Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Schedules and changes and uncertainty

One thing about Halley that you can rely on, is that you can't rely on anything. Weather may affect other people's plans elsewhere; here, everything is determined by weather. And sea ice. At the moment, the weather is okay, but the sea ice is thick. And our Russian ship can't get through it.

As you may recall from previous entries, I was retained at Halley to unload this ship, the Igarka. It was due to arrive Christmas Day. But as the arrival got pushed back day after day, they started contingency planning: first getting a replacement for me, then taking me off relief altogether. And now I'm scheduled to possibly fly out tomorrow to...either Rothera or Sky-Blu.

Sky-Blu is where I'll be working from, so that would be preferable. But we might not stop there on the way back. Or, my equipment and helpers from Rothera might not be there yet. I would like to get there as soon as possible - but if I have to pointlessly wait somewhere over New Year's, I'd rather do it at Rothera.

And to top it all off, there are only two flights out of Rothera in mid-late Jan - Jan 14 and Jan 28. Plans to fly to Canada would be spoiled by the latter.

It's all very confusing. But that's life down here - a month of waiting to get in to do three days of work.That's how we roll.

It may be a while before I post again. And who knows where I'll be? I'll be able to narrow it down to one of four continents, at least.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas and Melt Tank FM

December 22, 2009. Another "Christmas" is about to roll around; and as usual, it will be a busy time in which holiday celebrations are conspicuously absent. In fact, the Igarka - Anderma Mark II - is scheduled to arrive on Christmas day. Or maybe even Christmas Eve! Either way, there won't be much time for mulled wine and carols.

In anticipation of this, we actually had pseudo-Christmas this past weekend. We took the afternoon off on Saturday and had a bit of a party. The usual four-can rule was extended to -five- cans, and a nice roast dinner was served. We then posed for the Halley Summer 2009-10 shot, on a large sofa constructed out of snow:

I'm seventh from the left, of the standing people, back row. Regrettably, the sofa was angled such that an afternoon photo shoot was severely backlit, as one can see. Hell of a nice sofa construction, though.

Other than that, things are starting to wind down on base, with little left to do before the ships get here. I stuck a "bonus" site out on the shelf - site J is my wildly original name for it. It is tracking the "ripples around the Rumples". The ice around the Rumples has become much more ripply lately - picture a car hood/bonnet in a head-on collision, where ripples in the metal fan out from the point of impact. This is happening in slow-motion around the Rumples, and I had enough equipment to cobble together one last site to track a particular ripple.

Actually, I have done one more thing. I'm rather proud of it.

I have recently become the executive producer of Melt Tank FM - your radio station covering all things melt-tank. That'd be Channel 9 on your marine VHF dial. With the heavy assistance of Richard - the incoming meteorological technician (and now the Melt Tank FM program director) - we've rigged up an elaborate setup where the level of the melt-tank is automatically read out.

Just as a reminder - the melt tank is a big underground tank into which we shovel snow to get our water. One shovels until the melt tank level reaches a certain level - around 2.3 metres. This level is accessible from a ultrasonic sensor already wired into a display on the Laws - Melt Tank FM reads this level through a analog-to-digital converter, then sends it over a serial line, then processes it by a perl script, then played an audio clip of me reading the level over a sound card, which is then piped into a VHF radio. It shouts out the melt tank number whenever it goes up, saving the diggers the need to call up the station and ask someone to read it out manually.

There are several opportunities for humourous additions to Melt Tank FM - such as:

1) Random playing of the A-Team theme song (already implemented);

2) A cheesy jingle to be played when people first start digging (to be recorded by the base doctors);

3) Verbal abuse if the level isn't rising fast enough; and

4) Severe verbal abuse if they block the melt tank.

I don't think I'll have time to implement these changes, but at least I'll be immortalized forever by my voice droning out melt tank numbers.

Or at least, until Halley V is torn down in a few years.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The weeks tick by. I now have a changed plan - I shall remain here for the first half of relief. We have two ships coming in, just like two years ago: the Shackleton, everyone's favourite Antarctic supply ship, and the Igarka, a Russian ship carrying the big Halley VI modules.

Some long-time readers may recall that two years ago, we unloaded the Shackleton first, as it has more people, lifting gear, fuel, food, etc., that make life easier all round. However, due to ship problems, the Igarka will arrive first this year. Thus, the personnel shortage. Thus, I'm sticking around for a bit.

Should be interesting, as I think I'll be sleeping on the Russian ship. Mixed feelings about that! It'll be unique and different; however, cabbage soup appears to be a favourite on the menu. I think the chefs have an idea cooking - so to speak - to set up a little cafe down on the coast.

In the meantime, I finally got out to finish my field trips. Antarctic Pole was re-installed at a new location:

... beside a crack 2 km wide...

... with another pole (this one with a solar panel) on the other side.

We'll see what they have to say about the crack movement over the next year. Susanna took a brief video capturing the Pole's departure from Halley:

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Visiting an old Facebook friend

It was the quietest of times; it was the busiest of times.

This past week has been a bit quiet on the work front. Now that the Twin Otter has arrived, the weather has decided not to co-operate, and we've only managed one of our science trips so far.

However, the main base is now a hotbed of activity - all of the pre-ship people are now here, bringing our population up to about 70. The dining room is completely full at mealtimes, with more people waiting outside. It would be slightly claustrophobic for me, if I didn't have my trusty Simpson building to hang out in. Which is where I am now, writing this with the building to myself.

But back to the one trip we did do. About a week ago, we made it out to Stancomb-Wills, to hit some of my sites:
We wanted to hit all 5 sites, but only managed A and B. "A" was just a raising trip - we go out there, and dig up the half-buried device and reset it on the snow surface. So we did. The main bits of the devices are a big box full of batteries under the snow.

...it was only about a metre deep, so no big deal.

"B" had two separate sensors; one to be moved to "C", and another to be moved to "D". The latter device is none other than Antarctic Aluminum Pole, of Facebook fame. If you're on Facebook, you can look him up, and ask to be his friend. He doesn't say much, though.

He'll be posting these pictures too, but here's his view of our arrival:

...and here he is with his rescuer, Ben Mapston, coming to dig:

He was about two meters deep. Ian, the pilot, did most of the digging, as Ben and I were digging the other station beside it. Here's the hole, with a shovel in it:

Hard to appreciate the hole, in flat white light, but Ian digs a very neat, round hole. Everyone has a digging style and method, and Ben and I were much more reckless and wide.

By the time we got the equipment recovered, the contrast went - you can see it yourself, comparing the hole picture with picture of "A" above. If you're landing a plane on an unknown snow surface, which would you prefer? The hole is just as invisible in real life as it is in the above picture, I might add. Wouldn't be good to land on it.

Anyway, without contrast, all we could do is go home. I hadn't told Ben that this pole was the Antarctic pole of Facebook fame until now - slipped my mind - so when he found out he asked for a picture of us together. So here it is.

We were going to take it into the bar for a few drinks, but since then the weather has crapped out too much to even get to the skiway again. But maybe we'll bring him in for a quick Guinness before sending him back to site D on Stancomb.