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.