Antarctic Life

A frozen outlook on life on the ice

Christmas at Halley

Halley VI, Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica 75°36'36"S 26°16'14"W

Temperature: -7.2°C

Wind Speed: 10.8kts ENE

So I have finally arrived in Halley (well a week ago) and it is now Christmas Day, however despite the literally endless view of snow from out of my window, it does not even feel remotely like Christmas. At least it was always going to be a guaranteed white Christmas! Although it was always going to be unlikely to snow - which it has not.

The journey from the ship to base took 4 hours on a Snocat despite only being a distance of approximately 50km. It was a very long and very... white experience! There was one slight hill to look at in an otherwise pretty featureless landscape.

Due to the nature of the terrain however, we are able to see for miles. With mirages we can sometimes see beyond the horizon which caused Halley to come into view quite early on, only for us to have hours to wait until we started to get closer.

We have roughly 3 places we can use for getting cargo from the ship to base, but this year is a special year. Normally we would use one of two creeks, which are fast ice (frozen sea), which despite being much thinner than the shelf ice at the third area (N9) is considerably closer (and quicker) to base. This year however, we are carrying a massive amount of cargo and instead of the usual two supplies, we have three. The reason for this as some of you may have read, is that we need to move the base in order to avoid a chasm in the ice - moving all of the base, which does not just include the modules as is seen so often in all the PR pictures, but all of the support equipment too. This is a massive undertaking requiring some serious equipment to do so. 

The extra weight of some of this equipment, like the 43 ton crane means that we must moor up against the shelf ice directly in order to be safe in the knowledge that the ice will definitely support the weight.

For those interested to learn more about the base move I would suggest reading the excellent article by motherboard and not the telegraph (which is full of errors and is "sexing up" the truth - entitled "The ice station that needs saving from the abyss"). 

 One of the reasons today does not feel much like Christmas is that we are in the height of the working season and today is just another day, particularly with the long transit times between cargo moving from ship to base. We will celebrate Christmas the day after the ship leaves. 

Standing by the signpost outside the modules

Cargo relief involves the whole base and my duties so far have included breaking up shipping pallets which was considerably tiring work in the sun resulting in me stripping off the top half of my insulated boiler suit in favour of just a t-shirt. It is still difficult for my brain to process just how warm it is down here in the sun. This is not for a lack of low temperatures however, the mercury has yet to reach freezing. The warmest it has been so far has been just below -2°C. The reason it is so warm is two-fold, the intense sun (and UV - remember we are under a huge hole in the ozone the size of the continent) reflecting off the endless snow, and also the exceptionally dry air preventing conduction. When the air is still it can feel as warm as 15-20 degrees back in the UK, however as soon as the wind picks up Antarctica soon reminds you exactly where you are! The other weather related issue is contrast/visibility. Today for instance there is perfect visibility all the way to the horizon, which is a completely flat white line, whereas the contrast is very poor. 

Poor contrast makes it very difficult to make out anything in the snow as it is all just a giant mass of white, featureless and barren. This is when it can be particularly dangerous to travel, whether it be by vehicle or by foot. There are times when you cannot make out anything in front of you and could easily fall off a small hill or break your ankle putting it through a crack or hole. It becomes even more dangerous when the visibility drops too, meaning you end up floating in a vast sea of white, unable to see in front of you, or have any reference to where you are going, sometimes walking between buildings is impossible by eye, and requires you to navigate by either the handlines/flags laid out for this specific purpose or by GPS. 

We obviously have a wealth of scientific data being logged on a daily basis and have the opportunity to monitor/view it from the computers around base via the network which is incredibly interesting and useful for sneaking a quick look at the temperature, wind etc without having to leave my desk. I plan to chat about some of these data as the year progresses, particularly the MET science and space weather which has made Halley famous.

Image from the caboose C6 (Steve!)Webcam image from this morning