Halley Diary — May 2004
Sundown By Rhian La La
caveat: don't believe anything you read below,- none of us are to be trusted any more!!!!
Welcome to May at Halley. Halley in May. Mad May Halley. Mad Halley May. May for Mad. And Macintosh. And Mackerel. Mad as two chairs, a fish and a spoon, in fact. On May the first, the sun rose and set for the last time here until August 10th. 105 days. So, as a special treat, we all get to go mad, allegedly. We, naturally, have seen no sign of this. But then, we are inside the box looking out. There's not much to see, obviously, because it's dark and, well, flat. Pitch black in fact, you can't even see your hand in front of you. And we all smell of Avtur. And you trip over your toes. I don't know why but you do, maybe it has something to do with your inner ear. Here's a picture of Frank teaching Simon how to look for Craig's balance. He is a decidedly unbalanced individual.
Now then, linearity is not my strong point but I'll try and start at the beginning. May the first. That great day. The day the flag was lowered by our eldest member, Jeffrey Cohen, following historic mutterings and cheers from fans around the platform shouting "get on with it Jeff, before we all die of hypothermia".
In accordance with tradition, the new flag will be raised at sunrise by the youngest member of the team, Vanessa O'Brien. In August.
Realising that we had to mark this occasion with some record of our pre-darkness selves, we had an impromptu photo session. Now, you'll appreciate that the day had yet to hold the eagerly awaited pish-tash competition and centurion club so no-one had much time to preen themselves. This, ladies and gentlemen, is therefore the 2004 Halley Wintering team, in all their natural glory (click on the photo to see mug shots).
The finalists in Pish Tash 2004 were presented by Ness in last month's webpage. Breaths were baited, noses were itching and everyone wanted the boys to be allowed to shave again. The judging team consisted of those who couldn't, for genetic reasons, grow a beard and those who wouldn't, for bizarre reasons, be parted with their facial hair.
Everyone won an award and was thrilled. While special mention must go to Kev and his particularly artistic tash, the final winner of pishest tash 2004 was... Graeme Barton for the "Most Impressive Construction From PVA Glue and months worth of Bellybutton Fluff ". Well done, Graeme.
The celebrations culminated with the traditional sundown centurion club documented in photographs below.
And that was just day one! Since then, much work has been done, we've had an enormous storm, been to the beach, had a quiz and partied at Club Nido. And shovelled lots of snow. But that's a given for any month at Halley. Meanwhile, the sun continues to glow a fraction less light above the horizon every day. Have a look at the balloon launching photos later on; that happens at 11am every day. It's not pitch black, it's beautiful. The sky is admittedly dark until about lunchtime but for a few hours in the day we have amazing blues and purples of eternal dusk with reds and oranges glowing to the north. The moon and the stars are piercingly bright on a clear night and the auroras purely magical. Jeff and Stuart have been the most diligent at watching the night sky as the below photos show. (Click on the black and white image for more information on comets.)
All in all, this is a great place, especially if you're mad!!
And then the storm arrived. After lunch on the Tuesday a few of us ambled out to the CASLab to do odds and ends. It was a cold, clear, crisp day. Good for outdoor work but incredibly cold. And no wind. At 5pm, the building started shaking a bit and we lost the return beam of light that we reflect off a mirror 4km to the east. By 5:30pm we were heading home as fast as possible, fighting the wind, looking forward to a hot mug of tea. By Wednesday morning, wind speeds had exceeded 40 knots and stayed that high for most of the week. There was a slight respite on Saturday, with windspeeds dropping to 23 knots, but it then soared again and kept most of us inside our various buildings, as far as possible, until the following Wednesday.
The above slide by Stéphane Bauguitte shows the time-series of some meteorological observations made by the Mawson Weather Station (on the Simpson platform) during the autumn blizzard which blew between the 5th and 14th May 2004. The wind speed in knots is plotted on the left-hand axis, with the 5-minute mean observation in grey, and the minimum and maximum observations above and below mean, in black.
The atmospheric pressure in millibar is plotted in red on the right axis. You can see the atmospheric pressure plumetting from 990 to 955 mb on the 5th May, an impressive 35 mb drop within 25.5 hrs! This resulted in the high winds experienced at the beginning of the storm. It's always difficult to grasp how strong the winds really are, so the Beaufort scale of wind has been plotted as white horizontal bands. As you can see, some of the gusts registered on May 6th and 7th were hurricane force 12, meaning penguins probably flew nearby Halley!!!! During the strongest gusts the shaking and swaying of the buildings, which stand on stilts, was particularly impressive. The white-out created by blowing snow outside, and resultant reduced visibility, was also an unforgettable experience... not to mention the howling of the wind around handlines and building structures.
The below graph, by Simon Coggins, shows that this was the longest period of consistently high winds for a couple of years. Infact, we think it is the longest lasting storm of this magnitude on record for Halley.
The storm was amazing. Within 3 minutes of leaving the platform, you couldn't see anything except the handline you were holding and perhaps a faint blur of light from the building you had just left. Handlines were the only way from A to B and at times people were almost lifted off their feet by surprise gusts. It was like the storms you see in the movies, when they want the weather to seem really terrible. Except it wasn't a movie. It made us all realise quite how remote and wierd a place this is that we live but also how safe we feel inside our little coccoon that is the Laws platform. By day six however, I think everyone had got the message and was ready for it to move on. Which it did, revealing stunning clear night skies and a return to the cold temperature of before.
The weekend after the storm passed, Tommo and Simon hosted a very welcome reminder of sun, sea and sand with a Carribbean Cocktail Night. Fake tan, hawaiian shirts, shades, shorts and sandals all got hauled out of the closet in order to to pass the dress code and be served with sparkling and frothy drinks of various shades decorated with umbrellas, cherries, pineapple slices and spangly silvery things.
Meanwhile, life on base continues and we're getting a lot of work done. As I said before though, you really shouldn't believe everything you're reading in this months diary...
Regardless of the revelries the night before, everyone meets in the dining room between 8 and 9am for breakfast over freshly baked bread made by the person on night-shift and catches up on world news with our high quality newspaper. Due to the isolation down here, the editors understandably feel that we have to have three stories about David Beckham to every one world disaster or significant global event. We are also all most dismayed about the recent dissappearance of the only good bit of the paper: the daily quiz. At 9am sharp, we all scatter to our various work places prepared for the busy day ahead. First however, a team of happy volunteers prance out to the melt-tank to dig snow for our water. This is always a joyful and exciting job to be a part of, starting the day with invigorating exercise and sprightly morning conversation. Back on the Laws, the designated ‘gash’ person starts scrubbing the toilets, laying the table and listening out for emergency calls (“put the kettle on darling, I’ll be in in a minute”) on the radio.
Probably the most important people for maintenance of our daily quality of life are members of the technical services team and our chef. Graeme is our generator mechanic who left the Kingdom of Fife on a ship for 4 months but managed to mistake the platform for his journey home and has found himself stuck here for two and a half years. He visits the Piggott platform every day to make sure the CASLab and Piggott still have electricity and to service the generator… and then does the same on the Laws, ensuring that the Simpson and Laws platforms have power. Compared to last year, we are currently holding a record number of days without a power-down on both the Piggott and Laws platforms. Nigel, our mechanical services engineer, heat and vent technician and plumber also has daily checks making sure that everything flows out and in the right places and that we stay warm, dry and watered. Nige and Graeme share a workshop in the Laws but are rarely seen in there due to all their work around the site. Next door to them, Tommo and Graham share another workshop for electrical services and joiner/steel erector skills respectively. Tommo is adamant that there is more to his job than sitting, waiting for things to break and Graham says that his main reason for being here is to look at legs. The tasteful décor in this room is also useful for providing high-brow conversation topics during Workshop Wednesdays. The base has been on a moving ice shelf for 14 years now and buildings are quite spread out so general maintenance keeps these two busy all day, every day. Trying to convince either of them to take an occasional tea break is a hard won battle. Meanwhile, down at the garage, Gareth usually works from dawn ‘til dusk (metaphorically since there is no dawn or dusk anymore) on the various vehicles that need attention in preparation for next summer. Gareth also has a steady stream of visitors throughout the day due to the fascinating and informative manuals that are stored on the garage database.
Meanwhile, the science teams are busy justifying our existence here. And ground-breaking, world changing science it is too.
The Simpson platform is occupied by our team of three very serious meteorological observers: Craig, Stuart and Vanessa. Working shifts and covering all hours of day and night, this hard working team is rarely seen having their feet up. Regular weather and ozone observations, balloon launches and maintenance of equipment keeps them busy despite this being such a slick- running operation that their instruments always work perfectly. This is certainly not a place to come for a cup of tea or gossip.
The Piggott platform, on the other hand, is always a vibrant and exciting place to hang out, with cool choons to chill to and the tea urn on permanently. How Russ, Mark, Jeff and Simon manage to look after the Advanced Ionospheric Sounder, Southern Hemispheric Auroral Radar Experiment, Very Low Frequency experiments and handle 170 Gigabytes of crucial data every year in such a party atmosphere is confounding. Next to the platform are sixteen oversized TV-aerials allegedly used to study the ionosphere and solar flares and thereby save the planet, or at least multi-million dollar satellites, from fatal solar storms. Recent evidence, however, has uncovered a dark side to this equipment which can in fact be used to shoot down missiles and stop planes in mid-air. An unfortunate side effect of this causes the Piggott staff to be effected by confusion and other psychological effects. We on base have however not seen any evidence of these subtle changes due to the genius employment strategy of BAS to enlist confused and slightly unhinged people in the first place. Thankfully, one of them is our winter base commander.
Meanwhile, the CASLab, an oasis of peace and calm out beyond the perimeter flag-line, is always welcoming visitors in who are trying to escape the madness and stress of base life. This is the place where we study air. Out there, where nothing ever breaks, you will find two scientists, Stéph and Rhian, who have a well-founded reputation for sanity and good sense. At the CASLab, you can be sure to be offered a bowl of muesli and yoghurt or cress sandwiches on freshly baked croissants with your herbal tea. Yoga and tai chi sessions are offered at regular intervals in this spacious, quiet lab which has calming whale noise music permanently on to enhance the peaceful ambience. This is definitely a quiet place to come to think and be at One with Nature!
Back on the Laws platform, there are a few hard-working souls left known as The Friendless because they aren’t part of a team and, well, have no friends. Ed, our Field Assistant, is very useful during pre-winter and post-winter trips but spends most of his time during these dark months repairing equipment, counting boots and looking for friends. Frank on the other hand, is our doctor and is always rushing around fixing people, giving injections, teaching first aid and saving our lives on a daily basis. We are all, however, doing our best to avoid complete loss of consciousness owing to the fact that no-one wants to receive mouth-to-mouth via Frank’s rather bushy beard. Who knows what lives in there? Mike Rooney is our communication manager and radio officer and the third member of the Friendless team. Mike can usually be found in the radio room tapping furiously on the telex, practicing Morse code and organising radio scheds with all the other international wintering bases in Antarctica. Very occasionally he allows himself a two-minute rest time to practice the guitar but we all know he's really practicing for a mid-winter song he's written about how much he loves us all.... what a guy! Last but not least is Kev, our jovial chef, who can usually be found singing to himself in the kitchen while praising the vegetarians on base for offering him an added challenge to his daily life. His culinary offerings are just another example of life with this happy, Halley team.
As you can see, we're all keeping ourselves busy here. There's always someone to chat to or, if you've heard all his stories before, some entertainment in the lounge. On Mondays we watch '24' (kept under lock and key by Tommo for the rest of the week), Tuesdays is doc school, Wednesdays we practice using various mechanical lifting devices in the workshop, Thirsty Thursday happens after aerobics and curry night and Fridays and Saturdays we have a quiet night in. Sundays see a packed entertainment schedule including 'Teachers', 'Spaced' and a big screen movie to aid recovery after yet another dull weekend. In addition, everyone is scurrying off to make mid-winter presents which often involves learning new skills such as carpentry, photographic development and metal-turning on the lathe. There is also a pool league in progress and regular "I can row faster than you" competitions for the masochists on base. To remind us of evenings back home, Tommo and Russ also organised a pop quiz and Kev served up fish 'n chips to order served in real newspaper.
I leave you with photos from "Club Nido", the world's most exclusive nightclub.. taking the concept of raves in abandoned warehouses to a whole new level!!