Out and About

Katie Joy | 06 Jan 2019

We had a tent day yesterday sitting inside our tent waiting for the weather to improve. Everything looks a bit custard coloured in here after a while with the light coming through the orange canvas, so in the evening as the skies were clearing I walked around camp to see a stunning Sun halo made by the light reflecting through high altitude ice crystals with sun dogs glistening alongside.

We have been debating where the closest people are to us — Halley research station is about 687 km to the north, the South Pole research station is about 945 km to the south, and our ice drilling BAS colleagues are about 1060 km to the west. See photo of our little tent world in the middle of the ice, hopefully gives you a sense of the remoteness of our workplace.

2019-01-07 little tent world
Little tent world — no-one else for 687 km in any direction [Credit: K H Joy]

By morning the snow has blown through and sunny skies and light winds arrived this morning. Pilot Vicky, by now an honorary team member, came in with the red Twin Otter around lunchtime with the final skidoo and sledge load, and some bonus tasty fresh food treats from the chefs for our lunch (thanks guys!). Thanks to everyone back at Halley for all the field support — from skiway loading and transport, to copilots and skidoo wranglers, to comms and weather — it is all much appreciated.

Unloading a skidoo from the Twin Otter [Credit: K H Joy]

We managed to get out this afternoon to do some initial scouting around some of the ice fields close to us to see what the snow cover and ground is like on route. To get to new
areas we travel by linked travel — using a sledge and tow ropes linked up between the two skidoos. Tomorrow we will head out and do some searching further a field if the skies stay clear and see what the blue ice has to offer.

Linked travel: en-route to new areas [Credit: K H Joy]

PS to the other team members (now including Tom) who are in Punta: Hope you are enjoying yourselves in the sunshine and are preparing for the cold!

Taking the temperature of the ice [Credit: K H Joy]

A bit of Chuckle Brothers

Katie Joy | 03 Jan 2019

We are sitting in the tent and doing a bit of waiting.

Yesterday our second plane load of equipment arrived from Rothera with one of the skidoos that we will need for our field work plans and some extra fuel. Getting the skidoo off the Twin Otter plane is more of an art than science with a lot of wiggling and grunt force to get it pivoted into position. Somewhat of a case of Chuckle Brothers style “to you — to me” whilst it gets lined up with the rampway to get it off the plane. The plane took off into sunny skies and afterwards we did a bit of ski-way chipping and shovelling to try and flatten out some sastrugi (wind shaped compacted snow mounds) that were causing some bumps during landing and takeoff. We sorted out the camp and as the meteorite collection kit and associated science equipment had arrived I got things organised and ready to go. We got the word later in the afternoon that the weather around Halley had closed in with snow, and so the third and final kit transport flight would be stood down.

Snowy tent scene [Credit: K H Joy}

After an evening meal of sausages, peas and smash, we had a peaceful night, but awoke this morning to poorer skies with some light snow and low cloud. The air temperature outside is about -9°C so not too bad, and the winds are relatively light. The Met Office team in Rothera and the Comms team in Halley are relaying lots of information back and forth to give us a forecast and planning for the rest of the day. Julie is sending over local weather reports to provide an idea of visibility, wind speed and direction, and contrast conditions. There are clearer skies to the north and the clouds are expected to lift later this afternoon, so hopefully there is a chance we could get out for a bit and/or the plane might be able to get in.

Sitting in the tent is warm — but the colours are very strange. The tent is orange so everything inside has an off orange-yellow light that drowns out all other colours. Even my blue jumper looks an odd shade of browny orange. We have the tent set up so that there is the primus stove in the middle for cooking, along with some boxes of living equipment like plates and fuel. By the door is our food box (we have more outside and just bring in what we need for a few days/meals). We sleep either side of the stove area in thick down sleeping bags on top of a thick sheepskin blanket, a blow up thermarest, a foam thermarest and a wooden board. At the top of the tent, where it gets warm from the stove, is where we hang our clothes to dry out. There are storage pockets around the inside of the tent for keeping loose bits of kit (sunglasses, sun cream, books etc.).

Boots hanging in the tent [Credit: K H Joy]

Now to do a bit more waiting and seeing what happens with the weather.

Geoff and Mike, who are on their way to test out our metal detection equipment are now in Chile at the Punta Arenas gateway — so should be heading out to Rothera later this week to start their preparations for getting out into the field.

Weather waiting

Katie Joy | 31 Dec 2018

The waiting game continues and we need the clouds to clear further south before we can set off to the field. The Met team are sending over photos of the cloud cover to us along with a forecast each day, and things might possibly clear up in a day or to, so until then the Meteorite project is turning into the tea drinking project whilst we wait 🙂

Halley station has the amazing module setup that I posted a photo of before containing the operation and communication centre, a library and shared spaces along with science labs and field guide store areas. The station has many other smaller buildings and containers scattered around the vicinity — including the cosy container that is my accommodation I am sharing with field guide Julie and pilot Vicky. We are having our meals in the nearly Drewry Building, where others who work on site are living at the moment. This has network connections and a phone line where I can speak to people back home in the UK via a satellite link (the reception is amazingly better than I can get trying to call from my mobile in the village where I live close to the Peak District!).

In the meantime whilst we wait on the weather — Happy New Year from Halley to you all!

Our accommodation cabins at Halley – portable and comfortable.

Hanging out at Halley

Katie Joy | 30 Dec 2018

A quick update – the weather has closed in around our field sites south of the Shackleton mountains, which means low cloud and poor contrast on the landing areas. It is also pretty overcast at Halley as well so we wont be flying out today. In Antarctica the work we do is dominated by the weather, so not a lot we can do but sit back and get on with a few other work tasks. We have packed up all the kit into our plane loads so that as soon as the weather clears we are ready to load and go — if not tomorrow, hopefully in a couple of days time. Send us good weather thoughts!

Two person field kit for a four week field work plan (minus some additional skidoo fuel that will join us later on), loaded onto a large sledge ready to be dragged out to the skiway.

The plan of work for when we get into the field is to do a quick tour of several sites as a lightweight travel unit. We will return to a base camp each day, and in the day time head off with a skidoo each and a load of emergency kit in case of closing in weather conditions. After about a week or so we hope to do a longer traverse with all our kit piled onto three wooden Nansen style sledges , and head off to a different field area about 120 km away. This overland traverse is typically of BAS’s field team mobile work, and we will proceed as we access the terrain.

In terms of our field equipment — if you look back a few posts down you should see a photo of the pyramid style tents we will be using. A lot of the kit you can see in the photo above piled onto the sledge are items associated with the camp (boxes with a stove, cooking equipment, food supplies, field medical box, bags of camping kit including a sleeping bag and some nice mats to lie on in the tent) or skidoos (fuel, repair box). We will have a small generator so that we can generate power in the field to power our sat phones and GPS devices. We have some ice chippers and shovels for removal of snow and ice, and rescue equipment we will take with us each day in case of emergencies. And importantly we also have our science kit for collecting any meteorites we come across, and making sure they are bagged carefully.

It has taken a massive amount of logistical effort from many people at BAS to get us to this point — plane route flying and planning operations (and weather observation support), through to all the field guide planning and kit preparation, travel logistics, feeding me (!)  — an amazing amount of human hours and resources for which I and the rest of the meteorite project team back in Manchester and Cambridge are very grateful.

Inside the belly of the Twin Otter — our flight over from Rothera to Halley. Two passengers sit in the front of the plane, with the cargo strapped down in the back. The big green bags you can see are our P-bags (personal kit bags) which include a sleeping back and other tent items to keep us cosy if we need to stop for a night somewhere. On our runs out to the field, we will likely do three Otter round trips as we need to take two large skidoos with us in the field, which require one flight each to fit into the plane.