Friday, March 30, 2007

Pretty Clouds

My Antarctic hero pose,
a chance to show off my gorgeous leopard skin mittens:

Iit's not completely flat here at Halley, the wind shapes the snow surface into pretty ridges and bumps called sastrugi, which are also good for jumps when kiting. here's a photo looking down at the snow on a moderately windy day. The met speak for what you see is 'drifting snow', when the wind picks up the loose powder and it whistles it across the surface. When it gets a bit windier it looks more like the picture below, 'blowing snow', and all you can see around you is white, white, white...

Here's me struggling with a gale force ballon launch, Alex's hat blew away whilst he was taking this photo!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Met Mast Fun and Games

Yesterday, Dave and I were pulling some crazy stunts, hanging from the top of a mast in the snow, all in the name of science of course. Some of our instruments (like the one I'm playing with in the picture below, which measures visibility and snowfall) needed their annual check-up, which meant fun and games out of the office for an afternoon.

Afterwards, it was back into our lovely work platform (above) for a nice cup of tea (with slightly lumpy powdered milk), prepared for us by the snowman in our absence.

Let Loose in the Kitchen

On Thursday, with the chef away on his holidays, it was down to me to fill the hungry bellies of all 14 of us left on base. Here's the menu I served up with varying degrees of success:

Breakfast: Cheesy rolls, cheese and olive rolls, cheese and sundried tomato rolls, cheese and herb get the idea. Various experimental seedy breads and plaits.

Lunch: Vegetarian Lasagna, Pizzas, Chicken in a red wine and herb marinade, Cabbage (which started off purple but somehow turned blue), Guacamole and Marinated Olives.
Rhubarb yoghurt for dessert.

Dinner: Tartiflette (French potato gratin with bacon), Honey and Mustard Chicken, roasted vegetables, courgettes and spinach with feta (which went more than a little bit wrong).
Chocolate Mousse for dessert.

I only used about 2.5 kg of cheese in all that lot, not bad eh!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eighties Extravaganza

Last night was Dave's birthday party, and he chose to have us all suffer his disturbing eighties obsession. There were some impressive efforts, with costumes including transformer Optimus Prime, She-ra, crocodile dundee, Brian May, a striking coal miner, Karate kid, Miami vice and Doc Brown form Back to the future. The first fancy dress party of the year set a promising standard for what's to come.

Transformer legend Optimus Prime chatting away to a scarily realistic Brian May.

Me, dressed as Mr Spoon from Button Moon, inside the button moon rocket, off on another adventure, stopping at the South Pole on my way to Button Moon.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Southern Lights

Last night I caught my first glimpse of the Aurora Australis: the southern lights. For me, seeing the aurora was one of the main attractions of a winter down here, and judging by last night's taster, I'm not going to be disappointed...

This strange greenish glow appeared in an arc over the crescent moon, in the southern sky. Then it got brighter, and started to shed streaks of light this way and that. At one point, there was a spiral of colour, snaking its way up form the horizon, leaving bright green pillars of light briefly behind it as it meandered across the sky. The whole light show only lasted about 20 mins, but I came back in from the -25 degrees outside with a big grin spread right across my face.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


This was the view from my office window last Friday night as the clouds broke for the first time after several days of gale force winds. Enough to keep me from rushing home for the weekend!


I ventured into the strange and fabulous world of ice crystals last weekend, when I descended 30m into the tunnel network lurking deep beneath the base. I had to help Jimbo, the Halley carpenter come steel erector, to check the temperatures down there, to check it isn't getting to hot! Well, i think the evidence speaks for itself...


I would like to say hello to everyone in years three and four at Warkworth First School. Thank you for your letters, I'll have replies on their way back to you very soon!

Breaking News: Antarctic Cheese Discovered At Last?

Frozen tubes of a substance claiming to be cheese have been discovered in field ration packs.

There is still much doubt surrounding this mysterious 'primula' (labelled 'do not freeze') , which may or may not contain trace quantities of actual cheese.
.Hard at work...

The met team with big grins on our faces when we finally find treasure (or maybe just a box of electronics) a mere 2 and a half metres down. We were a bit worried we were going to hit the sea. We have lots of instruments that have to be raised every year to stop them getting buried which means lots and lots and lots and lots of digging.

Here I am 'fishing' for air! I'm filling a flask for a global monitoring network that collects air samples from all around the world and uses them to work out how concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane (and other gases) in the air are changing over time. They can use this info to find out if, for example, how rising carbon dioxide levels are linked to global warming. Exciting stuff.

When I'm turning the pumps on and off I have to hold my breath so i don't contaminate the sample. We do this every week, come rain or shine, and send back all the flasks at the end of the year.
Kiting Action

When I need an adrenalin hit down here, kiteboarding has replaced my usual snowboarding, mostly due to the lack of any kind of hill and/or way to get up it. It's not such a bad trade off, kiting is probably the best combination of peaceful and exciting I've ever found. There's something incredibly beautiful about zooming along, leaning back against the force of the wind, then at the smallest tug of the power bar as you go over a bump in the snow, you float for what seems like hours (it's really only seconds, but the jumps do last a lot longer than snowboarding).
These photos show vehicle mech, Mat, the most experienced kiteboarder on base, polishing his skills. Unfortunately I can't control my own kite well enough yet to get near the photographer without causing multiple injuries, that's also the reason why my own attempts at jumping tend to end up with me eating large amounts of white powdery stuff. Still...practice makes perfect.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Melt Tank Party

There are no baths at Halley, and we can only dream of a jacuzzi, but for one blissful day of the year: the Melt Tank Party. Brian, Halley plumber, and Mark, our electrician, have been hard at work closing down the summer accomadation building (now that all the summer staff are homeward bound). Before it could be locked for another year though, there was a tradition that had to be honoured...

We all piled in to the 1.5 m square tank that holds all the water for the building, and enjoyed our very own hot tub. Hoses full of holes were tied to the floor (by Brian who seems to have been taking lessons from the penguins and didn't seems to have any problems with holding his breath for several minutes at a time) and pressurised air pumped through them to create the jacuzzi effect. It was a bit of a squeeze, there were thirteen of us in there at one point. The brave few partook in the age old get out, roll around in the snow, then dive back in ritual. I found running to the toilet after one too many beers bracing enough. A great night, and thankfully I was away on my camping trip when the time came for cleaning up afterwards!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Few Holiday Snaps

Now I've seen the real Antarctic! No sooner had the winter season started than I set off with three of my fellow winter team to see if we could survive in a tent for a week or so. Naively, we hoped for sunshine and light winds so we could get out and explore every day. Little did we know how much fun could be had sitting out a week long bizzard in an old style pyramid tent, with nothing but a primus stove, Tilley lamp (burns paraffin), some army rations and a good book. Yes, 7 of my 8 days in the wilds of Antarctica was spent in a tent drinking tea, and having ten tons of snow blow down my trousers every time I ventured outside to go for a pee. We did manage one day out exploring, seeing the sights of the Brunt Ice Shelf, with some ice climbing and abseiling thrown into the mix. 8 days in a tent definately makes you appreciate how wild this place is, and all the luxuries we have here at the base (toilets, showers, warmth, bar, cheese, more cheese etc.)

Above: Our guide Sune celebrates the first setback of our trip as a ski falls off my skidoo just 10km from base on the way out. Plenty of time for a cup of tea as we await the AA.

Below: The view from outside our tent for the brave few who left the cosy confines of a sleeping bag during a spot of real Antarctic weather.

Above: Kettles on for a brew. The stoves we were using have hardly changed since the days of Scott and Shackleton, we felt like propper Antarctic heros.

Below: The weather finally perks up enough to get out and practice our mountaineering skills. Here I am in Aladdin's cave, having ice climbed my way up there, looking pleased with myself.

Treasures hidden deeper in Aladdin's cave. The eery blue light made a welcome change from the orange glow of the tent walls. We crawled under the icickles to the top of a ridge where you could see the ridges and crevasses of the zone where the floating ice shelf I live on joins continental Antarctica.

Above: My tent mate, Deano, laughing at me as I fall on my face on our natural ice rink.

Below: Looking back at camp.

An Emotional Farewell

Halley's short summer season came to an end on the 18th of Feb as we waved goodbye to the summer crew aboard the Ernest Shackleton, which quickly disappeared into the clouds of orange smoke bellowing from the flares we let off to mark the occasion. Below you can see me standing shore side, and our snocats on the way back from having watched our last contact with the outside world sail off into the distance.