Tag Archives: Antarctica

antarctic report 8 – bashing sea ice


This is the eighth in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey. In this report Dave gives us an account of his departure from Antarctica aboard the Ernest Shackleton.

The Ernest Shackleton (ES) arrived approximately a week earlier than scheduled and surprised us all. It seems that they had finished their science and thought that they would make their way to our section of the Brunt Ice Shelf.

Arriving early meant there was yet more pressure on us to shut the base down and leave for the winter. We started working on a “job and knock” basis where finishing our tasks meant we could actually go home! As part of the building tech services team it meant that the rest of base was waiting on us for the last two scheduled days of the season. The Base commander asked us every hour or so when we would be finished.

We had a quite a few helpers that weekend and we completed the programme of works by 1630hrs on Saturday afternoon fully expected to leave the base that evening. The James Clarke Ross (JCR) was moored up next to the ES down at the creek and ready and waiting to take her passengers on board, however the storm that had been threatening to come in did and, before we knew it, both ships had slipped there lines and pulled off to deep water to ride the storm out.

We became effectively base bound for the next 3 days waiting for the wind to drop. We fnally got the nod on Tuesday night that the construction teams would be leaving and we would depart the following day.

Our trip down to the coast took 40 minutes in terrible conditions, snow storms and very poor visibility which served as a reminder of why the continent empties of research staff at this time of year.

As we pulled up at the creek we were greeted by the ES and JCR. The JCR had stayed behind to offer wind cover for the ES as she loaded – the JCR had rammed herself into the ice 100 metres beyond the bows of the ES and at 90 degrees to her effectively shielding her from the weather.

We boarded quickly and the lines were cast off by the four solitary Winterers who stood at the edge of the sea ice with a skidoo. They waved as we reversed off and steamed north at 15kns into open water and, through the mist, we watched the continent fade into the sea and sky.

It was evening before we came across solid ice. We had been “bashing” small lumps of ice all afternoon but now there was solid islands of ice blocking our path. The ship did little to avoid such floes, the officer on watch made a visual assessment of the age of the ice. If it was less than 1 year old then no action was taken. If it was deemed several years old then the ship sped up and used its 4inch thick bow to crack through the ice floes.

As night approached the ship slowed slightly and spot lights were used to illuminate the floes through thick falling snow. The Captain took up residence in the crows nest with a set of binoculars and directed the officer on watch.

During the next two days the ship hit the floes with such impact that it we were almost thrown off our feet and a couple of times it stopped us dead. The sound as the floe passed the hull seemed like someone trying to open the hull with a can opener! During one of my visits to the bridge I heard the Captain order full speed on both engines and watched in trepidation and no little fear as we closed the gap on a large floe. The impact had the officers swearing and me trying to step backwards in an attempt to avoid the blow. My confidence wavered when I noticed the deck officer who appeared too young to shave!

We encountered much wildlife in these few days in the ice floes; seal, penguins (scurrying from bergs as we bore down on them), various birds and minke whales.

At night we lay in our cabins with the porthole open watching the floes glide by and the ship shuddered as it met resistance. After drifting off to sleep we would wake in the small hours and look out over a vast tumultuous sheet of ice. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before we came across open ocean, surprised at what good time we had made.

The ES is shaped like a spoon under the water and has no discernible relative draft. This means she is particularly unstable in anything more than ice floes and pitches and rolls like a bar of soap in a bath.

The weather was OK for the first few days with the Wedell Sea staying relatively calm as we crossed protected by the Antarctic peninsular for most of it. The sea has a gyratory current that traps bergs and spins them around. It is also pretty deep with the abyssal plain being over 4000m deep.

During the afternoons the ship practices sea trails and tests it’s dynamic position system which effectively holds the ship above a certain point over the sea bed using a complex array of thrusters and satellite navigation. When the ES is not in the Southern Ocean she spends her days in the North Sea as an oil support vessel running ROVs etc.

As we neared Signy, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands the sea became more shallow and less sheltered. We started picking up some weather that made the trip a little more unpleasant: Two days of force eight gales that trapped most of the team in bunks with even the hardiest of us mooching around nursing our stomachs and sleeping. The most comfortable place I could find turned out to be the running machine – holding on with one had at all times as I mnemonically trudged through km after km. I tried the rowing machine but this made me decidedly unwell; so much so that I had to stop.

We then had a few days of calmer water as we reach the ocean convergence zones where the Antarctic meets the Southern Ocean and the sea temperature rises creating sea mist. This is prime whaling territory and is ringed by an arc of islands with historic whaling stations.

We are making good time to Stanley and may arrive early – this will do us little good as our birth is not booked until the 19th and currently Stanley is very busy with oil rig support vessels and (hopefully) the odd destroyer.

A number of us are hoping to compete in the FI marathon which is deemed to be the toughest on the circuit. I have never run a marathon before and somehow doubt 12 weeks of running in snow followed by two weeks at sea will improve my chances but it will be good fun trying!

The wind has increased again to over 40knts as we head towards the Falklands shelf. The sea is staring to build and we have two or three wandering albatrosses gliding in our wake and alongside.

– David Goulden, Aboard the Ernest Shackleton, The Southern Ocean, Antarctica

31/01 Antarctic Report 7 – baffin boots and polished copper pipes
12/01 Antarctic Report 6 – deadmen timbers and russian catering
30/12 Antarctic Report 5 – prime movers, melt tank and cricket
22/12 Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south
15/12 Antarctic Report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow
08/12 Antarctic Report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic Report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

antarctic report 6 – Deadmen timbers and Russian catering


This is the sixth in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey. Last time Dave had just heard of the arrival of the Russian supply ship Igarka. This time we hear of the unloading.

After taking a leisurely breakfast over at the Drury annexe kitchen we had met at the garage at 0745 where I read the instructions from a white board pinched from the kitchen in the Laws building.

We were then given 15 minutes notice to get packed and be ready for the Relief party heading down to the coast. I jumped on my skidoo and raced back to my bunk room where I threw everything in a bag and went to the pick up point where I was assigned a snow cat for the 40min journey to the coast.

We arrived as the Russian supply ship Igarka was steaming over the horizon trailing a plume of black smoke from its funnel. It arrived an hour later and spent the rest of the day charging at the ice in an attempt to break off the jagged ice so that it could moor square to the edge.The 3no 100t cranes only have a lift reach of 12m and so it could not afford to be anything but snug against the sea ice.

A stubborn lump of ice refused to break away from the shelf so we ended up with 6 Jiffy ice drills with 2 men a piece stitch drilling a line of holes in an attempt to assist in breaking off a section of ice. Each man was roped up as they were standing in sea water whilst drilling.

Eventually at 1900hrs after a final successful charge at the ice, the ship was able to moor up and we accepted her bow lines, dug holes for deadmen timbers and wire strops and secured her bow. We handed over to the night shift at 2100 hrs and headed home to base for dinner and bed.

The Relief rotation started that night. We were the first point of contact for the cargo with sea ice drivers delivering sledges to us at the ship side where we loaded and stropped all the material. We had a small caboose with a paraffin heater and 4 beds in with us on the sea ice edge – this acted as our refuge throughout the day.

As one sledge departed another pulled in from its waiting point at the mooring lines and made its way to us. The loaded sledge travelled off the ice and up the ramp to the Shelf ice where the full cargo sledges were lined up so that they could be collected by the Prime Movers 3 or 4 at a time and delivered to base.

As the Prime Mover left the Shelf ice depot it radioed Halley Comms and gave a description of the cargo which was logged.The cargo was then deposited on the Cargo lines at base from where it would be distributed.

The first shift went amazingly well and we moved 40 sledges. We had 6 holds to empty each with its own crane. The holds had “‘tween” decks. This meant that you emptied the top half and then opened the hatches below (the floor) and started work on the lower hold below. My job was banking and slinging loads and strapping the cargo. We got to recognise the Russian vocab for “up” and “down” and developed a rapport with each shift. They worked extremely hard for us considering they were on a day rate (20,000k a day for the ship and crew not inc fuel)

We were bunked on the Igarka and had a hot bed rota with the night shift. The cabins were OK but reminded me of travelling in China and the hostels common to the country. Each cabin had its own WC/shower room. One of the best things was the fact that you could open the windows!
The russian catering was, as expected peas and spam for breakfast, but the crew were very friendly and perfect hosts. In the evenings we explored the ship and its holds. They had a swimming pool and gym on board but the pool was empty and covered in oil and the Gym had parts of cargo hold bolts as dumbbells!

Because the unloading was non-stop we had a couple of days of cargo moving where we ate on the run and were fed with coffee and chocolate by the sea ice driver’s mate. The shelf ice kitchen caboose (our canteen staffed by one of the chefs) opened at 1300hrs. If we managed to get back we would be served much welcome soup or sandwiches. More often than not we were sent flasks of soup down and ate between loads. The Russians were on an 8hr shift.

Loading a Challenger cat onto the Ernest Shackleton for return to Cape Town
Loading a Challenger cat onto the Ernest Shackleton for return to Cape Town
The Ernest Shackleton (ES) turned up 2 days into the Igarka relief. She moored to the bow of the Igarka and was dwarfed by the bulk carrier. The Shackleton is much more manoeuvrable, having bow and stern thrusters, and she was able to shave off sections of the sea ice.

Our access to the Igarka was via a Wor Geordie which was dropped at 1930 hrs with the n/s crew and not dropped again until 0700 hrs the next morning with us hanging on. It was a great way to get to work as but you had to hang on!

Some friendly penguins joined in the Relief. They would sit in the middle of the operation squawking and franticly moulting trying to rid there down feathers in favour of their mature and waterproof coats. They could not leave the ice for the sea until they had moulted.

We were moved over to the ES half way through the week.The accommodation aboard made the Igarka look like a prison ship. I have never been on a cruise ship but if I had I would expect her to look like the Shackleton. We had en suite facilities and our own lounge and TV room. The food was fantastic. We could dine on 5 course meals and I took the opportunity to eat my weight in fresh fruit and soft cheese. We even had real milk (well UHT).

The Igarka was unloaded in 4.5 shifts and departed playing the Russian national anthem on its deck speakers and the crew waving as she steamed away. She was on charter to BAS until she left the sea ice zone.

We then moved to emptying the ES. For this section of work I was to be a sea ice drivers mate which meant riding a skidoo shadowing the snow cat driver in case the cat fell through the ice. We all carried/wore life jackets and throw lines which are mandatory when on sea ice.

The ES relief was run by the ES bridge officers. Protocol was such that you had to call them up to request permission to come along side or depart with the loads. Each wagon would be held at the mooring lines until its predecessor was ready to depart. It was a much more formal arrangement and slowed the process down somewhat. We were also back on BAS work schedules so stopped for smoko and lunch for an hour each day.

As far as I was concerned I was quite happy to dawdle the days away as it meant we had more time eating and sleeping on the ES – we very nearly had the ship to ourselves for the period and there were a few days when I was actually bunking on my own for the first time since leaving the UK.

Once the ship was unloaded we began backloading waste from base. This took a couple of days and we then started wrapping up our makeshift shanty town. On the last day the remaining 5 of us had our last meal on the ES (we were treated to lobster and prawns) before being assigned a snow cat for the journey home. As we loaded up the sledges in preparation for the convoy journey we were handed a can of beer for the hour trip. It was a very satisfying trip home. We had completed the largest relief in the shortest time. We’d moved over 250 wagons and travelling over 4000km over the sea ice. We arrived back at base at 2200hrs and were given the next 2 days off.

Saturday night was the Relief barbecue night with a free bar supplied by Morrisons (Gallifords) and the RSA teams supplied and cooked the meat. It was a great night but most of us were more than a little tired after 10 days of non stop working and shift changes.

Our next task will be unloading and categorising the cargo and carrying out repairs and logistics work before the end of the season – we are half way through today……

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Antarctica

30/12 Antarctic Report 5 – prime movers, melt tank and cricket
22/12 Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south
15/12 Antarctic Report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow
08/12 Antarctic Report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic Report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south

Do you have it in white?
BAS for BHF dont need DFS

This is the fourth in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey.

A quiet week here at 75 degrees south. We managed to complete the mapping of the base this week and have been engaged in odd jobs around the base. The weather has been mild but we have had poor contrast throughout most of the week which makes working harder and slower as we can literally not see the ground in front of us or make out the horizon or sky.

Last week we moved into an annexe near the Drury Building. Life in the annexe has been more basic but ok. The bunks are larger and wider but the space outside the bunk is minimal to the extent that you have to take turns in the morning getting up and dressing. They heat up and cool down quickly due to the electric heaters – the same type we get in site accommodation. The unit has a lobby door to keep the heat in but we are plagued more by the ill fitting blinds that let the mid night sun stream in. I have modified my bunk to give me somewhere to put books and an alarm clock and it is not a bad spot to read or listen to music.

On Friday we built the outside toilet to out little annexe and cored a waste pit with an ice coring machine – this has large corkscrew auger bits approx 300mm diameter with what is effectively an outboard engine on the top of it. It’s a two man job keeping the unit under control once it is put to the ice!

One of the team here is building a gigantic ice sofa for a competition for the British Heart Foundation. It will be used for the summer photo this year and we spent Saturday afternoon carving the sofas arms and legs.

The supply ship Igarka is due in on the 26th December and so we had our Christmas dinner on Saturday. We were given the afternoon off and put up decorations and removed all the furniture from the lounge for a band to set up.

Lunch was at 1600 hrs and comprised a full spread with all the trimmings – we had crackers and glasses of wine and then headed out to the sofa for the photos. The whole base was ferried out in skidoos, sledges and box trailers with the skidoos speeding back and forth to collect and gather every one of the team much like the “little ships” of Dunkirk.

We were treated to hot mulled wine and then formed an orderly queue to climb the steps up to the sofa. I was tasked with pressing the self timer button on the camera and then sprinting the distance to the sofa and getting hauled up by Justin and Adrian within the 10 secs allowed.

We then headed back to the lounge where the bar opened and the night began. We were allowed an extra can that night. Five cans in total but a couple of us borrowed a skidoo to pop back to our annexe for some Hungarian moonshine called Perdinka  It must have been 80% proof and I think capable of removing tooth enamel. We also picked up a couple more beers we had hoarded during the previous weeks.

The band played 10 or 12 numbers through out the evening. It is amazing to see people in different circumstances and with talents you know nothing about. One of the young scientists only picked up the bass guitar earlier in the week!

We then had a carol service and went thorough some old popular carols. We fed on cold meats and buffet style food throughout the evening and I believe I stumbled home at about 0100 hrs looking forward to a lie in the next day.

Sunday was spent doing chores and reading before heading out to the 4km marker (3 barrels stacked on top of each other outside the boundary). The rest of the base settled down to the afternoon movie – The Great Escape!

We will have another week, I think, kicking our heels but the Relief schedule has gone up and I will be based on the edge of the sea ice helping load and sling the sledges with cargo. I have been told that this is a good job as you are in the thick of the action and get to stay on the ship. On the Relief for the RRS Ernest Shackleton I will be a sea ice driver’s mate which entails riding a skidoo behind the Challenger drivers with a safety line and gear to assist if the ice breaks up and the machine falls through.

The management spent much of the time week this flying over the coast working out where we would be berthing the ships and identifying a safe landing spot for us to work from. I believe we will be using Creek 3 and preparations has commenced in grooming the cargo road and putting in a ramp down to the edge of the ice for vehicle access. The field team will use ground penetrating radar to check for crevasses before we get down. I am sure more will be revealed at the Situation Report tonight.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Ant-bloody-tarctica

15/12 Antarctic report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow
08/12 Antarctic report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

Antarctic report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow

nice day for a picnic
Goulden, Halley Research Station - nice spot for a picnic

This is the third in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey…in Antarctica.

The supply ship Igarka should have been here a couple of weeks ago to coincide with the increasing amounts of labour being flown in but, as it has not arrived, we are having a quieter week and we all seem to be running out of work. The chefs are doing a fantastic job with our daily meals with dwindling supplies.

We hear that the Igarka has now left Cape Town and that there was some concern over the lashing of the cargo with a separate stevedore team having to be employed to check the loads for insurance purposes. The cargo is predominantly GRP cladding panels which, while not heavy, are very large and potentially fragile if stressed in the wrong direction.
It will take approx five days for the Igarka to reach the sea ice and then a further six days, on a good run, to reach us. However a good run is unlikely as she has no access to ice shelf data and, I believe, has little experience of this part of the ocean. The captain has told BAS that he is willing to try and push on as much as possible before the E. Shackleton icebreaker catches them up. It has been known for ships to get within 10 miles of the base and to then get stuck in the ice for weeks.

It is likely that she will arrive on Christmas Eve; in which case we will have Christmas early and then work solidly for the next few weeks on relief.

We headed out to the cabooses earlier in the week. These are 10ft by 10ft relief huts with stoves and bedding and are used as accommodation when the ship anchors off the sea ice. Our task was to raise each hut, clear the snow, open the doors and clear the ice that had accumulated inside. To get there we used one of the snow cats and followed one of the drum lines for the 20km journey. We then returned on the drum line to base and headed out in the opposite direction following another line to get to Creek 4.

Creek 4 is the preferred spot for relief as it is only 12km away from base and so the “haul” is much shorter. The sea ice here looks a little fragile and has broken away but you can still see the anchor points used last year. There is a natural ramp down from the shelf ice that will allow the snow cats and challengers onto the ice although to me it does not look like it will last for long!

The maximum load of any of the cargo is set at something less than 10t as the sea ice will not take a lot more. This has a knock on effect to the construction works as it limits the size that the modules and materials can weigh.

One of our other tasks is to survey the whole base area this week. I have set a station on the top of Halley Hill (a mound about 3.5m higher than the surrounding area – perhaps I should name it as part of the Goulden range?) and can survey most of the base from there.

It is a long and laborious process and entails coordinating all the structures on the site in the first instance and then carrying out a “clock” survey at 6 or 12 degree arcs from my point to the perimeter and back. Garith, my chainman for this task, (but actually the base carpenter) heads off on a skidoo with the pogo and prism and then works back in on the line of sight. I have set him stopping every 25m for a reading. The boundary of the site is over a km away and surveying one arc takes nearly an hour!

Everyone seems very excited about the survey as it will map the base for the first time in five years and will show how the buildings have moved relative to each other and how the snow has accumulated.

The Brunt Ice Shelf moves at approximately a meter a day in the horizontal plane and 3m vertically due to sea swell. Not all sections of the shelf move at the same rate and so the buildings can change position relative to one another. The shelf is 100m thick with 10m of that floating above the water.

On the main site the module B2 has been moved into a winter location not far from the Piggot Building and we have been asked to survey this area as a base line for how the building works aerodynamically over the winter and how it affects the snow levels. The idea is that another clad module will be positioned next to it.

One of the other tasks involved jacking the Bart building. This hut is where the helium gas is stored and the weather balloons are set off from. We first needed to empty the building of the gas bottles and then position the 4 jacks at the jacking points. We were joined by a team of Mech boys (plant operators) who pitched in and took a jack each. The extension pieces were added to the leg tops and we jacked the building up in unison in 300mm increments. The building was eventually bolted and made safe over a meter higher once we were complete. This is good fun as the Mech team are quite a young bunch and have a great esprit de corps.

Outside of work I have been skiing several times overdid it earlier in the week in an attempt to see if it was quicker to run or ski around the perimeter – it is actually quicker for me to run although this is only the case if the snow is firm and packed. Adrian and I took a leisurely ski last night after work before dinner – he was a Major in the Australian army before moving to Cambridge to study a PhD in snow management. We talked about “adventuring” and the “the flow”.

I spend much of my time reading in the library – the best room on the platform and rarely used. It has some fantastic books on the history of exploration of Antarctica.

Saturday night was curry night and is generally the night that everyone has a few drinks (maximum 4 cans!) and relaxes a little. I grab a game of darts before dinner and can hardly hit the board – I think the last time I played darts they had Velcro on the end and the board was made of felt! My lack of dart skills is not something I am worried about!
I have yet to venture onto the Pool table. One of the base rules is that if someone has six balls potted before you pot any then you must drop your trousers and run around the pool table as a forfeit – a poor chap had this humiliation on Saturday night. Fair play to him for doing it!

Even though it is light 24hrs a day the evening light creates a different view of the base and is a great time to get out for a walk. Mists have been rolling in across the base over the last few days making everything look very surreal. I believe this is a heat/humidity mist caused by the rising temperatures here – this week the average was only minus 1 deg.
I was circled by, what looked like, a swallow or swift this evening. It was, in fact, a Wilson Storm Petrel which roost on the container lines each summer to raise young. This brings my tally to five different types of mammals, all birds; WSPs, Skewers, Emperor Penguins, Adele Penguins and Snow Petrels.

This week we must move out of the Laws Platform to an annexe near the Drury Building to allow for more over wintering staff to arrive. The annexe is not as luxurious as the Laws and we will have no showers or WC near by. On the positive side we can open the windows! On the work front we will need to complete mapping the base before the weather turns – we have had nearly a full 10 days of sunshine.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Ant-bloody-tarctica

08/12 Antarctic report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce
06/12 Antarctic report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

Antarctic report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce

Antarctic Monkey
Antarctic Monkey

This is the second in our series of reports from David Goulden working for The British Antarctic Survey…in Antarctica. As yet our correspondent has not been able to send any pictures but to the right is an artists impression of what Mr. Goulden might look like, were he surrounded by snow.

I am starting to settle into life down here and am not feeling so tired! We completed the construction of the Drury annexe and have moved onto the construction of the Laws annexe. This is much smaller and we hope to have learnt from the mistakes that we made on the first project.

We were expecting a storm this week and it teased us tentatively before finally whipping into full force with 30 kn winds and snow. Whenever the wind blows the System tends to raise the temperature here and we are treated to temperatures of about 0 deg. The wind chill, however, makes it feel considerably colder.

I spent a morning with the scientists on the Simpson building and learnt all about ozone measurement. If all the ozone taken from a column of air above the building here, from sea level to 50km high, was captured and stacked together it would only be 3mm thick! Ozone is measured in units called Dobsons and the banning of the CFC that cause the ozone molecules to stop replenishing has gone a great way to reducing the green house affect.

The next day I set off the daily weather balloons with Richard; they will transmit temperature, pressure and relative humidity back to the station before swelling to the size of double decker buses and exploding about 20km high. They have some great maps in the building as well as some cool weather charts and data.

We have started doing more surveying work and we are using an EDM to survey the snow profile under the Laws platform. This enables everyone to understand how the snow will build up over the next year and how the platform will be surrounded.

Normally the building is jacked up each year and re-levelled which can involve a team of “steelies” with jacks. It is no mean feat and can take some time to carry out. The issue is that the decision has been made not to increase the height of the platform again before Halley VI is ready.

The problem here is the effect of the prevailing wind on the snow around the buildings. Wind whistles around a building leaving it clear within approx a meter or so but, at the front, as the wind speed increases, it picks up the snow and raises the level. While at the rear it will drop some snow in the back eddy. This will continue to happen until the snow reaches the top of the building where it will fill in the hole entirely. Buildings are always placed at 90 deg to the prevailing wind to help this.

Snow management is, therefore, a big deal down here. Wherever something is placed, snow will re-form and level around it creating “wind tails”. It is one of the reasons that the container lines are so spaced out as we must allow for the sculpting of snow around an object.

The same is happening to the Laws platform to some degree as it is affected by the surrounding structures. Currently it is about 1.5 m above the snow level which allows the wind to sweep under it and scoops snow out from below the platform.

The true level of the shelf is known as the Bondu and is the true level of the shelf with the accumulated annual snow deposited on the continent every year. Antarctica currently only receives this amount of snow and is a dry continent. Trying to survey this natural level means working further and further away from the man made structures to get to this natural level area. This is what I have been surveying. I suppose it is the mean ground level and is a level that has not been affected by Man’s intervention!

The Igarka, Possibly the ship dave refers to
The Igarka, possibly the ship Dave refers to

We have had another influx of people onto the base – some of them I recognise from Cambridge. The base swells in size in preparation for the “relief” effort that comes when the ships arrive. We are 20km from the coast and hence it can take weeks to unload each vessel and requires men and machinery working in 24hr shifts. The whole aim is to unload the construction materials asap to allow the construction team to get on with VI and avoid having to come out again for another build season. The
cladding panels will be arriving on a Russian owned transport ship named the Igarka.

The Ernest Shackleton is due to rendezvous with the Igarka in Cape Town and guide her through the ice to a safe mooring in Antarctica however we have been told that the ES has been delayed and hence the Igarka will have to make her own way in to us – she is not an ice breaker and was relying on the ES to forge the route. We do have the ability to send one of our Basler aircraft up to view the sea ice but the ice is so changeable and it is not always possible to ascertain ice thickness from the air.

If the Igarka cannot make it through then we will all be waiting for the ES to steam here and pilot for the Igaka and this will mean that the construction team will have less time than they had hoped for to complete the cladding to the units.

All the modules have now been dragged out of their winter snow holes and are lined up and ready. A sample jacking of one of the units was carried out today with the legs being raised, snow packed underneath each and then the unit lowered.

A penguin
A penguin

Our Sunday outing today was a trip to Windy bay to see the emperor penguins. This involved an open sledge ride for the 20k or so to the creek and a roped descent down to the multi-year sea ice. There is little sea ice this year and thus not much room for the penguins to raise their young – many of them are stuck in smaller sections of wind blown sea ice out in the palermini.

We pick up skidoo suits for the journey (sleeping bags that you wear!). It is good to see the sea again. It is calm and steely grey and looks bitterly cold.

The penguins are noisy and smelly and fear us little. The young ones still have there down feathers and will not leave the ice until they have moulted. They vary in size from 300mm to 600mm and some seem to have been left to perish. Abandoned, it seems, they stand feebly on their own.

From our vantage point we can see penguins swimming under water. They seem to metamorphose into fish and speed through the water and under the ice. Then use both their wings and there beaks to lever themselves out of the water and up right. Skewers and Antarctic snow petrels investigate the small colony. The petrels gliding over the ice cliff.

We spend the day here, before heading back on the sledge making sure every inch of skin is covered as the spindrift from the tracks of the snow cat dust us continually on the way home. We end up a mass of dozing bodies being slowly buried by the snow on the journey home.

I headed out for a run with Justin and Adrian before dinner – we seem to all be content with the pace which is good and I enjoy this much more than the last one. The temperature is -7 and the ice/snow is that much firmer under foot. We talk of doing this a couple of times a week and fitting in some cross country skiing too.

Sunday dinner is fantastic as always and I go for the roast pork, stuffing, crackling and apple sauce. This week I am sure we will carry out some more surveying and perhaps do some work on the sea ice cabooses. The ships are not due until then end of December now.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Ant-bloody-tarctica

06/12 Antarctic report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on Saturday night

Antarctic report 1 – Nunatacs, Blue Ice and 4 beers on saturday night


A friend of mine claims that he has gone to work for The British Antarctica Survey. This may be true but I have not yet ruled out that he is sitting on a beach in Thailand sending me Emails. However, in a spirit of trust, I intend to publish his reports here and this is first detailed account of his arrival – Jonesxxx

After a few days in Cape town we are told that our flight on the Russian transport plane is to be brought forward due to bad weather in Antarctica – they need to get us in and out of the way asap.

The briefing for the flight is interesting – the plane has no windows and is set up for military use.There is a glass nose cone on the front identical to the ones you see in old war movies – they have set a web cam up that films the view from here and you are able to go up during the flight to look out the window!

We land at Novo air head ( a blue ice runway on the ice shelf) about 20km from the main base where we unload our equipment and wait for transport skidoos to move it to the main base. In between this we are taken to one of the mess tents where we grab hot drinks and food.The runway is literally blue ice and is 3km long; it serves as a consortium base for a number of the Antarctica treaty countries and is run by the Russians and the Antarctic Logistics Company International (ALCI).

You get great views across the shelf with Nunatacs piercing the shelf in the distance – these are the tops of mountains that are covered by the continental ice sheet and are thousands of metres high yet only a few hundred metres are visible.

We are told that we will not be flying out of here to Halley due to weather and rather than sleep in tents we are moved to Novo base itself. This journey is done in an old Russian tank like passenger vehicle and takes about 30 minutes.

Novo is set on the edge of the continent where the ice sheet has retreated and rock and mountains are visible. All 18 of us are housed in a new timber bunk room which they use in these instances. It does not feel very Antarctic and there is even a sauna (although coincidentally it is not in use at the moment!).

We spend the next few days exploring the base and surrounding area and walk in most directions including down to the sea ice and pressure ridge area. We see fantastic ice structures caused by the tidal and wave movements as they come up against the shore.

The food on the base is pretty poor and is survival food – the Russians see eating as a means of keeping the body sustained and not for enjoyment! At meal times we congregate in the mess area and watch Russian sit-coms and game shows and some of the guys play table tennis. The temperature varies from -5 to -7 and is not too cold except when the wind blows.

We are stuck here for a number of days waiting for the weather to break – bad weather here is essentially high and winds and poor contrast – it does not snow much (only 1.5m annually). On one of the days we are invited to the Indian base (Maitri) which is only 5 km away and so we take a trip out there and are shown around the base – they have built a wonderful conservatory and have a small multi faith temple in the roof space!

After a few days here we are told we will be flying tomorrow and are moved back up to the air head – we are a little dubious of this as we have heard that the first commercial flight will be arriving tomorrow and accommodation is required for the pilot and air stewardesses – we are sure the sauna will be miraculously working for their stay and that we will be housed in tents!

The air head is very busy that day as it has been effectively shut for 3 days – the Illuetian takes off for fuel drops and a Basler (DC10) lands along with a twin otter and the Boeing 737 with the day trippers. We sneak up to the edge of the runway to see the landings and take off’s and get battered by the jet wash in between. The first person off of the 737 (apart from the blond air stewardess!) is wearing shorts and a T-Shirt. I think they are American….

The Russian base and air head is littered with broken down plant/oil drums/tank tracks and refuse. The complete opposite of what I was expecting. Fuel drums and tanks are unbundled and there is evidence of large oil and diesel contamination where there is a graveyard of old machinery. This area is designated “Irretrievable” and beyond repair.

Our Balser takes off for the 3 hr flight to Troll the Norwegian base where we will refuel before the final 2hrs leg to Halley. Troll is everything you would expect from the continent – the runway is pristine and there is just one vehicle and the fuelling plant. The runway is surrounded by Nunatac and glaciers and looks fantastic. We have an hour stop here.

Halley Research Station
Simpson Building, Halley Research Station

We eventually arrive at Halley and are met by the base team and moved up to the Laws platform. We are allowed to shower for the first time in a week and are fed fantastic food cooked by the resident chefs!
The platform sits on jackable legs above the snow and can sleep 50 people. It has a common room, bar, library and workshops as well as a canteen area. It was built in situ by Christiani and Nielson and is wearing very well.

We are allocated bunk rooms. We have a window which is good but the rooms are not spacious. One of our first projects will be to build an accommodation annex for some of the construction team to move into which will allow us to move into the Drury building. Our team currently is made up of Galliford Try employees and BAS employees. The Galliford lads are working on the new Halley VI project and much of our tasks will be facilitating the smooth operations of this. We are the early input team (normally BAS do not operate here until late December. They then depart end of February). Along with the Laws platform there are the Simpson building, CAS lab, Garage and Drury and annexes.

We are inducted the next day and taught how to operate skidoos and Snow cats. I am teamed up with another guy and we are given a skidoo for the season.

The whole reason for building a new station is that the section of the Brunt ice shelf that the Halley V station is on will eventually break off. The new station will be situated about 30km South of here, still on the shelf but it will be able to be towed on large skis to a new location if required. The Brunt ice shelf moves off the continent itself onto the sea (where we are) and moves out further to the sea until it breaks off. It is approx 200m thick.

My first week has been assisting the construction of the new annex.We work from 0703 hrs to 1930 each day including Saturday. The average temperature is -15 deg and the wind has been strong most of the week. The moisture that we create freezes our overalls and gloves solid and makes things tricky but regular tea breaks help us thaw out. The kit we have is good – very warm boots and inner layers and padded overalls and top layers but this does not make it easy to work in.

My setting out and levelling skills have had to be resurrected and so far everything is in the right place. One of my jobs will be to survey the Bondoo (surrounding snow plains) so that accurate predictions can be made regarding the life span of the Halley V platform.

Because of the annual snow fall everything has to be either moved or jacked up on legs each year. The Laws platform sits on 30m of stilts that are now in cased in ice. Because of the construction of the new base the old base has not been jacked up for a couple of years and there are no extendable legs here at the moment to do so. Snow management is, by far, the most important activity on the base with teams of snow cats/dozers and 360’s. There is £4M worth of plant on site much of it custom built. Every single container needs to be moved each season.

The wind creates wind tails that are effectively large mounds of snow on the leeward side of any structure. Three to six metre tails can be created overnight in a storm and this means that the location of each piece of kit can directly affect another section hence the containers are spaced out at 90 degree to the wind.

Today is Sunday – my first day off and I hope to do some cross country skiing. Saturday night is curry night and we must dress smartly for dinner. We’re allowed 4 cans of beer as opposed the normal 2. So far all good – exhausted from working so hard – no sitting in front of lap top any more but I am sure in a week or so I will be less worn out. We have another intake of staff some time this week and new people to meet.

– David Goulden, Halley Research Station, Ant-bloody-tarctica