Sunday, 1 January 2017

Sorry it's late - A quick tour of Halley!

A Quick Tour of Halley

Happy New Year everybody – I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season. We’ve had a lovely time here at Halley although we have been extremely busy. The past few weeks have flown by and I’m sorry I’ve neglected you all with lack of updates, so I’ll hopefully bring you up to speed over the next few days.
When I last left you I was heading over to the temporary camp at the new site for the modules. Well I say temporary camp – at the time it was just 16 shipping containers sitting on the ice surrounded by about a thousand bamboo sticks with flags on the end marking where various buildings and pieces of equipment will eventually go.  Since then we’ve converted that into a fully functioning camp, brought several pieces of key infrastructure over, completed resupply from the ship, had ‘Fakemas’, brought over the first module and celebrated New Year – not bad for 4 weeks work!

Before I talk about what I’ve been up to though I thought I might just give you an overview of what we’re doing here this summer and why it is so different from a normal summer season at Halley!

In my last post I explained why we had to move our lovely station to stop it from (eventually) floating off into the Weddell Sea.  I’ll explain how we are going to go about doing that, but first, a quick tour of what we actually have here on the Brunt that needs moving. Many of you will be familiar with the eight iconic modules:

These house most of the accommodation, power and life support systems, surgery (most important if you ask me but I am biased), offices and recreation areas.

There is also a whole bunch of stuff that you rarely see in photos of the site!

Here’s a rough map that is very much not to scale but will give you some idea of what’s where. As a rough guide the modules from end to end are 198m (650 ft if you don’t like metric).

1)    The Garage

Basically a giant shed on skis where the mechanics can work on the vehicles in the warm! It’s just about big enough to fit one Pisten Bully inside! It has ski’s on the bottom and bury's in over winter – in normal years it is dragged out of it’s hole and repositioned but this year it has been moved across to the new site at 6A

2)   The Drewry

Of similar construction to the garage except no vehicles inside. There are 9 bedrooms each sleeping 4 people and downstairs there is an open plan kitchen/sitting area. There is also a communal bathroom, a boot room, and washing machines. It  has it’s own melt tank for water. We store a lot of backup medical equipment here – In the event of a major incident affecting the modules we can use this as a back up. The Drewry is only used in the summer months to accommodate the extra staff on station. It is however kept heated during the winter so it can be used as a refuge for the wintering team if the modules burn down!!

3)    The coms array

This is our link with the outside world. The half buried golf ball is the satellite dish which we use for internet and voice calls. The towers hold the HF antennae which is used for talking to groups out in the field. Halley is just far enough north that we can still see geostationary satellites that orbit around the equator – the dish points just 4 degrees above the horizon. Much further south and we would only get intermittent satellite signals. The comms here are really good – internet runs pretty quickly – depending on how many people are checking Facebook and the telephones which use VOIP are really clear. There is almost no delay but there are the occasional dropped words.

4)    The Waste Platform

Used to store and process a lot of the waste that is produced on station. We recycle a large amount of what is generated here – paper/cardboard/plastic, most metals are bagged and shipped back to either the Falkland Islands or the UK. Some goes to landfill. Food waste and some waste wood is burnt in an incinerator. The platform is up on stilts so that it doesn’t bury in and has skis on the bottom so that it can be moved around.

5)The Workshop and Storage Platform (WASP)

Another platform raised up on stilts with skis on. The WASP is used as a workshop for many plumbers/electricians/steel erectors etc who maintain the base in the summer. The other half is used by the Field Assistants (mountain guides – they’re job is to make sure we don’t fall into any big holes in the ice and to teach us how to survive when off base) to store and repair equipment. This year the WASP will be accommodation for the small group of winterers who will be manning the science equipment that isn’t moved to 6A (more on this later).

6)    The road through site

Not really a road or a specific feature but it’s an area that is groomed and kept reasonably clear so that vehicles/people can move easily between the various buildings.

7)    The modules

You’ve already seen them but the 8 modules and bridge form the core of the station.
From left to right they are:
H2 – Science module with some workshops and the observation deck
H1 – Science module with lab space and office area. Also a secondary boot room.
E2 – Service module with generators and engineers workspace
The bridge – Provides a fire break between two ends of the station, also connects to the two melt tanks buried in the snow – snow is bulldozed into them and melted to provide water for the station.
E1 – Further generators and services
A module – also known as big red, down stairs is the kitchen + dry/chilled and frozen food storage (I know – seems odd having a freezer in Antarctica), Bar area, dinning area. Upstairs there is a gym and a library/TV/meeting room.
C (Command module) – There’s the Surgery, Station leader’s office, Comms office and a laundry as well as the boot room
B1 – Accommodation module – 8 rooms each sleeping 2 people and communal shower/toilet facilities
B2 – Accommodation module with a further 8 bedrooms, wash rooms and a quiet room/library on the end.

8)    The skidoo line
With the comms array in the background. It’s where we keep the skidoos and small sledges that we use to get around station.

9)    The snow collection area

We keep this area free from vehicles and general travel as it’s where we collect our drinking water from. Also this area tends to build up a lot of deposited snow over the year which leaves a large mount west of the station, often referred to as mount Halley.
In normal years a huge amount of effort is put into keeping Halley from burying in, the legs are raised and snow filled in underneath then the modules are jacked up again. This year we aren’t bothering as we’re just dragging them to a new site!!

10) Science Cabooses

Most of the science experiments at Halley are housed in large shipping containers away from the main buildings – mostly so that the delicate instruments don’t get any interference. There are a variety of setups but the vast majority of equipment is focused on measuring different layers in the atmosphere with either special cameras or radar. We’ll have a good look around these at a later date.

11) The met tower

The met tower is the one in the foreground – on it are various bits of kit for measuring wind speed and direction, cloud cover, temperature, humidity etc.

In the back ground is the CAS lab (see next map 20) and behind that is the Antarctic continent.

If we zoom out a bit we can see that the site is actually much bigger – there’s a lot more within the perimeter:

12) The Skiway
 Arrivals, departures and duty free!
This is Halley’s International airport, a 1km stretch of groomed snow that aircraft fitted with skis can land on. The skiway is marked with radar reflective flags on its northern edge and there is a radar reflective lead in as well, other than that it’s down to the pilot! When heading out here you have to stop and check with comms that there are no incoming aircraft – skidoo vs aeroplane is not a fair fight!! There is also a small apron with tie downs so that aircraft don’t get blown away. A usual season would see lots of flights with scientists heading out into deep field but due to the move this year is much quieter.

13) Drum lines out to Windy Bay and the Creeks

When travelling off base you are normally restricted to linked skidoo travel – that’s two skidoos towing sledges that are tied together – that way if one falls in a crevasse the other will act as a break and stop it. The exceptions are the routes out to Windy and the Creeks. These have drums spaced 100m or so apart that mark a safe route. The ground has been checked with radar to ensure there are no large gaps to fall in and as long as you stay within 20m of the line you should be fine. Travel out here is still not without risks but it does mean that we can take larger vehicles out to these sites for recreation and science trips or (as you will see) ships relief.

14) Perimeter drum line
Much the same as the picture above. A few hundred drums mark a 5km long perimeter around the base. Travel around this area is safe and you can zip around pretty much anywhere within it on a skidoo or if you’re feeling very energetic on some Nordic skis. Some people even go for a run around the perimeter when the weather is nice. It’s about 800m from the modules to the perimeter.

15) The cargo line
This is a row of shipping containers that are used for storage, either emergency equipment, spares, or items that are only really used in the summer. The wind and snow determine where everything is put at Halley. Anything that sticks up out of the snow will accumulate snow over time. It will start to bury in and form a large wind scoop on the windward side and a huge wind tail on the lea side. Spacing things out mean in long lines from north to south stops one object from burying anything behind it. During summer it’s not too much of a problem but if we get a big blow then a wind tail over 1m high can build up overnight. When travelling out to the containers you use the mantra easy east, wild west. Travelling on the west of a line will have big mounds and sudden drop offs of snow, anything to the east should be much calmer!

16) The vehicle line

Here you can see the vehicle line to the north of the garage. You can clearly see how much snow has deposited around the garage over the winter – the wind tail has been bulldozed away so that vehicles can get to the garage.

The vehicle line stretching away to the north. You can see the container line behind it. Always in a straight line – always pointing east!!

17) Fuel Store

Fuel drums deposited a couple of weeks ago.
This is where we store our fuel – well away from any of the buildings! It’s a compound called Avtur which essentially kerosene with antifreeze in it. We store it in 205L barrels in dumps like this – 6 rows of twelve on the bottom layer, 6 rows of 11 in the middle and 6 rows 10 on top making 198 barrels in each pile. Following resupply this year we now have about 16 of these dumps at the new site + 10 bulk fuel containers which each contain 24,000 Litres. We have a lot of fuel!!!

These drums were laid down last year – they’re still three layers deep – just buried!

18) The Road to 6A

Much like the drum lines out to the coast, the road is a safe highway between the 2 sites. It is regularly groomed by the vehicles team to compress the snow a make a solid base. This is so that the vehicles that end up towing the modules can get some grip in the snow. It’s is completely straight for nearly 24 km and has a maximum gradient of 3%. It is great fun to drive along on a skidoo at ‘around’ 60km/h but if the visibility or contrast is down any little bumps can come as a big surprise. The ruts left by the heavy sledges tend to drag you into them. The vehicles team have to go much slow – between 6km/hr and 15km/hr depending on what they’re towing – that’s a 4 hour trip with not a lot of changing scenery but these guys love it! We radio in to the comms team before we set off and when we arrive at either end so that they can keep track of who is out there and if anyone has gotten lost. There is a little caboose halfway along as a refuge and a radio repeater means you can always call for help. I’ve done the drive on several different vehicles and in a variety of weather conditions now. It goes from a rather boring chore when the contrast is bad and all you can see is a sea of white with a line of flags disappearing into the distance to beautiful days like the one pictured where you stop halfway, turn off the skidoo and just drink it all in for a few minutes. It’s an amazing place – it seems to go on forever but it’s pristine, no mud or litter and absolutely no sound. I still can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.
19) More Science cabooses

More science cabooses but this time a bit further away with some big radar antennae!

20) The Clean Air Sector (CAS) Lab

Ok so I’ve reused the picture from before!
The pink line on the map marks the boundary for the clean air sector – this lab has some very sensitive equipment for measuring the composition of the atmosphere – mainly CO2 and carbon monoxide. As a result, we aren’t allowed to drive any vehicles near it as the exhaust emissions will interfere with the results, so only skis or walking south of the pink line. It’s actually over a kilometre away from station though it never looks that far!

Hopefully that’s given you a bit of an idea of what things look like down here. I was certainly surprised at exactly how much stuff other than the modules is here.

So that’s what everything looks like – but how are we going to move it all!!!

Come back next time for the low down on relocating Antarctica's only relocatable station!

Follow me on twitter @HalleyVIDoc or Instagram HalleyVIDoc (I try and put up some pictures most days)

Take care and Happy New Year!


1 comment:

  1. Have you met any intrepid polar explorers yet ?

    There appear to be a constant stream of adventurers doing the Antarctic these days !

    How does it look as a tourist destination ? Any arcades or decent bars to try out - what - no - ok I'll move it down my bucket list