Friday, 30 January 2009

Fly like an ... Antarctic petrel

And today concludes the Halley airplane field season. Whew. My last flight was today. I thought that that would end my busy period, but now the station science season is in full force. As the interim science coordinator, I now have to pay attention to science activities on base that I had previously ignored, or at least evaded.

But back to the field work. This is the Twin Otter, Victor-Papa-Foxtrot-Bravo-Bravo, that takes me hither and thither:

...and this is my airport. Security is a breeze, but the Star Alliance lounge is somewhat limited.

I've done five or six flights, I think. Most of them are flights to places like this:

This is one of my GPS devices that I installed. As you read this, just think: there is a metal box buried in the snow on a lonely ice shelf, hundreds of miles from anywhere, with a little light flashing in it, right now. And it beeps every once in a while. In May, it will weaken and die, and flash no more.

And then it will wait, in silence and darkness.

And then in September it shall be reborn, flashing and beeping merrily until I come to collect it next season. At least that's the hope.

I think the work is starting to warp my reality. I've always personalized these things I install - when my job is to monitor devices that sleep, wake up, and talk to base, it's hard not to - but there is a whole range of inanimate objects that I am starting to personalize. For instance, take battery boxes:

I loathe them. They are intransigent, lazy, fat objects weighing 100kg and refusing to move when you ask them. They are very hard on the back, especially when dragging onto a sled or a plane. Lift with your legs, you say? Not easy when you are knee-deep in snow.

Ah, but then there are my antennas. Always ready to cheerfully talk, further and farther than I ever dreamed possible. Lightweight. Durable. Colour-coded. Haven't let me down yet.

Antennas are decent people.

And man, I need a break.

Monday, 26 January 2009

...and still busy

Unfortunately, I still remain too busy to give a thorough blog entry. I'm taking a few pictures, though, and I'll try to get them on this week. Sunday has traditionally been my blog entry day...but yesterday I was working until 11pm and ran out of time. Today has been busy as well.

I shall try to post some pics later this week. Apologies!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Busy busy busy

Well, I'm going to have to be brief on this one, because I'm exhausted. Today was my "day off" - Sunday - which meant I could sleep in until 8:45 before starting gash duties, cleaning the Drewry and then doing all the lunch dishes for 50 people, then visiting a site for a GPS upgrade, and then coming back just in time to do the dinner dishes for 50 people, then coming to the office to test my results, and then write the blog.

And the sad thing is that this has been my most relaxing day yet.

Last Sunday, I began a series of flights onto the Antarctic plateau. Real Antarctica. Specifically, to these sites:

Site F, the furthest one, is about 260 miles away from Halley ("H5"). At each site, I'm doing a series of field test for ozone monitors. These monitor ozone at the surface, not in the upper atmosphere. Upper atmosphere ozone is good for filtering UV rays - surface ozone, not so good. But it's part of a atmospheric balance of gases that the science community is presumably interested in.

Site F is 8000ft over sea level. Antarctica is a very high continent, once you take the ice sheet in consideration. And essentially it's a big dome - the further in you go, the higher you go. And colder, of course. At each site, we need to manhandle two 100-kg battery boxes onto the plane, which involved a lot of panting at Site F.

Site C, on the other hand, was near some big crevasses. Standard procedure for a field landing is to pseudo-land once, never really slowing down, in case a crevasse opens up under you. Then we take off, circle around, and land again - properly this time - on our makeshift vetted skiway.

A couple times on these flights, our pilot has said "Here, Ryan, take over. I've got paperwork to do." And I would steer for an hour or so. Flying is surprisingly dull. I always thought it'd be something I'd like to do, but if I couldn't get interested in flying a Twin Otter over chasms in Antarctica, I guess it's not for me.

The plane is now off in the Pensacola mountains, a mountain range to the south of us, where my company has one of its various fuel stashes for flights to the pole and so on. They've been stuck there for a few days, which sucks - we have more ozone sites to do.

But as rushed as I am, I don't mind a break. I enjoyed my 8:45 lie-in this morning!

Saturday, 10 January 2009


And I'm back on base! Relief took five days in total.

In case anyone's picked this blog up less than a calendar year ago - relief is the brief, intense period where all of the supplies needed for the upcoming season are unloaded from the ship and taken to base. Once again, I was a sea ice driver's mate; that's the guy who accompanies a Snow Cat driver as he takes a load of cargo up from the ship side, on precarious sea ice, up to the stable ice shelf. And if he goes through the ice, I throw him a rope and pull him out. Otherwise, I just mainly work with the banksman (Lenny the Singing Welshman; what he lacks in tone, he makes up for in volume) to get the cargo off the ship with the crane, and hitch/unhitch sledges of goods at the ice shelf end.

The distance this year was only a couple hundred metres. And so, the bulk of my time I spent looking at this view:

We did have a few animal guests; one young emporer in particular seems enthralled with the ship:

...but occasionally, he got tuckered out and would take brief naps between periods of ship-staring...

and staring competitions with the ship's crew:

One big upside: I got a ship room to myself for the duration. En suite, too! Not bad. I enjoyed my last long "hollywood" shower where I didn't have to think about water consumption.

But those days are over. I'm back on base, sitting in my office, and moved into my new room. This one is in the Drewry building, not the Laws where I was living last year. The Drewry is a summer-only building, whose interior is plywood-themed with stainless steel accents. Definitely has more of a bachelor-pad feel than last year on the Laws. Pictures to follow, to continue my building-by-building tour of Halley from last year.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The last leg of the southbound journey

Deja Vu. I'm at Creek 4, sitting on the ship, writing a blog. I just finished a 12 hour shift unloading frozen food, solar panels, and everything in between, from the ship onto a sledge, sitting on the sea ice with a Sno-cat.

I'm back in relief.

Okay - so when I last wrote my blog, we were in the land of icebergs. All was going quite well, and on the eve of the 30th, we were told to expect to hit Creek 4 - the place where we unload the ship near Halley - sometime around 8am on the 31st.

And then, at 4am, things took a turn for the worse. We got stuck. Proper stuck. When the ship goes silent, it's for one of two reasons. Either we're in smooooth waters, or we're not moving. And it was the latter situation that we woke up to find.

What do you do when you're stuck? Well, once you reverse and go forward a couple times, you swing the crane a bit to get some rocking action. Then, if that doesn't work, you pick up a large container and swing it around for the same purpose:

...and, when that doesn't work, you pick up another ship and start swinging it around:

Good thing we had another ship to swing around - would have been rude to just pick up a nearby ship to do this. (Ignoring the fact there are probably no ships within 1000km.) None of this worked, though, so we just waited and eventually broke out seven hours later through a combination of tricks that the Captain neglected to share with us.

One amusing point: as we sat outside watching, we saw a tiny black dot on the horizon. After a couple hours, the dot materialized into an Adelie penguin, running (with its arms out) towards us to see what was going on. These birds must be the most curious and patient animals in the entire animal kingdom - who else would say "Hm! There's something off at the horizon that looks interesting. I think I'll take a 3 hour walk to go see what it is!"

After departing and leaving behind our spectator, we had an eerie period. Absolutely no wind. The water was like a mirror:

...and when there was not much ice, it felt like we were sailing in a cloudy void.

But, eventually, Antarctica finally materialized in this void, and after following some ice cliffs for hours, we saw human civilization again in the form of four winterers and a skidoo. At Creek 4.

New Year's was spent here - a bit uneventful, as relief began the next morning. And now, a couple days into it, all has gone well. But I haven't left the ship yet. I'll expect to be at Halley when relief is over in the next few days. Quite looking forward to it - a nice change of scenery.