Tag Archives: Skewers

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