Antarctic Life

A frozen outlook on life on the ice

About Halley

Plymouth, England 50.4173°N, 4.1067°W

Temperature: +12°C

So I thought it was about time for an update but there isn't really anything exciting to show you or indeed tell you as it is mainly medical training within the local hospital here in Plymouth. Instead I thought I would give semi-regular updates on various historical things until the time comes that I can write about what is actually happening.

This upcoming season is a particularly exciting and important season for everyone down in the Antarctic, but particularly those involved with BAS. 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Halley at Halley Bay on 6th January 1956. It is named after the famous mathematician, geophysicist and astronomer, Edmond Halley who is probably best known for the comet which is named after him. What he is less well known for, but more relevant to Antarctic science, are his contributions to the charting of the constellations of the Southern hemisphere and compass readings, allowing better maritime navigation. The other reason it is a particularly exciting year is 100 years ago Shackleton's ship Endurance was frozen in the Weddell sea (1915) upon which Halley sits and the resulting rescue (1916) was arguably the greatest rescue to have ever been pulled off, however that is certainly the topic of another post.

Today, I thought I would start with Halley.

The base at Halley has been ever present since 1956, and is now in its sixth incarnation - Halley VI, crucially the first designed to be relocated thanks to hydraulic skis which allow the station to be lifted to accommodate the ever rising snow as well as to correct for the ever shifting ice shelf upon where it rests.

The first four bases' fates were an icy tomb as a result of the ever rising snow levels which resulted in them being submerged under the ice, which eventually led to collapse under the pressure. For Halley V this was tackled by using adjustable struts upon which the base rested on, allowing them to be raised to compensate for the rising snow level around it. There are is a zone which is known to be at risk of calving off from the ice shelf to form icebergs, which has been determined from historical data (however the warning with this is the data is only 60-years old and therefore not completely reliable). Halley V was well within this zone and hence it was decided to retire the station (although completely functional) and build Halley VI, allowing it to be moved should the need arise.

Halley V in Winter 1999 (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The base not only looks incredible but allows everyone living on it to perform their duties in relative comfort, a luxury which Shackleton and Scott never had. The station is home to approximately 60 individuals during the short summer season from around November until March. Around 12 stay to endure the long, cold, dark winter where temperatures drop to as low as -55°C and where the sun doesn't rise above the horizon for 105 days.

The local wildlife is varied, and in summer includes various birds including the Snow Petrel and skuas, there are Orcas and Minke whales, Weddell and Leopard seals as well of course penguins! There are two types of penguins, the playful Adélie, as well as the elegant Emperor which is the only animal which we will encounter during the long winter.

An Emperor Penguin Colony (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Besides the animals, the other highlight is the magnificent displays of the aurora australis, or the Southern lights.

Halley is home to a considerable amount of atmospheric research due to its position within the auroral zone. Halley is famous for it's discovery of the hole in the ozone layer in 1985 using a Dobson Spectrophotometer, equipment which still resides in Halley today and (new equipment) continues to monitor the ozone layer. More recently, in collaboration with ESA, the European Space Agency, BAS has started to undertake work relating to space research. Antarctica is an excellent space analogue and is increasingly being used for studies into effects on the human body, particularly psychological - after May there is no escape from Halley until the summer arrives, evacuation is impossible. It is considerably easier and quicker to escape from the International Space Station than it is from Antarctica in the winter!

I'm sure I will no doubt touch on all of these things again during my time travelling to, or during my stay in Halley. Next time I will try to include some pictures of my own when I get the chance to take some down there, but I hope it has been at least a relatively interesting read!

For now I will leave you with the thought of a rather unseasonably warm temperature of -14.5°C at Halley.