Antarctic Life

A frozen outlook on life on the ice

Wednesday Walkaround Week 4: What we do

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

Temperature: -34.3°C 

 Wind Speed: 6 kts SW


Firstly, apologies to anyone waiting to read this on a Wednesday, but unfortunately I was unable to update it, so this is coming to you on a Friday instead.

This week will be a short introduction to the various people in the skeleton winter crew who are responsible for ensuring the continuous running of the building, communication and science infrastructure over the long, cold and dark winter months. During a normal year, there are usually around 13 winter staff.

Throughout the year I will talk more about the work each person does in a more detailed post but below is a brief summary of each.

The station can be split up into various teams, grouping individuals sharing common theme, but in reality, we all work together.

We have the science team, the technical services team and the life services team. In some years, there is a slight overlap.

Science Team

The science team first of all consists of a meteorologist, radar engineer, electronics engineer and a data manager (+ the doctor studying life sciences which is a recent addition). A large amount of science undertaken at Halley relates to space weather and human space performance as well as an enormous dataset of meteorological observations dating back to the 1950's.

The meterologist: Affectionately known as the "met babe" they work to supply information to the MET office and perform experiments based on snow and air sampling as well as taking meteorological measurements on a regular basis. Those of you who watched the recent Horizon episode by the BBC will note that BBC weatherman Peter Gibbs performed this role during his time at Halley in the early 80's.

Other members of the team also contribute to Met observations as it is an ongoing task, everyday of the year and we all need a break at some point!

Radar engineer: The radar engineer is responsible for maintaining the MF and SuperDARN radar arrays (both science experiments rather than communications radars) as well as the optical caboose experiments ,  the data of which is sent back to Cambridge to be analysed.

Electronics engineer: Responsible for the magnetometer shaft which houses the sensitive sensors relating to the Earth's magnetic field as well as studies into the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.

Data manager: Responsible for looking after all of the science data and servers relating to the science ongoing at Halley including upload of data back to Cambridge.

Life scientist: The doctor conducts research related to space for the European Space Agency and NASA.

Technical Services Team

The tech services team consists of the generator mechanic, vehicle mechanic, plumber and electrician. There is a large degree of crossover in this team and in times of failure they will collectively attempt to fix the issue.

Generator mechanic: or Genny mech as they are known are responsible for the generators that provide power to the station infrastructure as well as with refuelling.

Vehicle mechanic: Responsible for looking after all of the vehicles on station including servicing and winterising vehicles which do not or cannot run in the colder months.

Plumber: Responsible for looking after all of the refrigeration units, general pluming, the sewage treatment plant and water supply. 

Electrician: As the name suggests, the electrician is responsible for all things electrical, the lighting etc. They are also responsible for looking after the fire-suppression system along with the plumber and the fire equipment such as the breathing apparatus.

Life Services Team

The life services team consists of the winter station leader, the communications manager, the field general assistant, the chef and the doctor.

Winter Station Leader: Still known as the BC (Base Commander) from times when we referred to the station as a base, and hence BC. In days gone by, a member of the winter team was selected to become the winter BC, however these days a person is preselected prior to arriving in Antarctica and trained back in Cambridge on the skills required of them during the winter. They are the nominated leader and are a sworn-in magistrate who represents the crown for any legal proceedings should they be required until a time when an individual can be sent back to the Falkland Islands. They are also responsible for running the shop.

Communications Manager: The comms manager plays a vital role in maintaining the IT equipment and communications back to the real world. They manage the servers, computer equipment and internet among other things such as the radio communications equipment.

Field General Assistant: Known as the field GA, GA or just field guide, they are responsible for the safety of everyone on base when travelling outwith the base perimeter such as during field trips for science or during the winter trips. They are also responsible for all of the outdoor clothing and safety equipment related to outdoor excursions.

Chef: Rather self-explanatory, the chef is responsible for cooking the food 5 days a week with volunteers cooking for the other 2 days a week. They are also responsible for managing all of the food supplies throughout the winter to ensure that we don't blow through all of the important items and that we remain nutritionally healthy. One of the most under-stated jobs, critically important for base morale.

Doctor: Responsible for the medical and dental care for everyone on station as well as running the post-office, sharing the waste management with the station leader.