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