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.


Nicole Anderson said...

LMAO... coincidentally I'm teaching animal behaviour on Thursday... I do believe this story may come up

Becky said...

Ryan - did that penguin remind you of me in any way? I know that's what James is going to say when he reads this! So now, I'm a cross between Butters, Ralph Wiggum and a daft penguin - hurrah!

Cleavers said...

I just want to know what a body has to do to learn this penguin language, sounds like it would be much in demand.....

Tricia said...

I'm curious about Halley's bar/lounge. Images of Wolfson's lounge cross my mind (although it is difficult to imagine Salsa lessons in mucklucks). How many folks frequent the lounge? Do you ever have visitors from the American base, or is their base not along your drumline? Also, is there any truth to the appendix-removal stories? Your penguin stories and pics beat "Surf's Up"--yes, we tried watching it!

Ryan said...

Regarding penguin language, there's a lot more hooting than I would have expected - you can hear the colony up to a kilometre away.

Pictures of Halley itself are forthcoming - I need to get new camera batteries. There are occasional visitors - by airplane, not drumline, as the nearest American base is at least 1000km away! Probably further. I think there's an Argentinean base about 600km away.

Becky - I didn't picture you as the penguin, but I did picture you telling the story. I believe you could imitate penguin language quite well!