When temperatures rise from the wintery lows of -60oC to a positively balmy 5oC on the warmest of the Austral summer days, there is a proliferation of frontier science delivered by BAS scientists. Alongside are Ramboll engineers and consultants supporting their work by improving and modernising Antarctic research stations and infrastructure. These projects are part of the preparation works for the new ship RRS Sir David Attenborough, which will be ready for operation in 2019. As BAS’s Technical Advisor, Ramboll’s support has also included specialist technical advice for the team who relocated BAS’s Halley Research Station on the Brunt Ice Shelf. Here we share their experiences of working in the world’s most harsh climate.
Following the short stay in Rothera I travelled home via Chile to Heathrow and was met by Luci. Being part of the Halley relocation project has been a huge honour and an incredible experience. Antarctica is an extraordinary environment, so clean and beautiful. Now I am back in the UK, one of the biggest differences I noticed was the noise. There was always something going on at Halley with lots people on the stations, so now having my own space, our home seems very quiet. A little ironic given the sparse population in Antarctica. I’m not sure what will measure up to this great experience, however as always I am excited about the next challenge.
I was up at 7am and sorted myself breakfast, which will need to last me through to brunch at midday. I use the morning to send some emails and download photos from my camera as back-up onto my laptop.
After brunch we went on walk with others who came from Halley around the point, which is essentially a rocky path with icy patches in the low areas. What’s immediately apparent is the amount of wildlife compared to Halley where the odd penguin or bird was an event. Around the point we saw Elephant, Crab Eater and Weddell seals, Blue Eyed Cormorant, gulls and an Adelie penguin.
There is a group of Elephant seals that permanently block the bridge over a creek on the site. They are truly big animals and pretty smelly at times.
The Station Leader passed me some induction sessions for Monday. Not sure what will be doing during my time in Rothera but I’m sure there will be some subtle differences in standard operating procedures from Halley.
I woke up early to my room-mates’ VHF radio at 0600. I had breakfast, swapped email and mobile details with a few of the team. I saw the team off on the Snowcats, whilst I spoke to the BAS Station Leader about getting over to site VI for my flight. The final ride across to site VI was great because the night had been down to -22 C and the snow sparkled as the morning sun reflected off the crystals as we sped past. We soon passed the Snowcats trundling slowly along the relief road on their 3-4 hour journey to Creek 6.
I arrived at the temporary camp at site VI and met the pilot and the co-pilot. Around 9:30am we got the okay at the Three Ronnie’s site and decided we would pack whilst we waited for the weather update from Rothera, which operates on Chilean time three hours behind Halley and therefore was too early at that point. Whilst my time at Halley was really enjoyable, the re-location project had very little left to do. I was therefore looking forward to getting home and the journey there. The pilot got the okay around 10.30am and shortly afterwards we took off from the well-groomed runway.
The flight to the Three Ronnie’s base was good with views of the Brunt Ice Shelf and then the bay with lots of ice bergs in different states of break up and melt. They became less evident as we neared the end of our 3.5hr flight.
As we neared our destination the sea ice became denser with less cracks and spaces in between. The Three Ronnie’s base will be where the RSS Shackleton will go with the 40 people from Halley to off load the fuel barrels. The sea ice had few open channels and the ice shelf cliffs were reasonably high. One of the experienced managers was left at the base with the local team to inspect the ice shelf and sea ice, and to discuss both feasibility and ramp construction for the relief operation.
I took the opportunity to co-pilot for the next stage of the journey to Fossil Bluff. The first hour or so was pretty dull due to cloud cover obscuring the scenery below. Eventually the clouds cleared to reveal changes in the landscape, with the flat ice shelves now punctured with the occasional black rock outcrop, which grew into mountain ranges. As we neared Fossil Bluff the pilot explained that the black mountains heat up under the long sunlight hours and melt the ice, and within the valleys these join up to form watery pools and streams. After a while as I looked out the cockpit window I could see these deep turquoise areas of melted snow starkly contrasting against the white in the low lying areas at the base of the rock faces.
We then flew on to Rothera where the range of mountains grew taller and denser. As we neared our destination the ice shelf and dark mountain ranges rapidly changed to a still grey sea punctuated with white and occasional blue ice bergs. It was really stunning seeing these three landscapes coming together. On the far side of the sea we skimmed across to a narrow low lying shingle runway where we landed for once on wheels rather than skis. The runway is surrounded by snow covered black rock mountains and the bays of water with frequent icebergs.
It definitely feels strange to be back on terra firma. The scenery is totally different, more interesting with the contrasts of snow and rock, but also ice-bergs, wildlife and density of buildings. I was met by the friendly BAS Station Leader.
We were given an initial briefing, which will continue on Monday and then made way to our shared rooms and got rid of our bags. I then had a wander around the main buildings to both orientate myself as well as find things like the computer and telephone rooms.
We had a drink or two in the bar and then called to the dining room for the evening meal, which was celebrating Burn’s Night.
Today I got up a little later than usual and finished off the report, which covered the final inspection of the modules post re-location but also other miscellaneous areas of work that had been raised in passing on the project. At today’s situation report at 11am we were advised that the ship would arrive later today with the intention to start taking away cargo and people. This is done so that the temporary camps can be deconstructed, and the only way to do this work is to reduce numbers occupying these camps. We’re also advised that my flight is on the way and due to arrive around 6.30pm.
In the afternoon a few of the team finished off the stairs to the communications caboose.
The BAS chief engineer and I had a drink or two and got the relocation project t-shirt and badge.
There’s a cold breeze today and no major structural work on-going apart from communications caboose. I carried out a visual inspection of the Trelleborg inside and out, looked at the bridge pinned connections and wrote up the last section of the inspection report.
Thursday 26th January
Another cold morning with a breeze again – It’s certainly feeling like the end of the summer season weather wise. I intended to raise the snow berms to H1 and H2 but lifting frame is too low, so until the vehicles have raised the general snow levels we will need to delay this final snow packing.
Nevertheless, we did manage to lower the E2 berms to legs 3 and 4, it was hard work but we got the leg pins in place. The skis require very little bearing area in the short-term so any peaks held the ski high despite our efforts. However through a few cycles of lifting the legs we were able to knock these peaks away and achieve the leg extensions to engage the pins.
We were told at today’s situation report that the Twin Otter aircraft is coming tomorrow and that I will be on it with five others. So I had to crack on and pack in preparation. Speaking to the team, the trip across to Rothera is via two bases called the Three Ronnie’s and Fossil Bluff and is great although there is a risk of getting stuck at these remote bases if the weather quickly changes.
We had few drinks in the temporary camp and at around 10pm went to take what could have been my last photos and video of the modules. When I arrived in module A, the team had been looking for me as they were having a bit of a party. It feels now like the end has come about very quickly – but I understand that this is quite usual towards the end of a season. More of ‘Hurry up and wait’ and lots of flexibility required as you are advised of fast moving changes.
Mechanical and electrical teams progressed well and most of the system have been tested and re-drained for over-wintering. Now work is more the minor aspects to improve the ease of work in re-commissioning for summer 2017/18.
The E1 to B2 modules were levelled today using changes in leg extensions, and this has led to a pretty good internal levelling across the module thresholds and the Trelleborg generally reflect a good profile. I followed up with a level survey of the soffits and skis to the Southern Gateway and all pretty good and only three legs outside the leg extension range. We should be able to get all the pins in and play with a couple of the longer legs extensions to improve on it slightly, but we’re now talking 25mm max change.
The work is now almost done with the North end complete and some minor snow packing to the South.
The carpenters and steelwork teams are busy blocking vents, droppers and making storage and transport boxes for the some of the science instruments.
I re-ran the spreadsheet and can do these minor leg adjustments. I also looked at the soffit levels of the E2 to H2 modules and these have less than 10mm change from melt and compression from yesterday so it looks good for the final level adjustments. Hopefully we can do this tomorrow.
Saturday is karaoke night and Sunday is the organised trip under your own power from site VI to VIa. Some are skiing, cycling, walking, running. However more recently there is an option to test drive some of the vehicles used out here – this sounds more fun as an experience so probably will get involved in this.
Got up 9.30am and all was quiet. Sat downstairs and downloaded some of the photos for my records – they have captured some amazing images.
The chefs do such a great job here with the ingredients available that it can be difficult to decline their high carb meals. The things I miss are proper milk rather than the powdered Nido and water mix, fresh fruit and salad, and of course my own choice of what to eat and when. During the week there is also very little time to get some exercise in unless you cut out meals and do so at lunchtime or late on into the evening.
Monday 23rd January
I undertook a new survey this morning to understand the settlement in the snow packed foundations and re-check how much we need to adjust to get to our target level. I inputted the data into a spreadsheet, translated it to the Southern Gateway site datum, and added some graphics so all would be clear and understandable.
I was surprised that this suggested that even skis in place for a fortnight had settled 70mm in four days, and the latest module moved just about a week ago has settled by 100mm. This is massive and makes you understand that as long and everything remains relative that this sort of movement is not that important. However given we have brought modules in over a few weeks everything is moving at a slightly different speed and we need to anticipate this to avoid this impacting on the pin engagement when finishing the module levels. Unlike the simple annual raising of the modules on well compacted ice sub-base, we are on fresh ground with unknown compaction and all complicated at surface level by direct sunshine radiation and air temperatures. Hopefully my spreadsheet can help with keeping us on track to get the right leg extensions to engage the pins and still achieve good consistency in levels.
The plan is to organise some plant to allow us to adjust B2 to E1, and then re-read the levels on E2 to H2 tomorrow.
I established the Morph global positioning system locations on the module roofs following a chat with James – so if time, I can have a think about how this system can help our understanding of building movements through the seasons and tie in with the other measured surveys.
The situation report covered progress, end of season arrangements for travel and timing of decisions for anyone deciding to make their own way home. Lots to do with booking box numbers and getting your possessions back home – they need to pass through customs and therefore a proper audit route is vital.
The team extended one of the towers at the North end of the site.
We carried on with the E2 module leg levelling today. This module still has the slippery blocks underneath the ski from a week or so ago, and the sun has warmed the black colour and sunk them down into the snow surface. The slushy surface snow from yesterday afternoon is now hard and icy. So when the dozer driver provides snow to pack beneath the ski it is much harder, has a poor size distribution and is difficult to handle. We ended up with the skis being slightly too high, which will prevent us from achieving our leg extensions, but BAS’s experienced engineer decides to leave it for a few days to see how the skis settle in. I will check the levels to the site Southern Gateway datum first thing Monday so we can see what adjustment will be required.
It is fairly easy to fill snow to raise a ski but reducing levels is really hard because under the metal ski pressure the snow turns to ice, and this takes a crowbar to break up. To get better predictability, it is worth scraping the top 400mm of snow from the surface to get to more consistent snow properties below (not affected by a warm days sun) and use this for filling.
I need to relate module soffit and ski edge to the HMI hydraulic system leg extensions. We need to get the leg extensions above the 1275mm target minimum to get the pins in, but also need a fairly level module which is checked initially via the soffit, and also the ski level to reflect the snow level. It is unlikely that leg extensions in one module to another will give the same height of the module above the snow. Therefore I will need to link these aspects together to achieve the best level alignment.
In terms of priority we need to achieve the leg extension range to get the pins safely in, the floor needs to be reasonably level and the loads on the legs should ideally be fairly equally balanced.
Another team cracked on and attached the second dropper to the bridge.
Some of the team played footy this afternoon. I was tired so took it a little easy and may sketch out an article for a local Wimborne magazine and Old Canfordian school magazine.
Today we progressed with raising the three Southern modules H2, H1 and E2. I explained on site that we had in preparation set level markers that indicated the keel line of the skis. This would enable the ski to be rotated as per the methodology, snow pushed in by dozers, the ski rotated back into alignment and then the sides packed by hand using the timber board. However whilst the morning snow was powdery enough for this method, by the afternoon it had become slushy and therefore was more difficult to handle and compacted as the ski load was applied. Consequently the operation was difficult to get right first time, and to get the tolerance we need for the pin engagement range the snow berms need really to be with 25mm of the target level. We made adjustments in the height and raised the legs to allow for the compaction. We have the benefit of leaving the skis to settle and melt in over the next day or so, we’ll see if we want to do a final round of packing after this.
This evening we also raised modules H2, H1 leg extensions to get up to similar level as E2 based on floor link plates and review of Trelleborg shape. As the Trelleborg is made up of folds of flexible material it exhibits changes which reflect the geometry across the module interface. So when all the folds exhibit a full height consistent width, without any ripples, the modules are usually in the correct proximity, level and square-ness to each other.
It was clear that the warm sun today has allowed modules A to B2 to melt in some more.
The winching of the southern modules together across a cross slope and the snow berm packing have, and will continue, to take time to get right.
Spoke to Luci this evening, it was good to catch up as she will be away at the weekend when I would normally try to call.
Up at 10am for line and levelling the B2 module. We will need to do the full level survey tomorrow.
At the situation report today I was advised that my flight out will be on the 1st February subject to weather. Last out will be at the start of March.
Thursday 19th January
I was just about up and ready for the 8am start. The over-night moves, six day weeks, eleven hour days and communal living do play a toll on your energy levels – however others seem to be suffering more than me.
First thing this morning I did the full level survey of all the module legs, soffits and skis. Standing in front of the dumpy level doing very precise movements to sight the instrument and record the information meant my fingers were freezing within 30 minutes. Halfway through I stopped to get my circulation moving and found this was initially more painful than the cold.
I logged the information and waited for information on the leg extensions from the HMI hydraulic control units which required the power and communication links to be established. After getting the required information after lunch I worked to ensure we achieved the leg extensions within the 1275mm to 1375mm range and minimised the number of legs between modules B2 to E1 that we needed to adjust. I came up with a strategy of stepping some of the modules soffits by 25mm within their length.
I also looked at an upper bound scenario where up to 60mm melt settlement affects some of the newly re-located modules but not others where the skis have already melted fully in. So this may mean that if there are a few sunny days that the levels we achieve in the next day or two will need the legs extending further to maintain a level soffit. Having assessed this I am happy we could do minor adjustments in the module levels and still maintain the leg extensions within the set range.
Jan the glaciologist presented information about the Brunt Ice Shelf formation, features and growth. This included the recent growth of Chasm 1 which had been dormant for some years, but particularly the Halloween crack as it was named since its discovery in October 2016. The glacial models can show a range of scenarios, however there is considerable unpredictability at this point.
We got the B1 module line and levelled. We then travelled back to site VI to move the final B2 module. We took the normal rigging team and to celebrate moving the last module they joined myself and Oli inside for the re-location journey. Spirits were high so we popped on comedy wigs from the dressing up box stored in the module, and waved goodbye to site VI from the rear fire escape.
We brought along some snacks and played music and chatted the entire 4 or so hours.
When we arrived at the other end there was lots of whooping, as the chief engineer counted in the last module. We all made it down the fire escape ladder and wandered over to the temporary camp to continue celebrating the re-location success. The team were in high spirits, we eventually turned in around 4am.
I got up 10am and had brunch at 12. I spent the afternoon doing ‘What’s in my bag’ article for Ramboll’s internal magazine and took some photos for it.
Monday 16th January
The wind driven snow ran on until this morning so now a windy but pleasant day. The team were stood down until after lunch as we planned to move the B1 module tonight. After smoko I carried out survey work so that we knew how much to raise the legs on the snow berms to modules E2, H1 and H2.
After lunch at the situation report we were told that BAS management had made the decision that Halley VI would not be occupied for the next winter season. The reason behind this is that the new crack in the ice shelf that is still moving inland. The new crack presents a complex glaciological picture that means that BAS scientists are unable to predict with certainty what will happen to the ice shelf during the forthcoming Antarctic winter.
We took the sledge with Dave driving the Skidoo over to site VI to collect the B2 module, the route across was particularly icy.
The B1 module move went ahead smoothly as ever. Having completed our standard checks and given this was an accommodation module both of us travelled inside and found a bed to read or sleep on. I set my alarm for 02:15 as this would wake me if I dozed before we arrived at site VIa. The stop was bang on the money, stopping with only 25mm to go. As I said to him, he could only have got it better if he had got the Trelleborg connector straight on to the fixings.
I spent the day de-rigging to get the lifting frame in position to lift each leg, insert the slippery pads, and then re-rigged ready for alignment. We undertook the sideways movement using the dozer shovel and when just about there, pulled forward on winches to close and line up the Trelleborg. We then moved the final rear leg alignment before de-rigging, using the lifting frame to lift the legs and remove the slippery pads. The team is working really well together and we are all in the swing of the work.
I then did a final survey that shows that the alignment is good.
Normal Saturday evening, and celebrated my birthday and the end of the week with a few drinks.
Module A was aligned to the Trelleborg at the South end. This was mainly done simply because the alignment from arrival was good and the snow beneath the crane pads slightly angled to allow the module to drift westwards as the module was winched onto E1. The winching needed some preload from a dozer behind leg 1. The dozer was also used for a minor adjustment in the E/W direction on the other legs once the Trelleborg was connected. This method was quick and with the right control, driver care and experience was very straight forward.
Once the module was positioned the legs were lifted, the slippery pads removed and skis replaced on the snow. The weather was very windy and picking up snow from elsewhere. This is a real issue with the slippery sheets which are hard to keep a grip on, even without fighting against the wind.
My level survey was generally used to place the keel line and allowed for 50mm melt of the snow in contact with the ski to get us where we needed to achieve our required leg extensions.
We are waiting for the okay to Skidoo to site VI and bring back the C module tonight – so will depend on the weather forecast. Despite the weather being pretty atrocious we get the okay and the journey across is fun with the wind blowing horizontally across the icy road, masking the peaks and troughs that lead to the Skidoo bouncing around. Generally manage around 50km/h and get there in around 30 minutes.
We join site VI for our evening meal, then finish off the towing steelwork and steering chains. We get the module powered up and lowered to its transport height, transfer the HMI (hydraulic system human interface), and pull up the ladder for our journey. The wind constantly whistles through the taped up end doors.
The drivers struggled a bit with keeping the line given the difficult conditions, and could feel the impact of the wind on the vehicle progress.
As we neared module A at the end of the move the chief engineer did really well, stopping the module 200mm short and 200mm to the West. Make’s the re-alignment work easier tomorrow.
Busy day so not really a moment to think about celebrating my birthday.
This morning I undertook the final alignment and levelling of module E1 so that we could bring module A, the living space module also called ‘Big Red’ in tonight to the best alignment.
I sledged across to site VI together with vehicles necessary for the towing.
We did the final preparations and checking before moving module A tonight.
Thursday 12th January
Today we jacked module A up to height, removed the towing frames so that we could bring in the lifting frame, raise the legs off the ground and add the slippery pads, allowing us to move into position in both the E/W and N/S axes.
Today I started thinking about the bridge re-installation. In preparation we shifted module E1 sideways into alignment. Having observed some of the issues on the previous module I made suggestions on changes in the board layout. The chief engineer has loads of experience working in Antarctica and adapts the work method to suit the conditions and what is working at that time.
The levelling of the buildings approach has been, to set modules E1 / bridge / E2, and then followed by all the other modules either side. As we discovered during my initial work at site VI, to engage the locking pins successfully a minimum leg extension is needed. However the maximum leg extension is around 1460mm (+/-50mm), so we are aiming to have all the modules leg extensions in the range 1275 to 1375mm, and not extend any leg more than 1410mm as a maximum. This means that we will need to get the levels in the snow pretty accurate given the tolerances required for differential snow melt and compaction. This will be particularly difficult on the lower part of the site where we will need to introduce 700mm high berms to level the modules through.
Consequently I undertook lots of levelling work on module E1 as it sits at the top of the slope and will be the unit with the lowest leg extensions, and so, critical to inserting the pins. So we will need to set the minimum leg extension here, and then replicate the snow levels elsewhere to work within the leg extension range that we have set ourselves.
As we do not have time to level the modules down the slope on the snow berms I have to work out how we can use the module tolerances in the Trelleborg to set up from the bottom of the slope and get the E2 module reasonably close to the E1 module to allow the bridge to be re-connected. This requires me to slope the modules between the legs, create up to 100mmm steps at the Trelleborg junctions, and this allowed me to get the E2 module to within 200mm of the set E1 module height. The 18m long bridge was easily capable of managing this step change although the bearings needed keeping an eye upon.
I also checked the bridge length to make sure that when we finished pulling the E2 module onto the H1 module that we had adequate tolerance to drop the bridge in. The bridge lift went ahead this evening, the pins connection to the E2 module went back in easily and we winched the E1 module letterbox onto the bridge projecting beams that form the sliding connection.
My son Daniel left for his travels today so in the evening I spoke to Luci to make sure she was ok.
Today having aligned module E2 we pulled it onto H1, and reconnected the Trelleborg.
Tonight I spoke to my youngest son, Daniel, as tomorrow he leaves to go traveling, starting in Thailand then onto Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and then maybe New Zealand and Australia. It’s not something I ever thought about at 18, as it was always about further qualifications to start a career. However I am proud that he has the confidence and independence to do his own thing. So I sent my love and asked him to stay in touch so we know he is ok. This might seem obvious, however most lads do not see the need to communicate at all unless they need something or it’s gone horribly wrong! In between these times it would be nice to know where he is in the world and what he’s exploring! I followed up our chat with some photos from down South. He said that he had set up the digital photo frame that I gave my wife Luci at Christmas, to pick up photos uploaded to the web from wherever he is during his travels. This sounds easier for him and more likely than a call!
I finally got my name onto the list for the Sunday trip and went to Creek 3.
There were 11 of us doing the trip. After grabbing some water and a sandwich for lunch I jumped into a sledge with transit bag for the journey to site VI. When we got there I went to the WASP (winter accommodation building for the science team) building to pick some climbing boots and then jumped into the Snowcat for the trip. The Snowcat is a really cool and quirky looking vehicle – almost like a Land Rover on high suspension and triangular tracks.
The Snowcat carried nine of us and the other four rode in the sledge dragged behind. Just before we arrived at the creek we got a radio call from the people in the sledge saying the rope had broken free. We looked out the back window to see them deserted and at a standstill 100m behind. Our field guide turned round to pick them back up and found that a small burr on the shackle had over the distance of travel cut through the rope.
The other field guides had gone on ahead on skidoos to set up climbing ropes over an ice cliff and to check out the safety of the sea ice shelf.
When we arrived we popped on crampons and harness in preparation for the climb. We were shown how to use ice picks and crampons and then let loose on the various climb routes under the watch of the field guides.
We then walked onto the sea ice carefully stepping over the crack with the ice shelf. Wildlife was limited to a single Adelie penguin and a Weddell seal.
We arrived back to site VIa pretty exhausted and just in time for the Sunday 6.30pm meal.
In the evening I went out with the total station retrieved from site VI to check our alignment. It took a little while to established the line to set out the N/S axis and agreed that our line was around 0.9 degrees off the original. However, it was in the right direction, given the ice shelf rotation each year of 0.4 degrees. The chief engineer was pleased that the original assessment was spot on and that my initial ‘on the spot’ advice on offset was also correct. Now called the ‘Calc’ – I am starting to realise just how much as an engineer I take numerical fluency and manipulation for granted, and that it just forms an integral part of our language and communication. So I now hear across the radio – ‘Calc’s happy with it’ and just left to get on with the numbers that inform our plan for the module positioning.
Today I used the dumpy level for its intended function role and levelled H2 and H1 soffits so the Trelleborg could be re-connected. I also set up a new surveying position that would allow me to sight through H2 and extending the sight line for the all the future module positions. I marked this with a new flag line and the offset at the end of the modules that I raised yesterday so this was then clear for everyone.
We also set up the lattice towers that form the Southern Gateway burying the foundations some three metres below ground level. This will allow the connection of the modules with external infrastructure as well as being the datum point for future level surveys.
At the end of the day the BAS Project Manager, Station Leaders and I discussed the new alignment. I suggested we could go back to the original setting out points and simply re-create the original bearing and compare with this new line. The setting out is only relevant to lengths of infrastructure connections and most importantly the snow wind tails which impact on the snow management around the building. The accuracy of the original snow tail measurements on this empty site in 2016 is unknown and further complicated as the Brunt Ice Shelf rotates by around 0.4 degrees each year so the accuracy will change with time.
After getting up at 10am I joined smoko at 10:30 for breakfast. Today will be my first day’s work at site VIa.
I was told that the H2 module was within one degree accuracy from the setting out established in summer 2016, and that we should use it as the basis for the other module alignment. I was asked to set up a line to advise how much the H1, E2 units need to be moved laterally. Given the combined length of the modules was approximately 200m this 1 degree of variation would equate to a 3-4 metre offset from the current flag line. So it was important to reset the flag line so that we could minimise the amount that future modules arriving on site would have to be moved into alignment.
I haven’t carried out survey work for over 20 years, so this took me back to my early engineering days. The only instrument on site at this time was a dumpy level which is fine for levelling but pretty useless for any bearings etc. So first thing we got some timber pegs cut and hammered these into the snow so that I could form a stable base for the tripod legs that was not going to settle into the snow during the days use.
I used the dumpy level as a simple sight line across the three modules. I was able to record offset readings on the H2 module legs and therefore establish a leg line relative to my sightline. Using horizontal lengths between the module legs I was able to determine the offset to the other module legs to extend the H2 alignment. In the afternoon we were visited by a six Adelie penguins, quite remarkable given that we must be 30-40Km from the coast.
With the BAS managers at site VIa I worked with the steelworkers to rig modules A and E1. I split the team so that some were measuring, adjusting and selecting steelwork members allowing the others to work from position to position simply erecting the steelwork. This worked really well and as consequence we got everything done in a couple of hours.
Returning at 9pm from VIa, the BAS technical team planned to move E1 module and at 12.30am the initial pull got underway. I did this trip with a generator mechanic, who is over-wintering at Halley and taking care of the power generation side of the engineering. We arrived at VIa around 4:30am and got to bed in the Dewry at 5:30am exhausted. I was glad not to be riding back across to site VI for bed tonight.
Today was a big day as we separated the E2 module with the bridge attached. During the preparation the fixed pins had been removed so that as E2 was pulled away the bridge would stay where it is, and could be slid out of the E1 letterbox and lowered onto the temporary support frames.
To enable this tricky part of the operation, we had the normal Piston Bully and two dozers at the front of the E2 module, and a dozer behind pre-loading the rear skis to help gently move it away. We also had the bridge suspended from two cranes and all the bridge connections free.
As the E2 module was gently moved away the bridge moved with it for approximately half a metre so a stop was called. The cranes lifted the bearing a little higher and this allowed the E2 unit to be pulled clear. The bridge was then lifted down onto the temporary support frames and the vehicle team added some strops to reduce the stress on the frame whist transporting it to VIa. After some adjustments we got the bolts into various towing frame components for module E2, I then checked all was good for the night’s move. This time, a couple of people from the MEP team over-nighted with the module which was great as I got a full night’s sleep.
The routine of moving the modules is becoming slicker, and I’m managing my input to suit the night moves.
Tuesday 3rd January
Today we got the B2 and B1 modules rigged up and winched away from each other and the C module.
Today I checked the H1 bolted connections on the towing frame and noted all was good apart from a poorly fitting rear steering tie. We came up with a solution to overcome this and then I checked the sub-floor. I checked that all the locking pins were still out and noted that legs 3 &4 hydraulic rams already at an angle to the connection plates (which was something I noticed on the H2 module during towing).
The final check ahead of this evenings move was a check on the A-frame connection and load shackles. We leave to quite a crowd at site VI and arrive to a small group at VIa. Again another cold sledge ride back and a very late night.
Today we were getting the plastic membrane under the legs of the H1 module ready for the next move, scheduled for Sunday evening. We winched the module forward to get separation from the E2 module. This took around 26 tonnes (and a round a quarter of the module weight) to break the static friction (stiction) and get some movement.
Today we went through the Morph global positioning system to see if I can use it with other data to make sure we understand the new station movements and use the data effectively.
In the evening we held the annual summer BBQ outside and to bring in the New Year. An Ice Bar was created with shots chilled in the ice. Pretty nippy in the evening so most of us eventually migrated inside once we had eaten. The key was to eat very quickly before the food had gone cold or re-frozen.
It’s a sunny but very cold windy day. Six more Adelie penguins walk through site at the Southern end. We waited for the STMO power generator necessary for the hydraulics system and the vehicles to do preparation works to separate the H1 module.
We successfully unhooked the H1 module stairs so that we could lower it when necessary. I carried out a number of final checks on the various frames that are used for towing the first H2 module across to the new site tonight.
We again discussed the separation of the E modules and the complexities of support on a pair of cranes whilst pulling the E2 away. This is complicated by having to do so with the legs fully extended – with risks of damaging the mid-leg bearing. It was vital that we did this smoothly whilst monitoring movement at ski level and on the bridge.
The first Halley Module, H2 successfully arrived at site VIa just before 2am to be greeted by the BAS Station Leaders, Project Manager and number of the new site staff. The chief engineer was delighted that the stopping distance was just as I had assessed a couple of weeks ago and this will give us confidence in stopping the other modules. We were all delighted to have safely and successfully moved this first module. After some work to disconnect the load cell and snow depth sensors, those of travelling back to site VI jumped into the sledge to make the return journey. Although the sun does not set below the horizon the night temperature drops and combined with the wind chill from the sledge speed we were feeling frozen and reluctantly wide awake. However after an 18 hour day and this chilly trip back we were pleased to go to warm beds satisfied after successfully moving the first module.
Today is Foxing Day and most are up late morning after the night before. I joined some of the others watching films from 0900 until brunch at 1230.
I went skidooing with a couple of the team and afterwards played footy in the sunshine, which given the variable snow surface was far more exhausting than on grass or astro.
It was also a good day as we saw three Adelie penguins walk and belly slide through the site. Really cute and full of character, and not that bothered by our presence. I attended the normal management meeting – which confirmed that we would do the first H2 module move tomorrow night.
Today is our Fakemas day and very much like a normal Sunday day off with late brunch at midday. In the afternoon we organised ourselves into teams and judges for the ‘Halley Winter Olympics’ which included tug of war, sledging, flag pole throwing, with the winning team getting the timber cup made by one of the carpenters.
After changing we got together in the temporary camp at 4pm for pre-drinks, and this leads to our Fakemas meal, and general night socialising.
We checked the towing frame installation that restrains the module legs and maintains the relative dimensional position, and this then allowed the H2 science module to be lowered to its travelling height in preparation for its move.
We offloaded the heavy duty plastic slippers (crane mats) that are around 10m by 2.5m, which we can use if the skis prove too difficult to move with the preparations made to date. The benefit of the slipper approach is that it will help to spread the ski load on softer snow but as the keel line is lost it would be harder to steer and certainly much harder to align at the new site.
This evening, we had drinks and socialised amid music in preparation for two day Fakemus, as in Fake Christmas. The Halley team has developed into a pretty tight unit, remarkable really given that we have at most known each other for 5-8 weeks and will probably not see many again after the next 6 weeks.
Still feeling a little unwell, and due to on-going cargo operations we can really only do preparation works that can be undertaken by hand. A team opened the bridge up in readiness for the eventual lift. This involved removal of the end GRP units that the deck panels drop into, the edge GRP beam and associated handrail that we had investigated a week ago. This gave sufficient space to feed the fabric straps around the steelwork and get a fairly vertical lift onto the 1.9m wide bridge beam without stressing adjacent cladding. So the lift looks good to go, the main issue to facilitate it is the removal of the pin end bearing and the pulling the E2 module away from the E1 module to free the sliding bearing through the letterbox cladding whilst slung from two cranes.
In the management meeting we discuss the revised programme for moving the modules now that relief is complete. First we’ll be moving the H2 and H1 science modules, followed by the Dewry accommodation block as the majority of the construction team will need to be at the new site to re-connect the building services and Trelleborg connectors. The Dewry is a purpose built steel framed box with integral skis and therefore straight forward to dis-connect and re-locate, even with many of the construction team on-board for the 4-5 hour journey.
Today I completed my report on the B2 module damaged fire escape deck and the E1 module Palfinger bridge crane.
Although it’s Christmas day, due to the relief operation still being underway and the ship being unloaded, the celebrations are postponed until the 28th. This will ensure that everyone can relax and enjoy Christmas together.
I was asked as part of the management team to get involved this morning in digging out barrels and loading up sledge. This is easy on the most recent top layer of barrels, but far more difficult on the lower levels where the barrels become iced in. Not what I hoped for my day off but got stuck-in until 1200 and stopped for brunch. BAS’s photographer asked what I was doing after brunch and offered to take me down to Creek 6. This was great as I had missed the 2 or 3 Sunday trips due to the places being filled within minutes of going on the notice board. So we grabbed a couple of ACE skidoos, radioed for permission to leave site boundary, checked that we had transit bags and zoomed off.
The 10m wide relief route was becoming fairly chewed up by the heavy vehicle going back and forth for the past week carrying fuel, food and drink, equipment and construction supplies. So we initially rode on one side which was fine but had quite a few snow tails that were hard to see in advance – so a bit of a jumpy ride. We switched over the other side and found it a fair bit smoother and got up to around 50km/hr. This was great and I know my sons would pay a lot of money to have this much fun on a skidoo. We saw some of the last cargo heading back to site VI dropping off food and drink for the temporary camp and construction supplies such as the temporary bridge support frame, and then onwards from there to site VIa to with the rest of the supplies for the both the temporary camp and the modules once re-located for the over-winterers. As we neared the coast we could see ice cliffs and then the dark grey sea emerged over the headland. The vehicle team had some time ago created a deep snow ramp across the crack that is formed between the ice shelf and the sea ice to allow the vehicles to safely access the floating ice adjacent to the ship. The ship is anchored with ropes into the sea ice but has a directional positioning system that allows it to adjust its position very precisely and keep it there when necessary without anchors.
I met the Captain of the vessel, who was kind enough to take some time to show me the bridge systems etc. I also met the first officer and the chief engineer who took me around the ship from the engineers to the galley. Caught up with BAS’s photographer back on the sea ice where he was capturing the loading of the empty fuel drums back onto the ship.
We joined the vehicle drivers for some tea before heading back to site VI.
I enjoyed the normal Sunday evening meal and played cards. Fluxx – a complex game of changing rules – in the end one of the others had a card that meant he could deal me his entire hand which he did as it was getting too complex. I played a move that instantly brought the game to an end with him winning. Think we were all relieved – and he laughed at my approach!
Some great feedback from Jan on understanding the reason behind the aerial settlement. He explained what is different about the Brunt Ice Shelf formation. My understanding was that the ice is created on the land mass and gets pushed out to sea where the hydrostatic pressure of the water supports it, and then it eventually becomes thinner and cleaves off to become ice burgs. However due to various land formations the Brunt Ice Shelf flows off the land already fractured, and the sea water fills gaps between to form effectively ice bergs glued together by sea ice. This obviously becomes covered by layers of snow each year and generally fully fills in the gaps between the ice shelf bergs. Over the superDARN’s length the GPR showed that it bridges between these ice burgs and that the settlement had occurred in the snow layers that helps bind them together – and this simply explained the reason for the settlement.
The chefs treated us to another great Saturday night meal.
Arranged today to go with Jan the BAS glaciologist to do a ground penetrating radar scan on the superDARN aerial array to understand the settlement problems experienced to-date. I organised with the aerial controller for the array to be switched off for safety which worked out well as the steel team could also do some maintenance work at the same time – checking that the bolts are still tight.
Visited the WASP building which is the winter accommodation building for the science team to see Jan and found he is having a problem with the new ground penetrating radar (GPR) unit. Found him taking out screws to open up the new unit to see why not switching on. Eventually re-assembled it and putting off GPR survey to another time. He said it was working when last put away and so did not understand why now it was not working. I chatted whilst all this was going on and described how annoying my wife sometimes finds me when something that does not work for her, and then I try it and it works straight away. He eventually pressed the on button again and showed me it still did not work. As an off chance I tried it and it came straight on! So all good and grabbed Skidoos to drag the GPR on a sledge out to the aerial. It took around 30 minutes to do three runs along the aerials so he had data to analyse. We arranged to talk through the result the following day.
Today we were joined by new room-mates – so we have a full room of four. The finished draft condition report was passed to the re-location project manager.
Thursday 22nd December
Today I looked at the bridge Palfinger crane, which is used to load or off-load heavy goods and waste. I inspected it on site – and now need to review the O&M information to assess the overall system.
The team completed the disconnection of the Trelleborg module flexible connectors (the black rubber connections that join the modules) with re-support on a temporary strapping system. The Trelleborg seems stiff enough not to open up when support solely at the bottom.
I joined the management meeting to look at the end of relief and plan a couple of down days, particularly for the plant drivers who have worked 12 hour shifts daily for last two weeks, prior to starting the module move.
Part of the relief included incoming fresh vegetables from the Falkland Islands and I got involved in stacking into the container fridge. Today I also inspected the fire escape from the damage last year to see if there was likely to be any structural impact.
Still feeling unwell, and the weather is bitterly cold this morning.
Big snow tails complicate the walk to the temporary camp with snow drifts up to waist height. This morning I mucked in helping preparation works for the move, which meant emptying and taping closed cupboards.
After this I went into the sub floor and started measuring the difference between the inner leg cylinder and locking pin so we can see how much lift would be needed to engage the pins and also what is then available as tolerance to sensibly level the floors.
Tuesday 20th December
I investigated the bridge end conditions with BAS to consider whether temporary fabricated ski supports will properly pick up the loads and allow transport to site VIa.
I spent the morning writing an initial pass of the discussion and recommendations sections of the module condition report. I also planned the next list of tasks, which include;
• an assessment of the north end fire escape damage
• measuring leg extension to gauge height that the leg’s pins could be engaged
• checking leg hydraulic system
• reviewing hydraulic crane support steelwork to understand comments on performance
• start writing simplified procedure for lifting
• looking at superDARN aerial array sinkage
• assess forces on red unit towing frame given different friction scenarios.
Sunday 18th December
Awoke feeling bit rough from cold and now cough, seems that I have eventually succumbed to the Antarctic germs that everyone else has had previously.
After spending the morning working on the report I joined the steelwork team to adjust the access stairs to the Caslab which stands for Clean Air Sector Laboratory. This building has some very sensitive equipment for monitoring air constituents which is why it is located approximately 1.5 kilometres away from the rest of Halley. You have to ski or walk to reach it to avoid fumes from vehicles impacting on the monitoring. The air is so clear in Antarctica and the landscape so flat that you can easily see the building from the modules. However when you come to walk to the lab without other reference points on the way it just seems to get no closer and take forever. The snow is un-compacted so the walk is hard work. Walking partly in the deep footsteps of the front person seems to make this easier as some compaction has already happened but also leaves space in front of your boot toes to help with rotation into the next step.
The Caslab platform is around 4m above surrounding snow levels and as the snow accumulates each season this necessitates that every other year it is raised up the embedded legs to maintain its position above the snow. This also means that the stairs to the platform become buried and need to be dug out and sections removed. The stairs and handrails have been designed in lengths to allow this to be done and set aside for when the platform is raised next year. The shortened stairs are re-supported on a 1.5m high snow platform that we shovel and compact into place and timber bearers to pick up the steelwork stringers.
It’s another snowy and windy day. Lots of snow tails complicating movement between modules and other buildings.
We tested straps for the bridge lift and checked these could be fed through the gap between the steelwork and the cladding. We also checked the steelwork to check the bridge will fit onto the fabricated temporary steelwork frames and skis that were fabricated in the UK many months ago in preparation for this and sent with the relief ship.
I carried out some more work on the restraint forces on the bridge beams combined with forces needed to resolve any eccentricity during the lift. We also discussed the sequence of installation at the new Halley VI site called site VIa. The E1, bridge and E2 modules are likely to be the most complex and sequentially difficult aspect of the installation. H1 and H2 and also the other modules can then be dragged to align with the energy modules. This also allows the mechanical and electrical team to progress with the most intensive part of their work which will help the overall programme.
Today the mechanic’s garage and annexe were moved to the new site VIa- all went well.
Today I worked with a chippy and rigger to lift the timber panels on the bridge and tightening the cladding fixings and record the condition.
I created a document on the bridge loads so we could plan the lifting operations. I also looked at the bridge plan bracing and tried to anticipate whether this would cope with the lift being eccentric due to rigging position. We then spent the afternoon looking and discussing how the bridge could be supported and removed whilst maintaining the cladding in place.
Before anything can happen we need to remove the melt tanks below the bridge droppers, removal of the bridge dropper cladding and steel frame, and then filling in the depressions in the ground to form a stable surface onto which the bridge can be lowered. The sequence then requires taking load but not raising the bridge more than 25mm, jacking the E2 module away (with the legs extended) against the deadweight of a couple of dozers, then in the space created sliding out the bridge bearing from the mouth of the E1 module, and then dropping down onto the prepared temporary ski frames.
The awful weather continues today, so spent the day writing up the condition report. The move of the first module will not happen today for sure. I spent some time looking at stability scenarios if the hydraulics in a leg failed and the rapid shortening created a loss of support. The risk of a sudden leg failure could lead to instability that could damage both the building services and the Trelleborg at the interface with the adjacent module. In this event one or more modules could become uninhabitable. Preparedness is so important here to ensure that we can cope with unexpected situations. It’s one thing tackling this sort of work in the summer season, and entirely another trying to do so in the harsh winter conditions
Today I feel like I have arrived in Antarctica. Snow is being blown horizontally on the back of the 30mph wind. Over-night this has changed the fairly flat site around the temporary camp and associated buildings to ridges and troughs everywhere. When there is a deposit of fresh snow the contrast can become so uniform that you cannot see changes in the surface. A step forward and you can immediately trip or if still upright, find your-self waist high in powdery snow. With time you learn to anticipate where snow should have been deposited – which is usually long tails going from high and wide to low and narrow from east to west. You also learn where you can shelter from the wind and to where to expect strong gusts – which is typically a couple of metres from the upwind edge of a building. At Halley the wind is predominately eastward for around 70% of the year so the conditions become expected. Access routes tend to be on the upward face to avoid the snow drifts, and entrance doors on the north south axis as there tends to be a trough where snow builds up slower than on the east west axis.
Temporary camps have been built at both the original Halley site 6 as well as the new site 6a. So as the modules are moved, staff can also be accommodated where the work needs to be undertaken. Today the temporary camp kitchen had snow blown in through cracks leading to inside snow up to knee height. As the day warmed up snow on the roof melted and again found pathways to leak into both the kitchen and corridor. The temporary camp tent is piled up with snow pushing in the on the fabric between the arched frames on the east side and after a careful dig out with shovels, the dozers could clear the rest. It’s easy to see how previous tunnel type designs could become fully buried within a season.
Today we hoped to carry out bolt adjustments and then lower the H2 module ready for towing tomorrow. I spent some time using energy calculations taking me back to A level physics to work out the theoretical stopping distance, which with slope adjustment gave me a value around 150mm.
Due to the continuation of the poor weather it makes everything take so much longer and increases the risk of errors and potential of injuries, so the decision is taken to not battle for small gains today.
This sign post outside the front of the modules is a stark reminder of just how far I am from the UK, 14255 kilometres to London.
Each day we get in the habit of checking the weather. Primarily to see the impact of wind chill and sunshine to get a feel of the temperature, influencing how many layers of clothes are put on.
One aspect of working here is the continual dressing and undressing. Each building has a boot room by the main entry points where all our gear can be hung up and dried. With so many people these rooms are very busy, so you quickly learn to place your gear to ease both retrieval and avoid others picking up your kit.
This morning got the final legs connections checked with no issues. In the afternoon the team including technical engineering staff and steelworkers went through the process of lifting each leg to break the contact with the ice and installing the polythene sheets and drilling fluid to improve the break out friction and reduce the amount of work done to separate the H2 module from H1.
Once the legs were on slip membranes and the lifting frames out of the way, the steelworkers could install the towing frame members that maintain the leg spacing during the relocation.
We got the towing frame members between the legs in place but without the A-frame or shackles. We then installed a scaled load cell and winched against the weight and friction from a D5 and D6 dozer to do a controlled separation of H2 from H1 checking all the time that the remaining services remain working within safe limits. The load was increased until almost imperceptibly the module started to move a few millimetres, and then maintaining the load was enough to open up the gap to give confidence the module was free. We finished the day’s work with installation of the A frame, shackles and data load cell ready for the pull on Tuesday.
The A-frame is quite hard to align with the dozer in reverse and needs a nudge to get the final position set – a bit less predictable than a trailer due to ice slip and bent skis etc. The vehicle manager also asked about the wind speed impact on the pull and we discussed the impact that 2‐3 Tons head on or laterally would have during the towing.
Started this morning with testing the H2 module leg hydraulics. There was some previous evidence of a minor leak however the source could not be found – so prepared to deal with it if it becomes evident during the relocation.
With a couple of the BAS team we checked the tightness and completeness of all the critical leg connections for the modules, so if we manage to move the units quicker than expected we were ahead of the game and not waiting on my checks. We then moved on to lifting all the timber panels on the bridge to inspect the brackets so that I can take a view on the likely connection adequacy.
Today I started off on this bitterly cold morning with inspection of the lifting frame which was designed to provide temporary support to one end of a module during leg lifting operations. As I inspected the lifting frame I took off my gloves to take a photo record and within a couple of minutes my hands were seriously cold. I could only start to imagine how hard Antarctica must be for explorers like Ernest Shackleton enduring harsh conditions in the winter, without comfortable heated shelters, modern kit etc.
I quickly moved on to inspect the galvanised roof frames on modules H2, H1 and E2 and recorded observations on my camera as this was quicker and allowed me to get into the warm before writing up. At 11am I joined in a meeting to go through the plan to move the first module.
Today I found some working space with good in‐direct and overhead light in the A module TV room to start capturing my survey work. I ran through the various structural related report and method statements, marking up questions and key aspects and took the opportunity to have a detailed look at areas that have had issues.
The new Halley VIa site is predicted to extend by 2.2m/km per annum which may translate to around 45mm for the bridge length. If we are fortunate any settlement of the E module legs may negate the extension on the site and the combined movement may be limited. It is an unknown status and therefore will require monitoring over the next year to ensure that the bridge maintains a safe bearing length, which has been discussed with the BAS staff and will need to investigate further.
Today I also inspected the members and connections on the A‐frames, towing members and ski spacers – leaving just the lifting frames to be done tomorrow.
Although I have been regularly applying sun‐cream, the reflection of the sun off the ice can quickly cause some sun‐burn. The air here is dry and although I have not, a lot of people have developed a persistent dry cough. It is also easy to become dehydrated from the dryness and sun – not what I would have expected before coming to Antarctica.
After sorting kit to enable me to enter the sub floor zone safely such as torches, exclusion barriers, access keys etc., I crawled around the southern three modules, identifying some fairly minor issues to the space frame and the ski leg connection points
As you move between the modules there are frequent static shocks due to lack of earthing. The static shock is enough to create an easily visible spark, certainly equivalent to that across a car’s spark plug. Those working here for a while get used to it and get in the habit of earthing themselves prior to handling electrical equipment.
I met with the re‐location project manager to chat about the programme and discuss the timing of my inspections and reporting. I also joined the daily management meeting for brief 1900 meeting prior to dinner, which will help with my wider input.
Starting to get into a routine with both room‐mates and overall summer camp. At 0800 we had our Field Module 1 training session which included use of a Tilley lamp and stove, use of iridium phone and communication protocol, tent and food provisions. Kind of stuff I last did best part of forty years ago when at school.
I met up with the BAS engineering staff Oli and Chris to chat about the up and coming work. I outlined what I saw as the key aspects I needed to get on with given the programme for H1 and H2 modules. Halley VI consists of 8 modules, H refers to science modules, E to energy modules, A the main social module, C the command module and the B modules for bedroom accommodation. This work included inspection of the sub‐floor of the modules, inspection of the bridge bearing, and inspection of the towing frames. We discussed potential areas for concern, which included for example the bridge spans between the E1 and E2 plant modules and the impact these heavy units may have on leg settlement on the ice, discussing the influences of the melt tanks that operate currently at around a temperature of 40oC and the waste 30m diameter discharge onion. We also had a look at the hydraulic kit used to control the module legs, and therefore the level of the module and interface with the adjacent modules.
The working day is organised around the meals timings. The working day starts at 0800, there’s a mid‐ morning break for 30 minutes, an hour for lunch at 1300, mid‐afternoon 30 minute break and then dinner at 1900. I guess if the weather was really cold and the work very manual then these mid‐morning and afternoon breaks would be a welcome chance to warm up.
Our briefing continued first thing this morning with the summer BAS station leader running through arrangements and safety. After Smoko which is the name used for the mid‐morning beak we jumped on a sledge pulled by a skidoo for a site orientation tour. We also had a communications talk for use of radios, laptops and communication back home in terms of limits of band‐width. We are introduced to a tag system which requires us to place our name tag on a hook that locates where we are on the site, and when not in a building but within the perimeter, which is added to a signing in/out book. Consequently we spend a fair amount of time visiting the tag board in the mess room to update our movements or advising station communications by radio. However this is essential if a rescue had to be put into place due to an accident or poor weather conditions. Much of the planning is about working safely in the Antarctic environment.
Following lunch we were then free for the rest of the day. I took the opportunity of the sunny afternoon to get some snaps of the site. The established workforce were also given the afternoon off and were whizzing around the site on the skidoos, sometimes towing skiers, whilst others did some cross country skiing and others jogged around the site perimeter on a prepared track.
The bedrooms are pretty tight with four of us in bunkbeds sharing a room. Downstairs we have washing machines and dryers, boot room, social space including a kitchen and telephone booth. There is a melt tank that provides all the water, which needs us to shovel in snow each day to maintain this system.
The flight was likely to stop at Neumayer German research station to refuel, before completing the remainder of the 700miles trip to Halley.
On the morning of the flight we were ready at 0730 with our bags, and were at the runway base by 0800. Having off loaded our bags onto the icy ground we went into the canteen to warm up and have some breakfast. I had porridge, but added some of the marshmallows and quality street chocys for a bit of interest. There is a table of high calorie food available throughout the day so everyone can manage their energy levels in this demanding environment.
We landed at Neumayer the German Research Station, which looked like a boat but with no hull. Instead it floated on 16 double storey height columns and a steel trussed frame at ground level covered with timber decking. Below the trusses, the 16 columns were supported by 3 splayed columns with a jacking ability so that as snow accumulated the station could be raised.
Throughout our time there we were waiting for the okay from Halley in terms of a weather window. This eventually came at 1930 and we were up and out of the building in a few minutes.
We traipsed across the ice and snow to the plane and were accompanied by a pair of Emperor penguins journeying across the ice. Ice-bergs were visible in the distance sticking way above the horizon and reflecting the low sun.
The plane again travelled smoothly down to Halley and could not have been much better, apart from the heat inside, which was getting unbearable. I was well and truly cooked by the time of our arrival. When we arrived a fog had descended on the area.
We were met with skidoos and sledges and formed the now well practiced BAS chain to offload all the baggage. A short ride got us to the Halley Research Station and our first glimpses of the iconic Halley VI modules. The station is surrounded with lots of other containers providing infrastructure and storage, like the other stations we had seen so far in Antarctica.
We dropped our bags off and were taken into the mess room for some hot food, that was followed by a short briefing.
This morning a few of us walked from Novo across the rocky landscape to the nearby Indian Station. Here we met up with a couple of our group who had arrived a little earlier and had met some of the Indian group who were on the plane with us a couple of days previously from Cape Town to Antarctica.
The guys were happy to show us their camp, work spaces and then taking us into their main winter accommodation. There were a lot of friendly people who were interested in our work at Halley given it will be construction work and not their more familiar research.
We were all invited to stay for lunch which we accepted, after we notified the Russian base and our BAS group leader via their communications room, where I had to earth myself on a silver foil strip to avoid static on the equipment. We enjoyed a cup of tea and also a nice curry lunch in good company.
On return to our cabin my face was stinging and red from the wind. However we joined some of the others sledging down the hill and then joined in the construction of an Igloo. Much harder than it seemed when Ray Mears made one with an Eskimo on TV. The wind had picked up and after a while it started to become bitterly cold and not helped through handling the ice blocks. It took a while but eventually we got it done and sat inside for photos and sheltering from the wind.
A group of us decided to take ourselves off for a walk down to the frozen lake then up to a couple of the summits. The surface is generally either ice or rocks varying from gravel size up to a small car. The rocks visual appearance is quite varied from fairly typical course granites from white through to grey, pink with white or black bands. Also lumps of white quartz and rocks with sparkling metallic flecks.
We climbed a couple of the rock summits keeping the station in clear sight and met up with another part of our group at the second summit and then walked together back to our hut.
Logistics and weather forecast between Novo and Halley indicates that we will have another full day here and then leave on Friday 2nd December. However we still need to be available to leave in an hour where necessary.
We got on one of the two buses for the Antarctic flight where there was a mixed group of Americans. Turned out that this group included 86 years old Buzz Aldrin, the second man to visit the moon after Neil Armstrong. The American group was on board as part of a BBC programme being made of his bucket list which included visits to both North and South Poles.
The flight to Novo was approximately six hours long and after around four hours we were advised on the screen that we had crossed the Antarctic Circle. Shortly afterwards we were given further screen information to change into Antarctic gear. It was a bit chaotic as kit bags were recovered and passed back down to the passengers. There was no room to change so half the people stood in the aisle or front area whilst seats were folded down and used to place our kit bags whilst we tried to get some seriously hot and bulky gear on. Try moving around a cramped aircraft with boots about 50% longer and wider than normal boots and with a padded boiler suit – felt and with the growing beard looked like Harry Potter’s Hagrid.
The camera in the front of plane showed our decent. However it was difficult to make out what was the icy ground and what was low level cloud. Eventually when we were close enough we were able to pick out the denser blue ice landing strip that was kept prepared. The landing was good and amazing that the aircraft reverse thrust could be applied without the aircraft going off line on the ice runway.
As we stepped off the plane we were hit by the cold freshness of the air, a gentle breeze and the blueness of the sky relative to the white ground spreading to the horizon in all directions. Quite some time was spent unloading the aircraft, sorting out the cargo to the different groups, and then loading sledges for onward passage to temporary accommodation
Our group was last to be moved and having loaded our baggage onto a Skidoo pulled sledge, we walked the kilometre to the runway base containers over the hill rather than waiting for the next pick up. We entered the adjacent container which was a canteen and had a welcomed bowl of hot soup followed by spaghetti and beef stew.
We were then transported to Novo on a trafficked route across the ice which the 4X4s coped with easily, given the extremely wide monster truck tyres taking us the Russian base, Novo, some 15km away. Our room in Novo is about 4m square with five beds and twice as many bags. Our main kit bags and hold bags have remained at the runway so we will continue to have no access to any other clothes or kit until we arrive in Halley.
Departing from Heathrow, the first leg of the journey was an 11 hour flight to Cape Town. We arrived on Saturday 26th November in a very comfortable 24 centigrade.
Each stage of this journey is punctuated by the time to stow away our baggage (probably around 80 pieces between us) however it is clear that everyone works as a team forming the typical BAS chain to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible – bodes well for the project.
When we arrived we met up with the Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) guide, we had a short briefing, with the full briefing scheduled for Monday and onward flight to the Russian base Novo intended for Tuesday morning. At the ALCO briefing we needed to provide our kit bag, our main hold luggage the sleeping system bag and will not have access until we arrive in Novo and then not immediately. Hence we had to extract from the kitbag insulated boots, insulated boiler suit, jacket, socks, hat and neck cover, gloves, sunglasses and add these to a flight bag provided in the kitbag. This enables us during the flight to adjust our clothing suitable for the cold and windy conditions on the blue ice runway.