Thursday, 29 November 2007

A boring video...

I just realized that on my creek trip, while I was waiting for Toddy to take some pictures, I took a brief video of my surroundings. Not particularly interesting, but it is my first video. I'll take a few more later, I imagine. So, welcome to the ice shelf, somewhere between Creek 7 and Creek 9.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

A quick story

...and it's going to have to be quick, as tonight is movie night and they're playing the Big Lebowski - I can't miss that!

It's been sunny down here for the last couple days, and yesterday we did more relief-hunting along the Creeks. Today, we went down a creek (like a fjord; but smaller, and all ice, of course). Toddy abseiled in first; then, when he was halfway down, I heard a wumph and saw a good chunk of the creek collapse!

I was quite nervous, of course, and yelled for Toddy. He couldn't hear me, because he was yelling his own choice expletives. He wasn't in danger, of course - he picked the right spot to abseil, as he should, after decades of experience. But still, a bit unnerving to watch, and awe-inspiring.

The funny part, for me at least, was that while I was waiting for Toddy, I was watching 6 penguins slide along in a line on their tummies, about 1km out on the sea ice. That's their "long-distance" method of travel. But when we started yelling, they scrambled up and stood in a half-circle watching us, moving their heads slightly. You could almost picture them conferring about the situation:

"What's all that about?"

"Dunno. Want to go check it out?"

" Doesn't involve us. Those orange creatures are just weird."

"Hm. Well, let's get back on the road, then. I want to get to that iceberg over there by the end of the day."

And so, they dropped back on their bellies, and off they went.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

A quiet weekend

And so it was.

Friday, though, saw the influx of some new people, as I mentioned. Six more inmates were shipped in, including the Halley VI project manager, a new sparky, and...well, I haven't found out yet about the others. They came in on the same "Nice try, Lao Che!" plane that we did; but from the other side - Capetown to Novo (Russian base) to Troll (Norwegian) to here. And the same crew, out of the 'Shwa (Oshawa, ON, Canadia).

They came bearing a few gifts - for me, a set of radar reflectors, some new GPS equipment, cables, a camera battery charger (which I neglected to pack first time around), and some maple syrup. This is all stuff I packed myself in September, except the charger. Nice to see it again, though.

As they were a bit spaced out upon landing - a feeling I can understand - I didn't see too much of them on Friday. But yesterday, they all made it out to the bar, for a good night. After a few ports, I was busy convincing many of the winterers that they should look into island real estate in Nova Scotia. Not sure why, really, but it is pretty cheap.

Also, the dawn of Saturday morning revealed a clear crisp day to go do another rosette site, so we did. (And I should air-quote "dawn", as the sun certainly never left the sky all night!) But, now that you're all rosette experts, there's not much need to talk about it. I did take a picture, though; this time, it has my noble steed in it as well:

After that, things manked up quite a bit, and we lost visibility. Pity, as I was going to show off the vehicles in this blog entry. Maybe the next one.

And, what the hell, let's throw in another penguin picture, since things are slow at the moment.

Friday, 23 November 2007


After a few days of sitting around in a windy storm, I awoke Thursday to find conditions....marginal. I stood out on the deck with Toddy and Simon, the science coordinator, surveying the conditions. Toddy - who makes the call on the weather - was pessimistic, as is his job. So, we gave it another hour, and I got the call on the radio - conditions are better, and we're going out. Finally!

So, yesterday was a whirlwind trip around the ice shelf. First, we escorted a Sno-cat (large tracked snow vehicle; I'll show one in the Halley tour soon) to the Precious Bay caboose, a little cabin on the south side of the shelf, maybe 12km away. This caboose was to be removed after sitting there for several seasons. So - surpise - a lot of digging was involved.

Once the bulk of the digging was done, Toddy and I skived off to make a rosette measurement. Have I described rosettes? I can't be bothered to search my blog to find out. So, here it is again.

A rosette is a set of four poles in the snow - one in the middle, and three arranged in a ~100m triangle around it. When we measure it, we put a GPS antenna at the top of each pole, hook it up to a car battery, and let it sit for an hour or so. I haven't bothered to take a picture of a rosette point; but here, I'll poach one from the field report of my predecessor, Kathy:

So, setting up these points is relatively simple - very simple, in fact. The Trimble devices we use have two buttons on them - power, and record. Much less complicated that the Leica GPS devices we use in our permanent setups - but I'll get to that anon.

Once our devices were in place recording, we took off on our skidoos to the Precious Bay coast. The search continues for a relief point - the location where a ship may unload onto sea ice, before making the journey to Halley. This relief point, wherever it is, will form a major part of my life around Christmas time, so I won't go into detail on it now. Suffice it to say, we didn't find a good relief point at Precious that day.

So, we toodled on back to our rosette - passing a big hole in the snow where a caboose stood a few hours ago - gathered our devices, and sped off back to Halley.

Next was the north side of the shelf, where I checked on one of our permanent GPS sites, which wasn't working. These permanent sites are my main reason for being down here - and, like relief, I will save their description for another day. This post is long and rambling enough!

Our final job yesterday, starting around 7pm, was another relief site search at the Creeks, the ragged north side of the shelf. I was getting a bit groggy at this point, mostly from concentrating on a rope for so long (it was tethered riding again; my favourite). We found a reasonably relief point, that might be considered. While Toddy was walking around on it, checking it out, I sat and enjoyed the rugged ice cliff view. I'll grab a picture at some point - a beautiful sunny day, open water in the distance, 2 km of sea ice in between, a sole penguin wandering around about 1km out, and two snow petrels swooping around us, obviously wondering why there were colorful items (us) amongst all that white. Snow petrels are white, agile birds that swoop like swallows. Makes me wonder why they evolved to have this agility - it's not like there are complicated objects in the Antarctic that they need to fly around.

Anyway, at the end of the day, we returned to Halley, and not a moment too soon. Our good run of sunshine disappeared and we lost contrast. Skidooing in no contrast is a surreal experience. You can't tell the sky from the snow, and the surface of the snow is featureless. It's like you're skidooing in the void. My rope is attached to Toddy, a little bit ahead in the void, but other than that, you could be in the null space. Until you fly over a little hill that you couldn't see, and come crashing back into reality for a moment.

Anyway, we got back. And today, another plane has landed bringing more visitors - but I'll talk about that later. And, as many of you probably saw, there was a bit of an incident today with a Canadian-operated ship in British (claimed) Antarctic Territory! I can't add much commentary, except that it happened quite close to one of BAS' other bases (Signy). We may hear more about it from them eventually, but I don't think they were involved in the rescue plan.

Monday, 19 November 2007

The storm, in the calm before the storm

This confusing title wasn't as clever as I thought it would be. But this is our last week before another crew of 12 people show up, and we officially kick into "summer mode". This means longer hours of working, a change in time zone (done purely for pilots' logistics reasons, so all British bases are on the same timezone), and more temporary accommodations to be opened.

And, in this last week, there is a lot of wind (unrelated to previous post). 40-50 knots of it, to be exact. And now I see why the handlines are installed to get between buildings. You can't see a damn thing. I woke up this morning being gently rocked by the wind - along with the rest of the Laws building where we live. That'll happen when you put a building on stilts!

I woke up at 6am, suddenly remembering something I left outside. In fact, a lot of things - a whole box sledge full of expensive GPS equipment. I was convinced that, by this time, this equipment would be blown 20km away, off the ice shelf, and now floating in the Antarctic Sea. But no; it was still securely fastened with a tarpaulin and a clove-hitch knot that Toddy taught me during training. Knots are useful things! Think I'll learn a few more.

Anyway, perfect timing for this storm, as my melt-tank duty finished yesterday. After Saturday's ordeal, yesterday was a breeze. And I now have pictures for Saturday's melt tank ordeal. Here is Jim, exulting in his triumphant clearing of some random level (5 down from the surface, say?) of melt tank tube:

That's the tube on the right, there; Pete is on poking duty at the moment. I don't know why it looks like it's snowing in there. When we finished, Jim gave us the 1p tour of the tunnels. -Not- recommended for the claustrophobic! The tunnels have partially caved in, and other parts are slowly getting crushed. Here is a part that isn't.

Casual access is not allowed - with our melt tank issues, we had a legitimate reason to be there. These tunnels connect all the buildings and allow access to the fuel, stored in a big rubber waterbed here:

Somewhere else is the onion, the bizarrely named final destination of our black water. Our poo, in other words. I chose not to take a picture of the onion, so we'll all have to imagine what it looks like. And, like me, I'm sure you are all picturing a large Spanish onion. At some point in the last 20 years, though, a black water line exploded and poo went flying everywhere. And they couldn't clean it all up. So, the tunnels have a slightly poo-tinged smell to them. But not much of that. Actually, for some reason, between the cold, the look of corrugated steel, and the odd smell, it reminded me of a hallway to a changeroom at a hockey rink.

Once we finished, we had a brief quiet lunch - most of the winterers were off on a penguin trip, which we were denied, thanks to the melt tank. But I'm still just lucky that I got my chance - I probably won't, in following years.

And with any luck, I'll never have to empty a melt tank tube again, either.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Too much water, not enough food.

Ah, melt tank duty. Started off as a lot of work; then got a lot easier, now is a -hell- of a lot harder. Permit me to explain.

Monday and Tuesday, we were shovelling it in with nothing but elbow grease. Dig, dig, dig. Wednesday and Thursday, we were assisted by a huge-ass bulldozer. The dozer (with Lance at the helm) would push a pile of snow over the hole; we stick our shovels in and keep the hole clear, and the snow just falls in. I say "just", but it's still enough work keeping that hole clear. But a lot less than digging and throwing.

By Friday, we got into a really good rhythm for keeping the hole clear, and the snow just kept going in at high velocity. And then, next thing we knew, that sucker was full right up to the surface. "Hooray?" I thought for a nanosecond, but then instincts kicked in and I realized this is probably a very bad thing. This perception was immediately backed up by a torrent of expletives from everyone around me.

Yes, the melt tank tube was jammed. We had to go subterranean to see how bad the damage was. So, this was my chance to see the fabled Halley tunnels.

We opened a trapdoor in the snow and went down about 10 feet into a chamber. Then another trapdoor, and another chamber. Then a few more. I think we passed the lechers and the covetous on one of the levels, but Jim, my "Virgil" guide, would only stop at each level long enough to check the melt tank tube to see if it was still jammed with snow. And it was. All the way down to the bottom level, where we actually crawled into the melt tank itself, to find it was jammed with snow too (and by "we", I meant Toddy; I couldn't fit in). So, we slid down Satan's leg and left.

We must now wait for the snow in the melt tank to - surprise, surprise - melt. Then, tomorrow shall be The Day of A Thousand Pokes, where we shall dislodge seven stories of snow in the pipe. That should fill my exercise quota for a while. I'll grab some pictures.

On another note, people are starting to notice that certain dishes are getting repeated more often these days, as the imbalance in our food supply starts to reach noticeable thresholds. We currently have surpluses in brussel sprouts, kidney meat, baked beans, and All-Bran. We have deficiencies in Ribena, real ale (grrrr), and probably many more that I don't know about. But no problems. We can last another month until the ship gets in. Although if the ship is late, we could be in for a bout of flatulence and uber-fibre that may undermine the entire base, with these rations.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The melt tank, and signs of interest at Rothera

A quiet week so far, down here. This week, I'm on melt tank duty. In our backyard - or front yard, I suppose - there is a hole in the snow, with a lid. This is our water supply. Everyday, we need to chuck snow in the hole, which is then melted and becomes our drinking/shower/everything water.

Once you've done melt tank duty, you get a new found respect for water conservation - knowing that every kilo of water you use for your long shower has been shovelled by someone. Makes your showers very efficient - many probably reduce it to George Carlin's four main areas. Google it, if you can't guess what they are.

Anyway, while I was downloading the Simpson pictures, I noticed a few pictures on the camera I neglected to post a few weeks ago. While I was night shifting at Rothera last month, I took a camera with me and snapped some pics of some of the signs around the base. Here are three:

1. Trust me; behind this door, there is nothing as interesting as the signs may suggest.

2. A very passive-aggressive reminder, possibly from a self-loathing environmentalist:

3. And finally, from the department of "I wasn't going to, but...":

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Halley Tour I: The Simpson.

All right, let's get this official Halley tour in motion. First stop: my office, the Simpson building.

The Simpson building is where the scientists work. And that includes me, because I'm a "scientist". We even have white lab coats. Which will be necessary, as you'll see.

The Simpson is about a 4 minute walk from the main Halley building. One typically walks there, but you could ski or skidoo there, of course. A pretty nice commute, albeit occasionally cold. On zero visibility days, there's a rope you can follow from the main building.

Here is our patio. Lovely for sunning yourself, if you have the urge to contract melanoma. It has its own crane, and it's about 8m off the ground. All of the Halley buildings are on stilts, so to speak, as the snow accumulates 1-2m per year. The buildings get raised at the same rate. As we walk into the door there... come into our hallway. In the room to the right, is the ozone machine, which is mounted into the roof. This sucker hasn't changed much in the last 50 years - the computer which was reluctantly added to it, still runs DOS and has a dot-matrix printer. It still has a bit of a mad-scientist feel to it - and it's operated all day and night.

On the left, we have the plumbing room, and a bathroom with an incinerator toilet at the end. This is the only room that requires a lab coat - or, at least, the only one with a sign to that effect. I believe the sign may predate the room's designation as a toilet. But I could be wrong. It is a hazardous waste depot, particularly the morning after chili night.

Moving down the corridor, and looking to the right, you see our office. As you can see, it's a very formal environment, with a very dignified hammock as our centerpiece. Actually, the hammock is just a weekend thing, used in between ozone readings. My desk is behind it.

And that's that! Not a big building. It will become our haven of solitude, once the hordes hit us in about a month. It's got everything - a fridge, tea, biscuits, and distilled water. Mmm. Certainly different to most of the offices I've worked in.

Friday, 9 November 2007

-20C and 20 knots

Yeah, today was a cold one to be outside for 10 hours. Today, Toddy and I surveyed the "D-line" - a set of locations to the south of Halley. The cold and wind was annoying. But my nemesis today was a 12 foot length of rubber-wrapped rope.

You see, on the Brunt Ice shelf, where evil crevasses may lurk, BAS demands that we tie our snowmobiles together when we are on uncertain ground (the Scandinavian Antarctic teams, I might add, see no need to do this).

So, there'll be Toddy in the front. He gets the privilege of falling into the crevasse, seeing as he's been a field expert so long that he could probably escape the crevasse by merely waving an ice-axe at it and saying "Stop wasting my time, crevasse." Then there's 10 metres of rope. Then there's a Nansen sledge - this is a classic sledge design that holds all our emergency stuff - petrol, radios, emergency tent, man-food (I'll describe that later), etc. Then there's 30 meters of rope. And then there's me and my snowmobile. And then there's another sledge, carrying my surveying equipment.

So, when this convoy gets in motion, I need to match Toddy's speed exactly. If I go too slow, Toddy is pulling me and my sledge, as well as the Nansen, and his poor skidoo can't handle it. However, if I go too fast, I end up driving over the rope to which I'm attached, and sawing away at it with my skiis. And this is expensive rope.

So for 40km of careful driving at 20km/h, my entire existence is dedicating to concentrating intently upon the rope in front of me, making sure that it is slack, but not slack enough to catch a ski, while navigating uneven terrain at -35C windchill. Yeah, two solid hours of staring at a rope, and swearing at it.

However, we did get the job done - we surveyed six points and did a bit of reconnaissance to locate a possible landing point for the ship that is due in a bit over a month. So, hooray for a productive day!

And tomorrow, I'm on gash duty - a BAS term for domestic stuff, like cleaning the living area, doing dishes, etc. I think it's an old naval term, reflecting BAS' origins, but when I google it, all I get are blogs from BAS. Must remember to ask someone.

Anyway, perhaps tomorrow will provide a good opportunity to give all y'all a photo tour of the joint. Stay tuned. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to stick my windburned face into a jar of lanolin cream! And perhaps I'll stare at a rope for a few more hours, because I feel like I'm skiving off from my purpose in life...must...protect...rope....

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Tales from Halley

Today was quite cloudy, so we couldn't go out into the field. It may be hard to understand, but when it clouds up, you lose contrast in the snow - so you can't see anything in front of you: undulations, crevasses, anything. Even though it could be "perfect visibility", in the Canadian sense. (or British, of course; although it doesn't come up as often)

So, I spent today in the lab, processing yesterday's data. And tomorrow will probably be the same.

As everyone is indoors tonight, there are several stories being told in the lounge/bar. When you have people here who haven't left Halley in 18 months, the stories get passed around fairly liberally. Here are my favourite two (so far!):

First, is the story of the rogue snowmobile. Snowmobiles have hand-operated throttles, as some of you may know. You push the throttle with your thumb; the snowmobile goes faster. Sometimes the throttle can freeze in-position; if this happens, and you fall off, the snowmobile rides off into the sunset, and you sit there watching it. To prevent this, a kill-cord is used; it's a cord that attaches to your body, so if you fall off, it kills the engine.

Before the age of kill-cords - or possibly since, since they're not always used - there have been several snowmobiles taking off like this. With a flat ice shelf, there's a reasonable chance it can be found again, depending on the direction of departure. You wait a couple days, and you go out and find it.

However, one year, this had happened, and while they were waiting, the snowmobile had been travelling in a big loop and made its way back to Halley, a few hours later. The skidoo went straight through the base, sans rider. It must have been like the Weasley car in Harry Potter, or perhaps Stephen King's Christine.

The second tale is about a penguin. Windy Bay, where the penguins hang out, is about 10km away from Halley. The path betwixt the two is marked by a set of black drums set apart by 100m, predictably called the "drumline". A drumline makes navigation easy in low-contrast, and also guarantees the traveller that there are no crevasses along the way, so you can go like hell.

Now, the penguins usually stick together in colonies. However, one of the penguins on the fringe of Windy Bay must have spotted one of the black drums, waddled up to it, and said (in penguin language): "Are you a penguin?"

Getting no reply, the penguin would have looked around, spotted another drum 100m away, waddled up to it, and repeated: "Are you a penguin?". Still getting no answer, the penguin would have looked around, spotted another drum 100m away, and...

100 drums and 10 km later, the penguin came to Halley, looking for a dark object that may or may not be a fellow penguin. As the story goes, the winterers there were taking their picture at the time, and the penguin wandered right into it. This seems to be a bit of artistic license to me.

However, one thing that did happen, is that the winterers reoriented the penguin by 180 degrees, setting it back on the drumline in the correct direction. It would then ask "Are you a penguin?" to 100 more drums, before getting back to Windy Bay. Where, hopefully, it would ask "Are you a penguin?" one last time, and get the response "Uh...yes? What else were you expecting?"

And now, a gratuitous penguin picture.

Monday, 5 November 2007


Sunscreen has very little taste, but it's not pleasant. I know this because I'm slathering it on, and sweating it off, so I still get burnt. It just falls off. And thanks to this damn ozone hole - whose presence was published from a desk less than 10 feet away from me - I'm getting burned pretty good.

I'm out in the field, now. Today we went to visit the Ice Rumples - a place 15km from Halley where the ice shelf is encountering much resistance and there is much activity. And by activity, I mean crevasses. We measure the locations of a triangle of stakes, roughly 100 metres apart from one another. Each year they move relative to one another, and we calculate the strains in the ice from these movements. A picture is forthcoming.

This year, one of the stakes was about 2 metres from a crevasse, so we roped up for our visit. But, of course, no problems ensued and that was that.

Except for the sunburning.

Saturday, 3 November 2007


Ok! I've been a bit busy the last few days...time to go back a bit.

After my nightshift at Rothera - which ended uneventfully - I took a nap and woke up at noon, to find that our flight was coming in at 5pm. I packed, and said my good-byes, and had dinner, alongside the pilots. We loaded up our stuff into the plane, shown below. When I saw it, the first thing I thought was "Nice try, Lao Che!"

Anyone? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Ok, never mind. The plane was decidedly less comfortable than the Dash from Punta - no heating except for an extremely hot cylindrical object that spanned the plane at boot level. So, my left foot was burning, and everything else was freezing.

We got into Halley at 4:30am GMT (which is what Halley runs on; apologies for an earlier comment to the contrary). A pleasant surprise awaited us - the entire Halley winter team was waiting, for an enthusiastic welcome. Of course, we also brought their first fresh produce in a long time, so that may have had something to do with their enthusiasm.

So, I'm here now, and I've been busy going out on trips, organizing my desk, and doing some basic field trips. And, lucky me, one of these trips was to the local Emporer penguin colony. A picture!

These pictures are gold, and I'll save some of the others for filler when I haven't got anything else to show. And there will be several periods of nothing, believe me. The penguins will be leaving as soon as the sea ice breaks up, which will probably be in the next month or two.

And now, off to the lounge. Halley also has a band, and it's currently playing. I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm unappreciative.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Halley, Halley...this is Lifetime Ryan

Hey - just a brief note to say that I've made it into Halley. I've got an early start in the morning and can't write much...expect a longer entry tomorrow night, and - with any luck - some really nice pictures.

A brief explanation of the title, though - when you call Halley on the radio from the field, you use the format of the title. But there's a Brian on the base already, and I need a new name. It may be "Lifetime Ryan", short for "Ryan on the Lifetime of Halley Project". However, it may well be something else. I think there's another Anderson floating around here too, so that's out. We'll see.