Just a few photographs of my new home in this post.
My first off base trip was on Friday (17th Jan), to a Lifetime of Halley site. These sites consist of a GPS tracker, power system (solar panel, wind generator and batteries) and VHF transmitter, and they record the movement of the Brunt ice shelf at various locations. By being able to monitor the shelf movement, possible calving events and cracks can be anticipated by how the sites are moving relative to each other – if they are moving at different rates, something will have to give.
The location we visited was about a 32km drive from base. We travelled on Ski-Doos, initially along a flag line (a known safe route) so we could travel quickly and unlinked. For the last leg we had to drive cross country, so we stopped and linked together in two pairs. Travelling like this is interesting, because you have to judge your speed quite carefully to avoid either running over the rope, or being towed by the person in front.
Once at the site, our job was to dig it up rebuild it on the surface, as the snow accumulation would otherwise cause it to disappear quite quickly. It took in total about two to three hours to do this, with a short break for lunch. As we were making good time, we were able to have a steady journey back to base and just enjoy the drive.
The journey aboard the RRS Ernest Shackleton took two weeks in total. It was an interesting experience living aboard a ship – the constant rolling motion, the close quarters – although at times was a bit monotonous, as we were all itching to get to Antarctica and there was limited variety in things to do on the ship.
The four of us who will be doing meteorological observations at Halley decided to get involved with the observations on the ship, taken every six hours. This provided practice, as well as instruction in ship specific phenomena that we had not covered in Met training – such as swell, waves, water temperature and sea ice. Another benefit of this is that we spent a reasonable amount of time on the bridge, which was a great location for spotting wildlife and icebergs as it had very good all round visibility. For the first week there wasn’t much to see, other than the occasional petrel or albatross that was flying around the ship. These were heavily photographed however (what with there being nothing else to take pictures of!) and were very good at timing their close fly-bys for the exact moment nobody was holding their camera! Once we got to the sea ice, there were a lot of icebergs, penguins and seals to photograph. The food aboard the ship was excellent, with the option of a cooked breakfast each morning and both lunch and dinner featuring a salad bar, cold meats, soup, bread, cheeses, and a choice of main meal, all followed by a dessert or two. With their not being a lot of physical activity aboard the ship (apparently there was a gym somewhere), it would have been very easy to eat quite a lot! We arrived at the Brunt ice shelf early on Christmas day, and spend the day sailing along the coast looking out for penguins and other wildlife. Christmas lunch was a fantastic three course meal – the menu read as follows:
Santas Blood Capsicum Soup
Lobster Tail Salad
Artichoke & Pine nut Salad
Walnut Stuffing, Pigs in Blankets
Spinach Stuffed Fillet of Beef
Red Wine Jus
Cider Baked Ham
Chateau & Duchess Potatoes
Roast Melody of Vegetables
Brandy Soaked Christmas Cake
Christmas Pudding Brandy Sauce
Cheese & Biscuits
The journey to Antarctica started with an overnight flight on the 8th December from Heathrow to Cape Town, where we met up with the RRS Ernest Shackleton – the ship we will be travelling south on. As the ship was awaiting some minor repairs, we had some time to explore Cape Town.
The rest of the ‘Science’ wintering team (Julian, Mike & Octavian) and I decided to visit Table Mountain. We took one of the open top city tour busses to the cable car, which was great as we got an overview of the city and it’s history – not in a huge amount of detail, but given the time we had it was a very efficient way of finding out about the place.
The cable car up to table mountain gave us a hint of the views we would get at the top, which were amazing. The weather was fantastic (about 30°C, with a light breeze) and you could see across the whole of Cape Town and beyond. We walked around one of the trails at the top, which took about 45 minutes, before heading back down and taking the tour bus round the rest of it’s route back to the waterfront area, where we found a resteraunt that served local wildlife, paid a quick visit to a local bar with some more collegues, then headed back to the ship for some much needed sleep.
As the engineers were still working on the ship on Tuesday, shore leave was being allowed on a two hourly basis – meaning we had to return to the ship every couple of hours to find out whether we had another two hours or not. Therefore, we spent the day around the waterfront district, enjoying the warm weather and thinging how odd it looked seeing the Christmas decorations up in the sun and heat.
By Wednesday repairs had been completed so there was no shore leave, as we were simply awaiting a pilot to navigate the ship from the docks we were in to the port immigration office. The pilot didn’t arrive until the afternoon, after which we got out passports stamped and returned to the ship to await another pilot to take the ship out of the docks, which fortunately didn’t take as long.
Then we were off – taking our last look at land for a year and a half…
As part of my training with one of the experiments at Halley – the Microwave Radiometer – I travelled to Kiruna in Sweden where there are two similar units at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (“IRF”). This allowed me to see some radiometer hardware, as well as test some software for new components in our system which we only briefly had in Cambridge this year. We made a number of measurements to allow us to characterise the spectrometer hardware.
One other benefit of this trip is that Kiruna is within the Arctic Circle (67.85° N) – meaning I will visit both polar regions within a month of each other! I also had the chance to eat Reindeer and Elk, which were both very tasty!
The BAS ship which I will be catching in Cape town, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, is due to leave Immingham shortly to begin her journey South.
Update: AIS coverage appears to be poor – this alternative site provides a more consistant track: http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shipposition.phtml?call=ZDLS1