From the meteorological view the Antarctic autumn lasts from 1st of march to 31st of May. So, April is right in the middle of the Austral autumn. It is the time when we realise: the summer with its pleasant temperature just below freezing point is past, but also the dark winter has not yet started. Nevertheless, one can feel that the warming sunshine gets less. For many who are spending their first winter at Halley, the first time the temperature dropped below -30 °C or even below -40 °C in mid April was an exciting new experience. At the end of April however the very cold temperatures are more troubled because it takes double time to put all the layers of clothes on. Something I found remarkably was that the temperature difference between Halley and domestic Braunschweig in Germany was nearly 70 °C some days in April. A value really hardly to imagine. By the way, this year it was the coldest April since the beginning of meteorological records (so for more than 50 years) at Halley.
The month started with the announcement of some strange work tasks. Soon most people realised that they were April fool's jokes. However, Dave was observed doing some sastrugi height measurements, being told to do so by Tamsin. Furthermore, James was ready to give the Doc a hand painting all drums within the base perimeter orange. But at least Dave found a way to take some revenge on Tamsin. It took her some time to find out her new password for her computer, now knowing that it is risky to leave the work desk without locking the screen...
It was not an Aprils fool when I was woken up in the night of the 1st April. The aurora alarm wake up service worked fine and the first aurora australis shimmered in beautiful green colours on the firmament. For some winterers like me, it was the first aurora ever seen. April already had had several clear sky nights with auroras, hoping that there are many more nights with auroras still to come. This natural spectacle is just stunning.
Concerning the work, most jobs have become routine. Outside work gets more and more challenging and slower due to the weather conditions. After 6 nearly uninterrupted weeks in a field tent, Sune tries to re-orientate on the Laws platform. Neil is still busy in the CasLab for at least 60 hours per week. This is possibly only seconded by Mat, maintaining the BAS vehicles fleet.
Apart from their routine work the three MetBabes (Tamsin, Kirsty and Dave) maintained diverse meteorological sensors and recalibrated the micro barographs in April.
Furthermore, Halley now has a second environmental friendly power source. Besides a solar panel (which ironically supplies the vehicles fuelling station), a wind turbine is now in operation. Julius and Neil set up the plant which supplies enough power for some scientific measurement equipment.
These approaches are of course exemplary, but can not provide the power for the complete station. That's why Andy keeps the Piggott and Laws generators well maintained and running. Part of his job is the regular refuelling of the flubbers (big wobbily fuel tanks). In order not to do this task in the middle of the cold winter, Andy refuelled the flubbers end of April with the help from Brian and James.
From time to time the winterers contribute to the task list of some persons. So it became nearly a routine job for Brian to get out all the shovels and radios we drop into the melt tank. Because Antony, our 5 star delux chef was on night shift in April and regularly had two days a week off, nearly everyone spent at least one day in the kitchen. I am surely not the only one who already realised how difficult it is to satisfy all the different tastes and then, additionally get everything done in time.
End of April the Doc (Richard) presented his plans about his winter studies where everybody can get involved voluntarily. Furthermore, a tunnel rescue was practised. The team finally managed to winch up the patient from the tunnel to the surface. The dummy was rescued fast and did pretty well apart from losing its head.
The group that rescued the dummy from the tunnel. From left to right, back row: Andy, Julius, Sune, Mark, Pete, Brian, Richard. Front row from left to right: James, Tamsin, Antony. And the rescued dummy.
Finally, some words on my own work, the unmaned aerial vehicle (UAV) project. Due to all flights on and off base we learned a lot. Diverse technical improvements made the UAV system even more suitable for the Antarctic. This is not only the result of the intense work here (and in Cambridge), my colleagues from the Institute of Aerospace Systems at the Technical University Braunschweig also contributed to that success.
Summarising, the SnoCat, that was modified by BAS for some aspects of the UAV work has proven that it is suitable for the work. It is used for off-base flights for transportation and for being the UAV ground station. The core team of operators (me being the pilot and Alex or Julius at the ground station) is well rehearsed and it is always simple to find more voluntary help if needed. I also learned some lessons, particularly to be patient. There is no sense in risking the aircraft or harming myself when flying in bad (mostly weather related) conditions. Because of the cold temperatures being too cold for the batteries, I will use the winter break for some maintenance, system improvements and the final integration of an infra red thermometer. Apart from this, I can also use the time to give other people some help which also gives me an idea of the other winterers work.
Besides all the work, there are also lots of spare time activities. Kiteboarding and skiing is still very popular at Halley and is also one of my favourite activities. Although weather and daylight limited the kiteable time more and more it was still possible to do some proper kite-boarding in April. It is most likely that only Chris will keep on kiting throughout all the winter. In April even -43 °C and twilight couldn't stop him from his Kiteskiing.
Kirsty, Tamsin, Julius, James and Alex decided that the melt tank digging is not enough, that's why they dug a big deep hole in the ground. They did not search for oil but for an ice cave which was first dug by the 2003 wintering team. Finally, after a complete day of digging they found and reopened the cave. This evening, everyone was welcome to have a drink in the Halley ice cave.
Good Friday before Easter we had a nice BBQ at -30 °C outside. Antony was in his element and served hot grilled food. For all new winterers, that was the coldest BBQ ever. Easter Sunday we searched for the Easter eggs, Tamsin hid on the laws platform. It is most likely that some eggs will be found during the demolition of the Halley V platform, when Halley VI is already in operation.
April was also one of the two months where we had no birthday which also means no birthday party. So, we decided to re-celebrate Dean's birthday. Dean's birthday was during the relief period of the Shackleton and was not properly celebrated for that reason. So he had his party in April. The theme for his party was cartoon and animated characters. We had a really good time on this party.
Finally, also routine got into the spare time activities. There are regular events nearly every evening in the week, e.g. I give a German lesson Tuesdays for those who are interested. Apart from that the evenings and weekends are already used by everyone to make their midwinter present.
Summarising, April was another exciting month in Halley. I am looking forward to the next months with more new experiences and impressions: Sundown, more auroras, midwinter, sunup, first UAV flights over sea ice, the second field trip and much much more.