Thursday, 25 October 2007

October melt, Chicks and Preparation of Visitors

Caution, this edition does contain photos, of the harsh reality that the unforgiving Antarctic elements have upon their extroadinary residents - The Emperor Penguins.

October already, did i miss September? The hours, days and past few weeks have all merged into a pattern of "blink and you'll miss it", scenarios. The clock is ticking, and the race is on to get the base inorder, before our new guests and arrivals get here at the begginning of November - weather permitting. Base in order - well, the reality of releasing the grip on our winter slumber and the shock of relief, again. Its been eight and a half months since all 18 of us saw another human being, a period thats about to come to an end.

With the hussle and bustle of new summer jobs to do, one of the first was a shopping spree to the container line to retreive some brand new skidoos for Matt, the vehicle mechanic to assemble, service and get up and running for the summer crew.

The oncoming of November also bought new weather - "Dingle" days, perfect for Ozone hole observations, and Blimp flying.

The Blimp, tucked up, happily snug in its weather haven, in readiness for the call up to fly.

Alex, the data manager, helping me, get the Blimp out of its slumber, which is a feat in itself.

Dave and Kirsty, the Met Babes, strapping the Meteorological instruments to the blimp lines, to aid in ozone observations, wind speed and direction, temperature, moisture and pressure readings.

The ozone instrument on the left and the wind speed and direction, temperature, moisture and pressure instruments on the right.

Me, using the winch to release the blimp, which is filled with helium, to a height of about 200 metres.

Dave, blimp and the Meteorological instruments in flight.

Lowering the blimp back to bed.

With a push and a shove.

Along with the surprising good weather and "Warm" sunshine, came the melt, a sure sign summer is well on its way, with a temperature of minus 10 degs. Made even more real by the sightings of several Antarctic petrols flying over base, during the blimp flight a few days before.

As the summer fast approaches, many digging jobs are there for the taking, or like below, a chance for Dave to show off his heroic ness of conquering a small snow drift. With his heroic ness in vain and of no use to any "Fancy Free" young ladies walking by, (cos there weren't any) all his testosterone, was tested on digging out the tracks of the two Snowcats.

Me, giving Dave and Matt a helping hand.

Matt, switching on the Webasto in the Snowcat, which is a water heater that preheats the engine prior to turning the engine over.

Steam coming from the melting ice inside the engine hood.

The influx of good weather made no excuses for any outdoor labour to go astray. One of the major digging jobs, was digging out the power cable running from the Laws to the garage, which are attached to several 10 feet long beans, which have clearly become very buried.

A few days later, an empty drum raising session, for drums to be used, to mark the Skiway - the landing strip for the plane.

It wouldn't be too long into the day, that the frequenting weather would change rapidly in both visibility and temperature. Richard unloading the drums approx. every 50 yards along the Skiway, which then will be carefully positioned by a team behind us using a theodolite, so that the plane has a nice straight landing strip with no "dogleg" bends or kinks in it.

Me, digging the drums in a little, as so they freeze into the ice and don't blow away.

Richard and Pete putting the drums in, on the way to the Skiway.

There are many useful skills and abilities, that can be acquired whilst living down South amongst a small team, whom have been carefully selected, for their skills in their chosen profession. None more so than the talents of Matt, who took 3 keen apprentices into the garage for some Mig welding practice.

Me, enjoying the personal firework display i gave myself, and my fellow apprentices.

My first job, welding a nail to a pole, which will be used to mount the recently dug out power cable on.

The 3 Grease "welding" Monkeys, Richard, Dean and me. Although, 2 of them look like they are as happy as a bulldog chewing a wasp.

Due to the Halley 6 build over the next 3 years, much of the science work here will be packed up and sent back to BAS Cambridge. Part of which is the Microbarograph, a pressure sensor 8km away from base, on the Creek 2 drum line. These sensors aid in weather predictions by sensing new weather fronts coming in.

The solar powered weather sensor, which was surprisingly only buried by half a metre or so, is powered by a solar panel which charges the batteries which in turn takes a small amount of power to activate the sensor.

Dave, the met Babe checking his instrument, before packing it away for transport back to Halley, not before a brew, in the crater from the dig.

Probably the last opportunity to visit the cave, made a few years ago from past winterers, before its dug in.

Optimum flying conditions allowed Thomas, the UAV engineer, to perform some of his UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) flights, which is a first for UAV's in Antarctica, but an ideal place as there is hardly any unnatural influences for the potential data. Data, which is recorded on board, such as wind speed, temperature and moisture, accumulated over different altitudes and land and sea surfaces, all aids in climate change forecasting. The plane travels at approx 40 knots and is launched via a bungee, which is buried by a deadman - plank of wood, the UAV travels at an altitude averaging approx 150 - 300 metres and a distance of 1km away from Thomas.

On a normal Sunday morning with no plans for the day, i was surprised of the offer and the opportunity for another trip to the Penguins, to which i quickly scrambled my gear in readiness for the visit to the zoo.

This time, the Emperors had clearly enjoyed the luxury of feeding, from the state of the defecated ice we were walking on. They also seem to take comfort in being reunited with their partner and sharing the hardship of looking after their very demanding, well nursed chick.

A small creche of baby Emperor chicks, learning at a young age, that huddling together keeps you warm.

In just a few weeks the chicks have grown considerably, so much so they struggle to fit inside the sheltered, warm pouch of their parent. Forcing themselves in, any which way they can. Although these are the more fortunate ones, some parents almost die of starvation whilst looking after their demanding chick, having not fed for nearly 4 months themselves. If their partner hasn't come back in time from the ardeous trek from the sea, to take the other parents place of looking after the chick, the remaining adult faces the hertbreakig prospect of abandoming their offspring, inorder to make the same trek again to feed.

In amongst life, on the Antarctic ice shelf, there is also the inevitable death. Which co-exists along the circle of life of young and old together. The mound in the foreground of the photo is an unfortunate victim, of living in one of the harshes, coldest and windiest places on Earth.

Our mid winter base photo, which will be hanging up on the historic wall of fame within Halley 5, 6 and however many more Halley's there on in. In particular, in rememerance of the Halley 5 melt tank which will no longer be a part of the new Halley 6 building, only recognisable by the mound of snow and ice build up, which has served us all our entire water supply - Homage.

Talking of "homage", seeing as everybody else in their department has photos of themselves of their winter season - Simpson gang, Tech guys. We thought it only fair, to take a stand and take photos of ourselves and leave it here, whether anybody wants to look at it or not.

With the possibility of this being the last Saturday (27th) night, before any visitors and ofcourse Halloween, i decided my last meal for my 18 base members, id bring out the last remaining "Fresh" potatoes, which had lasted well since leaving the Falklands in Dec 06.

Sundried tomatoe & basil rolls
Grilled Cod in a light champagne veloute with a roasted red pepper coulis
Charred Barbary duck with a mango & cranberry sauce
Grilled asparagus with lemon hollandaise
Braised beef fillet steak (or Quorn) with Port mushrooms & caramelised onions
Last of the fresh potatoes, roasted
Lemon posset with pistachio brittle

Harry Potter with a very exagerated wand.

Me kiting, with the Simpson in the background.

Is that "air" between the floor and my feet?

The end of the month was beconning, along with the expected new arrivals, (whenever that maybe), which spurred me on even more to empty my food container, in readiness for the new food to be delivered for the forthcoming year. No mean feat, if you remember how full it was in the Summer last year, and sifting through the stock this time round found some quality gems, still perfectly ok but nethertheless dated "use by" 1999 - cineration for them then.

Craning the food onto the platform.

Oct Statistics:

Max. Temp. -3.8 Degs on 24th
Min. Temp. -36.6 Degs on 23rd
Max Average Wind Speed. 54.4knots on 8th
Max. Gust Speed 63.7 knots
Total Sunshine Hours 248.1

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