Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Welcome home.

Well, I am back home. We left Halley on Sat morning, four days earlier than planned to get ahead of a big storm that was coming. The four hour flight on the Basler to Novo had great views again, but the plane needed to fly high to get above some cloud and being un-pressurised it left most of us with headaches. We had two nights waiting at Novo, not a lot to do other than wait. Novo is much further north than Halley and as a consequence gets more dark at nights at this time of year so it was good to see the southern stars again. The flight to Capetown is six hours and somehow the contrast between the cold barren Antarctic and the heat and bustle of Capetown seems greater coming this way rather than going into the Antarctic. Just one night and one good meal in Capetown before the long haul back to the UK and the wonderful welcome home from my family.

I'll keep posting blog updates and some more pictures (particularly of the inside of Halley VI) for a while....

Friday, 24 February 2012

Halley VI - Inside

Halley VI has been a building site for most of the season, and even now most rooms either have work needing to be done or are full of boxes that need unpacking. With the station looking more and more impressive day by day, I have delayed putting up pictures of the inside of the station until the last possible moment. Now is very close to the last possible moment, I will probably leave here on Sat morning. This is what the dinning room looked like in January.

And now it looks like this:

Here is the main corridor with the fire fighting kit, inside the yellow boxes are the breathing apparatus used.

This is a bedroom, in summer they house two people but in winter only one. They are quite compact but have lots of clever little nooks and crannys to keep things in.

The showers are nice.

We have some really nice facilities for maintaining the science such as our electronics workshop.

On the the top of the science modules we have some flat grillage space which is a really easy place for us to deploy and run science equipment from.

Up here we have a number of GPS antennas, VHF antennas for communicating with remote science experiments, the dome that talks to the daily meteorological balloon, and a machine that measures the height of the cloud layers.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Halley Birds

The most common birds at Halley are the emperor penguins that breed at the coast:

Adelie penguins visit quite often, but don't breed anywhere near here.

We often have skuas visit Halley, at Halley they are quite friendly because they don't breed here. At Rothera where they breed they are more aggressive, here are a pair attacking me as I needed to walk past to their nest on the way to a science facility last time I visited Rothera.

Two other type of birds fly around Halley in the summer - I haven't managed to get good pictures of them myself but here photos that I have got off the internet to show you what they look like:

Snow Petrels nest in the Therons mountains about 150 km south of Halley. Large numbers of them fly high over Halley but sometimes one or two come close to the ground, they really look very pretty and delicate.
Snow Petrel - photo E. Andersson
Smaller than the snow petrel is the Wilson's storm petrel.

Wilson storm petrel -

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Halley Up

Halley VI buildings have just been raised to keep them out of the constant snow accumulation for another year. Here is the view of the modules before raising.

And a similar view after raising about 2.5m

To raise the buildings the legs are lifted in turn and snow bulldozed under each one.

Once all the legs are sitting on a high lump of snow then the hydraulics lift the who station up. The whole area is then bulldozed and groomed to a smooth surface. This is me standing in front of the south end of the station now that its all been lifted up and the snow surface groomed.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ozone measurements

Halley is famous for being the place where the ozone hole was discovered. In spring the ozone values values over Antarctica are low because of the action of  chlorine from CFCs. Halley has a very long, continuous and high quality record of ozone measurements,

Here is Jon Shanklin taking the first Ozone measurement at Halley VI, he has good claim to be the person who discovered the ozone hole and the machine he is using (called a Dobson) is the actual one that confirmed the low ozone values.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Lifting the lid on Antarctic Toilets

Occasionally I give talks about the Antarctic, and one question that every audience seems to ask is 'how do you go to the toilet in Antarctica?' Well the answer at Halley VI at least is in the same way you do everywhere else, more or less. This is one of our toilets:

You might notice no handle, but a just a small button. This is because its a vacuum toilet, press the button and there is a swooshing noise and off go the contents down a vacuum pipe - it uses far less water than a normal flush. Despite living on floating ice water use is a big issue, snow needs to be moved into the melt tank which means work and it needs to be melted which means energy, so we try very hard to keep water usage to a minimum. The urinals are similar:

For some strange reason these are at the perfect height for 9 year old boys, I don't know if that is something to do with our plumbing or our future employment policies!

Once in the vacuum tube everything, and water from the showers, washing machines, sinks etc all goes to the sewage plant where it is biologically treated. Here is the sewage plant.

 The output from the sewerage plant is clean water that is piped into a hole in the snow and some sludge which is automatically incinerated (and helps to provide heat for the station).

If you fly away from the station into what we call deep field then the situation is a little more difficult. No nice, warm, clean toilets to use out in the middle of nowhere, you can pee onto the snow but, er, solid waste needs to be brought back in a special container to incinerate on station.

So now you know.

Friday, 17 February 2012


With less than 2 weeks to go at Halley, I though I would reflect on the subject of Blogs - a bit of a pun and here's why. The avatar that I use (the little picture that goes with my name) is this picture (click on it for a higher res version):

It's a picture that I took in 2008 in Antarctica near a place called Sky-Blu. This is a remote experiment that measured the very small current that flows from the ionosphere to the ground - Antarctica is probably the only place on the ground that you can measure it.  It is of interest because of a potential link between this current, cosmic ray attenuation, cloud formation, and hence climate. I was on a servicing visit and had just landed on the Twin Otter aircraft that you can see at 1pm on the photo. The first thing we do on such visits is to photograph everything and this was the first picture looking up at the stainless steel hemispheric domes that measure the current - I like the picture.

Here is the background picture that I use for this Blog, it is of another cuddly penguin taken at Reptile Ridge near Rothera station.

Blogspot tells me lots of interesting things: My blog gets about 40 hits a day, the most I have got is 215. Most readers are from the UK, or other countries that I know that I have relatives or friends in, but also some of you are from Russia, Romania, Austria, Germany, Hong Kong, India, France - who are you all, leave a comment. Comments are very easy to leave, hit the number of comments link at the bottom of a post, from there it will ask you to select a profile - if you don't recognise any of the options choose either anonymous or name/URL, in name URL just type your name and hit submit.

People who are referred to my blog by google, most often search for Cherry Picker!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A tough run

On Saturday there was a 1/2 marathon, one lap around Halley V and then from Halley V to Halley VI - this was of course symbolic, all running from the old station to the new - although it was straight into the teeth of a 20 knot wind despite the sunshine. Here we all are at the start.

Twenty eight runners, walkers, and skiers. Kirk on the left in shorts, made it about 50 yards until he decided that his attire wasn't warm enough! I have put an arrow to show where I am.

And they are off:

And here I am at about half way. The field has thinned out, so for most of the run it was a lonely and windy run with the buildings of Halley VI not seeming to get any closer.

Overall, a tough run, no personal bests but everyone felt hugely satisfied to have completed the distance.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Halley's scientific records are especially valuable as  they go back to 1956 and they are very high quality. Since 1957 there has been a daily balloon flight. This is where a package of meteorological instruments are sent to about 30km altitude by attaching them to a helium filled balloon. The instruments send their data back to Halley by radio where the the data is both stored for future research use and also transmitted onwards to contribute to the big global models that are used to help weather and climate forecasting everywhere.

Here is Penny filling a  balloon with helium.

And here we are launching the balloon from Halley V on a bit of a grey day.

Here is one of the first balloon launches from Halley VI.

Although the ground temperatures have not changed much over the last 50 years, the atmosphere above Halley has warmed significantly. Here is a graph from a scientific paper about the data from Balloons from this part of Antarctica - Significant Warming of the Antarctic Winter Troposphere, J. Turner, T. A. Lachlan-Cope, S. Colwell, G. J. Marshall, W. M. Connolley, Science 2006.
1000hPa near the bottom is close to surface level, 50hPa near the top is nearly 20km altitude.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Halley VI - part 3.

We have a cameraman, Kirk Watson, who is documenting the build of Halley VI, eventually there will be a film produced. Kirk managed to get a really good photograph of Halley VI from the air using a model aeroplane. This is the picture, made from several video stills stitched together. Click on the image to get the highest res image I could upload on our rather slow internet connection.

Halley VI from above - photo Kirk Watson
Here is a lower res version of the same photograph annotated with what's what.

Annotated Halley VI from above - photo Kirk Watson
And while I am using other peoples photos, here is a nice one by Chris Walton, the winter Chef in 2011. When this photo was taken in the beginning of Oct 2011, Halley VI was covered in snow and frost. Halley VI should never look like this again now the generators are running, even the small amount of heat loss from the heavily insulated walls will keep them clear of snow.

Halley VI modules in winter colours - photo by Chris Walton

Friday, 10 February 2012

Heart of Halley.

One of the key points this season was confirming that HalleyVI was the station that would winter in 2012 and that Halley V would be shut down. Once this decision was made then no end of science experiments, equipment, food, vehicles etc moved across to Halley VI. However the heart of Halley moved across when the communications and the surgery moved across.

The comms room
The comms room contains all the radio equipment, HF radios for talking to planes and ships, VHF radios for communications locally around the station, and of course the equipment that we use to connect to a satellite for internet and phones.

There is a fully equipped doctor's surgery, which we hope never to use of course, but its comforting to know its there if it is needed. Here is the doctor, Kaz, giving Penny a checkup in the new surgery at Halley VI.

Did you see Penny in the comms room, she was making herself hard to see.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


This is the view from my bedroom window.  At the bottom are the containers which are part of the temporary accommodation, then middle right are the modules of the new Halley Station. On the middle left, behind the snow mounds are the containers that contain all the building materials for the station, they will soon disappear. Between the temporary accommodation and the modules there is a line of black flags. This photo was taken on a nice sunny day – but you can see from the flags that it is breezy.

My view on a nice day

Weather getting worse

People walking to work in poor weather - you can just see them on the flag line

Sunday, 5 February 2012


One of the amazing things about Halley is the large emperor penguin colony nearby - this was only 12 km from Halley IV (the first of the Halley stations that I stayed in), about 16km from Halley V, but its nearly 32km from Halley VI. Unfortunately events have conspired against me getting down to see it this year (so far at least), but yesterday a solatory Adelie penguin wandered up to the station so that gave Penny a chance to meet a real penguin.

The weather wasn’t very nice and Penny has decided that being a real penguin would be far too cold and far too smelly too. On my last trip to Antarctica, which was too a much warmer place called Rothera the penguin I took from home on that trip met a Chipstrap.

Here are the emperors.

The chicks come in all shapes and sizes:

Thin Chick

Fat Chick
And of course, the rare large nosed vareity

Friday, 3 February 2012

Halley 6 - part 2 Cabooses.

Much of the science at Halley comes from equipment situated in shipping containers that we call cabooses. This one is the Superdarn caboose:

Superdarn is a big radar that looks out over a large part of Antarctica, measuring the position and velocity of charged particles in the Earth's ionosphere, the highest layer of the Earth's atmosphere, which tells scientists about the Earth's interaction with the space environment. Another Caboose we have is the Optical caboose, it contains experiments that look at optical phenomena such as the aurora.

Halley gets a lot of aurora - of course you can only see them in the winter, now its summer with 24 hour daylight and we can't see them - here's a picture of aurora taken at Halley in winter.

You will notice that the optical caboose looks remarkably similar to the Superdarn radar caboose, in fact we have five cabooses that all look very similar - although they are all customised for their particular function. The advantage of running science from cabooses is that they can all be positioned in the ideal place compared to the rest of the stuff around the station. So for instance the optical caboose is over a km from the main station to guarantee that it is very dark, the radars are a km in a different direction so that the large radio pulses they send out don't interfere with the sensitive experiments that are in another caboose over 2 km away in the other direction.

You might be wondering why the cabooses are yellow. Well they are very heavily insulated to minimise energy use in winter when they need to be heated, but in summer when the temperatures are warmer we tend to need to cool the electronics inside, if the cabooses were a dark colour then they would absorb lots of heat from the sunshine and would be difficult to keep cool. Ideally we would paint them white to keep them cool, we tried this once but white cabooses are too hard to see against the snow. This particular shade of yellow doesn't heat up much in the sunshine and is easy to see in both sunny and bad weather conditions.

Inside the cabooses look like a crowded science lab, full of electronics and computers. Here I am inside the optical caboose.

Here is DJ inside a caboose that we call the EMQA caboose - that stands for ElectroMagnetic Quiet Area, it's where we run the sensitive scientific radio receivers from.

And here's Ollie and Neil inside the MFradar caboose - that's another radar - this one measures the wind in the atmosphere from 40km to 100km up.

How many times did you see Penny?