Recently, we looked out of our window at the ever-earlier evening sun.
Parhelia, or Sundogs. It is similar to a rainbow anywhere else, except that we don’t have rain here, ever. This is caused by ice crystals in the sky – an ice-bow. Although not visible to the camera, the same ice that caused it was also visible at ground level, sparkling as it was carried by the wind as diamond dust.
A few of the people who have emailed me lately (thanks!) have expressed concern that everything I’m doing out here seems to be fun and games, with trips and flights and ship cruises. While these are fun (and there are games), I am also have a job to do. Over the winter I’ll detail a few of the things I’m looking after but today I wanted to share a bit of the glamorous work I do here.
You may wonder what happens when 50 people in a base in Antarctica go to the toilet, cook and shower. All the drains have to go somewhere. At Halley 6, it goes, after some fancy biotreatment, here:
Yup, into a hole in the snow. The hot liquid poors directly into the iceshelf, melting its way down tens of metres. At some point, it stops and goes sideways, melting itelf a cavern we can an “onion” (owing to its supposed shape). We didn’t know much, however, about what it was like in this onion, so a specialised camera with a LIDAR attached was sent this summer to investigate it. I was assigned the Preliminary Onion Observation Project effort and one morning we sent the camera into the hole.
As the Special Hole Investigation Team head, I was responsible for lowering it into the onion, trying to work out when it hit the bottom and then haul it out. Of course, after having descended deep into the sewage inside, it came out it much less clean than when it went in…
You want to know where all our stuff goes? It goes here:
This particular onion is done now. It has been sealed and a new one started. This one will freeze, compact, and one day will drift out to sea in an iceberg.
A few days ago, we witnessed the first sunset in months. It looked like this:
(sunset courtesy of meterologists…)
It was still bleak weather and we’d not seen the sun, much less the sunset for two weeks.
However, tonight, I got to see it go down much more convincingly as it slid below the horizon:
It then reappeared in a very similar-looking dawn a few minutes later:
Days will rapidly shorten now. In the next three and a bit months, we transition from 24-hour daylight to 24-hour darkness, losing 18 minutes a day. It will be nice to have a day-night cycle again. Previously, the days were timeless and the hour of the day was a but a number on our F-91W watches; now, there is more a sense of morning and afternoon and “getting late in the day”.
I imagine that the photos fail, as they always do, to convey the beauty of the sunset. At that time of day there’s usually just one person, our meteorologist, in that room. Today, though, there were a few more who were interested in watching:
Today we took advantage of a “dinkle day” – excellent weather – to go off base 20km and service a “Lifetime of Halley” site. These are automated GPS receivers that we have dotted around ice shelf with a purpose being to monitor the movement of the ice that the base is built on. More on that to come in a future update. Our field party was made of four snowmobiles and camping gear for a month on two sledges – even though our destination was less than an hour away, we always take shelter in case of a weather chamge. Off we went:
Today’s work was mainly shovelling snow with a little bit of surgical shovelling when our spades got near something fragile like a solar panel. Fun fact: solar panels work even when buried in the snow. We were “raising” the site – lifting it out of the previous year’s accumulation of snowfall. Last year it got buried quite a bit – about 2m of snow was built up:
And so we needed to dig down a little bit to get it out:
And get it back to normal:
And go home:
The site, LoH Lima Lima, will hopefully be happy by itself until the next visit sometime in 2016!
I apologise about the long delays in the updates and irregular posting schedule. I have had a few posts written for a while but haven’t been able to upload them. Doing so on the Internet requires determined patience and hours of time, neither of which I have in abundance.
I got a couple up today and have back-dated some of them to put them about when they were written. I will try to keep the updates coming – perhaps shorter and with less photos – subject to access. In a month or so, bandwidth will be more available and I will start posting about the base and life here.
Comments, blog topic suggestions, questions and general hellos I happily received here by email! Drop me one – firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
Last weekend, we experienced our first “blow” – the Antarctic equivalent of a storm. It is when powerful and consistent winds appear, pick up surface snow and blasts us with it for days at a time. This weekend, we had an even stronger one.
Wind here is common, but this was something else. For the past 24 hours, it’s been over 40 knots with gusts of 46 knots – that’s 83kmph. Imagine, if you will, what it would feel like standing on your car driving down a main road. Now imagine the temperature is -10°C before the windchill… and this is still summer! The winter will have worse in store for us…
Life continues as normal inside. We can’t see anything but milky white out of our windows and the building is rocking a bit every now and then. We experience the wind as we dart across the bridge between the modules – even crossing this 30m stretch will leave one side of you coated in snow and ice and all of you chilled.
The conspiracy theorist in me is sure these blows been carefully timed to prevent us going outside on our last two days off! I did anyway, of course…