Saturday, 31 December 2011

What a relief

Our ship, the Ernest Shackleton, arrived on Boxing day; bring with it all the cargo, food and fuel for the year, and some more staff too. The ship moors up in a creek against the seaice from where the cargo can be dragged up on the iceshelf.

Below is a stock BAS photo that gives a better idea of the creeks.

When I first came to Halley many years ago, relief involved much manual handling and manpower but now big machines do all the hardwork. The cargo is craned onto a sledge at one end, pulled by CAT Challengers or John Deere tractors to the other where it is unloaded by crane. It is about 30km from the coast to the Halley VI site. Here is a CAT Challenger pulling 3 fully loaded containers.

The cargo is laid out in a long line at the Halley VI site so that each dept can find their boxes.

One item off the ship that is eagerly anticipated is fresh fruit and vegetables. Its only been 4 weeks since my last fresh fruit but that first Orange tasted really good, for the winterers (that's the people that are on a 15 month tour) this will be their first fresh fruit for nearly 10 months.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Landing in a Twin Otter

Here is a short video of the landing we did at the field site - its actually a lot smoother than it looks but its hard to old a camera steady as you plonk down. You will notice that we are landing on to tracks, the procedure is that the pilot 'trails skis' - that is makes a landing but doesn't slow down and takes off again. The pilot can then check that no crevasses have opened up on the tracks before doing the landing proper.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Flight to pick up GPS unit.

On Christmas eve, I had a really good flight to pick up a GPS system that had been put out 2 years ago. It is part of a network of GPS receivers that we have all around the Brunt Iceshelf to monitor how it moves and what stresses and strains there are in the ice itself. The units close to Halley transmit their data back by VHF radio, but this particular unit is too far away for that so had just been recording data for later pickup. This GPS was placed to help understand the way that tides affect the flow of the huge Stancomb Wills glacier, which flows at about 2km a year and is a big influence on the Brunt. Our flight took us from Halley V to Halley VI so that Kirk who is filming the rebuild could get some aerial footage, and then along the hinge zone for about an hour to the GPS unit, then onwards to N9 so that Ben our vehicles guy could see the possibilities for unloading the ship there, we then followed the route from N9 to Halley VI to look for crevasses (one nice big one) and then finally home to Halley V.

Here we are about to set off, Penny waving and myself wearing the warmest hat in the world. BAS has four ski equipped Twin Otters like this.

Here is Penny in the plane with Bear. Bear belongs to the Ian the pilot's wife (she  wintered here at Halley in 2005 along with Bear) and goes on every flight with him - that's one well travelled Bear!

We were prepared to do lots of  digging to retrieve the GPS unit but in fact it had hardly buried at all. Here is Ben by the GPS.

Only the GPS antenna and the solar panel are visible, the GPS and the batteries are buried in the snow. This particular GPS doesn' t have wind power or enough battery power to run right the way through the polar winter but it should get about 9 months of data every year.

Can you see Penny?

On the way home, the light showed up the groomed route from Halley V to Halley VI. The iceshelf seems very big and empty from the air.

All in all a good day.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas in Antarctica

Christmas began on Christmas eve - I had been out flying all day (more of that in a later blog post) and just got back in time for Christmas carols.

On Christmas day I opened my presents from my family, my Christmas stocking makes a nice home for Penny.

Christmas was a lovely, crisp, sunny and no wind, and I had a lovely long run, longer than I could have fitted in if I had been at home. Most people on Christmas day phone their loved ones at home - exciting as Antarctica is, everyone misses their loved one especially on Christmas day. Our phone is an Iridium satellite phone which is impressive technology but actually quite difficult to hear when a party is happening at the other end.

The treat for the day was a big sit down meal for everyone.

Penny particularly enjoyed the South African  Merlot, while I was happy with my Christmas badge.

Oh yes, and it was white

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Halley no 5

Here is a satellite image of the Brunt Iceshelf where Halley is located - if you need reminding where Halley is on a larger scale then I have put the globe view below. The Brunt iceshelf is about 50km wide and a 100km long, it is made of freshwater ice of about 200m thickness floating on the sea. If you made a 1 to million scale model it would be about the same size and thickness as a playing card. There has been a permanently manned research station here since 1956.


 One of the difficulties of building on a ice shelf is that the surface continuously accumulates. If you put something down on the Brunt iceshelf then a year later it will be a metre under the snow surface, another year later it will be another metre deeper and so on. This is exactly what happened to the first research station built here, it was buried and effectively crushed by the weight of the ice and snow above it. A series of research stations was built over the years, and despite being increasingly strong they all suffered the same fate - the weight of the ice and snow caused great crushing damage and it was difficult to operate a deeply buried station. In 1990 BAS built the 5th reincarnation of the Halley research station but on legs so that it kept clear of the ever increasing snow. Every year the station would be jacked up (the legs extended upwards and the whole station moved up the legs) to keep it at the same height above the snow. Here is what the main platform looked like in the 2001/2 season which is when I last visited Halley.

The second major difficulty of building on an iceshelf is that the ice flows, Halley V (as the 5th Halley is known) is moving closer to the iceberg calving point at about 350m per year. In fact it is already very close to a point known to be open water in 1958 (the earliest reliable ice edge survey), and this is why we need to build a new station, despite Halley V being in good condition. Once the construction of the new station started we stopped raising Halley V above the snow each year, and this is what it looks like now.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A big noisy plane taking off from Novo

This is a bit of video that I took at Novo of the Ilyshian76 taking off. I like the way the Russians stand so close to the runway.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Music, skiing and Yargonburger

I listen to far more music when in the Antarctic than I do in the UK. I have decided to start at one end of my collection while in the office (Be Good Tanyas playing as I type), and  come from the other end when running or skiing. Sitting between YES and XTC (alphabetically at least) is Yargonburger - fine music to ski to.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Big Birthday in Antarctica

Just over a week ago it was my birthday - 50. My family had made me a parcel which I eagerly opened on the morning. Full of cards and small presents to remind me of home, which of course made me feel quite homesick. One excellent thing was a bunting where each flag had a different birthday message from one of my family or friends. Many thanks to everyone who contributed. This is it up in our temporary site office - and yes it is as cold as it looks, we have power for the computers but no heat yet.

However, one of the excellent presents my family got me was the warmest hat on the planet.

It was quite a warm day on my birthday without a breath of wind so I took the opportunity for a run around the station perimeter. If you can't be with your family on your 50th birthday then its not so bad to be running in Antarctica.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Not exactly home sweet home.

This is where I will be spending the most of the most of the next three months - it is the temporary accommodation at the Halley VI site. Here is the view of the buildings from one side:

And the other:

It consists of a big red double height living unit with a tent extension and a lot of containers to add the extra bedrooms needed this season because of the number of staff needed for the construction.

Here is my bedroom. At the moment I am the only occupant of a room for four - it seems small now, its going to be very crowded when the other occupants arrive on the ship.

You might just be able to spot my birthday bunting (its particularly nice to see Matthew and Brendan's flags from my bed - more about that in my next post) and of course penny.

This is the downstairs of the big red living unit, the food servery, with two of the most important people on station, the chefs Ant and Trev.

This is the inside of the dining area in 1/2 of the tent:

And here is the other 1/2 of the tent, the recreation area with a table tennis table, table football, dart board, gym and spinning bikes, and of course a TV (just to the right out of picture).

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Tractor driving

Martin (our head of vehicles down here) gave me a John Deere tractor driving lesson.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Flight from Novo to Halley

Halley doesn't have any blue ice so any panes landing there have to have skis, ours was something called a Basler - that's a DC3 (also known as a Dakota designed in 1935!) but now with modern turboprop engines and modern avionics. Here is a view from the front taken at Novo.

And the same aircraft from the back - note the square windows.

The flight from Novo to Halley is about 900km. That's about 4 1/2 hours flying.

The Basler is quite comfortable inside - but no loo!

Penny had a go at flying.

The route from Novo to Halley goes over several mountain ranges. Some of the most dramatic being the granite spires of the Hofmanfjella.

A quick reminder - you can click the pictures to get a higher res version.

As my blog posting as not been realtime, here are my travel dates.

Left Heathrow 26th November 21:30
Arrived CapeTown 27th 07:00
Left CapeTown 30th 23:00
Arrived Novo 1st December 05:00
Left Novo 2nd 20:00
Arrived Halley skiway 3rd 00:30
Arrived Halley site 3rd 02:00

Thursday, 8 December 2011

More from Novo

Some of you may have noticed that I am not posting in real time - I am nearly a week behind. Mostly this is lack of time, internet connection etc. I am already at Halley and eventually my posts will catch up to me, in the meantime here is the last post about Novo. There are quite a few interesting vehicles at Novo airstrip - this is an old Russian armoured personnel carrier, they still use it and several like it to ferry people about.

This is a fuel carrier that they use to refuel the planes. Novo is unusual and useful because the blue ice strip is just 14km from the coast and hence easy to get fuel to (and far cheaper than flying it in).

Most people going through NOVO work for various nation's research programmes but there is also a fair smattering of adventurers, some with lots of money to pursue their dreams, like driving a truck from Novo to South Pole.

Some adventurers have less money but no less challenging aims. Here are two Norwegians departing Novo who hope to ski to Pole in less than 50 days - that's how much food they have. They have kites that they hope will aid so they don't have to pull all the way. Best of luck to them.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


Novo - or Novolazarevskaya to give it its full name - is where the Russians operate a scientific research station and have a blue ice runway. Most of Antarctica has a surface of snow which is quite soft. In a precious few locations the flow of the giant ice streams of Antarctica reach a dead end because of a mountain range, and in these locations the flowing ice is pushed upwards and gives a hard enough surface to land wheeled planes on - such as the Ilyshian 76.
This is Penny checking out the blue ice - Penny by the way is one of my family's penguins and she had up until now had never been to Antarctica, you may have spotted her in the pictures from CapeTown.
 Whilst waiting for the weather to be suitable for flying onwards to Halley the chief activities at Novo are drinking tea.

Or snoozing in a sleeping bag.

 The research station at Novo is some 15km from the airstrip and as we were on standby to fly out we had to stay at the airstrip and wait (and wait). As well as the ice runway the facilities at the Novo airstrip consist mainly of tents and containers of various ages.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Flight to Antarctica

Late weds night we flew from Cape Town to Novo in Antarctica.

This is a 4000km flight which takes just six hours. The aeroplane is a Russian Ilyshian76, originally designed for military transport its very capable of carrying large loads long distances, but comfortable it isn't. The passengers have no windows and the toilet is a builders portaloo strapped down at the back. All in all it feels like flying in a loud and overcrowded garage.

Lots of countries use the flight from Cape Town to Novo, the Russians who operate the service and run a station at Novo, the Indians who have a station near Novo and then the Germans, Brits and South Africans who all have stations that can be reached by further flights from Novo. In addition there a a few tourists and adventurers who use Novo as a way of getting to the South Pole. Here's some pictures of the Ilyshian at Novo.