Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Darkness Cometh may 07

Sundown 2nd May 07.

It appears Halley is a base of traditions, with May being no exception. The traditional lowering of the well weathered and torn base flag by the oldest member of the base. This year, Base Commander Pete, at the ripe old age of 49. This takes place on the last day the sun breaches the horizon, until its return on sun up, around 9th August, leaving us winterers in about 3 months of darkness. Throughout these sunless months the phase of lingering light glowing on the horizon, slowly takes its toll and diminishes into a gradual darkness 24 hrs a day, until the cycle returns into a glimmer of light back on the horizon, slowly burning brighter each day towards sun up 9th August.

The sun up day is also traditionally celebrated by the flag being replaced and raised by the youngest member of the base, this year our Chippy, James aged 22.

As usual, any excuse for a celebration we all enjoyed another frozen BBQ, all huddling around the glowing ash like our neighbours sheltering themselves from the elements, The Emperors, over on the sea ice.

Saying goodbye to the sun on 2nd May 07, see you in approx. 105 days?

The soft pastel colours in the clouds and moon over the 16 Share antenna's, 33 minutes after the sun finally drifted over the horizon.

A blow hinders most outdoor work here at Halley, this one on 17th May. Although the melt tank still needs to be dug, regardless of the minus 17.2 degree temp. 30.5 knot winds and a windchill of approx. minus 43 degrees.

Now the winter is well underway, our local Doc. DR. Richard Corbett has been training us in technical skills for our time away in Antarctica, which will also benefit our day to day living back home in our "normal" lives. This involves anything from ABC, to Hypothermia, to Venflons, otherwise known as Intravenous Cannula's, which are used to give drugs or fluids directly into a vein.

Our Dr. Corbett, assisting Tamsin in putting in a Cannula inside Alex, doesn't look that happy about it? Poor guinea pigs at Halley!

One of the most amazing spectacles of Auroras Australis we've seen so far, 23rd May 07 00.26am, temperature minus 33.5 degrees.

The bright star at the bottom right of this picture is the planet Jupiter.

I'm not sure these pictures do the Aurora justice, so turn your volume on your computer to the max, and enjoy the "Spielberg" epic, directed by my fellow Halley mate, Jules.

Much of May has been frantically taken up with winter present production in readiness for June 21st - mid winters day, our equivalent of Christmas day. On the day the ship left, we all picked secret names out of a hat, for whom we were going to make a present for. Using the skills of our fellow technicians and materials on base, the possibilities are endless?

James, showing me how to use a router for my dog sledge picture frame, on the Laws platform, (personal project). Quite novel doing woodwork outside in temperatures of minus 36.4 degrees.

With the Halley VI build well underway, there is quite a few preparations which need to be under gone now in order for the build to complete in 3 years. Such preparations involve taking out the science equipment buried in the two shafts, which are both located 2 km West of Halley and transporting the equipment back to Cambridge.

The "Maggie" shaft, approx.25 metres below the ice over 7 levels, and contains sensitive radio receivers called a "Magnetometer" which uses a magnet to read and measure changes in the Earths magnetic field at Halley. Such as Auroras and radio noise in different galaxies.

The "Iris" shaft, approx. 10 metres below the ice, contains a rhiometer,
which has 100 metres of aerials all buried below the ice, which are of a higher resolution and even more sensitive, than Maggie.

Inside the Maggie shaft.

From the bottom of the Maggie shaft, looking up.

Even though the sun has left the horizon far behind, its emitting colours glow on the Antarctic plain, silhouetting the Laws in an atmospheric pose. This picture was taken at 11.50am.

Picture taken at 12.40pm

The laws at 21.04, taken with the red glow of the moon on the bottom right and the bright star in the middle, far left is the star Sirius. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, over 20 times brighter than our sun and more than twice as massive. If you were to be travelling at the speed of light, Sirius would take 8.47 years, to get to from Earth, in comparison to the Sun which would take only 8.5 minutes from Earth, but you would have to be travelling at light speed - 118,000 miles per second. Sirius appears to be one singular star with the naked eye, but is actually in orbit with a white dwarf companion star, Sirius B. White dwarf, meaning it has run out of fuel and collapsed at the end of its life, but will carry on burning for a considerable time to come. A teaspoon of Sirius B would weigh 2 tonnes, its surface is 300 times harder than diamonds, while its interior density is 3000 times that of diamonds. Sirius A is expected to exhaust its store of hydrogen at its core within a billion years, after which it will then settle down to become a white dwarf star.

May was the start of the voluntary biology research. A series of tests to see how our bodies biological clocks are affected by light. Such research, aids in helping other light deprived people in their jobs, all over the world, from us down south to those that go up in space. There are several tests involved in order to evaluate this research. Daily sleep diaries, urine samples, siting in front of a light box for a hour in the morning and 3 different pencil & paper tests, 1st being, copying the symbols related to the number, 2nd being a letter search along a line of letters and the 3rd, the most tricky, is exampled below.

(these do not relate to the alphabet, and are answered true or false)

A follows B - AB
B does not precede A - AB
B is preceded by A - AB
B is not followed by A - AB

The tests are conducted throughout our sunless days, in a series of 12 weeks of alternating experiments on "us live guinea pigs".

Siting in front of the light boxes, in the morning, no less than 40 cm away.

Just a small note, for all those who don't no not to go outside with wet hair, or worse still wash your hair outside in minus 40 degree temperatures. Its not recommended, unless you have a camera!

Alex, Tamsin, Kirsty and Neil after a hair washing session outside.

Even, back in the warmth of the base, Tamsin and Kirty's hair is still frozen hard.

May Statistics:

Max Temp. -4.6 Degrees C on 18th May
Min Temp. -45.6 Degrees C on 27th May
Max Gust 48 Knots

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Auroras, Bbq's, Ice cave, Comrades, Frosted face and Boiling water at -44.1 and Tunnel Rescue Scenario.

"Auroras are charged particles which are found in the earth's magnetic field. They collide with atoms in the Earth's upper atmosphere at altitudes above 80 km. These charged particles are energized, and as they collide with atoms of gases in the atmosphere, the atoms too become energized. Shortly afterwards, the atoms emit their gained energy as fluorescent light."

So now i know, what i'm hopefully, going to be looking at?

This was what i had scribbled my name down for, to be woken up at some unearthly hour of the night / morning. Aurora Australis. Southern lights. I scrambled my clothes on, hopped down the corridor simultaneously slipping on my socks, donned my Canada Goose jacket with Coyote fur trim, mukluks (boots), bear paws (fur gloves that fit just below the elbow) and of course my camera and tripod. I stepped out in to the bitter fresh air to stare aimlessly, hopeful at the spectacular "Light Fantastic" i'd been hearing so much about. The stars were sparkling like diamonds on a silk black scarf. But yet i saw no shimmering lights, just a clear band of sky with stretches of grey matter, stretching like paint on a canvas.

With such little light pollution, just from the buildings around us, i tilted my head, so my back was arched, and with the jewels of stars shimmering and shinning in my eyes, it was a glimpse of the vastness of space. Captivated, i watched, frozen to the spot (almost literally), till a particular something slowly moved steadily across the sky, emitting plane like lights. Of course, no commercial planes fly over Antarctica, and most of the other bases that planes serve, its too dangerous to fly over and land at, during winter. The object was quickly deciphered as being a satellite. A quite common siting down south, and sure enough, the one i saw moving across space was steadily passed by another in the opposite direction. The emitting lights were the satellites solar panels, glistening in the atmosphere. Posing the question "What else are we able to see?" Was followed by the answers " Jupiter is over there". After squinting and focusing in below double figure temperatures, my fascination with space was about to keep me to attention like a fisherman watching his float. The performance of the softest light phenomena, only equal to that of its opposite counterpart, Aurora Borealis in the northern latitudes. That same grey matter i saw moments before, was now transforming into the shimmering wonder i had hoped for. Dancing in the sky like soft, silk emerald green scarves, i was hypnotised. And in those brief scenes of phenomena it faded once again from striking emerald green into its original, exhausted grey matter, diminishing altogether in a blink of an eye.

Our first Aurora Australis, 2nd April 07.

With the Easter weekend upon us and most of the base enjoying some festive time off, and the well organised Easter egg hunt from Tamsin, i thought it was as good a time as any for a bbq. The weather too thought it was as good a time as any to drop for the first time this year to minus 30 degrees. So there we all were, huddled on the platform, round an old fuel drum cut in half with a roaring fire smouldering inside. Not only was it a first for me doing a bbq at minus 30, but also a first for using the bbq grill to sit peoples beers on to stop them freezing. Drinking out of a can isn't a wise idea, unless you want a layer of skin taken off at the same time, bottles and glasses, a much safer option.

Easter bbq, 6th April 07

My coke can in the corner of the bbq, keeping it from freezing.

I spent most of today going about my normal business, (well, as normal as you can get working on the Antarctic ice shelf), totally unaware of all the commotion of digging outside. Digging here is as normal as the wind blowing the leaves down the road or making a cup of coffee in the morning. The only exception here, was that it was voluntary. A few of the old winterers which were doing a second year, had located the position of a cave which was dug a few years earlier, by past Halley crew, in between the Laws and Piggott building. With an announcement over the radio late on Friday night, we were all welcomed into the new "Halley Ice Bar". A shuffle on your bum, then on your back, followed by a 1 metre high ladder ending in a slippery slope with smooth cut stairs into it, and we were in. An assault course, before you enter the bar - it might catch on? A real ice bar, 4 metres under the ice and barely a metre high.

Entrance to the, (well dug out) ice cave.

Dave, Alex and Tamsin in the ice cave.

Me settling in for the night in the ice bar.

Our first team photo on the Laws platform.

After a hard evenings ski for a hour or so, around the 4 km perimeter in minus 38.2 degrees, the features of a true Antarctic hero merges, back from the wilderness.

As the temperature begins to drop ever more rapidly, a lesson in science becomes a fun past time. A pan of boiling water, 1oo degrees C thrown out into the atmosphere where the temperature is below minus 44.1 degrees C, results in the water turning instantaneously into gas before it hits the ground.

25th April 07

"The nature of the beast", regarding living and working in Antarctica, is the many rescue scenarios, which have to be acted out, tested and refined, just in case anything did happen. The tunnel rescue scenario was no different. If anyone was injured or simply couldn't get out of any of the Halley tunnels unaided, is there a way we can help, get them out? Well, with a dummy placed "neatly" in the Laws tunnels a very successful rescue was accomplished, although some injuries may also occur from the rescue - being pushed and pulled through tight corners in a straight jacket style stretcher, being lashed to a winch pulley system and being hurled up a 30 metre shaft, i know if it were me, i'd rather crawl out their on my own than go through that.

Rescuers organising the winch at the top of the Laws tunnel shaft.

The unfortunate dummy, totally unaware the worst is yet to come.

The Doc. aiding the now, totally helpless dummy up the 30 metre tunnel shaft.

A successful tunnel rescue team, even for the dummy, although, perhaps only a dummy could survive it?

April Statistics:

This April 07, was the coldest average mean April ever, since Halley began in 1956.

Max. Temp. -10.0 deg on 30th
Min. Temp. -45.5 deg on 23rd
Mean Temp. -29.1 deg, record since data began
Max Gust. 37 knots
Total sunshine. 71.3 hours