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......

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Burns and Hair

I am still trying to get over the fact that Lin chucked out my haggis recipe....I am not used to such rebuffs. Fortunately however I did not make the same mistake and forced encouraged everybody here to celebrate the Great Bard's day with a tatties, neeps and haggis supper followed by an impromtu Highland Games which got very silly. Hope you enjoyed Burn's Night wherever you were.

As you can see from the top picture I really do need a haircut! Ags, the outgoing Base Commander, has been running a barber shop for the 150ish male workers here and at last agreed to let the 6 females approach her scissors!


I'm glad that I couldn't see the expression on her face!

But I have to say that I am very impressed with the end result!