Monday, January 15, 2007


Some people have been asking what it is I'm actually doing down here in this big snowy desert. Well after two and a half months away, I've finally started work as a meteorologist and my day goes something like this:

6.20 (about half an hour after my alarm tells me I'm supposed to get up) Roll out of my bunk and go for a really quick shower. We have to dig all the snow to make our water, so it's in short supply: you turn the shower on for ten secs, turn it off and lather up, then turn it on again for another 20 secs to rinse off. But if you think about it, that's an extra four minutes in bed, so it's not so bad.

6.45 Cereal for breakfast, with powdered milk.

7.oo Head to work. Don my stylish padded orange boiler suit, hat, gloves, goggles, neck warmer, and space boots and walk/ski/ride a skidoo across the snow to the weather platform.

7.45 Launch a helium balloon, with temperature and humidity sensors attached. It usually gets up to about 25km up!

8.00 Dig up snow and throw it down a big hole where it melts to make all the water for everyone living here. Usually takes four of us 20 mins twice a day. Quite fun if the weathers good, but gonna be tough at minus 40!

9.00 Complete a weather observation (clouds, visibility, snowfall etc) and send it to the met office. We do 'met obs' every three hours, along with ozone observations to check the state of the ozone hole. If there are aircraft flying we give them hourly updates on the weather too.

9.30 - 12 Daily jobs like measuring snow stakes to check on snow accumulation, digging snow samples, collecting air samples to look at CO2 levels and generally fixing any experiment that's misbehaving.

10.30 Tea break (mmm cheese on toast...). The weather platform is renowned across the base as making the best cup of tea (and with powdered milk, it's actually quite a skill).

12.00 Time for another weather and ozone observation. We also record the GPS coordinates of the base at midday every day, to see how fast the ice shelf we're on is moving (it's not that fast really, only 500m out to sea each year or so).

13.00 Hop back on skis/skiddoo and go over for lunch

14.00-18.30 More weather, ozone, experiments, entering data into spread sheets, skiing out to check on sensors buried in the snow/ at the top of a mast, and drinking of tea

18.30- 19.30 I usually go for a bit of cross country skiing if the weathers good enough, or just chill out over a game of pool or a (last years) magazine (Hooray, cant wait for the world cup this year!).

19.30 Lovely dinner. Cooked by professional chefs every night, and all I have to do is the washing up. Ooh, and there's always cheese available to go on top. No salad though. We ate the last tomatoes today.

20.00 If the weathers good, I'll definitely head outside for some skijoring (getting towed behind a skidoo on my snowboard, a bit like wake boarding) or kiting (I'm not very good at this yet, but it should work like kite boarding in the sea).

Last night there was a BBQ in the snow, which was pretty surreal. Beer is rationed at the minute (whilst work is busy in the summer season), to 2 cans a night, 4 on Saturdays. Saturday night everyone gets a bit dressed up for a three course meal. Sun and Wed nights are film nights. There's generally something going on.

Hope that gives some kind of idea of the life I'm just starting to adapt to out here. Each day is also interspersed with moments where I realise 'hang on a minute, I'm living on a big lump of ice, this is a bit mental.' I'm not sure I'll ever really get used to life here, but I think that's a good thing.

One of the bonuses of being a meteorologist, is that you're always aware of what's going on outside in this crazy environment. It'll be fun watching the temperatures starting to drop in a month or so, as the current heat wave (some days at the moment, it's colder in Britain!) gives way to constant minus 15, then minus 20 and so on, down to temperatures where you can't go outside with any skin exposed. Last winter, they had a BBQ in minus forty and you had to hold the food over the BBQ as you ate it to stop it freezing before it got to your mouth.

One more thing, a few people have been asking me why the buildings here are on stilts. It's to stop them getting buried in the snow. This is the fifth base on this site, and all the previous ones quickly became underground bases, as year after year the snow fell and built up on top of them. All the buildings here are raised every year so they stay well above the snow surface (that way snow blows under them in storms, instead of gathering around them). Next year work is going to start building the next Halley base, which is going to be built on skis so that it can be moved if it gets to close to the edge of the ice shelf. Follow the link to the British Antarctic Survey website for more on all of this.


Richmondo said...

Some more questions:

1) Does everyone smell out there?
2) Are they all really hairy?
3) Is it true that the lunch options are...

a) Beef and Tomato Pot Noodle
b) Pea and Ham Cup-a-Soup
c) Spam Fritters
d) Tinned Potatoes, covered in a tinned potato sauce, with tinned potatoes on the side
e) Penguin Pate on Jacobs Crackers
f) Snow cones?

4) Do you get the powdered milk from powdered cows?
5) Have you actually found any meteors to study yet...?

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