Wednesday, 3 April 2019


Although I am now back in the UK (and have been for some time) I still have a couple of posts to round off the trip. My route out of Halley was a Basler to Novolazarevskaya (a Russian operated Blue Ice airstrip) usually referred to as Novo (much the same as my route in Jan 2013). The Indian station of Maitri is just a few km away on an area of moraine known as Oasis.

Maitri with the icecap rising behind

Three of us had a few hours at Maitri (and a really super meal) to install an experiment (a VLF experiment similar to one that we are operating at Halley). 

Carson, myslef and Ross at Maitri 

Maitri is at a very unusual location, despite being on a rocky island surrounded by ice, it is right next to some fresh water lakes that are ice free in summer.

Here is the team that deployed the experiment.
The team standing in front of the VLF antenna

Unfortunately I didn't get many shots inside the station but here is one. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

A liitle bit of Halley history

This is either end of the history wall here at Halley. It has a photograph of all the wintering teams from 1956 until 2016 (when we stopped because of glaciological risk).

I am somewhere in the middle in winters 1989 and 1990.

When I arrived in Dec 1988, I brought my much loved Muddy Fox Explorer, almost certainly the first mountain bike at Halley - although the narrow tyres limited its use to really good surfaces.

Halley now has three FAT bikes, they work well in all but the softest of snow surfaces (when skis still have the edge). They are used for general recreation or for transport around the site. They are particularly good for going to CASLAB which is our clean chemistry lab 2km from the station where we limit access by combustion engined vehicles to the absolute minimum.

Here's me just playing around on one.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Automating Halley

I am at Halley to oversee the automation project. Due to the uncertain state of the glaciological state of the Brunt Iceshelf, BAS has decided that it is not prudent to winter staff at Halley at the moment. Science continues at and from Halley during the summer months, but in winter only low powered field instruments were able to collect data. We have been working hard to make Halley scientifically productive during the 9 month winter despite having no staff  on site, or any chance of maintenance visits. The key to this is providing reliable mains power at around the 15kW level for the complete 9 months. The route we have decided upon is a micro-jet turbine from a company called Capstone. This has only 1 moving part, the alternator and turbine are on one shaft on air bearings. It has no lubricants or liquid for cooling, and can go for 8000hrs between services - that's more than 9 months. The difficult thing for us is making sure that it maintains it's operating temperature and minimum load, and most importantly that the fuel can get to it without any chance of spillage. Here is the automation platform.
The turbine container is the green one in the middle, the red one is what we call the distribution container which allows us to change all the power connections from  the normal station to the turbine. The white container contains a science experiment, although most of the science experiments powered by the turbine are in their normal locations around the station. Here is the automation platform from the fuel containers.
The two 23000L aviation diesel (Avtur) fuel containers are connected by anti-siphon valves and the levels are monitored so that we know that the amount of fuel that leaves the bulk tanks is the same as finds its way to the day tank.
There are many, many safety measures, and hundreds of parameters that we measure and transmit to Cambridge. Here is the turbine itself.
Here it is in a heat photograph.
Most of the experiments are based around electronic systems and we can control them over the network with very little modification, although some need much more. The white container contains something called a Dobson that measures the ozone above Halley (you may know that Halley found the ozone hole), this requires an operator to twist dials and pull levers and the like. Using servos we have replaced the operator with a computer.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Back at Halley

Back at Halley, but not quite the same as the one I left 5 years ago. The glaciology of the Brunt iceshelf forced us to move the station to the safe side of an emerging crack. So the whole station was moved 23km from its last site to a new one known as Z6a. Unfortunately the glaciological situation was sufficiently complicated that we decided that it wasn't prudent to leave people here in the winter when getting them out would be near impossible. See - much of the reason I am here is to oversee our response to not having staff here in winter but still wanting to keep the scientific productivity of the station, more on that later. The modules are powered and we are working and having some rec in them, although we haven't commissioned the wet services or the fire suppression so we are eating and sleeping in other (less salubrious) buildings.
Here are the modules - still looking amazing:
 We however are based in and around the summer overflow accommodation building known as the Drewry.
Where we eating, washing etc, and some people are sleeping. Here's the dinning area.
I am actually sleeping outside in what is known as an emergency caboose, and although it means I have to walk from building to building if I want a wee or to wash my teetch etc, the emergency cabooses are very cosy and above all quiet. Here are two views on my temporary home.

Inside there are four sleeping 'coffins', I am bottom left.
Inside my 'coffin' is really neat and cosy.
But the far end of the container is less organised.
Inside the modules, things are pretty much as they were when I was last here. The bar has new sofas.
The bar is empty because we don't have any alcohol or soft drinks this season. The cracks in the Brunt iceshelf mean we can't get a ship in, so everything we are using is already here or we have brought in by plane (which is eye wateringly expensive, so is limited to absolute essentials). Another change since I was last here is the addition of a dart board.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Flight, Sky-Blu to Halley

It's about 1450km from Sky Blu to Halley, just over 5hrs 30mins flying time in a Twin Otter. Initially over mountains that were soon left behind.
Here is Vicki our pilot. She was one of the first ladies to winter at Halley in 1997 (as a meteorologist), several years later she returned to BAS as its first woman pilot.

And here's me at the controls to give here a quick break.
The flight is long enough to require a stop at a fuel depot at around halfway. This is just a load of drums that have been left there for the purpose. If you are lucky there isn't too much digging to get at them.
Rather surprisingly while we were there a BASLER from ALE dropped in just a few 100m away to set up their own fuel depot. It is hard to describe just how big and empty Antarctica is, and how surprising it is to share a small part of in in space and time with another.

After leaving the depot, the scenery was almost all ice.

Apart from a very small amount of rock, on which sits the Argentine station, Belgrano,surrounded bu ice falls and crevasses.
  Getting closer:
And above Belgrano:
Then more ice scenery for the next couple of hours.
Eventually the Brunt Iceshelf came into view, and we passed over the 1st chasm crack that has given us so many problems lately - but more on that later.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

At Sky-Blu

So what was I doing at Sky-Blu? It was part of the UK Antarctic Meteorites project - see for all the details, but aims to find buried, hidden iron meteorites in those blue ice areas that naturally concentrate meteorites. So while Katie and Julie are a few hundred miles south of Halley checking out likely blue ice areas (and finding lots of meteorites - 34 so far this season), Geoff and I are testing the giant metal detector that we will use to find the buried iron ones.

Here we are building it:

And here I am giving it its inaugural tow:

It has to be relatively robust as it needs to be towed for many hundreds of km over hard ice, there are some minor improvements to make but it basically works.

The key bit of testing was collecting data from the electronics for how it reacts to test samples that we had buried at various depths. This will allow the digital processing to be tuned back in Manchester so that we have optimal signal to noise.

Here it is all wired up.

The solar panels keep the batteries full so it is always ready to tow, although they do give some stability issues so we may put them at the campsite and swap a charged battery in/out each time it is used.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Sky Blu

Sky Blu is an area of blue ice right at the bottom of the peninsula. As its hard blue ice we can land planes using wheel which means we can get out DASH-7 there with its much higher payload than a Twin Otter. Sky-Blu is ideally placed to service to serve BAS's deep field program. Although, when we were there the ice didn't look very blue as it was covered with frost, still hard and slippy mind.

The infrastructure of Sky Blu consists of a few tents, huts, and underground garages.

Blue ice areas are always windy and hence feel cold, so having a warm welcoming tent to retreat into is almost essential. The reflex stoves keep the tent warm, solar panels provide power, with occasional use of a generator for high power items like the breadmaker!

And here is the camp manager, Tom, on domestics duties.

Sky-Blu has a team of three during that runs the camp and re-fuels the aircraft when needed. We doubled the population to 6, and on our last night two Twin Otters were present, stretching the population to a a cosy 13.