Friday, 24 December 2010

A Very Merry Christmas To You

Does Scotland Look Like This Yet?
Just a quick post to wish everyone a Very Happy Christmas. Hope you all have a great day. Everyone on the base (apart from the Chefs!) have been given Christmas and Boxing Day off. There is to be a formal 5 course meal at 4pm we are up to our eyes in prep.

On another note I have received the following information from Cambridge about BAS in the media over the festive period:

The Sun – Boxing Day (no need to buy - should be on their website!)
Following on from the big recruitment drive for the ‘coolest jobs in the world’ in 2009, there’s an update on Halley plumber Mark Green, Bird Island generator mechanic Paul Craske and Halley chef Ant Dubber.

27 December – BBC Radio 4 – Plumbers and Penguins which has been highlighted in Radio Times as ‘pick of the day’
In the summer of 2009, British Antarctic Survey very publicly recruited 43 plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, chefs and doctors to spend 18 months working on their most southerly research stations – promising “the most exhilarating experience of a lifetime”. Every media outlet covered the recruitment campaign. Now, for the first time, we track what actually happened to some of the new recruits. 'Plumbers and Penguins’, produced by BBC broadcaster Chris Eldon Lee follows the extraordinary journey undertaken by Mark Green, a 48-year-old plumber from Bristol, and Claire Lehman, a 30-year-old GP from Wiltshire, as they spend 18 months working for the British Antarctic Survey in some of the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. In temperatures of -50°C, Mark and Claire have to adapt their current skills and learn new ones in order to help keep their research stations going, which can mean anything from refuelling aircraft to baking Christmas cakes for Antarctica’s research teams. The programme can be heard on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 27 December 2010 at 11.02am and will be available on the BBC iPlayer for the following seven days.

Monday, 20 December 2010

A Night In The Cold

Yes...this looks like a good place to put up the tent!

As a winterer I am expected to know how to survive in this environment - just in case my lovely ensuite room gets blown away in the next storm. We received initial field training giving us the 'basic' skills of crevasse rescue, use of ice axes and crampons and use of pyramid tents, primus stoves and tilly lamps. After a mighty struggle trying to get the tent up in howling winds we got to spend the night out camping at 'Vals' (the local area used for boarding / skiing). It has to be the coldest night I have ever experienced!

Carry On Camping
But the views I woke up to were well worth the night of pain - amazing views over base and out to the mountains of the Antarctic peninsular. It's summer at the moment and currently 24hr daylight which is difficult to get used to as you don't really feel tired!

Elephant Seals
Adelie Penguin
The rest of the day was spent exploring a little more of this amazing place and bumping into the local inhabitants.

Blue Eyed Shag
And I was introduced to Rothera's very own 'pet' skewer. His name is Buba and holds the record of 7 pork sausages at one sitting whilst retaining the ability to take off afterwards! Personally I find him a little menacing especially as he has somehow discovered that I have a connection with food and has taken to following me around.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Off to Rothera

The Dash 7
The flight to Rothera from Punta Arenas would take about 5 hours. Although the plane can carry a fair amount of passengers there was only to be the six of us along with the two pilots. The rest of the space had been taken up by supplies...mainly fresh food....that the base needed. Due to some admin error a lot of the food on the base had been mistakenly thought to be past its 'use by' date and had been thrown away leading to accute shortages in the baked bean department and elsewhere.
Securing the supplies in the Dash


Wannabe Co Co Co Pilot

 The first views of Rothera were amazingly beautiful.  Situated on Adelaide Island, it lies approximately 1860km south of the Falkland Islands and 1630km south east of Punta Arenas in Chile. The island is 140km long and heavily glaciated with mountains of up to 2565m height. The station is built on a promontory of rock at the southern extremity of the Wormald Ice Piedmont.

Flying Into Rothera

 Whilst I really enjoyed the views coming into the base I didn't enjoy the 5 attempts at landing before the wheels finally hit terra firma. Each time we tried to land a gust of wind would force the plane upwards again. Actually...I was terrified!

Landing at Rothera

 Anyway WE MADE IT! And I won't have to go throught that again for a while. After unloading the plane I was shown my room and had a quick tour around. First impressions are of a ski chalet!...very different to the Halley base which felt much more exposed and 'on the edge'.

My Room
.............................And what a treat. My room has a shower. I think that was the worst thing at Halley...having to get dressed and wander down the corridor to go and have a shower! Now all I need to make life complete is a kettle, some powdered milk and a few tea bags. Plasma TV would be nice but I guess that's being a little greedy.

Anyway I shall enjoy this as tomorrow I have to go through field training which will involve spending the next night in a tent.

Of more later........

Monday, 22 November 2010

Back Again

Hello Again Everyone!

It's happened! I have caught the Antarctica Bug and am smitten with the much so that I have decide to come back again but this time on an 18 month contract which means I will be living and working here for two summers and one winter. I am working on a different base to last time. The Rothera Base is now my home. It is very different to Halley...more of that to follow.

I thought my adventure would start when I got here however the process of getting here has proved more of an adventure than I could have envisaged or desired!

After spending a relaxing summer on Paros I attended the two week induction process in Cambridge for winterers in the Antarctic. The first week consisted of the Girton Conference which is the Pre-deployment Training Course providing practical advice and information regarding the trip, and more general background on the British Antarctic Survey and its work. It was a good chance to meet with the other people I was going to spend a lot of time with over the next 18 months.

Camp Kitchen
It might not look high
But it was....really
Following that was a four day field trip course in Derbyshire which introduced me to such delights as lighting stoves, setting up tents and cooking shelters and harnesses and knots! Oh yes and there was the little matter of cravass rescue and hanging upside down in a howling wind whilst realising I didn't have the upper body strength to right myself or pull myself back up to the top. However I am pleased to report that my team recognised my importance and cries of 'Where's the Chef?' 'Pull the Chef up' and 'Wait for the Chef' could be heard at regular intervals! See where being able to make a lasagne can get you! I had a small laugh at the Health and Safety assessment that came with the field course programme. It stated 'Failure to follow established procedures and instructions will lead to serious injury and/or death'. Good to know where you stand....or hang. I have to admit to really enjoying these four days. It was good to work as part of a team again and it also gave me the chance to meet up with mates from Halley. Whilst I left, wet, cold, muddy and sore in places I never knew I had, it did give the feeling that the adventure was really starting.

After the course I returned to Paros for a few weeks which gave me the time to get all the gear I needed ready. Whilst in the UK I had filled up my P-Box (each winterer can send a box of stuff via the survey ship James Clark Ross). I have decided to take up archery to fill the long winter months....will keep you updated with my progress (assuming there is some!)

The date for departure kept being moved back. The certification for the Dash planes which would transfer us from Chile to Rothera had been delayed and I formed personal relationships with the Olympic Air operators as I changed my ticket details to the UK for the 3rd, 4th, 5th time. Finally a date was set, all the tickets and hotel reservations had been made and I went out for a celebratory meal at my favourite resturant. When I came home my whole world turned upside down.

Exhibit No 1
THE DOG HAD EATEN MY PASSPORT. She had taken my handbag from off the settee and devoured the passport (along with a tube of mints) whilst leaving everything else, credit cards etc intact.

The Prime Suspect
I had three days to sort it out before my flight left to Chile. Back on the phone to Olympic...blah, blah blah. An appointment for the next day at the British Embassy in Athens for an emergency travel document and an appointment the following day at the Passport Office in Victoria, London. Those two sentences really don't give a sense of the stress and hassle and the anger at being ripped off by a 4 star Victoria Hotel....I think I have blanked most of it out. Anyway feeling substantially lighter in pocket (do you know that an emergency travel document...which lasts for 24hours...costs the same as a new passport?) it was a huge relief to get to my hotel in Heathrow and collapse in a passport clutched firmly in my hand!

The following day I met up with the 5 other BAS folk with whom I would be travelling to Rothera. Because of the delays with the Dash aircraft we were to be the first group to land in Rothera this summer. The flight to Santiago via Madrid was long but passed smoothly and as we arrived very early in the morning we were able to spend the day sightseeing. Our taxi driver on the way to our hotel offered to take us on a detour to see the 'shuttle' that had successfully pulled up the Chilean miners. Unfortunately when we got there it had gone.....if it had been there in the first place!

I was very taken with Santiago. Very modern with impressive highrise architecture and MASSIVE. It is the 5th largest city in South America. And of course dwarfed by the Andes....quite beautiful.
Punta Arenas

Me and the gang waiting for grub
The next day we left for the 5 hour flight to Punta Arenas which is the main settlement on the Strait of Magellen and the town which now has all the flight links for Antractica and the Falkland Islands (since we fell out with the Argentinians). A very colourful place with each building seeming to have a different coloured roof than that of its neighbour. We were here for a couple of days and had a wander about and sampled the local cuisine....a tip for would be travellers to Chile...if you ask for the menu you get the set meal of the day...whatever that happens to be, always rounded off with a nice cup of tea!


Memorial to Magellan in Punta Arenas
 Punta Arenas has some amazing statues and monuments. Apparently if you rub the foot of this particular one you are guaranteed to return to the City again. I suppose I should be careful for what I wish for!

One well rubbed foot!

Tomorrow we set out on the 4 hour flight to Rothera. A sense of nervous excitment!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Journey Home

After 5 days of false starts due to bad weather it was time to go. The waiting to leave was a weird time, constantly shifting between periods of intense activity and anti-climax as the transfer was posponed yet again. It also made cooking difficult to manage...I am not sure how many times the meat was taken out and then placed back into the freezer!.

When it did happened fast. All the luggage was thrown onto sledges and we were whizzed down to the sea ice where The Shackleton and the James Clark Ross took it in turns to shelter each other from the swell as each boat was loaded by putting their bows into the sea ice. I think getting up the gangplank on the Shak was probably the scariest experience of the trip. The sway was extreme and I couldn't keep my footing as it was so slippery. I thought I was going to end up in the water that lay between the boat and the ice before being grabbed by the scruff of my neck and hauled aboard! As you can see, John (beardless!) after 18 months on the ice, was keen to celebrate!

It was nerve wracking at first hearing the boat moving through the ice - it sounded like several million tin cans being crushed simultaneously. On the thicker parts of the ice the boat rose out of the water at the front to crash down on top of the ice to break it.

It was also amazing to watch how delicately this load of steel could maneouver through the ice, using its sideways thrusters to move away from iceburgs and find the easiest passage through the sea-ice.
I don't remember much more of the sea journey as I suffered six days of chronic sea-sickness...alternating between getting slammed against the wall in my bunk and the boat rose to the top of the crests of the waves...wondering if it was ever coming down again....the notorious Shackleton 'corkscrew' effect! Suzanna the Doc, kept me alive with frequent cups of tea!
Arriving at the Falklands it seems that history is everywhere. Shipwrecks litter the coastline. Passing Goose Green were the remains of the Vicar of Bray (above), one of the last Californian gold rush ships, rotting away by a jetty. On Stanley’s waterfront was the mizzen mast of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain.
Getting my landlegs back after spinning like a top for so long was a huge relief and I took the 4 days we had there as a chance to explore the main town a bit.
This distant relic of the British Empire has extraordinary wildlife, breathtaking scenery, historical relics and 700,000 penguins, 600,000 sheep (allegedly....I didn't see one) and 3,000 human beings in an area half the size of Wales. Cruise ship day-trippers excepted, this archipelago of 740 islands off the tip of South America attracts barely 1,700 tourists a year.
Stanley, the capital, resembles a remote Scottish town, with brightly coloured cottages, pubs, red telephone boxes, a lollipop man, British bobbies and mad taxi drivers.
 We had left Halley just at the time when Argentina sabre rattled again over the hunt for oil by British firms in contested waters, but the story died soon after we arrived. However memories of the war between the two countries are everywhere to see.

There are still minefields around Stanley, festooned with skull and crossbones signs — if we fancied fireworks, cleared mines were detonated every other day.

One night we went to a really good restaurant — the Falklands Brasserie (lamb, squid and toothfish are the local delicacies) where copious amounts of good food and wine was quaffed...depite the fact that many sitting around this table were to run the Falkland's Marathon the next day (I would have too of course if I hadn't been so ill......) As it was, of the 72 competitiors in the race, only 3 were Falklanders. It would seem that they didn't fancy the thought of running in winds strong enough to snap off a Land Rover’s door accompanied by horizontal rain....strange.

On our last morning we were bussed to the RAF base to catch our flight home. I was a bit nonplussed when I saw who was taking us....Air Sechelles no less. A 7 hour flight took us to Ascension Island where we had a 40 minute stop over. It was odd to be hit by the heat and a great excuse to have an ice-cream!

8 hours later we landed in Brize Norton and the Antarctic adventure was over.

An amazing experience - when I was there it never felt like I was just bobbing about on an ice-shelf. Watching the modules being built was like watching something out of a sci-fi film. Everything about Halley was so structured and organised I never felt unsafe despite being in such an extreme situation. And I met some incredible people....oh yes...and I cooked a bit too....

From me...and all the Halley 'summerers'. Thanks for following our progress.

Hope to see you all soon.


Greek Night and Whiteout

It is nearly time for the first bunch of the Morrisons people to leave and the base has the distinct feeling of being in transition from summer to winter. The sun which has been an almost constant companion disappears over the horizon for over an hour now before re-appearing again but does provide some amazing photo opportunities.

I thought it would be churlish of me to let people leave before tasting my expert Greek culinary skills and so I organised a Hellas Spectacular. I choose the menu bearing in mind the ingredients that were left (supplies of eggs, flour, salt and veg were running low!!!) and with a little experimentation, 12hrs of solid cooking and the aid of my fellow chefs we came up with a Greek feast.....of sorts....

Dead on 7pm, with everything ready to be served, it was decided that I should be in traditional(!) dress so I legged it to my bunk, got changed and legged it back again to greet each dinner with my fluent..ish Greek. With a selection of some traditional Greek dance music folk soon got into the spirit and started dancing around the tables.

Thankfully all this happened before the Kitchen Disaster which occurred the following day. 2 hours before dinner was due to be served there was a loud explosion, all the fire alarms went off and the inside of the Laws building looked like it was experiencing an internal version of an Antarctic snow blizzard. One of the high velocity fire powder cannisters in the kitchen had malfunctioned and exploded sending a cloud of white powder over Chris, his recently prepared fishcakes and anything else that happened to be in the kitchen.We sealed off the kitchen and literally waited for the dust to settle before peaking in to see the damage.....absolutely everything was ruined - even the meat cooking in the oven had a lovely white coating on it

But the community spirit in this place is great. Everyone around the base was suddenly in the kitchen, stripping it out and cleaning every nook and was amazing just where that powder went....whilst the chefs grabbed what sledges they could find and started transporting plates, cutlery and glasses across the snow to the Dewry building kitchen.

Dinner that night is a bit of a blur...I think it turned into curry and scampi.....nobody seemed to mind.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

A Girls' Night Out

You can feel the season changing now. It is getting much stormier and colder and I really feel for those Morrison guys who are on nightshift and who are working in -20.

The sun is also getting lower in the sky and to celebrate the first sunset for 3 months the 5 of us girls on base decided to have a night out on the perimeter. Having secured sufficient supplies we ventured forth to a caboose that would sleep 3 of us whilst the other two would have to rough it and sleep in a tent. As only myself and Julie are not 'winterers' it was decided that we should be the lucky tent dwellers (the winterers have to go on 2 week camping trips as part of their training so they had been there and done that!)

Erecting the tent proved an interesting challenge. Funnily enough the ice was ...... hard ...and it was very difficult getting the tent pegs in. Having huffed and puffed for some time we triumphantly viewed our abode for the night before it was pointed out to us that the ground sheet actually had to go under the tent. I was in the Girl Guides.....a long time ago......I don't recall getting my 'Erecting Tent in Antarctica Whilst Being Sniggered At' badge. I have it now!

So...having erected the tent for a second time it was time for me to start cooking for us all. Pork in Hoisin sauce with a vegetable risotto washed down with copious amount of red wine whilst we watched the first sunset of the new season.

A magical experience.

And an amazingly warm and comfortable night's sleep and an incredible view to wake up to.

Look shops!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Halley VI

Right...I thought it was time for some techical stuff about the building of the new Halley VI station.....artist impression above!
Let's be honest the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult and challenging places on earth to be building a new home. The temperature can drop to -55C, more than a metre of snow falls annually and for at least 100 days of the year the sun doesn't make it above the horizon. The winds can gust at more than 100mph while the ice shelf itself is moving at least 400m a year, carrying you towards the sea and eventually tipping you over an ice cliff or 'calving' - where ice breaks off in vast chunks - so that you float off on the ocean clinging to a massive iceberg.....that is the fate that scientists predict will happen to Halley V within the next couple of years.

This bit is curtesy of The Daily telegraph... 'For Broughton and his practice it certainly is an extraordinary commission. In 2003, when BAS first started thinking about launching a design competition to garner new ideas for the creation of Halley VI, Hugh Broughton Architects was a little-known London practice. They had done a mixture of small-scale projects including a visitors' centre at Blair Castle, the restaurant at Edinburgh Castle and a building for the South Wimbledon District Girl Guides. But, when the engineering consultants Faber Maunsell - one of the largest engineering firms in the UK and part of a worldwide company - agreed to team up with them to develop their proposal, they gained a great deal of confidence. Theirs was one of 86 designs entered into the first round of the competition, which was run in association with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

'We wanted something really innovative,' Karl Tuplin, the BAS senior project manager, says. 'Over the last 50 years we have built five stations at Halley and have learnt from each one. BAS wanted to go to industry and to architects and see what they thought of the problem. Hugh and Faber Maunsell eventually won because they not only gave us the re-locatable building that we needed, but also because the modular approach they came up with gives us a great deal of flexibility, both with the number of modules we can build and the way they are built.'

Broughton and Faber Maunsell's entry was one of six shortlisted designs from some of the country's leading architectural practices and engineers, including Richard Rogers, Ken Shuttleworth of Make Architects and Sir Michael Hopkins, who came up with a walking building.

'I remember going to the launch of the competition and thinking there wasn't a job that we were less likely to win,' Broughton says. 'You had to have experience of working in remote locations, experience of design and build contracts, prefabrication and engineering-led design, and as a practice we couldn't put a tick against a single box. Yet, there was a level playing field in the sense that nobody could claim to have designed an Antarctic base.'

But some clever folks at architects Hugh Broughton have designed a unique prefabricated, modular, high-tech and re-locatable research station. A cross between a house, a ship and a spacecraft sitting on giant skis, the £22.5 million Halley VI is easily the most exciting buildings to grace this far-flung outpost. The picture below is off a trial build in cape Town before it was all taken to bits again and put on the Russian cargo boat.

There have been five Halley research stations - named after the British astronomer Edmund Halley - on the Brunt Ice Shelf since 1956. The first four stations disappeared under the snow and ice. Halley, situated nearly 1,000 miles from the main British base of Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula, is the most southerly and remote of the five permanently staffed BAS stations in the Antarctic. It was at Halley, in 1985, that the hole in the ozone layer was first discovered, and it has long proved of global significance as a pivotal site for monitoring climate change, weather patterns and key atmospheric processes.

'There are colder and windier places in the Antarctic, but apparently no more dynamic a place. It is the most demanding station site in the Antarctic because it is on ice that is moving all the time.

The new station will house about 50 scientists and support crew in the short Antarctic summer (December to February) and a skeleton crew of 16 for the rest of the year. The current Halley V is a raised station on steel legs and to avoid getting buried in the snow it can be manually jacked up. This takes a team of steel workers the full three summer months and requires the help of the whole base over a few key days. For Halley VI, a more sophisticated jacking-up system has been devised. Broughton had the idea of placing the base module on hydraulic legs attached to giant skis. It is a device that enables the construction to be raised up above the rising snow line mechanically with the assistance of the base bulldozers. The procedure takes only a week from start to finish.

Halley VI will be the first truly modular research station in the Antarctic and the first fully moveable. It can be towed to a new site if needed and by using the hydraulic system when it is time to relocate, each module can be dropped closer to the surface of the snow to make it more stable. Attached to the bulldozers and with each module weighing 70 to 80 tons, it can be pulled at a speed of up to 2mph miles an hour to a new site perhaps six or seven miles away. The separate modules can then be drawn back together and re-elevated for the next five to 10 years.

The design of the station itself sees the creation of a series of modular structures lined up like train carriages and forming two distinct elevated platforms, linked by an access bridge, each with its own individual power-generating unit. So if one platform is damaged by fire or other disaster, the other should remain unscathed and allow life to carry on.

There will be eight modules in all forming over 1,950sq m, including two energy modules, two for sleeping, two for science laboratories, one for offices and a final, central module for communal living and eating. Apart from the larger central hub, all the modules will be basically the same with interchangeable components.

The nature of the station and the adaptability of the modules allow for changes to the layouts of the laboratories and other units in the station, which should last at least 20 years - twice the life-span of Halley V. Energy use is also being carefully re-thought, with a series of programmes (including experiments with solar energy and wind turbines) aimed at reducing consumption. This is a big issue in the Antarctic, not only because of the sensitivity of the frozen landscape but also the massive costs of shipping in jet fuel to run the generators.

Under the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 - which defers any territorial claims on Antarctica indefinitely - and its protocols, there are regularly updated guidelines on the waste produced or left behind by Antarctic stations. Halley VI will exceed these with a new waste-incineration system, while also introducing a more sophisticated system for melting snow into water for use in the base. At the end of its life, Halley VI, unlike most other research stations, can be dismantled and removed in its entirety.

The new inhabitants of Halley VI will also notice a major leap in the quality of their lives through the design and detailing of the new station's interiors. Halley V has been little more than rudimentary as a home, but Broughton has taken care to listen to the needs of BAS staff. The crew produced a wish list of things they would like to see from better sound insulation to quiet spaces, more storage and a larger gym, all of which have been worked into the new station.

The central living module will make the biggest difference to daily life at Halley VI. This is a larger, double-height unit with banks of glazing forming an atrium, which has a sense of space that is largely unheard of in Antarctic stations. This communal zone will have room for a bar, dining area, television lounges and internet access points with room enough for a greenhouse that could be used to grow salad greens by hydroponics. If this sounds space-age, then it reflects the fact that Halley VI has many crossovers with the space industry - which itself has been following the development of Antarctic stations to see what it can learn for space station and moon or Martian bases - as well as marine and aviation engineering.

Halley VI sits within a general resurgence of interest in Antarctica and developing a new generation of research stations. The Germans are building a new station, Base Neumeyer III, as an elevated platform and the same goes for the soon-to-be-completed Amundsen-Scott American station at the South Pole. Two years ago a new Franco-Italian base, Concordia, was completed; it resembles two giant drums raised up on stilts.

For BAS, the new station - part of a £36 million total spend, which includes building afresh and taking apart the old base - reaffirms the Halley bases's key position in monitoring climate change, the ozone layer and atmospheric change.

'I hope I will get to go down there one more time,' Broughton says. 'It gets under your skin - you talk to anyone involved in the Antarctic and they just love it. Just think, 100 years after Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton, we are building Halley VI. Imagine them dragging their sledges or using dogs - now we are building plastic space pods on a floating ice shelf, with 24/7 internet access and phone calls charged at local rates.'
And many thanks to the Garage guys who let me take away one of their most prized toys to whizz around the base and take photos.......yes I am aware that the chef hat is not completely necessary......