently, or for relief during the summer. The drums must be constantly kept on the surface of the snow, and with a metre of accumulation in a year, it's an annual event. Most of the lines had already been "Raised", with just the N9 line left. This runs to the north-east of Halley to a creek that has been used for relief when nearer creeks have not been suitable. This is the longest of the drumlines at 53 km, and takes two days to raise.
Another use we have for empty drums is as a marker for determining visibility when carrying out meteorological observations. There is a lack of natural landmarks, so we have a manmade one which is placed 4 kilometres from the base. This had to be moved this year as the new skiway, which is now to the north of Halley, runs too close to it. Neil and Richard, along with some help from Gaz, Thomas, and Andy, took a bulldozer out to it to dig it up and then reposition it.
|The 4 Kilometre marker with a Buldozer and crane in the background.|
This month has been full of meteorological events. We had our first real "blow" with winds reaching gale force and speeds of over 46 knots. At this sort of speed the wind whips the loose snow off the surface and the air is thick with it. At its worst you could only see a few metres in front of you, and hand lines had to be used when walking between buildings. Most things had been prepared well for winter, but a few things managed to dislodge themselves. A large and very heavy instrument (Sodar) that sends beeps up into the atmosphere was blown over, and a couple of empty boxes ended up far from the place they were last seen. Large amounts of snow were dumped behind anything that is on the snow surface, and several people, including Gaz and Karl, have been busy with the bulldozer, flattening out the numerous wind tails around the base.
|The ugly sky that could have been the first warning of the storm to come.|
Other, much more pleasant phenomena we've seen quite a lot of are haloes, and plenty of rime. The rime collects on anything that stands still outside for too long, including people. It builds up on all the buildings and cables giving some beautiful effects.
|An example of the thick rime that has built up on the cables and masts||The rime that has built up on the open platform of the Simpson|
It's so cold here that the rime is easily dislodged. If the temperatures were closer to zero it would be more icy and hard. It grows out in feather-like fingers, usually upwind of whatever it is settling on. The gaps in the masts become smaller and smaller until they almost close up, but just a slight tap is usually enough to bring it all floating down to the ground....covering any unsuspecting person who might be underneath!
|The feather-like structure of the rime.|
The rime buildup is due to the fog, and this month there has been quite a lot of it around. Often this comes as a low lying layer, and when you are on one of the platforms you may still be able to see for miles.
|The first glimpse of the sun as it pushes it's way up through the fog.||The sun as it rises over the Stevenson screen.|
The fog and mist can also give rise to some other interesting phenomena, and can completely change the feeling of these remote surroundings.
|One of the Strange things that the low sunlight does through the mist||The Piggot Building in the early morning mist|
Haloes occur when there are very high thin clouds or when there is diamond dust in the air. Cirrus clouds can appear so faint that they might only give the sky a slightly milky appearance, but the colours they produce when the sun shines through them can be magnificent. In a complete halo there is a circle centered at the sun or moon; there are bright spots to either side at the same height as the sun and these are called sundogs. This is the part which is usually the most visible. There can also be a sun pillar that rises up vertically, and this can sometimes be seen even after the sun has set.
Diamond dust usually occurs when the sky is clear of clouds. It consists of tiny ice crystals, that hang in the air like fog, but glitter wonderfully when lit up.
|Sundogs seen from the Simpson.|
Work still has to continue, and while the cold temperature can make a task take more than twice as long, the beautiful surroundings can certainly make the job less of a chore. Richard Casson has been continuing with his monthly surveying of the legs of all the buildings. The ice that the buildings are built on slowly gets compressed and moves slightly. Richard has to ensure that the legs remain in line with each other so there is no stress put on the building.
Micro Met, myself, Cathy and Dan have been busy finishing off our outdoor jobs. Every so often the stays on the masts must be re-tensioned. The snow accumulating in the "deadmen", that fix the stays into the ground, means that the stays get tight and must be loosened. And of course there is always the unforeseen event of a piece of equipment breaking down, and that also needs attention.
|Richard Casson under the Simpson building carrying out his monthly surveying of the position of the legs||Me at the top of the Met mast looking at the Anemometer|
The beginning of the month saw the return James Kier, Dan Carson and Richard Borthwick to Halley as the last of the pre-winter trips to the Hinge Zone came to an end. But that's not the last of the holidays for us. Thanks to our full-of-fun Field GA, Karl, and the nimble fingered Vehicle Mechanic, Gaz, who gets the vehicle's treacle-like oil circulating again, we've had a couple of trips to the coast.
|The sun setting behind the Garage|
The first was a night time trip to the caboose at Creek 4 where the ship first arrived this year. Seeing the creek at night gave it a completely different feel from when we first saw it in brilliant sunshine. There was a different disc in the sky this time (the moon) which was full and shining brightly but it wasn't the only thing illuminating the night sky. We watched the green of the aurora dance overhead high in the atmosphere, maybe a couple of hundred kilometres up. Here particles from the sun collide with molecules producing a wonderful display of colour. With the virtually cloudless skies we also had a good view of millions of stars and the streak of the Milky Way. Dave, our Winter Base commander, has been pointing out a few of the Southern constellations to us, including the Southern Cross on the greater and lesser Magellanic clouds. Venus and Mars are also highly visible here where the atmosphere is clear and there is no pollution.
We've had other trips to the coast, both traveling on skidoos and in Sno-cats. The sea ice is now extending further than the horizon; Halley is most definitely entering winter. With the increasing sea ice, comes an increase in the population of the local area. Emperor penguins are now making their way to their breeding grounds around the edge of Antarctica. We are lucky enough here at Halley to be within a few miles of those breeding grounds, and during the last trip to the coast, some Emperors were observed in the distance, just the beginnings of the huge colony that will soon be inhabiting the area. They travel sometimes a hundred miles across the sea ice to return each year to raise a single chick per breeding pair. Due to the huge distances they travel, both parents cannot be present all the time. Once the egg is laid the females return to the ocean to feed, and coincide their return with the hatching of the young. Then it's their turn to look after the chick while the males feed.
|The early stages of Sea Ice at Precious Bay|
Karl and Mark had a trip on skidoos out to the McDonald Ice Rumples. This is a section of the ice shelf that is grounded on some rock below it. The ice shelf is moving out towards the sea, but gets stuck at this point, and the pressures exerted on it means that crevasses open and huge pillars of ice are thrust up. Great care must be taken when travelling near to the area, but the reward is a beautiful sight.
In order to celebrate Sundown we had a Bar-B-Q outside on the open platform. Paul and Richard did the preparation, moved the Halley picnic table up onto the platform and lit the BBQ. There was plenty of good food to go on the BBQ, prepared by our very talented chef, Rich T. Everyday he works his magic to turn out the most wonderful meals, even though we now have almost no fresh food left. Neil provided us with music through the evening, which kept us all dancing, and the cold out.
|Ricky, Tom and Neil at the BBQ||Paul and Me||Dave the Winter B.C. and Doctor Tom||Neil and Gaz outside at the BBQ|
It is a tradition with BAS to have the oldest person on base lower the flag at sundown, and the youngest to raise it again when the sun returns. Richard Casson had the honour this year and he did it with style, whilst also sparing us a long boring speech. The Union Jack gets raffled off and I was fortunate enough to be the lucky winner.
|Richard Casson as he lowers the flag at Halley.|
This month also saw the birthday of Alan, the VLF Engineer. Richard Turner excelled himself again and put on the most wonderful spread that included fish in a white wine sauce, and steak and kidney pie. Birthdays are very important here; it give us another excuse to get dressed up and have a celebration. People go to a lot of effort to give handmade presents, and amongst Alan's was a painting that Cathy had done of icebergs. She had even made the frame herself.
|Cathy's interpretation of the Penguins and Icebergs.|
We all take it in turn to do a week of nights. We listen out for alarms and keep a fire watch over the building. It is an opportunity to have some time to yourself and a chance to catch up on any little projects you might have on the go. This month Cathy had her chance, and amongst the wonderful things she cooked up for the rest of us to eat, were some very amusing Gingerbread Men. She'd made a caricature of everyone on base, but managed to miss out herself!!!
|An example of some of the things poeple get up to on Nights|
There is no way of actually explaining the feelings you get living in a small community in such a cold and remote place, but I hope this gives a little insight into the sort of life we have here at Halley.