Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Base Life

In the spring we all get to go on holiday: 10 days out camping and exploring. Ice climbing, abseiling, delving deep into crevasses, penguin watching or just sitting in a tent drinking tea and trying not to freeze in a storm. The first trip has now set off and is enjoying some gorgeous weather albeit in temperature of -35.

In the meantime, life on base carried on as normal:

Richard's 30th made me feel somewhat at home with a London party. See how many of the costumes you can guess.
(Answers: Mark as Elephant and Castle, Jules as Barking (barking mad by the look of it), Richard, birthday boy, as Tower Hill, Neil as Piccadilly Circus, Brian as Greenford, Andy as Paddington, Dean as Shepherd's Bush, Kirsty as Caledonian, Me as St James' Park and Jim as Blackfriars)

Jules stuggles through the deep powder on his crutches (he broke his leg kite-skiing).

Neil posing as Atlas at his Toga party this Saturday.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Global Warming?

No, I'm not really suggesting that global warming is a myth. In fact, the Antarctic Peninsula, where the other British base, Rothera, is situated, is the fastest warming place on the planet: 3 degrees over the past 50 years. That's why us hardcore Antarctic heroes at Halley call it the Rothera Riviera. Over there, ice shelves* that have been stable for thousands of years are breaking up, clearing the path for glaciers to flow into the sea. Warmer temperatures mean more melting on the surface of glaciers and this water flows through cracks to the base of the glacier where it acts as a lubricant, speeding up the flow. The sea is warming up too, melting the ice where it meets the sea and reducing sea ice. Soon there will be palm trees and everything. Book your winter-sun get-away to the Peninsula before it's too late!

*Ice shelves, like the one I live on, are massive sheets of thick, floating ice that's still attached to the land. In some places they act like giant plugs, preventing huge glaciers and ice streams from flowing out into the sea. Until global warming causes them to break up that is... maybe that houseboat isn't such a bad idea after all.

Anyway, here at Halley it's still pretty chilly. If you're interested in just how cold it's been this year, take a look at this temperature graph from the day I arrived here:
(you'll have to click on it to get a proper look)

You can see that I had a nice gentle introduction to this less than hospitable continent with temperatures at the start of the year not far below zero (I think there was one day when it was colder back home!). However, for the past six months or so -30 has been pretty normal and -40 has been a regular visitor. So far this is one of the 5 coldest of the past 50 years

I'm actually quite glad it's cold here this year. The colder it is, the less it snows. That means less digging to find stuff that was on the surface a few months back (and theres enough of that already, believe me)! Cold air holds less moisture which means less precipitation . That explains why Antarctica, a place which holds 90% of the world's fresh water, is technically a desert: it's too cold to snow much! The only reason we've got so much of the stuff is because it's too cold for it to melt either, so it builds up year after year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the Blimp

Until recently, blimp flights had been going full steam ahead at Halley. We even went out one Saturday night as surface level ozone values plummeted. Above you can see Dean getting ready for launch and below I'm manning the winch.

Easy does it. I let out the lines at a nice steady speed, with only the occasional moment of confusion (the motor we use to power the winch was designed for drilling ice cores so up is down and down is up). Little did I know that it would be the final flight for this beloved blimp. May she rest in peace (or should I say pieces).

Three days later, 48 hours into a relentless spring blizzard, I battled my way towards the weather haven that houses the blimp only to find it making a bid for freedom. The giant tent is shaped like an aircraft hangar and by the time I found it the windward door had blown open creating a giant wind sock. Both sides were lifting several feet into the air, struggling to free themselves from their guy lines. It was a fairly awesome sight; for a moment I gazed on somewhat clueless as to how we were going to tame the savage beast.

Thankfully, base members came running out left, right and centre in response to my distress call. Fourth year winterer (as close to native as they come) Andy came to the rescue, rigging up an elaborate system of pulleys and anchors that eventually brought the situation under control. It took ten of us wrestling in white out conditions for over an hour but eventually the weather haven was saved.

Sadly the same cannot be said for the blimp. It was torn to shreads by the relentless thrashing of the tent in the wind. Once the storm had calmed and we realised the poor blimp was beyond repair, Kirsty and I decided to make the best of a bad situation (luckily we have a replacement so the science can keep going).

Here you can see us surveying the damage:

Later that evening we invited the base out to say farewell and enjoy a drink in the belly of the blimp:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Neighbours

On Sunday I saw another living being other than the 18 people on base. Actually I saw lots of them. And they were beautiful. And adorable. And breathtaking. And incredible.

It made me very happy:

I nearly cried when I saw my first chick!

Where the ice shelf we live on meets the sea ice that stretches out as far as the eye can see tower 30m high jagged ice cliffs (we didn't have to abseil it as there was a ramp further along).

Dinner time:

This made me very sad. I'd seen March of the penguins and I knew that not all of the chicks survive but the 5 or 6 dead babies littered around the edge of the huddle still brought a tear to my eye. Having experienced the conditions that our neighbours are exposed to, and without shelter, I'm amazed so many of them get through it!

The guard penguins around the edge of the colony keep a careful eye on us intruders.

Huddling together for warmth

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A guided tour...

Of other peoples' blogs!

To find out all about what happened at Halley in the action packed month of August and to see some fabulously cute Emperor penguins (which I shall hopefully be visiting soon) follow the link to Ant's blog.

If you're bored of flat white scenery and would like to have a gander at the stunning mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula, go to Rob's blog and follow the link to his website. There you'll find some mind-blowing photos from his latest climbing/gravity-assisted skiing trip.

As for me, don't worry, I won't be slacking like this for much longer. Have been busy lately flying the blimp (including under the stars and aurora on Sunday night), watching some really bright and active aurora on Saturday, giving a science talk to the base (complete with volunteers and demos in good old explainer style) and thrashing Rothera (the British base on the peninsula) at darts.

Coming up in the near future... more blimp action, penguin trips and better blog posts!