After a few weeks to get used to an extra seven people on base, the rest of November has seen several more flights bringing people, such that by the end of the month there are over sixty people on base. Despite all the flights in, it was also the end of our time together as a wintering team as Sune disappeared off on a flight out into the deep field to start his summer field project.
Unloading the Twin Otter- 'Bravo Lima'
Regardless of all the large Basler flights coming through, there is something quite exciting about the arrival of the first BAS Twin Otter on station, which will be based here for most of the summer. Its role is putting in field parties carrying out BAS science projects in this part of the Antarctic. Despite all the construction work, this is going to be one of Halley's busiest summer science seasons, partly as it is the International Polar Year (IPY), which means the skiway is going to be busy.
Simpson Science Team Head Back for Lunch
All the flying means I have been spending a fair amount of time at the skiway as one of the Doc's jobs is to provide medical and fire cover for all take-offs and landings, along with helping out with fuelling and loading and unloading the planes.
Halley International Airport
The BAS Twin Otter (foreground) refuels while the Basler unloads passengers
Usually almost all the summer staff arrive on the Shackleton, which will not be here until mid-December but in order to get as much done this summer as possible, the ALCI operated Baslers are being used to fly people in en masse. Moreover, there would be no space on the Shackleton, as almost all the berths are taken up with the incoming Morrison's construction team.
The Cliffs at Windy
The first field project out of here, bearing the sledge call-sign Yankee, was Sune as part of a two-man geological project out in the Sverdrupfjella- the Norweigan name for a mountain range in Dronning Maud Land (Dronning meaning Queen in Norweigan), not far from their station at Troll. This map should give an idea of how far away this all is, incidentally the stations at Kohnen, Wasa and Svea are all summer only leaving Neumayer as our closest wintering companions.
Loading Sune's Kit Onto a Basler
Chris (an ALCI pilot) supervises the process- photo thanks to Dave Evans
Given that he is going to be in the field for nine weeks and travelling nearly a thousand miles on ski-doo around the mountains, there was enough cargo for two planes. Hence one of the Baslers, returning back towards their base at Novo took some of it as far as Troll, where Sune caught up with it a few days later, flown over by Twin Otter, putting some field depots (of food and fuel) in on the way.
Sune & His Birthday Cake
Bad weather, as ever, slightly delayed his departure but it meant that he got to celebrate his birthday on base. He admitted to being keen on shortbread, so continuing my birthday cake making role, I made a half-Nansen sledge from shortbread decorated with field boxes and jerry cans made of sponge. He had an emotional send-off, as much since we will miss him (he will not be leaving via Halley) but also as his departure marks the break-up of this year's winter team.
With the arrival of the ship fast approaching, it has also meant the UAV project gradually winding up, as Tom and his small planes will be leaving with the ship at first call and there is at least a week's worth of packing to be done before the start of relief.
Waiting for the UAV to Return
Tom waits by K24
The three of us involved in flying the UAV (Tom- pilot and project leader, Alex- managing the telemetry and me- launching), have managed to get off base a couple more times, trundling down to the coast at Windy Bay in our specially modified Sno-Cat K-24. As a result we have had several more successful flights out over the sea-ice collecting data as part of a BAS science project to better understand the transfer of energy between sea, sea ice and the lower atmosphere.
Launching the UAV
I pull the plane back on a long elasticated cord and then let go...
In order to get as many flights in as possible, we spent a night out at the Windy caboose. With the UAV's batteries recharging and unable to fly further that day, the three of us took the opportunity to visit the penguin colony down on the sea ice for the last time. (The UAV does not actually fly over the penguins at Windy- the bay is big enough for it to fly several kilometres to the east of the colony itself).
Each visit is special and this one was no different. I cannot remember if I have written about this before but it is unusual for any creature to come so close and yet not be perturbed by us and in turn for us not to be endangered in any way. Though it may be anthropomorphic to suggest, the trust they place in us in approaching so close is one of the most thrilling aspects of visiting the colony.
Emperors Up Close
It will be difficult to forget lying flat on the ice taking photographs and being mobbed by inquisitive penguins. We are keen not to disturb any of the birds and aim never to encroach closer than five metres or keep our distance if appears we are upsetting them in anyway, however stand still for only a few moments and the most curious will start to waddle much closer.
Tom and Alex approached by waddling adults
At one point, lying prone on the ice photographing chicks with a long lens, I found myself surrounded on four sides by quietly inquisitive adults and chicks all happy to approach within a few feet and watch as I flailed around on the floor with a large rucksack on my back. However, with the sudden descent of low stratus cloud, a rolling bank of fog appeared in the distance and it was time to get off the ice and to leave the penguins behind for probably my last time.
Crepuscular Rays and a Faint Ice Halo
A halo formed by refraction of light through ice crystals high in the cirrostratus cloud
As expected, it is an odd feeling finding what used to be our home increasingly swamped by people who have not spent the year down here with us and are not necessarily attuned to some of the unwritten rules that exist amongst a community of people who have been living together for so long. Furthermore it is also interesting how by benefit of having spent a good winter together, the work of all those coming in is much easier than if there were profound hostilities between the 18 of us. A happy base is understandably more productive.
A Basler Taxis Into Re-fuel
Chad (Z-Air Mech) guides the plane in