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

Antarctic Monkey

Antarctic Monkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Igarka, Possibly the ship dave refers to

The Igarka, possibly the ship Dave refers to

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

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

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

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

A penguin

A penguin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 thoughts on “Antarctic report 2 – Penguins, balloons, stuffing and apple sauce

  1. Pingback: Antarctic Report 4 – quiet week at 75 degrees south « Talking Bollocks

  2. Pingback: Antarctic report 3 – Mech boys, adventuring and the flow « Talking Bollocks

  3. Pingback: Antarctic report 5 –Prime Movers, melt tank and cricket in shorts « Talking Bollocks

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